When Baltimore County Council members hold their first meeting of 2012 on Tuesday, they're scheduled to pick their leader for the year — and for the first time in nearly three decades, it's set to be a woman.
Council members say they plan to elect Councilwoman Vicki Almond as chairwoman. The Reisterstown Democrat says she's looking forward to serving in the position and predicted that constituents would see the council "step up" this year.
The council was largely new in 2011. Five of its seven members, including Almond, were freshmen. With some experience under their belts, the council members are likely to more closely scrutinize County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's budget proposal and other issues in 2012, Almond said.
"I think now we know what questions to ask, and we're going to be asking them," Almond said. "We'll probably be more vocal in our stance."
The 62-year-old Almond would take over for Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat who also served as council chairman in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Almond has shown "a sense of maturity" in her first year in office, Olszewski said.
"She's someone who listens and thinks things out before she reacts," he said.
The chairperson leads meetings, approves council expenditures, and handles other administrative duties for the members and their staff.
Some believed that 2012 would be the year that Councilman Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat who is the council's first black member, would be chosen for the chairmanship.
Oliver, first elected in 2002, pleaded guilty in 2009 to campaign finance violations. And last year, he resigned from the state Department of Business and Economic Development after revelations that the position apparently violated a county charter rule against council members holding state jobs.
"I think because of his previous problem, we really didn't feel that this was a good time for him to be our leader, frankly," Almond said. "We really do like Councilman Oliver, and he's a very good person. … Maybe that wasn't the image that we wanted to portray as a group."
Oliver declined to comment.
The last woman to lead the council was Barbara Bachur, who was unanimously elected to the post in 1983. Bachur, a Democrat, represented the Towson area.
When Almond and Cathy Bevins were elected in 2010, they made history as being the first two women to serve on the council at the same time. Only three women had been elected before them.
"I think that Vicki has already proven through her election and her first year that she is not a woman who's going to be pushed around," said Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.
Almond called 2011 "very much a learning experience." Her accomplishments included helping to persuade the administration to delay construction of a proposed water tower that Reisterstown and Owings Mills residents opposed, and working with officials and community members on redevelopment plans for the Solo Cup site, she said.
She's also proud of the "little things," such as helping constituents get streets fixed and sidewalks extended.
"Those aren't big issues, but they're issues that do improve the quality of life in the 2nd District," she said.
"She goes out of her way to befriend other members on the council," said Marks, of Perry Hall. "Her election [to the chairmanship] is certainly a tremendous accomplishment for women in Baltimore County, but it also shows that a person with a warm heart can go very far in government."
Almond, a former chief of staff to state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, was a longtime community activist. She got her start in voluntarism back when she organized the bulletin board at her daughter's preschool, she said.
"My daughters, who are in their mid-30s, are just proud and amazed and really excited that I've come this far from the bulletin board mother that I began as," she said.