Thanks for joining me today for my fourth State of the County address. I want to particularly thank the Howard County Chamber and President Leonardo McClarty for hosting this luncheon and to Pete Mangione and his Turf Valley staff for their hospitality.
I appreciate the faith you have placed in me as we work together to shape the future of this county. As I’ve said many times, I have the best job in the world.
But I couldn’t do this alone. I am fortunate to have the love, support and patience of my family. It’s so special to be able to come home every night and be greeted with this kind of unconditional love. Right Robin?
Our Old English Bulldog Rudy is always excited to see me, but to be fair, so is my wife Robin and our family. They may not show it in the exact way Rudy does (and that’s probably a good thing), but they give me the love and strength I need to do this job and to be the best person I can be.
Today, Robin and I are joined by three of our four children - Haley, Mary and James. Hopefully, Robby, a senior at James Madison University, is watching online. I’m also pleased that my future son-in-law Sam Castelli is here as well. Sam and Haley are getting married on May 25. Thanks to all of you. I love you.
I also want to thank you. Each of you in this room, and so many others throughout Howard County, make my job easier. You make Howard County the awesome place it is. You make our schools strong and our economy thrive. It’s no wonder Howard County is at the top of so many national “best of” lists. Thank you!
I am especially pleased to have Vivian “Millie” Bailey with us. Millie has dedicated her life to improving our community. She served in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, raised funds for Running Brook Elementary School and has sent hundreds, if not thousands, of care packages to our service men and women across the globe. And, on February 3rd, she celebrated her 100th birthday. Millie, thank you for all you have done. We love you!
One of the many joys of having a family is being able to share the values that you were taught as a child. My father instilled in me the belief that to be a strong leader, you have to put aside petty politics to make the community around you better.
The current trend of confrontational politics we see all over our country, and particularly in Washington, is tearing our nation apart. The rhetoric overshadows the issues that need to be addressed. It takes a willingness to listen and work together to solve problems and build a stronger community.
In Howard County, we are doing just that: leading with our shared belief that when we come together as one, we can make a positive impact.
I have said before and I’ll say it again, I reject the politics of hate and exclusion. And I will continue to denounce any efforts to divide our communities. Our collective values demand that everyone has a seat at the table.
As County Executive, I cannot change the actions of those in power on the national level. Instead, I’m using my position to unite people, encourage dialogue, and promote collaboration to solve problems.
We know that working together brings awesome results. This is why, perhaps more than any other reason, I stand here today to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the state of Howard County is strong, stronger than when I took office three years ago.
Today, I’ll give you a few examples of how working together in Howard County delivers awesome results. At the top of the list -- education.
I worked with the Board of Education to get our school system back on track this past year. After seeing the dysfunction between the board and the previous superintendent, I offered to mediate the conflict.
Some said mediation wouldn’t work, but I knew we had to try. After five months of continuous efforts, we reached a resolution. As a result, we now have Dr. Michael Martirano as our superintendent. And, I am very pleased that the school board has voted to make him our permanent superintendent.
Likewise, by putting people first, we achieved awesome results for the Howard County Food Bank. Working with State Sen. Guy Guzzone and the State Delegation, we secured funds to match our local dollars to open a new and expanded Food Bank. Last year, it served 27,000 people.
Yes, awesome results happen when we make it a priority to work together.
We partnered with six community groups to create a bike share program. We’ve established a network of seven stations and 70 bikes to help a growing number of people get around Columbia. And, I’m excited we will soon expand this program to old Ellicott City.
We made working together an art form in Ellicott City.
Since the flood, 96 percent of the businesses have returned and many new businesses have moved in. That’s more than awesome. That’s amazing!
What happened there defied the odds. FEMA was so impressed with our efforts, they’re using Ellicott City as a case study to show others how to recover from a natural disaster.
With Ellicott City, we’re developing a community-driven master plan that charts an even brighter future for our beautiful town. Again, this just shows what happens when you work together …. awesome results.
One of our greatest strengths is that we are a diverse and welcoming community. While the dysfunction continues 30 miles to our south, we embrace Howard County values.
We continue to see progress from OneHoward, the program we launched to strengthen our community, as Hector Garcia just told you, by living diversity.
To date, OneHoward has engaged more than 3,500 people; the majority of them are students.
Many schools - such as Mayfield Woods Middle - have initiated their own efforts. Let me share a recent experience I had there.
