Frederick County Councilman Billy Shreve says the county’s nearly 2-year-old form of charter government is broken and “the worst form of government anyone could ever have.”
For Shreve, along with fellow Republicans Kirby Delauter and Tony Chmelik, it sure is.
For the past two years, the council’s Republican minority has been largely shut out of the process, failing to get any votes to break their way and unable to even secure a place for their discussion items on the council’s agenda, with it under the control of “turncoat” and former Republican Bud Otis, who frequently votes with the Democrats, and who changed his party affiliation to independent during his second year on the council.
Shreve said the council has accomplished nothing in the two years since its formation.
But that’s not the opinion of the council’s three Democrats and Otis.
They cite a litany of accomplishments that include hiring more deputies and firefighters, improving the county’s bond rating, holding the line on the county’s property tax rate, improving watershed regulations and overseeing the successful return of the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facilities to county ownership.
Among Shreve’s and Delauter’s complaints have been their loss of constituent service oversight and what they maintain has been a miserly allocation of resources for the council.
They also blame Otis’ defection from the party for costing them a majority — the ability to help set priorities and to serve as a counterweight to County Executive Jan Gardner, who they say is resistant to their input.
Under a charter government, the role of a council tends to be more narrowly prescribed — preparation of the budget falls to the county executive as does policymaking and the day-to-day administration of government.
But that tells only part of the story.
The Republicans haven’t done themselves many favors, often behaving more like pot-shotters than serious partners in helping to run county government, voting against bills, well — just because — and reversing themselves on previously agreed positions, as Delauter did in October on a memorandum of understanding about the embattled downtown hotel and conference center project. That same month, when Otis dismissed an attempt by Shreve to get an item on the council’s agenda, Shreve filed a sexual harassment complaint against the council president. And earlier that year, after Otis changed his party affiliation, the Republicans sought to get him kicked off the council, an affront to the voters, both Republican and Democrat, who helped put him there.
Republicans hope this week’s election of officers will help reset the dynamic on the council and put them back in the driver’s seat. But that’d be tantamount to rewarding them for bad behavior.
Can county government function better? Of course it can. There are always ways and opportunities to improve the workings of any government, especially one that’s still finding its feet the way Frederick County’s is — and that includes looking at ways to make sure council members are better-informed, as Shreve and Delauter say they want.
But they should complain less and work harder to improve county government and to improve relations with the other council members and the county executive. They weren’t elected by the voters of Frederick County to complain; they were elected to help govern.