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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, Md. Alderman Candidate Karen Young

George Wenschhof

Today, my guest is Karen Young who is running to be one of the five members of the Board of Aldermen. The primary will be on September 15 and the deadline to register to vote prior to the primary is August 17.

Ms. Young and I are communicating by computer from different locations within the city and I have not previously shared the questions with her. This is a live online conversation so remember to click your computer "Refresh" button every fifteen minutes to see the latest question and answer.

In case some viewers miss the live conversation, the link to this discussion will be placed in the right hand margin of my Home Page so it can be easily found and read at a time convenient to readers of the website.

Karen Young is known by some city voters from her involvement with local organizations such as the Weinberg Center, Leadership Frederick, and the Frederick County Commission for Women. Others may know her as being the wife of former mayor Ron Young. Ron lost in his 2005 bid to be reelected Mayor after being out of office for 16 years.

I sat down with Karen for a long lunch recently and she shared with me her professional experience in marketing management, including operating her own company today. She came to Frederick after being recruited to be the chief marketing officer for F & M Bank.

We also talked a lot about the issues facing the City of Frederick and today we will continue that conversation. At this time I would like to welcome Karen Young as my guest on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof.

GW - Thank you Karen for agreeing to appear live online. Before we get started on discussing some of the issues, tell the voters a little more about yourself and your personal hobbies or interests. Also, share with them why you are running for Alderman and why you should be one of their choices when they go vote on September 15.

KY - Thank you George for inviting me to participate in this exchange and giving me an opportunity to share my background, concerns and recommendations. I'd like to start by sharing some information about my education and professional experience because I believe that it is very relevant to both why I decided to run and what I can bring to the table.

As you mentioned, I live with my husband, Ron, in Worman's Mill. I am an avid reader, an expert skier and a recreational swimmer. I also love animals and I have two dogs and a cat. I am the proud new grandmother of ten-month-old Caleb Richard!

I feel that I have been very fortunate to obtain an excellent education. My parents always believed that a quality education was extremely important. I graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with honors and I received both a Master’s Degree in American History and an MBA from Columbia University. The writing and analytical skills that I obtained in these highly competitive programs have served me well throughout my career.

After graduating from Columbia, I worked in Manhattan for about 15 years for Fortune 100 companies. There are two experiences from that period that were extremely beneficial in developing me as a manager and leader. The first was working as a District Manager for Citibank N.A. I had responsibility for over 40 employees, $55 million in assets and community outreach. I managed a profit center and I was evaluated based on the financial performance of my branches. The second was when I served as Chief of Staff for the head of Card Marketing at American Express. I was responsible for preparing, analyzing and updating the budget for a department with 95 employees and a $100 million budget. I quickly learned how to read between the lines, ask the right questions, recognize trends and forecast future performance.

For the next 15 years, I worked at several regional banks. I managed many departments including Training, Human Resources, Marketing, Community Reinvestment and Strategic Planning. During the period of time, I became extremely active in community service.

I came to Frederick in 1996 when I was recruited by Farmer’s and National Bank to become their Senior Vice President/ Chief Marketing Officer. My challenges were to:- Develop a professional, revenue-generating Marketing Department· - Implement a Seniors Program· - Develop a database marketing capability· - Develop a research strategy· - Develop a branding strategy· - Develop a strategic planning process· - Implement leadership training.

Although the bank had been working on several of these endeavors for over two years, I accomplished many of them in six months.

During my thirteen years in Frederick, I have become extremely active in the community volunteering for over 15 organizations. I have also had a strong interest in politics and I have worked as a volunteer in eight political campaigns. Because of my strong interest in and commitment to community service, I had thought about running for political office but I had not focused on a time or office. When I read about the “buyout” I knew that my time had arrived. I knew that the city needed Aldermen who have strong business management and leadership skills. I really felt that those years of “managing to the bottom line” and asking the right questions during the budgeting process could make an immediate and significant contribution towards addressing Frederick’s financial challenges.

Now, as you suggested, I would like to give your readers some reasons why they should support my campaign: I have the right skills and experience for the challenges that the city faces today.With the budget challenges that we will face in the immediate future, it is imperative that we have Aldermen capable of analyzing complex financial statements, exercising prudent judgment, asking the right questions, researching best practices and modeling leadership skills.

I am a hard worker as evidenced by my campaigning efforts-My campaign has already been to over 18,000 doors and I started my “second round of the community this week” I plan to participate in all community forums and I have answered every question submitted by the media and other organizations in a timely manner. This is an indication of my work ethic and attention to detail.

