She calls it an effort to ‘squash public participation.’
Frederick, Md (KM). There’s reaction to a decision on Tuesday by the Frederick County Council to indefinitely table two of the County Executive’s Bills. During her public information briefing on Thursday, County Executive Jan Gardner said this decision was attempt to keep citizens out of the decision-making process. “I’m truly saddened and disappointed by this decision. Four people who were elected by the citizens of the county decided that you–the residents of Frederick County–are not stakeholders on these important issues. So I’ve never witnessed such an effort to squash public participation,” she said.
The Council on Tuesday voted to “lay on the table” a bill to revise the process of drafting development rights and responsibilities agreements the county signs with developers; and legislation to increase mitigation fees on developers to reflect the true cost of school construction. Gardner says these measures are designed to help ease the traffic congestion and school overcrowding that has resulted from growth, and make growth pay its way.. “Never mind that you’re out there sitting in traffic, or that your kids are in overcrowded schools, or that you as a county taxpayer is left to figure out how to provide the schools and roads and the other things we need as the community grows,” says Gardner.
Public hearings on both bills were scheduled for this coming Tuesday, January 16th. But their future could be up in the air because the charter says any bill not acted 90 days after its introduction is dead. The expiration date for these two bills is March 5th.
The motion was introduced on Tuesday by Councilmember Tony Chmelik. “County Executive is introduced wide, sweeping pieces of legislation. The Council has been deluged with stakeholders that would be majorly impacted by these bills,” he said. “It’s abundantly clear that the County Executive did not work with any of the individuals who could be impacted with these bills.”
The County Executive had this response. “Now I’ve heard arguments that the development community should help to rewrite these bills. And that they should be able to do this before these bills are introduced and you as a public have the right to weigh in. This is not how the public process is supposed to work,” says Gardner. “All citizens are stakeholders and deserve the right to weigh in and participate in public hearings. This includes everyone. It includes the development community, the environmentalists, school advocates, the general public, everyone.”
Chmelik called for a workshop on DRRA’s and any impact a recent court decision will have on these agreements. “It’s also my understanding in February that the Council will have a workshop on the impact fee study, and we currently have pending legislation on school mitigation fees,” he said. “It’s my belief that we as a Council should hold a more holistic conversation about all of these fees.”
Gardner promised to keep citizens updated on issues coming before the Council. “I’m not going to do my best to make sure when they’re bills introduced that are not workshopped, that I will make sure that information comes to the public and that we provide public notice as best we can to people who we believe will be affected,” she said.
During her public information briefing, Gardner informed the public about a Council hearing coming up on Tuesday, January 16th. The panel will listen to citizens comment on legislation to allow warehouses and distribution centers in areas zoned mixed use. She says the Council has not held a workshop on this bill.
By Kevin McManus