Referendum Lessons and Laws

As a volunteer for the referendum on the recent Frederick city annexations I wish to share a few thoughts with my fellow residents. At least 70 percent of our city voters oppose the proposed development despite the unmatched campaign by the current and former city officials aiming to change our mind.

The annexation controversy highlights the need for direct democracy. The purpose of a referendum is to enable direct democracy when the representative democracy fails to vindicate important public interests.

To fulfill this purpose, referendum provisions should be designed to serve legitimate grass roots initiatives. The existing provisions we have just encountered, however, seem to be designed to block any grass roots initiatives. The requirement of obtaining the signatures of 20 percent of all registered city voters in 45 days is onerous. The state law that establishes this particular requirement for municipal annexations needs to be amended. For comparison, a referendum petition against an act passed by Maryland General Assembly requires 3 percent of the votes that were cast at the last election.

The Frederick City Code also needs to be amended so that an annexation cannot be approved within the six months of the next City election. This would eliminate the expense associated with a special election for a referendum.

Having spent much time with my fellow residents–in the process of collecting signatures, I wish to express my appreciation for their well-informed, helpful and polite participation and for newly formed friendships.

MALGO SCHMIDT 

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/archives/display_detail.htm?StoryID=103148

‘Friends’ Has Set High Standards for Accountability

Frederick News Post

Letter to the Editor

October 17, 2009

We were appalled to read the editorial by The Frederick News-Post titled “A buck a signature,” asserting, without a shred of evidence, that the “validity” of a handful of signatures gathered by canvassers earning $1 per signature was somehow in question. The News-Post has no basis for questioning the honesty of any individual who may be paid to gather a signature, and simply to assert that these individuals might engage in invalid signature gathering is outrageous and a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

Friends of Frederick County is a not-for-profit organization started by citizens of Frederick city and county. We provide a unique service to the citizens through education and advocacy to foster environmental conservation, natural resource stewardship and to protect our quality of life.

We rely almost exclusively on volunteers who typically go up against high-paid, well-heeled developers, their lobbyists and lawyers, often from outside the county. Volunteers have collected 98 percent of all signatures collected to date — on their own time, missing dinners, birthday parties, soccer games and precious time with their families.

Friends of Frederick County has set very high standards for public accountability. We are answerable to the public we strive to inform. We are independent, and, most important, we are not funded by special interest groups nor are our activities. Supporters of the annexations certainly cannot make this claim.

Our members have a vested interest in the quality of life in Frederick city and the surrounding county. Unlike the developers, we do not profit financially from the decisions of any elected official or governing body.

Let’s be clear — we are petitioning for a referendum and a vote, the single most important freedom democracy has to offer. But on this issue, a cabal of mayors past and present and aldermen are afraid of granting Frederick residents the same power that propelled them into office — the right to vote. Why? Because they know they will lose. More than 90 percent of people who were met by a volunteer signed the petition eagerly.

Petitoning is an incredibly time-consuming process. It is very difficult to catch people at home, or on the street. Even with our 90 percent success rate we can collect about seven signatures/hour — if we find people home. Every encounter requires a conversation — because so few residents were aware of these annexations and we want to thoroughly explain their impacts and costs. Do the math … 45 days is not much time.

Instead of criticizing a citizen’s petition drive without presenting any facts, The News-Post should ask how many tens of thousands of dollars developers and their political friends have spent on their mailings and ad campaign, and then compare that to the amount spent to collect signatures, which to date has been zero.

And perhaps more important, The News-Post should investigate the real ethical issue here, the propriety of using city letterhead and the imprimatur of the mayor himself for developer-funded issue advocacy.

JANICE WILES

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=96585

Have you signed?

Residents of Frederick and Frederick County are out in droves collecting signatures to take the Thatcher, Crum and Summers Farm annexation agreements to referendum so that city residents can have the final say. Maryland State Highway Administration, Maryland Department of Planning and the Board of Frederick County Commissioners have advised against these agreements that will add vehicles to unsafe roads, children to an overcrowded school, and costly demands on infrastructure that will fall on taxpayers to pay. It is hard to imagine 15,000 more vehicle trips each day to U.S. 15.

Registered city voters are eligible to sign. A volunteer may have knocked on your door but you weren’t home. Our goal is to get 8,000(!) signatures by Oct. 18. Please seek out a place to sign the petition for referendum.