I was invited to join students and staff in a Diversity Line, an exercise where you are asked to take a step forward whenever a statement by a facilitator pertains to you. The statements started out fairly general; such as “step forward if you like football.” After a few minutes, they got a little more personal.
At one point, the leader said “step out if your parents are divorced.” My parents divorced when I was 5 years old, so I stepped forward. A student walked out near me and we turned to look at those still standing in the line. I could see and feel her sadness. For me, it brought back strong memories.
The Diversity Line was powerful and emotional. I shared some personal and painful things about myself. And, there were really brave middle schoolers who did the same.
The experience helped me realize that there’s so much more to who we are than our outward appearance, and that we have so much more in common than we think.
I will never forget that day.
I’d like to recognize and thank Melissa Shindel, the Principal of Mayfield Woods Middle School, and Sahara Ukaegbu, an eighth-grade student for your leadership in organizing the OneMayfield event. Please stand.
OneHoward has been working with the school system, Howard Community College, the library system, and many other partners to bring these types of experiences to our community, designed to help us connect on a more personal level.
At your table, there are OneHoward wristbands.
I encourage you to wear one as a sign of support to build an inclusive community, one relationship at a time.
We’ve embraced that approach in County government. I meet regularly with members of the LGBTQ , Hispanic, and other communities to ensure that County government is sensitive and responsive.
Recently, we announced an agreement between the Office of Consumer Protection and our Korean American community. The partnership provides volunteer interpreters to staff a telephone language line. We intend to expand this program and in fact we’re already hearing from other communities that would like to be included.
Just last week, we held our Lunar New Year celebration at the Columbia Mall. It was a great time and the largest crowd we’ve ever had. It was an awesome celebration of our Asian American community.
This is what makes Howard County great.
We continue to make education a top priority. Through good financial times and challenging ones, our administration has continued to exceed the Maintenance of Effort funding for our schools.
Today, we’re on a better path and the collaboration between the school system and the county has never been stronger.
We’ve fully funded special education and teacher salary increases.
We’ve secured a site for a new elementary school in Turf Valley.
And we are working with the Board of Education to finalize a location for the 13th high school.
When I took office three years ago, there was no countywide strategy to narrow the achievement gap. I am proud to say that there is one now.
Our Achieve 24/7 initiative addresses barriers to student achievement and identifies gaps in services. It relies heavily upon community input. It ensures that families have the support they need outside of school so that their children can excel inside the classroom.
This past year, we began engaging families in Oakland Mills to increase opportunities for success. Just last week, I participated in an Achieve 24/7 meeting at Oakland Mills High. I learned so much from the students and parents about the community’s needs and their hopes and dreams for the future.
I’d like to acknowledge a few people who are working on this important initiative.
Kim Eisenreich of the Local Children’s Board, Safire Windley of the Columbia Association, Chisha Johnson of the Jacaranda Center, James LeMon of the Howard County Public Schools System, and Silvia Bravo, an Oakland Mills parent. Would you all please stand.
Specifically, we are addressing the achievement gap with an enrichment program this summer to help students with math proficiency. This program will also incorporate social and emotional learning techniques, and provide healthy meals.
We also launched ReadyRosie, a program to help parents get their children under 5 prepared for school. This free program provides parents with short, instructional videos of how to teach their children basic skills such as counting or building vocabulary in their everyday environment.
This project has been led by Keri Hyde, our amazing administrator for the Office of Children and Families. Keri, please stand.
Our vision for Achieve 24/7 is to expand this countywide and replicate this model in other communities.
We’re committed to the success of students of all ages. During the last three years, we have invested nearly $173 million at Howard Community College, helping to open a whole new world of opportunities. Isn’t that awesome?
We’re also proud of our top-ranked Howard County Library System. In addition to next month’s opening of the Elkridge Library, we also recently completed renovations at the East Columbia branch.
For my generation, a library was just a place to borrow a book. Now it’s a gathering place. They have computer science classes, virtual reality labs or my favorite, a session where you can take your dog to read. I wonder what Rudy’s reading these days.
He’s a very smart dog.
I’m proud that our administration has been willing to tackle the difficult issues. We did what others avoided for years -- conducted a thorough review of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.
