Joel McCord | WYPR

Joel McCord

News Director

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.

He began his reporting career while still a music major at what then was West Chester State College in West Chester, Pa., filing reports for WCSC, the campus radio station. He transferred to the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he managed to earn a degree in journalism in 1973, despite having spent an inordinate amount of time playing pinochle in the student union.

He worked as a reporter and editor at The Maryland Gazette, America's oldest continuously publishing newspaper, and the Annapolis Capital, where he covered education and county government.  He also spent 23 years as a metro staff reporter and occasional editor at the Baltimore Sun, covering local governments, land use issues, transportation and environment before he became one of the old farts who Tribune Company, the paper’s owners, offered a semi-reasonable amount of money to leave.

McCord worked as a freelance writer and editor until joining WYPR as a reporter, where he has covered the Maryland General Assembly and two governors.  Joel also reprised his role as an environmental reporter, only this time, he used the sounds one hears on God's green earth to help tell the stories of commercial watermen, farmers, hunters and people who are laboring to save the planet.

He became WYPR’s news director in October 2012.

And he still plays the trumpet with your occasional big band or small jazz group, just not as often or as well as he would like.

It’s a safe bet that the conflict of interest controversy over the University of Maryland Medical System doing business with members of its board of directors will suck up much of the energy in Annapolis as the General Assembly begins its two week sprint to  adjournment at midnight April 8.

A House of Delegates committee heard testimony Friday on an emergency bill introduced by Speaker Mike Busch aimed at keeping board members from doing business with the medical system. And a Senate committee heard testimony on a similar bill from Baltimore Democrat Jill Carter two weeks ago. Both bills appear to have solid bi-partisan support.

Monday is cross-over day in the General Assembly, the day when bills must cross from one house to the other to be guaranteed full consideration.

In addition, Democratic Party leaders are rushing to get controversial bills, such as the minimum wage increase to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk in time to force an override vote before the end of session, or before Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat who is in the Navy Reserve, leaves for duty in Afghanistan.

Still, there are some things happening in committees this week, and some bills have already made it from one chamber to the other.

Harry Roe Hughes, who won an upset victory in the 1978 Democratic primary for governor after being derisively referred to as “a lost ball in high grass,” died Wednesday, according to his family.

Hughes, who was 92, was elected to the House of Delegates, representing Caroline County, in 1954 and the state Senate in 1958, representing Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

Much like last week, the bulk of the action in Annapolis remains on the floors of both chambers where agendas are frequently determined on a day to day basis.

Lawmakers are working to beat the deadline known as cross-over day—March 18 this year--when bills must cross from one house to the other to be guaranteed full consideration. In fact, Senate President Mike Miller has suggested he might schedule two floor sessions a day in order to get bills through.

But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening in the committees. Legislative leaders have scheduled hearings on bills involving medical marijuana, sports betting, voter registration and abortion, among other issues.

Much of the action in Annapolis this week moves to the floors of both chambers where agendas are frequently determined on a day to day basis. Lawmakers are working to beat the deadline known as cross-over day--March 18 this year--when bills must cross from one house to the other to be guaranteed full consideration.

In addition, legislative leaders are trying to get some of the more controversial bills, like the minimum wage increase, to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk in time for a potential veto override vote before March 29. That’s the date Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat and Naval Reserve officer, leaves to deploy to Afghanistan.

Maryland’s General Assembly steamed past the halfway point in its 90-day session last week and things are starting to get serious in Annapolis. This week, one committee takes up Maryland’s own version of the Affordable Care Act.

Others will take up bills to tighten some gun control laws and ease others, changes to Maryland’s medical marijuana program, bills to expand voter registration, an effort to get Exelon to help pay for cleaning up when that mess that’s behind the Conowingo Dam comes pouring through the flood gates.

It’s alcohol week in the Maryland General Assembly, with legislative committees taking up local liquor license bills for jurisdictions throughout the state as well as the bill that has led to early fireworks in this session. It would strip the State Comptroller of regulatory control over alcoholic beverages.

