Random Observations – Part One
From the bottom to the top, this has been a fairly significant couple of weeks – from Frederick’s City Hall, to Winchester Hall, all the way to Annapolis and Washington.
In Frederick, Mayor Randy McClement rolled out the welcome mat for his new executive assistant, Josh Russin. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big enough story to warrant some coverage. In this case, and with this writer, this is a big deal.
I left Frederick City Hall in mid-January. For the previous year, the executive assistant served as an essential “whisper” advisor to the mayor of Frederick. The job description is deceiving, reading the city’s charter one would assume the executive assistant is merely responsible for overseeing the mayor’s office staff, Economic Development, the Weinberg Center, and the airport.
As with most political appointees, the written job description is like an iceberg. What you see above the surface belies the substantial but unwritten duties. Trust me, I would know!
Without violating the confidence of those hundreds of hours of private consultations, suffice it to say that Mayor McClement and I spoke about every single aspect of providing services and operating that government. Political strategies, community controversies, and sensitive strategic conversations are the norm.
We’d like to think that political spin is reserved for Annapolis and Washington, but it happens on North Court Street, too.
When I made my decision to leave Frederick for the hills of Railroad Town, I lost my daily connection to the decision-making and strategies in the City of Frederick. That’s as it should be. What I write about this are merely my observations and conclusions based on history, no attempt to confirm my suspicions was ever made.
The cause of the month plus delay in filling the vacancy is most likely due to the recalcitrance of aldermen who chose the opportunity to flex some political muscle. Yes, they do do that on occasion. In fact, a couple of them have already mastered the art of high-minded political obstruction.
Mr. Russin appears to be the perfect choice. He has a great resume, lots of enthusiasm, a rolodex full of high-level state/federal contacts, and a strong connection to the community.
During the historic snowstorms of 2010, the city was crippled by the weather. It was difficult, in some cases impossible, for people who worked for the city to get to their jobs. Aldermen Kelly Russell was recently quoted saying it would be better to hire a city resident as the mayor’s executive assistant, citing my inability to come to work during the snow events.
Truth is important, even for local elected officials. Ms. Russell was attempting to make a point to the mayor through the media, because she was apparently unaware that while I did miss one workday (where the city was closed anyway), I was at City Hall for the duration of the storm, including days where the mayor and I were the only ones in the building.
Sorry for the diversion, just couldn’t help correcting past inaccuracies. I’m sure it was unintentional on Ms. Russell's part!
Mr. Russin is not only a native Fredericktonian, he volunteers on the Historic Preservation Commission and he and his fiancé operate a business in the historic district. Now that’s a local commitment.
Josh worked for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office of inter-governmental relations. In that capacity he worked with all of the municipalities and local elected leaders of Western Maryland to coordinate needs and services from the state.
He’s also been serving as the town manager of Somerset, skills that give him the tools to succeed in his new high profile capacity.
Mayor McClement needed this crucial position filled. By choosing Mr. Russin, the city leadership team is complete and they can move forward together to deal with a number of difficult issues facing them.
Turning our eyes to Winchester Hall, President Blaine Young and his mostly cooperative colleagues are busy re-making county government. Not just some perfume and lipstick, this is a complete makeover.
After four years of a slow growth, human services focus, the new Board of County Commissioners seems committed to a slimmer, sleeker, more business-focused organization. Fueled by the forces that helped elect them, the county regulators who were the focus of development community complaints have – for the most part – been eliminated through budget-driven downsizing.
Without claiming that these people were specifically chosen for that reason, it does cause one to ponder how the very personalities that the builders, developers and land use lawyers have been complaining about for years were all mysteriously included in a supposedly random list selected by directors with no political influence.
It’s possible, but it’s also oddly coincidental.
The county manager, Barry Stanton, has been granted an unprecedented degree of power to run the government. Proponents of Commissioner Young and his majority colleague’s policy positions applaud the independence and professional management approach. Opponents claim they’re being denied the right to participate in critical decisions.
The truth is where it’s usually found, in between the two divergent viewpoints. The Young Board has granted extra power to Mr. Stanton and his office. In so doing, the commissioners have less public work to do, hence less public involvement in the process. Some of that, like the Head Start decision, could have been handled better with more transparency.
The shift to a more involved manager needed to be done a long time ago. For too long, past boards have been mired in hours-long weekly work sessions, laboring through a level of detail that could, and should, have been handled by better equipped professional managers.
In another nod to their campaign promises, the commissioners hired Ron Tobin to serve a red-tape eliminator for the business community. Mr. Tobin had previously served as the executive assistant to the mayor of the City of Frederick under the Holtzinger Administration. Ron is known for his no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to his work.
It might not make many friends, but it surely accomplishes the objectives.
In his new role, Ron will work in the county manager’s office, which suggests that conflicts could arise given the mission of the county’s Office of Economic Development. Director Laurie Boyer is known for her ability to serve as an ombudsman for the business community.
Why, given Ron Tobin’s proximity to the real power in county government, would any business go to Ms. Boyer’s office for assistance? Simple answer: they won’t.
Next week, a look at state and federal political issues.