A Rough Start

It looks like our new County Council may be launching at a disadvantage when it comes to an efficient start.

Pre-Pre Meeting Misunderstandings

frederickcountychartercover300wBefore all seven seats were even certain (District 1 had barely had its first absentee count), County Council 2 member-elect Tony Chmelik was out of the gate to organize a meeting without an realization that the Open Meetings Act covers council gatherings, even before swearing in. After a last minute scramble to notify, a reporter from the Frederick News Post, resident Joan Aquilino, and County Attorney John Mathias, who has said that any gathering of the council, even pre-inauguration, must be public, were in the room. Mathias planted himself atop a bookcase to keep an eye on things. The lack of understanding of transparency and open meetings is not an auspicious start for this new form of government.

Bud Otis, who due to his position as highest vote-earned, should be the president or vice president of the council, was opposed to holding it initially for this very reason. Otis didn’t want any part of it, similarly to MC Keegan-Ayer, Council 3 member-elect, nor Jessica Fitzwater, Council 4 member-elect. But all attended, apparently fearing an unfair label of being obstructionist.

Fast forward to the meeting

Current County Manager Lori Depies used the opportunity to distribute an orientation binder put together for the new councilmembers. Reportedly current Commissioner Billy Shreve did not feel he needed any education about any changes in his job description, because not only did he apparently wave away the packet, but announced he had already decided he does not need to attend today’s orientation meeting arranged for the group.

And Did they Come to Learn?

Shreve and current Commissioner Kirby Delauter did not make the meeting, and they will face big challenges, according to the experiences of other communities. Charter Board Chair for Cecil County Government, now a councilmember in her third year, has said that her county’s biggest challenge to a smooth transition to Charter Government in 2012 (Frederick County’s is modeled after theirs) was the difficulty that past commissioners had in adjusting to their new job descriptions as councilmembers. After all, Charter splits in two the past duties of executive (operational) and legislative (policy), and past commissioners have more of a challenge to learn what is NOT in their job description than new councilmembers have, starting at Ground Zero.

Shreve and Delauter, having missed their first opportunity to hear straight up the change in their jobs, will be on a big learning curve.

Let’s hope more open-minded, learning attitudes quickly prevail or it’s going to be a very rocky first year.

This blog entry was originally published here.