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November 1, 2006

Scary Thoughts

John W. Ashbury

On Monday Joe Volz, columnist for The Frederick News-Post, named the five candidates for county commissioners he was supporting in the November 7 General Election.

It might be good for this county if the team he supports was elected; not good for the next four years, but for all future years. It would show just how dysfunctional people of like mind would be on so many issues other than growth. And voters would reject such a "Dream Team" in all future elections.

The Board of County Commissioners needs balance to ensure that issues are thoroughly discussed. Rubber stamps are never good. At least if there was one person who disagreed with the majority on the growth issue, the issue would be aired thoroughly instead of everyone patting themselves - and each other - on the back for a job well done.

Has any one of the candidates, who advocates changing the adopted New Market Region Plan, considered the lawsuits that will be filed should they actually revise the plan? It makes no difference whether those suing would be successful or not, it will still cost the taxpayers lots of money to defend.

Commissioners John L. "Lennie" Thompson and Jan Gardner proved time and again during the last four years that they are unwilling to accept the majority vote of the board. They fought long and hard for their positions - and lost. On at least one occasion they attempted to win through the back door by appealing to state officials to overturn a decision.

That is patently wrong headed. Fight the good fight, but be willing to accept the loss if that be the case. What would happen if every coach appealed every loss to the league because they didn't like the score?

Mark L. Hoke, president of the county commissioners from 1994 to 1998, served the county well in this regard. When his position on any issue was defeated by a majority of the board, he supported the board's position in public. Privately he would tell you why the decision was "wrong," but he still advocated for the board's position.

If the Volz team - Thompson, Gardner, Richard Floyd, Kai Hagen and David Gray - is elected, there is the real possibility that those who elected them will turn on them, not for their growth related decisions, but for the rest of their positions, and perhaps even their demeanor.

Taxes will increase no matter how you slice it. Mrs. Gardner says we have a two-year reserve to pay down the debt service new homes now finance through impact fees. But what happens after those two budgets are exhausted.

The county must permit more than 1,600 new houses each year to fund that debt service. If the next group of commissioners, particularly those receiving the endorsement of Mr. Volz, actually curtails the number of permits being issues, just where do you think the needed revenue will come from?

Surely fees can be increased, like they were when Mr. Gray was president of the commissioners. But the easiest revenue source would be the property tax. And with rising assessment for at least the next two years, how many senior citizens and others on fixed incomes would be forced from their homes and into other counties or states?

Would such decisions add to the growing belief among certain groups that Frederick County is becoming elitist? Would they make us seem to be more like Montgomery County than most of us would want?

We hear about the growth issue at every turn; but the biggest complaint about it has to do with transportation and the gridlock some see. What ever happened to patience on the roads? It's a lost attribute; but one that is needed in more situation than just traffic congestion. And the commissioners can do little to reduce the congestion on state and federal highways anyway.

One of Mr. Volz's choices is anathema to more than just a few residents. And that is Mr. Thompson, who touts himself as the savior of the county, when in actual fact many of his positions fly in the face of most residents' beliefs. But his anti-growth rhetoric will get him re-elected.

The Gazette endorsed Mr. Thompson as well, pointing to his call for ethics reform as a major reason. All well and good, until you look at what he wants to reform. At the core of his suggested ethical reforms is a requirement that those who represent anyone coming before the commissioners on housing issues reveal how much they are being paid for that representation. That is none of the commissioners' business, or the public's for that matter.

Now, a requirement that commissioners reveal contact they have privately with anyone coming before the commissioners, or doing business with the county, would be acceptable to most. However, to Mr. Thompson, that is not enough. This opinion of Mr. Thompson has matured over the years of watching this demagogue operate. His one saving grace, however, is a sense of humor. Unfortunately, it makes only rare appearances.

Perhaps it would be good for Frederick County if Mr. Hagen and Commissioner Mike Cady were elected to serve on the same board. It would be good for taxpayers because nothing would ever get done.

There are two reasons for this assessment. First of all, neither knows when to keep his mouth shut, rattling on forever, long after his point has been made. And secondly, because at least one of them knows all there is to know about everything and would insist on being allowed to display his knowledge - even if he is misinformed.

In the end, it could be good for the county to elect the five people Mr. Volz suggested. Things could get so bad that voters will realize that one issue candidates should be left off major policy making boards simply because they have no earthly idea what they are doing in areas not associated with their issue.

So, on Tuesday pick carefully. Do you want a group that agrees on most things, or do you want commissioners who will thoroughly examine the issues and actually fight over them from time to time. The "Dream Team" of Mr. Volz is scary, not so much on the growth issue because we know how that will come out. But on other serious and sensitive issues they have espoused no clear direction.

Halloween might be coming a week late this year.

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