Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, Md. Alderman Candidate Andrew Kotkin

George Wenschhof

Tonight, my guest is Andrew Kotkin. He is one of nine Democratic candidates for Alderman who will appear on the ballot on September 15. Voters will choose five to go on to the general election on November 3. Please remember, the deadline to register to vote prior to the primary is August 17.

As has been the case with all of the candidates who have been my guest, Mr. Kotkin and I are communicating via computer from different locations within the city. I have not previously shared with him the questions I will be asking him tonight. This is a live conversation so remember to click on your computer "Refresh" button every fifteen minutes or so to see the next question and answer.

If you miss the live online discussion, the link to it will be placed in the right margin of my Home Page so you can read at a time convenient to you.

I met Andrew for the first time over the weekend and spent some time getting to know him. He and his wife fell in love with Frederick during a visit one afternoon on a weekend and later moved here. Andrew is from northern New Jersey originally. He and his wife have three young children and currently reside in downtown Frederick.

At this time I would like to welcome Andrew and thank him for appearing live online on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof.

GW - I always like to get started by asking the candidate to tell the voters a little about themselves. Andrew, also share with the voters why you decided to run for alderman and why you feel they should vote for you. If you are supporting a mayoral candidate, let us know who and why.

AK-Thank you very much for having me tonight. It is truly a great service you are providing for the candidates and the voting public alike.

As you mentioned before, I grew up in Northern New Jersey, 10 minutes from Manhattan, and as a result had wonderful and worldly experiences growing up due entirely to our proximity to NYC. After moving to Maryland 13 years ago, we have learned to call this land home and specifically, Frederick home for the last 10 years. I have been in the construction industry ever since I learned how to drive my Uncle's 3-speed on the column trash truck when I was 13 years old. I have since parlayed my years of experience into the company I own now, Kotkin Management Group, LLC which is a construction and project management company that operates out of my home. This is one of the reasons I feel qualified to handle the job of Alderman, as it requires the skills of a solid manager of people, processes and budgets.

That being said, the main reason for wanting to run for office is based on a desire to serve. I serve my clients as they endeavor to fulfill there dreams, and would treat all residents of Frederick in much the same capacity. Many people I talk to just want to know there is someone looking out for them, and I can be that someone.

As for a Mayoral candidate, I have yet to make my decision, but am impressed with Jennifer and Jason alike. They both bring a strong skill set to the table. Nonetheless, whomever becomes Mayor, they should know that I will willing to work very hard with them, and for our City.


GW - The annexation of three farms into the City of Frederick has become a campaign issue in this election. Mayor Jeff Holtzinger seems intent on having the current Board of Aldermen vote on these annexations prior to the end of his term. Mayor Holtzinger is also not running for reelection.

Do you feel there is a need to rush these approvals or do you feel the vote should be delayed a few months until the new Mayor and Board of Aldermen take office?

AK - I see no need for the approvals at this juncture. Moreover, this should not have been taking place when the governing body is about to change hands. I still have yet to hear a truly solid and valid reason as to why we are looking at annexation, other than having to be beholden to a water contract that, as I believed, was signed prematurely. Now we're tied to a +/- $50 million debt with that contract, and if the Mayor has to push these annexations through to produce the revenue to pay down that debt, than we need to question what else is going to come up with the remainig time he has on his term. I will not vote for the annexation(s) if it rolls over to the next Board, and I am sitting on it. Not without more planning and time to review all aspects, such as how it is supposed to benefit our City other than paying for water. I would much prefer seeing the City concentrate on infill and density to provide a concentrated amount of commercial tax revenue, as opposed to having to increase taxes for the residential tax base to fund the annexed properties until they can fund themselves, which by the way, a park will not do.


GW - The passage of the early retirement buy-out plan by the Board of Aldermen has many voters angry and confused as to how this approval came to be.

As an alderman, you will be responsible for voting on many proposals. First, tell the voters how you would have reacted should you have been an alderman and been presented with the early retirement buy-out plan. Second, how will you assure the voters you will be diligent and vote in their best interest when it comes to the approval of programs that come before you?

AK - They're not the only ones confused!

I wasn't sure how anyone expected that this plan was going to be financially sound for the City in the first place. I would have voted against it. Two years salary? That's one heck of a severance. Plus benefits. And don't even get started on the rehires, though who could fault them(rehirees) for that, right? I can. They should not have been offered the buyout in the first place, but it showed the moral character of those that accepted the rehire afterward. Certainly did not have the best interest of the City when the Mayor came up with that one.

Elected officials have a duty to represent their constituants. This round of buyouts and rehires shows that what some people consider good for the City is not always what the residents of that City think is good for them! It comes down to political, or governmental transparency. The City has an obligation, beyond holding a few meetings, some at 3pm, to present items like this to the voting public for their input. It's their money that is paying those 2 year salaries, as well as the current rehired salries.


GW - Andrew, when we were talking the other day, you mentioned you felt the city police department was doing a good job under the direction of Chief Kim Dine.

You also indicated as alderman, you would support looking for more funds to provide to the police department. I noticed on your campaign Blog you talk about the need to increase the number of police officers and to institute what you refer to as "the bar shift". Tell the voters a little more about your proposal.

