This was not how Frederick County officials hoped to introduce a revamped government for their fast-changing county.
The second meeting of the newly constituted County Council included explosive testimony from the former president of the board of commissioners — the panel that ran the county until December. Blaine Young (R), who had drawn attention while in office for his tough stance on immigration, told the council that during his tenure he’d had a romantic relationship with a county budget officer. He accused County Executive Jan Gardner (D) of demoting the woman after Gardner defeated Young in the county executive’s race.
That revelation was overshadowed early this month when council member Kirby Delauter (R), another former commissioner, set off a storm on social media by threatening the local paper with legal action if it printed his name without permission.
Residents were not thrilled with the global attention the county had garnered.
“I think many of us feel a little bit . . . embarrassed is the right word,” said Linda Norris-Waldt, a former Democratic council candidate who runs a marketing firm. “We were getting messages from friends and relatives saying ‘What the heck is going on there?’ We’re a large community with many educated folks. We want to look like we’re going forward, but we look like we’re going backward.”
Once largely rural, white and conservative, Frederick has become a magnet for a more diverse and liberal-leaning influx of suburbanites from neighboring Montgomery County and beyond. Dairy farmers and buck-hunting good ol’ boys, who still proudly call their home “Fredneck,” increasingly find themselves crowded out by burgeoning subdivisions and a walkable downtown area in Frederick full of bistros, galleries and craft beer.
In 2012, voters approved a new governing charter that took effect with November’s election, replacing the five-member board of commissioners with a seven-member council and an elected county executive. The change gives the county more home-rule powers and is supposed to mean more clout in Annapolis.
Those who supported the new charter said a more sophisticated form of government was needed to manage changes overtaking the exurb, located about an hour’s drive north of Washington. Since 1990, the county’s population has grown more than 60 percent, to 241,000.
But recent events show that the governing transition has been more halting and awkward than officials expected.
“Everyone would have liked to have had a smooth start,” said County Council President Bud Otis (R). “But these are human people [Young and Delauter], and they have issues that come up. I don’t want to dwell on a mistake a person might have made.”
During his tenure as a county commissioner, Delauter had a reputation for belligerence — he once called a fellow commissioner “a moron” and stalked out of a public hearing after referring to a county employee as a “punk.”
“Delauter is a perpetually angry guy with no respect for the public,” said physician Joe Berman, a Democrat who was drinking coffee with other regulars at the Frederick Coffee Co. on North East Street one morning last week.
So no one was particularly surprised when Delauter posted a message on his Facebook page to News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers. “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney,” he said. “Your rights stop where mine start.”
But the notion of an elected official declaring himself He Who Must Not Be Named did exactly the opposite. By the time he backed away from his ultimatum and apologized on Wednesday, the words “Kirby” and “Delauter” had become a derisive mantra from the News-Post editorial page to as far away as Australia.
Gardner and Otis decided that it was necessary to issue their own public statement, asserting that Frederick was still committed to “open and transparent government.”
“This is the last thing they wanted to have happen, said Terry Headlee, News-Post managing editor. “All this distraction and noise from this ridiculous threat reflects poorly on the whole county.”
For Young, there has been somewhat less notoriety, but a steeper fall.
As president of the county’s board of commissioners, Young aspired to make Frederick “the most unfriendly county in the state of Maryland to illegal aliens.” He was a major supporter of efforts by Sheriff Charles A. “Chuck” Jenkins’ to deliver undocumented immigrants to federal authorities for deportation. In 2012, Young successfully sponsored a resolution declaring English “the official language of Frederick County.”
He alienated some voters by leading an effort to sell a county-owned nursing home and assisted-living center that had served poor residents since the late 19th century. But he was most polarizing on land use and development issues. Young led an all-Republican board that gave the green light to zoning that could create more than 8,200 new homes in the New Market area, including a town center in Monrovia. He called opponents of the projects “chronic whiners.”
He considered a run for governor in 2013 but decided that Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown enjoyed an overwhelming advantage. Instead, Frederick County’s self-proclaimed “Youngest Good Ol’ Boy” entered the county executive’s race. He lost to Gardner even as the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Larry Hogan, beat Brown in the county by a margin of 63 percent to 35 percent, en route to a four-point statewide victory.
A few weeks after the election, Young took to the microphone during the public-comment period of the newly formed council’s December meeting. He revealed his relationship with the budget officer and accused Gardner of demoting the woman to a procurement job because of that relationship.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Young said, addressing Gardner, who was not in the chamber at the time. “She’s a single mom and a faithful, dedicated employee.”
Young said in an interview that he was separated from his wife when the relationship with the budget officer began. Their romance ended, he said, during the 2014 political campaign.
The woman did not return an e-mail message or a call to her office from The Washington Post. Her listed phone number has been disconnected.
Gardner declined to comment on the matter, other than to say that the reassignment had nothing to do with politics. The county, she said, is ready for a change of tone on all fronts.
“What I got from campaigning is people saying, ‘we don’t want the drama to continue,’ ” Gardner said.“I’m trying to end the drama and run a thoughtful, professional government.”