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March 23, 2006

Two down, 45 to go.

Alan Imhoff

While I do not possess the prestige of my colleague's working in the Maryland legislature for 90 days every spring, I do share that unique metamorphous of going from private citizen to elected official.

All in elected office work year round, receive phone calls, emails and verbal requests from constituents for information, for help and to "bend our ear" from time to time. Most of it is helping those requesting assistance to navigate the often-confusing maze of bureaucratic procedures - wanting us to find the answer for them.

So, while my friend - and fellow Tentacle contributor Rick Weldon - has been updating us on the workings of inner sanctum in the historic halls of the oldest State House still in use in the nation, I would like to offer a somewhat closer to home view on the workings of government at the local level.

I must apologize in advance to my peers around the county who hold similar municipal positions and recognize that at the next highest level, those working in Winchester Hall, that this is a newcomer's view of what for many is "old hat."

So, what have the first two-months as an alderman in The City of Frederick been like?

Actually, it started right after being elected November first. Many individuals wanted to schedule some time 1.) to introduce themselves; 2.) to get together to share some information; or 3.) "to bend my ear." The 72 days from election to swearing-in was excruciatingly long.

Thank goodness the next administration will only have a month of transition time as the Dougherty administration moved the date of inauguration back from the second Thursday in January to the second Thursday in December. While we only serve 47 months, it was a change well worth the loss of a month short of four years in office.

Luckily Christmas and New Year slowed down the requests for our time; and it gave the current administration the opportunity to hold several transitional meetings prior to taking office January 12.

The biggest time of concern was the week before taking office as the previous administration was wrapping things up and cleaning out their offices, while our administration was attempting to set up and be ready. Mostly this concern fell to the City Hall staff that did an admirable job of handling the last minute requests and affected a smooth office re-arrangement process.

As a result of having 72 days to think about things, the 59th Administration of The City of Frederick thought it would be good to put some of our thoughts and experiences on the transition into a more formal document from which succeeding office holders could benefit. So, staff is putting together a generic transition plan to aid themselves as well as future elected officials in anticipation of only having four/five weeks between election and swearing-in.

The final wait was for committee assignments, those cannot be made until after the new administration takes office and is traditionally done at the first official public meeting.

Finally we were sworn in, our committee assignments as aldermen made and we could begin to exercise our real or perceived "power" to effect change. Our metamorphous was complete.

The first thing I noticed was the desire of organizations to make sure we were on their list of events. For some it was just following their annual routines to make sure elected officials were invited to annual dinners, or award banquets, or kickoffs for one cause or another. For others, it was an opportunity to invite us to tell us about their organization or just to meet the new administration.

You have often heard about the "rubber chicken" circuit during election campaigns. Well it doesn't stop with Election Day. After the ballots are counted the food gets somewhat more varied, however.

The next thing to get use to is the electronic calendar for appointments, meetings, etc. For those of us who still use an old fashion day timer, the ability to have another person coordinating your calendar is an interesting addition.

Then there is what seems to be the way of the world today, internal emails replying to internal emails with everyone copied to make sure everyone gets the email. Then everyone wants to reply to the email. I guess it has to be to save time, but I lament the old-fashioned "let's discuss this" for certain subjects. However, since most local elected leaders are "part-time," it is a good way to stay in the loop.

Lastly is the mound of paper. An ever flowing, seemingly inexhaustible supply of memorandums, position papers, background documentation, news articles, etc. etc., surfaces every day in the mail box, or is left on your chair.

As someone who worked in an industry during the 1980's and early 1990's to achieve "the paperless society," it boggles my mind that government still generates such volume.

So, in a nutshell, that is how the months have passed since November - in the life of an elected official at the municipal level.



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