The following press release was disseminated by the campaign for County Councilman Richard Slutzky, a candidate for Harford County Council President who was prompted into releasing the “truth about issues” after his opponents “stooped to negative campaigning, inaccurate and misleading information, and scare tactics.”
Following that is a letter from Bill Onorato, one of the leaders of the group opposing the Eva Mar project in Bel Air, who refutes Slutzky’s claims with his own version of ‘fact vs fiction.’
“The Truth about Issues and Leadership in Harford County”
From Slutzky, Richard for County Council:
I have been pleased to serve the citizens of Harford County and unfortunately my opponents have stooped to negative campaigning, inaccurate and misleading information, and scare tactics in order to attempt to get elected. I don’t believe in those tactics and have attempted to emphasize the positives that we have accomplished over the past 12 years. It is however time to let the voters know the “Facts” and not the “Fiction” that my opponent and his elitist special interest group supporters have been promoting.
THE TRUTH ABOUT EVA-MAR
FICTION: “…Slutzky refused to as much as meet with his constituents…Slutzky fully supported three changes to zoning that specifically benefited Eva Mar Developers…”
FACT: I have never publicly stated support or opposition to the Eva-Mar Project. It is Improper and irresponsible to do so as the County Council is a part of the Zoning Appeals process.
FACT: I met in a series of meetings with representatives of Homeowners Associations of Tudor Manor, Fox Chase, Amaclae, Wagners Farm, and other citizens regarding this project to provide a Senior Citizen housing community in Harford County.
FACT: The leader of Citizens Against Eva-Mar chose not to attend those meetings or ask for a private meeting with my office.
FACT: Neither I nor other Council Members have ever voted on rezoning legislation specific to “Eva-Mar”.
FACT: The zoning in place for the EVA-Mar project has been in existence since 1982 and the property has been in Harford County’s Development Envelope since the mid 1970’s.
THE TRUTH ABOUT “WALMART” PROPERTY
FICTION: “…Slutzky voted twice in favor of zoning changes that may bring a Walmart to Bel Air…”
FACT: I have never publicly stated support or opposition to the Walmart project. It is improper and irresponsible to do so as the County Council is part of the Zoning Appeals process.
FACT: On September 2, 2008 zoning appeal case #170 came before the council acting as the Harford County Zoning Board of appeals. The council voted 5-2 to overrule the Zoning Hearing Examiners decision not to change residential zoning to B3 business zoning for the parcel now associated with the Walmart project. I was one of the two members that voted against this change.
FACT: Later in 2008 the County Council working with the Administration initiated a Comprehensive Rezoning process and a zoning code rewrite. This made Case #170 a moot point.
FACT: During the Comprehensive rezoning process community leaders from the areas around what is now being considered the “Walmart” property heavily lobbied for the Administration and the County Council to amend the zoning to B3. The community leaders were hopeful a new Wegman’s would come to the site. When the entire comprehensive rezoning was passed the change from residential to B3 was included. Wegman’s however selected another location.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TIF’s
FICTION: “…Slutzky fully supported a favorable $23 million loan (TIF) of taxpayer money by the County to the James Run Project…Slutzky fully supported another $14 Million loan by the County to the developer of Beechtree Estates…”
FACT: Harford County does not invest a cent in the TIF process. Harford County does not loan anyone money in the TIF process. Harford County does not use its “full faith and credit” taxing authority in the TIF process.
FACT: TIF Loans are a private financing between Banks and Developers.
FACT: In the TIF Process Developers can add an additional fee to the real estate tax on properties sold. There is also a complex incremental tax collection formula applied. The additional fee is used by the developer to pay the bank loan.
FACT: Only one TIF project has been implemented in Harford County – Beechtree Estates. The County has received significant infrastructure improvements and is collecting additional real estate income from this project.
THE TRUTH ABOUT RED PUMP ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
FICTION: “…Slutzky fully supported and lobbied for the inexplicable selection of Red Pump Elementary over a more appropriate location…”
FACT: I was directed by the County Council in a legislative session to investigate and report on why the Board of Education decided to move the long-planned Red Pump School Project to another location.
