As the first term of the first-ever Frederick County Council winds down, current members discussed what the governing body was able to accomplish in the last four years, along with challenges facing the next council.
Opinions differed along party lines — some Republicans thought the council was unproductive, while Democrats believed they were able to accomplish many objectives.
The one unaffiliated member, council President Bud Otis, noted that organizing the county’s first-ever County Council was a tricky task. He added that strengthening ethics laws in the county was a highlight.
“Ethics, that needed to be redone,” Otis said. “I saw things that needed to be corrected, and we did. ... The lines were not real clear as far as who could do what as far as doing business with the county if you’re an elected official. I wanted to make sure that was clearly defined.”
Otis said another accomplishment was that the council passed a budget all four years. That was also an accomplishment noted by Councilman Jerry Donald (D).
“I know that sounds kind of simple, but we have a pretty short turnaround time on it,” Donald said of passing the budget each year. “And we managed to do it while we kept our bond rating up at a AAA” — the highest possible rating.
Some council members, however, didn’t think the council accomplished much, if anything at all.
That included Republican Councilman Billy Shreve.
“It pretty much was a waste of time over the last four years,” said Shreve, who will not return to the board. “The county executive did not allow the council to operate independently, so we’re no further along as a government than we were on day one.”
The next County Council needs to be more independent of the county executive, he said, in order to research and draft legislation.
Fellow Republican Councilman Kirby Delauter sided with Shreve.
Delauter noted school construction fees and maintaining adequate fire and rescue services as key challenges moving forward.
“When I was on the [previous] Board of County Commissioners, we got more done in one year than this council got done in four,” he said. “This council has been a lame-duck council the entire time.”
Donald and M.C. Keegan-Ayer, however, listed several accomplishments over the past four years: a senior tax credit bill, bringing the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center of Frederick and Montevue Assisted Living facilities back to county control, a new salary scale for the county’s teachers, new elementary schools, all done without raising property tax rates countywide.
“I don’t think it’s any one thing that stands out,” said Keegan-Ayer, the District 3 councilwoman, about the council’s accomplishments. “I think it’s more of a group, a majority of the council working collaboratively with the county executive.”
She added that chemistry between the new council members will be a central challenge moving forward.
“I think anytime you have a new group of people, you also have different personalities,” Keegan-Ayer said. “We all have to find out how we fit together as a group, and how we’re going to work together as a group, to get things accomplished. ... You don’t get seven shrinking violets who will run for County Council.”
The remaining council members, District 2 Councilman Tony Chmelik (R) and District 4 Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D), could not be reached for comment via a phone call or email.
Republicans and Democrats also differed on how much having a new system of government affected the council’s productivity. Shreve said it shouldn’t have mattered.
“It’s pretty freaking basic,” Shreve said of the new charter government. “The council writes the laws, and the county executive runs the day-to-day operations.”
Donald, however, thought differently.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Donald said of charter government. “I mean, we basically had to change forms of government. And that’s no simple thing, because we had to come up with the rules as we went along in it.”
Election Day is Nov. 6, and will be from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at polling places countywide. Candidates elected to the council will be sworn in Dec. 1.