With less than two months remaining until the general election in November, 13 of the 15 candidates on the ballot for County Council positions gave their views on growth and county government at a forum Tuesday.
The forum, which was sponsored by the Frederick County Building Industry Association and the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, presented a series of questions with yes or no answers to each candidate before presenting candidates from each district with narrative questions allowing a two-minute answer.
C ouncil at-large
Four of the five candidates in the at-large race spoke to the creation of a charter review committee and what charter changes they would support implementing.
Phil Dacey (R) cautioned that all charter amendments will have to be put to a referendum in four years, but that he would like to give the council more authority in the budgeting process. He added that he would advocate for several different viewpoints on the charter review committee.
“Charter government is something we all have to live with here in Frederick County, so everybody in the county should feel like they have a voice and representation in changing the charter,” Dacey said.
Kai Hagen (D), who said he opposed the original charter when it was written, said the charter could be improved in several ways, including giving the council more authority and flexibility in the budgeting process. He added that the county could improve on how the district maps are drawn to avoid partisan redistricting.
“We need to find a good process with a good consensus and make a good case for those things that most people can agree about,” Hagen said.
The council should be more of a separate entity from the county executive, said Democratic candidate Susan Reeder Jessee. She also said that moving County Council meetings to later in the day could increase public input.
She advocated for members of the business community and residents with less political bias to be part of the charter review committee.
“It needs to be a diverse group of voices,” she said.
Current Council President Bud Otis (unaffiliated) lauded the current charter as a “good road map to get started,” and stressed the need to work together with the executive branch. He added that the council should have more input on the budget.
The charter has encouraged involvement from the public due to district representation, Otis said.
“I think, sure, we could do more with the budget,” Otis said. “But, by and large, I think it’s been a good process. I’d like to see a broad section of people sit down and look at the charter again.”
Danny Farrar, the second Republican in the race, did not attend the forum because he visited the Pentagon for a Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony.
C ouncil District 1
Council incumbent Jerry Donald (D) and Republican Kevin Grubb each addressed the funding priorities for their district, which covers southwestern parts of the county extending from Middletown into parts of Urbana.
Donald expressed the need to work toward a long-term solution for solid waste and address school crowding. He also advocated to fully fund bikeway projects that were included in the county’s recently passed bikeways and trails master plan.
“We need a long-term solution as a funding mechanism to deal with our path and bikeways long term,” Donald said.
Grubb cautioned that he would need to see how much is allocated in the budget before he determines the priorities for which he wants to advocate. But he said that his top three priorities are schools, roads and public safety.
“Your priorities will change year to year based on what’s needed, so it’s difficult to say what you’d ask for next year when you haven’t seen ... how much money is coming in,” Grubb said.
C ouncil District 2
Steve McKay (R) and Lisa Jarosinski (D) addressed making the county more business friendly, with McKay saying he hears anecdotally about overregulation of business owners in the county.
He proposed deeper evaluation of the county’s regulations for businesses to determine what the County Council can do to encourage and foster more businesses.
“It’s very easy to take a broad hand-waving approach, but what particularly are the issues?” McKay said. “Is it about fees? In terms of excessive fees that make it difficult. Is it about other regulatory structures? I want to actually learn what those concerns are and how we can address them.”
Jarosinski echoed McKay’s sentiments, stating that all businesses in the county are important and the county needs to collaborate with those businesses to make them feel welcome.
“We need all workers in our economy,” she said. “We need lawyers. We need doctors. We need trash collectors. We need tradespeople. We need all parts of our economy.”
After the forum, Tony Chmelik, who registered as an official write-in candidate for the council race in District 2, received three minutes to speak. Chmelik highlighted school construction and roads as his main priorities, saying the county needs to work closely with developers to build roads and schools “at today’s dollar” rather than at inflated costs in the future.
C ouncil District 3
Council incumbent M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and challenger Joe Parsley (R) each proposed the one piece of legislation they would introduce on their first day in office if they knew they had support.
Parsley said he would alter the fee structure placed on businesses and builders, because it has attacked one industry in particular — the building industry. He said he would like to see the funds that builders are tasked with providing come from a “more general” source.
“For us to grow as a county and be successful, we cannot malign one industry,” Parsley said.
Keegan-Ayer said she would revisit legislation that passed in May which allows solar arrays on agricultural land if the solar array is 75 acres or less and on certain parts of agricultural land.
Keegan-Ayer said the bill does not allow enough land for companies to get a big enough foothold in the county.
“Since that was an issue I dealt with extensively in the last term, I think that’s something I would be interested in looking at again,” Keegan-Ayer said.
C ouncil District 4
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) expressed her support for Livable Frederick, the county’s comprehensive master plan.
She credited the holistic approach to planning for the county, noting that because it’s so different, it probably caused some trepidation among county residents.
“This is a big deal for Frederick County,” Fitzwater said. “So, in my opinion, this is something that we should be taking slow, and do it right. I don’t think it’s something that we should be rushing through.”
Jimmy Trout (R) disagreed, likening it to the Monocacy Scenic River Plan — an update to a plan approved in 1990 that makes recommendations for land use along the river to protect its water quality, natural resources, recreation and heritage.
“I don’t like either one of them,” Trout said. “I throw them both away and start all over from scratch.”
Trout said he would like to have central committees from both parties and have them appoint residents to form a bipartisan board to redo both of the plans.
C ouncil District 5
Michael Blue (R), who is a small-business owner, said he would like to evaluate regulations for business owners to ensure they’re fair to potential incoming businesses.
“We compete with adjacent counties for employment and possibilities that come along with development,” Blue said. “We need to make sure we’re offering business-friendly policies that will entice businesses to come to Frederick.”
Blue’s opponent, Shannon Bohrer (D), could not attend the event due to a previous commitment.