FACT: Council members were very concerned that the Shucks Road site was not in the development envelope, did not have access to public sewer and water, was near a high traffic volume intersection and was projected to cost more to build then at the Red Pump Site.
FACT: During my investigation, I discovered that lawsuits had been filed against the school system regarding a controversial bid process that had been completed on Red Pump School. Working with council attorney’s, significant evidence was collected and evaluated generating serious concerns on the council. The legal concerns in this matter combined with other concerns about the project, as stated above, provided the council with good reason to believe the elementary school construction site was switched by the school system for reasons other than those presented by the Board of Education. During this investigation the project manager handling the bid process was given an unannounced disability retirement and shortly after that the President of the Board of Education, who took credit for switching the project, resigned to spend more time with his family and take care of business needs.
FACT: I met with the representatives of the PTA/PTO groups and other concerned citizens of the Shucks Road community regarding the traffic concerns and potential expansion of the development envelope that building a new Elementary School at Shucks Road would potentially have.
FACT: Building the Red Pump School and the redistricting associated with these changes has eliminated all elementary school overcrowding in Harford County. There are currently no overcrowded schools in Harford County and elementary school students are no longer attending school at middle school facilities and most portable classroom use has been eliminated.
Positive Results & Future Direction:
Since I have been in office the following changes have occurred in Harford County to help improve the Quality of Life for our Citizens:
For those concerned about our Public Schools – We have gone from a county with aging and failing Public School Infrastructure, Overcrowding, and Portable Classrooms to having 8 New Public Schools. We no longer have overcrowding anywhere in the county and have few portable classrooms in use at our schools. For the future we need to focus on our Human Capital. While the Board of Education prioritizes where money is spent that is provided to it, in my role I will continue to advocate for the employees that work for HCPS.
For those concerned about Parks and Recreation – We have added 6 New Parks and Athletic Complexes and added New Turf Fields to most of the High Schools in Harford County. Harford County has also added 2 New Community Activity Centers for our residents to use. As I have in the past, I will continue to support responsible management of our lands in order to maintain public areas and programs that benefit our various communities.
For those concerned about Public Safety – We have added 2 New Sheriff Office Substations and have expanded and improved Harford County’s Emergency Operations Center to be one of the premier centers in the WORLD. As with Education, our focus has been to build and rebuild an aging infrastructure. Likewise, it is time we refocus on the fine men and women that serve to benefit Harford County’s Public Safety.
For those interested in other community needs – We have 3 new or Expanded Public Libraries and a New Dental and Health Center. We have also worked to improve many other Quality of Life items throughout the county. Harford County is and will remain a great place to live and work!
Integrity and Honesty:
My opponent and certain special interest groups supporting his campaign have launched a smear campaign against my personal integrity. I have never been accused of any impropriety whatsoever other than the smear tactics of these groups. My Campaign has received money and support from a wide range of individuals, businesses, and organizations – they believe in my message, my positive results, my thoroughness, and my fairness in working to move Harford County forward. While my opponent may think a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars donated to a Campaign Committee, which is open and transparent, would potentially sway my actions, I am insulted at the accusations. My opponent should be ashamed of this display of desperation.
The citizens of Harford County do not need a Council President willing to stoop to such low tactics, who will tell groups simply what they want to hear, who plays fast and loose with the facts, who misleads with deception in regards to my voting record or contributions received over twelve years and 4 campaigns . NO thank you Mr. Thornton. NO thank you to your smear tactics. The voters have a proven leader already and a consensus builder that is truly interested in making Harford County the best it can be and improving our Quality of Life. That choice is clear and that leader is me. Please Vote for Richard Slutzky in Early Voting and on November 4th!
