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Monday, August 17, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, Md. Alderman David Koontz

George Wenschhof

Today, my guest is Alderman David "Kip" Koontz (D). I met David Koontz some years ago and at one point we were neighbors living in apartments across from city hall.

Mr. Koontz first became known to many for his outspoken gay activism after his arrival in Frederick.

In 1998 he ran for state delegate in district 3. This was before the redistricting that occurred in 2002 resulted in creating districts 3-a and 3-b. Sue Hecht was the only Democrat to win in that election which saw Republicans Louise Snodgrass and Joseph Bartlett win to fill out the three delegate positions representing district 3.

In 2001, he unsuccessfully ran for Alderman in the City of Frederick election only to run again in 2005 and win. In 2005, he placed second in the Democratic primary with 2457 votes and also placed second in the general election with 4,491 votes.

I have not shared with him the questions I will ask today and we will be communicating via computer from different locations within the city. This is a live online conversation so remember to click your "Refresh" button on your computer every fifteen minutes to see the more recent question and answer.

The link to the discussion will be placed in the right hand margin of my Home Page so it can be easily accessed and read at any time convenient to our viewers.

At this point I want to welcome Mr. Koontz to Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof.

GW - David, let's get started by talking about why your decision to run for reelection was delayed until the last day permitted to file for office in the City of Frederick election. Over a year and a half ago speculation was rampant you were considering a run for Mayor.

Tell the voters why you waited until the last day to file for office and if you had seriously considered running for mayor. As a follow up, why do you feel the voters should chose you over any of the other Democratic candidates running for alderman?

Kip - Yes, I was seriously considering a run for mayor. In all honesty I believed Mayor Holtzinger would win re-election and considering what it has taken for me to be accepted in our city enough to be elected Alderman, I didn't believe it would have been beneficial to my constituents to possibly not be in office to assist them. I believe I have very effectively served the residents of the city by resolving, or at at least obtaining answers, to their concerns. Additionally, I have voted for a 4-cent property tax cut and I brokered bi-partisan agreements to ensure the placement of police and code enforcement officers that the mayor did not budget for nor find necessary.

I waited until the last day to file (I did announce earlier) because my partner JD has been quite ill this year, as have his parents. Family considerations are extremely important to me and we had to decide if our situation made a run for Mayor or even Alderman something to pursue this year.


GW - David, you were past President of the Frederick Kiwanis Club and have always been active in the Evangelical Reformed Church. Voters enjoy getting to know more about the candidates. Share with them a little about yourself and some of your interests outside of politics.

Kip - I am actually an Assisting Minister at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, though I certainly embrace the UCC's tenets (ERUCC and Grace UCC). I am blessed to serve our congregation in this manner and am humbled by the love I receive from my church community. As a past president of Frederick Kiwanis I am proud to have served as President and Chair of our Young Children Priority One campaign, in which we raised and donated up to $20,000 annually to benefit children in our city and county.

For the past four years I have been very active in Greyhound rescue, doing what I can to save the lives of dogs that would otherwise be put down. I am the proud owner of four Greyhounds myself, and they give me and JD great joy.


GW - The recent Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) decision which resulted in a fine to a downtown property owner has some voters on both sides of the issue upset. As you know, this has come up from time to time since the creation of the Historic District.

In this case, Mayor Jeff Holtzinger allegedly instructed staff to ignore a fine issued by the HPC and to the best of my knowledge there has been no resolution of this issue to date.

I have written in columns I question the Mayor having the power to override a decision made by the HPC when the remedy for the property owner who disagrees with a decision is to file an appeal. I further stated I felt city legal staff should be consulted and asked for an opinion in regard to the action taken by the Mayor.

You filed an ethics complaint against the Mayor regarding this matter. First, why did you feel this was a matter that fell under an ethics complaint and second, where does the ethics complaint stand?

Kip - I've never said there cannot and should not be changes with the HPC; in fact, there are new guidelines that would have been approved and would have prevented recent conflict if not for political posturing by the Mayor and certain other members of the Board of Aldermen.

The issue is strictly that the mayor instructed staff not to impose penalties that are legally required to be applied whenever someone violates an HPC decision. Selective enforcement of HPC penalties for violations is unfair to law-abiding and code-abiding business and property owners in the city. That was the basis for my complaint against the mayor.

Also, there is little awareness among the public that the conversion from Professional Building to Volt was not an easy one. I met with the owners and legal staff on a couple of occasions in order to discuss what may or may not be possible in their reconfiguration of the interior, in order to help them with compliance.

I did everything I could to make them aware of the violation, as I knew it was going to become political.

As for the ethics complaint, it was made clear to me that even if I believe that the mayor acted outside his purview, which I do, this matter does not fall under that which can be considered "ethically unacceptable". I'm sure that everyone who has been made to comply with HPC guidelines when they don't believe they need to wished they also had the current mayor on their side to override the HPC rulings. Why have an HPC, then?


GW - Let's now talk about the controversial early retirement buy out decision that took place during your first term. As confused and angry voters know, some city employees received two years of salary and then were hired back. One of the more recognizable employees was Ron Tobin who works directly for Mayor Holtzinger and is now one of the Republicans running for Mayor.

