The time went by quickly recently when I sat down with Frederick County council president Bud Otis (R). In fact, I ran over by fifteen minutes the hour he had set aside for my interview.
We spoke about a lot of issues ranging from his 12 years as chief of staff for former Maryland district 6 Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R), to the proposed ethics ordinance, growth, education, and his relationship with other council members.
While we were not able to cover in depth all of the issues we discussed or even get to all of the issues I wanted to discuss, it was obvious he wants to provide good service to his constituents. Otis told me this is a carry over of what he often found himself doing during his years working with Congressman Bartlett.
Interestingly, his election as president of the council came with the support of the three Democrats on the council with the other three Republicans supporting council member Billy Shreve (R).
Otis told me he had received close to 4,000 more votes than Shreve, but it was Shreve who was a former member of the board of county commissioners who wanted to be president of the council.
Obviously, a deal was reached where the Democrats on the council would support Otis and Democrat M.C. Keegan-Ayer would become vice president.
I mentioned to him voters were tired of the polarizing politics of Washington and Otis told me “It is not going to be polarizing here. I’m not going to let it happen”. He added “voters did not bring us here to argue every day; they elected us to get things done”.
I mentioned the majority of the 4-3 votes to date had found him voting with the Democrats. I added this was likely in part to the previous feud between Jan Gardner (D) and Republicans Blaine Young, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter.
I also brought up the recent council vote where an applicant was first approved for a county hook up for subdivision purposes and then later another vote was taken and the applicant was denied. The applicant received testimony from former Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett on their behalf. Otis said he believed what had been presented and cast his vote in approval. Later, after receiving information from county staff that provided contrary information, Otis brought the matter back for a vote and changed his vote to deny the applicant. Otis told me “I did what I thought was right”.
We agreed it was no secret Clagett and Gardner did not share affection for each other.
The implementation of charter government in Frederick County saw the voters elect Jan Gardner (D) over Blaine Young (R) as county executive. They would also elect Republican holdovers from the former board of commissioners Shreve and Delauter.
I stated some of the differences today come from their relationship with Gardner. I asked if their role as former commissioner and now as a council member also contributed to some differences. Otis said yes, previously they had administrative responsibilities and now they are a member of the legislative body. He added when he would discuss the implementation of charter with others who had changed to charter earlier in the state, this was a common issue that would come up with council members who had previously served as a county commissioner.
Bud said “I meet with executive Gardner every Thursday to hash out issues and I have an open door policy with the other council members”. He added he has reached out to council members Shreve and Delauter and told them he is willing to meet with them as needed.
I asked Bud “What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in the first year of charter?” and he said “laying down the foundation of how the council will operate”. He told me there was very little of a blueprint from the charter document so they needed to set up policies and procedures to get the government up and running. Otis added, “It was important to set up how to process Bills, make amendments and get Bills passed”.
During my interview I also brought up the do-over vote for the Monrovia Town Center, the proposed Ethics Bill, impact fees, education and the budget. Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss these issues in depth.
Otis declined to go into depth in regard to the action to re-hear the approval process of the Monrovia Town Center development, referring me to a letter (this letter was sent to me after the interview) he and council members M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald had written. He did add “I want this (the new review) to be an open and transparent process”.
In regard to the proposed Ethics Bill, I brought up that council member Delauter’s company doing work with the county had been an issue among many and Otis told me the bill “would not allow a council member to contract with the county. However, a council member’s company could be a subcontractor”. He added “the subpoena power of the council was left in the bill and citizens have a right to know their elected officials are above reproach”.
When I brought up the budget process and in particular education, Otis asked his assistant to provide me the calendar. I received this after the interview and notice the council receives the budget from the executive in April and will approve in May.
I did ask Otis about the recent flap over the hiring of a budget analyst for the council to help them with the budget review. He said since there was not consensus over the hiring of a former budget director, who since has removed himself from consideration, the job was being advertised as a short term position.
I followed up asking if he felt the council should take a look at how other councils in the state had organized their staffs and propose an organization chart for the council. Otis said no, he was concerned with the cost of staff, was pleased with the aides the council members have at present and did not want to add full time staff.
In regard to education, Otis said “I have a strong commitment to the school system and I am concerned Frederick County teacher salaries are rated so low in the state”.
Otis also has concerns for the small local home builder when it comes to the proposed increase in impact fees by executive Gardner, but is committed to construction of additional schools to relieve over crowded schools such as Hillcrest Elementary. He added he is hopeful he will be able to announce a favorable outcome to this issue in the near future.
I concluded by asking him what were his goals for the next three years. He told me “I want to make sure the county has a solid financial foundation, expand job opportunities, reduce the number of commuters, make sure teachers are paid right, that new schools are built as needed and to make sure the growth we get is done at the right pace”.