In The Street: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Friends of Frederick County table between Church and Second streets.

Worman’s Mill gazebo: noon to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Referendum Office, 4 E. Church St: 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Baker Park gazebo: 3 to 6 p.m. every Sunday until Oct. 18.

Monocacy MARC train station: Every Tuesday evening until Oct. 18.

Frederick City MARC train station: Every Friday evening until Oct. 18

Spread the word!

JANICE WILES

Friends of Frederick County

Frederick News Post

Letter to the Editor

September 30, 2009

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=95866

Thanks to all annexation referendum volunteers!

October 18, 2009

Dear Annexation Referendum Volunteers, Supporters and Friends,

On behalf of Friends and Frederick County, I would like thank everyone who brought their energy, spirit and dedication to this burst of grassroots movement for a petition drive to bring the issue of annexation to a citizen vote.  As I write this letter, unpaid volunteers are still out in their neighborhoods trying to collect the  7,289 signatures needed by Monday (10/19) to bring to citizen vote the issue of annexation.   Yet, it is with a heavy heart that, despite the best efforts of all the dedicated foot soldiers, we will fall short of our main goal.

Petitions by origin were created in the spirit of democracy.  The process offers the opportunity for every Frederick resident to put one voice, one vote, to an issue that can impact their daily lives.   A referendum in this case, regardless of the outcome, would assure participation by Frederick voters who are the most impacted by the actions of their elected officials.   Yet, sadly, this petition  drive has been subverted by a host of factors, not the least of which is a  near impossible time frame of 45 days.   To be successful volunteers would have to collect over 160 signatures a day.  Despite our dedicated army of unpaid volunteers working to gather signatures and educate voters, time was against us.  Given that 9 out of 10 people signed the petition once they learned about the annexation, I have little doubt that additional time would have brought about the successful outcome of a referendum —  a simple vote.   But the time allotment of 45 days to gather signatures for referendum is an outmoded form of democracy in large cities like Frederick, which spans over 20 square miles.  Residents interested in signing the petition not only had to find out about us, but learn where our volunteers were located.

As this effort gathered steam, nearly one hundred (100!) of you – unpaid volunteers –  took the time out of your very busy lives to hit the streets, talk to your neighbors, and gather signatures.   I must thank you for your commitment, energy, and hard work.  I also want to thank the Frederick County Board of Commissioners (BOCC), the Maryland State Highway Administration, Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services Division and the Maryland Department of Planning for their thoughtful concerns raised about the annexation development agreements.  As we’ve noted  previously, these annexations will add millions of square feet of office and commercial space, and over 1500 homes on farm land located near U.S.  15  and Route 40.   The BOCC  and other state and county officials offered their distinguished voices to educate citizens about the impact of the annexation development on traffic and other public services. Most Frederick residents with whom we met and spoke during our grassroots efforts not only did not understand how annexation would impact them, but also opposed the  action and signed the petition so that they could vote.  This is the way democracy is supposed to work –through public participation, education, and outreach.

FOFC became involved in this effort to ensure the voices of Frederick voters were heard by their elected officials, the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen.   We are independent, nor funded by outside special interest groups.   Our members are citizens who have a strong interest in the quality of life in Frederick and the surrounding counties because they either live in the city or in the county.   Most importantly, none of us profit financially from the decisions of any elected governing body in Frederick or Frederick County. We are proud of our role in advocating that land use decisions, including annexations, benefit all residents of Frederick – not just a few.

Thank you so very much for your support and enthusiasm.  And a special thanks to Malgo who – by far-  collected the most signatures, and to Elaine who took a lead role in organizing volunteers.  Also special mention of gratitude goes to the Catoctin Sierra Club for lending us their office space that we converted to the Referendum Office, and to E End USA for lending us a copy machine!

We’ll be back in touch soon with final numbers and more updates.

Sincerely,

Janice Wiles, Executive Director  240 529 1655/ 240 626 5209

Looking back:

Friends of Frederick County (FOFC) was a driving force behind the coalition of Frederick County citizens concerned about sprawl.  On September 4th 2009 we   set out to collect 7,289 signatures by October 18th to bring to citizen vote a move by the Board of Alderman to annex more than 500 acres of farm land targeted for residential and commercial development. The annexations of the Thatcher, Crumland and Summers farms will add millions of square feet of office and commercial space, and over 1500 homes on farm land located near U.S.  15 and Route 40.   Annexation is a process used to expand municipal boundaries by adding land.   Planners and environmentalists cite annexations as a source of urban sprawl in rural areas because the growth is directed outward from urban centers.    FOFC launched the petition drive to educate citizens about the impact of the annexations on the quality of life in Maryland.

