Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wenschhof Interviews City of Frederick, Md. Alderman Candidate Kelly Russell

George Wenschhof

Today, my guest is Kelly Russell who is one of nine Democrats running for one of five seats on the Board of Aldermen in the City of Frederick, Maryland. The primary will be held on September 15 and registered Democratic voters will determine their Mayor and five Aldermen candidates for the November 3 general election. Also, please remember the deadline to register to vote prior to the primary is August 17.

Ms. Russell and I are communicating via computer from different locations within the city and I have not shared with her the questions I will be asking today. As this is a live conversation, please remember to click on your "Refresh" button every ten minutes or so, to see the latest question and answer.

The link to this discussion will be placed in the right margin of our home page so it may be easily read at any time convenient for our viewers of the website.

Some of our viewers may already know Ms. Russell from her days on the City of Frederick police force, from a social gathering, or from her recent days as head of her local Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC). She also has the distinction of being the first Democrat to file for alderman in the City of Frederick election.

At this time I would like to welcome Kelly and thank her for appearing live online with me on Air-it-out with George Wenschhof.

GW - Voters always like to know a little about the person they are voting for so why don't you start off by telling them a little about yourself, how long you have worked and lived in Frederick and what are some of the favorite things you like to do.

It appears you had your mind set on running for aldermen as you were the first to file. Tell the voters why you are running and why they should vote for you. Also, do you favor one of the Democratic mayoral candidates and if so, why?
KR - Hi George! First of all, thanks for reaching out to the candidates and offering this opportunity. I am a big proponent of using technology to enhance communication, so this is right up my alley. I grew up in Rockville, but moved to Frederick in 1983. I wanted a career as a police officer, and a former Frederick officer suggested that I look here. He brought me up to check it out and I fell in love! I moved here into a downtown apartment that year, right across from City Hall, and began working for the FPD. I have been in Frederick now for 26 years, and 25 of those I have worked for the city. I have lived downtown, in Heather Ridge, Fredericktowne Village, and now near Hood College.
I have become a bit of a gardener since moving to my current home. I am probably most often spied in my yard, digging in the dirt, or doing yard work. I find it therapeutic to get my hands dirty. Over the years I have been an active athlete, participating in a lot of local 5 and 10K races, and other sports events. I have two rescued cats at home; Pandora and Romeo. I love to visit with my neighbors and have folks over to my home to chat.
I have been planning this run for about four years now. You and I talked about it back then in the Giant Eagle. I'm sure you remember! I decided that I needed to prepare myself better, and that's when I got involved with the NAC. I have worked within the city government for 25 years; as an officer, supervisor, and commander. I have worked with almost every department on one project or another, I have had the experience of over two decades that I feel should be used for the future of the city. Serving as an Alderman would make use of those years, and seems a natural segue for public service. I love this city, and want to continue to work hard for it!
GW - Recently, the City Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) made local headlines creating a stir as a result of Mayor Jeff Holtzinger allegedly instructing city staff to not enforce a fine levied by the HPC on a property owner. The issue pertained to the placement of a sign and previous existing lettering on the building. Some feel the mayor acted improperly while others feel the HPC renovation guidelines are onerous. Whether or not the regulations followed by the HPC need to be revised may become a campaign issue in this election.

Prior to this recent flap, you were involved in a controversial issue surrounding your attempt to designate your neighborhood as part of this downtown historic district. The three Democratic aldermen passed the motion which was followed by a veto by the mayor. It was reported a majority of the homeowners in your neighborhood did not want the historic district designation.

Since the beginnings of the Historic District in downtown Frederick, there have been various complaints over the years. However, the ambiance of downtown has been maintained and property values have also benefited as a result.

First, tell us about why you wanted to designate your neighborhood as part of the historic district and second, as an alderman would you support a review of the guidelines used by the HPC?

KR - Ever since I moved here it was my dream to live in the College Park neighborhood. I have been extremely fortunate that the "stars aligned" for me, and I was able to buy this house. I came from Montgomery County, and remember when Rockville had an old historic downtown, where my mom would take me to buy my P.F. Flyers. It has been destroyed. I lived in the Bethesda Chevy Chase area, and have seen those old neighborhoods ruined by teardowns and replacement by "McMansions".

