Open meetings complaints filed against Frederick County commissioners

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/25/213
At least two complaints of an Open Meetings Act violation have been lodged against the Frederick County commissioners for their closed-session vote on a $200,000 grant repayment. The submissions to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board claim that the decisions should have happened in the open because they relate to public business. Middletown resident Sonja Sperlich wrote one of the complaints, and The Frederick News-Post submitted the other. County commissioners voted Sept. 5 to send the $200,000 check with a letter to the state in order to facilitate the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Sperlich’s letter references several portions of state law to bolster her argument that commissioners breached the Open Meetings Act. The law’s intent is to ensure that “except in special and appropriate circumstances, public business be performed in an open and public manner and citizens be allowed to observe the performance, deliberations and decisions of the BOCC,” Sperlich, former chairwoman of the Citizens board of trustees, wrote in her complaint.

County hears input on transportation priorities

Frederick News Post
Kelsi Loos
09/23/2013
County staff members and representatives from the State Highway Administration met with the commissioners last week to go over transportation priorities for Frederick County. Transportation projects tend to develop slowly, so many of the items on the county priorities list were carried over from earlier years. The overall top priority remains widening U.S. 15 between I-70 and Md. 26. However, three key changes were made possible by state funding. Planners secured construction funding for the U.S. 15, Monocacy Boulevard interchange and a streetscape project on Main Street (Md. 144) in New Market. Streetscapes generally involve improving or adding sidewalks and upgrading roadways to make them more navigable.

No success for secession

Frederick News Post
09/14/2013
The last time a state was able to successfully break away from another was West Virginia after pro-North residents split from Virginia more than 150 years ago. But that hasn’t stopped others in recent years from trying in other states such as Colorado, Michigan and California. And now there’s another campaign afoot in Maryland — this time with the state’s five westernmost counties, including Frederick. The five counties, which also include Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Carroll, have a majority of registered Republicans in a heavily Democratic state. To say this is an uphill battle is an understatement. There’s virtually no chance this is going to be successful, and we’ll tell you why in a minute.

New data shows Frederick is growing, city remains more diverse

Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson and Kelsi Loos
09/19/2013
Moving to Frederick was pure economics for the Hughes family. “Honestly, the rent was a lot cheaper here,” said Shontez Hughes, who moved with his wife and two children to Frederick in January after considering Montgomery County, where he works. The Hugheses, an African-American family, are part of the city’s diversifying population. As more people move into Frederick County, the area is increasingly becoming a melting pot — especially the city, according to data released today in the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. Frederick County’s population grew by 2,837 from 2011 to 2012, to 239,582 people. Frederick city’s population grew 225 residents, to 66,390, according to the data. In the last five years, from 2007 to 2012, nearly 15,000 people have moved into the county and nearly 5,000 people have moved into the city. The community survey data is less accurate than data from the U.S. Census, and the margin of error can be higher than 5 percentage points in some categories. In the city, one in every threeresidents is now a minority, about 33.4 percent of residents, according to the data. Step outside the city limits, however, and the diversity diminishes. About eight in every 10 county residents are white, or about 81.6 percent of residents, the data states.

Planning commission OKs plan for 147-home Libertytown project

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/14/2013
A plan for 147 new homes in Libertytown has area residents talking about the need for a global look at development in the area. The concept plan for the Mill Creek development, situated on about 66 acres along Jones Road and north of Green Valley Road, won approval Friday from the Frederick County Planning Commission. The project that began in the early 1990s has faced numerous hurdles over the years, but it is finally gaining steam, said Ed Wormald, who represented the developer and landowner. However, three neighbors of the proposed project are wary of moving forward too quickly. Many of the roads leading to the subdivision are narrow and rural, and Rustin Gallagher, one of the residents, said they should be improved before more cars are added. Traffic accidents on these roads have already claimed lives, he said. "Mike Fink was killed right there," he said, pointing to a road on the map of Mill Creek. Fink died in a January 2012 collision with a tractor-trailer on Md. 75 near Jones Road.