Also on the agenda are bills on workplace harassment, gun control, same day voter registration and a prohibition on smoking marijuana while driving.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

The battle over school starting and ending dates continues this week in Annapolis as the state Senate is set to vote on a bill allowing local school boards to set their own dates and House of Delegates committees are to hold hearings on similar bills. Also on the agenda in the Maryland General Assembly are bills to reinstate Maryland’s death penalty, squash Governor Larry Hogan’s plan for a new Redskins stadium in Prince George’s County and prohibit local school boards from spending money to arm teachers and more. Here is a partial list of committee hearings and other items of interest in Annapolis for Feb. 11-15.

Fitzgerald Withdraws

Jan 8, 2019

  

Joel Fitzgerald, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice to be Baltimore’s next police commissioner, has withdrawn his name from consideration. 

The Fort Worth, Texas, police department, the force Fitzgerald leads now, made the announcement in a terse tweet early Monday morning, but provided no details.

@NOPDNews/Twitter

In barely 24 hours, Baltimore lost its lead on one new police commissioner, but gained another. Joel Fitzgerald, the chief of police in Fort Worth, Texas, was out and Michael Harrison, Police Superintendent from New Orleans was in.

After confirming Monday that Fitzgerald had withdrawn from consideration, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Tuesday that Harrison will be Baltimore’s Acting Commissioner in a few weeks. She said he will then begin meeting with community groups and others before the City Council holds confirmation hearings.

It all happened with dizzying speed and a few contradictions.

Pugh Names New Police Commissioner

Nov 16, 2018
Fort Worth Police, Fort Worth, Texas

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced the appointment of Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald as Baltimore’s new top cop Friday after a lengthy, secretive search. Fitzgerald arrives with some baggage from his last job.

Word of Fitzgerald’s appointment began leaking Friday afternoon after Pugh penned an op-ed piece to appear in Saturday’s print editions of The Sun. In it, she wrote that Fitzgerald “is best suited to lead the way forward.”

Mary Rose Madden

Maryland voters flocked to the polls Tuesday, despite the miserable weather, to cast ballots for governor, state representatives and a host of local officials.

But in some ways, the election was as much about national politics as it was local races.

Credit (L) @MBCarozzaSenate/Twitter, (R) Joel McCord

 

With the polls opening Tuesday, Maryland Republicans are hoping to break Democrats’ veto-proof majority in the state Senate by flipping five seats — an effort Republican leaders have dubbed the “drive for five.”

They’re looking at two districts in Baltimore County, one in Frederick County and one on the lower Eastern Shore, where incumbent Senator Jim Mathias is locked in a tough race with first term Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.

Joel McCord

Andy Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland’s Congressional delegation, usually wins by wide margins in the reddest district in the state. But this year, Democrats seem to think they have a candidate who can beat him.

That’s Jesse Colvin, a political novice with an impressive resume that includes a master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University, a stint teaching English to Syrians who wanted to study in the U.S. and four tours of Afghanistan as an Army ranger.

Joel McCord

Last week, Governor Larry Hogan sharply criticized Pennsylvania and New York for not doing enough to slow pollution and trash flowing down the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Environmental Protection fired back, calling the remarks “careless and insensitive.”

But the two were a bit more conciliatory at Tuesday’s Chesapeake Executive Council meeting.

Joel McCord

Record rainfall across the Northeast in July has clogged the Chesapeake Bay and its beaches with logs, debris and other trash. And it’s required a herculean effort to clean it up.

Some 50 volunteers showed up at Sandy Point State Park, just north of the Bay Bridge, over the weekend to help park rangers clear those beaches.

AP

Jarrod Ramos, the man charged in the mass shooting at the Annapolis Capital newspaper, was expected to make his first appearance in court Monday. But his appearance was canceled after his lawyer filed papers on his behalf.

Ramos was scheduled to appear before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge William Mulford, who, under normal circumstances, would read Ramos his rights, explain the charges against him and the maximum penalty for each count and tell him of his need for a lawyer.

President Trump ordered the United States flag flown at half-staff Tuesday in honor of the victims of the massacre at the Capital Gazette newspapers in Annapolis last week. But the order didn’t come without some controversy.

My Hometown Mourns

Jul 3, 2018
Joel McCord

My hometown is grieving; grieving the loss of four talented journalists and a young sales person who worked for a paper that styles itself "your hometown newspaper."

