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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Confusion surrounds Mayor’s cancellation of public lecture on incinerator costs

George Wenschhof

When I asked Democratic alderman Karen Young, who is running for mayor, about Mayor Randy McClement’s (R) recent decision to cancel a public lecture series, she said “anyone can put up their hand and signal no - creative leadership finds a path to yes."

At issue is The City of Frederick mayor cancelling a lecture scheduled for May 13 entitled “The Financial Implications of the Proposed Incinerator and its Impact on the Residents of Frederick”.

At the time of publication, the mayor had not responded to my email asking why he cancelled the lecture series.

“People Building Frederick’s Future”; a community organization headed by Ed Hinde, had initiated the ongoing public lecture series and over the last five months, had coordinated three public lectures which had been held at city hall. The free meetings, which were open to the public, were videotaped by city staff and placed on the city website so residents could also view at their convenience.

The first three lectures were given by Edward T. McMahon; Senior Fellow – Urban Land Institute, David Ager; Community Planner with Seth Harry; Revitalization Expert, and Dean Klein; Director of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness in Fairfax County Virginia.

Widespread speculation is the topic covering the proposed contentious Frederick County government plan to build a costly waste-to-energy facility lead to the cancellation by the mayor.

When I asked Hinde if he had followed a city procedure for use of the facility prior to the previous lectures, he said he was not aware of any city policy.

In an email, Mr. Hinde said “I followed the standard procedure as before in requesting to hold the speaking engagement in city hall and was provided with confirmation via an email from Donna Folden of the mayor’s office dated May 1, saying that while city hall wasn’t available for the date I requested, the conference room in the Annex building was available, which I then secured.”

Afterward, on May 7, Hinde received an email from Donna Folden informing him “….City facilities are not to be used for outside entities or organizations unless the topic or event is sponsored by the City or is a City initiative. Therefore, we request that you find another location for the meeting on Monday, May 13, 2013….”

When I asked alderman Kelly Russell (D) about the cancelled meeting, she forwarded an email she had sent to the mayor on May 2, where she said, in part “I think that there is a bright line that can be drawn on what is or is not listed as a public meeting. However, I am unclear how we determine which private groups are given access to A/V (audio/visual) support and staff time, and how (or if) the city is (or should be) compensated.”

Russell concluded in the email “Is there any policy we can point to when making these decisions? If we have none, then I suggest that we discuss formulating some.”

Hinde told me “People Building Frederick’s Future” intended the lectures to be informative with expert speakers on topics of interest that benefit the community. 

He sent me the fact sheet on the organization that says, in part, “As residents of Frederick, we are unified by our commitment to create the highest quality of life for the entire Frederick community, current and future.  Leveraging our heritage, preserving our environment, and working with other stakeholders, we draw inspiration from successful, well-designed communities elsewhere to help Frederick become one of the best small cities in America.”

During my interview with alderman Karen Young, she indicated she was supportive of moving forward with establishing policies and procedures for public use of city facilities.  She added the work by Ed Hinde to bring such talented speakers to Frederick has been of great benefit to city residents.

Interestingly, and adding further confusion as to what the city policy is for use of their facilities, is a planned legislative town hall to be held at city hall on Saturday May 18 by Democratic delegate Galen Clagett, who is also running for mayor.

It appears there is lack of clarity or a policy in place providing guidelines for the use of city facilities.

Certainly, the hard work done by Ed Hinde and “People Building Frederick’s Future” is well intentioned.  Providing a public lecture series on topics of interest by experts in the field will benefit city residents.

Hopefully, the mayor’s reasons for cancelling the scheduled lecture did not have anything to do with discussion surrounding the planned building of a costly incinerator to aid in the disposal of waste. An important and relevant topic that deserves further discussion by informed speakers, who will only serve to better educate residents in regard to waste disposal options available to them.

Rather than simply ending an informative public lecture series, alderman’s Russell’s suggestion for the mayor and board to move forward to establish a city policy in this regard makes sense.

I would urge them to do so and reschedule the lecture entitled “The Financial Implications of the Proposed Incinerator and its Impact on the Residents of Frederick”.

Stay tuned….
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