Green acres, not greenbacks

Frederick News Post
Chuck Honse
09/04/2013
The Monrovia and Green Valley areas are about to change. The folks living there are about to lose the lifestyle for which they moved into the area — lots of green space instead of blacktop and concrete; lots of peace and quiet instead of the sounds of traffic and emergency equipment; lots of fresh country air, the smell of freshly cut grass and hayfields instead of the fumes generated by huge volumes of traffic; lots of peaceful living instead of living in fear of increased crime, which is often the result of densely populated areas; lots of space around their homes instead of having to listen to their neighbor snoring, sneezing or their radio/TV program; lots of sounds of children at play in their spacious backyards, birds chirping and singing instead of the sounds of honking horns and screaming sirens. Head puppeteer Blaine Young and his three puppets (Billy Shreve, C. Paul Smith, Kirby Delauter) are about to change it all.

Citizens and Montevue's $200,000 sticking point

Frederick News Post
08/25/13
On Wednesday, Commissioners President Blaine Young got to feel what it's like for many who stand on the podium across from him -- he was overruled. Young was in Annapolis alongside other county officials for a Board of Public Works hearing on the county's $30 million sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living to Aurora Health Management, a move that will ultimately privatize the two senior care homes, taking them out of public hands and ending close to two centuries of publicly supported care. The board, made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, didn't go Young's way. The sticking point was the state's investment of $200,000 -- later revised to $191,000 -- for the construction of the two centers. Those grants give the BPW a say in the disposition of Citizens and Montevue. Instead, because of two lawsuits pending against the county commissioners, and despite Young's grandstanding flourish of a $200,000 check while at the hearing's podium, the board voted to delay the sale until two lawsuits brought by opponents are resolved.

Citizens and Montevue’s $200,000 sticking point

Frederick News Post
08/25/13
On Wednesday, Commissioners President Blaine Young got to feel what it's like for many who stand on the podium across from him -- he was overruled. Young was in Annapolis alongside other county officials for a Board of Public Works hearing on the county's $30 million sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living to Aurora Health Management, a move that will ultimately privatize the two senior care homes, taking them out of public hands and ending close to two centuries of publicly supported care. The board, made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, didn't go Young's way. The sticking point was the state's investment of $200,000 -- later revised to $191,000 -- for the construction of the two centers. Those grants give the BPW a say in the disposition of Citizens and Montevue. Instead, because of two lawsuits pending against the county commissioners, and despite Young's grandstanding flourish of a $200,000 check while at the hearing's podium, the board voted to delay the sale until two lawsuits brought by opponents are resolved.

Blaine Young bows out of governor’s race

Frederick News Post
Daniel J. Gross
08/25/13
Blaine Young's eyes are no longer set on Maryland's top seat. The Frederick County commissioner's president announced he would not run for governor during Frederick's eighth annual FUNomenon, a daylong fundraiser for the Patty Pollatos Fund at the Frederick Fairgrounds. Instead, he offered supporters a glimpse of him becoming Frederick County's first county executive and also endorsed Charles Lollar for governor, saying Lollar had a better shot in the general election. The Marine and Charles County businessman, who attended Saturday's event, was a candidate in 2010 for Maryland's 5th Congressional District but lost to incumbent Steny Hoyer. Young first announced he would explore a bid for the governor's seat in May. Upon soliciting opinions and contributions from Frederick County residents, Young said in a speech Saturday he had gathered $500,000 from 1,500 contributors. He offered refund checks to those who have donated to his campaign. Polling data suggested he had a chance of gaining the GOP nomination but a "slim to none" chance of winning in the general election, he said.

Blaine Young bows out of governor's race

Frederick News Post
Daniel J. Gross
08/25/13
Blaine Young's eyes are no longer set on Maryland's top seat. The Frederick County commissioner's president announced he would not run for governor during Frederick's eighth annual FUNomenon, a daylong fundraiser for the Patty Pollatos Fund at the Frederick Fairgrounds. Instead, he offered supporters a glimpse of him becoming Frederick County's first county executive and also endorsed Charles Lollar for governor, saying Lollar had a better shot in the general election. The Marine and Charles County businessman, who attended Saturday's event, was a candidate in 2010 for Maryland's 5th Congressional District but lost to incumbent Steny Hoyer. Young first announced he would explore a bid for the governor's seat in May. Upon soliciting opinions and contributions from Frederick County residents, Young said in a speech Saturday he had gathered $500,000 from 1,500 contributors. He offered refund checks to those who have donated to his campaign. Polling data suggested he had a chance of gaining the GOP nomination but a "slim to none" chance of winning in the general election, he said.

