Sharing ideas on how to run a town in Southern Md.
Mayors from region confer with municipal leaders from across state at Solomons conference
It’s not always easy to run a town, but sharing ideas with other mayors and officials from across the state can be a big help.
About 200 town officials from about half of 157 municipalities across the state gathered at Solomons last week for an annual fall conference to discuss issues pertinent to town and city governments in the state.
The main purpose of the event, as half a dozen town officials interviewed for this article mentioned, is to provide a platform for mayors and council members to network and share information.
“There aren’t many
issues that someone else hasn’t experienced yet,” said Mark Frazer, mayor of North Beach, stressing the importance of municipal officials getting together and discussing issues that small towns face.
The conference offers two valuable parts to Leonardtown councilwoman Leslie Roberts. First is the formal education she gets out of the workshops. The other benefit is the chance to “have conversations with other towns to compare with what you are doing,” she said.
“You learn just as much to sit down and have discussions,” Roberts said.
Another important aspect of the conference is for Maryland Municipal League members to agree to the legislative priorities proposed by MML’s legislative committee, La Plata Mayor Roy Hale said. The members unanimously agreed to the three priorities on Friday.
The first and foremost priority, for the seventh time in a row, is to restore the municipal highway user revenues with an emphasis on the need to provide a longterm, sustainable funding stream for municipal transportation needs. The highway user fund was heavily slashed dating back to 2008. The other two priorities involve mandating governmental entities pay a stormwater management fee on governmental properties and promoting better communication between town officials and the Maryland State Highway Administration.
This year’s conference featured two workshops on public safety, one on policing and another one on dealing with a situation of having an active shooter.
Discussing public safety is common for the annual conference, said Thomas Reynolds, director of MML’s education services. The league hosted a workshop on dealing with an active shooter about three years ago, he said.
“Given the number of shootings we have, some town officials made specific request to do that again,” Reynolds said.
Both Frazer and Hale said that they intend to bring up the subject with their local sheriff’s offices at each of their town’s next work sessions.
“You have to have a plan,” Hale said. The purpose, as suggested by the workshop presenter Lt. Keith Runk of the Maryland State Police, is to have ongoing discussions.
Hale said he has been an elected official in La Plata for 19 years and has attended dozens of the conferences hosted by MML.
“You always learn something new,” Hale said, stressing that it was important for him to learn current issues and meet new elected officials from other towns in the state.
Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin is one of the relatively new officials with less than two years in office. Now 20 years old and the youngest mayor in the state, Paulin said the conference is an important networking opportunity for him to socialize with other municipal officials.
“The conference has an endless amount of information, and it’s good to meet different municipal officials to get some ideas as what apply to your town,” Paulin said.
His idea of getting youth involved in public service was sparked from this year’s summer conference. After presenting at a workshop about the topic, Paulin said he organized a youth advisory team that meets monthly and comes up with ideas to make Indian Head a better place.
Usually between 20 to 25 kids show up at the meeting, Paulin said. This is just one example of how one of his takeaways from the conference turned into something valuable to the town.
Paulin said he learned a lot about technology and legislation at the fall conference. It would take him a few weeks to review his notes and see what could work for Indian Head this time.
What stood out for Chesapeake Beach Mayor Bruce Wahl is how new technology and innovative disrupters like drones affect the towns.
“We cannot regulate them,” Wahl said, mentioning that was the key information he learned Friday from a workshop called municipal governance in an age of innovation and change.
“Appropriate use of drones is cool,” Wahl said. There were drones flying above the crowds at the dragon boat race held in North Beach in June and he said the footage taken by the drones looks great.
However, “Citizens definitely have concerns, mostly privacy concerns,” Wahl said. He added that he hasn’t heard any complaints yet. He had been unaware of a state bill signed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2015 that gave the state exclusive power to regulate drone use, which means local counties and municipalities cannot enact their own ordinances.
This is the third time the fall conference has been in Southern Maryland (MML conferences in 1997 and 2013 were also in Solomons). Unlike the annual summer conference, which is always held in Ocean City, MML’s fall conference location rotates around the state.
“We had an opportunity to acquaint officials from all over the state. Many of them have never been to Calvert County before,” Frazer said. During the reception on Thursday night, Frazer promoted North Beach as a place of potential wedding venues and he said he saw a lot of interest from attendees.
Hale echoed Frazer’s point of introducing Southern Maryland to people from other parts of the state.
“It lets people throughout the state to come to what we think is a great part of the state,” he said.