After hours of debate at past meetings over issues like bill-drafting protocol and legislative definitions, the Frederick County Council passed an amended Rules of Procedure with just over one minute of discussion on Tuesday.

It was just enough time to consider one final recommended change to the rules by Councilman Jerry Donald: that the council go cellphone-free on the dais.

“My thought was — and I’m guilty of this — we do use cellphones. We look at cellphones. You interested in going cellphone-free up here?” he said, looking around at his fellow council members. “Could we just hand ’em all over to Ragen [Cherney, the council’s chief of staff] and get them back at the end of the meeting?”

His suggestion was met with skepticism.

“Why don’t we just use rice paper?” Councilman Billy Shreve quipped.

“You can use rice paper,” Donald responded.

Donald said he thought of the possible rule last-minute, and wanted the council to consider it as a way to improve communication between council members.

“It was just simply a thought that maybe we could go cellphone-free up here and listen to each other,” Donald said.

Council members sit behind a raised bench, so it’s difficult to see if they’re looking at their phones during meetings. Donald wouldn’t say if any specific problems prompted his proposal.

Councilman Tony Chmelik — perhaps airing some family business — responded that he’d just taken away one of his children’s cellphones earlier that day.

“Well, you can give up both of them then,” Donald joked.

Ultimately, the council decided to chew on Donald’s request for a while, before voting 5-2 to let other procedural changes take effect, such as changing the council’s procedure for public comments and scaling back the role of treasurer.

Shreve and Councilman Kirby Delauter voted against the final version of the rules.

Communication breakdown

Speaking of telephones, Delauter also said this week that he’s continually upset with what he calls hurdles council members have to jump over to talk with county staff members.

Essentially, council members forward questions to Cherney, who forwards them to County Executive Jan Gardner’s chief administrative officer, Doug Browning, who directs questions to the appropriate staff person.

“To me, it’s ridiculous to go through that process to talk to people because it can take two or three days,” Delauter said.

He said his intention is speed, not to interfere with county governance.

“I don’t want to tell [staff members] they can or can’t do something. I just want them to give me an answer,” he said.

To show his frustration, Delauter forwarded me an email last week in which a staff member at the county’s Office of Economic Development redirected his questions, on behalf of FSK Holiday Inn owner Randy Cohen, to Browning.

Delauter responded angrily.

“That’s total Bullshit………….but then again,” Delauter wrote back. “I’ll have Randy contact you directly since as an elected official we get treated like third graders from the worthless CE,” referring to the county executive.

He then suggested that Cohen contact the employee — who was copied on the email — directly.

“I don’t have the time to spend to go thru the layers of bureaucratic bullshit that CE Gardner has put in place,” Delauter wrote.

Gardner, who was not included on the emails, said Thursday that Delauter’s response was “over the top.”

She learned about the exchange only after the message was forwarded through county staff members and back to her. Gardner said the employee redirected Delauter’s questions because he was not involved in the issue Delauter sought information about and was not a division director or department head, to whom questions are usually directed.

Gardner said the process for handling constituent service emails was set up between her staff members and the council’s staff members.

Gardner said the executive and legislative branch staffs worked together to create the system, so staff members wouldn’t be overwhelmed by seven separate requests from each council member on one constituent issue.

“It’s absolutely not impossible for them to talk to county staff. This whole focus is about constituent service,” Gardner said, adding that a high percentage of questions get a response within a day. “... I think the system is working for the majority of council members.”

Donald said he agreed that the system works without difficulty when he’s had to forward such concerns.

“We have issues, but to me, this isn’t one of them,” he said, adding that a streamlined process helps council members address constituent problems quickly.

One helping of crow

In an unrelated chain of emails forwarded to The Frederick News-Post this week, Shreve and Delauter expressed disappointment not only with county government policies, but also the form of county government entirely.

Republican Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who was copied on the multiple email messages, suggested that the councilmen and others “push a movement to go back to the County Commissioner form of government. It worked!”

When another person on the email list suggested that a lot of Republicans who supported charter government before Gardner, a Democrat, took office would have to “eat crow” to support a reversal, Jenkins responded.

“I have no crow to eat because I predicted it would be [a] total disaster as it is turning out to be,” he wrote. “But wouldn’t everyone choke down a little crow if things could be fixed? Just take a big bite and swallow hard.”

Shreve also wrote that he would favor a repeal.