I appreciate all the time and energy that the members of the APFO task force put into this effort. I also appreciate the strong community input we received throughout the process. And while no legislation is perfect, I think we can all agree that overcrowded schools are unacceptable.
Now that the legislation has been enacted, we must focus our efforts on working with Dr. Martirano and the Board of Education to ensure that our schools are places where students can learn and excel.
Along the same lines, we are now tackling the long-overdue review of the land development regulations. During the first phase, we had 40 public meetings. We brought together 460 residents and stakeholders. All of which generated more than 700 specific suggestions. Wow!
A few weeks ago, we released the report. During the next year, we will move into the second phase and select a company to rewrite our land development regulations, again, with strong community input.
We’re continuing to make progress on other initiatives.
Broadband access is critical in these high-tech times. Two years ago, we launched a public-private initiative in Western Howard County to help businesses, students and those who want greater access to the internet.
Today, I’m announcing our administration is expanding this effort which will cover 90 percent of Western Howard County by the end of the month. I look forward to the day when every Howard County resident has access to hi-speed internet.
Rudy’s online again!
Some of the challenges we face are incredibly complex. The opioid crisis is a daunting challenge as the numbers show. It’s a health crisis, a public safety crisis. It affects us all every single day.
It’s something every jurisdiction in the country must face.
We are taking aggressive steps in this fight.
We have added walk-in screening and referral services seven-days-a-week for substance misuse at Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. We have hired a heroin coordinator for the police department and an opioid project administrator at the health department.
We have partnered with the Aetna Foundation to have naloxone available in all county buildings. Naloxone is the lifesaving drug that’s given during an overdose. We’ve launched a training program so our employees know how to use it.
Today, we’re introducing a centralized opioid website that includes information about prevention, treatment, and recovery from all agencies in Howard County and across the state.
These are important steps, but there’s more work to do. That’s why I am announcing today that we are establishing the Opioid Crisis Community Council. This panel will be chaired by Barbara Allen and will include a wide range of stakeholders to give the community a voice and improve our efforts to prevent opioid misuse.
Barbara lost her son James, her brother and her niece to the disease of addiction. In their memory, she and her husband Tom founded James’ Place, an organization that helps those battling addiction.
Barbara is with us today, and I appreciate her willingness to take on this role as she continues to serve the community.
Last year, we promised to integrate our mental health and substance use disorder services.
This summer, these services will be consolidated and placed within the County’s new Local Behavioral Health Administration. A new community advisory board will be formed, bringing together the voices of citizens receiving services and their family members.
Human Trafficking is a horrific crime where abusers prey on the most vulnerable in our community. Our administration has focused greater resources to combat it. And we’re helping victims.
The stories of these victims are heartbreaking. Let me tell you about one, a 13-year-old girl.
This young girl ran away from home and became a victim of human trafficking. After police arrested her abuser, they took her to the hospital and then later into a juvenile facility.
After several months, she ran away again, this time from a foster home. Within days, she was targeted by another trafficker who physically abused her and forced her into prostitution. Our officers again intervened, arrested the abuser and worked with a team to place her in a facility specializing in helping victims.
She still speaks several times a week with county police officers who she credits for “saving her life.” Today, her life is on a new path.
It’s stories like this that underscore the importance of what our police and other county agencies are doing.
We are very fortunate to have such a strong community-focused police department. I’m especially proud that in October, Mary Levy became the first woman to achieve the rank of major in our police department. I’d like to congratulate Major Levy and ask her to stand.
I’d also like thank Police Chief Gary Gardner for joining me in this year’s Super Plunge for Special Olympics Maryland. This was my 5th year Super Plunging and it was nice to have Gary there shivering next to me.
That was our 24th plunge in 24 hours. Special Olympics is an amazing organization that serves over 7,500 athletes throughout Maryland and more than 700 in Howard County.
Several of our Project Search interns have participated in Special Olympics competitions. For those of you who are not familiar with Project SEARCH, it’s an internship that provides opportunities and jobs for young men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Project Search has placed 36 interns in Howard County government over the last three years and 28 of those graduates have found paid employment -- four times the national average.
I am encouraged to see the business community embrace our interns.
Folks, all these students need is a chance, an opportunity to show what they can do. And when they are given that chance, they are not only meeting, but exceeding expectations.
Today, we are joined by two former Project SEARCH interns who we have hired in County government: Will Alexion and Matt Swint. Will works in our Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, and Matt works in our Department of Planning and Zoning. Also here are their mentors, Debbie Whalen and Jeff Goins.
