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Monday, September 12, 2011

City Hall Buzz

George Wenschhof

Last Friday was my first official press meeting with The City of Frederick, Maryland executive assistant Josh Russin and public information coordinator Susan Harding. The once a month meetings a outcome of a previous conversation I had with Russin. Russin and Harding will also be meeting once a month with Patti Borda of The Frederick News Post and Katherine Heerbrandt of The Frederick Gazette.

This comes as Russin has also instituted regularly scheduled meetings between the mayor and members of the board of aldermen.

It turned out to be a free flowing conversation with Russin discussing some areas he wished to mention and with me asking questions as we discussed the politics of city hall.

While, I commend them for having the regularly scheduled conversations with local press and aldermen, I was disappointed in their answer to my question as to when Mayor Randy McClement would begin meeting regularly with the press - their answer was "We are working on it".

McClement certainly does not need to mimic the once a week press conferences held by former mayor Jennifer Dougherty; who believed in open government, but once a month would be a good start.

Interestingly, the Harry Grove Stadium lease was never brought up by Russin and after repeatedly bashing the city for their inept Request For Proposal (RFP) process in numerous columns, I also let it pass in this conversation.

However, I will add the latest news in regard to the stadium lease is both Katherine Heerbrandt (first) and then Patti Borda filed public information requests with the city to obtain email/correspondence between the aldermen and John Lavoie (Managing Member of Frederick Atlantic LLC) and ( General Manager Dave Ziedelis of The Frederick Keys).

Heerbrandt requested correspondence from aldermen between the dates August 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011.

Borda requested any correspondence between city officials and staff between the dates of February 16, 2011 and September 2, 2011.

The RFP which was issued on February 16, 2011 spelled out the respondents and city elected officials and staff were not to be in contact during the review and award process.

It will be interesting to see what a review of the correspondence shows and if a predisposed position becomes apparent by any of the aldermen as to their position in regard to the lease of the stadium.

What would also be interesting is if a request will be made for the correspondence that took place between Mayor McClement, former city administrator Rick Weldon, Ziedelis and Lavoie. The extension of the current lease with The Keys broke down when Weldon was city administrator.

Meanwhile, the vote to ratify the lease is scheduled for Thursday at the mayor and board meeting.

I will now return to my discussion with Russin and Harding - Below are some of the topics discussed:

Fraternal Order of police (FOP) Contract - Russin stated Mayor McClement and city attorney Sandra Nichols were handling this and he was not involved in the negotiations so he was unable to answer specific questions I asked in regard to what had been holding up the agreement. However, Russin added he believed they were close to resolution. I took that to mean an announcement will take place this week.


City reached agreement with State Police on a lease for use of a Hanger at Airport. Previous lease had been free - new lease in the $21,000 range. FAA requiring city to own and have leased hanger space before future airport expansion money to be released. City also met in closed session to agree to buy back from Frederick County Government a hanger which the city already has tenants in line at market rate.


15 member Golden Mile Alliance Board set to be announced this week. Modeled after the successful Downtown Frederick Partnership. I suggested using resources from Maryland Municipal League to see how other similar sized communities around the country were handling the redevelopment of areas which had experienced a decline.


Requests for letters of interest to serve on a ad hoc Task Force appointed by the mayor on the issue of "Blighted and Neglected Properties" will be announced. The committee will be tasked with coming up with suggestions over a three phased period of 100 days each. Examining land value tax will be part of the discussion.

Land Value Tax was promoted by Ken Berlin in his unsuccessful bid for city aldermen two elections ago and local activist Alan Feinberg has also long promoted the use of a Land Value Tax.


Payment plan for water and sewer impact fees in the works to hopefully spur business expansion by reducing the up front costs. The devil will be in the details as the city looks at how they can secure a guarantee for payment.


Hargett farm for use as city park was brought up briefly. Appears mayor and aldermen have reached an agreement on portions of the land for a future school, aquatic center and open space. Remaining land could still be sold - the city can control zoning and a most likely scenario would be commercial. Interestingly, former owner; Developer Donald Pleasants, retains a first option if the city would decide to sell the twenty acre parcel.


City Lease/Sale Policy - has been circulated for comments several times among city staff and aldermen - is now close to being presented at mayor and board meeting for a vote.


In closing our conversation, I asked if a system was in place to track issues which had been brought up for consideration at city mayor and board workshops.

My concern is voters should know if the mayor has decided against moving an issue forward and why.

I pointed out obviously the mayor controls the agenda and it would be interesting to see what issues had been brought forward in workshops since McClement took office and the disposition of each at the present time.

I referenced the charter rewrite committee the mayor had chaired under the former Jeff Holtzinger administration and wondered why their recommendations had never been presented at a mayor and board meeting for a vote.

In addition, I asked about the status of the suggested move of the city election date to coincide with the presidential election, which I have promoted for several years.

Both Josh and Susan felt it was a good suggestion to have a tracking system in place and indicated they would pursue implementing it.

Time did not permit me to ask about progress toward a sustainable City of Frederick, shared use pathways, funding availability for capitol improvements and more.

All in all, a good first meeting. As is often the case in politics, questions and conversations lead to more questions.

What remains missing in the Mayor McClement administration is a over arching vision or the existence of goals he wishes to achieve for the City of Frederick.

This week will be a busy week for Russin and Harding. Russin will be getting married and Harding is off to Italy for a well deserved vacation.

No wonder there are so many items scheduled on the mayor and board meeting agenda for Thursday.

Stay tuned...


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