You were one of the aldermen who voted to approve this program, although reportedly little time was given to the aldermen to review. Later, you were one of the three Democratic aldermen who voted and passed a resolution to have an independent investigation of the program. Mayor Holtzinger vetoed this vote.

Tell the voters what led you to first approve the change and then later vote to investigate it.

Kip - The early retirement buyout did not work out as expected in hindsight. We expected no more than half of the eligible city employees to accept the buyout, according to staff surveys, and instead the rate at which employees availed themselves of the buyout turned out to be far greater.

In light of this result, I actually attempted to bring this back for review and only four alderpeople were at the meeting -- all three Democrats, Alderman Imhoff, and the Mayor were in attendance. Only Alderwoman Kuzemchek and I voted to reverse the decision. Alderpeople Hall and Imhoff voted to NOT review and then Mayor Holtzinger broke the tie.

We would like to take corrective action about those employees who have been re-hired by the mayor (it was not what we approved), but it is clear we don't have a veto-proof majority to overturn the mayor's action plan.

The entire way the early retirement plan was initially proposed appeared workable based upon the reviewing organization's assessment. It ended up as an unfortunate political mess. The one silver lining is that it actually did not cause the city to lose money, contrary to perceptions.


GW - Another issue which is catching the attention of city voters is the proposed annexation of three farms into the City of Frederick. Two of the farms (Crum and Thatcher) are located north of the city and the other farm (Summers) is located west of the city.

Some voters feel the current infrastructure is woefully behind current development and the proposed annexations are premature. These voters want the vote delayed until the new mayor and board of aldermen take office.

Other voters feel the proposed annexations will provide economic development opportunities for the city.

Unless, the vote is delayed, this vote will come before you prior to the change in administration as a result of the election. Tell the voters your position on the proposed annexations.

Kip - I knew, for better or worse, that the annexation issue would arrive during my term in office. Previous administrations have passed expanded water agreement areas that we adopted, so that any properties waiting on our annexation list would then be able to come forward and be annexed when the time came.

We took great lengths to prepare for eventual annexation over the last four years with the passage of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to ensure orderly expansion occurs and the Moderately Priced Development Ordinance to ensure we build affordable housing in all neighborborhoods.

Additionally, with my leadership, this board made it clear that only developments that moved the city forward in some way (fire departments, parks, businesses we don't yet have, etc.) would be part of the annexation process.

While the idea of annexation and development might be frightening to some, I believe we have laid the proper groundwork for the directed and necessary growth for our future.


GW - I remember you battling for additional police department funding and helping to broker a compromise with the mayor during a previous budget approval process during your first term in office.

You also point out on your campaign website, you "voted for more police and code enforcement officers".

Public safety is always a major concern of voters. During these tough financial times, do you support the city acquiring a site and building a new police headquarters or do you believe funding in the next administration should go toward a police substation or two and additional officers?

Kip - I have been more than proud to support our city's Police Department and have said so for years, even preceding my term as Alderman. We need to move Central Command into its own office so that the Department can have the space and facilities it deserves. We are doing them an utter disservice by having them squashed in the Court House and Court Street Parking Garage Basement.

In the last two budget cycles, the mayor did not include adding additional police, even though I had requested them. My conversations with city residents revealed that they were appalled with the mayor's decisions in this matter. I negotiated a budget compromise that included a series of new police cadet classes; even though the mayor did not support these, they were ultimately approved two consecutive years, and I count this as one of my proudest achievements as Alderman.


GW - David, we are now to the last question before your final remarks. You also mention on your campaign website you "want to grow our tax base in sensible ways".

Tell the voters more about how you intend to do this.

Kip - While "growth" is seen sometimes as a dirty word, in order to ensure our tax base grows responsibly we need to ensure we grow with the right type of light industrial, bio-tech, commercial and residential mix in order to spread around and diversify the revenue sources needed by the city. This will ensure that the tax burden is distributed fairly.

As we infill, redevelop and expand we must keep these principles in mind.


GW - Thank you again for taking the time today to appear on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof. At this time I would like to give you the opportunity for some closing remarks.

Kip - I have been very happy to serve the citizens of Frederick the last four years. I've voted to decrease our property tax rate and to increase our park space. I have worked to help pull the Weinberg Center for the Arts out of a serious financial deficit and thank the Manager and Board for their efforts towards getting the Center operating in the black, which had not been the case for years, if not decades.

I have voted for serious and significant infrastrucuture improvements and a sound direction for future development. I championed a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Frederick which allowed more than 200 children to participate in the program. I voted to rescue children's parks and recreation programs from the chopping block. My record for advocacy for the improvement of the quality of life in Frederick speaks for itself.

It has been a great honor to serve as Frederick City Alderman, and I hope the citizens of Frederick give me the opportunity to serve for another four years. Thank you!


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are some very likeable things about Kip, but it will be very interesting to see if his supposed public service has translated to top vote getting after the past four years, he's great on HPC, except charging ehtics instead of powers violation and breach of public process and fairness - his firts answer plays the 'gay' card for sympathy, as well as his partner's illness - I'm frankly fairly disappointed in what had been a valuable public official.