MACo brings county of­fi­cials to­gether

Dorchester Star - - Regional - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ jbol­l_s­tar­dem.

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).”

PHO­TOS BY JOSH BOLLINGER/JBOLLINGER@STAR­DEM.COM

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.

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