AK - Thanks for bringing that up, as police and public safety are very important to me and they directly effect our quality of life. The "Bar Shift" idea of patrolling came to me as I would watch and listen outside my window, after being awoken at 1 or 2 am, to all the problems that would arise after the bars and restaurants closed down for the evening. Issues such as fighting, public intoxication and subsequent urination and vomiting. Also, destruction of public and private property. I thought that if there was an increase in the patrols for that 2 or 3 hour timeframe, most of those occurances could be preemptively avoided. It would require more foot and bike patrols in areas where parks and sidestreets are involved, and staging areas for outside of downtown where drunk driving would be the primary issue. I think we can all agree that this might allow us all to rest a little easier at night. Quality of life anyone?


GW - On your campaign Blog, you also discuss neglected properties located within the city. This has been a problem for some time as voters wonder what can be done to encourage or force property owners to clean up and renovate properties which have become "Blight" within a neighborhood.

Tell the voters what you would suggest to the mayor and board of aldermen to remedy this situation.

AK - An idea that I would propose, and do not credit me with this as it has been in use for decades all over the world to address problems like this, is to explore different methods of taxation such as Land Value Tax(LVT), or possibly Tax Abatements. Cities such as Harrisburg, PA and St. Louis, MO among others have been utilizing these options for years and have profitted from them, aesthetically and financially. The basis of the LVT is that you heavily tax the property itself, or land if you will, and lightly tax the improvements upon that land. Two taxes, but percentage wise they would be comparable to existing propety taxes we ll pay now. There is, within our current tax system, an element of LVT, but property value of the land itself is minimally taxed under this system. The object here is to provide incentive to restore, rehab or alltogether build on a piece of property, commercial or residential, without being "penalized" if you will, by an increase in you property tax due to the improvements made upon it.

This option requires an overhaul of the current tax system, and thus is sometimes not looked upon favorably. The other option is Tax Abatement, which is voluntarily applied for by the individual property owners. I think we are all familiar with this type of method. The beauty here is that it provides an incentive for businesses to come to Frederick and open up shop and right away see the financial benefits of the program. This provides more incentive to STAY here, which would be the ultimate goal.

Both of these options are ideas and are not set in stone. And frankly, they may not work here in Frederick, but they need to be explored regardless. This kind of thinking is important for the City. And if it is found to be flawed for us, then throw them away. At least they would have been explored, that's all we can ask for.


GW - The recent action by Mayor Holtzinger to undermine the authority of the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) has many questioning the checks and balances which should exist between the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

The HPC, since its creation has received periodic questions pertaining to the rulings handed down by the commission. However, this is the first time a Mayor has allegedly instructed staff to disregard enforcing a fine levied by the commission. To the best of my knowledge, this issue remains unresolved.

While some decisions by the HPC may be open to questions, a property owner who is not in agreement with a decision by the HPC can file an appeal. I am not aware this has been done to date.

If you had been an alderman, how would you have reacted to this action by Mayor Holtzinger?

AK - First of all, I would like to state that I believe in the purpose and necessity of the HPC. Contrary to what some may feel, I believe the HPC has nothing to do with the culture of our Historic District, but rather with the architecture specific to our City and it's history. Not to mention that the guidelines followed were not made up on a whim by a bunch of people hell-bent on dictatorship, but rather by the Federal Government, which allows us the distinction of having a legitimate Historic District. Our downtown culture may be a product of the HPC, but it is not their primary concern, as I believe it to be.

As for the recent decision of the Mayor to intervene on behalf of the property owner, I was not able to find a clause in the Charter that allows a Mayor to overturn, or veto if you will, a decision made by a commission or Board, or their appointments, other than the Board of Alderman. I may have missed it, but the Charter is a big document!

If I was Alderman, I would have proposed that the property owner first try the appeal process. If they were unhappy with the outcome, and wanted further action, than maybe a meeting with one or two Alderman, the HPC commissioners and the Mayor would be an extra step that could be taken. Keep in mind however, anything done, could set precedent for future discrepancies. That hasn't been dealt with yet concerning this issue either.


GW - Andrew, the time has flown by and now we are at your last question before your closing remarks. One of the issues you and other candidates have discussed is economic development.

Increasing higher paying job opportunities locally so more city residents can work where they live is a desire of many candidates. Tell the voters what you would propose to the mayor and your fellow aldermen which would help facilitate economic development within the city.

AK - As I eluded to before, I would like to see an exploration of other tax alternatives so as to jumpstart commercial development. I would also like to see a broader scope of business incubators, other than FITCI and the like. There are emerging technological fields and our geographic location makes us an ideal spot for companies to relocate(that's where incentives come in) or start anew(incubators) and get a foothold in our highly desireable location.

Any business we attract needs to be in a sustainable field, such as medical technology and the like, so as to insulate us from a wavering national, and global, economy.

I would also like to attract more university programs such as a law school or business college where undergraduates can go to stay in Frederick, and pursue loftier degrees that will result in loftier incomes.


GW - Andrew, I want to thank you again for being my guest tonight on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof. At this time, I would like to give you some time for some closing remarks.

AK-Thanks again George. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I would like to close with this. I have a vision for Frederick's future. I prefer not to see us continue as we are, a quaint weekend getaway. But rather I see us becoming a beacon of Western Maryland, not just a City within Frederick County. I wish for us to become a major player in the politics and economy of the State of Maryland for the future. We can be the third point on a triangle between Washington, DC, Baltimore and Frederick. A model City that the rest of the State, Annapolis especially, will look to for ideas of how they too will proceed into the future. Lofty goals, I know. But all it takes a little vision, and eventually we will see the fruits of our labor!

Thanks again George, and thanks to everyone who has taken the time this evening to read this interview. I do appreciate it.


To receive "Daily Email Updates' from Air-it-out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

No comments: