Officials look for legal guidance on outside pay for county executives

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/22/2013
State Sen. David Brinkley said he plans to ask for legal guidance on whether someone who owns a business, collects retirement benefits or earns other private income could serve as Frederick County executive. The Frederick County charter set to take effect next year stipulates that an executive cannot "participate in any private occupation for compensation," and as election season heats up, some are wondering exactly what those words mean. After a meeting with Frederick County commissioners Thursday, Brinkley said he doesn't think the charter writers meant that an executive can't earn any income outside the $95,000 annual salary that comes with the office. "If it was interpreted in the broadest sense, no one would qualify," Brinkley said. "Or at least, I wouldn't want a person in there who has no dividends, interest, retirement or any type of income from any other source. That's just unreasonable." Brinkley began asking questions about the employment restrictions after hearing Commissioners President Blaine Young discuss the issue on his afternoon radio show. Young is considering a run for the county executive post in 2014, but wouldn't relish sacrificing ownership of several businesses.

Proud of citizen involvement

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
11/10/2013
Congratulations to the hundreds of residents from the Monrovia area who have participated in the planning commission public hearings on the proposed Monrovia Town Center. This is “democracy in action.” Citizens have a right to be heard. Monrovia residents are raising their voices loudly but thoughtfully. They have done their homework, raised legitimate issues, asked honest questions and deserve to have their concerns discussed and addressed. I watched the planning commission meeting on Wednesday and was embarrassed and saddened by the mistreatment and rude behavior toward these citizens by the planning commission, specifically during cross-examination. Citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect even if they are presenting an opinion that planning commission members and the developers disagree with. Citizens should be welcome and encouraged to participate in their government. Unfortunately, citizens were ridiculed, shut down mid-sentence, and actively discouraged. I have watched hundreds of public hearings over the past 20 years and have never witnessed such negative treatment of the participating public.

Young describes closed-session votes on Monrovia

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/15/2011
County Commissioners President Blaine Young says if he’d had his way three years ago, the proposed Monrovia Town Center development might be smaller and sit next to a large tract of agriculturally preserved land. To top it off, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the county might not be simmering in federal court, he says. The 1,510-home project now moving through the public hearing process has caused a stir in the Monrovia area, whose residents argue the planned development would overburden their roads and schools. Moreover, some say the opinions of current Monrovia residents haven’t played a significant role in county decisions that will reshape their community. Young asserts that the project has been years in the making, and waves of public officials have targeted the Monrovia area as an appropriate venue for Frederick County’s future growth. The last county board, led by Commissioners President Jan Gardner, missed an opportunity to limit the number of homes in the town center and resolve ongoing litigation against the county, he said. “This could’ve been settled by the previous board,” Young said after describing closed-session votes under the Gardner board. Citizen activists say Young’s descriptions of past closed-door decisions amount to nothing more than blame-shifting. “He’s pointing the finger now, trying to sway people to believe it was other people that put him in this position,” said Amy Reyes, vice president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, a group of town center opponents. According to Young, in the first half of 2010, the commissioners were discussing a $50 million lawsuit filed against the county by the developers, 75-80 Properties LLC and Payne Investments LLC. In a closed session on April 1, 2010, the commissioners talked about allowing between 825 and 875 units on the property as long as the developer agreed to place an agricultural easement on property to the east of Md. 75, Young said. While he and Commissioner Kai Hagen supported making the proffer, Gardner and commissioners John L. “Lennie” Thompson Jr. and David Gray opposed it, he said. Young said the vote shows that even Hagen, who is “always seen as the foremost guru on planning,” recognized that housing growth would come to Monrovia. Hagen doesn’t want to get into a back-and-forth over the details of a closed-session vote, he said, but he doesn’t trust Young’s characterization of the decision. While he was open-minded about the town center project, he ultimately concluded that the local infrastructure wasn’t sufficient to accommodate the development, he said. The proposed town center site was among the areas that lost growth potential under the comprehensive plan adopted by the Gardner board, Hagen noted. Young was the only commissioner to vote against that long-range growth planning document. Hagen added that a closed-session vote on a lawsuit is a far cry from backing a development plan. “(Young) is mischaracterizing a thorough, honest process of gathering information and fully understanding the costs and impacts of the development with vacillating on the issue,” Hagen said.