Violating the Open Meetings Act is no laughing matter

Frederick News Post
08/24/13
When is a quorum, not a quorum? Don't waste your time asking Frederick County Commissioner Kirby Delauter that question. Judging by his reaction of last week's unfavorable opinion by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board he's "not going to lose any sleep on it." Not to be outdone, Commissioner Billy Shreve told Frederick News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers, after learning about the ruling, that the compliance board's decision won't change his approach to talking about county issues. What we find troubling is that it's this kind of arrogance and disrespect for government transparency that continues to be the hallmark of the majority of this current board of commissioners. In case you missed it, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled last week that three commissioners, including Delauter and Shreve, violated the state's Open Meetings Act when they talked about the pending sale of two county-owned facilities on a local radio program on June 15.

Frederick County commissioners OK taxi voucher program

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/23/13
Frederick County commissioners Thursday gave their approval to a taxi voucher program that will supplement local transit services but won’t offer expanded hours. Officials for months have looked at using taxis to accommodate more riders with TransIT-plus, a service that provides reduced-cost transportation to senior citizens and people with disabilities. At Thursday’s board meeting, commissioners weighed in on the design and scope of a two-year voucher program set to start in 2014. The pilot will provide TransIT-plus riders with prepaid vouchers for paying their taxi fares.

County to consider letting farmers sell growth rights

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/21/2013
Owners of agricultural land in Frederick County might eventually bring to market their development rights as well as their farm produce. A nine-person work group has formed to consider allowing farmers to sell their property’s growth potential to land owners elsewhere in the county. A transfer of development rights program would allow farmers to drum up cash without selling off their land piece-by-piece, supporters of the idea said. “My goal is to give the farmer more tools in the toolbox to keep their farms working farms because, really, their land is their 401(k),” Commissioners President Blaine Young said. “So what this allows them to do is basically access their 401(k) by selling their development rights.” It can also be used for conservation. The county has preserved thousands of acres through purchase programs, but these initiatives rely on a limited pool of taxpayer funding. Creating a TDR program could leverage private dollars for the same purpose. The programs are a way of decoupling development rights from a property and treating them as a separate commodity.

Frederick County gets a reputation for mean

Lovely vistas, destination dining and a hard line on undocumented workers
Baltimore Sun
Dan Rodricks
08/14/2013
A smart, progressive event gets under way in Frederick County in about a week — a farm-to-fork promotion in 13 restaurants there. Starting Aug. 23, the participating establishments will offer home-grown food and wine; they'll buy enough products from county farmers and vintners to make their menus 60 percent local. That's an oh-so-trendy concept and at the same time old-fashioned, a throwback to the days when chefs bought their meats and produce out the back door. Farm-to-Fork Frederick gets chefs acquainted with local farmers, and it challenges locavores to put their money where their mouths have been — demanding regionalization of the food supply. So people who want to see more local (and organic) produce, fish and meats on the menus of their favorite restaurants ought to get out to Frederick between Aug. 23 and Labor Day to support the effort. That is, of course, unless you have a problem with Frederick County — or, to be more exact, with the people who run Frederick County, the Board of County Commissioners and the sheriff. The president of the commissioners, Blaine Young, has boasted that Frederick is the Maryland county "most unfriendly to illegal aliens."

Frederick leaders consider city’s role in incinerator project

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/13/2013
Questions about the county’s waste-to-energy project are starting to smolder among officials in the city of Frederick. Though most decisions about the incinerator project have happened at the county level, at least two aldermen believe city leaders have a role to play. In an email sent to fellow board members last week, Alderwoman Karen Young recommended calling an optional evening meeting to hear from both sides of the debate over the incinerator. “I do believe that this is a City issue because City participation will be needed to make this project viable. In addition, if it is a major concern to our residents, then it becomes a City issue,” she wrote. Her email came in response to a message from an incinerator opponent who had detailed his concerns about the project and urged the aldermen to look into it more deeply.

