In candidates and governance, character counts!

Since charter government was approved in 2010, the Frederick News Post has published many news articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor about the change to a new form of government and its impact on Frederick County. On Saturday, July 19th, there was yet another – this time a lengthy article considering possible changes to the original charter, and capturing the views of the various candidates running for the new county council: “Candidates discuss changing charter’s budget process, cutting elected posts”

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As a candidate, I was not surprised to be asked for my opinion, since there has been a fair amount of discussion about the balance of power between the county executive and the council on budgetary issues since the charter was approved.

It seemed a bit premature, however, given that we haven’t even elected the first executive and council yet, and have little idea how the charter will actually work when put into practice, given the personalities of those who might be elected. But the article did provide some genuine insight into the character of some of those running for office.

Character is described as a “set of qualities that make a person distinctive, particularly a person’s quality of mind”; “the moral or ethical structure of a person”; “a person’s inner strength, integrity or fortitude.”

charactercounts250wWe teach our children about “character” and even have a specific program on character in our public schools: Character Counts. Yet, as adults we seem to have difficulty adhering to those very qualities of character that we claim to revere: Respect, Responsibility, Caring, Trustworthiness, Citizenship, and Fairness. I would even offer to expand these further by including Civility and Ethics.

Concerns about incivility are not new in Frederick County. In 2001, the Committee for Frederick County drafted a code as part of an effort to raise the level of civility among candidates and elected officials. In 2002, 2005 and 2006 the committee asked candidates in city, county and state legislative elections to sign the civility code. What has happened to that effort?

Uncivil and disrespectful behavior has continued. And yet, other than an occasional headline in the paper about a specific episode, our community seems to have turned a blind eye to the general problem.

Today, to a person, everyone running on the democratic ticket for county government has “civility and respect” as elements of their campaign platforms. While we may not agree on every issue, we have all pledged to treat each other, all other elected leaders and the members of the public with civility, respect and dignity.

When asked to comment for the above mentioned Frederick News Post article about potential deficiencies in the new charter, one candidate said (yet again) that “I haven’t read it carefully yet because I haven’t won the election.” This is not the first time this candidate has admitted that they are unfamiliar with the particulars of the actual charter itself, each time saying that they will acquaint themselves with it once they are elected to office.

It seems to me that any candidate would familiarize themselves with the charter and the responsibilities of council members before filing to run for the office, rather than waiting until after they are elected (thereby placing themselves, and their constituents, “behind the curve” if and when they take office). In my opinion, this certainly speaks to that candidate’s character and sense of responsibility to do their “homework” before actually committing to run for office.

I encourage all Frederick County voters to look carefully at the candidates, and consider what they have done in the past to gauge what they will do in the future. Their comments offer insight into their character. For instance, one candidate said:

“Any political body can make any decision they want, and if no one sues them, it doesn’t matter if they followed the rules or not.”

Really?!

That seems a rather incredible, if not foolhardy, position to take as a candidate, or as an elected official.

The voters of Frederick County need to educate themselves about the candidates running for elected office. I remain gravely concerned about the potential for a totally dysfunctional government, should the voters elect people to the council and the executive office, who, for whatever reason, cannot (or will not) work cooperatively.

It is exciting to be embarking on a whole new form of government. Given the way the charter was written, however, it is imperative that the members of the first county council and the first county executive communicate effectively and are able to work collaboratively to get the job done for the benefit of all Frederick County residents.

We need look no further than the federal government to see a clear example of what happens when the executive and legislative bodies dig in their heels and cannot work together. We do not need or want that type of stalemate in our local government.

We are embarking on a journey to a new and different form of government here in Frederick County. Now, more than ever, would be the time to embrace the traits of the “Character Counts” program:

• Respect

• Responsibility

• Caring

• Trustworthiness

• Fairness, and

• Citizenship)

To which I would add:

• Civility, and

• Respect

It will be up to the voters to ensure that those we elect to representative us in this new government embody all of these qualities.

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Click on the image to open a larger and easier to read version.