County considers reducing stream buffer requirement

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/8/2013
Houses might be allowed a little closer to Frederick County streams if officials decide to relax certain water body buffer requirements. On Wednesday, members of the Frederick County Planning Commission will review drafted amendments to the local rules for buffers. The proposed changes would reduce minimum building setbacks, cut down the required study area around bodies of water and remove special rules that apply in the Lake Linganore area. The county is tackling the stream buffer ordinance as it works through a list of suggestions for making the region more friendly to businesses. Dusty Rood, president of the Land Use Council, said the proposed changes are minor and would make the stream buffer rules more compatible with state environmental standards. However, others think the drafted changes would weaken county laws and lead to stream pollution. The current water body buffer ordinance was passed in 2008, under the board led by Commissioners President Jan Gardner, said Tim Goodfellow, principal planner for the county. Before the ordinance was enacted, the minimum setback was only 50 feet, Goodfellow said. Determining proper setbacks now involves looking at the 175-foot slice of land on either side of a stream or surrounding a body of water. The proposed changes would reduce the study area to 150 feet on each side of a stream, Goodfellow said. The studies examine the slope of the land surrounding the water bodies; for areas with predominantly steep slopes, buildings must sit at least 175 feet away from the water. The minimum buffer is 150 feet where slopes are mostly moderate, and for gentle inclines or flat areas, the setback is 100 feet, Goodfellow said.

Jan Gardner on her board’s budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.

Jan Gardner on her board's budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.

Gardner exploring run for county executive, plans first fundraiser

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/07/2013
Former Frederick County Commissioner Jan Gardner has filed to open a candidate committee account and says she is considering a run for county executive. Gardner said she mailed her paperwork to the Maryland State Board of Elections late last week and is already working to organize her first fundraiser. She said she's also planning a series of listening sessions across the county because many in the community feel their voices are not being heard by sitting officials. The 2014 election is a critical one for the county because it marks the shift to a new form of government, she added. "It's really important right now as the county transitions to charter (government) that we have strong leadership in place to make sure that transition goes well, to make sure we have open and ethical government," Gardner said. She said she is "very committed" to a race for executive, but wants to hear from local residents, gauge her support and raise funds before making her final decision. Gardner, a Democrat, served as Frederick County commissioner from December 1998 to December 2010 and from there went to work as a state director for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. She left her post with Mikulski in July.

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.

Facts on county budget, please

Frederick News Post
Bob White
08/04/2013
Enough misdirection is enough! Citizens deserve facts about the county budget, not hazy self-serving propaganda. ... The Young board has cut over 200 fees and taxes — primarily to benefit of the development and building industry. Most county taxpayers will not experience a benefit from these fee reductions. In many instances, there are still county costs to cover development review and inspection of projects. These costs have been shifted to the backs of county taxpayers. This means the taxpayer is now paying for the cost of permits and inspection for development projects that previously have been covered by user fees. The public deserves facts, not fiction about the budget and taxes. Look at your recently mailed property tax bill. Look at the annual county budget summaries. Spending and your tax bills have gone up! I guess this is the Young board just doing what it promised!

Voting history shows power of Young’s bloc

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/21/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says there's no point in denying the existence of a Frederick County voting bloc led by him. "I'm not going to run from the obvious," he says. For many, the four-commissioner alliance becomes particularly obvious during hot-button decisions, such as when the county decided to give up control of the local Head Start program. When officials approved an overhaul of fire and rescue funding. And when they sealed the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Commissioner David Gray has been a voice of dissent from his seat on the panel's right flank, but in each of these decisions, he has been alone. From their first motion more than two-and-a-half years ago to the June 25 hearing on the future of Citizens and Montevue, the commissioners have cast 1,273 votes. The bulk of those, more than two-thirds, were unanimous decisions, many about routine issues. But Gray has been in the minority for almost 78 percent of the split votes and has acted as the sole dissenter in 269 of the decisions.

Voting history shows power of Young's bloc

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/21/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says there's no point in denying the existence of a Frederick County voting bloc led by him. "I'm not going to run from the obvious," he says. For many, the four-commissioner alliance becomes particularly obvious during hot-button decisions, such as when the county decided to give up control of the local Head Start program. When officials approved an overhaul of fire and rescue funding. And when they sealed the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Commissioner David Gray has been a voice of dissent from his seat on the panel's right flank, but in each of these decisions, he has been alone. From their first motion more than two-and-a-half years ago to the June 25 hearing on the future of Citizens and Montevue, the commissioners have cast 1,273 votes. The bulk of those, more than two-thirds, were unanimous decisions, many about routine issues. But Gray has been in the minority for almost 78 percent of the split votes and has acted as the sole dissenter in 269 of the decisions.

Clagett questions state on land use

Involvement in local growth a concern
Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers and Pete McCarthy
07/05/2012
A late May letter from the Maryland Department of Planning -- which took issue with Frederick County officials for not giving the public enough time to digest proposed changes to the county's comprehensive plan -- spurred Delegate Galen Clagett to jump into the mix. In June, he met with the letter writer and another state planning official in Frederick to question them about their typical procedure for getting involved in local matters, especially hotly debated ones like the plan rewrite.

WTE debacle

Frederick News Post
David Herman
06/04/2011
As a Republican, I am outraged that the "fiscally conservative" Board of County Commissioners is moving forward with an oversized, overpriced, unnecessary and polluting incinerator project. At a recent Maryland Department of the Environment informational meeting, the MDE made it clear that industry is on the "honor system" for reporting problems to them. In the case of Wheelabrator, this is not appropriate since it is a serial permit violator and subject of lawsuits by communities. The company simply pays the fines assessed and continues operations as usual while citizens must pay millions to breathe and drink the contamination. While Commissioner Billy Shreve did attend part of the recent MDE meeting, his attention was on his laptop rather than on the discussion. The entire BoCC appears to be asleep, to have not read the contract, and to continue the mistake of the previous board led by Jan Gardner -- who had very little understanding of the financial debt and pollution she was signing us up for.

Residents need the truth about the budget

Gazette
Kai Hagen
03/31/2011
If you have only read Commissioner Blaine Young's spin on past budgets and the budget process, you might think the previous board didn't balance every budget, or that taxes had been raised, or that the new board has been reducing the size of the budget, or that some of the cuts they've made (such as Head Start) were unavoidable. But none of that is true. And Frederick County residents deserve to know the truth

Embracing sustainability

Frederick News Post
Meg Tully
09/27/2010
Frederick County government employees headed to the first of a series of lunchtime "sustainability conversations" expecting to talk about local food

Mooney moves to stop incinerator near battlefield

Frederick News Post
Meg Tully
02/28/2009
Citing the historic nature of the Monocacy National Battlefield, Sen. Alex Mooney introduced legislation Friday that would prohibit building or operating an incinerator within one mile of a national park. His bill comes in reaction to the Frederick County Commissioners' consideration of a site near the battlefield for an incinerator, also known as a waste-to-energy plant, which would burn trash to generate electricity. It could have a smokestack as tall as 350 feet. The commissioners chose the McKinney Industrial Park as a site to take to public hearing this month. The county-owned site is off Buckeystown Pike. "The battlefield is important, it's an important battle," Mooney said. "I'd hate to see a smokestack put up right next to it, detracting from the attractiveness of the location." Known as the "battle that saved Washington," the one-day conflict at Monocacy delayed Confederate troops as they marched unsuccessfully toward the capital in 1864. Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail has objected to the site, saying the smokestack would be visually intrusive. The Civil War Preservation Trust named the battlefield one of the most endangered Civil War sites last year because of the incinerator threat. The commissioners have proposed waste-to-energy as a way to combat the county's growing waste disposal needs. They hope to stop the costly practice of hauling trash to a Virginia landfill. Commissioner Kai Hagen, the only opponent of the incinerator on the board, supports Mooney's bill.

New county plan aims to preserve rural character of Braddock Heights

Frederick News Post
Karen Gardner
12/06/2009
The rural reaches of Braddock Heights would stay that way under a new comprehensive plan being considered by the Frederick County Commissioners. Areas that were targeted for growth under the comprehensive plan passed in 1998 will be scaled back to a designation that will not allow new houses in many areas. If the plan is approved, some people who hoped to sell a portion of their land might not be able to do so. The plan aims to preserve what makes the area desirable, according to Tim Goodfellow, a county planner who worked on the Braddock Heights plan. The county commissioners support the proposed Braddock Heights changes.

Looking ahead to the 2010 commissioners race

Frederick News Post
Meg Tully
11/15/2009
The field could be open in the 2010 Frederick County Commissioners race. Commissioners President Jan Gardner, a Democrat and the top vote-getter in 2006, will not seek another term in that office. "I think three terms is enough," Gardner said. "I think it's time to let some ideas and fresh blood come into it. I haven't decided what I'm going to do next year." Of the five incumbent commissioners, only Commissioner Kai Hagen, a Democrat, has said he will run again, with Republican commissioners David Gray and John L. Thompson Jr. yet to commit. Gray said earlier this year that he will make a decision by April 2010. He could not be reached for an update Friday. Republican Commissioner Charles Jenkins announced in January he is running for the House of Delegates in District 3B, which covers southern Frederick County and part of Washington County. He said last week he still intends on doing so, even though he has yet to file. The potential lack of incumbents in the race makes the field much different than in 2006, when four incumbents ran.

Frederick County commissioners united against annexations

Gazette
Sherry Greenfield
10/09/2009
The Frederick County Commissioners have fought over illegal immigration, haggled over the incinerator and stood divided when it came to government spending. But for what could be the first time in recent history, the five-member board stands united on an issue that has erupted in the county — the City of Frederick's annexation of the Crumland and Thatcher farms, on U.S. Route 15. Regardless of political affiliation and partisan interests, the five stand together in their fight against the annexations.