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Monday, December 20, 2010

Frederick County Political Buzz

George Wenschhof

New Frederick County Maryland Board of County Commissioners take Office -
in a swearing in ceremony I attended at the Null Building located on the Frederick Fairgrounds. A nice crowd attended on a chilly and rainy day.

The first time I can recall an all Republican Board of Commissioners having won election in Frederick County. This punctuates the work cut out for the new chair of the Frederick Democratic Central Committee Myrna Whitworth.

The first comments and actions taken by the new Board pertained to benefits received by county commissioners - as all three of the new commissioners are employed and receiving benefits, they saw no need to receive county benefits and moved to remove them, joined by board president Blaine Young. While the savings are minor compared to the size of the overall county budget, the proposal is in line with campaign promises made by four of the commissioners.

A better final action would be to make the benefits an option to elected commissioners. Not all candidates in the future will have benefits from another job to rely on and the lack of these benefits could easily dissuade qualified candidates from running for office.

Making it an option, would allow them to meet their campaign promises by refusing to accept the benefits, while not jeopardizing county residents with the possibility of a lack of qualified candidates in future elections.


It did not take the new commissioners long to exhibit changes are afoot. They moved quickly to fill the vacant assistant county manager position with the hiring of David Dunn who was city manager of the Town of Brunswick. This is a big step up for Dunn, but he is due time to see how well he performs in his new position.

The other person to benefit is current county manager Barry Stanton who was promoted by the former board from the assistant county manager position, right before the election - after Ron Hart's second retirement. Stanton staying in this position after the new board was sworn in was a question mark to some who follow local politics. Stanton apparently is on board with the objectives outlined by the majority of the new board, expressed by them during the campaign.

Division Chiefs in the county all are appointed positions so stay tuned to see if any changes are to come. Also, watch to see if any department heads resign over the next several months.


The inclusion of requests to the Frederick county state delegation, of immigration related proposals, by Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and former Republican County Commissioners John Thompson and Charles Jenkins was hardly a surprise.

I opposed them four years ago and continue to do so. The counting of children of illegal immigrants in the public school system would be cumbersome and of no practical use. In addition, the Maryland General Assembly will never pass such a law. So, the local action is merely a political exercise to further promote a perceived popular local position on this volatile issue.

Instead, as immigration is a federal issue, pressure should be put on members of Congress to tackle, discuss and implement a comprehensive immigration reform law which would include the strengthening of U.S. borders, an update in current immigration procedures and a reasonable fair pathway to citizenship.


The new board also voted to appoint by March, 2011, a charter writing committee with the question being put to the voters in the 2012 presidential election. A good move and one which I have supported for quite some time. The vote, to coincide with the presidential election will also ensure the highest voter turnout, without the extra cost of a special election.

My first published column on the issue appeared in on February 2, 2007. A more recent column written by me entitled "Change Needed in Frederick County Government" was published on my website on October 6, 2010, prior to the election. One point, of many which appeared in the first piece which I felt strongly about then and still do today, is "The charge given to the charter-writing committee should require that it hold an on-going series of open and public meetings throughout Frederick County to solicit feedback and input from the residents".

The committee, once established, will have up to eighteen months to complete the charter so there is ample time to hold regional meetings throughout the county.

Some opine the creation of the charter writing committee is a continuation of the "growth" versus "no-growth" political battles over the last twenty years. It is no more that than it is a result of political affiliation. As, it was a Democratic majority board who appointed the charter writing committee back in 1991.

Rather, it is about more effective government.


New commissioner Paul Smith caused a stir on his reported request to repeal the ethics law. Not something the average voter would be in favor of taking place. I understood more specifically what he was proposing as I questioned the law originally put forward by former commissioner John Thompson. It was an amendment, as I recall, to the ethics ordinance, which required an onerous reporting of any contact by commissioners with people they spoke to, in regard to pending land-use applicants. Included, in the law, was a fine for failing to comply.

Unfortunately, for Commissioner Smith, he failed to fully explain his proposal and when he finally did so, to Frederick New Post Reporter Meg Tully, her article appeared after public reaction was already whipped up opposing his proposal.

Board President Blaine Young, showed his political wisdom, by not voting with Smith. Commissioner Smith would have been better served had he expressed his concerns of this section of the ethics law and requesting a review as opposed to voting to repeal before public discussion took place on the issue.


Next up for the commissioners is to reconcile a projected 11.8 million budget shortfall. Reporter Sherry Greenfield of The Gazette wrote in a recent article that County Budget Officer Michael Gastley was surprised that property tax revenues were down. You have to wonder what planet he has been living on as the entire country has experienced a major recession, with reduced property values a resulting cause and effect.

The General Fund Summary total for 2011 is 438,308,019 with the Board of Education receiving 52%. Fortunately, while 11.8 million is a substantial figure, it is less than 3% of the 2011 general fund total.

Hopefully, a concentrated effort is made to reduce the possibility of lost county jobs due to the anticipated loss in revenue. Another area that deserves attention is the debt service, which at 33 million, currently makes up 8% of the general fund - if renegotiation of terms or other changes are possible to reduce the debt load, it should be done.


Frederick County Democratic Central Committee chair Myrna Whitworth responded to the early actions by the Commissioners with an angry letter to the editor published on December 8 in the Frederick News Post. Unfortunately, the reaction from many who read the letter was it had the tone of sour grapes.

Perhaps, she would be better served by looking inward and devoting energy to rebuilding a dysfunctional and ineffective Democratic central committee. The committee currently lacks all three of the major components which foster success in politics; message, organization, and money.


All in all, no surprises so far by the new Board of Commissioners. Stay tuned...


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