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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.