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Form Follows Function .
June 20, 2006
by Jack Lynch
There are a number of reasons to fear that the campaign promises of Frederick Mayor Jeff Holtzinger will be proven less truthful than many would have believed given his apparently fresh approach to politics prior to the election. He claimed little more than a desire to set things straight, and appealed to us through his appearance of modesty and an unwillingness to unleash a negative campaign. We were in love with the guy whose cell phone failed on election eve, leading him to believe false rumors that he had lost the election, until he arrived at his campaign party and word of victory.
Six months later, with an unnecessarily negative reorganization of staff, an ethics violation and another pending on the same matter of hiring his sister-in-law, which will likely draw slight rebuke but little penalty, he appears less clean and wholesome, and perhaps even a pure throwback to the less desirable aspects of the Grimes administration.
The transition team process placed that allusion on the table, and set the stage on discussions that have led to his hiring failures, and now his reorganization plans.
But there may simply be a cause that goes directly to the un-political side of the Mayor.
It may be his undoing over time, for he asserts his personality in these matters over the public good of recognizing a responsibility for managing the perception of public service.
What muddies the waters is his confounding failure to build a press presence and hold regular news conferences. Building good relationships with reporters sets up an important conduit to the public, and bridges the natural mistrust of the political actors. It is a routine, like kissing the wife as you come in the front door, that pays many more dividends than it costs.
Call it the art of the engineer, for it isnít the art of successful politics. Sure the engineer actually fixes the pipes, but the politician makes sure he takes credit for it in all regards. A good pipe can flush away a lot of crap, but the smell lingers. A good politician reminds us that it used to really stink, until he fixed the problem.
Remember, this is a man of action, a ďhands onĒ guy. He told us that straight and maybe we still donít quite understand. He wants to be left alone to work on the solution without a lot of second guessing and looking over the shoulder. Bad career choice of his part then, but he may also recognize that too, as he often hints at little long term regard for his office.
Frederick City faces a challenge of historic proportions, an opportunity to evolve its growth process, and a danger that the metes and bounds are nonexistent. Holtzinger says that annexation policy must be addressed and that an adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) is a priority.
Yet major growth looms on the immediate horizon with citizen unrest just beneath the surface. Plans appear to doom the entire northern end of the city the same way traffic and building woes made a mess of the south end.
Carroll Creek redevelopment may be very nice, and the commercial boom along the stranded northern leg of Monocacy Boulevard and Gas House Pike may be an economic miracle, but until the infrastructure supports those efforts, the public will recognize its real position after the prom gown is put away.
The Mayor promises many good accomplishments, and at present he seems to have a fairly complaint Board of Aldermen who also support the serious city concerns and want to get their own hands dirty solving the issues.
Holtzinger needs to capitalize on that by managing the perception of the public better through the press. If he follows through on managing growth through an annexation policy and APFO, in addition to engineering the infrastructure needs, he can become the leader he appears to desire to become.
For a brief shining moment, it looked as if he was doing that when the water pipeline deal was sealed with the county, but then the reality of water costs increases took a big bite out of the apple. Now we hear that wastewater costs are going to scour our pockets. Had the right spin, and the facts of the needs been presented properly, we might all be singing his praises. Instead, it looks simply like another public mugging for the costs of infrastructure to support development.
The public mood is not to be fooled again, as the county election looms and the regional plan processes and the potential Thurmont annexations fall in place, and the city unleashes the water that will inundate our neighborhoods and spacious character for the type of dense development and clogged roadways that characterize Montgomery County.
The Mayor can indeed come out a winner, but he canít ignore reality, or perception. The job calls for not just service to the public, but coming on the carpet and explaining how and why the ship's running in the Mayorís direction. Being Mayor is being Captain by compact. There are always mumblings of mutiny beneath the public breath. If the helm does not communicate well, or dismisses the crew, he wonít last long and the plank will be set out.
Iím not certain if good old Fredneck has a song of its own, but it may have to try that standard of good old southern boys, Free Bird, because it seems likely thatÖ"this bird you cannot change.Ē