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Lia Russell

Baltimore Sun

January 2, 2024

Israel “Izzy” Patoka will serve as chair of the Baltimore County Council for the 2024 calendar year, after six members voted unanimously for the Pikesville Democrat to succeed the outgoing chair, Julian Jones.

Republican Todd Crandell of Dundalk was not present and did not vote.

It is Patoka’s first time serving as chair, which lasts for one year, and is typically rotated among members of the majority party. He has served since 2018 as the 2nd District council representative, which borders northwest Baltimore City and includes the communities of Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown.

A former community planner, Patoka said his priorities for the new year were the 2030 Master Plan, the 2024 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, addressing legislation to improve public facilities capacity, revisiting impact fees legislation, and the fiscal year 2025 budget.

“This council is particularly strong, and I’m really honored to work with my colleagues,” he said. “They’re a thoughtful council and bring a variety of experiences.”

“Some of the things that are passing through this council, I don’t think would have passed in the previous council,” he said, like a countywide ban on plastic bags that went into effect in November, or consideration of expanding the council. “I think it’s a thoughtful council, and willing to hear interesting ideas and also willing to move on them.”

Patoka sponsored both bills. As chair, he will earn between $87,000 and $130,500, while council members are paid between $78,000 and $115,500, according to a compensation policy the council passed last March.

Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, was elected chair the last three calendar years in a row, which he called a “whirlwind” period in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

“I’d like to think I provided a certain level of stability and a steady hand,” Jones said. Councilmen Mike Ertel of Towson and Pat Young of Catonsville, both Democrats, said they appreciated Jones’ leadership as they finished the first years of their respective terms.

Jones and Patoka are expected to run for county executive when current executive Johnny Olszewski’s term ends in 2026. Patoka previously told The Sun he was primarily focused on the 2024 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process. Council members cannot receive or solicit campaign donations or hold fundraisers during the yearlong mapping process, according to the Baltimore County Charter. The process, which began Sept. 1, 2023, ends Sept. 16.

Jones’ time as chair overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic, the inauguration of the Office of the Baltimore County Inspector General, and a workgroup to study potentially adding council members.

He touted several bills he sponsored, like one establishing an accountability review board for county police, and a bill that allows residents to dispute their sewer bills if they think they’re too high. Previously, high sewer bills would’ve led to a “scenario where people could lose their homes” because they couldn’t afford to pay the bills, he said.

Jones’ time as chair ended amid criticism from watchdog groups and county residents and officials for his drafting of an amending bill to legislation that granted the inspector general expanded access to county records during investigations and established the office within the county charter.

Jones’ amendments would have required the inspector general to report to a council-appointed board and seek a judge’s approval before subpoenaing outside records during an investigation, which Jones said was to ensure there were “checks and balances.”

Jones withdrew the bill from consideration Dec. 18. It was leaked Dec. 4 ahead of its introduction to the press, which Jones said was “unfair” in its coverage because they mentioned he had previously been investigated twice by the inspector general, whose reports he disputed as inaccurate.

“I don’t regret it, but I don’t like how it was leaked,” Jones said of his bill. “The well was poisoned from the beginning. I was the last man standing.”

Jones refused to name when asked by Patoka the council members he said had helped him draft his bill.

“If you’re not going to vote for it, don’t worry about it,” Jones told Patoka.

The council voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to pass the original legislation. Residents will vote Nov. 5 to codify the Office of the Inspector General into the county charter.

Patoka said Young would soon introduce legislation overhauling the amendment process.

“Hopefully in the near future, you’ll see that this council, this governing body, handles legislative amendments in a different way ,” he said. “[So] that it becomes more open to us and more transparent to us as council members but also, more importantly, more transparent to the residents of Baltimore County.”

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