The advent of Charter Government in Frederick County has given pause to many, but when it comes to Councilman Bud Otis, it has left many wondering what is he really up to!
It was about three weeks ago that I was going through the checkout line at the Common Market with a lunch I had selected from the very popular local coop food store’s salad bar here in Frederick. The nice tattooed young lady with a nose piercing and spiked green hair asked me if I was an “owner” (an investor of sorts in the cooperative). Having pledged my $200 to the cause more than a least a decade ago, I answered, “Yes, ma’am!”
She asked my name, and I responded with a clear pronunciation of “Rocky Mackintosh” as I handed her the $8.50 for my purchase.
It wasn’t a matter of a split second after stating my name that the woman standing behind me in line asked me: “So how’s that Charter Government working out for you, Rocky Mackintosh?”
I promptly pivoted from my departing direction to see a person who I did not recognize, but she clearly knew that I had been a member of the Frederick County’s Charter Writing Board back in 2012.
My cordial response: “I think it was the right thing to do, but we are challenged with those who were elected to serve.”
“Tell me about it!” she adamantly stated, “Between that Jan Gardner and Bud Otis (long pause) … I’ve really had it with those people!”
I smiled with a chuckle, wished her a nice afternoon and went on my way.
In a nutshell my new friend summed up (in part) the dilemma that local fiscal conservatives have been having with county government over the last 18 months.
Jan Gardner won the 2014 election to serve as Frederick’s first County Executive by running on a platform of undoing nearly every major initiative that former County Commissioner Blaine Young and his board accomplished during the previous four years. And coincidently Harold “Bud” Otis became the top vote getter among County Council candidates by pledging his support for then candidate Young and his political record.
With the Otis victory came a sigh of relief within the ranks of the county’s conservatives, because while their hopes were dashed for the County Executive seat in a loss to Gardner, at least the Republicans held a 4 to 3 majority on the council … or so they thought.
Political Power Play Number One
Without anyone realizing what happened, even before the members of the new charter government were sworn in, a serious case of egomania and personal pride struck that side of the aisle as a classic battle of behind the scenes political bargaining took place while Otis and “fellow” Republican Billy Shreve sought support among their new peers in respective efforts to claim the position of President of the County Council.
By striking a deal with the … (I won’t say it) three Democratic members of the council, Otis easily captured the seat of Council leadership, but left severe wounds in his relationship with his party members. While both sides made claims of efforts (half-heartedly at best) to patch things up, the situation rapidly eroded last year as Otis has consistently cast his votes with the Council Democrats ever since.
All this has made for interesting viewing of council meetings, to say the least … on the field and off the field. Shreve and fellow Republican Kirby Delauter, while in most cases have voted and legislated on solid conservative values, their fits of frustration, insults and foolishness have only contributed to the intensity of their relationship with other council members. The launching of rotten tomatoes has not been restricted to a couple of council members, but also from many others via editorials in print and through the web, over the air ways and talk on the street.
While I did not hear the radio broadcast, I read that Ellen Bartlett, the spouse of 20 year term former Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and unsuccessful county council candidate in her own right by a handful of votes in 2014, had a lot of “not nice things” to say about Otis, who was a longtime aid to her husband on Capitol Hill.
Not a One-Way Street
It has not been a one-way street however. In collaboration with CE Gardner, Otis has found his own way to keep the sidewalls of the breach blazing hot with his own antics by refusing to place requests by Delauter on the agenda and even claims of threats by Otis against Delauter’s business … among a host other things.
Clearly this has taken its toll on soon to be 78 year old Otis. It does not take an astute observer to notice that there have been a number of times that the Council President has seemed lost and confused when he presides over meetings. If it wasn’t for Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayre to guide him through the agenda during those lapses in memory … well, I won’t go there.
As a relief from all this stress, there is no question that Bud has found all the love, comfort and support he could ever want from Gardner and Keegan-Ayre. He has been regularly stroked for his courage to think “independently” and publically lauded by Gardner and her supporters countywide.
Yes, all that “independent thinking” has led many to believe that the aging Otis has just become a Gardner pawn to be used until his useful political life is over … leaving some to wonder when will the County Executive be done with him?
Political Power Play Number Two
The next question becomes: What is really behind Bud’s announcement last week that he is leaving the Republican Party to further emphasize the “independent” political thinker he claims to be?
In the recent past there have been other Frederick County Republicans who either never had or diverted from their conservative principles to follow Ms. Gardner’s leadership when she was a Frederick County Commissioner. Take David Gray for example – a one time Democrat who learned that at the time one had to have that Republican “R” after his name in order to get elected. And so he made the change, but never felt inclined to leave the GOP when he was overwhelmingly outnumbered on just about every vote four to one during his term on the Blaine Young board.
Could it just be that “This Bud,” while he vehemently denies it, has reached that point in his political life that he is ready to hang it up?
With no county elections until 2018, is the plan to finish out his term as Council President at the end of this year and then gracefully bow out?
Could his latest move be his next power play to set himself up for the time he resigns from the council not as a Republican, but as an Independent? This would leave some to believe that the choice of selecting his replacement would not then be with the Republican Central Committee (RCC), but with the County Council itself.
A battle for the ages you say? Not quite!
With three Democrats and an equal number of Republicans voting along party lines, it seems to me that if in fact the RCC no longer has claim to that power, County Executive Jan Gardner will have her way once more.
To that I find it hard to say, but Touché, Jan. This Bud’s for You!
Rocky Mackintosh, the Founder and President of MacRo, Ltd., is a leading commercial real estate expert in the region.He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012.