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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Inaugural Remarks
December 1, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, honored judges, County Council members, dedicated employees and esteemed guests, today we begin the next chapter in the story of this county and I am humbled and honored to be a part of it. I am deeply grateful to each of you for being here today to witness my solemn oath of office, for my second term as your 12th county executive and the beginning of my 25th year of public service to this county.

When I stood here four years ago, I spoke at length about the past. I spoke about the Baltimore County executives who came before; they were a kind of touchstone for me and I hoped to draw upon their experiences as I prepared to move us forward.

As different as these men were, they shared a fairly pragmatic belief in local government. They saw, rightly, that local government is less about grand ideas and extravagance than about finding the best and least intrusive way to provide the things essential to a good life: stable tax rates, good schools, sound roads and bridges, jobs, safety after dark, reliable trash pickup, the snow cleared after a storm and a place to hit a baseball or buy your morning coffee.

Record Improvements

Despite the lingering effects of the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression, over the past four years we have continued this legacy of basic service.

We have streamlined government operations and innovatively invested in technology. These savings have allowed us to make record improvements in school facilities, creating safer and more comfortable learning environments. We've repaired and rebuilt roads, storm drains and sidewalks. We've added new parks throughout the County. We've jumpstarted economic development projects. Our rural landscape retains its pastoral beauty. Crime, especially violent crime, has dropped, in some cases lower than at any time since the seventies.

As we stand on the cusp of a new term, I promise that this Administration will retain the commitment to fundamental, economically sound, close-to-the-people government that is part of Baltimore County’s history.

But, as important as our past is to us, today I want to talk less about where we have been and more about where we are going. I want to talk about the future — not merely the duration of this new term, but of generations to come.

A Vision for Ourselves

What do we want our county to be 50 or 100 years from now? What kind of place do we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?

Answering these questions requires more than an adroit hand with a ledger. It demands that we think about a vision for ourselves. For without that vision, we cannot possibly know how to build something of value, something that will be cherished long after we have passed on. The place we want future generations to inherit is, I believe, more than a collection of buildings, more than pavement carrying us here and there. It is a place with certain qualities.

Inclusion

Inclusion is one of them. Every day, the news cycle brings us stories of nations, cities, and towns ripped apart by intolerance and misunderstanding, by differences in class, religion, color, and ethnicity. Baltimore County must, and can be, better than that.

We are fortunate, as we look ahead, to be able to learn from the past: from the 19th century Baltimore County neighbors, black and white, who worked together to harbor escaped slaves; from the civic leaders in our county who led the state’s first attempt to offer a free public school system so all children — regardless of station — could get an education; and from ordinary County residents who fought for desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Baltimore County must be a place where people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs feel comfortable living and working together. We must nurture an environment where discourse is passionate, but always civil and constructive.

Our greatest opportunity to reflect inclusion is through the actions and decisions of the 20,000 people employed as our county's public servants. We will continue to demonstrate, through our diverse appearance and demeanor, that all viewpoints in our county will be welcomed.

Inclusion also means that citizens have a meaningful say in the public policies that affect their lives. The people of Baltimore County care. They share opinions and ideas, and they want to be a part of the process of finding solutions. This is a strength that should be embraced.

Inclusion leads to opportunity, and we certainly want that for all our citizens. Living in a place without opportunity is like driving a dead-end street. What happens when there is nowhere else to go? You turn around and leave. And when people leave, a city or a town dies.

This is why commitment to our 173 public schools and five colleges, to our 19 public libraries, to public safety and to the continuing health of our local economy is so important. These are more than just obligatory funding categories of government. All are the building blocks of opportunity, a guarantee that future generations will want to live here because here they can learn and grow and find meaningful work.

Innovation

Innovation is part of that guarantee. In many ways, when it comes to local government, there isn’t a lot that is new under the sun. The essential tasks — education, public health and safety, public works, stewardship of our natural and economic resources —  do not change much from decade to decade.

But how we fulfill those tasks does.

One hundred years ago, our firefighters used bucket brigades and horse-drawn apparatus. Only yesterday, it seems, paying a parking ticket required a trip to Towson. Over the course of my first term, we’ve witnessed lightning-fast changes in technology, especially information technology, and invested millions in many of them. These changes have improved government services — everything from electronic transmission of an EMT’s medical data to how a code inspector processes complaints — and revolutionized the way we interact with our citizens. Just a few years ago, no one could conceive of the notion of a citizen purchasing a dog license from his iPad or communicating with us on a social media platform.

The point is that local governments and the communities they represent do not thrive by being wedded to the way things always have been. We must be willing to entertain new ideas and invention, to foster creativity, to discover more effective and efficient ways of doing things.

Such innovation does not contradict the responsibility and stability that are and must continue to be Baltimore County hallmarks. Each are intertwined. Responsibility breeds stability, which in turn provides freedom to explore, to experiment and embrace the new. Our county should be a place where this synergy is constantly at work.

Community

Finally, the Baltimore County I envision years from now embodies community.

When we love a place, we do not love a dot on a map. We do not love a ZIP code. We love the park where our fathers used to push us on a swing and the memory of the smell of crayons in our old elementary school. We love the soft ice cream stand on Main Street and our favorite crab shack. We love the comfort of familiar faces at the local grocery, at our local house of worship, and our senior center. We love the neighborhood Fourth of July parade and the volunteer fire engine carrying Santa through Reisterstown, Catonsville or Dundalk on Christmas Eve.

Experiences, traditions and people — these make a community; these make a home. Without them, our county is just a place like any other. That is not what we want for our children. We want them to be able to look back and remember the happy times they knew here, and we want them to be able to look ahead with optimism to the future they and their children can enjoy here.

It would be incredibly presumptuous to pretend that over the next four years this Administration can ensure on its own a Baltimore County that is inclusive and innovative, responsible and stable, fraught with opportunities and held together by well-loved communities. I do not have all the answers.

But I believe that there are answers. And I believe that everyone in this room — indeed, every citizen — has a role to play in fulfilling a vision of a Baltimore County that will be a place worth leaving to those we love, a place better henceforth than it is today.

 
Revised April 6, 2016         

 

Contact

County Executive,
Kevin Kamenetz
Phone: 410-887-2450

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