Jesse Bane Aims for a Vibrant Community for Families and Visitors
It hasn’t been quite a year yet that Jesse Bane was announced as Bel Air’s Town Administrator. He needed little introduction, however.
Bane served two back-to-back terms as Sheriff of Harford County, ending his service at the county level in 2014. A resident of Harford County since 1954, he is a graduate of Bel Air High School and now holds down the fort, so to speak, behind the unique semi-circular desk in Bel Air’s Town Hall.
“Really, it wasn’t even on my radar,” Bane admits. “I was going to take a few months and think over what’s next. I thought about going back to the home improvement business, and then around Christmas time last year I got a phone call from one of the Bel Air Town Commissioners.”
The rest is not so distant history.
“I was asked if I’d consider serving as Bel Air’s Town Administrator,” Bane explains. “I immediately replied, ‘What do I know about running a town? So no.’” His dismissal of the query was, however, softened by an agreement to meet in person with members of the Town Board of Commissioners to discuss the theory at a later date.
That “later date” would be the very next morning over breakfast.
“I wanted to make sure there was no one internally interested in seeking the post,” Bane recalls. “I love a challenge and an opportunity to get things accomplished based on strong working relationships, friendships and partnerships.” Intrigued, Bane agreed to accept the post as an interim administrator giving both sides of the equation the opportunity to “test the waters” so to speak without causing any negative impact if the concept proved unsatisfactory to either party.
“Basically, if I could do something to benefit the citizens of Bel Air, I wanted to try, so I agreed to come on at an interim level until the end of the fiscal year,” Bane explains. Since the new fiscal year began July 1, it is apparent that Bane – still in the administrator’s office, which is replete with maps, plans, files and binders full of projects – has found a new niche, despite municipal management not having hit his radar previously.
Now gearing up to mark one year at the helm of Bel Air, Bane is enjoying projects that have come to fruition and looking ahead to the future of the town. Part of his focus, and a crucial factor he sees for the town, is developing and strengthening partnerships.
“I want Bel Air to be a destination,” Bane says. “A place where people want to live and raise their children that has all they need to nurture children to adulthood. Adults who choose to live and work in their hometown.”
Though technically Bel Air is 3.1 square miles, most people consider Bel Air to be a larger five mile radius from Bel Air’s iconic downtown area. “We need to expand our focus beyond just the traditional downtown of Main Street people perceive,” Bane says. “It is the people of Bel Air – the residents who are the heart of our town, including the outlying rural areas – who are a vital part of the fabric of the town.”
Bel Air’s Town Board Changes After 2015 Election
New faces have joined Bel Air’s Board of Town Commissioners, following the November 2015 election.
The top vote earner was the incumbent Susan U. Burdette, who earned a total of 327 votes. She will be joined by newcomers to the board Brendan P. Hopkins, who garnered 195 votes, and Philip L. Einhorn who amassed 189 votes. The election resulted in 413 ballots being cast, or 5.72 percent of the town’s 7,222 active registered voters.
Earlier this year, two long-term elected officials of the town, Commissioner Edward Hopkins and Commissioner Chairman, most commonly referred to as Mayor, Robert Reier, announced they would step aside and not seek re-election.
Reier served on the Board of Commissioners for nine years, after being appointed to the Board in December 2006 to fill a vacancy. He was subsequently elected the following year in November 2007.
Hopkins, a lifelong resident of Bel Air, was elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2007, and has been an active member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company for over 35 years.
In that vein, Bane is following national trends that indicate Millennials are most interested in rental housing opportunities that are within walkable communities to include a variety of entertainment, dining and shopping options; educational attainment facilities; and, perhaps most importantly, employment opportunities in a walkable or easily accessible distance using non-traditional forms of transportation.
Trish Heidenreich, economic development director for Bel Air, agrees. “In some ways it is a selfish thing for me … I live here, and I want Bel Air to be the place where my children and grandchildren live, where my friends want to live, a community where I enjoy living,” she defines. “Bel Air is so unique, with a perfect balance of history coupled with an influx of new residents with great ideas, great shopping and events; it is the perfect combination of elements.
