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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, MD Alderman Donna Kuzemchak

George Wenschhof

Welcome Donna, I am pleased to have you as my guest today. Just so the readers know, we are communicating via computer from different locations in the city.

I have not shared with Ms.Kuzemchak any of the questions I will be asking and this will be a live online discussion. If you are reading this live, remember to hit "Refresh" on your computer every ten minutes or so to make sure you see the more recent questions and answers.

We will place the link to this conversation in the right hand margin of our home page so our viewers can read at a time convenient to them.

Before we get started, I want to remind everyone the voter registration deadline is August 17 prior to the primary on September 15. So, if you have not yet registered, go do so!

GW - Let's start out with asking a question many voters have and that is why are you running for a fourth term? I have not checked out the city election trivia but I would guess if four terms is not a record, it has to be near the top in the history of the City of Frederick aldermen.

Also, as a follow up, have you noticed any differences in campaigning since you won your first term in 1997 and what would you say is your proudest accomplishment during your 11 1/2 years as aldermen?
DK - George, Thanks for having me as a guest today.

I'm running for a fourth term as Alderman because I believe I still make a difference. There are many residents who will attest to the fact that I actually return phone calls and emails and follow up on their issues. I got involved in government because I knew I could help people get through the bureaucracy of government. I had done it and it was exhausting! Helping others through that maze is my proudest accomplishment. I am also well known for proposing new legislation when the laws don't seem to be working well for the citizens. It's all about helping everyone who lives, works and plays in the City of Frederick.
As for changes in campaigning, I have seen some. Everything has gotten more expensive and that makes it difficult for everyone to get their message out to the public. Running for office is now controlled by media sound bites. This is even more prevalent with so many people in a race. However, I think the general public understands the need to look beneath the surface and find out what the candidates actually do instead of just seeing or hearing little sound bites on them in the news.
GW - As you are currently the longest serving city elected official, you have seen different personalities among the make up of the mayor and board. During the Dougherty administration, it seemed Republican aldermen were constantly battling at public meetings with the Democratic mayor.

During the current Republican Mayor Holtzinger administration, there have been less public displays of disagreement. Some voters feel as a result, Mayor Holtzinger was given too much rein by the aldermen during the last four years. What do you say to these voters?
DK - I have dealt with three different administrations and certainly feel that I have finally learned how to remain calm in the face of adversity. I completely agree Jeff has had it much easier than Jennifer - or even Jim Grimes, if you go back to my first term. We all made a conscious decision to work together at the beginning of this term. Unlike my last term, this Board of Aldermen have tried to work with the Mayor.
As long as we're working on the agenda he's created, Jeff also works with us. That makes things look good on the surface. The trouble is getting the Mayor to move forward on our issues. I have presented pieces of legislation on changing the Charter, Rental Licensing and Oversized Vehicle Parking in the last year. However, I'm not an attorney and our Legal Department needs to be on board while moving legislation forward. The Mayor controls the work assignments of all departments, so it is easy for him to keep those bits of legislation from being brought to a vote.
There are times I have felt so strongly about something I brought it up at a public meeting without his previous knowledge. He found out and attacked me at the meeting. Then he continued to attack me in the press for days afterwards. Yet he didn't get labelled negatively. Neither Jennifer Dougherty nor Jim Grimes was given the leeway Jeff has been given by the media. I can't explain it. I just have to deal with it and hope people dig deeper for the 'real story.'
GW - I have written aldermen candidates rarely publicly state their support of a mayoral candidate in a contested Democratic primary. Even though, behind the scenes, aldermen often favor one mayoral candidate over another.

You are one that does not back away from who you support and have publicly stated your support for Jennifer Dougherty for mayor. Your straight forward approach has helped you win three terms in office. Tell the voters why you support Jennifer Dougherty for mayor.
DK -I don't back away from my beliefs and feelings. You can sometimes change them, but hiding them is simply not part of who I am. With me, what you see is what you get. I don't parse words and I don't pretend to be someone I'm not. That gets me in trouble as often as it gets me support, but it is who I am.

