When something goes wrong or there is the inevitable conflict with the exercise of power the Frederick County Board of Commissioners — and especially its president, the irrepressible Blaine R. Young — is an easy target.
But when the board gets something right, it hardly causes a ripple.
Such is the case with the commissioners’ much-improved relationship with the county’s 12 municipalities, a campaign promise that members of this board have gone out of their way to keep.
The success of the new lines of communication opened between Winchester Hall in downtown Frederick and the far-flung outposts in the state’s largest county is due primarily to the boots-on-the-ground efforts of County Manager Dave Dunn.
Dunn — whom the commissioners in September designated as the liaison to the towns — was hired, in part, because of his own municipal background as city manager of Brunswick.
Dunn knows the problems municipalities face first-hand and the frustration that comes from not being able to get a straight answer from the seats of power, which is why he has taken his show on the road, visiting numerous town meetings. In January alone, he attended eight meetings, stretching from Brunswick to Thurmont.
Officials in those towns can get direct and immediate answers to many of their questions from Dunn, who, in turn, conveys their concerns to the commissioners.
It also helps that three of the five commissioners live in municipalities themselves, and two have served on the Frederick Board of Aldermen. So they are quite familiar with the world view from Main Street.
There are other reasons, however, for the detente. For one, money talks, and it can speak volumes.
The commissioners have taken steps to intervene to save the towns money, including offering opportunities for Brunswick to save money by collaborating on bulk purchases of products and vehicle maintenance, said Brunswick Town Manager Rick Weldon — a political veteran who can now add the good to the bad and ugly of sour politics that he has seen.
The commissioners have also been much more agreeable when it comes to tax equity, contrary to some previous boards. Tax equity has to do with the county doling out cash for services it doesn’t provide within the towns, such as road maintenance work and police coverage.
Thurmont, for example, received nearly $200,000 more from the county than it would have in the current budget year due to the commissioners’ beneficence, according to its mayor.
Another possible reason for the new era of good feeling in the past two years might be the decidedly pro-growth, pro-development stance of this board, which has put it in good stead with those town burgesses, mayors, councils and boards struggling to expand their tax bases to pay for services.
But it is not all sweetness and light.
As former Walkersville Town Council member and former county commissioner John “Lennie” Thompson wryly puts it, towns can be fickle, teetering back and forth between wanting county government to leave them alone and helping to bail them out of tight spots, some of which are self-imposed.
Even Commissioner David Gray (R) — who is often at odds with Young and can usually be counted on as the only dissenting vote on almost anything the commission does — agrees relations have improved.
He attributes that, in part, to less arrogance on the part of county government in its dealings with the towns.
Whatever the reasons, this board of commissioners clearly has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to actually listening to the concerns of municipalities, which makes for better government for everyone. And for that — even if you strongly disagree with some this board’s policies and antics — they deserve a tip of the hat.