The next installment of The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates in the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election features the winner-take-all race between the Republican candidates running for the Harford County Council District D seat, representing the northern Harford area.
Incumbent county councilman Chad Shrodes of White Hall faces Johnathan Grimmel of Monkton in the Republican Primary Election to determine who will occupy the District D seat. As there are no Democratic candidates running in the Primary Election, whichever candidate wins the June Primary Election will have smooth sailing through an opponent-less General Election. Their answers to The Dagger’s three questions appear below.
Dagger: County council members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such approving tax increment financing proposals, expanding the development envelope, or approving multi-million dollar capital projects. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the county council and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Grimmell: First and foremost I would bring to the county council a fresh perspective from a section of the population that is often under-represented. My work experience encompasses many different areas. Growing up, living, and working on our family farm I have gained agricultural and business experience while learning about the challenges the farm industry faces. I recognize and understand how crucial farms and agriculture are to our local economy. Watching and working with my father’s small excavation and paving business, I have seen the struggles of trying to start and/or own a small business in a climate of government over-reaching. My experience in public service started early. I had the pleasure of working for State Senator Barry Glassman in Annapolis, I worked on Governor Ehrlich’s 2010 Gubernatorial Campaign, and recently worked for the State Department at the US Consulate in Belfast Northern Ireland. These opportunities have inspired me to a life of public service with both global and local experience.
When faced with an issue outside of my expertise, I would make sure to bring multiple people to the table that have expertise in that area to provide insight and multiple points of views. I would then seek input from those individuals or groups that would be affected or impacted by decisions, so that the people’s voices can be heard and included in the decision making process.
Shrodes: I have a degree in land-use and planning from Towson University and worked for Planning and Zoning in Harford County and at the State in the fields of environmental planning, developmental review, historical and land preservation. As a planner, I also worked closely with the Office of Economic Development and its agricultural division, the County Administration, Department of Public Works, Health Department, Parks and Recreation, and Community Services, as well as individuals and private businesses. My skills and experience have played an important role on the Council, which is frequently required to make land-use decisions including determinations on comprehensive rezoning and the Master Plan. They will continue to be an important asset to the Council as there are no other candidates seeking office with a land-use background.
In addition to my professional experience, I have more than 20 years of public service experience from serving on numerous civic boards, committees, and charitable organizations, including the Jarrettsville Lions Club, Harford Leadership Academy, the Harford Land Trust, the Harford County Farm Bureau, Traffic Safety Advisory Board, and Rocks Road Improvement Committee.
But, perhaps the qualification that sets me most apart this time around is that I understand the decisions that residents must make on a daily basis regarding their families and their household budgets. I am a proud graduate of Harford County Public Schools. I took my first college courses at Harford Community College, and lived at home to save money so that I could pay my way through Towson University. I built a home in Norrisville in 2000 and I am raising my family here. These significant life experiences and daily interactions with other families, residents, and businesses, give me a deep, mutual appreciation of the joys and challenges of raising a child, of balancing busy schedules, of paying the bills on time – the very same things most Harford County families deal with every day.
The issues that are most important to Harford County families and residents including improving our schools, making our roads safe, reliable emergency services, low property taxes, the protection of our rural way of life, and accountability and efficiency in government remain my top priorities.
In all decisions that I make, whether they are within my area of expertise or not, I have always sought and listened to the input of the citizens of northern Harford County who I have the honor to serve. I also regularly seek the input of subject matter experts, and research the decisions and outcomes of similar issues in other counties and states. Most importantly my voting record on the Council is evidence that I am consistent, conservative, and I am not beholden to developers.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Council with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Grimmel: Recently the council decided to expand the power of the executive branch with Bill 14-18, which was passed by the Council 6-1 with Councilwoman Lisanti being the only nay vote. The powers of the executive branch already allow for the executive to appoint a director for each department under the executive branch, which is then confirmed by the council. Bill 14-18 has added that the executive could appoint the deputy director position of each department in addition to the department head. I am strongly against this bill for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the law as written before, and after this bill, still fails to require that an appointee be qualified for the position. Secondly, no other county in Maryland has this type of legislation. And lastly, it adds more positions to be promised to people for political favors, and it also puts more government positions into political jeopardy by making them subject to the political winds of the time.