The Truth About Councilman Richard Slutzky
From Bill Onorato:
In response to the Councilman’s recent ads, I wanted to play a little game of “Fact or Fiction” of my own. To be clear, I do not know Councilman Slutzky personally and in no way intend for this to be an indictment of his integrity or of him as a man. Certainly, I respect his twelve years of service to the County as a councilman and his countless years serving the public in numerous other ways. I do however intend for this to call into question his position on land use matters in general, using Eva Mar as an example, and whether his position on such matters is consistent with someone we want as Council President going forward. And just to get this out of the way for those who will undoubtedly call me a NIMBY, this has nothing to do with whether I or anyone else wants the proposed Eva Mar project in their backyard. For the record, I do not want the Eva Mar project to move forward as proposed and if that makes me a NIMBY then so be it. This piece has everything to do with whether our elected officials, in particular Councilman Slutzky, are looking out for the best interests of the community at large and not just the interests of deep-pocketed developers. Councilman Slutzky, through his choice to remain silent on Eva Mar while other Council members may have taken a different approach if Eva Mar was in their district, has done irreparable harm to the community and has only served to line the pockets of the developers. Regardless of his motivations, such inaction on a development with such a significant impact to a community, the environment and the County as a whole cannot be allowed to go unquestioned particularly as we go to the polls to determine whether he is entitled to yet another four years in office.
FICTION: Slutzky met with citizens to discuss their concerns about Eva Mar and how he could help.
FACT: While Slutzky did meet with representatives from a number of neighborhoods surrounding Eva Mar and members of our leadership team on January 15, 2014, per the email invitation from Slutzky’s aid dated January 13th, “The purpose of this meeting will be limited to explaining the role of the County Council active as a legislative body and as a quasi-judicial body on the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
FACT: The sole purpose of that meeting was to explain to us why he could not talk to us or help us – nothing else. Slutzky had Council attorney, Melissa Lambert, present at that meeting as a witness and to lend “credibility” to his inexplicable claim of a conflict of interest due to his position on the Board of Appeals. The meeting was simply a CYA meeting and NOT an effort to listen to our concerns as Slutzky would lead you to believe in his ad.
FACT: Slutzky has never conducted a meeting in which he offered his constituents any assistance related to Eva Mar.
FACT: The “leader” of Citizens Against Eva Mar, as Slutzky refers in an ad he ran last week, made it clear that he was out-of-town on business the night Slutzky unilaterally scheduled the meeting. However, other leaders of our group were present at the meeting who reported back to our group.
FACT: Given that Slutzky made it abundantly clear at the January 15th meeting that he could not and would not provide any assistance whatsoever to his constituents on the Eva Mar project, there was NO point at all in scheduling any follow up meetings with him. We got the message loud and clear and it did not need repeating.
FACT: Despite telling his constituents that he cannot talk to us about anything Eva Mar related because of a conflict of interest, Slutzky has no problem accepting thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from parties related to Eva Mar developers. The very same parties who would also be before him if a matter related to Eva Mar made it to the Board of Appeals. By his own logic, these campaign contributions also create a conflict of interest and yet he does not see this as a problem. Campaign contributions have been held by the United States Supreme Court to be a form of speech.
FACT: Such contrary positions cannot be reconciled.
FICTION: There are zoning issues related to Eva Mar that could come before the County Council sitting as Board of Appeals.
FACT: The People’s Council, whose sole purpose is to help citizens in zoning matters, declined to help us because there were no issues to come before the Board of Appeals.
FACT: Every person we talked to with knowledge of the County zoning process was unanimous in stating that there were no issues related to Eva Mar that would ever come before the Board of Appeals.
FACT: We are now nearly a year after the Eva Mar plans went public and there is still absolutely no sign that any issue at all will make it to the Board of Appeals.
FACT: The only issue (the building height issue) that could have come before the Council as Board of Appeals was made moot by Bill 13-35 discussed below. Under the old code, the developers would have had to request a variance to build CCRC buildings greater than 50 feet tall. Bill 13-35 did away with that by changing the height limitation from a defined 50 feet to a vague four stories thereby allowing the now proposed 70 feet tall buildings.
FACT: Issues like traffic and accidents on Route 543/Route22 have absolutely nothing to do with zoning. And yet Slutzky will not even make a statement about those issues which affect every resident of Harford County who travels those roads.
FACT: Councilman McMahan and other Councilmembers have stated on the record that they regularly attend Community Input Meetings for projects in their jurisdiction which would also be a conflict of interest if they shared Slutzky’s misguided position.
FACT: Slutzky did not attend either of the two CIMs or the two DACs on the Eva Mar project.
