Change Needed in County Government
[Editor’s Note: This article appears on George Wenschhof’s blog (http://airitoutwithgeorge.blogspot.com/) and is reproduced here with his permission. Mr. Wenschhof wrote for TheTentacle.com for some time before launching his blog.]
For 20 years, residents of Frederick County, Maryland, have been governed by either a "pro-growth" or "anti-growth" Board of County Commissioners.
Rather than continuing the swing from one ideology to another, it is time for voters to elect a more centrist and balanced board. This will result in a more reasoned approach in addressing issues such as the impending reduction of the budget, creating jobs closer to home, charter government, growth and the disposal of trash.
Electing recently appointed Commissioner Blaine Young, Michael Kurtianyk, Paul Smith, Billy Shreve and Linda Norris will ensure that a more balanced approach to decision making takes place over the next four years.
Incumbent Commissioners Kai Hagen and David Gray are painful examples of the outdated five-headed commissioner form of government.
Mr. Hagen obviously never learned the truth in the old saying which explains why we are born with two ears and one mouth (so, we listen twice as much as we talk), as he speaks incessantly, while often saying nothing.
A long-term community activist and first term commissioner, he also never learned the difference between being an activist and an elected official, leading to his ineffectiveness as a commissioner over the last four years.
Mr. Gray either displayed his lack of understanding of the importance of becoming president of the board or his unwillingness to accept the responsibility that comes with it, by relinquishing the gavel after winning it, in the election four years ago.
None of these characteristics are qualities one should look for in an elected official and neither Mr. Gray nor Mr. Hagen deserves another term in office.
When the newly-elected commissioners discuss the budget cuts sure to come, all programs and services will need to be examined. Special care should be given to those departments that provide services to those in need as the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed have grown as all county governments across the country struggle to rise out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
The firing of county employees should be the last resort in meeting needed budget reductions. Instead, a focus on not filling essential positions and/or a hiring freeze should be examined. If employees still need to be laid off, the focus should be on mid-level management positions, which often are a result of previous funding increases.
Creating jobs closer to home should be a priority of the new board of commissioners as way too many Frederick County residents continue a daily time-consuming commute. Commissioner Young has made this a priority in his campaign.
One suggestion for the new board is to work with the state legislature as well as our representative in Congress to promote tax incentives for businesses that provide telecommuting to employees a minimum of one day a week. Passage of this legislation would be a great start in helping Frederick County residents reduce their weekly commute time. This is a win-win proposal which would save energy, help employers with job retention and recruitment, while allowing employees more time to spend with family.
Creating a charter writing committee by the new board is one of the first things the new Board of Commissioners should do. The charge of the committee should be to complete the document, providing time for public input, with the question put to the voters in the 2012 presidential election. Once passed by the voters, it would go into effect for the 2014 election.
During the charter writing period, the committee should hold regional meetings throughout the county. The purpose of the meetings would be to provide the public with updated information on the progress of the charter document and to ask for comment and suggestions.
Moving to an executive and county council will make for a much more effective form of government for Frederick County residents and is long overdue.
When it comes to issues relating to growth, the main concern has rightfully been to ensure that infrastructure (schools, roads, water, sewer, fire and rescue, etc.) keeps pace with new growth.
While an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) has been passed and impact fees instituted over the last 20 years, they have not made a noticeable difference in this area.
When attending first and second grade at Parkway Elementary School, I shared a classroom with students in the second and third grade due to overcrowded schools. At that time (1959-1960), the population of the county was about one-third of what it is today.
Years after enacting well-intentioned impact fees and the APFO, portables have replaced split classrooms, older schools remain badly in need of repair and new planned schools stand in line for funding, hardly a measurable improvement.
Roads remain congested and water and sewer availability remain a consistent problem associated with growth.
The new board would serve the residents well by reaching out to a nonpartisan research and think-tank to review the results of the enacted growth policies of the last 20 years and if necessary, propose a new means of raising needed revenue. The University of Maryland Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise may be one that would provide the research.
Whether a fee is involved or not, a professional review of exiting ordinances and regulations should be undertaken immediately.
In addition, the nonpartisan organization should be charged with both reviewing the current county development approval process and proposing a better, more effective and efficient way, than the existing time consuming and costly process.
As location has always been pivotal to buyers of real estate, Frederick County has always been destined to grow.
The discussion of growth should not be an adversarial exercise in Frederick County. Rather, the discussion should be one that leads to effective land management principles which benefit the entire community.
When it comes to the disposal of trash, where and how will always be a controversial decision for elected officials. While the cost of building the approved incinerator is a whopping 300 million plus, opponents led by Commissioner Kai Hagen have failed to offer a reasonable option.
Moving from a current county recycling rate of slightly more than thirty per cent to a rate not needing a landfill or an incinerator is not a realistic alternative. Continuing to truck waste out of state is not a viable answer.
One reasonable and less expensive alternative that should have received more consideration is another landfill or expansion of the existing landfill to serve the need of trash disposal in Frederick County which I wrote about two years ago.
What I proposed was that a cost-benefit analysis be done between a landfill and an incinerator. Also, a similar effort made to identify possible locations for a landfill should take place as was done for an incinerator.
Candidate Michael Kurtianyk during a recent sit down interview said he would like to see the county investigate acquiring the former Eastalco site in southern Frederick County to be used either for a landfill or incinerator site.
An interesting suggestion, as the acreage could also incorporate a regional compost facility and a resource recovery park.
The dramatic swing between "pro-growth" and "no-growth" boards over the last 20 years has been detrimental to the residents of Frederick County and needs to come to an end in this election.
With the election of Blaine Young, Michael Kurtianyk, Paul Smith, Billy Shreve, and Linda Norris, a balance of reason and experience will prevail over the next four years.
Blaine Young has the political experience which will be a benefit in dealing with the many issues facing county residents today.
Paul Smith, like Mr. Young, has the experience of serving as a City of Frederick alderman. An attorney, he will bring a welcomed reasoned approach to the issues.
Billy Shreve has long been involved in the community serving on boards and commissions. His time spent as chair of the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals and as a member of the City of Frederick Planning Commission will be invaluable.
Michael Kurtianyk has shown throughout the campaign his willingness to put principles in front of party, a refreshing approach to the issues from a politician and one which will be appreciated by the residents of Frederick County.
Linda Norris, with experience in working both in the public and private sector will be an added plus as a member of the board.
Her time spent as Public Information Officer and as Director of Recycling for Frederick County Government will serve her well as commissioner.
The election is only four week away. Make sure you visit candidate websites, read voter guides and – most important – vote on November 2.
Your vote is important and does make a difference.