Thank you for visiting our website

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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, Md. Alderman Candidate John Daniels

George Wenschhof

Today, my guest is John Daniels who is one of nine Democrats running for Alderman in the City of Frederick, Maryland election. The primary will be held on September 15 when Democratic voters will determine their five aldermen and one mayoral candidate to move on to the general election to be held on November 3.

As has been the case with all of my guests, we are communicating via computer from different locations within the City of Frederick. I have not shared with him the questions beforehand. This is a live discussion, so click your computer "Refresh" button every fifteen minutes to see the more recent question and answer.

The link to this conversation will be placed in the right hand margin of my Home Page along with the other mayoral and aldermen interviews. Encourage your friends and co-workers to read them all before they vote on September 15.

I met John briefly when I attended his campaign announcement and listened to his kick off speech. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk more about the campaign.

A retired navy man, he and his wife Judy discovered Frederick, somewhat by accident, when looking for a part for an older Mercedes. They were already looking to move to the general metropolitan area due to grandchildren who reside in Silver Spring. After a visit downtown, they fell in love with Frederick and moved here.

GW - John, let's get started with you telling the voters a little bit more about you and your family. Share with them some of your interests. I remember you telling me how you and Judy have sailed around the world. We will get to some of the issues facing the City of Frederick shortly, but first tell the voters why you decided to run for Alderman.

JD - Hello George, and hello fellow Frederickans. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk with you today.

As George just said, I spent my career serving in the U.S. Navy and retired after 23 years as a Master Chief. Throughout my career in the Navy, I was a flight engineer on an aircrew team, and as such, I understand the necessity of working together to accomplish a mission. I spent my latter years in the Navy in several different senior positions where I had decision-making responsibilities for people, budgets and systems. My leadership skills as District Chief of Recruiting reached into the civilian community in establishing relationships with educators and community leaders.

After I retired, I opened a small marine products business involving retail sales and services. In that endeavor, I experienced all of the issues of small business owners—including competing with the big box stores. In fact, it was difficult, if not impossible, to compete with the national chain marine stores, which allowed me to take a second retirement—a real retirement aboard our schooner, cruising the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast (

When my wife, Judy, and I decided to end our 10-year cruise and settle close to our grandchildren, we began a search for our new home. We considered many towns, large and small, but when we drove into Frederick and turned onto Market Street, we were home. We chose Frederick for the same reasons that some of you have stayed in Frederick all of your lives, or that others have chosen Frederick as your new home—it has ambiance, history and charm, and more than that, it has community. Over the past almost 2 years, we have met many people, worked in campaigns—local and national, and for the past 6 months, I have attended nearly all of the mayor and alderman meetings, talked with the leaders in city hall, researched the history of every issue currently before the board, and have had conversations with lots of residents during my campaign.

I’m running for alderman because I think I can make a difference.


GW - I have written in previous columns that most aldermen candidates do not often publicly state their support for a mayoral candidate, offering instead to say something like "they can work with anyone..."

You and incumbent Alderman Donna Kuzemchak are the exceptions in this election. Ms. Kuzemchak stated her support for Jennifer Dougherty for Mayor when she was my guest. When I met with you recently, you indicated you are supporting Jason Judd and even canvass for him on Saturdays, reserving the rest of the week for your own campaign.

Tell the voters why you are supporting Jason Judd for Mayor.

JD - Of course, like the other candidates have said, I will work with the mayor that the citizens elect. One of my strongest suits that I bring to the table is my ability to work with others and I will do that with whomever I’m elected to serve. Having said that, my preference for mayor is Jason Judd. The reason that I support Jason is simple: he and I share many of the same ideas and we hold a similar vision for Frederick. I feel that Jason brings new ideas and that he has the experience and ability to lead.


GW - The city early retirement employee buy-out debacle which transpired during the current administration continues to baffle many city voters.

They wonder how a program that provided a payment of two years of salary and also a hire back by the city of the employee received approval by the Board of Aldermen.

While you can not go back in regard to this decision, voters want aldermen who will ask the right questions and look after their interests when considering proposals that come before them.

How will you assure the voters you will be diligent on their behalf when you make decisions on proposals presented to the Board of Aldermen?

JD - First, let me say that I too am baffled. The buy-out by any standard was a lucrative arrangement, not properly vetted. The board did not approach this with due diligence nor did they spend the necessary time to understand both the intended and unintended consequences. We are still being blind-sided by the consequences.

When I am on the Board of Aldermen, I will slow the process, read the documents, research the issues, and ask the hard questions. In addition, even more important, I will insist that we provide adequate time for public review and comment. There was no compelling reason why this decision had to be rushed thru this process.


GW - The annexation of three farms (Thatcher, Crum and Summers) into the City of Frederick will come before the Board of Aldermen soon for a vote.

Some aldermen candidates have supported the annexations commenting on the economic benefits, while others who feel they are premature have opposed. Others have supported some of the annexations, but not all.

In addition, some opponents have said they will start a petition opposing the annexations should the Board vote to approve, forcing the decision to a ballot referendum.

First, tell the voters if you support any or all of these annexations. Second, should the Board vote for approval, would you support a petition drive to force the vote to a ballot referendum?

JD - I have not heard a compelling reason for the city to annex the Summers Farm at this time. Before we annex this land for development, we should be focused on redevelopment and infill along the Golden Mile. At such a time as we have revitalized the Golden Mile, then I would support the possibility of annexing the Summers Farm.