Part of who I am is a person who absolutely loves Frederick. I want what is best for this place I call home and plan to live for the rest of my life. Should I be lucky enough to be elected, I will work with whoever sits in the Mayor's office. Having said that, I worked with Jennifer as she sat in that office. I've also worked with two other people who sat in that office. Neither of them held a candle to Jennifer. She worked hard under very trying circumstances and we got so much more accomplished in her term than either of my other terms.

I admit, there's another side to this. Jennifer works so hard at her job and thinks people should see what a good job she does, so she doesn't publicize what I consider a very important part of her. She is a caring, compassionate person who honestly worries about the welfare of all. She honestly cares about those she works with, and she showed me that caring many times over the years, especially when it came to my stepdaughter, Ashley.
Ashley was extremely handicapped and I was blessed to have the time to care for her so her parents could go to their full-time jobs. I would bring Ashley to City Hall sometimes when it was necessary. Jennifer always spoke to Ashley as though she were just like any other child. She always asked about Ashley when she was in the hospital and when Ashley passed away, Jennifer was sure to let us all know how sorry she was. Her caring made a huge difference in my life and the lives of those connected to Ashley. I will never forget. Nor will they.
GW - The early retirement buy-out fiasco for the City of Frederick employees is one event that happened during Mayor Holtzinger's term that left city voters confused and angry. After all, working men and women are not offered two years of salary to retire early and then hired back.

I believe you missed that vote due to health issues.
Ron Tobin, the executive assistant to Mayor Holtzinger was one of those who took this buy out and was hired back by the mayor.

What do you feel about how this program was approved and whether or not Ron Tobin should still be working for the City of Frederick?
DK - Interestingly enough, this could be a dead issue. If Ron Tobin had never entered the Mayoral race, it would be a dead issue. But since it has reared its ugly head, I would like to ask everyone to visit the City's website at and view the June 6, 2009 Mayor and Board meeting to see what REALLY happened when I had the gall to question the implementation of this vote. The timing of this was controlled by the State's Attorney's office because they answered a request from Alderwoman Marcia Hall to look into this by saying this was a local issue. I was forced to bring it to a public meeting, which I did on June 6, 2009. The rest is history(Seriously, for the real history, go watch the meeting). As for Mr. Tobin, do we really want someone in office who will take close to $200,000 from the retirement fund and then come right back to work while knowing that was not the will of the Aldermen? If he has that much contempt for the will of the Aldermen while he is only a staff member, I shudder to think what he would do as Mayor.

I believe ERIP (or 'the buyout,' as it is commonly called) was pushed through while I was recovering from cancer surgery. It was announced, discussed, and forced into a vote in less than 8 weeks! Eight weeks for something as serious as a change to the City Retirement Plans! As we've noted, the Mayor has control of the Agenda, not the Board of Aldermen or City staff. He could have slowed everything down, as he has for much other legislation. He chose to push ahead quickly. He chose to force a vote that night instead of allowing the Aldermen more time to look at the issue. I won't speculate on his reasoning to do so.
GW - moving on to what promises to be another controversial decision by the current mayor and board pertains to annexation of three properties to the north of Frederick known as the Summers, Crum and Thatcher farms. These annexations are set to be voted on by the current mayor and board.

You have indicated on your campaign website;, you cautiously favor the annexations of Thatcher and Crum. Tell the voters why you favor these annexations and why you do not include the Summers property.
DK - Finally, an easy question! :-) I cautiously favor the annexations to the north of the City because the property owners are agreeing to mitigate anything and everything they can. The Thatcher developers are agreeing to pay toward a new interchange, build completely to Silver LEED certified (VERY green) standards, implement the Historic Highway Overlay and the Scenic Monocacy River Overlay AND not receive any occupancy certificates until the traffic has been mitigated by the new interchange on Rt. 15.
They're building by Smart Growth Principles (next to a municipality, where infrastructure already exists instead of plopping development in the middle of nowhere). They're being environmentally sensitive. They have agreed to keep the roads safe by not bringing in more cars until the interchange is built. They're bringing mixed-use growth to the city, which helps keep the City financially viable. I will only support the Crum annexation if it agrees to all the same conditions. What's not to like?

