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Wednesday, December 2, 2015


George Wenschhof
Frederick County executive Jan Gardner has appointed a solid waste committee and over the next 18 months they will come up with recommendations to present to the executive and council on how best to handle the disposal of solid waste.
This is hardly a new issue. This recent attempt at moving toward a solution comes after Jan’s steadfast endorsement of the effort to build an Incinerator went down in flames.
The Waste-To-Energy (Incinerator) solution had been arrived at after several years of study and a presentation given by Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NMWDA).
It has now been over seven years since Jan Gardner wrote a column on my Blog entitled“Talking Trash”.
That column published on July 16, 2008 was the first of four columns she would write promoting the building of an Incinerator to handle the disposal of solid waste in Frederick County, Maryland.
She became president of the board of county commissioners after Republican David Gray, relinquished the gavel.
Kai Hagen, a fellow Democrat disagreed with Jan’s insistence on building the costly incinerator and I would also publish columns from him at the same time where he put forward reasons why the county should not participate in building the incinerator.
I had given them both the opportunity to write, in detail, their positions on how the county should handle the disposal of solid waste.
Kai would never garner two other votes on the five member board to win his argument and Jan would go on to secure the votes on the board to move forward to building the incinerator in what was billed as a waste-to-energy solution to county solid waste disposal.
Later, Jan would announce on my online video program All Things Political she would not run for reelection in the 2010 election.
Kai would run for reelection and recruit two other Democrats who were opponents to the building of the incinerator, Ellis Burruss and Janet Wiles. They would run as a team for county commissioner rallying supporters with “No Incinerator” signs appearing throughout the county. Although they were right in opposing the building of an incinerator, they would all lose.
In spite of his best efforts, Kai had been unable to put forward an alternative that resonated or connected with enough voters.
In her first column I published, Jan wrote “Frederick County has limited remaining landfill space. If all our community’s waste was sent to the landfill for disposal, the capacity of the landfill would be fully exhausted within three years. In an effort to preserve our landfill space, the commissioners are currently transferring and shipping the majority of our solid waste to a mega-landfill in Virginia. This option has become rapidly more expensive as the cost of fuel has increased. The cost per ton to ship our waste to Virginia has increased from $58/ton to $74/ton over a six-month period solely due to fuel surcharge increases. While transferring our trash to Virginia preserves local landfill space, the cost and environmental impacts associated with this option clearly makes it our worst choice and a poor long-term solution. Transferring our waste to an out-of-state mega landfill has always been considered an interim solution rather than a long-term solution. Shifting our waste burden to another community also raises ethical questions.”
Yet, this is exactly what Frederick County has been doing over the past seven plus years.
So, once again a study is underway.  This time Jan has appointed many of those who had opposed the incinerator and named John Daniels to chair the committee. I interviewed John recently.  I found him to fully aware of what he had gotten himself into and fully capable of leading this committee’s efforts to find a reasonable solution to the county’s disposal of solid waste.
Caroline Eader, another activist who opposed the building of an incinerator and who became a strong advocate for “Zero Waste” practices is concerned with continued involvement by NMWDA in the process.
I spoke with Caroline over the phone and asked her to weigh in with her thoughts of this effort being undertaken.  She responded with the following in an email to me.
“We all should thank the citizens on the Steering Committee who are volunteering their time, and acting as the conduit for public thoughts and opinions.
Yet, it is disappointing this committee was only provided a list of 3 engineering firms from which to choose.  Geosyntec’s original proposal focused on “conversion technologies” rather than all the alternatives included on the “What’s Next” webpage.  Let’s hope the Steering Committee can work around Geosyntec’s lack of experience and knowledge on the alternatives available, including the application of Zero Waste principals, concepts and actions.
But the question is why is the County using ~$154,000 of the “credit” it has with the NMWDA for citizens to teach Geosyntech the basics about the alternatives available?  And the bigger question is why did the County accept a $250,000 credit (upon cancellation of the incinerator contract) to use for future services from the NMWDA instead of receiving the money to pay for a study conducted by someone of its choosing?  (Isn’t that like getting a gift card from a store you don’t want to shop?)
Until the NMWDA is revamped (which S.B. 509 would done as presented last session) Frederick County should cease its membership with this quasi-governmental agency that misled and misrepresented the financial and contractual terms of its proposed incinerator for Frederick and Carroll Counties.
Additionally, it’s a waste for Frederick County not to proceed with what it can do now to increase its diversion rate.  Just as the County can raise or lower the tipping fees at the landfill, it has the ability to require anyone using its landfill to provide services in a tiered-pricing system. This has been proven to increase diversion rates and in doing so, the County can give this economic opportunity back to the local haulers rather than use the NMWDA to contract with a large out-of-state entity.  There’s no need to wait 18 months.”
