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As Long as We Remember...

November 29, 2010

Say Good Night, Lennie!

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

As the Thompson Era comes to an end, it's not only the business community that has a lot to look forward to.


Over the course of the last several weeks, I have had a number of conversations with members of the county government staff regarding some of the topics I have posted on the MacRo Report Blog and Another prominent discussion point has been the expectations of the new Board of County Commissioners, who will be sworn into office in two days – Wednesday, December 1st.


Clearly "Change" is in the air; and from what I can tell, there is a lot of interest and enthusiasm among many county employees.


There were two recent interactions that especially drove that message home to me.


The first was my impression of the "Roundtable Discussion on Issues & Opportunities to Enhance Frederick County’s Business Friendly Environment," sponsored by Laurie Boyer, director of the county’s, Economic Development Division, and Gary Hessong, director of the county’s Division of Permitting & Development Review, that was held November 22. After listening to Mr. Hessong offer up his true confessions, it was almost as if he was happy to have the opportunity to finally speak out openly about improvements he has long known need to be addressed.


The second was a fun conversation I had with a member of county staff, who called me to ask about a photo I posted on the same day entitled So much to do and so little time! The image showed a "Welcome" banner pinned above the main entrance to the Frederick County Government offices at Winchester Hall.


Seems there were a lot of questions and debate among some employees as to when that picture was taken. I was told that it couldn’t have been a recent picture, because the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) would never have allowed it. Some of the employees got it right when I told the staff member that the image was "Photoshopped."


We then got into a discussion of how we could manage to actually hoist a "Welcome" banner up in front of the building – at least on Wednesday's Inauguration Day. I do have the banner, so I'm happy to make it available!


Getting back to the feeling of "Change" that is in the air, it is one thing for a new board to come into office with a grand idea to turn things around, but it is another to actually do it in an orderly, non-chaotic manner. From speaking with some of our commissioners-elect, it is clear that there will be no wrecking balls driven down East Church Street.


The first order of business, which has already started, is to set the tone for this new administration. It will have one very simple underlying theme: "Making Frederick County Government a Business Friendly Environment." This will go a long way to shutting the door on the 12-year era of bullying and intimidation that (soon to be former) County Commissioner John L. "Lennie" Thompson, Jr., brought in with the slogan "If the developers win, you lose," which grew way beyond villainizing the land developers to the business community as a whole.


There are so many elements to moving our county government from the old environment to one that is more open and welcoming. It will require that our new board, along with our newly appointed County Manager Barry Stanton, to take our government from what I would call a "less than" good government to a great government.


In the words of Jim Collins, a renowned author and international organizational consultant: Organizational "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline." His wisdom has guided many business and social sector leaders to create wonderful cultures that are laser-focused on becoming the best they can be. The success in changing the culture of an organization does not come in big sweeps, but through very orderly and strategic steps.


Over the last eight years, Frederick Memorial Healthcare System has undergone such a transformation. Using Collins' book "Good to Great" as one of many road maps, the FMH board and CEO Tom Kleinhanzl embarked on a disciplined road to position the institution as a leader in the healthcare industry. It all started with focusing on making sure that they had the "Right People on the Bus" before the key was put in the ignition.


How one identifies the right people starts with the enthusiasm, excitement and capabilities of those already within the ranks.


In the case of Frederick County Government, my sense is that during the Thompson Era, a lot of good intentioned staff was often left scratching their heads. It was not unusual for the authority of division heads and managers to be circumvented by board members with their own agendas.


Consider the recent resignation of Michael Marschner, director of Utilities & Solid Waste Management, "in large part to … Commissioner [Kai Hagen]'s 'unprofessional and childish' treatment of staff over the planned incinerator," according an October 28, 2010 article in the Gazette. While Mr. Hagen denies the allegation, the point is that leadership failed its staff by even allowing the sense of such treatment to be in the air.


By setting a new tone of "Making Frederick County Government a Business Friendly Environment," those who have felt stifled under the former "regime" now have an opportunity to express themselves in a new light.


It is a very exciting time for Frederick County, and it's time for our new board of commissioners and our county manager to take a few lessons from Jim Collins and show that they have made the "conscious choice and [have the] discipline" to give Frederick County Government employees and the county at large a fresh start.


The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He also writes for


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