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June 8, 2012

Frederick County, Grow Up!

Roy Meachum

In November we’ll get another chance to vote on a county charter. On January 10th my column (“Later Than Needed”) spelled out the sad fate of the 1991 attempt.


Briefly, the October voting failed because it was tied to ex-Board of County Commissioners’ President Galen Clagett. A very low turnout didn’t help. New-at-that-time Frederick Mayor Paul Gordon mounted a crusade against now-Delegate Clagett. This year it will take place on November 6, the date for the 2012 Presidential Election. It is supported by no particular powerful politician. Blaine Young’s announcement of his intention to run for governor removes entirely that bane.


The 1991 effort received my column’s enthusiastic backing because it called for a county police force, reducing the sheriff’s office to jails, courts and warrants. At the time, county chief law enforcement officer, Bob Snyder, was tied in tightly with Frederick’s political machine, headed by “Boss” James R. “Doc” McClellan. I considered that situation disastrous for democracy in my 8-year-old “hometown;” I moved here in 1983. This year Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has elevated his department over and above politics.


Still, the passage of a county charter is by no means certain five months from now. There is both liberal and conservative opposition. Ex-County Commissioner Kai Hagen is not noteworthy for his radical right statements; he makes noises, on-line and in the newspaper, that cannot comfort the dozen citizens who volunteered to write the new county constitution. He goes on.


The conservation coalition does not appear to have a single leader, and their specific negative views are hard to try and figure out. Of course, by their very nature, conservatives resist any change. This would be a wholesale restructuring of the ways county government does public business. In the first place, charter would bring to Winchester Hall several mandates currently exercised by Annapolis, including the county’s rate of taxation.


The final draft will be ready for the commission to vote on July 10, according to Charter Board Chairman Ken Coffey; he and vice chair Bob Kresslein both served on the 1991 board.


In the next four weeks, at least one public hearing is forecast. If you live here, watch the media for more. Pay attention! Frederick is Maryland’s largest county not to have a charter; we are political children, being forced to ask the state legislature for anything important to our lives. It’s late to take control.


Frederick County, grow up!


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