Daniels was aware of Caroline’s concerns and was confident the committee had independence to determine consultants used.
He explained to me during the first phase the committee and consultant would be conducting outreach from the community through a series of 5 public meetings held throughout the county which he hoped would be completed in March of 2016.
The second phase would include analysis of options and their costs.  Hopefully, options and their financial costs would be eventually reduced to 3-4 options that would be sent to the county executive and council.  He is hopeful the entire process would be completed by March of 2017.
John said the committee would be focused on options that are financially viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.
He added they were looking for a longer term (50 year) solution and not short term solutions.
At the end of my interview with John, he said “there is no single system or magic bullet… that it will likely be a combination of approaches”.
It is good to see Gardner has appointed many talented people with interest in this field to this committee and to have someone of Daniel’s capabilities chairing it.
However, Caroline Eader is correct; there is no need to take 18 months to begin taking action and John Daniels is correct, there is no magic bullet.
Reaching out to the community for input is admirable.  But to spend money on a consultant to do this when only a handful of community activists will attend is a waste of time and money.
The appointed committee members are extremely knowledgeable and if money is going to be spent to solicit solutions, it would make more sense to spend it on professionals in this field.
Moving to a three tier bin system for collection is easy and I saw this effectively utilized on the west coast where residents were billed by the size of the bin.
There also remains a need to examine expansion of the current landfill or explore another suitable location.  When I spent time on the west coast several years ago, even the communities who had embraced and were successfully implementing zero waste methods, had landfills to handle a small residual of the waste.
Elected officials have always feared making a decision on where to locate a jail and where to locate a landfill because no one wants it in their back yard.  It was this fear of examining landfill possibilities that in part, fueled the effort to build an incinerator.  However, where to build the incinerator also became a contentious issue.
Governing and making decisions is not easy, but it is past time for Frederick county elected officials to make decisions on how to manage the disposal of solid waste.
Hopefully, the committee will speed up the 18 month process they are currently undertaking.
It is not as though the options are not known; it is the act of making a decision that is lacking.
John Daniels is right, there is no magic bullet and it will take a combination of options.
Let’s get it done.
Stay tuned.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Move The Taney Bust

George Wenschhof
It is past time to remove the Roger Brooke Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall in Frederick, Maryland.
On Thursday, the mayor and board of aldermen will hold a public meeting and listed at the end of the agenda is a discussion on the removal of the Taney Bust.
“Who is Taney”, you ask?
A former lawyer in Frederick, he shared his law office with his brother-in-law Frances Scott Key who would become famous for his composition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Taney would also become famous for serving on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, it was his writing of the majority (7-2) opinion of the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford case that provides overwhelming weight for the removal of his Bust from the grounds of city hall.
Scott had traveled with his Master and lived in free territories before returning to a slave state.  After the death of his Master, he sued for his freedom beginning in 1847.
Ten years later, after the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Taney would write in the majority opinion that, because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The framers of the Constitution, he wrote, believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”
Addressing the language in the Declaration of Independence that says, “all men are created equal,” Taney said “it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”
Historians widely agree this decision contributed to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 and the start of the Civil War in 1861.
This ill advised decision was repealed with the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. constitution.
It should not be a surprise that many people, especially African Americans are not happy to see this Taney Bust adorn the grounds of city hall in Frederick, Maryland.
Located in a prominent location in front of the entrance to city hall, visitors must walk past the Bust when entering the building.
The Bust was placed in its current position when the building was the Frederick County court house.
The discussion to move the Taney Bust is a not new to city hall officials.  Back in 2007, local African American professional E. Kevin Lollar began an effort that included other community activists and lawyers Willie Mahone and Barry Kissin. On 1-14-2008, Frederick NAACP president Guy Djoken wrote this column published on my Blog
Much public discussion followed over 2 years with the resulting compromise being a plaque containing a short explanation placed next to the Taney Bust in 2009.
Perhaps, it was the recent tragedy that took place in a Charleston, South Carolina church and the subsequent action by the S. Carolina state legislature to finally remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of their capitol that led to this latest attempt to remove the Bust.
Regardless of the cause for the latest impetus to remove the Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall, it is past time to do so.
Sadly over the weekend, the Taney Bust was vandalized by pouring red paint over it.
Also, this past weekend, the public notice of a planned KKK rally in nearby Braddock Heights reminds us that racism continues to exist and must be countered when it attempts to rise.