Frederick leaders consider city's role in incinerator project

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/13/2013
Questions about the county’s waste-to-energy project are starting to smolder among officials in the city of Frederick. Though most decisions about the incinerator project have happened at the county level, at least two aldermen believe city leaders have a role to play. In an email sent to fellow board members last week, Alderwoman Karen Young recommended calling an optional evening meeting to hear from both sides of the debate over the incinerator. “I do believe that this is a City issue because City participation will be needed to make this project viable. In addition, if it is a major concern to our residents, then it becomes a City issue,” she wrote. Her email came in response to a message from an incinerator opponent who had detailed his concerns about the project and urged the aldermen to look into it more deeply.

Gardner leaves job at Mikulski's office and mulls future

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/09/2013
Former County Commissioner Jan Gardner has left her job as state director for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. As the first-ever race for Frederick County executive nears, what could be next for her? Reached by phone this week, Gardner said she's taking some time to think about her future, but declined to give any clues about whether an elected office is on her mind. She did acknowledge that many people are urging her to run for county executive in 2014. "If anybody ... tells you you've done a good job and says they'd like you to do it again, I think that's always flattering, certainly," she said. Gardner, a Democrat, joined Mikuslki's office shortly after the end of her term as commissioners president. Her last day as the senator's state director was in July, she said. With the buzz that Gardner is looking at the executive race, some see a potential match of the political heavyweights brewing between her and Commissioners President Blaine Young. On Thursday, Young, who has said he is open to a Republican bid for Frederick County executive, said Gardner's entrance into the race would nudge him toward joining it himself. "People say that she's the leader of one philosophy, and I'm the leader of the other philosophy. … Some would would like to see that competition take place," he said.

Gardner leaves job at Mikulski’s office and mulls future

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/09/2013
Former County Commissioner Jan Gardner has left her job as state director for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. As the first-ever race for Frederick County executive nears, what could be next for her? Reached by phone this week, Gardner said she's taking some time to think about her future, but declined to give any clues about whether an elected office is on her mind. She did acknowledge that many people are urging her to run for county executive in 2014. "If anybody ... tells you you've done a good job and says they'd like you to do it again, I think that's always flattering, certainly," she said. Gardner, a Democrat, joined Mikuslki's office shortly after the end of her term as commissioners president. Her last day as the senator's state director was in July, she said. With the buzz that Gardner is looking at the executive race, some see a potential match of the political heavyweights brewing between her and Commissioners President Blaine Young. On Thursday, Young, who has said he is open to a Republican bid for Frederick County executive, said Gardner's entrance into the race would nudge him toward joining it himself. "People say that she's the leader of one philosophy, and I'm the leader of the other philosophy. … Some would would like to see that competition take place," he said.

Petitioning change

Frederick News Post
08/08/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young is dismissive of their value, saying no local petition has changed his mind on any important question. He mentions two hot-button issues — the proposed waste-to-energy incinerator and education funding — as examples. Commissioner Billy Shreve is of the same mind, especially when he receives a form letter from an online petition site such as Change.org, which anyone can weigh in on. Says Shreve, “If I get a letter from someone in Australia, I pay zero attention to it.” But for average citizens, petitions can be a means to express their displeasure with local government and its decisions, and the simple act of doing so can be rewarding. While the effort may not succeed, there is value in it for those who participate. Frederick resident Ed Hinde, who promoted an online petition to recall Young, admits that he’d be hard-pressed to name any petition drive that’s had an effect on the commissioners. But he says, “I think the ones I’ve participated in are a venting of public angst. The basic premise is getting people educated and engaged.” Hinde makes a good point.

Below the belt

Frederick News Post
Glen and Gloria Dunham
08/08/2013
My wife and I are among the many in southeast Frederick County opposing the two massive developments, Lansdale and Monrovia Town Center, which Blaine Young and his Board of Frederick County Commissioners voting bloc so adamantly supports. We have written to the commissioners. To their credit, we received replies, but they clearly did not consider our argument that Frederick County currently has a dozen municipalities wanting growth, and that future growth should be within those boundaries instead of creating a brand-new townhouse city on beautiful farmland.