Frederick County Executive Candidates Debate Issues During Forum

They talked about fiscal responsibility and 287g program.

County Executive Candidates Jessica Fitzwater (L) and Michael Hough (R)

Frederick County, Md (KM) A number of issues were discussed Wednesday during a Frederick County Executive candidates  forum on Wednesday.

One of the issues had to deal with the 287g program where correctional officers at the Adult Detention Center check on the immigration status of individuals who are arrested. Republican candidate Michael Hough defended the program, claiming there’s a lot of demagoguery put out by opponents. “It is partnering with our federal law enforcement, and partnering to remove people who are not supposed to be in the country,”: he said. “They came here. They skipped their immigration hearings, and then they came here to Frederick County and committed more crimes.”

The program has been controversial since it began in Frederick County. Democrat Jessica FItzwater said it makes many members of the community feel unsafe about calling law enforcement for help when they need it. “This program has actually resulted in costly lawsuits to the county that do cost taxpayers dollars,” she said. “So it is something that is important to think about. And, again, it does take us out of step with many local law enforcement agencies around the country.”

Related to that, Hough brought up a political advertisement he’s been running. “For the demagoguing of this program, and attacks on our police–that quite frankly, my opponent has been leading the charge on that–if any of you have seen the commercial I’ve got, that’s the end of the 287g program where she proclaimed herself a racist and all white people are racists. That’s the end of that hearing,” he said.

“I am not racist,” Fitzwater responded. “And I did not say those comments in the most artful way. But I do not back down about talking about the fact that we all have implicit bias.”

The candidates also talked about who is more fiscally responsible when it comes to managing county government and its money.  . Hough said property taxes are  too high despite the fact that county government has been running surpluses. “Right now, people are hurting. Inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years. People are living off of saving accounts. They’re living off credit cards. And if you’re living off credit cards, the Fed’s about to raise the interest rate today. So it’s really difficult on people.” He promised if he’s elected, he will put a freeze on property taxes.

Fitzwater said the County has run some surpluses, but the additional revenue has been put to good use. “We invested in reserves so that we can continue to earn that AAA bond rating. We invested that in school construction to make sure we don’t have overcrowded schools in the future that are the result of the growth that was approved by the Republican board previously,”: she said.

Fitzwater also noted that the County has a AAA bond rating from all three major bond rating agencies in the country, and that helps keep down the cost to taxpayers when the county goes to the bond market to borrow money in that it pays lower interest rates.

Frederick County has had charter governments since 2014. Hough said it has not worked out the way it should, with checks and balances between the County Executive and the County Council. “Unfortunately, our County Council has been essentially a rubber stamp for the last eight years for the County Executive,” he said. “There has been no push and pull, no back and forth like there’s supposed to be. If you look at the last four years’ budgets, there wasn’t  a single cut out of three of the four years of those budgets. That’s not right.”

Fitzwater took issue with that, noting that Hough hasn’t watched any of the Council’s meetings. “Those who have watched some of our meetings, or have been at some of our events, you know that I don’t always agree with the current County Executive. I ask questions and I push too,.” she said. “That’s the collaboration, civil conversation  and push and pull that we do need in county government, and I’ve been part of that for the past eight years.”

Fitzwater serves as County Councilwoman; Hough is a State Senator.

The forum was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Frederick.

Election day is Tuesday, November 8th. Early voting starts on Thursday, October 27th, and continues until Thursday, November 3rd.

By Kevin McManus