Shrodes: I am proud of the Council’s accomplishments over the last eight years and thank my colleagues for their support for my initiatives. Together we have reduced property taxes, preserved thousands of acres of fertile farmland, funded the building of five public schools eliminating overcrowding and approved the resources necessary to cover the deficit for teacher pensions no longer funded by the State.
While each member of the current council brings a different perspective and we work very collegially together, there are a few times when I have had a different opinion than the majority. I voted against the local application of the rain tax for a number of reasons, and I voted against the bill to create a conditional (forgivable) loan fund. I was the only vote against both bills.
Along the same lines, I am generally not a supporter of TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing), and voted against both projects that have come before the council. The only instance in which I would consider supporting one is in the commercial redevelopment (i.e. business, research or educational park) of a blighted area or brown field that would not be redeveloped otherwise. The infrastructure bond is then justified by the creation of new, long-term jobs, educational opportunities, and the reduction in expense the County would otherwise incur to decontaminate the site. Even then, the case must be strong.
The County should focus more on helping businesses by cutting red tape and providing efficient and cost-effective services.
Dagger: The Harford County Council is charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Enacting legislation, adopting the budget, overseeing the redistricting process, and serving as the Zoning Board of Appeals. Looking ahead, what issues within the council’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Grimmel: The decisions made in the next four years are going to have a huge impact on generations to come, and will require a strong leader and public servant to help the community make these decisions as a whole. I hope to be that public servant to serve my community on the council.
In terms of the budget, I see not only a current need but also a future need for the council to facilitate a growth of cost efficiency, transparency, and accountability when it comes to all financial areas in the county government. Many politicians say this but never follow through; I on the other hand already have a plan so that on day one I will hit the ground running. The first thing I will do if elected is draft legislation for the creation of the Office of Performance Assessment (OPA). This office will work to bring about accountability, common sense, and transparency into Harford County government. The OPA will do this by increasing the ability of government employees to use data and best-in-class management practices to create the best county government possible. This office will promote accountability for the delivery of high-quality services and spot the weak points in government services. It will make data-led decisions regarding where and how to best allocate and manage resources, will provide true transparency into government performance, and measure the real impact and cost-effectiveness of the work being done across the public sector. All of this will be done in tandem with HarcoACT, which will be an easy, user-friendly website, giving the public and the government access to the data and information gathered by OPA in a easy to understand way that allows the public to hold government accountable and to know what the government is doing.
Taxes are an important issue, and while I am all for lowering taxes we first must make sure that government is not wasting money before we decided lowering taxes thus cutting revenue. We need to make sure that our tax system is fair and cost-effective and helps stimulate growth rather then hinder it. The council and the county are going to have to ask and answer tough questions. What do we expect from government? And are we willing to pay for it? These questions, will take open dialogue and hard work, but I am up to the task and will work to face and fix these issues head on as District D’s next councilman.
Shrodes: Growth and diminishing resources require the vision and direction of an experienced Council in 2015.
First and foremost are issues pertaining to land-use. There hasn’t been a stronger supporter on the council of farmland preservation and the protection of our rural way of life than me. I am pleased that we’ve been able to add to the county’s total of 47,000 acres of permanently preserved farmland, which places us in the top 10 out of over 3,000 counties in the nation. We have not expanded the development envelope and have been successful at focusing development where it should be. I strongly oppose removing the Board of Appeals from the zoning process. I support architectural design standards and guidelines for commercial development projects, developer-funded traffic improvements that reduce traffic congestion (not just return the traffic congestion to its pre-development threshold). It is also the time for Harford County to implement a more effective comprehensive Transfer Development Rights (TDR) program that directs growth to areas with adequate infrastructure, while preserving productive farmland. A voluntary, market driven TDR program will also help to offset the loss of equity many families lost due to the Maryland General Assembly approving the Sustainable Growth & Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (Senate Bill 236), also known as the “Septics Bill,” during the 2012 General Assembly session.
Secondly, it is critical that the council serve as a watchdog on behalf of the taxpayers by demanding that local government be efficient, effective, and accountable. Over the next four years, we need to find ways of eliminating duplication and redundancy in government operations, most notably between county government and the school system. There is no reason (besides complacency) that functions such as Procurement and Fleet and Facilities Management cannot be combined, with the savings redirected to the classroom.