Some challenges for Envision

When Envision Frederick County was founded nearly four years ago we saw a need for an organization and platform that would focus substantially on fostering greater awareness of local governance and public policy, and encouraging more engagement by citizens in variety of important issues.

We were committed to being non-partisan in our approach, and our Board of Directors has reflected that from the beginning. Currently the board consists of three Republicans and three Democrats.

It’s true that many of the issues that we focus on, such as energy policy and environmental stewardship seem to have become more partisan over the last decade or so. Others, like many land use related issues, are not so easily pigeon-holed by party, although you might not recognize that if you thought the Blaine Young board’s approach to those issues represented the full Republican perspective. But the experience of previous boards of county commissioners, and the informal alliances of citizens pushing back against the current board has made it clear there isn’t a unified Democratic Party or Republican Party approach to land use issues.

Indeed, to some extent, Envision became one of several voices of opposition to policies promoted and advanced by the most recent Board of County Commissioners. In some respects, it was unfortunate that so much time and effort was dedicated to being the organized opposition, but it was probably unavoidable and necessary, given our stark differences with the perspective of the majority on land use and environmental issues.

I think that all of us on the Envision Board felt to varying degrees that the Blaine Young-led BOCC was leading Frederick County in the wrong direction, and that the majority wasn’t at all interested in considering approaches that might have been more conciliatory or accommodating to a broad and bi-partisan swath of the community that saw things differently.

Personally, I thought that the Young board made some defensible decisions. But, even then, they commonly made them in indefensible ways.

The reduction in Head Start funding at the beginning of their term and the decision to sell Montevue and Citizens provide two good examples of how not to make public policy, even if either decision could be substantively justified, and even if many of us thought they were unwise decisions.

The headlong rush to approve and lock in many large future developments, especially along the MD 75 corridor, is an area in which the Young board showed a deep disdain for citizens had many serious concerns and objections, and felt the decision-making process was stacked against them.

The commissioners could and should have seen the early outpouring against the Monrovia Town Center project as an indication that the process is flawed and that we have to find a better way to address the specific issues, and to engage affected citizens in a more meaningful way when considering large development projects.

But, in some respects, that’s all water under the bridge. The question now is about what comes next.

Our new Charter government, with the combination of the Gardner administration and a Republican-dominated County Council with a number of new faces, presents an opportunity for a fresh start…or gridlock.

EFClogocropThis will be a fresh start and opportunity for Envision Frederick County as well.

Part of our challenge is how best to encourage discussion and the advancement of a positive vision and agenda for the future of Frederick County. No doubt there will be many proposals put forth that are a response to what has taken place over the last few years. They may or may not succeed, and some may or may not be useful, and they may well not include the most important issues to address.

Here are just a few of the questions I think we ought to be discussing:

• What are the key goals and agenda items of the new county executive, Jan Gardner?

• In the new charter government, what areas should the county executive focus on?

• What do the seven members of the new county council members want to accomplish?

• What kind of policy changes are appropriate to our decision-making process about land-use?

I hope that many of those who have been active in the campaign on all sides will turn their attention to questions like these and share their thoughts and views on these pages and elsewhere in the coming weeks and months.