When I moved to College Avenue, the city had just completed a comprehensive rezoning that changed many old single family neighborhoods to allow for townhouse and condo developments. These neighborhoods included Monocacy Village, Villa Estates (Wilson, Lee, Grant and that area), as well as mine. Our neighborhood formed a group called "Preserve our Neighborhoods", and we conducted a petition drive to revisit the zoning. We held a community meeting in Schley Park that was attended by a hundred people, including the Mayor, and Alderman, and the Planning Director. After all of our efforts, the city did go back and review, and rezoned 7 or 8 neighborhoods, preserving their integrity.

In an effort to more permanently preserve the beautiful homes in College Park, we used the Land Management Code process for designation of an Historic District Overly. It was a controversial process, to say the least, but was the process in place. It had no provision for homeowner voices to be heard in a formal way, as many of these process across the country are set up, but it clearly was not an effective process for all of those involved; for or opposed. Since then, there has bee a comprehensive rewrite of the process which is currently being vetted by HPC, Planning Commission, and will eventually go before the Mayor and Board for approval.

Historic preservation is a cultural and heritage issue in my view, and should not be political. I think it is unfortunate that it has become a political issue as a result of one specific case. All decisions made by commissions have an avenue for appeal through due process. Additionally, historic preservation is governed by Federal, State, and local law. We don't have to have an historic district, but if we choose to, we are bound by laws. I support historic preservation efforts, and support a process that is respectful of all the stakeholders.


GW - Speaking of signs, I like your campaign sign which has a distinctive oval inside a rectangle shaped sign. Candidate campaign signs are a good way to get your name noticed by the voters. Having one that stands out from the other candidates is always helpful.

How did you come up with the design and how many have you placed in the city since you began putting them up in yards about two weeks ago? I noticed them first in your neighborhood and now am seeing them across the city.

KR - I'm glad you like my signs, George! I've actually gotten a lot of comments on them. I wanted something that was out of the ordinary, and could become a kind of signature logo. I worked on a lot of designs over the last year or so, but when it finally came down to it, I found that simplicity was the key. I had round lapel stickers printed and it dawned on me that I could use that, and make the sign slightly asymmetric.

As of three hours ago, I have over 100 signs in Westbrook, Amber Meadows, Monarch Ridge, Fredericktowne Village, College Park, Villa Estates, downtown, Old Farm, Whittier, Wyngate, Carrollton, Homewood.... The list goes on! Having 22 years to drive around in a police car and walk the beat has helped me get known around town. I still get called Lieutenant, or even Kelly the Cop quite often.


GW - The early retirement buy-out plan which was passed under the current city administration has received plenty of attention and deservedly so.

Voters can not understand why aldermen would approve payment of two years salary to an employee and then allow the employee to be hired back by the city. Mayor Holtzinger's executive assistant Ron Tobin who is now running for the Republican nomination for mayor is one who was paid two years of salary and then hired back.

As an alderman, how would you have handled this proposal when presented to you?

KR - George, the voters include me, too! It is still beyond me.

As an Alderman I would have done what I did do as a citizen. I objected to it verbally to several Alderman, I sent emails, and I attended public meetings. I wrote an extensive list with 33 very pointed and specific questions and gave them to three of the Alderman to ask for the record (which they did not do). When the measure passed, I approached an Alderman to make a motion to rescind. He did, but the Mayor vetoed. I have spoke on the public record against it.

As a former Human Resources manager, I was amazed that this occurred with barely a question, and a blind faith that is was a good financial move, without so much as a spreadsheet. I would have asked my questions and required good, thorough, and comprehensive answers. I would have asked more if I needed to.

As for the employees who took the buyout, I place NO responsibility on them. They were made an offer they couldn't refuse. As for Mr. Tobin - as the Mayor's Executive Assistant, it is his responsibility to advise and protect the Mayor from making poor decisions. Instead, he took advantage of the situation.


GW - The national economy continues to be weak and all indications point to a slow and gradual improvement. While how taxpayer's money is spent is always important, it will be even more so over the next four years of the incoming administration.

The city charter requires the mayor to submit a balanced budget for board of aldermen approval. I noticed on your campaign website; , you have some thoughts on how to improve on this process. Share with the voters your thoughts on the city budget process.