As for the Summers farm on the south side of the City, I just haven't seen that dedication to making sure the City is a better place. The neighborhood has already vehemently opposed the annexation and I see no reason to grow just for the purpose of growing when it doesn't help make the City a better place to live, work and play.
GW - a program you tried to move forward during this term was the implementation of Rental Licensing in the City of Frederick.

First, explain this program and why you feel this is needed and second, why do you feel you have not received the support to pass this legislation?
DK - Rental licensing would force all property owners who rent their property to be held accountable for what happens on that property. It allows the City to physically go onto the property to check that codes are being enforced - something our Code Enforcement Department has no way to enforce without this law. I wish it weren't necessary, but unfortunately, laws are often force into being because there are those who simply have no interest in being good neighbors. Absentee landlords are a problem that was brought to our attention by numerous NACs and this is an attempt to take care of that problem.

Alderman Imhoff and I are working to put together his proposal for Rental Registration and my proposal for Rental Licensing so we can move forward with this. We asked the Mayor to have the Legal Department do this months ago. We've heard nothing.

This is just another example of the Mayor having control of all staff time. As an aside, one of the other pieces of legislation I brought forward was a change to the Charter that would allow a super-majority(4) of the Aldermen to force the Mayor to direct staff to move forward with the will of the Aldermen. I asked for this change as part of a general look at the Charter and several other changes the Charter Review Committee brought forward. Interestingly, none of that has been brought to a vote, either.
GW - Your last question tonight is why do you feel voters should vote for you over any of the other eight Democratic candidates for aldermen?
DK - I don't believe voters should vote for me OVER everyone else. I believe they should vote for me ALONG WITH other candidates who care about the issues they care about. I am a proven commodity. I will work to help all citizens get through the maze of government when they need and continue to work to make government more understandable to those who don't deal with it on a daily basis. I will continue to listen to all ideas and do what is best for the City. I will move legislation forward that helps citizens' rights. I will fight when they need someone to fight.

I am who you see. I don't pretend to be different. I don't change during an election year. Maybe that's to my detriment, but it is who I am. If you care about the issues, go to the City's website and watch a few meetings. I am the one asking the questions. I am the one who has read the material and knows how one decision might affect another decision or piece of legislation. I am the one who finds a compromise between two sides of an issue when SOMETHING has to happen and no one can agree. I have worked hard for every citizen who has asked for help(and many who haven't) for almost 12 years. I have made a difference. I hope to continue to do that.
GW - Thank you again Donna, for being my guest tonight. I hope to have you back on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof prior to the primary on September 15.

Before we sign off, I would like to give you some time for closing remarks.
DK - Thank you for hosting this dialogue. I believe you are doing a great service to the community by publicizing information on the Democratic candidates and I appreciate the ability to be a guest.

For those of you who haven't had the time, please visit my website at and feel free to contact me about any issue. I first ran for office because I thought I could help make government accessible. I believe I have done that. I love my job and I hope it shows.

Finally, I'd like to ask everyone to take nothing for granted. The City's election is going to be decided by a very small number of citizens, as George has noted on many of his columns. Just a few votes here and there and a person has a very real chance of not getting elected. Don't assume the person you want to run your city will get elected. Work for her or him. Give him or her just a few hours and put flyers on peoples' doorsteps (don't worry, no need to talk with anyone). Tell your friends why your candidates should be elected. Put a sign or two in your yard. Email people reminding them to vote. Don't 'single shot' vote. Vote for all the candidates you want in office. It's the only way we're going to get there
Thanks for visiting this interview and thanks again, George, for hosting it.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Donna is quite impressive in her responses and specific in her complaints, I'm hadn't felt this was showing through as well in the past four years, but this really turns my head, it's clear why she has served several terms and may win another one - thanks for hosting this discussion!