MACo brings county officials together
CAMBRIDGE — Sometimes building relationships with other county elected officials can be one of the most important parts of the job.
Between Wednesday, Dec. 7, and Friday, Dec. 9, county officials from around the state had a chance to make that happen while they were all under one roof in Cambridge.
County officials from across the state gathered in Cambridge starting Wednesday for the annual Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference.
The theme for this year’s winter conference, held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, is “An Ounce of Prevention,” featuring more than 25 education sessions that centered around topics like transportation issues, septic mandates, public safety threats and energy issues.
The conference is important for newly elected officials, said Talbot County Council member Laura Price. It gives them a chance to learn the ins and outs of local government through the core sessions the conference offers that cover things like open meetings and ethics laws.
“After a few years, it’s this,” Price said, standing next to a commissioner from Allegany County, William Valentine.
“It’s standing in the hallway developing relationships with the other county elected officials, and not just the elected officials, but the other department heads from other counties,” she said. “And the camaraderie, realizing that we’re all beating our heads against the wall together.”
Building those relationships with other county officials is a big part of MACo’s conferences, both the winter conference and the summer conference that was held in Ocean City in August.
Those relationships can lead to sharing ideas. While Talbot County is very different from Allegany County, “the more we talk, the more we find out there’s certain similarities to where something ... I’ve done in Allegany County we can make work in Talbot County,” Valentine said. “The same is even true for Montgomery County.”
Even though there are so many different counties, it is one state, and if one county is failing, basically the whole state is helping,” he said.
Both Price and Valentine are the legislative liaisons to MACo from their respective counties.
Valentine called MACo one of the strongest lobbying efforts in Annapolis, where the state’s lawmakers gather each year for 90 legislative days starting in January and where policies for the state are introduced, discussed, debated and potentially passed into law.
Price gave kudos to MACo’s executive director, Michael Sanderson, and his staff for poring through thousands of bills each year as they make their way through the state capital. MACo’s legislative committee will devise a position on the bills of importance to counties, and MACo teams can often be seen in legislative hearings, lobbying for an amendment to certain bills, or simply expressing their support. MACo staff can also get directly involved with bill drafters.
“It wouldn’t work if we didn’t have the opportunity to see each other at least twice a year in the hallways, in the sessions, at the dinners sitting with different people,” Price said.
“People have their own belief system, but until you have a personal relationship with somebody and you make friends in other counties, you might disagree with their policy, but you’ve made a friendship so then you respect their opinion; it makes it much easier to work together and come to consensus.”
But a “lobbying group” doesn’t accurately describe MACo, Price said. While it’s technically correct, lobbyists are often people or groups with particular special interests, whether it’s educators, firemen or any number of other industries, she said.
“In this case, MACo is lobbying on behalf of the taxpaying citizens,” Price said. “It’s the one lobbying organization that doesn’t have a special interest. It has an interest in all the citizens (in Maryland).”
County officials gather at the Hyatt in Cambridge for the Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference Wednesday, Dec. 7, through Friday, Dec. 9. County officials are pictured above at the inaugural banquet held every year on Thursday night, when either the governor or lieutenant governor addresses the crowd. This year, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford spoke.
Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference attendees listen to experts talk about infrastructure issues during one of the session offered by the conference, which was held Wednesday, Dec. 7, through Friday, Dec. 9.