Many thanks to the close to 100 people who attended, on a Saturday evening, a peaceful candle-lit counter-rally in Braddock Heights organized by Kerri Eiker.  There was no reported sighting of the white robed individuals who had advertised cross burnings. Credit should go to these concerned citizens who made it known that racism and hate is not acceptable in Frederick County.
For those who argue “You cannot change history”, moving the Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall or taking down a Confederate Flag flying on the grounds of a state capitol is not changing history.
Rather, it is showing respect to those who were negatively impacted by history that we as a nation should not be proud of.
The Confederate Flag battle or otherwise, can be viewed in museums across the country and today is easily seen online.
In The City of Frederick there remains a home where Taney spent some of his time and is now a museum.  Perhaps, these grounds are the appropriate location to place the Bust and its companion plaque. There is also a Historical Society where the Bust could be moved.
When I posted on my Facebook page I intended to write a column on this issue, it solicited many comments.
The comment placed by Vivian Campbell Combs “Move it to his house…or the library, or museum…where people can see it, if they want to…not because they have to” made the most sense.
One should not be required to pass by the Taney Bust when they visit city hall.
Today, city officials should not look for legal means to provide them cover from taking action to remove the Bust.  They should just take action to do so.
Interestingly, back around 1920, way before the rise of the Hitler regime in Germany, a road in the city was named Swastika Road.  In 1960, the mayor and board of The City of Frederick, after much debate about how the name of the road was not reflective of the horrific Hitler regime and how you cannot change history, changed the name of the road.
On Thursday, city officials should vote to move the Taney Bust.
Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015


George Wenschhof
The election of Jan Gardner(D) as the first county executive of Frederick County, Maryland has perpetuated the decades long battle between two factions who primarily differ on how best to manage growth.
Gardner’s actions to date have been a reversal of actions taken by the previous board of county commissioners’ president Blaine Young(R) and Company.  Young and Company expanded the differences between the two factions from growth management to include the level of education funding and a desire to privatize government services which I described in a previous column entitled Blaine and Co. bad for Frederick County.
The latest move by Gardner is her threat to use eminent domain to void the contract of the business sale of the services being provided at Citizens and Montevue senior assisted care centers owned by the county government.
For Frederick County residents, it is a modern day real life portrayal of the movie “Groundhog Day”.
This perpetual back and forth battle has also caught the eye of many outsiders and political leaders in Annapolis.  The running joke “Is there something in their water?” never seems to get old as it applies no matter who wins.
Following Jan’s convincing of the council to reopen the Monrovia Town Center development approval, stacking committees with her appointees (a common practice by the winner), reversing the ill advised “English Only” ordinance and ethics committee decisions, she has now turned her sights on undoing the sale of the “business only” interest of the Citizen and Montevue senior assisted care centers.
She enjoys the support of a 4-3 vote from the council by ensuring Republican Bud Otis would become the president after the three Democrats on the council voted for him over Republican Billy Shreve.  Since then, Jan has received Otis’s vote with the 3 Democrats on every issue she presents to the council.
Republican council members Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve, who were part of the previous board of county commissioners referred by me as Blaine and Company, enjoyed a board with a sure 4-1 vote on every issue presented by Blaine.  They are exasperated because they are now a minority on the council.
Crying foul at every move made by Gardner and complaining she is only focused on undoing everything their board did, Shreve and Delauter seem to forget they spent their 4 years in office undoing everything Gardner and her “Dream Team” had done in the previous administration. Jan coined the name “Dream Team” when she and fellow Democrat Kai Hagen ran with and won with Republicans David Gray and John “Lennie” Thompson in the 2006 election.
The sale of the Citizens/Montevue business interest was another of the actions by Blaine Young, while enjoying a 4-1 majority on the board that illustrates his arrogance and persistence in doing what he wanted during his administration, even if it was ill advised.
Blaine began his obsession of selling the county owned land, building and services by first disbanding their board of directors, firing the director and sending a threatening letter to city officials.  A letter I questioned at the time whether it had board approval in a column.  In order to sell the land, subdivision was required and needed city approval.
I also pointed out in another column, there was legal action underway pertaining to deed restrictions and the state had provided a $200,000 loan that meant the state board of public works needed to approve the sale.
I opined it would be best to let the legal issues be decided before approving any sale.  In a meeting, the board of public works agreed.
Stymied, a frustrated Young intent on selling the facilities, received legal advice he could sell the business only interest of the centers with the option on the sale of the land and buildings dependent upon court decisions.
This brings us to present day where Gardner, who made it known during her campaign for county executive she opposed the sale of the facilities.
She has withheld questionable payments negotiated by Young from the county to the Buyer and is undergoing mediation in an attempt to dissolve the contract.
