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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Next Mayor of Frederick City

Jack Lynch

Part One

It is early to hear all the loose talk about potential candidates for the Mayor of Frederick City. But I will confess a lingering passion to throw my hat in the ring, something I've only said to a couple other folks, as of today. It grew out of the discussion of future annexations for the City and has its roots in the so-called expanding horizons vision of the City's last Comprehensive Plan passed in 2004.

There are really three important things that a citizen can take on as their duty in the political scheme of our great democracy. First, is to be informed and to vote. Secondly, to appeal to government to heed your concerns and meet your vision, by speaking out in private and public, and making a concerted effort to engage those powers.

Third, and the most difficult because you cannot do it alone, is to take up public service in your community, through volunteer efforts, adding to the organizing and coalescing of community activism, and running for office based on your views and ability to manage community affairs, and contributing the vision for the future that is required to effectively govern a community's best interests.

You should now have two questions, what do I bring to the table in experience and ideas, and why do I need to undertake an effort against the status quo?

I believe the second question yields an apparent answer of itself. The supposed elective prospects for Mayor are far too dim for such an important time in our civic life. The status quo has forever enabled the same clique and development myths to rule what should be our City. Those forces and that money will be tough to fight, it will require courage to overcome and a compelling resonance with the broader public citizenry – but it can be done.

As long as we continue to elect folks who feel the status quo is fine, or buy into the economic myths of growth, we will continue to have the same old problems magnified.

We've had officials looking at adding 1,200 acres to Frederick City – all pointed back to the Comprehensive Plan of 2004, which is currently under review for an update – well, I, for one, have some suggestions for changing it.

Do you realize that the City projects doubling the number of residents by 2030, doubling traffic on our roads, doubling hours spent in traffic jams – its all spelled out in the report developed for the City Comp Plan – and it's the option certified by the Mayor and Aldermen in 2004.

The current Mayor and Board are complicit in carrying forward that vision – and I think citizens should be outraged and casting votes to change everything about that 2004 Comp plan and the proposed annexations. The Mayor has deftly avoided the critical eye by talking slow growth while handing over the decisions to the Aldermen on which properties to annex and develop. Forgotten is the first question that should've been asked, why annex and develop any additional land when ample opportunity exists for real smart growth within the current City boundaries?

I also believe that just as in the last Frederick County election, a consensus for a real change is growing as the power brokers sell our soul away. A spirit has awakened that will only grow over time, until we realign our plans for the City with the interests of the full community.

When continuing to elect leaders with a mindset for growth as economic development, we'll continue to have the same problems multiplied and the same sprawl growth of the City. My primary aim is the change that trend and deliver a new future vision for the City. It will be fair and honest about development. It will provide plenty of economic opportunity as well as citizen choice. Sprawl development through annexations will not rob the public purse in infrastructure costs and quality of life costs in traffic, school overcrowding, and water shortages.

There was a recent Aldermanic comment that we needed to expand growth in order to pay for the Carroll Creek redevelopment – well that's a dab of balderdash, and even if it were true economically, a very poor business plan, and a rank appeal to downtown interests over outlying citizens concerns. Obscuring public purposes and pandering are not what the citizens of our town deserve from their leadership – counting on a cool head about our goals and adherence to our shared values - that is what citizens deserve.

I aim to bring forward to the public the information for better choices and clearer accomplishments. Nothing should be brought before a public workshop that has not had at least a day's time of public access and consideration. Too often we've sat and watched as Aldermen decide based on info they alone have in hand. That shortchanges the public deliberation of serious decisions.

I will look to bring into office a slate of like minded Aldermen who will help advance the City's interests and invest more than a few study hours into issues before voting on vital matters. I will give them the time to consult with the Mayor and have their proposals addressed and vetted fully – I will work with them in a non-partisan manner – after all, we will all be servants of the citizens, not special interests.

A Vice Mayor will be established to replace the Chief of Staff – someone with a balancing and conferring influence, and real power to administer when the Mayor is absent. I will look to that person to reflect strength in areas of direct public service, overseeing a system to log citizen requests and complaints between every City office and department so that no matter, from streetlights to sidewalks to parking and trash issues go unanswered or mitigated. A weekly citizen impacts report will be reviewed at each Aldermanic work session. High level City staff will be open to press inquiry and reach out into the community with presentations and discussions of current topics.

An open door policy for citizens – the Mayor should be serving the citizens above all – community activists will be welcomed, encouraged, and engaged at the table with various work and study groups. My own participation in a City water sourcing task force opened up insights into the processes of City Hall, all citizens should find opportunity to engage in government in this way. My efforts to advocate for archeology proved that tireless spirit can yield results in the long run, and taught me valuable lessons about insuring that all interests were at the table and committed to the outcome, because it then contained their concerns and met their expectations.

A citizens review of development proposals – a formal, empowered panel whose majority opinion can trigger a much more difficult approval process by the Planning Commission. I will strengthen the power of the Neighborhood Advisory Council's in this regards and make then a vibrant outlet for local community interests. They should be a stepping stone towards higher leadership and elected office in the City. Together, we will make development proposals better – a fair shake for property owners – but clearer applications of requirements and codes to meet community concerns.

A strong citizens review panel may require some milestone achievements and legal maneuvering – it has not been done in Maryland to my knowledge, and raises a variety of issues regarding application of powers of recommendation – but I think it can be done and be effective as an empowerment against the traditional persuasion of development interests. If it requires amending the legislative authority through the state, it may face resistance and roadblocks.

Implementing a blue ribbon commission to undertake a master planning overlay of areas ripe to redevelop and requiring broad design guidelines and citizen interests, such as East Street, will be easier to initiate, but require real power to shape the future vision against the planning for individual properties – time is of the essence. The opportunity cost to the community is too great – once redeveloped according to property developers, a generation of potential will be lost. The intellectual and creative base of citizen planners coupled with the experience and knowledge of our development community can bring to the table better designs and growth within our bounds.

My initial scope of concepts and set of initiatives are a big agenda, but worth the effort in all regards because the ultimate success is in the satisfaction of our citizens and managing our community for the good of all. We truly can control our quality of life, and break our bonds to the myths off the sprawl growth envisioned by our current leadership. I will fight to do that for our common good.

This column will be continued tomorrow because of its length -

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