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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alderman Russell Believes in Communication and Transparency

George Wenschhof

The first fourteen months on the job has kept City of Frederick Democratic Alderwoman Kelly Russell busy as she deals with her committee assignments, constituent concerns and agenda items. She is enjoying her role as alderwoman for the City of Frederick and is looking forward to serving the remainder of her first term in office. At this point, the retired police officer is leaning toward running for another term.

In a sit down interview and follow up conversations, she said "the relationship between the aldermen and mayor has been cordial and professional. Sometimes, she said, it is the agenda items, or rather, a lack of items on the agenda, which has caused her the most frustration during her first fourteen months in office".

A woman who takes her elected position seriously, Kelly wants to see even more communication between the mayor and board of aldermen along with more transparency to the public.

She understands the difference of roles between the mayor, who is the elected administrator and the board of aldermen, who are the legislative body in the city's charter government.

Russell feels the city charter spells out clearly what she feels is an important balance of power relationship between the mayor and the board of aldermen when it often says, in regard to major issues, the mayor can act only with the advice and consent of the board.

When it comes to important issues such as the reviews underway of the city charter, the city employee pension plan, city employee policies and procedures, the Keys lease of the city owned stadium, and the upcoming budget, communication has not always been as forthcoming from first term Republican Mayor Randy McClement as Russell would prefer.

Adding to this conundrum, has been the inability of the mayor to fill the executive assistant position, left vacant when Rick Weldon resigned to take a similar position with the Town of Brunswick.

It was clearly evident, during my sit down conversation with Kelly, she is enthusiastic about her elected position and has enjoyed working with her fellow members of the board.

She spoke of the many projects and committee work underway by the City of Frederick, including the Bicycle and Recycling Ad Hoc Committees, on which she sits as city alderman liaison.

With an eye on the future, she believes increasing recycling in the city and developing a larger shared use path system are both beneficial for city residents.

The work also being done developing the Golden Mile and East Frederick area plans is also exciting to for her to see.

However, the lack of discussion to date on the upcoming budget, where a projected 9.9 million deficit exists is troublesome to alderwoman Russell.

In their first year in office, the mayor invited a couple of the aldermen at a time to meet with him and department heads to discuss budget requests. A process which was not repeated this year.

In regard to the charter review process, the committee was chaired by Randy McClement with the work completed during the former mayor Jeff Holtzinger administration. Yet, it was never presented to the public and voted on by the board of alderman.

The recommendations from that charter review committee remain to be presented to the current board of aldermen with the required public notice prior to their review and approval by the board.

Ms. Russell is looking forward to when the recommendations from the charter writing committee are presented to the public and the board of aldermen for review and comment.

One change she would like to see in the charter is the reinstatement of the residency requirement for senior level city positions.

The city employee policy and procedures and pension plan are other issues Russell is anxious to proceed so the board of aldermen and the public can provide input.

The aldermen and Mayor McClement could not agree on the cost of a proposal to review possible employee pension changes. So, the mayor proceeded with a reduced sized contract on which he had authority per the city charter without aldermen approval. The results of this study remain to be presented, creating additional angst among some board members. It is now scheduled to be presented to the board next week.

The possible loss of the Baltimore Oriole Farm Team; the Frederick Keys, is another example, according to Kelly, of where she would like to see more communication between the mayor and the board of aldermen.

When former Mayor executive assistant Rick Weldon was apparently unable to reach agreement on a lease renewal of the city owned stadium, Mayor McClement last week issued, on his own, a request for proposals (RFP) for the use of the stadium.

What is developing into a contentious issue, Kelly feels it would have been helpful had the board of aldermen been kept abreast of the negotiations with the Keys. Now the RFP has been issued, she is hopeful the board aldermen can be involved in determining the process for rating the RFPs received.

She also hopes Keys management have not been dissuaded and chose not to respond to the RFP.

The possible loss of the Frederick Keys to an Independent League team might bring additional dollars in a lease to the city. But, the loss of attendance and the loss of added value throughout the City of Frederick, could be substantial.

Another unsettling recent development was the city negotiation with a sole source on the lease of city owned space. No apparent policy exists for the lease of city owned property, something Alderwoman Russell would like to see in place.

Alderwoman Russell, is also hopeful Mayor McClement will soon find a replacement for his departed hand picked executive assistant Rick Weldon.

Former Republican Mayor Jeff Holtzinger and former Republican alderman Joe Baldi have been reported as being interested in the position.

While, the mayor is able to choose who he wants in the position, he needs board approval for a permanent hire. The replacement process of the position by the mayor, so far, has been done in executive session, out of the public spotlight, which is allowable under the state of Maryland open meetings act.

While Alderwoman Russell was unable to discuss what takes place in executive sessions, I do not believe either of the aforementioned names would receive board approval, if presented to them by the mayor.

The mayor has decided not to advertise for the position, instead relaying on word-of-mouth as the recruitment process he is using to fill this position. A similar process as used by former mayors to fill appointed positions.

Russell feels it is important for the mayor to fill this critical position and if a suitable candidate is not presented to the board soon, feels perhaps the board should ask the mayor to advertise for the position.

Alderwoman Russell believes, while the city charter provides for the mayor to be the administrator, it also clearly states with the advice and consent of the board of aldermen.

She believes good government is best achieved through communication and with transparency - I agree.


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