Voters have the ultimate responsibility

Kai Hagen

November 1, 2002

Every resident of Frederick County has an interest in the outcome of next Tuesday's election for the Board of County Commissioners. Based on the likely voter turnout, however, many of us don't know it. Or aren't motivated enough to cast a ballot.

Builders, mortgage bankers, realtors and other members of the development industry also have an interest in the outcome of the election. They do know it. And they are motivated.

Certainly, the citizens of Frederick County and developers have some important common interests and goals. After all, builders build our homes and neighborhoods. Banks and realtors and others facilitate the process of finding and buying our homes.

But our interests and theirs are not identical.

It is not in the interest of our communities to build as many houses as possible, as fast as possible, on any land a speculator or builder can purchase.

It is not the responsibility of developers to guarantee ample and uncrowded schools. It is not their job to ensure adequate and uncongested roads. It is not their burden to assure abundant green spaces and recreational parks. We can not rely on them to preserve agricultural areas. And it is not part of their mission to protect watersheds or groundwater supplies.

It is ultimately our responsibility.

And we delegate that responsibility to the five people we elect to serve us as members of the Board of County Commissioners.

Development-related companies can't vote, of course, and the owners and employees who live in this county get just one vote each, like the rest of us. But they do have a right to make financial contributions to the candidates they believe will support their particular interests. And so they have.

Their substantial campaign contributions have paid for a blizzard of mailings and phone calls and yard signs and radio and newspaper ads. Realtors and builders have mailed their memberships and sent home flyers in paychecks telling people to vote for pro-growth candidates.

But the developers and the candidates know that a majority of Frederick County residents place growth-related issues atop their list of local concerns, so the campaigns don't emphasize the fact that some candidates believe the county needs to speed up the stream of new homes. They aren't investing in mailings and ads about discarding our Adequate Facilities Ordinance. They aren't printing flyers to inform voters that discarding the impact fees on certain new development only transfers the cost to the taxpayers that already live here.

Just as development interests are entitled to invest their money in the local candidates of their choice, however, we are entitled to know who is giving how much to what candidates. Whether or not and how to take that information into account is up to each voter.

Complete financial reports will not be available until after the election. Nevertheless, the early reports reveal that virtually all contributions from builders and realtors have gone to candidates John Lovell, Bruce Reeder, Mike Cady and Charles Jenkins, who is a salesman for Ausherman Homes.

Clearly, those signing the checks hope to oust the two incumbents in the race, Jan Gardner and John "Lennie" Thompson. They also hope to prevent the election of Bonnie Bailey-Baker or George Smith who represent the most likely third vote in favor of a few reasonable and moderate limits to growth.

If these candidates are targets because they don't fully represent the relatively narrow interests of the developers, perhaps it is because they represent the interests of county residents first.

It is worth noting, contrary to some of the rhetoric, that there are no "No Growth" candidates in this race. The flow of new residents has not stopped, and is going to continue. Frederick County is now home to more than 200,000 people. Current projections say we will have 238,300 residents in 2010, and 281,700 by the year 2020. That's 80,000 new neighbors before a child born today graduates from one of our crowded high schools.

Yet, in spite of the fact that more people have moved to Frederick County during the tenure of the current board than any other four year period, and another 12,000 or so homes are already planned and approved, Mr. Cady has criticized the board for what he calls an "extreme" slow-down.

Has it appeared that way to you?

When you drive around the county, have you felt we have been growing much too slowly? Have you noticed a few empty desks in your child's classroom and a bit of elbow room on the roads?

Are you convinced next Tuesday is the time to put the pedal to the metal? Hang in there. I'm sure the traffic will clear up any minute.

When it does, please go vote to protect your interests.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at