Name: John Distel
Political party: Republican
Where you live: Westview South/Ballenger Creek
Current occupation and employers (may also list up to two previous jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Current: Montgomery County Department of Police, sergeant, Internal Affairs Division. Current: Ashcraft and Gerel, LLP, associate attorney, Worker's Compensation Division. U.S. Army and Maryland Army National Guard, 1996 to 2004
Political experience (public offices held and when; as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years; do not include political party positions): I have never been a candidate for office.
1 – Why are you running for the County Council? (75 words max)
I am running for County Council because we are witnessing firsthand what happens when elected officials make decisions based upon emotional outcry as opposed to facts. Some members on the County Council are tone deaf when approached with a solution that defies their party’s ideology. I am a pragmatist and use a deliberate thought process coupled with facts to come to a decision, not my emotions. This is needed in government more than ever!
2 – What is the most important issue in this race? How specifically would you address it? (100 words max)
The budget first and foremost. The county’s budget has increased every year since we moved to the charter-style government. We need to return to the constant yield and trim the county budget accordingly. It all begins with auditing the budget once it comes from each county agency and their justifications for their projected budgets. One legislative fix is initiating a cap on budget increases. I believe the average increase has been about 10% the past few years. We cannot sustain these increases, as they will only lead to tax increases on the citizens.
3 – What experience (work, political or other) has prepared you to hold this position? (100 words max)
I have been a public servant in some form my entire adult life. First, as a soldier. Second, as a police officer. Each phase of my life has prepared me for this role. The military and the police department taught me leadership and the ability to think outside the box for proper solutions when one isn’t readily at hand. Passion and zealotry have replaced facts in government. As an attorney, I am required to research what I do not know. This leads to deliberative decision-making, which seems lost in government these days. This would be a welcome change.
4 – What is one major issue the current County Council has handled poorly? What would you have done differently? (100 words max)
There were several issues the County Council could have handled better (Police Accountability Board requirements come to mind). However, the recent vote on keeping the property tax rate at $1.06 per $1,000 as opposed to lowering it to $1.02 per $1,000. That may affect the overall budget and create a "shortfall," but some things are more pressing than others. Citizens are being beaten down by inflation, rising fuel and grocery prices. While parks and libraries are nice to build, when people can’t pay their rent/mortgage, pet projects should wait.
5 – What do you think of the county's goal of preserving 100,000 acres of farmland by 2040? (100 words max)
There is no reason we cannot achieve this benchmark and potentially surpass this number. Part of this can be accomplished by carefully managing our county’s growth. Frederick County is a key component in the state’s agricultural economy. This preservation project will affect my district directly. Taking care of our farmers is extremely important to the county’s economy. More needs to be done to ensure that happens!
6 – How well does the county do at attracting new businesses and significant employers? What should the county do? (100 words max)
I believe the Chamber of Commerce and Office of Economic Development are performing well in this area. However, the county needs to look at all avenues to encourage new businesses and large employers to our county. We still don’t know the "why" as to how the Amazon deal soured. I would like to see more outreach to veteran-owned small businesses, woman-owned small businesses, and minority-owned small businesses. We are seeing far too many chain/franchise type businesses in the area. While that’s the nature of business, offering grants/tax credits to these small businesses would encourage them to open.
7 – What do you think of the Livable Frederick Master Plan? How should the county grow in population and development? (100 words max)
The Livable Frederick Plan provides a unique way of thinking about growth, but it fails to address the "where" should we grow piece. Zoning changes are going to be necessary. Overpopulating New Market, Urbana, Brunswick, and Ballenger Creek does not seem to be the idea we as a community are looking for where "smart growth" is concerned. Prior to further development, a plan needs to be in place on how to handle the new population instead of the current model of throwing up mega-communities with no supporting infrastructure.
8 – Do you support a plan to widen interstates 270 and 495 and add tolls? Why or why not? (100 words max)
We were 10 years behind the eight ball on traffic management five years ago and I-270/495 are one part of a multifaceted problem. I would not support toll roads in any fashion. Especially when it has been shown the vendors are reaping the benefits of the generated revenue. I would support a plan to widen I-270 if toll roads were not part of the equation in any manner. If this is the only fix, we would be placing a Band-Aid on a proverbial arterial bleed.
9 – How well is the county caring for a rapidly growing population of older residents? How would you address future needs? (100 words max)
One way we could better care for our aging community is to make it much more attractive to remain here once people retire. Homeowners over 65 should be provided a tax break up to $500 (income dependent) on their property tax. Work with state and federal legislators to amend the tax codes in order to provide tax credits for seniors using home care as opposed to in-patient nursing homes.
10 – Has the county spent its money wisely? Give specific examples. (100 words max)
Not necessarily. While it was nice of the council to return $175 of my tax dollars, not every homeowner saw this refund. It should have applied to all homeowners. If that meant we received less, so be it. While it’s nice to build parks and libraries, we cannot forget to fully fund public safety. More fiscal oversight is necessary by the County Council. Stop flushing money away when we could help taxpayers first.