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Commentary Election 2022

Opinion: In the general election, a tale of two counties

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By Jeffrey Buddle

The writer is the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, the state-level affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents 24 IAFF local affiliates throughout Maryland.

I write as the president of one of the largest public employee organizations in Maryland, which represents the thousands of men and women employed with local governments to serve as your frontline heroes every day.

I have read, with interest, the coverage of the competitive races across the state — particularly those races in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties. In a true “tale of two counties,” firefighters advocating for public safety improvements find two vastly different political landscapes.

In Anne Arundel, IAFF Local 1563 endorsed the incumbent, County Executive Steuart Pittman. The local there represents nearly 900 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics and from what I have gathered, they endorsed the incumbent to return because he has been supportive of collective bargaining rights and their working relationship is one they would like to see continue.

But my brothers and sisters who serve within the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services find themselves constantly under attack from the incumbent (and thankfully term-limited) county executive, Jan Gardner.

The latest in this county is that they have placed a ballot question on the ballot to roll back collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Question A proposes to give the County Council authority to approve or disprove an arbitrated agreement. It effectively guts the charter amendment that was overwhelmingly approved by 72% of the voters in 2018, which granted the county authority to appoint a neutral arbitrator for labor disputes between the county and its career firefighters. Any ruling by the arbitrator under the 2018 amendment would be binding for the county executive.

The anti-union sentiment present in the Democratic Party in Frederick County is unbelievable.

During the course of our political campaign against ballot question A, it was discovered that the county government created a political committee in September to support the ballot measure — County Administrative Officer Rick Harcum is the campaign’s treasurer, the county executive’s chief of staff, Margaret Nusbaum is the chair. Case law deems this practice legal although we can all agree it is a bad idea.

The fact is, ballot issue committees such as this can accept unlimited campaign funds. We would hope this is something legislators in the Maryland General Assembly consider fixing — the door is wide open for corruption and this is a sleazy loophole no government should consider.

Our Frederick County firefighters deserve better from their local elected officials. Fortunately for them the voters will have the final say on Nov. 8.