KR - Thanks for reading my posts on the website, George. I'm going to use some of that material here.

"Each department’s budget is largely made up of salaries, benefit, and insurance costs. Because these large sums are included, and are usually increasing, it appears quite often that department budgets are growing because the operating costs are not being managed frugally. However, if you look at operating costs for most of the departments, the increases are usually quite small, and sometimes are even held or decreased. This is the money that the city has direct control over to fund the way the city does business and provides services to you on a day-to-day basis.

I believe that the personnel related costs should be removed from individual department budgets and separated into a different budget. This change would cause a bright light to shine on exactly how much (or how little) departments are working with to serve the public. When the administration tells us that a department’s budget has increased by large amounts, it is usually because of these required personnel costs, not the money that goes directly to fund each department’s activities. This is misleading and needs to be changed."

Additionally, our budget each year is balanced largely by percentage cuts made by departments. I'd like to see a change in that process to the end that the essential services and top priorities are identified and funded properly first. This list of priorities would be developed jointly by the Mayor and Board, using department and citizen input. Only after that are the rest of the items funded.


GW - I also noticed on your campaign website discussion of the city's shared use pathways and the potential to receive funding from the recently passed federal Stimulus bill.

You indicate 8 of the proposed 25.7 miles of the shared pathways have been constructed for pedestrian and bicycle use. This sounds like a good idea for as the community continues to grow, areas for pedestrian walkways and bicycle use become more limited.

Do you know if the city applied for funding to help construct these pathways and if not, why?

KR - I have had conversations with Tim Davis, the city's Transportation Planner, and others about it. I do not know the details of the funding situation right now, but it is very much an active project. If there is one thing I do know, the city has been, and continues to be, aggressive in finding funding sources through a number of creative means like grants. Planning has also worked with the police department on the design criteria that will aid in making these paths safe. Shared use path are a critical piece of the puzzle in connecting our citizens who walk and cycle with other parts of the city that are not easily or safely accessible. Also, it is in our future as a way of life. Fuel costs, green initiatives, and financial factors will all lead us toward developing more walkable and sustainable communities.


GW - When I was introducing you earlier, I mentioned you were the chair of your Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC). They were first created under the Dougherty administration to help facilitate input from residents across the city.

Kelly, we are now to your last question today. Have you noticed a difference in how they functioned and interacted with city hall during the term Jennifer Dougherty was mayor and this current term of Mayor Jeff Holtzinger?

Do you have any thoughts on how the interaction could be improved? You also did not indicate earlier if you had a favorite of the three Democratic mayoral candidates.

KR - I have been an appointed coordinator for about four years, so my tenure has really been under this administration. I have seen somewhat of a decline in participation over my time, and some NACs have languished completely. In contrast to that, however, there is a really dedicated core group of folks that are committed to the NAC. They have continued to flourish, and have worked on some good initiatives. I have said before that I am committed to revitalizing and growing the NACs, and would like to see an Alderman assigned to liaison with them. The community partnerships that have, and will evolve from these groups can only work in favour of the citizens. Information flow that is up and down, as well as sideways, is critical, and the NACs are a great conduit for that!

As for Mayor, at this point in the campaign, I am focused on my tasks and getting to City Hall. Sorry to give you the standard politician answer! That being said, I will work hard with whomever comprises the new Mayor and Board of Alderman, if I am fortunate enough to get the chance.

Thanks again for this venue! I look forward to even more online interactions, and hope to bring that mindset with me to City Hall.


GW - Thank you again Kelly for being my guest today on Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof. Best wishes on the campaign trail. At this time, I would like to give you some time for some closing remarks.

KR - Thank you, George. This has been a great opportunity to chat a little more casually than the standard 100 words or less survey questions. I appreciate that, because I enjoy conversations. I believe that is the key to good government. I have been really fortunate in my life to have had the chance to serve the public, and would like the chance to continue giving back to my community. I look forward to doing that as an Alderman. Folks can read more about me on my website at Make sure you are registered to vote, that you know where your polling place is, and then vote for your candidate(s) of choice! Thanks.


To receive "Daily Email Updates" from Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Answers on historic district and buyout are noteworthy - Kelly should publish her 33 questions asked about the buyout, they could clearly win her credibility and votes!