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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.