The majority of Frederick’s Board of Aldermen support holding a second, more public process to chose a new city logo.
The board members’ opinions come just days after an intense backlash over the design announced earlier in the week.
Mayor Michael O’Connor opened Thursday evening’s regular mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting by addressing what he called the “elephant in the room” that was the logo — a stylized lowercase “f” with different colors corresponding to different aspects of the city’s character — and the public’s vocal distaste for both the design and the perceived lack of transparency in choosing the design company and the logo itself. Since the main logo was unveiled in an official city Facebook post July 2, a vocal contingent of upset residents have derided everything from the logo to the $45,000 cost of the design as well as the fact that the city chose a non-local company, Jacksonville, Florida-based North Star, to spearhead the process.
“I will be the first to admit, which is something that you don’t often hear out of political leadership, that mistakes have been made,” O’Connor said. “... If I could change the way that this branding project was rolled out to the community, I certainly would have because there’s been some confusion and there’s certainly been a lot of concerns expressed. And if I could change all that, I absolutely would.”
Despite his acknowledgments, O’Connor stopped short of disavowing the unpopular logo entirely, saying he appreciated the hard work put into the process by city staff and the designer, prompting several members of the Board of Aldermen to question where O’Connor stood on the current logo versus reopening the process to consider another design.
“I presume, based on your comments, we’re staying with that [design],” Alderman Derek Shackelford said during the board’s comment period. “Because one of the solutions that I would offer is to go back to the company in which we do and go through the process again so our citizens are more engaged.”
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak and Alderman Roger Wilson agreed, with Kuzemchak suggesting to the mayor that “the best way to own a mistake is to fix it,” referring to O’Connor’s acknowledgment that mistakes were made and that he was prepared to own them.
Reached for comment Friday, O’Connor said he wasn’t prepared to address whether or not he would support a new process to select a different logo, saying he planned to discuss the topic next week with city staff and those involved in the original branding process.
“I’m planning on sitting down with my internal creative team in a meeting next week, and we’ll see where we sit after that,” O’Connor said.
Addressing the issue on Friday, Wilson expanded on suggestions he made in Thursday’s hearing by advocating for a more public forum, potentially in the form of a contest, to settle on a less divisive logo for the city. Wilson also emphasized the importance of including input from local artists and design companies.
“The city of Frederick is home to many graphic design companies that I’m sure would be more than happy to be part of that process,” Wilson wrote in an email statement to The Frederick News-Post.
A total of 20 companies from around the country submitted proposals to the city during the request for qualifications process, including at least four companies with offices in Frederick, according to information provided by Keisha Brown, the city’s purchasing manager, in an email response to The News-Post’s questions Friday. Each applicant was graded by a selection committee based on several different criteria, including the overall experience of the members of each company’s proposed design team, the project concept and each company’s pricing estimate.
Brown was unable to provide a breakdown of the pricing estimates provided with each submitted application. O’Connor indicated that price may have had something to do with the selection of North Star over a more local company in his comments Thursday.
“We’re constantly striving, whenever we’re spending the public’s money, to do that in a way that is as cost-effective as possible,” O’Connor said.
The city’s selection committee was made up of five city employees: Patti Mullins, the city’s public information coordinator, Mary Ford Naill, manager of the city’s Department of Economic Development, one manager each from the technology and business development divisions and Katie Barkdoll, the city’s budget director, according to Brown’s email.
Not every board member addressed the city’s branding effort at Thursday’s hearing, with Alderwoman Kelly Russell and Alderman Ben MacShane choosing not to comment before and after the main hearing.
While Russell was not immediately available for comment Friday, MacShane said he chose not to delve into the matter as he believed the comments from his fellow board members and members of the public had sufficiently addressed the issue. Speaking for himself, MacShane reiterated the points made by Russell and Kuzemchak that members of the Board of Aldermen weren’t active participants in the development of the logo. He added that he was never really convinced of the need for a new logo or branding process in the first place.
“The contract with the vendor did not come before the board for approval, nor did the final product come before the board for approval,” MacShane said. “Clearly now the final product has received overwhelmingly negative feedback from the community, and I see no need in continuing to use this if it’s not something that the city wants to represent them.”
Asked whether he supported a renewed process to obtain more public input into a new design or if he’d favor simply returning to the city’s use of the city seal and stylized text — currently used in place of a logo on business cards and letterhead — MacShane said he would support either option, so long as the will of the majority of residents was respected.
“Sometimes the right thing to do is to cut your losses,” MacShane said. “The mayor’s office pursued a project and bought a product that really has not worked out and the money is sunk now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to double down and refuse to change course if that’s what the public is asking the city to do.”