The contract agreed to by Blaine and Company is a poor one for the county and should be voided.  Decisions by the court still have not been made and no action to sell any interest in the centers should have been done by the previous board.
Speculation on the future of the long serving county attorney is rampant because he has provided opinions on both sides of this and other issues over the years, depending upon who was in power.  His credibility questioned, some believe resignation is the best option.
Let’s hope legal rulings will be issued soon and mediation will result in the voiding of this ill advised agreement.  The use of eminent domain to recapture a “business interest” is a stretch and is also not advisable.  It is used to claim land such as property for an airport expansion.  But in this case, the land has not been transferred so there is no need to recapture by use of eminent domain.
Optimistically, the county will retain the business interest, land and buildings. Afterward, a committee should be appointed by Gardner and confirmed by the council to review management options to include the reappointment of a board of directors and to develop financial plans for the future of the Citizens/Montevue senior assisted living centers.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


George Wenschhof
Not much has changed in Frederick County, Maryland politics since the much ballyhooed vote to implement charter government took place in the 2014 election.
The back and forth positions on growth that have dominated county politics for decades continues with the election of Jan Gardner(D) as county executive.
She moved quickly to establish her “Dream Team 2” when she convinced the three Democrats on the council to support Republican Bud Otis(R) for president.  This kept growth adversary councilmember Billy Shreve(R) from winning the president of the council, even though there are 4 Republicans on the 7 member council.
Since being elected president of the council, Otis has given Gardner the fourth vote whenever it was needed.
In the 2008 election Gardner and fellow Democrat Kai Hagen would run for election with Republican “no-growth” candidates John “Lenny” Thompson and David Gray.  They would win 4 of the 5 slots on the board of commissioners and label themselves the “Dream Team”.
After, going through a comprehensive plan update, supported by their appointees on the Planning Commission, a number of properties were down zoned, leading to public outcry on protection of property rights.
This lead to the election of Blaine Young(R) and company (current council members Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter were part of the “company”) who quickly went about appointing their people to board and commissions who would support their positions on growth.
Not surprisingly, a comprehensive plan and zoning update took place and zoning was restored to many of the properties that had been down zoned from the Gardner led board.
Guess what?  Gardner as county executive has appointed her people to boards and commissions and a comprehensive plan and zoning update will take place yet again.
But Gardner did not wait for all of this to play out before influencing the council action on the controversial approval under the former board of commissioners of the Monrovia Town Center.
The approval of this development has been at the center of this political pendulum swing over growth for the last decade.
A law suit filed against the Gardner board by the developer for their down zoning the property was set aside after the Young board reinstated their zoning and approval was granted.
Now the council has used a vague opinion letter issued by a local Judge on the inclusion in the record of a questionable letter presented by local Frederick Area Committee for Transportation (FACT) as justification to reopen the entire review of the development.
No effort was made by the council to ask the Judge to clarify what he intended in his opinion letter.
Instead, action was taken to decide whether to reopen development review.  The 4-3 decision to “start-over” a foregone conclusion with Gardner’s “Dream Team 2” in place in the council.
With recent appointments to the Planning Commission by Gardner, one can anticipate the recommendation on this development will be a “No”, followed by a 4-3 vote by the council to deny approval.
With the county roller coaster actions on growth continuing, legal action by the developer is likely to come.
Legal action is also pending on Gardner refusing to make the county payments under the questionable contract made by the Young board for the sale of the county owned senior citizen services.
Also undertaken during the first year of charter government was the reversal of the ill advised “English Only” ordinance passed by the Young led board.
Interestingly, the county attorney has argued the positions taken by the politicos on both sides of these issues over the years.  Not, an easy task and he is still there.
Speaking of staff, this is one of the biggest problems facing the county council as charter has been implemented.  The council is separate from the executive yet their staff is provided by the executive.
Gardner has settled into the executive role and has treated the council similar to how she worked with the board of county commissioners when she was president.
However the council already experiencing image issues, should move to establish their own entity and organizational structure, breaking away from the executive and the influence exerted by the executive and her staff.
In addition, for the same reason, the council needs an independent website.
In a conversation with vice chair of the council M.C. Keegan-Ayer, who is arguably the most qualified member of the council, she acknowledged this was an issue and expressed her frustration with the lack of funds provided to the council by the previous Young led board.
Already circulating in the rumor mill among progressive Democrats is Blaine Young and Company will work to have voters reject charter, bring back the board of county commissioner form of government and run for office.
Not a likely scenario, but it illustrates the dislike members of these two political factions surrounding growth have toward each other.
In addition to providing good government services, hopefully what is done during this first charter term will be to focus on the split of council staff from executive staff.  This will establish a true separation of powers called for by the charter.
