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Did Our Mayor Learn Her Government Style From Castro?

David 'Kip' Koontz

September 19, 2002

In what some would say is an attempt by Her Imperial Majesty, Mayor Jenita Dougherty of the Grand Duchy of Frederick, to afford the residents and business community a greater input into solving the problems that exist in their neighborhood, the idea of "Neighborhood Advisory Councils" has come about.

At first blush, the council idea seems to give the appearance that they may indeed support the underlying premise of the plan, which reads: "that the residents and business community in a neighborhood are most ideally suited to identify and solve issues in those communities."

The plan to be implemented divides Frederick City into 12 council zones.

The zones, according to the maps, are mostly very big. Curiously the one surrounding Her Imperial Majesty's palace, oops, house, isn't. Alderman Marcia Hall?s house is in there, too.

For instance, one zone is everything on the north side of the Golden Mile from Rt. 15, west to the city line.

A lot of people live there, yet the councils shall have only five members at minimum and seven at maximum.

And these 5-7 folks are supposed to know the disparate segments of their zone well enough to give adequate input from the breadth and depth of the diverse population they represent and report on issues such as "traffic, safety, zoning, capital improvements, the developmental review process, Board of Appeal cases and other key issues within their designated areas."

Further, they are supposed "to help alert the public in the event of an emergency and help keep track of those with "special needs" if there is ever a crisis and prepare evacuation routes to designated areas such as hospitals." (I suppose the mayor and Alderman M. Hall will know how to quickly exit the city in such circumstances.)

Sounds good, but it is a good bet you will find people who live on the east and far western ends of the aforementioned zone who are afraid to enter parts of the zone they will represent.

How will these councils ensure that all are represented?

How many will be denied access simply because of language barriers?

True, there is some publicity out there about the councils. Does everyone have access to the city's website to apply for a position?

Does everyone read the local paper to find out about the process and how to get involved?

True, the city is reaching out to established homeowner associations (HOA's) to ask for their involvement, but not all of us are a part of a home owner association - some neighborhoods are HOA free.

Many people in Frederick actually rent.

So, will these councils equally represent all?

Or, will they, as they will be appointed by HIM and her board after reviewing the applicant pool, simply be loaded with representatives who will tell her what she wants to hear so that she feels she has done something to accomplish good for Frederick?

Will only those predisposed to "tow the line" be encouraged to actually apply to begin with?

Who knows, but a discussion recently with an immigrant to the United States from Cuba - actually an immigrant because his family had to flee, said that one of the tools that Castro uses to keep government going, as he wants, is coincidentally, neighborhood councils.

It is said that the purpose of the councils in Cuba is to listen to people's complaints, take advise on certain issues and the like and "report them on up the ladder."

In reality, in most instances, it is said, that what the people tell the council stops at the council level.

Why? Because what the people have said is not what the government wants to hear or wants done.

But the councils, at least, make people think they have had a voice that has been heard.

The people in turn, thinking they have had their voices heard are contented to simply talk to the neighborhood council versus those who are "on up the ladder."

Is that what is supposed to happen to us?

Does City Hall want to use these councils as a tool to isolate itself from the citizenry and afford us the opportunity to be happy that someone at least listened to what we had to say?

The Cuban immigrant went on to say he is concerned that with the way things have gone inside this City Hall, it seems to him the purpose of Frederick's neighborhood councils is basically the same as the ones in Cuba - to make people think they have had a voice.

He questioned why the need to add another layer of bureaucracy at tax payer expense, when, in reality, we should just be able to speak to our elected officials themselves to express our opinions.

He questioned whether this administration simply doesn't want to hear what the people have to say.

For the heck of it, let's run the example of the Frederick Presbyterian Church's addition through the process of Frederick's neighborhood council.

Church applies. Church has Board of Zoning Appeal, Historic District Commission, zoning and other problems in its "approval process."

In reality, almost every neighbor to the church publicly opposed the addition and would have expressed it to the neighborhood council.

The church, too, would express its view to the neighborhood council as well.

Yet, as we know HIM rammed a deal favorable to the church through in her own way.

Now can anyone explain what the downtown zone's council could have done except be a sounding board for the two sides in the matter - especially since the matter was already decided - regardless of what those who live in the neighborhood had to say?

Well, maybe it will work in other neighborhoods.

Anyway, it seems HIM hasn't seen an autocratic form of government she doesn't like to mimic.

Oh, well, maybe as she becomes further and further removed from us peasants down here on the ground, the only time we will see her will be when she ceremoniously appears on the front steps (until the balcony is completed, of course) of City Hall to make this or that proclamation of how things are going to be.


Come to think of it, this may not be so bad an idea after all.

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