I am a strong believer in outreach and citizen input-In addition to the 18,000 + doors that my campaign has been to, I have conducted close to sixty in-depth interviews with community stakeholders. In addition, I have posted a link to a comprehensive quantitative Issues Survey on my website. I intend to utilize this information to respond to citizen concerns and priorities.

I understand the community-I have volunteered in over 15 community organizations. I have been on the Board of Directors for four of them. I recommended the research strategy for Aspire Frederick, saving the city about $35,000 and conducted a “Needs Assessment Study” for both The Frederick County Commission for Women and The Frederick County Humane Society. Through these extensive community activities and research efforts, I have become very familiar with the community and its needs.

I have solutions! Given that high taxes, an escalating budget, City Hall efficiency and the duplication between the city and county are surfacing as the major issues in this campaign, I have a list of recommendations.


GW - The other day during lunch, you mentioned a survey you had conducted with City of Frederick residents. I believe you were telling me the top issues being identified were all related to the economy. Tell the voters why you conducted this survey, how many people responded and what the results showed you.

KY - As you know, I am a professional market researcher. I truly believe that decisions need to be based on good information. Also, I don't believe that there is sufficient outreach to citizens to obtain their input. I recently read a statement by the Mayor in the newspaper that indicated that, there must not be sufficient interest in a topic because very few people showed up at the Mayor and BOA meeting to discuss it. That really concerned me. What if you are a senior citizen and don't like to go out at night or a young parent who would have to get a babysitter? In this electronic age, you shouldn't have to sit at City Hall for three hours to have your voice heard.

That inspired me to post an "Issues Survey" on my website. I wanted to supplement the qualitative conversations that I was having with quantitative research that was statistically projectable. While I am still collecting responses (the cutoff will be the end of August), here are the leading issues so far:

1.the level of property taxes 2. the city budget 3. city government efficiency duplication between the city and county 5.public safety government transparency 7.economic development

Please keep in mind that this could change as responses continue to come in on a daily basis.


GW - Speaking of finances, the much ballyhooed Early Retirement Buy-Out fiasco has many city voters questioning why the city approved it. Especially, when the Mayor's Executive Assistant Ron Tobin, who was unlikely to be retained under a new city administration, is given two years of salary and then hired back.

The challenge for an Alderman is not being labeled as a rubber stamp for the mayor's initiatives while also not being labeled as an obstructionist.

Besides wanting to know how you would have voted on the Early Retirement program if you had been an alderman, voters also want an idea of how you will tackle difficult issues that come before you as a member of the Board.

KY - I would not have voted for it and this decision was a key motivator in inspiring me to run for office. I would not have voted for it for the following reasons:

1. A 30 year amortization period is way too long! 2. Two years severance is unheard of especially in the recent economic climate 3. People with performance issues should not have been included 4. I would have wanted a second, if not third, opinion from someone who would not benefit from the proposal 5. I would have wanted to be able to follow and recreate the calculations myself before approving it.

My approach as an Alderman would be to ask all of the tough and right questions. When the public puts their trust in me, I have an obligation to represent their best interests. It is also very important that elected officials fully understand the implications of their decisions. If elected, I intend to do that in a positive and constructive manner.

I am a very analytical individual. I constantly read between the lines and expect to know all the details before making an important decision. As I mentioned earlier, I am a big proponent of "researched-based" decision making.


GW - Staying with finances a little longer, I want to ask you about your ideas on the "Financial Health of the City" which I read about on your campaign website;

One of the areas you discuss is "Tax Equity". I brought this issue up back in 1997 as I was concerned about the rate of double taxation on city residents and what I felt was hardly an equitable manner Frederick County used to determine the rebate amount to the City of Frederick.

You mention examining using "tax differential" as a way to reduce the total taxes paid by city residents. Tell the voters a little more about this program and how they would benefit if it was implemented.

KY - The Tax Property Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland (Title 6, Subtitle 6-305) mandates that the county recognize, through a reduced county tax rate or direct grant payment, those government services and programs that municipal governments perform in lieu of similar county services, to the extent that these similar services are funded through the property tax rate.

With tax equity, the county reimburses the city. With tax differential, the county lowers the city taxpayer's rate directly.

The advantages of tax differential are that: 1. the county would charge a lower tax rate to city residents to compensate for duplicate services (i.e. security, planning, building and code inspections, etc.) and would give city residents more direct influence over the County Commissioner's than tax equity does

There are several municipalities in MD that utilize the tax differential methodology. Some of them are: Bowie, College Park, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Laurel)


GW - Most voters feel Police Chief Kim Dine has been doing an outstanding job with the funding levels his department has received since his hire under the Jennifer Dougherty administration. Karen, you have some ideas on safety and police on your campaign website including examining a police sub-station on the west side of the city and encouraging a stronger community police presence.