A compilation of issues, such as council salary, council input on the budget and all council members elected by districts should also be discussed with voters over the next couple of years so constructive changes to the charter can be voted on.
Including, what may be the most important change, of having the county executive hired by the council instead of being elected.  This is known as the west coast charter model.
This would ensure the vision by the elected council is implemented by the executive.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


George Wenschhof
After a surprise 2014 victory in a state that enjoys a 2-1 Democratic voter registration advantage, Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, has understandably moved forward to create a committee to recommend redistricting reform.
Democratic state senate president Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch have reportedly vowed to make sure this reform does not pass in the state legislature.
While Governor Hogan is moving in a direction I support in general, redistricting reform will not be obtained across the country using a state by state approach.  Instead, a national and uniformed approach is needed.  In fact, a constitutional amendment may be necessary to accomplish this much needed change.
The reason this attempt by Hogan and any individual state will fail is simple.  The Republican and Democratic parties will not voluntarily give up the power they enjoy to configure districts to their advantage.
It was the gerrymandering that created the current congressional district 6 in Maryland prior to the 2012 election that led me to pen a column published in The Baltimore Sun.  In that column, I argued it was time for redistricting reform and called for the creation by states of a nonpartisan committee to recommend redistricting, if called for by population changes reported by the census every ten years.
What has happened across the country over the last few decades has been radical redistricting within the 36 states where state legislatures perform this action.  These gerrymandered districts have created “safe” districts for the political party in control of the state.  Seven states have only one representative and the rest use independent or bipartisan commissions, with the state legislature still retaining approval in some of these states.
In Maryland, a strong Democratic state, 7 of the 8 Congressional districts are “safe” districts where Democratic candidates will enjoy a voter registration advantage.  The same protective carving out of districts also takes place in the other 35 states by their state legislatures.  Texas, a strong Republican state, does the same for the Republican Party.
With no need to campaign in a moderate manner to win election in these “safe” seats, candidates are often more progressive or more conservative. The result has been arguably a dysfunctional Congress made up of representatives mostly from the extremes of their political party.
These more extreme candidates from the two major political parties are currently elected by using deep rooted hyperbolic rhetoric and exhibit no intention of compromising on any issue that comes before them.
Sadly, the majority of voters across the country fall within the center left, the center, or the center right in the political spectrum and are now longing for representation in Congress.
Certainly, the establishment of nonpartisan commissions to handle redistricting not answering to state legislature approval is needed in all states.
However, this will not happen with a state by state process.  Why would either major political party voluntarily agree to alter their advantage in a state that would also alter their party’s representation in Congress?
The answer is they won’t. Maryland’s state legislature leaders Mike Miller and Michael Busch are replicated in Democratic and Republican controlled states across the country.
Voters eagerly want this change where they once again are able to vote for who their politician will be as opposed to politicians choosing who will be their voters.
So, the effort should continue, but the approach should change and if necessary, begin the process of a constitutional amendment.
This would be a major step in preserving democracy in the United States.  Getting the money out of politics is another..

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


George Wenschhof
The lengthy testimony at the last Frederick County Council meeting went as I expected. After all, the approval of the development of the Monrovia Town Center has been a battle during the previous two Frederick County administrations.
Two political factions that have been labeled pro-growth and anti-growth have made this development a focal point.
A little over eight years ago when Jan Gardner became president of the board of county commissioners, she and her four member bipartisan dream team would down zone properties across the county.
The property known as the Monrovia Town Center was one of them.  This action not only led to litigation against the county being instigated by developer Mr. Stanley, it also led to the election of a pro growth board of county commissioners led by Blaine Young four years later.
During the Blaine and Company administration, they would go about rezoning the properties down zoned by the Gardner administration.
During this time, the attorney for the developer set aside their lawsuit against the county
Among those properties rezoned was the Monrovia Town Center.  After a lengthy process that included many public hearings and countless hours of testimony, the development was approved to move forward.
Those who opposed the approval led by Steve McKay seized upon a letter submitted into the record at the end of the last public meeting preceding the approval vote to claim foul.
The letter was submitted into the record by Commissioner Paul Smith and was from the Frederick Area Committee for Transportation and stated their support for this development.
What was discovered was the letter never received a vote from the board of directors of FACT and after a legal appeal; a local Judge threw the hot potato back to the county and said the new county council should decide if this letter impacted the approval vote.
County attorney Michael Chomel would advise the council they would first need to choose to have a public meeting to decide if the letter had an impact n the prior approval and if they decided it did, they had several options.  One of which would be to choose to reopen the development approval process.  This would require the developer to start over from the beginning.
