The recent dust-up between Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor and Alderman Ben MacShane was viewed with alarm by some city residents. Me? I think it’s a reflection of a healthy governing process.

Don’t get me wrong. Naturally, like most citizens, I’d prefer civility between our elected officials at all times. But civility doesn’t necessarily rule out strident or passionate voices; incivility has more to do with impugning another’s motives or manner instead of focusing on policy differences.

But the topic was fundamental — the respective roles and relative importance of the mayor and Board of Aldermen in carrying out municipal functions and in setting both short-term and long-term policy.

The only thing worse than occasional loud discussions about these questions would be prolonged silence from City Hall. In our form of municipal government, where the mayor effectively operates as city manager in addition to drafting budgets and other policies, we shouldn’t expect the mayor and aldermen to be unanimous in their thinking, despite the fact that all six elected officials wear the same political stripes.

We are well-served by the mix of the seasoned third- and fourth-termers, Kelly Russell and Donna Kuzemchak, respectively, and the newbies, Derek Shackelford, Ben “let’s-rally-for-the-cause” MacShane, and Roger “what-do-I-run-for-next?” Wilson. Some may view mayoral ambitions in aldermen as inherently troublesome, but aldermanic high hopes are hardly new. Ambition can be worthwhile if channeled positively.

I’ve heard a number of O’Connor supporters who are prematurely critical of his mayoralty, bellyaching that he lacks a signature issue or accomplishment, or that his agenda lacks urgency.

But O’Connor is a Frederick native and was a longtime, thoughtful observer of local politics before he entered the elected-political fray. His three city-wide elections by wide margins are not accidents. Despite its Democratic plurality registration, the city is conservative in its outlook and dealings. Anyone thinking O’Connor would bring an overly aggressive or radical agenda to City Hall wasn’t paying attention to his campaign in 2017.

O’Connor has a good read on the city, and his strategic planning process, though criticized as slow by some, is well-executed. He’s not two years into his term, so I’m prepared to watch and wait for some time to come before giving him excessive grief. O’Connor’s deliberate nature is a good thing; quick decisions are often regretted later.

The question of executive vs. legislative power is also being considered at the Frederick County government level by the charter review commission. The News-Post has bizarrely editorialized in favor of postponing any charter changes for 10 years. Balderdash! Our experience should dictate the pace and manner of change — not some arbitrary passage of time. What the charter drafting board thought was required for voter approval of the charter in 2012 may be wholly different from what’s necessary for the charter to work effectively in 2019 and beyond. I want a charter that works well whether a Jan Gardner or a Blaine Young is county executive.

I’m also amazed at The News-Post’s editorial statement that “Writing a budget is quintessentially an executive function.” Tell that to the U.S. Congress and the Maryland General Assembly!

I disagree with both state and county restrictions that prohibit our legislative bodies from increasing a governor’s or executive’s proposed budget. Not long ago, our county commissioners held public school teachers and law enforcement and emergency personnel without raises for three years, causing long-term damage.

Would a charter change to allow budget increases create chaos? No, it will require decision-making. Not all will agree with me, but this change, among many others, is certainly worth a full discussion by the charter review commission.

But let the tension persist and the fights go on! Americans voters are skilled at creating divided government. (Can you say Larry Hogan?). Presidents of one party. Congresses of another (or split, as at present). For many moons, city voters have elected Republican mayors and Democratic boards of aldermen.

Politics and policies wax and wane. We tinker and perfect, then tinker and perfect some more. That process is democracy’s greatest annoyance — and perhaps its greatest strength.

Don DeArmon is an award-winning writer, author, lecturer and consultant who worked in government for 34 years. He writes from Frederick. Email him at don.dearmon@gmail.com.

(10) comments

Burgessdr

OConnor is doing fine. He would get enormous pushback if he was more aggressive

CaringCommunity

Ron Young got tremendous push back and even death threats, but where would we be now if he hadn't led?

katiefmd

But passive agressive is ok?

Dwasserba

Is it me, or is this related letter that appeared in the paper and in epages, missing from this version? As follows:



Title: A fight over an ‘f’?



During the city’s logo and branding debacle, Mayor Michael O’Connor said city staff was highly qualified and motivated to refine and create the now-famous and abandoned “f.” Michael credited his team with the ability to do more than one thing at a time. He praised their ability to go beyond their comfort zone and stretch their skills do perform very specific marketing and branding work.



We all know what happened to the “f,” but the focus should remain on Michael’s ability to set priorities and lead projects to a successful conclusion.



A recent case — the city’s draft adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) — made headlines after a public spat between Alderman Ben MacShane and Michael. Ben’s argument was a process and progress critique. He argued that after more than 10 months of meetings and workshops on the APFO, the aldermen and citizens still have no draft ordinance to discuss and Michael’s laissez-faire management is to blame.



Michael’s hot response was a poor reflection of his management style. He chastised Ben for running for office without knowing the demands of the job. Perhaps Michael was right in one way — elected officials sometimes sit through some mind-numbing hearings before reaching legislative success.



Clearly, Ben was primed for a political battle that day. He blamed his frustration on Michael’s lack of direction over city staff and wanted to hire a consultant to get the APFO finished.



Their public argument missed the more important issue — city staff had not had enough direction from the aldermen or the mayor and could not answer important questions about the APFO. Further, many of those involved in the APFO had been involved in countless (and undocumented by any agendas or meeting minutes) hours meeting on the “f” logo design and NOT on the APFO. I agree that city staff is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. City residents, however, expect them to perform their primary jobs FIRST before being pulled away to work on a project that does nothing for our health, safety and welfare.



JENNIFER DOUGHERTY



Frederick



Jennifer Dougherty is the former mayor of Frederick.

katiefmd

The APFO meeting was interesting to me in that elected officials kept referring to the Working document as the “redline” document. Do our elected officials know what redlining is?



“ systematic denial of various services to residents of specific, often racially associated, neighborhoods or communities, either directly or through the selective raising of prices”



Word matter.

des21

Award winning? I'm impressed. [wink]

CaringCommunity

Action without planning is disastrous.

Planning without action could be as bad or even worse! [scared]

Dwasserba

"Did you *know* what the job was when you ran for it?!" was one of those rare amusing moments of animated pique that humanize a political figure. No regrets.

mr_twist27

I agree with your assessment of O'Connor. The interaction I've had with him for the past several years has been mostly positive and he sense to have good common sense. I cant say the same for some of the other aldermen though.

DickD

Pretty good column, Don. The Charter does need to be rewritten. It was done by Blaine's cronies for Blaine. Jan never wanted all the power that the Charter givesthe CE. But she doesn't want to leave that power to a future CE that might abuse the power.

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