“Frederick County citizens need to know the tremendous impact these annexations will have on traffic congestion, schools, and on municipal services,” said Janice Wiles, executive director of FOFC.  “There is a world of difference between growing, and growing right.  Spreading Frederick City outward to the rural landscape along a stretch of overtaxed highway produces little or no benefit to tax payers living in the city and in Frederick County.  They are the ones who will ultimately bear the cost of the infrastructure improvements that will need to be made.” Among those also raising concerns about the annexations are the Maryland State Highway Administration, Maryland State Department of Planning and County officials, including the Board of County Commissioners, who are concerned about the developers’ commitment to major infrastructure improvements to roads, sewer capacity and schools.

Opponents of the recent City of Frederick annexations  have 45 days to secure the signatures of at least 7,289 city voters.  The law requires 20 percent of municipal voters sign a petition to force the issue to referendum.  Volunteers gathering signatures are all over the city knocking on doors and talking to people at public events.  ”Over forty concerned citizens have collected about 2000 signatures.  We have a long way to go yet thankfully new volunteers are showing up daily offering to help.  We can meet our goal if more volunteers offer their support”  said Elaine Reinhold who is coordinating volunteers to staff places people can go to and sign the petition (see locations below).

Recent data suggests that sprawl and urbanization are consuming land at an alarming rate.  Between 1982 and 1992, 14 million acres of the U.S. became developed land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   In the past, cities were compact and efficient, but over the past 30-50 years, the density of land used per person has declined drastically.  Although the U.S. population grew by 17 percent from 1982 to 1997, urbanized land increased by 47 percent during the same 15 year period.   The developed acreage per person has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, and housing lots larger than 10 acres have accounted for 55 percent of land developed since 1994, according to the American Farmland Trust.

Where to Sign

  • Greenleaf Park – Whittier & Walnut Ridge (near pool and soccer field) 9/26 9:30 – noon
  • North End Block Party, 9/26 1-4pm
  • IN THE STREETS, 10/3 11-5 Friends of Frederick County table between Church & Second St.
  • Referendum Office, 4 E Church St, M 3-5pm, T/R 3:15-4:15, M-F 9-11am, SUnday 10-12noon
  • Baker Park gazebo Sunday 3-6 pm
  • Monocacy MARC train station – Tuesday evening
  • Frederick CIty MARC train station – Friday evening

For additional information

To Contact us

email:  frederick.referendum@gmail.com

240 626 5209

240-405-2536

Grass-roots democracy

It didn’t take long for the opponents of the recent annexations by the City of Frederick to get mobilized. There appear to be several possible avenues for local government to pursue in an attempt to nullify the annexations, but a separate grass-roots movement has already sprung into action with the same goal in mind.

Opponents of the annexations have mobilized and are proceeding on their own — without the official help of Winchester Hall. They have a daunting challenge, and it will be interesting to see how they fare.

By securing the signatures of 20 percent of city voters, annexation opponents can bring the question to referendum. In this case, that would mean a minimum of more than 7,000 signatures — and they would have to be secured by Oct. 17. This will be no small task.

Janice Wiles, director of Friends of Frederick County, says, “It’s a huge undertaking.” Nevertheless, she says, the corps of volunteers she and others are organizing will be going door-to-door to collect residents’ signatures. They have established a downtown office and have an e-mail address (frederick.referendum@gmail.com).

Even if the signatures are collected, the question would still have to pass muster with city voters.

Of all official and public options available to annexation opponents, we like the one that is initiated by private citizens. This is the real thing, grass-roots democracy at its best, at work addressing an issue that directly affects the lives of those involved.

It may be inevitable that these properties eventually end up as part of the City of Frederick, but if there is enough dissatisfaction or concern among city residents with the current annexation agreements to reverse these decisions, so be it.

Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak was the sole board member to vote against the Crumland Farm annexation. She says she did so because she was in favor of further meetings between the Frederick County Commissioners and the Frederick Board of Aldermen.

In the days preceding last Thursday’s vote, the commissioners, speaking as one, voiced a number of concerns about the details of the annexations and the agreements with developers that the city had struck.