With Jan Gardner back in office, now as county executive with a county council so far voting 4-3 for what Gardner wants, the opponents of this development turned out to testify at the public meeting last week.
The testimony went as expected with opponents questioning the approval process and the developer saying he had met all of the approval criteria.
Following the conclusion of the public testimony, attorney Chomel explained to the council they have the option to close the record or they would have to disclose and make part of the record all emails received prior to their vote the next week on this matter.  He also pointed out the developer would also have the opportunity to respond to what had been received.
This was advice on procedure, but in the emotion of the two sides in this issue, a lot of confusion by several members of the council would ensue.
The vote would end up being a 4-3 vote to leave the record open with Republican council president Bud Otis once again voting with the Democratic council members.  Shortly after the recent election, Otis became president over fellow council member Billy Shreve when the three Democrats voted for him.
Lost in all the brouhaha, was a focus on whether the letter had an impact on the approval of the development by the former board of commissioners.
In fact, the testimony by the many who opposed the development, would testify the development was going to be approved by the previous board of commissioners, no matter what.
If the vote by the county council focuses on the testimony pertaining to the impact of the letter, the vote would have to be No.
However, those who oppose this development feel strongly the fix was in during the previous administration and want a reopening of the approval process.
Not so surprisingly, two council members, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter who also served as commissioners who voted for approval, stated their vote was not influenced by the letter.  Former board president Blaine Young also provided an affidavit that the letter did not influence his vote.  I thought I heard former commissioner David Gray, who was the only vote against the approval, also stated he was not influenced by the letter.
It will certainly be a curiosity to see how county attorney Chomel advises the council prior to their vote and what their decision will be.
Either way the vote turns out, litigation is sure to follow.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


George Wenschhof
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made his bid for the Democratic Party nomination for president official yesterday.
He makes the third Democrat to announce a run for president, joining Senator Bernie Sanders and heavily favored former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee will make it four when he is expected to announce on Wednesday this week.
Interestingly, Sanders has been a Independent Senator from Vermont and Chafee was a Republican who became an Independent in 2007. Chafee would serve one term as Independent Governor of Rhode Island and chose not to run for reelection in 2014. Chafee served as co-chair of President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
While the most recent national poll shows O’Malley at only one percent and Sanders at fifteen percent, he is the only long time serving Democrat to challenge Clinton in the Democratic primary.
Having watched the announcement speeches given by Sanders and O’Malley, Sanders had a larger and more vocal crowd of supporters on hand.
Sanders was also much more emotional and emphatic on his progressive stands on issues while O’Malley was more measured as he read a prepared statement.
While, O’Malley remains a long shot, I would not count him out. National polls are not what wins state primaries and O’Malley has a long history of working at the grassroots level.
O’Malley is also much more charismatic in smaller settings. If, he can learn to project this when addressing a national audience, it will aid his campaign.
He lengthy experience in politics began when he was in college when he volunteered to work in Iowa for the 1984 Gary Hart campaign.
O’Malley was also named state field director for Senator Barbara Mikulski’s U.S. senate race in 1986 while he was attending law school.
After law school O’Malley would run for state senate and lose by 44 votes to John Pica.
Since the initial loss, O’Malley would serve two terms on the Baltimore City council, two terms as mayor of Baltimore followed by two terms as Governor of Maryland.
While serving as Governor, he would be named the chair of the Democratic Governors Association. This would give him much needed national exposure.
It has also been reported his ‘O’Say Can You See’ PAC donated to races in Iowa during the 2012 election.
I met him shortly after he became mayor and for those of us who got to know him somewhat, a race for the White House was never in doubt.
A major negative for O’Malley will be that his Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who he threw his support behind would lose to Republican Larry Hogan in his bid for Governor of Maryland. This loss coming in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans voters 2-1.
O’Malley has demonstrated a long history of winning campaigns and a willingness to work hard at the grassroots level.
This may help him in the Iowa caucuses where the Democratic primary gets underway.
Stay tuned.

Monday, June 1, 2015


George Wenschhof
It should not be surprising in today’s political environment to see the same absurd actions taking place at the local level that we see exhibited at the national level.
Two political factions in Frederick County who primarily hold opposing views on how to manage growth continue the back and forth pendulum swings on who wields power. This silliness has now existed for over the last two decades.
The change to charter government has done nothing to end the nonsense.
It is painfully apparent it would have made little difference who won the county executive or council races.  The result would be the same with these two groups visibly displaying their dislike for each other.
Since winning the executive race, Democrat Jan Gardner has been overreaching her authority taking actions to nullify or reverse what was done by the previous board of county commissioners led by Republican president Blaine Young.
