Sheila Ruth

Sheila Ruth
  • Democrat
  • Age: 54
  • Residence: Catonsville

About Sheila Ruth

Education

In 1995 I earned a B.S. degree with Highest Honors in Liberal Arts and Technology: Computers, from Stevenson University, formerly Villa Julie College. I completed most of my college degree as a part-time student while working full-time, after taking a hiatus after graduation from Glenelg High School in Glenelg, Maryland.

Background

A rich variety of experiences have led to my candidacy for County Council. I run a publishing company and website development business. As a small business owner, I understand the difficulties they face when large corporations have more power than ever to eliminate competition. I revitalized the nearly defunct Mid-Atlantic Book Publishers Association when I was its President, and I’m currently the Vice-President of the Cybils Awards, a nonprofit children’s literature award. In recent years, my focus has been progressive political activism. I’m on the Board of Directors for Get Money Out - Maryland and I founded the Baltimore County Progressive Democrats Club. I was on the steering committee of the Our Revolution Baltimore City/County Chapter.

Questionnaire

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1
Kamenetz record
What do you consider the greatest accomplishments and failings of the Kamenetz administration?
Ruth: The Kamenetz administration’s greatest failing is its lack of transparency. For example, deals such as the Towson Gateway project and the Towson Row assistance package have been negotiated in secret and presented for approval with very little notice. On the Towson Gateway property, 30 trees, including 100-year-old specimen oaks, were removed without any notice and in violation of a County Council resolution. The one area in which County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has done well is promoting diversity and combating discrimination. Last year, he signed an order prohibiting county discrimination against people based on immigration status, and limiting police cooperation with federal immigration authorities without a judicial warrant. In 2012, under his leadership, Baltimore County passed a law adding protection for gender identity and expression to the county’s existing nondiscrimination law.
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2
Resources/Taxes
Does Baltimore County have adequate resources to meet its needs, particularly to renovate or replace aging schools? Do you support increasing the property tax or local income tax?
Ruth: According to Baltimore County’s FY2019 Spending Affordability Report, we are near or at the limits of what we can afford to borrow. Yet we still have unmet capital construction needs, such as schools that are overcrowded and/or in poor condition. The first thing I would advocate is taking a hard look at our priorities. Looking back in recent years, the county could’ve made different choices to free up more funds for these critical infrastructure issues. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on laptops for every child and associated technology, some of it in no-bid contracts that we now know were tainted by ethical issues. Better choices in piloting and implementing this program would’ve left money for building livable schools. Repealing the Stormwater Remediation Fee was a cruel deception. The county is still legally and morally obligated to fund mitigation of toxic runoff into the Bay.. The homeowner share of this fee was minimal–26 dollars a year–with businesses paying the larger share. Instead, at least $16 million a year, money that could have been spent on school infrastructure, must be taken from other parts of the budget to pay for it. I would also consider alternative sources of revenue, such as developer impact fees that offset the development’s impact on infrastructure.These are only three examples of the many choices we could make differently to free up more money for urgent needs like school construction.
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3
Housing
Do you support Baltimore County's federal housing consent decree? In particular, do you support a prohibition on rental discrimination against those who use federal housing vouchers?
Ruth: In 2016, Baltimore County settled a federal housing discrimination complaint. As part of the settlement, Baltimore County agreed to incentivize developers to create affordable housing in more prosperous areas of the county, and to introduce a bill to prevent housing discrimination against people using federal housing vouchers. However, the county wasn’t required to pass the bill, , known as the HOME Act. Six out of the seven current County Council members, including my opponent, voted against it, voting to continue housing discrimination. I have made passing the HOME Act a priority in my campaign. Discrimination of any kind is simply unacceptable. If elected, I will do everything I can to pass the HOME Act and develop affordable housing in areas of the county without enough. Giving people more housing options will allow them to move closer to good jobs and schools, potentially boosting their income and raising the standard of living countywide.
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4
School system
Does the county government exercise adequate oversight over the school system?
Ruth: Recent incidents indicate that clearly more oversight is needed, including independent audits of school contracts.
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5
Revitalization
What role can the county play in assisting in the preservation or revitalization of aging communities?
Ruth: The county has neglected areas urgently in need of revitalization. This should be the primary use of incentives: to encourage economic development in communities with urgent need, and those where investment will make the biggest difference. However, such economic development needs to be carefully planned to preserve green space, maintain the historic and community character, and avoid gentrification and displacement of current residents. Such development should only be undertaken in consultation with all stakeholders– including members of affected communities. Such development should include a mixture of housing levels, including affordable housing, as well as retail and office space in green, walkable communities.
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6
Police
How would you characterize the relationship between the Baltimore County police and the communities they serve? Are any reforms necessary?
Ruth: My respect and appreciation for police officers who risk their lives and serve the community cannot erase incidents like the deaths of Korryn Gaines and Tawon Boyd, which indicate that Baltimore County Police need training in de-escalation techniques and handling people exhibiting signs of mental illness. Community policing, placing officers in the same neighborhoods consistently, and having them spend some time on foot getting to know the community should be standard whenever possible. Some areas of Baltimore County are too spread out for community policing to be effective, but others are perfect. The department’s training and culture should always emphasize that police should be in solidarity with communities they serve, not in opposition to them.
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7
Zoning
Baltimore County was a pioneer in rural land preservation. Do its zoning policies and the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line continue to serve the county's needs?
Ruth: The URDL does a good job of protecting the more rural areas of the county. However, within the urban side of the URDL, development is often done with little planning or forethought, merely rubber stamping developer plans, rather than creating the “compact, mixed-use, walkable design consistent with existing community character” advocated for in the 2020 Baltimore County Master Plan. There are areas of the county that badly need development to restore communities, lessen blight, and revitalize ailing commercial corridors. I would proactively work with communities to help develop a vision for the community, and then reach out to developers and businesses to make that vision a reality.
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8
Baltimore City
Is Baltimore County's support for cultural institutions in Baltimore City too little, too much or just right?
Ruth: Baltimore County residents have easy access to a wealth of cultural institutions in the city, including museums, theatres, and the zoo. For Baltimore County to provide grants as we do to the city’s institutions seems reasonable, given that we benefit from this abundance. However, thinking only in terms of cultural institutions is too limiting. Although Baltimore City and County are separate jurisdictions, in many ways we are inextricably linked. There are many opportunities, such as transit, affordable housing, and economic development, where working together could benefit both of us. Such regional thinking could also increase the influence of the city and county in dealing with the state, developers, and businesses.
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9
Transit
Is Baltimore County adequately served by mass transit?
Ruth: Getting around Baltimore County by mass transit is difficult, because most transit in the area is oriented either towards getting to and from the city or Washington, DC. Even traveling in and out of the city can require a multi-hour bus ride. The canceled red line would have helped to get people to and from jobs, and I support restarting the project if the state can find a way. Baltimore County is in some areas too spread out for mass transit to be effective. One partial solution would be developing walkable, mixed-use communities near the existing mass transit stations. Of course, this would not enable people to get to areas of the county poorly served by mass transit, but it would allow people who use mass transit, by choice or necessity, to live in a place with easy access to shopping, jobs, and entertainment.
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