FACT: Councilman Guthrie agreed that Slutzky’s position effectively amounts “taxation without representation.”
FACT: The County code expressly provides that a Council member may talk to his constituents about a development up until the point when a Board of Appeals case is filed.
FICTION: The current County Council has never voted on any legislation that specifically benefitted Eva Mar.
FACT: All seven Councilmembers voted for Bills 13-35, 13-36, 13-37, all three of which conferred specific benefits to Eva Mar developers. Most notably, Bill 13-35 which changed the building height limitation on CCRC buildings effectively allowing the 70 foot tall buildings shown in recently filed architectural drawings where the buildings were previously capped at 50 feet.
FACT: Joe Snee, attorney for the developers, was quoted in a January 7, 2013 article in the Aegis as saying “We cleaned up the code and we got to keep our architecture that we had in Aberdeen and move it over to Bel Air.”
FACT: Those three bills were passed on November 12, 2013. The letters to first notifying surrounding residents of the Eva Mar plans were dated November 14, 2013. A mere two days separated the two.
FACT: To say that Bill 13-35 specifically dealing with the building height of CCRCs (the only CCRC ever proposed in Harford County is at Eva Mar, not counting the failed Aberdeen project) is not specific to Eva Mar is delusional.
FACT: We have never ever disputed that the farm is zoned R1 and has been since 1982. Nor have we ever alleged that the current Council or County Executive did anything to change that. We have alleged however that Bills 13-35, 13-36 and 13-37 passed just two days before the plans went public conferred specific benefits to the project to our detriment and that the passage of those bills under the cover of darkness is unethical at a minimum.
FICTION: Campaign contributions do not influence politicians.
FACT: The $13,000 Slutzky received from entities related to Dixie Construction (president of which is on the Board of the CCRC) since September 2013 represents 12% of the total campaign contributions Slutzky has received since 2006 (around $106,000). And yet Slutzky alleges that kind of money has no influence on him. You have a single donor who gives you 12% of your overall contributions and you do not acknowledge that person with at least increased access???
FACT: Slutzky does receive campaign contributions from a wide range of interests and individuals. BUT by far the highest concentration is from developers, their attorneys, people seeking zoning reclassifications or who have cases before the Board of Appeals. That group represents approximately 67% of the total contributions he has received since 2006. Non-land use related individuals and businesses comprise only about 20% of his total contributions with the balance of contributions coming from County employees and political action committees (PACs) unrelated to land use.
FACT: At the end of the day, the only person who truly knows what influences Slutzky is Slutzky himself. In the case of Slutzky’s position on Eva Mar, there are only two alternatives: 1. He genuinely believes his “conflict of interest” position is valid and what is best for his constituents despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, fellow Council members who disagree and a gross contradiction of that position by freely accepting of campaign contributions from developers; or 2. He is allowing the campaign contributions to influence his decisions. Either way we wind up with a colossal lapse of judgment and a complete abdication of his duty to represent ALL of his constituents who, as he indicates in his ad, represent a wide range of individuals, businesses and organizations NOT just developers.
FICTION: This is a smear campaign against Slutzky.
FACT: This is the truth. Shenanigans like this need to be called out and cannot be allowed to stand.
FICTION: Slutzky’s position on Eva Mar is just an Eva Mar issue that only impacts those living in the neighborhoods surrounding the project.
FACT: Slutzky’s failure to help us and aid developers through his silence is an issue that impacts all Harford County residents. Slutzky’s lack of action on the traffic impacts caused by Eva Mar will have a major impact on every person in the County who travels along Route 543 and Route 22 – roads that by all accounts are already congested and plagued with almost daily accidents. Over 40,000 cars per day (almost 1/5th of the County’s population) pass through the 543/22 intersection. Eva Mar and other projects will add over 5,000 trips per day to the area.
FACT: Slutzky’s effective aid to developers in this case will only further embolden developers to exploit him on future projects throughout Harford County and with even greater effect with if Slutzky becomes Council President. What we have seen with Eva Mar will be coming to undeveloped land in your backyard sooner or later.
FACT: Slutzky’s silence and indefensible positions on land use matters are inexcusable and should not be rewarded with a promotion to Council President.