Elizabeth "Liz" Walsh

Elizabeth "Liz" Walsh
  • Democrat
  • Age: 47
  • Residence: Ellicott City

About Elizabeth "Liz" Walsh

Education

I am a Mount Hebron Viking, Class of ‘89—just in time to be part of Hebron’s first-ever girls’ lacrosse team. My undergraduate degree is in Civil Engineering. I attended Georgia Tech on scholarship, as a National Merit Scholar, and graduated with honors in 1993. In 1997, I went back to school, to become a lawyer. I graduated from Georgetown Law, also with honors, in 2000. I am the product of public schools, many, many of them. I am an Army brat. Patapsco Middle School—where I landed in eighth grade—was my sixth since kindergarten. (Go ahead and ask my Dad about German preschool before that, I dare you.) When it came time to raise my own family, I booked it straight back to Ellicott City, to where my Mom and Dad still live in the house behind the old Enchanted Forest, to the town and the schools my younger sisters and brother grew up in. So that my kids would have a physical permanence, a longevity that hadn’t been part of my own childhood. I didn’t know then, what I do now, that even in our tightest-knit neighborhoods, especially in District 1, our kids are just as likely to get moved in and out of schools, separated from friends and neighbors and trusted educators, just as much as I was. My own babies are now 8 and 5. This County’s very youngest constituents are why I’m in this race.

Background

For nearly twenty years now, I am a construction lawyer. I draft and negotiate contracts to design, build and manage construction projects. I advise general contractors and project owners as to what their contracts say, what the law says, and what that means they can and probably shouldn’t do. Depending on what’s at hand, I can be a collaborative problem-solver dedicated to preserving long-standing business relationships, or I can be the fiercest advocate. Before law school and over summers in college, I was a project engineer for a national general contractor. I bid and ran construction projects in the field. Wearing a hard hat. Shooting grades. Tracking spreadsheets and schedules inside the hottest or the coldest trailer in the world (depending on the season). And there was definitely a prickly, wicked-smart superintendent always leaning over my desk. If all my projects had been like my last one—rebuilding an old-time swinging bridge over the Cedar Creek in Slaughter Beach, Delaware—I probably never would have applied to law school. From this hard, hard work, I learned pragmatism, efficiency and an insistence on concrete and timely deliverables. This professional background will serve our County well: as local government undertakes a comprehensive re-working of its land-use laws and zoning plan, and as Developers continue to pursue Council approval to veer from them. I know the law. I read the plans. I do the math. (My first job ever? The Sizzler on Route 40, where the Burger King is now.)

