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February 2, 2005

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

David 'Kip' Koontz

There has been a recent ballyhoo over whether the City of Frederick should change its residency requirements for those wishing to run for public office.

The proposal, which was introduced some months ago, calls for the requisite for running for mayor to be dropped from its current three year residency to one year. A proposal to reduce the requirement to run for alderman from one year to six months was rejected by the Board of Aldermen.

Opponents of the 3-year mayoral residency requirement have claimed that allowing someone that "new" to the city will not have afforded them the opportunity to know about Frederick's history, its government, and its people.

Funny in that while the sitting mayor has lived and worked in Frederick for 20 years, she admitted to never having attended a city meeting prior to her election. Did she know city government?

Proponents of the change have assured us that voters will be smart enough to reject anyone who isn't qualified for that office, no matter how long they have lived in the city and that the current requirements block many talented people from service.

The current Board of Alderman and mayor all fulfilled the current requirements, yet many people are scratching their heads and asking if they were smart in electing them after watching them in action, but let's not digress.

Almost immediately the discussion over residency requirements quickly took on a political charge that seems to occur more often than not in discussions at City Hall these days.

The accusation surfaced that certain alderpersons were only putting forth these changes in order to benefit one or possibly more potential candidates for mayor who once lived in Frederick City but then moved out of the city and have since moved back.

There is a big divide among certain alderpersons and the current mayor.

This divide has prompted some to think that these alderpersons would do whatever it takes to defeat Herzonner, including asking for a City Charter change to assure the mayor has someone they think would be a strong Democratic challenger in this year's primary, even though they themselves are Republican.

Supporters of the changes claim the mayor and her allies among the aldermen are opposing the change as part of a turf war to protect the mayor from said challenge.

Do we think someone on the outside looking in can question whether Frederick City politics has become a mirror of another city's politics where their legislative board is also called "Aldermen" - Chicago?

You'd just have to ask, for which team is the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Dailey calling the shots?

The sponsor of the change, Alderman David Lenhart insists he did not make the proposal to benefit any one person.

Okay, but even in accepting that, can't one question, in light of the argument that the mayor is only "protecting her turf," that the purpose of changing the law is indeed aimed at benefiting someone or some people in particular?

Of course, especially since one of those "someones" fulfills the criteria of having lived in the city, moved out and then back in and wants to run for mayor in the Democratic primary - former Mayor Ron Young.

Now, in spite of Alderman Lenhart's assurances, it became difficult for opponents of the residency reduction to believe it was not being proposed purely for political reasons when the former mayor and his backers became more and more vocal in their support of the changes.

In seeing the opposition's support growing, a very intimate friend of the ex-mayor began circulating emails with talking points, including one that stated that one of the benefits of the change would be in allowing former officer holders who once again live in the city, but haven't for three years, to run again for mayor.

The ex-mayor's son, on his local radio talk show, broke the news that his dad did indeed plan on running, furthering the speculation behind the motivation.

Mr. Former Mayor Young confirmed on the front page of the city's local daily on the day after the vote on the matter at City Hall that he did indeed plan to run.

Some who opposed the changes only did so at this time because of the appearance of cronyism and politicks.

ome questioned why, in light of how politically charged the issue had become that if the changes were for the ultimate good of the city and her residents, why they could not become effective for the election of 2009?

Yet the supporters pushed on and in spite of what seemed to be convincing opposition by those who testified, when called for a vote, the change passed.

Alderman Bill Hall, when allowed to express his comments on the matter, basically showed contempt for those who opposed his pre-determined vote on the matter in support of the change.

Alderman Bill Hall chastised opponents telling them, in effect, they had no business trying to change his mind; they basically had no business expressing their view at all and that he was elected with the most votes and would vote how he pleased.

Maybe the reason he and Mayor Dougherty clash so much is that they are so much alike.

Mayor Dougherty in turn vetoed the decision which has set off another firestorm.

Mayor Dougherty insists she stands on solid legal ground.

Others say she in sinking in quicksand quoting two assistant Attorneys General who said in a letter to State Senator Alex Mooney that the mayor can't veto a charter amendment.

The arguments over the legality of the veto will play out, most likely in a couple ways.

Former Mayor Ron Young has said he may just file to run, which would not only set up a challenge to this decision, but also to residency requirements in general.

Aldermen Bill Hall, Dave Lenhart and Joe Baldi, the three who voted for the change, have announced that they may filed an action with the Circuit Court for Frederick County asking for a declaratory judgment as to whether it is legal for the mayor to veto a charter amendment.

This is a request Herzonner should not be concerned about as the aldermen contend it comes in response to her comments last week that she disagrees with the assistant Attorneys General's position.

In whatever way this ultimately plays out it will most surely bring with it another round of sad name-calling and mean-spirited barbs from both sides.providing comic drama but nothing beneficial to the residents of the city.

To some, this issue got caught up in far too much politicks. The fault is placed at the feet of those opposing your views.

But being right seems to be the only thing being a city official is about these days.

Have we really seen a fresh approach? Is turning backward to put the city on an "even keel" really moving forward?

Many believe that city government is broken, but do we need to change this law at this time to fix it?

If the voters are as savvy and smart as the proponents of these changes purport them to be, let them look at the pool of candidates that will ultimately file for office and let them pick who will serve them the next four years.

Let's just hope they pick five people who can manage to get along better.if only for the sake of the city.

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