“It’s not the skill of one single person that makes Bel Air what it is,” she adds. “It is the combined efforts of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, town government, residents, landlords, property owners and county government. There is no magic pill; it is the dedication and skills of a community of people working to build a better Bel Air.”
Bane sees a strong partnership with Harford Community College, connecting Bel Air’s downtown area, with the campus on Thomas Run Road as a key link in making these community connections. “The college can be a huge factor in this,” Bane says, “not merely in educational opportunities, which are primary, but also in the quality of life focus of arts, culture and entertainment.”
Long held plans are not on the back burner either, with a goal of facilitating lodging opportunities for visitors and tourists within town, either in a boutique or traditional hotel or bed and breakfast concept. “That would be a major thing for Bel Air to achieve,” Bane acknowledges. Making parks and playgrounds more user-friendly and accessible to people with various levels of abilities is being addressed, as are myriad streetscape improvements, within the confines of the current tax rate, which is the lowest of Harford’s three municipalities.
The long anticipated improvements to the garages behind the Bel Air Armory are in first phase with the goal of bringing a year-round farmers market to the space. “The Armory is a very important historic structure in downtown,” Bane says. “It is truly a landmark to downtown, so we want the work done properly and with an eye on longevity of use, to expand and increase cultural and art-related activities, events and entertainment opportunities at the Armory.”
Beyond the familiar icon of Main Street, Bane casts his eyes down Route 24 and out North Main Street toward Rock Springs, going beyond the traditional focus of just Main Street, to beyond Ellendale and Hickory. “Bond Street is a very important cog in the history of Bel Air, and we don’t want to see that understanding and history disappear, nor the significance of Bond Street on the landscape.” Bane sees strengthening town ties to the Historical Society of Harford County, which is located in the old post office on Main Street, as another partnership that would be mutually beneficial.
Drilling down to the biggest goal on the long list of short and long-term goals he has crafted, Bane smiles and admits his biggest goal is a lofty one. “I don’t want there to be any vacancies in downtown Bel Air, no vacant storefronts,” he says, confident in his conviction to that goal. “As a town I want Bel Air to work diligently with small business to create the type of environment that helps them grow and succeed. It’s tough being in business today, and we need to be as supportive as we can as a municipal government to start-up businesses who could be this town’s next Boyd & Fulford, Richardson’s, Preston’s or Corbins.” I95
Bel Air’s Chief Moore: Successfully Building On A Legacy
The Town of Bel Air’s Police Department has long been recognized within business circles for their extensive community policing efforts, often earning praise and gratitude for their work. That foundation legacy built by Bel Air’s Chief of Police for 24 years, the late Chief Leo Matrangola, is being carried forward with respect and appreciation by the town’s new Chief of Police, Charles “Chuck” Moore.
“The mission of the Bel Air Police Department is to understand the community’s needs and expectations through proactive involvement, and working together to achieve the highest quality of life for citizens,” says Chief Moore, a retired Captain with the Maryland State Police, and former Barrack commander at Bel Air, also known as Benson Barracks to many locals.
Since being sworn-in, Moore focused his energies and skills attained in the Hopkins Executive Leadership program on directing resources wisely within a small community police department, utilizing statistical analysis and the experience of the officers within the department. “I recognized rather quickly the legacy Chief Leo left behind and the exemplary quality of the officers here who are very close to the members of the business community and the residents,” Moore explains.
He and the officers of the Bel Air Police Department have enhanced the role of high visibility law enforcement and the utilization of Metro Crime Stoppers data, which has already resulted in arrests.
“We are police officers in a small community environment,” Moore says, “and I get to bring the skills I’ve learned over the years back home, which is a truly rewarding opportunity and challenge. Everyone wants the best for the place they call home and Bel Air’s police department is a part of that equation.”