So you think you know Blaine Young? (Part 2)
In my column last week, Blaine Young responded to questions about the important personal and professional influences that have informed his view of the world, and the work that he tries to do. It should come as no surprise that some prominent old-school political types fall into that category, but he is far from myopic about what really matters in life.
Blaine is a doting father to two sons. His free time (not scheduled by a government events calendar) is either spent running Yellow Cab and its associated interests, or coaching or chauffeuring his sons to various sports, school or hobbies. He has coached a number of recreational athletics, typically as a way to stay close to JR and AJ.
It was one of those experiences that caused past headlines. An interaction with a referee during a youth basketball game elicited a decidedly non-political response from the father/coach/elected official. When a loosely called game resulted in danger to the young athletes, Coach Young spouted off at the ref. The ref, in similar bad form, returned the verbal volley in kind. Witnesses shared the exchange, and now Blaine’s political opponents use this as fuel to question his anger management.
A bridge too far, especially when you see that one of the players in jeopardy was his son, but opposition just needs an issue, not the context. He says those unfounded criticisms hurt, but he also understands that this is a consequence of leadership. You can’t run a government with thin skin.
When asked to talk about how he has evolved as a leader, he immediately points to his recent accelerated MBA through Mount Saint Mary’s. One of his professors, Dr. Greg Powell, spent some time helping the MBA candidates confront their own leadership strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Powell is a well-respected educator, and an even-more respected psychotherapist. Blaine sees this as an epiphany moment in his growth as a community leader. You can’t overcome your personality demons until you acknowledge and confront them.
On policy, Blaine is the most animated when he’s given the chance to speak about his accomplishments. Recalling the lessons of Sen. Charles Smelser, Blaine is most proud of his commitment to actually doing the very things he promised he would back when he asked voters to elect him to the Board of County Commissioners. He can tick them off with ease, an “accomplished” checkmark by each.
He promised to cut spending. He led an initiative to “right-size” county government. He oversaw a series of workforce reductions and job eliminations through attrition. He promised to improve the county’s fiscal standing. Recently, the county’s bond rating was upgraded. Criticism of the method, including a rating upgrade that resulted from a change in how the ratings are actually calculated, is part of his opposition’s platform. He is happy to remind anyone that his predecessor’s own bond ratings resulted from changes in how the ratings were calculated back then, too.
It’s a good-for-the-goose, good-for-the-gander deal.
Same with the fire tax. The previous board oversaw a taxing method for public safety services (fire & rescue) that had a complicated schedule of tax rates based on where you lived and who was serving your area at the local fire hall. Blaine is proud that his board worked with the volunteer and career fire service to structure a tax approach under the existing property tax to address the long-term needs of the service, while eliminating the confusing two-tiered fire tax.
Blaine is proud of the work he and his colleagues have done to repair the relationship with the county’s municipal corporations. In addition to committing time and effort to the relationships, several major policy issues in New Market, Brunswick, Rosemont, Frederick and Thurmont have been swiftly resolved by the Young Board. Those local officials have been universally appreciative, although that doesn’t always translate to electoral support.
He’s understandably proud of his board’s work to accelerate the school construction and capital projects program for the public school system. Arguments about Maintenance of Effort aside, this board has done more to modernize buildings and kick-start new construction than most boards ever have in a four-year term.
His proudest accomplish, in his own words, is the Senior Property Tax Credit program. He took an initiative of one of his mentors, former Commissioner Bruce Reeder, and expanded it through an appointed commission. Now, retired seniors in the county can directly benefit from an increased waiver, sufficient to help many of them stay in their home and in Frederick County.
When asked about his view of county employees, Blaine points out the incredibly capable professionals running various county agencies right now. He emphasized that if most people could see the productivity and professionalism of the county workforce that he sees in his daily capacity, people would feel very comfortable with what they’re paying for right now. He also proudly pointed out that under his leadership county employees have received three merits steps and four percent in Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments (COLA’s) over the past four years. That's 14 1/2 percent.
So we wrapped up speaking about the future. When asked what he’d really like to do if elected county executive, his answer was the most surprising aspect of our entire conversation. His one sentence answer: “I’d like to sit down with FCPS (Frederick County Teachers Association) and have a serious dialogue about education”. Not “help developers build more houses,” not “pave more roads,” but a heart-to-heart discussion about where we go in the future when it comes to our public education system.
He is also concerned that parks and recreation is crucially important to our overall quality of life, yet it hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves. The recent opening of the Chuck Foreman artificial turf playing field at Ballenger Creek Park is a start, but Blaine sees much more to be done in this area. Again, he points out a concern that seems counterintuitive, yet maybe not so much to those who know him best.
A complex guy, a focused leader, and on balance, probably not quite the guy you think you knew.