The Frederick County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to form a commission that will provide the governing body with recommendations for supporting small businesses.
The council will now appoint to the commission eight members from seven different county entities.
The appointees, who will serve three-year terms, will be a voice for small businesses on legislative matters in the county and will compile annual recommendations to present to the council, according to the proposal's supporters.
Small businesses are the “economic engine that drives Frederick County,” bill sponsor Phil Dacey (R) said, and the commission will be a “way to recognize the role” these businesses play in the county.
The pandemic highlighted a need for assembling a body to represent small businesses in front of the council, Dacey said.
While serving on the county’s board of health, council members didn’t have a way to directly involve small businesses in discussions about pandemic restrictions, which affected the business community, Dacey added.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) echoed this during Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I think that the council’s role on the board of health really did show that there were areas that sometimes the council is not as informed as they could be when they’re making rulings,” she said.
Keegan-Ayer said she spoke with business owners in her district to remain informed about how the board’s decisions would impact the businesses.
While she doesn’t necessarily agree with Dacey’s rationale, she understands — as a retiree who has more free time than council members who work other jobs — the benefits of an advisory commission.
The commission will advise the council on how best to assist small businesses in applying for federal funding during times of state or national emergency, Dacey said, though the commission will continue to be a voice for businesses post-pandemic.
The business group will be the first commission under the county’s new charter government that will report solely to and be staffed by the council. Other commissions created since 2014 report to the county executive’s office.
Dacey hopes the commission will serve as a template for creating boards that report only to the council, rather than to the county executive’s office.
“The council has struggled to find independence from the executive branch," Dacey said.
Given the commission’s focus will be on providing legislative recommendations to the council, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said in an email to the News-Post, it “seems entirely appropriate and consistent with our charter” that the commission will report to the council.
Gardner said she regularly touches base with business industry groups amid the pandemic to understand its impact and to offer assistance to those struggling.
“We receive a significant amount of input from our local businesses,” including through a business advisory cabinet, Gardner said of her office.
Keegan-Ayer said Gardner and the council have struck a collaborative relationship and that Gardner has been transparent.
“I don’t know how much independence is necessary, currently,” Keegan-Ayer said.
The council president agreed with Dacey that the commission should serve as a precedent for creating bodies that report directly to the council, should independence from the county executive’s office be more relevant under different leadership.
The commission will meet publicly at least four times per year.