Recently the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Municipal League has been the focus of some unwanted and undesirable attention.
But before we get to the first act of this soap opera of middle school proportions, let’s introduce the structure of this southern gothic tale for those who are not familiar with the Maryland Municipal League (MML).
Like many of the assorted quasi-governmental organizations, the local chapter of the MML has essentially worked quietly and efficiently just below the radar screen as a vehicle for local municipal officials to oil the inner machinations of governance.
Throughout Maryland, there are 11 local chapters organized under the umbrella of the Maryland Municipal League which operates as an advocate for Maryland municipalities.
Since 1936 the MML has successfully served to strengthen the efficacy of towns and cities through research, legislation, technical assistance, training and the dissemination of information for its members.
The local chapters help facilitate communication and cooperation within the League and between municipalities and other levels of state and local government.
My experience of serving as secretary/treasurer of the Carroll County Chapter from 1999 to 2005 – and on the MML board of directors from June 2000 to May 2005 – was invaluable in negotiating the byzantine labyrinth of state, county and municipal government.
Now, as the story continues to unfold, what is known at this point is that the president of the Carroll County chapter recently spearheaded a dormant municipal scholarship program for students who are looking forward to a career in local government. The scholarship program has been inactive for two years.
So far it sounds great.
Only a funny thing happened on the road after the awards ceremony and $1,000 checks had been sent out to three students.
There was, ah – well, no money in the checking account to cover the checks.
Yeah, you read that right. Oops.
I’m not making this up, for crying out loud.
How in the world does something like this happen?
One thing is for sure, this is certainly a great introduction to government for the three future leaders of our communities.
Among the most cynical of us, we can simply sigh and say, well, this is typical government at its best – spending money it doesn’t have.
To make matters worse, if that were possible, the chapter president, Mount Airy Mayor Frank Johnson, told the local paper that it wasn’t his fault. As a matter of fact, it was no one’s fault.
Mayor Johnson told the Carroll County Times: “… he was under the impression that things stayed the same and the state would continue to supply the funds because they did so in the past.
“When the state organization stopped funding the scholarship several years ago and the Carroll County chapter put it on hold, Johnson said he wasn’t around to have found out about the state’s decision.
“Our assumption was that nothing had changed from a few years ago … No one was aware that there had been a change.”
Memo to Mayor Johnson, when in a hole, take personal responsibility and stop digging.
Because guess what? Mayor Johnson’s assertion that “No one was aware that there had been a change” is not consistent with the Carroll County Chapter records.
To further cloud the mysteries swirling around how the scholarship program has been administered under Mayor Johnson’s leadership, records indicate that he was in attendance at the September 4, 2003, Carroll County Chapter meeting when changes to the program were discussed.
According to the meeting minutes, MML Executive Director Scott Hancock and MML liaison, Candice Donoho, gave a presentation that the old scholarship program was being discontinued.
Mr. Hancock and Ms. Donoho explained that the statewide MML board of directors “re-directed funds that had helped to support the Chapter Scholarship Program, in order to support a new academic fellowship/intern scholarship program initiative….”
The minutes of the meeting reflect that… “After thoughtful discussion, it was agreed to continue our own self-funded scholarship program within the Carroll County Chapter…”
Getting past the fact that Mayor Johnson was indeed present when the scholarship funding was changed, doesn’t conventional fiscal prudence dictate that the source of funding is determined and verified before a scholarship program begins?
Isn’t it also wise to research the history – and precedence – of a successful program in order to build upon the past performance and ensure the future success of a program when it is reconvened?
To that end, Mayor Johnson has also served on the statewide MML board of directors since at least June 2007. His tenure is concurrent with decisions pertaining to the Carroll County Chapter scholarship program.
In his capacity as board member, is it too far a stretch of the imagination to suggest he could have easily asked about the current status of the old discontinued statewide MML scholarship program?
In reference to “checks have recently been sent to students,” doesn’t basic common sense indicate that a person or an organization have the funds in the checking account before a check is written and distributed?
To see the scholarship program end up on the front page of the newspaper portrayed in a less than favorable light is disturbing – especially since the misunderstandings were all so easily avoided.
Nevertheless, many agree and easily understand a quote from a Carroll County Times July 20, 2008, editorial: “Juggling the intricacies of a municipal government can be challenging for anyone, and there are sure to be missteps along the way.”
No citizen expects perfection; however, lack of personal responsibility and the level of incompetence and mismanagement that once again rears its ugly head in matters of Carroll County local government are unacceptable.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor’s Note: Though the checks were distributed when there were insufficient funds in the account, they did not “bounce.” Mayor Johnson made sure the funds were available before the checks were presented.)