Will and Matt, thank you for your hard work and for being an awesome addition to our Howard County government family.
Improving the lives of our residents has always been a priority for our administration.
We are completing the second phase of the Community Resources Campus to improve our delivery of human services. Last year, we celebrated the opening of the NonProfit Collaborative. This summer, we will relocate Community Resources and Services, Housing and Community Development, Human Rights and the Community Action Council to this campus.
I couldn’t be more proud that we were able to create this campus and co-locate services.
Just recently, a woman came to the NonProfit Collaborative to learn more about the Howard County Autism Society. While she was there, it became evident that she had been the victim of domestic violence. The Autism Society representative contacted HopeWorks, a nonprofit that serves victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, located in the same building. That day, the woman walked across the lobby to meet with someone at HopeWorks.
People can now get all of the help they need, when they need it, without having to plan transportation, rearrange schedules, or take days to get necessary services.
Just another example of how working together, brings awesome results.
When I think of the efforts we have made to improve human services, I am also reminded of our focus on improving public transit. For example, having the Community Resources Campus on a RTA bus line is crucial to its success.
With our community’s input, we are designing more efficient and effective bus routes and services. And we made sure we helped those with disabilities by adding eight new paratransit vehicles.
We’re also modernizing our RTA bus fleet, adding 10 new buses in 2017 -- with 6 more to come this fall.
We’re improving our pathways and sidewalks. We’re updating WalkHoward, our pedestrian master plan. These efforts are not going unnoticed. Just last month, Howard County was named a “runner friendly community” by the Road Runner Club of America.
Earlier this month, we introduced our Bike Howard Express, an accelerated three-year strategy to complete a 48-mile network of improved bicycle infrastructure.
Shifting gears, Howard County’s economy continues to accelerate. Since I took office, the county has added nearly 11,000 jobs, driving down the unemployment rate to 2.8%. Pretty awesome!
We continue to add jobs in areas such as cybersecurity and professional services. Businesses want to be here because of our highly educated and skilled workforce and our prime location in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Companies such as STEER chose Howard County to launch innovative, game-changing products. STEER created the first fully-autonomous technology that transforms your car into a driverless vehicle that can park itself.
ACell recently expanded its offices in the County. They develop and build products to help patients regrow skin after severe burns or a medical procedure.
Just last month, Axis Research and Technologies had a wall-breaking to prepare for its new Center of Excellence in Gateway. There, Axis is supporting advanced training and education in the life sciences industry. Health science companies from across the country will come here to receive advanced technology training.
Our vision for the 920-acre Columbia Gateway Innovation Campus is to create a mixed-use development where leading-edge companies will grow and thrive. Just imagine, a walkable/bikeable community where 25,000 people are employed, and thousands call home. Shops and restaurants. A place where businesses work with educational institutions on new technologies and services. Improved access, transit connections to downtown Columbia, BWI and the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Gateway will be a true destination economy -- the next great economic center -- here in Maryland.
Folks, it won’t happen overnight. However, working together, we can make this vision a reality.
Amazing things are happening along Route 1 as well.
A great example is BTS Bioenergy. We recruited this company to invest $40 million to locate its North American headquarters and build two bio-digesters in the Route 1 corridor, creating jobs for our community. BTS’s “biodigester” will use a closed loop system to convert fruit and vegetable scraps into energy that can be added to the grid.
This process will divert organic waste from our county landfill and, at the same time, reduce the cost for businesses to transport the waste. A perfect example of how something that is good for our environment can also be good for business.
These facilities will put us at the forefront of the next generation of clean, renewable energy, serving as an example for the rest of the country.
I’m very happy that Shawn Kreloff, the CEO of the Americas, BTS Bioenergy is with us today. Thank you Shawn for investing in Howard County!
Speaking of the 11-mile Route 1 corridor, we’re implementing a comprehensive economic development approach that takes into account prior county studies for streetscaping, design, transportation and revitalization. There will be short-term projects and long-term strategies to support those who live and work along the corridor.
Howard County’s agricultural community is doing some amazing things too. Out in Glenwood, Dark Cloud Malthouse has opened the first micro-malting facility in the county and just the second in the state. Working primarily with Howard County farms, Dark Cloud is providing malted grains to more than a dozen craft breweries.