Questionnaire

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1
TIFs
What are your views on the use of tax-increment financing as an incentive for private building and redevelopment projects, including remodeling blighted village centers in Columbia?
Walsh: Tax increment financing (TIF) is a government subsidy of private development. Speculating that a given development project will produce future, enhanced tax revenues in excess of the costs of extended financing, local government will pay some portion of a private project’s upfront development and construction costs. Although not without risk, when used to incentivize development of a project or an area that is languishing and would not otherwise attract private investment, TIFs probably make sense. Conversely, TIFs don’t make sense when private development would have happened and would have generated the same enhanced tax revenue—without any government subsidy. In that case, annual County revenues are depleted dollar-for-dollar as the unnecessary debt incurred is repaid over future decades, and the County capacity to finance other capital projects—like new schools, like school renovations and school additions—is lost. The $90M TIF awarded to a NYSE-traded Developer (and donor to District 1’s incumbent Council member) in 2017, as part of its re-development of downtown Columbia was a TIF that did not make sense. In any case, if local government is going to dole out public funds to private interest in the form of a TIF, the exchange must be plainly documented: these public funds will be used for this public good or service, on these specific terms, within this finite timeline. Private interests’ use of the public funds must be transparent, closely monitored and, if not compliant, rescindable. None of this happened with the Columbia TIF.
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2
School safety
With rising concern over school safety, should county police officers or sheriff’s deputies be assigned to all public schools, along with additional screening methods, such as metal detectors, student pat-downs and clear backpacks?
Walsh: I promise this: As District 1’s elected Council member I will approach every issue from this very same perspective: what do our children—every one of them—need. For them to be safe, to feel safe, is paramount. The question is whether putting more guns, school resource officers, and/or law enforcement in Howard County schools is a better safeguard and spend than enhancing existing physical building security (monitoring and call systems and security doors), getting kids and teachers out of the County’s 224 portable classrooms, or hiring more teachers and counselors. I can’t believe it is, but would generally defer to the wishes of the students, their parents and educators and the Board of Education on a whole school-by-school basis.
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3
Privatization
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Walsh: I would be more supportive of privatizing consumer-oriented services that aren’t already being provided (like a more robust public transportation network, or compost collection and processing (on M1 or M2 land!). I would expect, generally, to oppose privatizing any public assets (like parks, recreational and other open space, museums and other historical buildings). Particularly with regard to a new county courthouse, I would rather that the delivery and operation of that new public asset not be undertaken as a public-private-partnership. Lighting-as-a-service or solar panels, to me, promise the most potential for the County to achieve both savings and improved efficiency across the array of County-owned buildings, including schools. Service providers design and outfit existing buildings and spaces with new energy efficient systems; the resulting savings in electric usage thereafter is shared between service provider and consumer; even with such additional obligation owed the service provider, the consumer ends up paying less money and using less energy than under its prior, traditional energy-use portfolio.
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4
Adequate public facilities
Is a provision in the county’s recently adopted Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that allows developers to build affordable housing in areas where a building moratorium is in place a responsible approach?
Walsh: The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) is a land-use policy intended to ensure that new residential construction does not outpace the public facilities (roadways and schools) available for its use. After extensive “task force” consideration of potential APFO revisions, months’ delay following introduction of the resulting compromise bill (CB61-2017), and then several late-into-the-night public hearings where constituents testified overwhelmingly in favor of tighter development controls, in November 2017 the current County Council finally passed the compromise APFO revisions. Its vote was invalidated the next day, however, having taken place two days after the bill had expired by procedural rule. In February 2018, the Council passed another APFO bill (CB1-2018)—albeit in weaker form than had passed just three months before. As revised, APFO imposes no “building moratorium.” In the event a high school reaches 115% capacity, a middle school 110%, or an elementary school 105%, the law only delays the start of new construction. After waiting four years, Developers can build into County schools regardless of how overcrowded those schools may be. District 1’s incumbent voted against other members’ proposed amendments to both APFO bills, that would have lowered constraining capacities or extended the applicable waiting period. Worse, he provided the swing vote allowing an exemption new to the second APFO bill: projects providing at least 40% affordable housing would be permitted to build into overcrowded schools without any waiting period at all. This APFO revision set no limit on the number of homes so exempted, or the resulting school-age children.
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5
Sanctuary county
Is it appropriate for Howard to be a “sanctuary county” and prohibit county police from reporting detainees in the county detention center to federal authorities?
Walsh: I wish that providing all our County residents “sanctuary” from discrimination, intimidation and fear would not be taken as denigrating the lawful immigration processes that certain among us have so painstakingly honored. Plainly last year’s so-called sanctuary bill (CB-9) did not come about in a vacuum, but rather in response to federal law and policy that on its face and in its implementation targets with laser-focus only certain countries of origin and one religion. By our silence, we are complicit in his hate. By our failure to affirmatively reject it, we embolden his bigotry. And it seeps and spreads into settings and circumstances and personal interactions wholly apart from federal immigration and customs enforcement. That any child or family, particularly, would be or feel vulnerable for our failure to stand together–loudly, resolutely, as a unified community–is unconscionable to me. What is neither solution nor satisfying is quietly publishing sanctuary-like policy (OPS-10) months after the fact. Either definitive, decisive action is required or it is not. For me, this is not an issue for middling or compromise.
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6
Ellicott City
What efforts, if any, should Howard County take to install more flood-control systems in and around Ellicott City, and how many tax dollars should be involved?
Walsh: Mostly, the County must comprehensively plan for and manage the pace and extent of new subdivisions, infill development and other gray infrastructure permitted in this grossly overstressed watershed. But, plenty of no-cost measures would better control flooding in old Ellicott City and the established neighborhoods that surround it. At a minimum, the County should: –Disallow development plans on the shelf to “grandfather in” under superseded, woefully inadequate storm water management and conservation regulations –Enforce existing land-use law, forbidding the County’s Developer-cozy Department of Planning and Zoning from continuing to waive environmental requirements even in the most sensitive applications –Enact better laws, prioritizing green infrastructure, wider buffers protecting natural streams and manmade waterways, and forest conservation, and –Stop paving everything. Since the July 2016 flood, the County continues ad hoc installation of even more impervious surfaces in the immediate area of old Ellicott City: a new public parking lot at the base of Fels Lane, another proposed near the District Courthouse complex of existing lots, an extensive asphalt landing and berm at the bottom of Park Drive… Additionally, we must identify those upstream existing properties where storm water mitigation will have the most meaningful impact on downstream homes and businesses, opportunities along the Tiber and Hudson rivers to expand the surrounding flood plain, and ecologically significant undeveloped areas we should ensure remain green. I am generally in favor of more robust storm water facilities as outlined in the latest draft recovery plans.
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7
Opioids
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Walsh: I will serve all of my constituents in all of their needs. If I hear from them or otherwise independently determine that the existing level of treatment and services provided addicts in Howard County is insufficient or in decline, I will work collaboratively with the County Executive, fellow Council members, local and state agencies and the network of non-profits in and around the County providing recovery services, to determine the fastest and best remedy.
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8
Public transportation
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Walsh: We don’t invest enough in public transportation. Last year, for example, Montgomery County spent nearly $25 per person on its bike network. Anne Arundel spent $13.20. In Howard, though, we dedicated only $1.89 per person to implement the existing County-wide plan to connect neighborhoods and towns and make bike ridership an effective alternative to vehicular traffic. Fully funding the BikeHoward program would require $3 million dollars annually, not the fraction of that spent this prior year. As an alternative or supplement to pulling those funds from County revenue, we should ensure that new development is contributing on-site bike-related amenities consistent with the BikeHoward program. One particular infrastructure item that should be prioritized given its certain effectiveness in safely connecting otherwise isolated neighborhoods is a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Route 1, in Elkridge. Given the speeds on that roadway, and its width, crossing it on foot or bike is too dangerous, particularly for children. Allowing safe passage from one side of Route 1 to the other will link neighborhoods and parklands on one side, with new recreational facilities, a library and senior center and schools on the other.
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9
Taxes
The state is recommending a constant yield property tax rate of 99 cents for the budget year ahead, below the current tax rate. Do you support reducing the tax rate to the constant yield level and adopting zero-based budgeting?
Walsh: If we can afford it, I am all for reducing the tax rate to the constant yield level. Right now, though, while our schools are digging out of an anomalous, but sizable operating deficit, I don’t think we should.
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