Mount Airy’s New Leadership
Up for grabs Mount Airy town elections on Monday were two council seats and the mayor’s office. A total 1434 citizens cast their votes at the fireman's carnival grounds activities building.
After the votes were tallied, newcomer Scott Strong, 38, led the field with 940 votes for one of the council seats. He will be joined by David Blais, 42, who garnered 855 votes. The third council candidate, incumbent Chris Everich, 49, received 651 votes.
Patrick Rockinberg, 47, bested Wendi Peters, 46, (768 to 658 votes respectively) to lead the municipality for the next four years in the mayor’s office.
While issues such as the town budget, local schools, parks and recreation opportunities, recycling and trash removal were briefly mentioned, growth, water, development, and annexation were the main items of concern on the minds of most voters and the emphasis by all candidates.
Councilman Nelson, who openly supported Messrs. Rockinberg, Everich, and Strong in a Letter to the Editor that appeared in The Frederick Gazette on April 29, called the election “déjà vu all over again.”
“No matter how it is disguised, there is a constant battle between development interests and residents standing up for keeping Mount Airy a small town,” Councilman Nelson wrote.
The Zeltman annexation was a buzzword for Mount Airy citizens who are against growth, development, and greatly expanding the town’s water capacity beyond the minimum necessary to adhere to Maryland Department of the Environment guidelines.
According to a May 4, 2006, Gazette article by Carolynne Fitzpatrick about the 2006 election, “In a landslide, 1,413 voters cast ballots against the annexation of the “163 acres of property known as the Zeltman farm, while 560 voted in favor of it.”
“Development supporters will not give up and need to be reminded what residents really want. The stakes are high. Last election, those seeking the maximum achievable development called it ‘smart growth.’
“Now, the new catchphrase is ‘economic development.’ It's the same game and hopefully not a matter of whether the public gets lulled into complacency or fed up with all the constant bickering, Councilman Nelson wrote.”
Mayor-elect Rockinberg moved to the town 13 years ago and currently serves as the vice-chairman of the Mount Airy Planning and Zoning Commission.
In the March 31 League of Woman Voters candidates forum, he emphasized that he will meet with citizens every Saturday in the mayor’s office to discuss citizen concerns.
He furthermore said that he will greatly rely upon the results of the 2007 town survey “with an overwhelming 44% response” that he spearheaded as the chairman of the Growth and Development Task Force.
Former Mayor Frank Johnson said in an “open letter” supporting Mr. Rockinberg that “rather than simply taking a point of view, a mayor must work to get the job done. This requires someone who will work together with many different people and perspectives, rather than simply focusing only on their own agenda.”
Elaborating further, Mayor Johnson observed that Mr. Rockinberg “has a clear record of supporting limitations on future growth plans and ensuring that development projects serve community needs.
“Just as important is his ability to blend honesty and cooperation in working together with many perspectives. He has demonstrated respect for volunteers and citizens. He has a commitment not simply to his own opinion, but to focusing on the facts and finding the best solution for the town.”
Newly elected Council Member Strong’s campaign literature noted that “while there isn't any pending annexation issue … for this election, there are still other issues which affect us as a town: modernization of our schools, land-usage and potential annexation, recreation center, resource management (i.e. water, sewer,) and both in-fill development as well as re-development.”
According to his campaign literature, Mr. Strong has “21 years of business experience working in the private sector as a government contractor and has lived in Mount Airy for 10 years…
“Mount Airy needs to be a distinct community bordered by existing agricultural farmland that protects our watershed areas rather than having our town turn into the next Gaithersburg, Germantown, or Frederick.”
On his Facebook page, Mr. Strong wrote that he “also wants to work more closely with county governments and [thinks the town] can …prosper without needing to have residential developers growing not only the population base, but also increasing the burden to existing infrastructures that are currently maintainable for the residents today.”
Former Mayor Dave Pyatt nominated Mr. Blais at the March 8 town nominations convention by noting that “he earned his Eagle Scout badge from Mount Airy’s Troop 460, graduated from Linganore High School, and has served honorably in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years since 1986.”
In a candidate’s questionnaire for The Frederick Gazette, Mr. Blais noted that he believed “the town should concentrate on more commercial growth versus residential. The town still has over 400 homes in the pipeline to be built. We need to look hard at infill development before approving any new annexations or outer development...”
Although deep divisions remain among the town’s voters and elected officials, new approaches and new leadership will be necessary to face the community’s challenges.
The annexation civil war in Mount Airy has exacted a huge toll on the community. Paradoxically, the desire to maintain and promote Mount Airy’s small town charm by waging a holy war on annexations has deteriorated the community into a seething cauldron of toxic bitterness and allowed many other challenges and opportunities to be somewhat ignored.
It remains to be seen if, after years of political turmoil and acrimony, this new configuration of elected leadership will lead Mount Airy to the success and civility it so richly deserves.
We can only hope.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at email@example.com.