Two holdovers, Republicans Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter from the previous administration controlled by Blaine and Company are frustrated by the new control exercised by executive Gardner and her neutering of their power by arranging for their fellow Republican council member Bud Otis to be elected president of the council.
While being loyal to Gardner, a bumbling Otis has looked totally lost in the presidency role.
The latest cartoon playing at Winchester Hall has to do with ethics in government.
Republican Kirby Delauter, whose family owns a construction company has had a long standing flap with the ethics commission since first being elected commissioner in 2010.  His question has been: Can his family business bid on county projects?
Under the former board of county commissioners, the ethics commission first issued a negative opinion and after an appeal by Delauter, it was deemed it was okay for his firm to do business with the county.
Now, with a new form of government and Delauter serving as a council member, he requested a new opinion from the ethics commission.
The present day ethics commission, with a majority of it’s members appointed by the former board of commissioners led by Blaine and Company, issued an opinion allowing Delauter’s company to bid on county projects.
This opinion set off a firestorm among Gardner supporters who claimed foul and urged Gardner to take action.
Gardner responded by issuing an executive order which in effect nullified the ethics commission opinion. An action questionable under the new charter government.
After all, why have an ethics commission if the county executive will take action to nullify their opinion.
What followed was the resignation from the ethics commission of the members who voted for the opinion.
Supporters of Delauter countered by pointing out Democratic council members Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald are teachers and as such should not be allowed to vote on the Board of Education budget.  In addition they point out Fitzwater serves on the board of directors of the Frederick County Teachers Association which lobbies Frederick County government.
Ironically, Gardner responded to those accusations at a press conference by using a previously issued ethics commission opinion that stated it was okay for teachers who also serve as elected officials to vote on the budget.
Throughout this spat over the last four plus years, there has never been any charges filed against Delauter of any wrong doing while serving in office.
All of this hullabalo has created much fodder for media and supporters of both political factions.
Instead of county elected leaders focusing on taking action to develop higher paying jobs, more affordable housing, and other important issues facing voters today, the focus by the county executive and some members of the county council has been on silly tit-for-tat politics.
It will be a long  three and a half years until the next election if Gardner and members of the council continue to spend time and energy on retaliatory measures. Another pendulum swing will also likely result in the next election.
Unfortunately, the losers in all of this blather are the residents of Frederick County.
What is needed in Frederick County and across the country is a change in the divisive and polarized politics of today. Politicians who exhibit common sense, reason and a cooperative spirit should prevail.
Maybe then voters would receive the effective government they deserve.

Monday, May 18, 2015


George Wenschhof
The opinion issued by the Frederick County Ethics Commission allowing the firm owned by Republican council member Kirby Delauter to bid on county projects has caught the ire of Democratic Frederick county executive Jan Gardner.
In a hastily crafted letter co-signed by executive Jan Gardner and council president Bud Otis(R), they state “We will take immediate action to remedy this situation through Legislation and Executive Order.”
However there is first a question as to whether Gardner can use an executive order to nullify The Ethics Commission opinion.
Secondly, council president Bud Otis signed the letter in an official capacity without the issue coming before the council for a vote.
Delauter and fellow Frederick council member Billy Shreve(R) are holdovers from the former board of county commissioners (BoCC) led by Republican Blaine Young.  Young was defeated by Gardner in the county executive election last year.
The change to charter government has done little to end the political divide between two political factions whose primary difference over the last couple of decades has been on how to handle growth.
In the last administration of a board of county commissioner form of government, Blaine Young and Company would add goals of the privatization of government services and less money for education to their mantra.
In the county executive race, Gardner highlighted ethics as an issue in her campaign and upon winning, she appointed with much aplomb, a committee to recommend a new ethics ordinance for the county.
The primary reasons for her push to highlight ethics was former commissioner and current council member Kirby Delauter being allowed to have his company bid on county projects and a myriad of questions swirling around the actions taken by former Republican president of the BoCC Blaine Young.
Of course, supporters of the other faction point out that newly elected Democratic council members Jerry Donald and Jessica Fitzwater work as Teachers in the Frederick County school system.  In addition, Fitzwater sits on the board of directors of The Frederick County Teachers Association.  This leads to ethical questions pertaining to their voting on the board of education budget, an amount that is nearly half of the total county budget.
These tit-for-tat squabbles are an ongoing battle between the two factions who hold substantial differing opinions on growth.
Gardner moved swiftly after her election to obtain majority support from the council when she persuaded the three Democratic council members to support Republican Bud Otis for president against Republican Billy Shreve.
This has left Republican council members Billy Shreve, Kirby Delauter and Tony Chmelik on the short end of votes.
