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October 10, 2005

Frederick's Choice for Mayor: Young or Holtzinger?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Frederick City voters will have a real choice on Election Day. Happily, the choice will be between two very qualified candidates, who both appear committed to running a positive, issue-oriented campaign. We've heard enough about blaming past administrations for current Frederick problems, some true, some not.

Ron Young is known as a visionary for his dream for Carroll Creek. That dream is finally being fulfilled, you can stop by South Market Street and look left and right and watch the progress yourself.

Ron served the city with distinction as mayor. He led the city out of the terrible flood that inundated downtown; that natural disaster was most responsible for clarifying his Carroll Creek vision.

As mayor he was committed to revitalizing downtown Frederick. He determined that burying power lines along Market Street would provide aesthetic benefits that would lead to future successes.

He recruited local investors who shared his vision, notable among them was Burt Anderson, the developer of Shab Row and Eveready Square. Ron lead a number of amazing transformations, the most significant being the restoration of the old county courthouse, the current home of City Hall.

His old Mayor's Office is now the upstairs party room at Brewer's Alley, the view up and down North Market Street from his old office shows a vibrant and vital downtown. On Patrick Street, Ron saw the old Tivoli Theater as the centerpiece for a revitalized arts community, and time seems to have proven his intuition true.

Ron didn't limit his vision to downtown, although that was clearly his preferred project. He annexed large parcels of land into the city. Current Mayor Jennifer Dougherty has criticized him for these annexations, citing inadequate city services. Ron counters that development would have likely occurred on these parcels anyway, and better to have the city control that development than not.

After his time leading Frederick, Ron didn't disappear. He worked for Maryland Governors William Donald Schaefer and Parris Glendening, first as a top bureaucrat in the state's Planning Department, and later as the architect of Glendening's Smart Growth, Maryland's signature commitment to increasing housing densities around existing municipal infrastructure.

Ron has traveled the country touting that program, highlighting its many successes. He has spoken to just about every major public official concerned about balancing growth and quality of life.

Many consider this his crowning achievement. Unfortunately, there are some major Smart Growth bugaboos. Increasing densities in and around water, sewer, and schools seems to make intuitive sense. Why chew up valuable farmland if we can avoid it?

Unfortunately, Smart Growth philosophy only works when local officials enact the regulatory and financial tools necessary to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support those increased densities. Rarely is that done.

Ron has capped his public service career serving as the town manager of Indian Head, a vibrant military community in Charles County. My friends in local government confirm that he still has vision and creativity aplenty.

Ron's Republican opponent Jeff Holtzinger is a practicing attorney, and not just any ol' country lawyer. Jeff is an aggressive advocate for his clients. He applies the full focus and force of his considerable intellect and energy to solving their legal problems.

Jeff is a registered Professional Civil Engineer, and an aspiring politician who can conduct a thorough review of a set of engineering plans, and then help the plan's creator fix the problems he finds. Jeff was one of the best city engineers in Frederick's history.

He is a coach and mentor, deeply involved in youth athletics and recreation. He was an outstanding student athlete himself and understands the importance of a well-rounded childhood.

Ron suggested before, and no doubt will again, that Jeff is so qualified technically that he would hire him back to do his old job at City Hall.

Surprisingly, while Ron says he'd rehire Jeff (who left on unhappy terms during the Dougherty Administration) because of Jeff's qualifications, it isn't clear that Jeff would be as quick to promise Ron a job at City Hall.

As city engineer he created a checklist to streamline the acceptance of plans, while strengthening the technical submission requirements to cut down on staff work later in the process. He worked with the engineering department staff to develop improved processes for cataloging drawings and associated data.

Jeff was always available to meet with city inspectors and project managers to resolve problems and answer questions. Those immediate solutions saved thousands of dollars, and they happened weekly. No consensus, no politicking, just solutions to real problems.

The biggest technical challenge of my career was the lack of water to satisfy new development requests during the Grimes Administration in City Hall. Jeff proved conclusively and without question that there were serious problems with the stability and predictability of the long-term water supply.

Jeff worked with County Utilities Director Mike Marschner to craft the document frequently referred to as the 2000 Water Agreement, a contract between City Hall and Winchester Hall to insure a continued supply of water for Frederick City residents. Jeff could sit down right now with the county commissioners and strike a long-term, lasting water deal for the city.

Jeff's tenure as city engineer was marked by two distinctive characteristics. The first is his technical competence. Everyone I know in the engineering, planning, and development industry (and I know most) agrees that Jeff is one of the most talented and capable professionals in the business. Jeff single-handedly solved some of Frederick's most complex technical problems.

The second characteristic is the one that has drawn so much interest to Jeff 's candidacy so far. Jeff is notable for his integrity and honesty. Former Mayor Jim Grimes was not happy about the water moratorium, but Jeff's direct and honest approach placed the policy outcome beyond debate.

The challenges that face Frederick in the next 10 years are complex and varied. Unlike the 70's and 80's, we're not talking about having to entice employers. They're already coming, and a $5 billion federal investment in Fort Detrick will bring thousands more (and all of the associated contractors and hangers-on), not to mention the demand for additional housing!

Downtown Frederick is thriving, and thanks to Ron Young's initial vision, Paul Gordon for not killing it altogether, Jim Grimes for working through years of choices and decisions, and especially Jennifer Dougherty for her recent energy and mediation, retail businesses are blooming and the creek is moving towards its place of prominence in our economy.

We need a leader who can make very difficult decisions, sort out the impacts of a failing infrastructure, and consider and categorize reams of staff and specialist input about water, roads, sewers, public safety, and parks.

We need a leader who can see the future clearly enough to enact the policies that promote sustainability, that make Frederick as good in 20 years as she is right now, preferably much better.

We also need a leader who understands the issues faced by an increasingly diverse city workforce.

We need a leader who possesses the skills to communicate with everyone, regardless of background, income, faith, or purpose.

Frederick's choice is complex and intriguing. Ron Young represents the seasoned CEO, the big idea guy with a proven ability to schmooze and network to find movers and shakers who can help him bring his vision into focus and get things done.

He is connected to the big political machine in Frederick, those who Jennifer Dougherty criticized during her term as the Good Old Boys (GOB). Many people recognize, however, that those same GOB connections are helpful in achieving important public policy goals

Jeff Holtzinger, on the other hand, is a technical expert who can roll up his sleeves (his preferred choice when wearing long sleeves) and solve complex technical problems. He is a former city employee, so he knows most city workers and what tools they need to do their jobs and serve Frederick more effectively.

The combination of legal and engineering skills represents a unique approach to problem solving on the second floor of City Hall. Imagine what would happen when some staff person or outsider tries to slip a bad deal past a chief executive who has those qualifications!

Frederick citizens can look forward to a real, definable choice in the race for mayor. Unlike the primary, the real question will be how many voters actually show up on Election Day to exercise that choice!

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