Those concerns were discounted by Mayor Jeff Holtzinger and the aldermen who, with the exception of Kuzemchak’s dissenting vote on the Crumland property, were unanimous in their decisions to annex all three properties.

As we said in a recent editorial on this subject, we were a bit confused how two bodies of public officials could have such diverse interpretations of the same set of facts surrounding the Crumland annexation and development.

Let the people decide. If there is enough interest in reversing these annexations, the law permits rank-and-file residents to do so. And that is as it should be.

Originally published in the Frederick News Post on September 11, 2009

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/archives/display_detail.htm?StoryID=101497

CItizen addresses Alderman Smith’s justification for Frederick City annexations

Thanks for getting back to me, Alderman Smith. I don’t mind

disagreement; discussion works fine for me!

>>>>The argument that building roads causes more traffic problems is a generalization that should never be used as a standard to determine when and where new roads are built.<<<<

If you can show me an example of a municipality that has “built its

way out of” traffic congestion problems, I’ll eat my hat.

Abundant evidence shows that the solution to traffic congestion

problems isn’t to build new roads; it’s to take cars off the existing

ones. I believe we can best do that by building a robust local job

base, pursuing “main street”-style development, and emphasizing more

efficient rail transportation.

There’s $200 billion in stimulus money available to build

infrastructure. Columbia, MD is aggressively pursuing it; I suggest we

do the same. Frederick is well-positioned to get stimulus money to

build out next-generation infrastructure such as modern rail systems.

>>>>The current transit system that we do have (operated by the County) does not pay for itself; it is highly subsidized by the State; and there is no projection that it could become self-sustaining.<<<<

Exactly the same thing could be said about our road systems.

>>>>Both of these properties constitute the northern most areas for development by the city in plans that were adopted at least twenty years ago.<<<<

I think that’s an excellent reason to rethink development in these

areas. Those old plans were created in an environment much different

than the current day, without the knowledge and experience we now

possess.

>>>>Some people argue that the development of the Crumland and Thatcher properties would be “sprawl,” but that is not an accurate description.<<<<

Actually, it is entirely fitting and accurate to describe what’s

planned for these properties as sprawl:

–Put the school out where nobody wants it.

–Segregate the housing into subdivisions.

–Build the office space somewhere else, separate from the housing,

schools, retail, etc.

That’s a textbook example of sprawl.

>>>>The City government is not going to be micromanaging which businesses establish themselves here and which do not.  The City may have a small say in this, but it will be market forces that primarily dictate this.<<<<

When the City allows office parks to be built, that’s exactly what it

does: it micromanages its business climate, and prevents market forces

from working.

Downtown merchants are starving for foot traffic. By putting big

office parks out on the outskirts of town instead of maximizing

downtown office space, the City cripples their ability to survive and

thrive.

By promoting the sprawl development favored by large, mature

companies, the City tilts the playing field against fast-growing

small- and medium-sized firms that benefit from concentrated

development.

I look forward to meeting you; I’ll be sure to introduce myself next

time I see you. Thanks again for your kind response,

Chris Charuhas

Citizen letter in opposition to Thatcher, Crum and Summers annexation proposals

To Mayor Holtzinger and Aldermen Imhoff, Kuzemchak, Koontz, Hall and Smith:

I am a city resident strongly opposed to the Thatcher, Crum and Summers annexation proposals. A better model for development is to sustain and infill existing neighborhoods, striving to keep homes a walkable distance from work, shopping and recreation. This saves the taxpayer economically, environmentally, and in terms of quality of life by ensuring that infrastructure (sufficient roads, police and rescue services, etc.) is adequate for residents’ needs. Once our open space and farmland is surrendered to sprawl, it is nearly impossible to get it back.

Some of you are running for re-election this fall. Residents are looking to vote for representatives with a record of support for sustainable development and programs in Frederick City–not more toxic sprawl. We don’t need more than the thousands of new homes already in the pipeline for Frederick City.  Frederick has a beautiful agricultural and historical presence in Maryland.  Let’s keep it that way!

Thank you,

Sally Sorbello

Frederick, MD 21701

Let us bring the Golden Mile back to its name and let it be the Golden Mile

Bringing commercial into a residential neighborhood is not smart growth.

I realize the city of Frederick thinks it will gain a great deal of money from this annexation, but I think we should be realistic.

