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The Assiduous Vetting of Charter Government

The people of Frederick were part of the process—and that made all the difference.

Behind the Curtain of Charter OppositionElection Day is now passed, and as usual the Wednesday morning quarterbacks around the country, the state, and here in Frederick County were quick to recite all the reasons why certain candidates and ballot issues won and lost.

While some are gloating, others were stunned by the results. Then there are those who just go with the flow as they do with that other four-year event – leap year.

The prognosticators have already looked into their crystal balls and predicted the ripple effect of the choices made on November 6.

In many ways the outcomes of that day were predictable, but, through biased and/or partisan eyes, were hard to see. I could espouse for pages on the results from the top of last Tuesday’s ballot all the way down, but here I will put focus on the final question voters were asked to place an “X” in a box … and that is Question A – Adoption of County Charter (for Frederick County).

Was there really any surprise that over 62% of the votes cast on this question were in favor of adoption?

For me, yes – I was blown away. But then again, being one of the 12 parents of the document, I was biased. And just as a father worries whether he has done enough to prepare his child for the world ahead, I had my doubts.

Now that the dust has settled, and after reading the thousands of words in The Frederick News PostThe Gazette and all the social media outlets, as well as conversing with those who are willing to opine on the topic, I’m not so surprised.

One of most verbose and angriest voices of Frederick County was quoted in an article that it was not really the efforts of the charter board that won the hearts of the voters, but it was the “assiduous … effort to mislead [the voters] before [the charter] was passed.” Of course that is former County Commissioner Kai Hagen. He was referring to the coordinated effort of an educational coalition including a cross section of hundreds of volunteers, including businesses, unions and community groups.

And the most evil of all was the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, according to His Angriest.

But the reality is, of all the ballot issues in Frederick County elections over the past 40 years that I have participated in support of and/or opposition to, I can honestly say I cannot remember one any more vetted by the people of this county than “this charter.”

Consider that it was a campaign issue in the 2010 election, where a majority of the county commissioners, who earned the office, favored a change to charter. In addition, we cannot forget that all but one of the members of our state delegation jumped on board about the same time.

Once the Charter Writing Board was appointed by the new commissioners in March of 2011, Mr. Hagen and his comrade-in-arms, Janice Wiles, snuck behind the curtain as master puppeteers with an attempt to oust those selected via a petition drive.

While Mr. Hagen and Ms. Wiles denied having anything to do with it, the evidence was overwhelmingly against their claims.

The conjurers claimed that the Charter Writing Board members were in fact puppets themselves with strings attached directly to County Commissioner President Blaine Young.

The local media across all channels bought into the referendum initiative hook, line and sinker with headlines and editorials that ran for months pro and con on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Charter Writing Board methodically went about the business of conducting outreach meetings to any community group that wanted to learn about the effort.

Then there was the problem the petitioners had with the validity of enough signatures to meet the minimum to qualify for a referendum. But that did not sway the forces of opposition, as they called in Walkersville’s own, the one and only Man in White to save the day.

While that man, former County Commissioner John “Lennie” Thompson, Esq., did not have his horse to ride into town, he took up the cause with headlines galore championing legal action to validate the invalid signatures.

Alas, even with all the brouhaha he could muster, Mr. Thompson’s legal action was dismissed.

Meanwhile, the Charter Writing Board methodically went about the business of engaging in lively debate as it wrote a charter through a process of public meetings that were aired over and over again on local television and well as being reported by other media.

About the time the finishing touches were put on the proposed document and turned over to the Board of County Commissioners, many who had remained silent for the last 18 months decided to come out of the woodwork in avid opposition to “this charter.” Bloggers, barbers, broadcasters, blowhards and even men with badges began filling the airways, Internet highways, parking lots and newspapers with as many as 17 reasons (to my count) why “this charter” would result in a bureaucratic nightmare as no other civilization has ever experienced. (I may be exaggerating a bit here, but their efforts were noble and opinions respected.)

Without question the paid press ate it up. There were days that it appeared The Frederick News Post dedicated all of its opinion pages to the pros and cons of charter home rule, not to mention the in-depth and unbiased series of articles authored by Peter McCarthy, Bethany Rogers and other reporters.

Meanwhile a Charter Education Coalition took shape over the summer garnering support from the likes of members of all political parties, the Frederick County Teachers Association, Farm Bureau, Pomona Grange, Career Firefighters, Sheriff Deputies, Lion’s Club and elected officials throughout the county. Through this the coalition funds were raised to present programs around the county to educate interested parties about “this charter.”

A bi-partisan discussion (a debate of sorts) was held in Urbana by the Sugarloaf Conservancy. The event was widely covered by the media including the results of a straw poll taken by attendees.

In addition partisan groups formed to support their positions, appropriately called Charter Yes and Vote No on Charter for Frederick County. While the former likely raised more funds than the latter, it clearly cannot be said that one effort was more “assiduous” than the other.

The fact is the voters were given a chance to learn about the pros and cons of charter government through just about every form of communication that was available to them over an extended period of time.

In the end, based upon the most recent records, over 58,000 voters out of the 110,036 who came to the polls made their declaration to change our form of county government to that of Charter Home Rule. My best guess is that Messrs. Hagen and Thompson were two of the 35,443 who cast a ballot against the question, or may have been among the 15,800 who just avoided Question A altogether.

For the first time in decades (maybe ever) has there ever been an issue more clearly vetted than that of “this charter”… even more so than those of the past that centered on land use policy, which dominated each election cycle from the late 1970’s up to the 2006 election?

The people have spoken not only for Charter Home Rule, but to say thank you to all who “assiduously” championed both sides of the issue … it did make the difference!

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Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He was an appointed member of the 2011-2012 Frederick County Charter Board. He also writes for

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