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October 15, 2014

Builders Question County Candidates

Jill King

As the rain slowed to a stop and the leaves were gently falling to the ground, a gentle reminder that the elections were closing in prompted the early birds at the Frederick County Building Industry Association (FCBIA) to meet for a debate, at the Dutch’s Daughter restaurant.


After attending the Gorilla roundtable event between Jan Gardner and Blaine Young last month, there was a stark difference in body language and confidence levels.


The Democrat candidates conglomerated to one table in the front center, while the Republican candidates for the council and executive race held presence across the room, in various positions. Breakfast was provided.


In the Gorilla late afternoon forum moderated by Pattee Brown, a local radio host and business owner, the audience obviously supportive of Ms. Gardner. The heckling and outbursts were common, while Ms. Garner's confidence was shown by her failure to say anything nice about her opponent when asked to start off the discussion in this manner. Her eyes beamed and glared while her stance was offensive, staring at her opponent when answering and smirking. Mr. Young appeared as if he just wanted it to be over; the crowd did not make it easy for a civil discourse, as requested.


The builders association debate moderated by Hugh Gordon, a local mortgage banker, allowed Mr. Young to appear at ease, feeling at home with local businessmen, including builders, real estate professionals, attorneys, and other members who belong to the association. He beamed and spoke confidently when responding to questions.


Mr. Young even agreed with Jerry Donald, a Democrat candidate for District 1 county council, when asked: "The Comprehensive Plan calls for an average of 1,500 housing units per year throughout the county. After adjusting for the 700 multi-family projects...i.e. apartments permitted in 2013, the five year average for Frederick City and County combined is only 686.4 homes annually. Do you think that this is too many? Do you think that 1,500 is too many?" The rest of the candidates answered yes or no to both questions, while Mr. Donald and Mr. Young split the two and said yes to 1,500 and no to 686.4.


Ms. Gardner, on the other hand, chose not to take a hard stance on developers and development at this forum and instead chose to follow her recurring education theme that we have seen and heard in many candidate gatherings, and in the several times she has run for office.


Just when one thinks they have prepared enough for a race, here come the questions only to be answered by a “yes” or “no” to a group that Mr. Young touted in his finale as job creators.


When it comes to the builder's association, a candidate must be prepared. They are very specific and the audience knows what answers they are looking for, just like any other group that is impacted by government regulations, permitting and fees for supporting adequate public facilities, including schools.


Questions ranged from raising taxes to fund the Maintenance of Effort for Frederick County Public Schools, a Fee-in-Lieu option that the non-profits support in moderately priced dwellings and school construction fees.


The last question, though, provided time for a two-minute response. This question provided an example of an award-winning builder, who closed its doors because it could not build an acceptable home at a profit, due to regulations and fees. Job losses are a direct result of high expenses, without profit. This is the question: "In what ways do you intend to support our industry and why should voters in our industry vote for you?"


Here’s how the candidates answered this question


Mark Long (D) D-5 – Familiar with builder needs and has had the endorsement of three Republicans, one who faced Kirby Delauter in the primary.


Kirby Delauter (R) D-5 – Reflected on the current county commissioners accomplishments, fleet savings and the Rosemont water line.


Bob Lawrence (R) D-4 – Touted experience from serving on several boards and Frederick City comprehensive plan. He wishes to bring jobs to boost current businesses.


Jessica Fitzwater (D) D-4 – There is a need for different housing and moderately priced units. She believes in increased fees on developers to fund education.


Denny Shaffer (R) D-3 – Wants to work as a unit and decide together how to best move forward.


M. C. Keegan-Ayer (D) D-3 – As a long time advocate and trainer of advocates, she wants people to bring her ideas. She will advocate if she agrees. "Bring your facts."


Tony Chmelik (R) D-2 – Would like to create a "tax bank" to fill the 200,000 square feet of office space that now sits empty in the county.


Annette Breiling (D) D-2 – Started her own educational facility, Friends Meeting School and would like to be the middle ground between “pro” and “no” growth.


Jerry Donald (D) D-1 –Reflects on the unmanaged growth in the 1970's and poorly designed schools. Provides kudos to the Brunswick Crossing development design. We need to have rules in place.


Ellen Bartlett (R) D-1 – Worked as the secretary of her husband's construction business and understands the impacts of fees on businesses. She wants to be the voice for women and the elderly.


Billy Shreve (R) At Large – The economy is unstable and we need to prepare for downturns. As a current county commissioners, his board did this. He would like to continue to serve all residents in times that may be subjected to economic prosperity and hardships.


Bud Otis (R) At Large – Has worked in the industry, feels there are too many regulations, believes in fairness in government and has successfully brought jobs to Maryland.


Linda Norris (D) At Large – Worked for Canam Steel, understands the importance of good regulations and would like to bring moderation to the council.


Susan Reeder Jesse (D) At Large – Grandfather was a builder. She has worked in Economic Development, brought jobs to vacant spaces through her current work.


Jan Gardner (D) County Executive – Needs optimistic vision, great public schools, funding above Maintenance of Effort. Wants to improve education and keep millennials here.


Blaine Young (R) County Executive – The current Board of County Commissioners has seen 2000 jobs arrive; the school capacity is lower now than the Gardner board (88%.). Approved less building permits than his opponent during her term of office as president.


...retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past


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