I would like to quote from the annexation staff report for the Summers Farm:

“This property was specifically listed as part  of the Potomac River Water Supply Agreement which was signed by the City of Frederick on March 16, 2006. The proposed water usage for the 100 acres was estimated to be 86,242 gpd.  The applicant’s estimated is 138,000 higher than the estimate used in the PRWSA.”

There will not be sufficient water for this annexation.

When discussing annexation, it is important to question the possibility of the parcel not being developed as planned.  If this parcel was not annexed, it would be developed under the County Zoning Ordinance, with low density housing units and no commercial.

We must think about the financial impact on the city.  They have not discussed the cost of infrastructure.

Traffic will more than double and commercial will bring in big trucks.

Redevelop the Golden Mile.

There are numerous vacancies.

There is a desperate need to speed up the process of revitalizing the Frederick Towne Mall.

The lack of business there is leading to a bad atmosphere for the community.

We need a combination of residential and commercial at the Frederick Towne Mall and we need it now.

Emphasis should be on what now exists rather than on new development.

It is very important we in-fill and use the property in the city before adding more.

Melinda Yount

Alderman Kuzemchak writes on the city’s annexation proposals

All,

Please read all of this.  Some of it might upset you but other parts may make you smile.  I honestly don’t know how I’m going to vote on Thursday.  This note is for informational purposes only.

We shouldn’t even be discussing annexations and zonings this close to an election – nobody has all the information and so much that’s out there is just political jargon by those who want you to believe certain things but please let me correct one misconception.  The extra taxes on these properties will provide for the infrastructure needed as they develop.  They will begin to pay city taxes the minute they are annexed (and even without my vote, I believe they have the votes to be annexed into the city).  No matter what County Commissioners say (and remember, they tax Municipal Residents for services they don’t even provide), EXISTING CITY taxpayers will not be providing the infrastructure and future needs for these developments.

Having said all that, I still may agree with you that it isn’t time to annex these properties.  I certainly don’t plan to vote yes on it unless it is worded very specifically and is in the best interests (economically AND environmentally) of city residents.  But I have a hard time with people thinking these properties aren’t going to be developed.  They will.  And it would be worse to develop land in the middle of the county with absolutely no existing infrastructure because then it really is sprawl.  And 5-10 years from now, these same properties will be on the agenda again for annexation/development.  This group of County Commissioners won’t be in office forever.  I shudder to think what future BOCCs may allow on these properties.

I didn’t grow up here.  I moved in 1987.  I won’t close the gates just because I’ve found my little piece of Heaven.  Instead, I will work to be sure there is legal recourse to force proper development.  The bad developers will get around the law when they can.  I see my part as being the person who reads every single word and fights for every single sentence because I’ve seen what bad developers can do and I may not be able to completely stop them, but I know enough to make it REALLY HARD on them.

I honestly don’t know how I’ll vote on Thursday.  I have many documents to look at.  I will, however, promise that I will read EVERY word and dissect EVERY sentence.  If I think this is best for City residents, I’ll vote yes.  If not, I’ll vote no.  Until then, I have a lot of homework to do.

Thanks for writing.  I appreciate candid, open discussion on this issue.

Donna

Citizen asks the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to VOTE NO to all three annexations

I oppose the annexation by the City of Frederick of Summers Farm, and the Thatcher and Crumland farms, and I encourage the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to vote against the three annexation proposals currently before them.

Please focus on improving the existing and vacant properties in the city, rather than annexing and commercializing new land.

In addition to losing green space, the annexation and commercialization of these properties would further tax our already over-crowded roads, endangering drivers and pedestrians alike. Much of our city’s infrastructure is already pushed to the limit, and the development and commercialization of these properties would place irresponsible and unachievable demands on our schools, fire and police departments, to name just a few. In addition, surface and ground water pollution would intensify in areas already stressed by inadequate sewer lines and water supply.
Fiscal matters aside, it pains me to see more and more of our green spaces seized for commercial endeavors, particularly when so much of our already-developed properties sit vacant. Our region has a heritage of working, respecting, and treasuring the land. Our city can grow in greatness without usurping more land. Indeed, I believe that preserving and maintaining green spaces in our city will only make it greater.
We don’t need new development. We need to make responsible use – both fiscally and environmentally — of the development we already have. To pursue the annexation and commercialization of these properties is irresponsible, plain and simple.
Please vote NO.

Sincerely,

Meg Egan Auderset