This was reminiscent of two terms ago when her infamous “Dream Team” comprised of fellow Democrat Kai Hagen along with Republicans David Gray and John “Lennie” Thompson ran and won.
After that election, she had the newly elected board vote to change the requirements of how the president of the BoCC was determined to allow her to claim the presidency.
Never questioned was what gave the newly elected board the authority to change the requirement pertaining to themselves.
Typically, the presiding board can take actions, such as an increase in salary that will take place in the following elected board, meaning they would need to be reelected to benefit.
Growing pains in the implementation of the new charter government have been evident ever since the swearing in of the newly elected officials.
Whether Gardner can take executive action in regard to this recent ethics opinion or whether Otis acted properly by co-signing the letter with Jan without him taking the issue before the council for a vote are just the latest examples of the growing pains.
In this case of a firm being owned by council member Delauter, being allowed to bid on county projects, the opinion issued by The Ethics Commission looks and smells bad to voters. If something smells bad to voters, it is typically wrong.
Council president Bud Otis should take this issue to the council and obtain legal advice on the proper manner to proceed to take action to reverse the ill advised opinion issued by The Ethics Commission.
Hopefully, the committee appointed by Gardner to update the county ethics ordinance will also conclude their effort soon.
Stay tuned

Monday, April 13, 2015


The 2016 race for president is officially underway now that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton made her run official with an airing of a 2 minute video on social media Sunday around 3:00 PM ET.
This approach was made to highlight a more personal message from Hillary to voters.
In her 2008 presidential announcement, the message was more that she was adorned the Democratic Party nominee with her statement “I’m in it to win it”.
This time, Hillary did not appear until the last 30 seconds of the 2 minute video.  Her youthful and energetic appearance coming after several couples discussed their dreams.  Women issues, a Hispanic couple, a same sex couple and an African American couple were all highlighted followed by Hillary saying she was going to start a listening tour and ending with her saying “I want to earn your vote”.
Off to Iowa her campaign will go to begin the six week tour before a more formal announcement and rally takes place the end of May.
Mainstream media has been waiting impatiently for this announcement.
Hillary, already the leader in polls by a huge margin among Democratic wanabees for president, will now have to earn voters support by what she says and does over the next 18 months.
The opposition Clinton will face in her campaign for president is weak among Democrats and Republicans.
While a contested primary is generally a good thing as it makes a candidate articulate their positions on the issues, there just is no serious Democratic contender.  Former Governors Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island) and Martin O’Malley (Maryland) are not registering in the polls and there is no reason they will as time goes by.
Former Virginia senator Jim Webb would certainly be an interesting candidate.  But, it is doubtful he has the fire in his belly to do so.
Instead, it will be Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and to a lesser extent economist Robert Reich who will influence the Democratic Party nomination.  Warren’s influence will not come as a candidate, but as a senior spokesperson in the U.S. Senate.  Reich’s from his closeness to the Clinton’s (he served as Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton’s administration) and his position as chair of Common Cause, a group that also supports much of the change that Warren calls for.
Their influence was noticeable in the 2 minute Hillary Clinton announcement video.  After the couples filmed previously in the video talked about what their needs and desires were, Hillary spoke to the issue of inequality, saying “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
The huge income gap between the few percent at the top and the rest of Americans has been stressed by both Reich, who produced a movie “Inequality for All” and Warren.
The Republican Party looks hopelessly caught in an earlier time and out of touch with the reality of today, making their prospects for a victory in 2016 very daunting.
Hillary Clinton, in a 2 minute video touched women (a major voting block), African Americans (who traditionally will vote Democratic), Hispanics and same sex voters.
That leaves aspiring Republican candidates to focus on White male voters; a losing proposition in today’s politics.
The huge number of 20 possible Republican candidates also reflects a fractured party, lacking in leadership and the ability to reach consensus on issues.  Their war hawkish approach to Iran and opposition to the nuclear treaty being negotiated by the Obama administration is also out of touch with American voters, where 60% of Americans favor reaching an agreement with Iran and avoiding war.
It is, of course, way early to make predictions.
However, it was this time prior to the 2012 election I predicted the candidates would be Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney.  I also correctly predicted Romney would lose convincingly to Obama.
This longer and more low-key roll out of the Hillary Clinton campaign is a good approach for someone who is already well known by voters.
With a heavily financed and well organized campaign, look to see Clinton emerge as the Democratic candidate.
Her likely Republican opponent for president will be well known Jeb Bush who also has a strong financed and organized campaign.
The 2016 vote margin will be closer than Obama vs. Romney, but I see Hillary Clinton earning the votes to become the first women elected president of the United States.
Stay tuned.