Dundalk residents, former officials criticize Kamenetz's handling of property sales

For three months, Baltimore County officials have been weighing proposals from developers to buy three parcels of county-owned land, in Towson, Dundalk and Randallstown.

But county officials are releasing little information about the deliberations — they won't even say who serves on the committee evaluating the eight bids that were received.

That has triggered criticism from some residents and former officials.

"It belongs to the people," Karen Cruz, a community activist in Dundalk, said of the North Point Government Center and its recreation fields, one of the sites up for sale. "It doesn't belong to the politicians. And there's been no input at all."

Bob Staab, a former state delegate who led the county's parks and recreation programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is a Dundalk resident, agrees. He said residents have been left with too few details of the plan.

"They don't communicate with the public at all," he said of county officials. "That really bothers me."

Officials in County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration defend the process, and say they will provide details when the evaluation committee finishes. The plan is to use money raised from the land sales to replace the government facilities and to fund school improvements.

The county has not revealed the names of people on the committee because officials want to protect the group from outside influence, said Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff.

"We don't want anybody on the committee being pressured," he said. "There has never been a hint of impropriety regarding the procurement process in Baltimore County. We protect its integrity."

Once the evaluation committee has made its recommendations, bid documents will be released, Mohler said.

"Everything will be transparent once they conclude their work," he said.

The county announced plans to put three sites up for bid in December — the 28-acre government center site, the Towson fire station and a police substation in Randallstown — but has not released any details of the proposals submitted by developers in April, turning down a Public Information Act request from The Baltimore Sun for bid documents.

Even before the bids were received, the plan got off to a rocky start when Towson residents criticized a proposal to relocate the fire station to a local park to make way for the sale. Kamenetz ultimately found another location for the station to move.

More recently, the controversy has centered on the Dundalk site, which residents use for a variety of sports and arts programs, including chorus practices and a performing arts program for people with disabilities.

In a recent letter to county officials, former County Councilman Joe Bartenfelder called the county's handling of the process "cavalier and reckless."

"Land owned by county residents, county taxpayers, should not be arbitrarily pulled out from under people who have been living in that community and using those facilities for years without allowing them to be part of the process," wrote Bartenfelder, who ran against Kamenetz in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Cruz and other Dundalk residents have attended County Council meetings to urge council members — who will make the final decision on whether to approve the land sales — to stop the sale of the government center. They have complained that the county has not held community meetings or listened to their concerns about the plan.

At the council's most recent meeting, Cruz called on Councilman John Olszewski Sr. to recuse himself, saying he is "best friends" with developer John Vontran, who is part of a group bidding on the property.

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said after the meeting that Cruz mischaracterized his relationship with Vontran.

"I'm friends with a lot of people. He's not my best friend. My best friend is my wife," he said. "He's a friend, but he's not my best friend."