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Friday, January 14, 2011

Frederick County Political Buzz

George Wenschhof

Maryland General Assembly Sworn In -
new state senator Ron Young (District 3) told me the day before "tomorrow I get sworn in and the next day I'll get sworn at" - a line that caught my attention and one I felt worthy of passing along.

I've known Ron for many years, and for those who know him, he is never at a loss for one-liners. A trait shared by the only other Democrat to win election in Frederick county; state delegate Galen Clagett (District 3-a).

I asked Ron how he is going to vote on allowing wine to be shipped to Maryland residents and he said he would support it. The bill has been opposed by the Maryland liquor lobby in the past.


The budget will once again be the focus of the Maryland legislature this year and I look to see a serious effort made to raise taxes in spite of the fragile economic recovery. A gas or liquor tax is an alternative.

The bungled roll out of slots has contributed to the financial shortfall. The continued push to force slots on the state owned Rocky Gap Resort, if successful, will be another failed effort and another example of the state pouring good money into a bad venture.

Changing the current laws surrounding slots will be attempted. However, due to the manner in which they were approved (constitutional amendment), the process will require a super majority.

A problem I pointed out at the time, when state legislators punted on making a decision and put it to the voters to decide. I have always maintained politicians are elected to make decisions and not put difficult issues out to referendum.

At some point, a serious examination is needed for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED). The noble reason for it's existence to boost economic development in distressed areas in the state has mostly failed and is costing taxpayers considerable money. Rocky Gap Resort needs to be sold to stop the continued yearly state financial losses.

Look to see Gay Marriage receive considerable support, but for civil unions to receive passage by the General Assembly.

Immigration laws, similar to the one in Arizona will be put forth for consideration, but do not look to see passage.


City of Frederick -
Rick, "like a rolling stone" Weldon continues to let no moss grow as he moves again from his position as executive assistant to the mayor of the City of Frederick to a similar position with the mayor of Brunswick.

Today is his last day and I wish him well as he heads home. Rumors are rampant as to who his replacement will be - the latest I heard was former alderman and mayor candidate Joe Baldi. Baldi, like Weldon is well liked, and with his city experience, would be able to hit the ground running.

While I'm on the city, does it seem like public works is struggling to keep up with snow removal? Last year's back to back blizzards were a good excuse for the poor snow removal. But, the recent minor snow/ice storm left many side streets covered with ice two days later. I'm probably being too picky here as their job is always difficult and I do appreciate their work. But, snow removal is one thing voters take stock of when they go to the polls.

So, how is Mayor Randy McClement Doing? A nice man, he has avoided any of the contentious mayor/alderman interactions voters have witnessed in the past. For the first year on the job he has escaped close scrutiny, partly due to the state/county elections. From this point on, expect more focus on his administration. To date, it has been void of vision or goals and has taken on the appearance of a caretaker administration. The city deserves better.

The recent announcement that Hope VI "affordable townhomes" will be offered starting at $335,000.00 caught my attention - affordable? - Hardly. They will be built on 6th street in downtown Frederick, one block away from a privately owned parcel where townhomes, offered in the same price range, have not sold for the last three years.

The "change in the neighborhood" from the former public housing units has been, on the most part, a positive. However, none of the former residents can afford a $335,000 home.

In addition, the failure to focus on the redevelopment of the west end continues to be a problem. Building a eyesore fence along the once "golden mile" is not the answer. The construction of several pedestrian bridge cross ways makes more sense and would be more aesthetically pleasing.

Efforts to involve the community in soliciting ideas to redevelop the west end is noble. But, how about asking professionals? Surely, national municipal organizations have examples of where similar sized cities, facing the same challenges have successfully redeveloped troubled areas.


Frederick County -
recently defeated county commissioner Kai Hagen announced he has started up a non-profit organization "Envision Frederick". The listed members of the Board of Directors make up a who's who list of those who opposed the majority of the current board of commissioners.

While I opposed his reelection, I wish him well in this new endeavor. Having a dialogue on the future of Frederick County is always a good idea. The tricky part, in addition to raising the needed capital, will be keeping the politics out of the non-profit organization's efforts.

"East Frederick Rising", another well intentioned organization, has struggled with funding since their formation several years ago.

After an initial feeding frenzy by the press in regard to Commissioner Paul Smith's desire to amend a section of the ethics law and their focus on Commissioner Kirby Delauter's potential ethics issues in regard to his business, the new board of commissioners have settled in.

Smith failed to fully explain his intention and got clobbered as a result and when he did try to explain, the damage had been done. Delauter choose to simply not communicate with the press, a strategy that does not work well today. Business owners who enter politics in small communities are always faced with potential ethics problems. It often dissuades well qualified candidates from entering the fray. However, the ethics laws are there for good reason and a candidate for office should be aware of them.

One who is not shy with the press, Commissioner President Blaine Young, shared with me he understands the press wants information and he tries hard to accommodate them and be accessible.

Budget issues will continue to be a major concern as roughly a 3% reduction is needed in the general fund. Privatization of services is one area the new board wants to examine. However, look to see this be easier said than done.

As promised in the campaign of four of the new commissioners, a review will be available to property owners who had their land downzoned during the last board of commissioner's term - a reasonable approach to a difficult issue. Do not look to see major zoning changes coming as a result. More likely, a handful of property owners will now have a remedy.


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