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Privatization: What Overturned the Apple Cart?

Frederick County Commissioners vote to end consideration of the PPP Associates Study.

Frederick County PrivatizationWell, it didn’t have to end this way… but it did. What was it that caused so much raucous that pushed the Frederick County Board of Commissioners to derail their privatization effort?

Being on vacation this week, I haven’t had the opportunity to make direct contact with anyone in county government, but from my perspective one could see this one coming.

Change is a funny thing. Voters can be totally fed up with their elected officials and en masse will follow the pack and with a click inside the polling booth they will throw the bums out… just like that.

Then the hard part comes. Those elected to office have to interpret what their so-called mandate actually meant.

For the eight month old Young Administration there is no question that their victory was due in part to the Federal midterm congressional elections that rejected Obama-Care, among other things.

But Young, Shreve, Smith and Delauter earned their right to replace their successors, whose plan was thrown off course after years of autocratic no-growth policies that amassed a record setting structural deficit set to exceed $30 million this fiscal year.

With that said once our new band of change agents came into office they jumped into action.  They quickly established a strategic plan, empowered the County Manager with greater responsibility, charged department heads to cut expenses and then restructured county departments.

The end result had a positive impact on the looming structural deficit, but also created a number of layoffs of county employees.

In and of itself, this was a significant shake up to the culture of Frederick County government, although much needed.

Among many other things, the commissioners appointed a Charter Writing Board. This independent body realized that it needed to earn the respect of the citizens with a sincere outreach campaign verses immediately jumping into writing a new constitution for Frederick County.

All of the above was accomplished in less than four months of being sworn in. Many were marveled, others grew wary of the rapidity of the course of such a dynamic change.

Change by cutting expenses and reorganizing staff is one thing… changing a culture is a completely different animal.

Now comes the presentation of the PPP Associates Privatization Study which proposed that by shifting up to 528 employees to private contractors up to $108 million could be saved in county expenses.

Talk about change… that is a real whopper!

The threat of a major upheaval in the established culture of county government is where our new commissioners misjudged their mandate.

Whether they had planned to move slowly with the privatization effort or not, the impression the board gave to the public was that they intended to waste no time in forging ahead – partly, I’m sure, from the reputation they had quickly earned in the first quarter of this year.

The game had been lost on the PPP deal when it was noted that the study would not be released until the night before Mr. Porter’s presentation to the board. The anti-Young opposition had their meat for spreading fear.

The impression of many long time county employees was that they only had a before the process of privatization began.

Would the concept have been received differently had the commissioners made it adamantly clear that the study was only the first of at least three analyses from different sources that would lay a foundation for consideration of a privatization plan?

If a well defined plan for consideration had been laid out to the citizens of the county that looked at privatization in smaller components where citizens and county employees did not feel rushed or have the impression that the outcome was a fait accompli, it would have been hard for the opposition to stir a crowd.

The idea of privatization is far from dead in Frederick County, and this board should be commended for finally seeing the light and putting a stop to consideration of the PPP proposal.

It’s time to take a breath, regroup and slow this train down.

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Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He is an appointed member of the Frederick County Charter Board. He also writes for

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