The Thatcher/COPT and the Crum farms are different issues. The traffic generated by the proposed 2,000,000 square feet of commercial space and additional residences on the Crum land is a serious issue and it does not appear to be an easy nut to crack. US15, with its un-signalized grade-level interchanges is already a serious safety hazard. Constructing a Biggs Ford road interchange to support the anticipated traffic is a huge expense; some estimates show it as high as 80 or 90 million.

The State highway administration, in a letter dated 11 June of this year, indicated that the interchange they had planned for in the I270/US15 multi-modal study would only support the existing low density land use. Additionally the SHA strongly recommended that the cost of planning, design and construction of the interchange be included in the annexation agreement. To my knowledge this proffer has not been made.

I again have not heard a compelling reason for annexing these properties at this time. It is interesting to note that our 2004 Comp Plan table LU.4 indicates that this area northeast of the existing city is in the 2015-25 timeframe for annexation. Coincidentally, this is also the timeframe for the State’s anticipated improvements to US15.

Additionally, before anyone moves forward with this, we would want to address the environmental issues of the 50-acre flood plain on the Thatcher property.

If the Board insists on voting for annexation of either the Crum or Thatcher properties, I will support a petition to put the matter on the ballot.


GW - Staying with the issue of growth, I want to ask you about "sustainable growth" you discuss on your campaign website

Frederick County Government recently voted to proceed with the construction of a Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facility to handle waste disposal. City of Frederick Mayor Jeff Holtzinger provided public testimony in support of WTE. However, I am not sure the Board of Aldermen voted in support of WTE.

First, tell the voters a little more about some of your ideas of "sustainable growth". Second, do you support the proposed Frederick County Incinerator?

JD - First:, sustainable growth and smart economic development go together, hand-in-glove. They go together because they grow a city where residents can live, work, and play, all in walking distance or a short transit ride away. To do this for Frederick, we must:

a. manage our growth to encourage more businesses and increased population density within our existing footprint.

b. provide incentives to small retail and light manufacturing businesses to locate in our midst.

c. support and expand our technology incubators.

d. re-purpose under-utilized real estate, and create disincentives for letting buildings stand vacant.

e. build more affordable housing, including a mix of single-family and multi-family dwellings within walking distance of, or a short public transit ride to and from the places people work.

Second: I do not support the WTE. Rather than build an incinerator, I would like to see Frederick County reduce, re-use and recycle. Additionally, an aggressive composting program would further reduce the demand on the landfill. Approximately 95% of our waste stream is recoverable, and a 65-70% recovery rate is achievable.

The WTE is not a panacea and, in fact, may compete with recycling. Even with an incinerator, we will require a landfill to dispose of the ash and non-burnable waste. When we factor in the ash created from imported waste, we may require more landfill space than a 65-70% recovery rate would require. Plus, $600 million is a lot of money. I am disappointed in our choice.


GW - Perhaps, the most important responsibility the next mayor and board will have is management of the budget. In all likelihood, tax revenues will be down as signs indicate the national and worldwide recession will linger.

Share with the voters some of your thoughts on this subject.

JD - There is no question but that the next mayor and board will have a difficult job in managing the budget with reduced revenues. It is worth noting that in addition to decreased property tax revenue, the tax equity with the county will be declining over future years due to reductions in county spending, and we will continue to have additional cuts in SHUR (state highway user revenues) funding.

How do we make up for the loss of revenue?

1. Go to a zero-based budget, justifying the need and benefit of every line on the operating budget.

2. Triage the CIP's, cutting or postponing lower priority projects, such as the proposed regional park development.

3. Declare a moratorium on additional debt.

4. Aggressively pursue federal and state grants.


GW - John, the time has sped by and we are now to my last question. The recent flap pertaining to a fine issued by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has created discussion surrounding the HPC and the City of Frederick Historic District. In this case, the Mayor allegedly instructed staff to disregard the fine issued by the HPC on a property owner while a remedy exists to the owner by filing an appeal.

The downtown historic district has been a plus for the city since it was created despite periodic complaints pertaining to over rigorous renovation guidelines.

First, do you support the continuation of the historic district and second, do you feel a review of the renovation guidelines used by the HPC is necessary?

JD - I do support the HPC continuing to oversee the preservation of the historic district. Decisions are difficult and sometimes appear arbitrary, but the HPC has made a significant contribution to the overall preservation of buildings in Frederick. I will support not only a review of the guidelines, but also a review of the procedures that property owners must follow to obtain permission for renovations.


GW - Thank you again John for being my guest on Air-it-out with George Wenschhof. I want to remind everyone the September 15 primary is less than four weeks away so please remember to go vote! I would now like to give you time for some closing remarks.

JD - Thanks, George, for providing this forum.

Some folks have asked me if being so new to Frederick is a disadvantage for my campaign. My answer is, yes and no. Yes, I am new to Frederick, but no, I am not new to leadership roles, and, no, I don't think being new to Frederick is a liability. There are many new residents in Frederick, and there will be even more over the next few years. In fact, the state's projection for population increase over the next 20 years is in the neighborhood of 50%. So I think that I can relate to the issues of not only long time residents, but also of new residents. You know, in the British Virgin Islands, they have the term "belongers"-- you see it on signs in the airport customs lines. There, you are a "belonger" if you are a citizen and a resident of the island. So I see myself as a tax-paying, Frederick "belonger," ready to serve the community. I believe that I’m the right person for the job. I have the time, temperament and leadership skills to be on the team that moves Frederick forward.

I ask for your support and for your vote on September 15.


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

No comments: