More than 200 community members from Baltimore County’s District 2 gathered at Fort Garrison Elementary School on Jan. 24 for a town hall forum with Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and County Councilman Izzy Patoka (D-District 2).
The event was the first forum for Patoka since being elected in November and the third in a handful of forums on the county budget in 2019 for Olszewski.
“This is a fulfillment of a campaign promise to be a county executive who is accessible, connected, transparent,” Olszewski told the JT. “I’m excited to see a great turnout tonight as we’ve seen with our first two town hall forums. It’s wonderful to be partnering with Councilman Patoka and to show that we’re doing this together.”
In his opening remarks, Olszewski pointed to several bleak areas for the county’s budget, namely that next year it will be short by $81 million. This problem is compounded by overcrowding in Baltimore County Public Schools, and the fact that the average wage for educators in Baltimore County is lower than all but two of Maryland’s seven largest counties.
Dozens of constituents had their own concerns and split into two lines on both sides of the elementary school auditorium to chat with their representatives. Over the course of more than two hours, about 30 residents made appeals to Patoka and Olszewski. Democratic District 11 Dels. Dana Stein and Shelly Hettleman listened from the audience.
Among the topics of concern were the repurposing of the former Pikesville Armory into an arts and entertainment space, proposed development on Falls Road near Lake Roland, traffic calming on Butler Road in Glyndon and expansion of Section 8 housing.
A resident concerned that Section 8 housing would bring crime to Pikesville suggested Olszewski expand Section 8 to Dundalk instead. He was met with uproarious laughter from the crowd, including from the executive, a Dundalk native. However, Olszewski responded by dismissing the notion that Section 8 will bring crime and called it a moral obligation.
“I have a legal obligation, and frankly I think we have a moral obligation, to tackle housing discrimination,” he said to applause that was as loud as the laughter. “More than half of people who are receiving housing support are the elderly, single-parent families and veterans. I appreciate your concern. I have to say we have a little bit of a disagreement on the policy, but I’m happy to discuss it more with you.”
No town hall would be complete without its list of traffic concerns, and this forum had plenty, from speed limits to dangerous intersections. Linda Howard introduced herself as the president of the tenants’ association at Weinberg Gardens, a senior living community on Bedford Avenue in Pikesville. She said in December, a resident of Weinberg Terrace, an adjacent community that shares a driveway with Weinberg Gardens, was struck by a vehicle on Bedford Avenue while crossing to pick up a prescription from the nearby pharmacy. Howard has been concerned for years that something like this would happen.
“No one was hurt until approximately six weeks ago. One of the residents was kicked up in the air and taken to shock trauma,” she told the JT before the forum. “In the beginning they didn’t know if he’d make it. Thank God he did. But he’s not back yet, he’s still in rehab.”
A week before the town hall, Patoka and a representative from the Department of Public Works met with Howard at Weinberg Terrace. Patoka said a short to-do list was created to address the issue that included having a Weinberg Terrace resident apply for traffic calming measures such as speed humps, and he is contacting Baltimore County Police Precinct 4 Commander Captain Brandon Rogers to request periodic traffic enforcement on Bedford Avenue.
In order for Olszewski to hear Howard’s concern, Patoka suggested she and a group of the retirement home residents come to the forum, and Patoka’s office arranged for a shuttle for 15 residents. At the forum, Olszewski promised that he would keep up with Patoka to determine the best outcome for the intersection.
After the forum, the councilman said he felt good about the feedback, concerns and suggestions for improvement
“The big takeaway is that residents of the second district really feel strongly about improving their community,” he said. “Nobody said ‘I want to move out of the second district,’ they said, ‘I want to stay here, and I just want it to be a little bit higher quality of life.’”