Going, going…gone!? Is Frederick County’s future for sale?

As election day approaches, it’s clear that charter government is not the only change that has come to Frederick County. We have now joined many other places where a powerful special interest — or a few — spend big money to elect their candidates to local office.

Much has been made about the spending in this year’s high profile race between Jan Gardner and Blaine Young for County Executive. But it would be a mistake to think both candidates have pulled us into the realm of big money in local politics.

As of the most recent campaign finance report, former commissioner, Jan Gardner, had raised $199,066.55. In contrast, the current president of the last Board of County Commissioners, Blaine Young, had raised a grand total of $952,719.00.

Incredibly, this is roughly twice as much as all of the other 16 candidates for county executive and county council, in both parties, combined, have raised and spent. Think about that for a moment.

By the final report, which will not be available until after the election, it is likely Mr. Young will have raised and spent more than a million dollars!

forsale750

Click on the graphic to open a larger version.

During the public hearings about the highly controversial Monrovia Town Center and other large development proposals, many people were critical of Commissioner Young for accepting contributions from certain developers, and then voting to approve their zoning requests and more. We knew that developers had made, and were making contributions to Mr. Young’s ongoing campaign committee. Since then, more contributions have been made, and more information is available, and it reveals that, if anything, our concerns were understated.

An analysis of the most recent reports, which were updated on October 24th, examined the list of contributions to Blaine Young’s campaign, for the purpose of identifying how much of his unprecedented fundraising has come from businesses and individuals with clear and direct development interests.

A conservative calculation of these sorts of contributions totaled $662,995.00!

The real total is certainly higher than that (in part because we erred on the side of caution, and we know we haven’t identified every individual who fits the category).

Frankly, I think it’s obscene. And I worry about the effect it has had, and will have, on Frederick County politics and governance.

So, where has the money come from? And, more importantly, what has been the “return on investment” for those development interests?

After all, when some of them have been spending tens of thousands of dollars, and, in some cases, more that a hundred thousand dollars on a single local candidate, it’s reasonable to assuming they are hoping — or expecting — to benefit from that investment.

Near the top of the list is Mark Matan and various Matan companies, with more than $103,595.00 “invested” in Mr. Young’s campaign. They are able to do this because each of their many limited liability companies (LLCs) is treated like a separate entity, even though they are largely the same people, and even share the same address. Among others, Matan is behind the Westview South and Urban Green developments, and the hotly contested Ramsburg Farm, each of which was approved by the Young BoCC.

There are far too many situations like this to enumerate them all here, but many of the other contributors are people closely associated with many of the developments that have been approved by this Board of County Commissioners. Beyond their own zoning approvals, and two-decades long Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements, all of these developers also benefited from the weakening of the school and road adequacy provisions of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance passed by the Young Board that guarantees crowded schools and dangerous roads. Many walked away with 20 or 25 year DRRA contracts that they drafted themselves.

Nearly $68,000.00 in contributions came from individuals or entities associated with the large and controversial Jefferson Technology Park, and the Jefferson Park West development next to it. Their development was approved with much more favorable conditions than had previously been negotiated during the Gardner board.

One of the major changes made was regarding the access to Highway 340, where a new bridge and interchange is being built that will serve no other purpose than to provide access to the new development. Under the new agreement, the bridge and interchange are being paid for with more than $100 million of future property tax revenues from the development that otherwise would have gone to help pay for the schools and public safety and other public services that the roughly 900 new homes will require.

Under the Gardner board, that cost was the developer’s responsibility. But not under the Young Board, which allowed the developer to use future property taxes to pay for necessary infrastructure instead of paying for it themselves. This is a direct and very substantial public subsidy from existing county taxpayers to the developer, using a development tool that is generally meant to address blight and/or spur commercial development, not hundreds of new homes with new residents who require costly public services, but will not be paying for them for twenty years.

And then, as I mentioned briefly above, there is huge and sprawling the Monrovia Town Center project. As this project went through the approval process, many citizens expressed serious concerns about the developer’s contributions to Blaine Young’s campaign. In fact, $35,000.00 were contributed only a few days prior to the submission of development’s application.

Not surprisingly, those concerns fell on deaf ears.

Blaine Young and enough of his fellow commissioners approved the development, despite many clear and compelling arguments about the adequacy and safety of local roads, including MD Route 75, Ed McLain Road and Weller Road. Much of that has been reported in the local media. What hasn’t been reported, however, is that the contributions never stopped.

In February of this year, for instance, before the zoning request was completed, one of the parties to the development gave $500.00 to Blaine’s campaign. In my view, that is a clear violation of Maryland State Ethics laws, which prohibit a candidate from accepting donations from a party while their zoning request is being decided. More recently, in July and October of 2014, while the Phase II zoning application was well underway, a collection of individuals directly associated with the developer gave another $32,000.00 to the Blaine Young campaign.

I believe that this is another clear violation of State Ethics laws.

A total of at least $67,500.00 has been given to Mr. Young’s campaign by parties associated with the Monrovia Town Center project. In response to some of the concerns conveyed at various hearings, Blaine Young bristled that he “cant’ be bought.”

Someone from the Monrovia community wrote a letter to the editor of the Frederick News Post that asked if he could be rented. I think the answer is clear.

Last but not least, there is St. Johns Properties. The company may not be familiar to most readers, but it is a commercial development company, based in Baltimore, that has contributed more than $115,000.00 to Blaine Young’s campaign through a laundry list of LLCs, all sharing the same address.

Citizens of Frederick County are left to wonder: What benefit do these businesses and individuals believe — or assume — they will receive if Blaine Young is elected county executive?

So far, it appears that contributors to Mr. Young have received tremendous benefits, often at the expense of our communities and taxpayers.

How much more of this can happen over another four years?

Frederick County has never seen this kind of money invested to influence our elections and important public policy. On Tuesday the voters get to decide if the county is for sale.

BYcontributionspiechart_edit500


If you are interested, you can read or participate in the active discussion about this on the Envision Frederick County page on Facebook.