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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(1/2013) I hope everyone has had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year spent safely with family and friends. The tree-lighting on the square and community holiday events at the Carriage House were both well attended on a mild early December evening. We should all count our blessings following the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut just before the holiday. Mental illness combined with gun violence has shocked our nation too often over the last few years.

Town business in December continued along the same trajectory as the rest of the fall. A third public meeting was held by the town square design consultants earlier in the month. Concept plans will be forwarded to the State Historical Commission for design review. The State Highway Administration will review traffic control proposals meant to make the area more welcoming, safer for pedestrians, and potentially less congested. The design has a lot of gingerbread such as pillars up and down Main Street that may or may not be appropriate, but the bones of the plan meet our need to reclaim the square – potentially moving from just a traffic intersection to a focal point for the community.

In addition to the grants we keep hearing about, the town has invested approximately $20,000 of taxpayer money in the process to produce this document. While additional grant funds may be available in future, the debate about the additional use of town funds will need to take place when design proposals finally reach the Board of Commissioners. To date, any such discussions are taking place behind closed doors.

Efforts to secure matching funds for façade improvements have also been successful. A fund of up to $50,000 (versus the $100,000 requested) is now available to reimburse preapproved projects up to fifty percent of the total project cost. Efforts in the historic district must be preapproved and meet state guidelines related to the materials of construction and the design style - so not all projects may qualify. Qualified expenses are reimbursed after completion, so property owners will have to pay the increased costs of state compliance up front.

Unfortunately, another worthwhile project has suffered from poor implementation. For about a year, the town has been evaluating a move from high powered sodium to LED lights in our streetlamps and municipal building light fixtures. You may have noticed these "bluer" lights on various poles around town. While substantial funds are required to make the change, the cost could be recouped in as few as four years due to energy savings related to LED efficiency.

At the December 17 town meeting, Mayor Don Briggs proposed moving forward with the project in partnership with a supplier he came to know through the Frederick County Sustainability Commission, where he is a member. I pointed out that town ordinances require potential contracts over $20,000 to be put out to open bid. They cannot simply be awarded by the Mayor based on his dealings with the awardee.

This project represents a total expenditure of over $100,000 in public funds.

During the meeting, staff confirmed that the installation portion of the project was put out for bid but the cost of the new lighting fixtures was not. When asked why the $80,000 cost of materials was awarded to the Mayor Briggs’ choice and not put out for bid as well, the reply was "you would need to check with the Mayor on that."

As an elected official, charged with reviewing and approving the use of public monies, I find this response particularly disturbing. It tells me that town staff was ‘towing the line’ when they knew there were issues with the proposal. Senior town employees (as well as all elected officials) are specifically required to uphold town ordinances - which should include alerting the Board of Commissioners to violations. They should not keep silent in fear of retribution by their boss.

Having been exposed, the process should now proceed according to the requirements of our purchasing ordinances instead of ‘special consideration.’ Stay tuned.

As always, I encourage you to contact your local officials to share your opinions! Sincerely, Chris Staiger.

Read other articles by Chris Staiger