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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When will the pendulum swing stop in Frederick County?

George Wenschhof
Frederick County, Maryland voters decided on a change to charter government by referendum in the 2012 election, but the issues remain the same.
Yes, power structure will change with the election of a strong county executive and council in the 2014 election versus the current five member board of county commissioners.  But, the pivotal issues will remain the same and one of two distinctly different philosophies on how to manage growth will prevail come November.
The twenty year plus pendulum swing between county commissioners labeled as favoring a more balanced and sustainable approach to growth versus those labeled who favor development is once again poised to take place in the 2014 election.
Connected by their views on growth and not political party affiliation, they view each other in a detestable manner with a mutual lack of respect. They mirror the current repugnant manner displayed in the U.S. Congress between far right conservative Republicans and more progressive Democrats.
Unfortunately, the current Congress illustrates that the combative nature of these types of relationships often results in dysfunctional government.
Locally, as suspected, Democratic former president of the board and three term county commissioner Jan Gardner is running for county executive and her opponent is likely to be Republican board of county commissioners President Blaine Young.  Both Young and Gardner serve as lightening rods for opposing views on growth management.
If Young begs off a run for county executive, Republican county commissioner Billy Shreve is likely to run for the newly created position. 
A name, not previously mentioned, who may run is former Frederick County state’s attorney Scott Rolle (R).  A mostly mum Rolle told me recently he is seriously considering a run for office.  In addition to county executive, possibilities include state delegate in district 3-A or Judge of the circuit court.  The latter, appearing to more closely reflect his past experience. Interestingly, he almost won election to state delegate in 2010 after his withdrawal came too late to remove his name from the ballot. He said he will make his intentions known next week. 
Republican county commissioner David Gray is also running.  But, as an ally of Jan Gardner and one who already gave up the gavel to her in the 2006 election, do not look to see him face Gardner in the general election.  His candidacy is only meant to be a distraction for Young, should he run for county executive.
The filing deadline for candidates in the 2014 election is February 25.
Behind the scenes, much work has been underway by both groups to recruit sympathetic candidates to run for the seven member hybrid county council.  Five of the members are elected by districts and two at large.
In the 2006 election it was the self named “Dream Team” consisting of two Republicans; David Gray and John “Lennie” Thompson and two Democrats; Jan Gardner and Kai Hagen who won election.
They followed their election with pursuing actions, including an update of the county comprehensive plan and down zoning of properties to reflect their vision of how growth should take place in Frederick County.
However, it was actions that took place during their term that spawned the revitalization of “pro-growth” candidates led by Republican Blaine Young.
Blaine Young and company trounced the 2010 version of the “Dream Team” led by Democrat Kai Hagen and have followed their election by rezoning properties that had been down zoned by the previous board and proclaiming “Frederick County Open for Business”.
Young and Company have spent the next three plus years implementing destructive and reckless policies centered on the privatization of government services and reducing the size of government.
This has led to the return of Jan Gardner to the local political scene and the resurrection of the “Dream Team” faction.
Leading to yet another confrontational county election, focused once again on growth policies.
Voters deserve choices and a change from the current Blaine and Company regime is called for and needed.
However, Gardner if elected will need to be mindful of the actions taken by the previous board she presided over that led to the election of Young and Company and the irresponsible actions taken by a brash Blaine Young who has often stated “I am doing what I told the voters I would do when I ran for election”. 
Should she repeat these same actions, it will merely perpetuate the pendulum swing.
What is needed in Frederick County and the country is a more pragmatic approach to governing that focuses on bringing people together to obtain desired results that will endure sure to come changes in elected officials.
Volatile rhetoric and campaign tactics used to divide the community and unite enough voters just to win election is not what is needed and is a strategy that voters are tiring of.
Reflecting this sentiment, the fastest growing group of voters across the country is those who are unaffiliated with a political party, clearly signaling dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
Having seen many different representative democracy systems in place at the local level across the country, I am convinced it is not the system that guarantees effective government. 
The change to charter government alone will not be the savior or answer to more effective government for Frederick County residents.
Instead, it is the people who are elected and increased involvement by the people they represent, that will make the difference between good and bad government.
The focus by the county executive should be on bringing people together and implementing effective government services to reach a shared vision for the community.
Also needed is meaningful campaign finance reform to ensure fairness and that one vote is not worth more than another vote.
Frederick County voters deserve reasonable, fair and effective government. When choosing who to support for county executive and county council, voters should look past rhetoric and focus on those candidates dedicated to working together with other elected officials and with the residents they represent to implement a shared vision. 
Together, Frederick County can become the community that everyone desires.
Stay tuned.

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