In my first State of the County three years ago, I talked about the importance of sustainability not only as an economic opportunity but also as a social responsibility.
The Roving Radish, the county’s healthy meals program, is a perfect example. As you may know, this was a pilot program started by my predecessor Ken Ulman. It was a good idea then and we’ve worked hard to make it even better.
We’ve added new stops, vegetarian options and a weekend food program for low-income children during the summer. We’ve increased the amount of produce and protein purchased locally by more than 100-fold, providing a reliable market for County farmers.
Because of these improvements, the Roving Radish was recognized recently by the Maryland Association of Counties with its Innovation Award for bringing healthy, local food to residents.
By the way, how did you like your lunch? Because today’s salad and chicken entree were created by the Turf Valley chefs using Roving Radish recipes. Pretty awesome, huh?
Thank you Turf Valley for helping us showcase the Roving Radish.
Each year, the budget brings challenges to ensure that we are able to provide efficient and effective services to Howard County residents. I have appreciated working with the County Council and having its unanimous support for my last three budgets.
This year, our projected revenue growth is expected to be about 40 percent lower than an average year. The county’s property tax base is growing slowly, however, our income tax revenues are lower than anticipated.
We’re not alone in this. In fact, we’re in much better shape than most other jurisdictions around the state. But just as we did three years ago when we inherited a $15 million budget shortfall, we’re making thoughtful decisions to ensure the delivery of critical services and to protect the jobs of our hard-working county employees.
When our budget is unveiled in two months, you will see the specific steps we’re taking. We’re making wise investments, careful choices and protecting our AAA bond ratings. My guiding principle in this, and every budget we’ve introduced, has been ensuring YOUR dollars are spent in an efficient and productive manner.
From the day I took office, I promised a more open and transparent government. Our administration has lived up to that promise.
We’ve given the public greater access by conducting at least four town halls each year. We’ve recorded those town halls and dozens of other public meetings for those who couldn’t get there, making them available on social media and our website. We have also engaged sign language interpreters and closed captioned our videos for our deaf and hard of hearing community.
To better inform you of the zoning and land development process, we also established the PlanHoward Academy. Frankly, we were amazed by the number of folks who expressed interest. For this reason, we plan to hold two academies each year to provide more opportunities for folks to participate.
As we look to our future, we can’t forget about our past.
This April, it will be 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After all the work and sacrifice by so many, it deeply saddens me that we still hear and see bigotry and hate in our community.
And although Silas Craft, Morris Woodson, Elhart Flurry, Leola and Remus Dorsey, Rev. John Holland and so many others, including my father, Bob Kittleman, struggled to bring equality to our community; we still have more work to do.
As Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships but we’re in the same boat now.”
Unlike those in Washington who choose to lead by division, I’m PROUD to be in the same boat with Howard County residents from Central America, Africa, Europe, Asia …. from all corners of the world.
As you may know, last fall, for the first time, Harriet Tubman Day was held at Harriet Tubman School! And finally, the former school building is back in the community’s hands.
It is my hope that this building will become a place where we remember the struggles of the past and, a place where our community can come together to build a better future.
To make sure that happens, I’m announcing today the formation of the Harriet Tubman School Advisory Council. Bessie Bordenave, a long-time leader in the community, has graciously agreed to chair the Council.
Bessie, along with Rev. Doug Sands and Howard Lyles are here with us today. They have been the ones most responsible for preserving this historic landmark.
Yes, collaboration and bipartisanship make us strong. I’d like to take a moment here to recognize four people who have done so much for Howard County. Collectively, they have served 48 years on the County Council and will be ending their Council service this year.
Calvin Ball, Jen Terrasa, Mary Kay Sigaty and Greg Fox, please join me on stage.
We may not always have agreed on issues, but I recognize and appreciate your service to the county. I’d like to present each of you with a Key to Howard County.
Thank you all.
Jon Weinstein, I appreciate your service as well. And don’t worry, you’ll get your key eventually.
This, my friends, is the difference between us and Washington. We work together. We respect each other. That’s the difference in how we do things in Howard County.
Our greatest strength lies in you, the people who live here.
We are driven by compassion, have a moral compass that guides us and a resolve to leave our communities better than we found them.
I am proud to tell you that the State of Howard County is strong. And, working together, we will make it even stronger.
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