You can see it in the Annapolis Strong banners and signs that have popped up all over town; stretched across the median strip of Rowe Boulevard, the main drag off U.S. 50, near City Dock and, naturally, out on Bestgate Road at the corner that leads into the 888 office building that houses Capital Gazette newspapers.

Ramos is Denied Bail

Jun 29, 2018
Dominique Maria Bonessi

Jarrod Ramos, the suspected shooter in Thursday’s attack on The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, was ordered held without bail Friday.

Joel McCord

Five deaths have been confirmed and multiple people have been injured in the Thursday shooting at The Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland.

Joel McCord has been at the scene and told Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner what he's learning about the incident.

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Five deaths have been confirmed and multiple people have been injured in a Thursday shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. WYPR News Director Joel McCord has been at the scene and spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish this afternoon.

Things are looking up for the Chesapeake Bay, according to scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The scientists released a report card on the bay’s health Friday morning that found the "positive trajectory" they’ve noted in recent years is now "statistically significant."

Ellicott City Flood is Nothing New

Jun 1, 2018
AP

The flood that ripped through Ellicott City last Sunday, destroying homes and businesses and claiming one life was devastating. But it wasn’t anything new. Ellicott City has had a long history of floods.

In fact, the first grist mill, built by James Hood in 1766, was destroyed a mere two years later by one of the earliest recorded floods.

The town flooded again in 1817 and 1837. And then there was the flood of 1868 that killed 43 people and destroyed 14 homes.

Maryland’s General Assembly Calls It a Wrap

Apr 10, 2018
Joel McCord

The General Assembly wrapped up its 90-day session in Annapolis Monday night with a flurry of activity, passing bills to increase minimum sentences for some repeat offenders, tightening school safety measures and diversifying the medical marijuana industry.

Many lawmakers, including Gov. Larry Hogan, began the legislative session seeking an answer to the recent spike in violent crime in Baltimore. On Monday, the legislature passed what some lawmakers said is part of the solution:  mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders caught illegally carrying a gun.

Monday, March 19, was the 69th day of the Maryland General Assembly's annual session. It's what's known in the State House as Cross-over Day. All bills must pass at least one chamber of the General Assembly and "cross-over" to the other to have a decent chance of getting to the governor's desk.

WYPR's state politics reporter, Rachel Baye, joins news director Joel McCord to discuss what will make it and what might not.

Johnathan Lefcheck

The Chesapeake Bay’s grass beds, once devastated, are making a comeback.

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy has documented a three-fold increase in the amount of bay bottom and its tributaries covered by the beds.

It’s gone from 7,000 hectares of grass in 1984 to about 25,000 hectares now, said Jonathan Lefcheck, the lead author of the study. That’s enough grass to cover New York City’s Central Park three times over.

The names of police officers involved in court cases have disappeared from Maryland’s online court data base, setting off protests from both journalists and civil liberties groups.

The disappearance stems from little noticed rules changes proffered last year by the standing committee on rules of practice and procedure. It deleted a section that required that the names of police officers and other government officials involved in court cases be available in the online data base, along with office addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses.

Joel McCord

A group of anthropology majors from Washington College in Chestertown has spent the summer not at the beach, but as research assistants roaming the Eastern Shore, talking to residents about the risks of flooding and projected sea level rise. They’ve traveled through Talbot, Dorchester and Somerset counties talking to local residents about their communities, changes and their experiences with flooding.

And on a recent trip, Kirsten Webb and Hayley Hartman were visiting Roland and Sheilah Bradshaw at their home on Smith Island. Kirsten was hardly into her opening spiel about community response to flooding when Roland jumped in.

Chris Moe / UMCES

Dr. Helen Bailey, who did her PhD work on bottle nose dolphins, says she heard reports of occasional sightings of the marine mammals when she came to work as an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science in Solomons.

But then the underwater microphones the lab was experimenting with began picking up the tell-tale squeaks and clicks of dolphins foraging in the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Now, the scientists are finding out the dolphins are pretty regular visitors to the bay.

"We were discovering that we were actually detecting dolphins quite frequently during June, July and August," she said. "And so then put another hydrophone in the Potomac River and there we were detecting dolphins every day."

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