Safety is always an important issue with voters. Tell us a little more as to how you would go about implementing these ideas when the city will most likely be facing revenue shortfalls during the next four years.

KY - Retaining the existing headquarters and opening a sub-station would be much less expensive than a new headquarters. It would both keep the police downtown where they are needed and also move some officers to the western part of town where crime is on the rise. Residents are crying out for more protection on the west side of town and I believe that a more noticeable physical appearance would serve as a deterrent to crime and have a calming effect on the neighborhood.

Community policing is working well but could be further strengthened. If a designated number of police officers were assigned to each neighborhood, encouraged to get to know the neighborhood and its residents (not just NAC members) and were the principle contact in those neighborhoods; it would greatly strengthen the safety of the area. Of course all officers would be available and could be called away in emergencies and for special events.


GW - Let's move on and discuss the three proposed annexations before the current mayor and board. Three farms are being considered for annexation into the city. Two of them; known as the Thatcher and Crum farms are located north of the city adjacent to Route 15 and the other is west of the city.

It appears Republican Mayor Holtzinger, who is not running for reelection, is moving for approval of these annexations prior to the end of his term. Some voters feel the annexations are premature and there is also the feeling the decision should be left to the next mayor and board as they will be the ones who will have to deal with the decision.

How do you feel about these annexations and would you prefer the decision to be delayed until the next mayor and board take office?

KY - Population projections show Frederick County’s population increasing by more than eighty-thousand in the next twenty years. A great deal of that growth should be accommodated by municipalities where infrastructure can and should be provided concurrently with development, while protecting farm land and open space.

I believe that development policies should encourage infill and redevelopment when financially feasible as well as orderly annexations on the city’s border as detailed in the comprehensive plan.

Well-planned, mixed-use development will provide necessary employment and housing for the work force. It will also reduce car trips (traffic) and provide the tax revenue needed to sustain our economic health. Key annexations will be needed to provide for new mixed-use and employment development, particularly to accommodate future corporate and R&D campuses.If we are comfortable that these guidelines have been met, then these annexations do not need to be postponed.


GW - Karen, we are now to the last question before your closing remarks. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has come under fire lately by some who question their interpretation of renovation guidelines for properties within the historic district.

Recently, Mayor Holtzinger allegedly instructed staff to disregard a fine levied by the HPC on a property owner. The property owner has recourse by filing an appeal, which to date; I have not heard has been filed. This action by Mayor Holtzinger has left the issue unresolved and undermined the credibility of the HPC.

While occasionally, decisions made by the HPC over the years may have been questionable, the overall result of a historic district downtown has been a huge benefit to the city.

How do you feel in regard to the need for a designated historic district in downtown Frederick and do you support the continuation of the HPC?

KY - The Historic Preservation Commission has helped ensure that our rich historic heritage has been maintained. This has been a major contributing factor to our quality of life and our attractiveness to visitors. Downtown businesses have been assisted in achieving financial success because of our historical uniqueness and residents enjoy a beautiful city because of our rich cultural and historic heritage. Absolutely, we need an HPC!

Nevertheless, several residential and commercial endeavors have been frustrated by the decisions of the HPC. A perceived lack of objectivity and “reasonableness” has been a characteristic complaint of recent determinations. Timelines are often lengthy and the economic ramifications of demands are sometimes prohibitive. It is clear that some reform of the HPC is needed. Having spoken with two members of the Commission, I believe that they are amenable to working towards a more streamlined and reasonable process. They claim that they approve 98% of all requests.

Some of the recent situations escalated unnecessarily. I would have advised the Mayor to invite all concerned parties to City Hall to try to work out a solution rather than disregard an HPC decision.


Thanks again Karen for appearing live online on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof. At this time I would like to give you an opportunity for some closing remarks.

KY - Thank you again for hosting this communication opportunity. I'd like to ask everyone to visit my website at and take the "Issues Survey," if you have not already done so.

As I mentioned previously, I am most concerned, as are many of Frederick's citizen's, about the escalating city budget and consequent citizen tax burden. I believe that I have some solutions to this challenge and I'd like to share them:

1. Initiate tax differential, which is a superior alternative to tax equity because the county would directly deduct duplicated service fees from city resident’s tax bills.

2. Right-size city government by restructuring to meet the current needs and priorities,

3. Do not replace positions eliminated in the buyout unless absolutely necessary.

4. Reduce administrative support at City Hall.

5. Redesign the benefits package for new city employees.

6. Increase economic development efforts.

7. Aggressively pursue grants.

8. Increase recycling efforts with the end-goal of a reduction in garbage pick-up

9. Increase efforts to promote public-private partnerships

10. Revise the budget process so that it is NOT based on expected property tax revenues.


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