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February 14, 2008

Some Background for Stepping Up To The Plate

Joan Marie Aquilino

Iím continuing on the subject of the Frederick County Planning Commission for the moment. One, because Iíll be leaving it soon after 10 years; and, two, because I want to spark interest in others joining.

My involvement with this county I live in started somewhere during the Sundergill Board of County Commissioners. I bought my first home here in '79. Remember the days of 17% interest? It took me a while to make it more than just the place I slept. I spent my awake hours in that nightmare of every commuterís reality. In 30 years it hasnít changed much.

I started Ė as many do Ė with my children in their local school district, moving on to the broader Frederick County Public Schools. My past work experience moved me towards the Planning Commission in July of '98.

I was a contract manager, inspector, surveyor and secretary for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. My roots don't go too far from Frederick: born in D.C.; moved to Prince Georgeís County at the ripe old age of 5; had a 5 year stint in McSherrystown, PA, for boarding school; then onto Montgomery County. Within a year I moved to Frederick. May not have been born here, but my life happened here.

It's amazing how once you have children things do begin to affect you differently. You get out of your house, past your own yard and actually get concerned with people and things around you.

My attempt at becoming part of this county, to be welcomed by it's life-long residents, was to start from the ground up and doing my fair share of grunt work, assuming I knew anything about this county, or telling those that have lived their lives here that I might have a suggestion or two.

Who was I and why would anyone listen to me? I needed to get my hands dirty and actually live this county, not just live in it. That started with being involved in wherever I could fit in and finding a place to raise my girls where weíd be part of the old as well as the new. That landed me in Monrovia, after a six year stay off 40 West.

Route 40 was already getting shaky, and I felt it wasnít the place I wanted to stay. Once again not much has changed. I felt this move was going to give my girls a better, more rounded, look of the area. They were born here and I knew by then I wanted them to call Frederick home and not just the place they lived or grew up.

My first three years on the Planning Commission were spent listening, reading and questioning everything. I was a sponge. I wanted to know it all. Every time I thought I was there, I found out, oh no, Joni, you've only skimmed the surface, what about this area, these people, those farms, that new development, etc. I spent a lot of time standing back and watching, and, of course, always listening. I've learned so much and still have more to learn.

During my first term I was asked several times to step up and take the chairman position. But I refused. I still had much to say and learn, and being the one who runs the meetings didnít give me that opportunity.

Much of what I thought going in proved not to be so; and things I didn't even think about hit me square between the eyes, making me open them wide. I learned early on to cherish the old and open up to accept the new. Both can work well together if neither side tries to shove their way down the others' throat with the attitudes of knowing best for all concerned. If you want to take, youíve also got to be willing to give in return. You canít take and take, then back off a little and call that compromise.

At the time of my first appointment, I was the youngest and most recent arrival to Frederick. I had only been here a mere nine years. Still I felt welcomed by all members. In part, I think, because of my own attitude of working my way in and not barreling my way through. I was the new kid on the block, and I respected their experience.

Marty Rice taught me how to facilitate meetings and get people to listen without making them angry, well most of the time. Rick Stup taught me that pan handles are not a ďbe all, end allĒ to access properties. They can be done well and done right or not done at all.

Dick Floyd, oh my, what can I say? Dick taught more about composting toilets than any person should ever know. Scott Gove kept me current on a multitude of land uses. Every time I thought I got it straight there was yet another.

Fern Hines is something. She kept us all on our toes, never a dull moment. She gave us heart and reminded us that townhouses are bad, bad things. Her view softened. I smile just thinking about her description of them.

Al Duke was the fairest minded member I ever encountered. He always played by the rules even if he didnít like them particularly. He kept us from going off to areas that didn't concern us.

Denny Crum and I are still there together, so I'm just going to be quiet about you for now. Those who think I missed him, don't worry, heíll get his shots. I obviously learned more, but these are just a few of the highlights.

Iíve got more to share but enough for now, weíll continue this trip down memory lane another time when I take a stab at some of the applicants, Boards of County Commissioners and the public Iíve lived through. If Iím brave enough, I might even share some of the low lights.

íTil next time.

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