Delauter said he didn’t vote for charter government and is frequently reminded why, though he’s still considering a run for county executive in 2018.

“If I was county executive, [charter government] would be great …,” Delauter said, before adding that he was joking. “I’m kidding. That’s the form of government we have, so I have to live with it.”

Asked about her reaction to facing Delauter in a possible re-election campaign, Gardner was unfazed.

“If that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine,” she said. “There will be an election in two-and-a-half years. I’m sure there will be a number of people who express interest.”

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.

Danielle E. Gaines covers politics and government in Frederick County, splitting her time between Winchester Hall and The State House. Having grown up in Illinois, she lived in New York and California before settling in Maryland.

(18) comments

BstD59

The only reason Delauter and Shreve wanted a Charter government is because they believed they along with Young would be elected and then so entrenched in their positions they could do whatever they pleased. Now that they have discovered that governing responsibly as proven by the CE and other members of Council is a difficult business they are whining that they want to revert back to the 'way it was'. Jeeze, they are so incredibly transparent.

b1sellers

Delauter responded angrily.
“That’s total Bul!@hit………….but then again,” Delauter wrote back. “I’ll have Randy contact you directly since as an elected official we get treated like third graders from the worthless CE,” referring to the county executive.
He then suggested that Cohen contact the employee — who was copied on the email — directly.
“I don’t have the time to spend to go thru the layers of bureaucratic bul!@hit that CE Gardner has put in place,” Delauter wrote.

The only “Bul!@hit” is coming from Delauter. He should resign – he is an absolute disgrace.

Funny, I copied from the article but couldn’t post because of the “profanity”

hayduke2

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

shiftless88

The classless personal attacks seem to be the desired norm in politics these days. Trump would be proud but I'm embarrassed.

Tigerzord

What a whiny bunch of children (Kirby & Billy) - they have absolutely no respect, decorum or professionalism - they should be kicked out! Putting your phone away for a meeting of any kind is just good manners! I can only imagine how boring it must be to sit up and listen to your constituents during public comment, but isn't that what they were elected to do!!! At least Paul Smith tried to act like he was listening as he tried to keep his eyes open and head from bobbing up and down.

bosco

If they are too busy with other business to put away their cellphone during official meetings, they are obviously too busy to serve the people of Frederick County.

Constantly looking at and/or using your cellphone when meeting with or just visiting others is rude and speaks to character.

When someone does that to me I simply stop talking to them and sit quietly to see how long it takes them to notice.

armillary

Why would Republican Sheriff Chuck Jenkins be complaining about Charter Government? He's getting his brand-new armored vehicle to patrol Hillcrest in. What else does he want, a Texas-style gunboat to cruise our Potomac River border?

hayduke2

In terms of the communication issue it seems that Kirby is really frustrated because every staff member doesn't drop what they are doing to be at his call and beckon. His language and complete lack of professionalism is appalling.

hayduke2

The use of cell phones during a meeting is inexcusable. Many times during the previous BOCC hearings, several members had their eyes on their phones ( including one who responded here ) showing complete disdain for speakers, whether public or staff. I can only assume they were trying for a personal best on Angry Birds, or such.

jthompson

Guilty as charged to the crime of using my laptop on county business (responding to constituent concerns; drafting legislation) during the incessant whining from lobbyists and single issue groups seeking to feed at the public trough or obtain special favors. I once requested to have the County's technology folks broadcast my laptop screen over the County's TV channel for all to see what I was doing. Couldn't get any support for it.

hayduke2

jthompson - I was actually referring to the article when I said "including one who spoke here." Sorry for being nebulous in my post.

armillary


Rocky Mackintosh steered the creation
of our Council for Blaine's coronation
but by Jan he was bested
his character tested
and on trial for solicitation.

hayduke2

Billy and KIrby ( and buddy Chuck ) trying to do everything to overturn Charter government - I'm shocked I tell you. NOT.

armillary

I should have used the word 'Charter' instead of 'Council.' But you get the drift.

BstD59

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

jthompson

There were many purportedly conservative Republicans, who otherwise had no use for government, running around in 2012 touting the virtues and efficiencies "One Man" county government. Had the appearance of a remake of Triump des Willens (1935)

bpsws

Nothing is so important that Council members should be using their cell phones during a meeting. It is disrespectful to other members who are speaking and it distracts them from the business at hand. In an emergency, I'm sure family members would figure out a way to get in touch with them.

Tigerzord

[thumbup]

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