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OPINION: Fostering Progress in Maryland's Counties

Officials from Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City gathered in Ocean City to explore pressing issues facing citizens statewide.

Can county officials across Maryland work together for a more prosperous future? I now believe this more than ever.

I had the opportunity last week to attend the summer conference for the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo). This annual event draws nearly 2,500 local, state, and federal government officials together to share best practices, as well as to discuss current issues facing local governments across our state. Some may believe that a gathering like this would merely be an excuse for summer fun. On the contrary, I was quite impressed by the thoughtful topics that were considered, as well as the ideas shared by local officials from all over Maryland.

About 20 educational sessions were offered at the conference, featuring more than 80 speakers from various public and private sector entities. Just some of the topics covered included: 1) how counties can foster an entrepreneurial culture through , 2) how our state, county, and municipal leaders can promote more robust cooperation amongst themselves, and 3) how local governments can leverage volunteer resources to further the work of specific county agencies. Two sessions in particular were of special interest to me.

The first of these was entitled "The Parks Dilemma: Preservation vs. Recreation." Baltimore County Del. Dana Stein (D-Dist. 11) moderated this session, which explored how local parks and recreation agencies can balance their limited funding to simultaneously and delicate ecosystems, while also developing  that are in demand by citizens like us. While these important goals are often complementary, there are times when occasional conflicts do occur. Speakers from communities as different from each other as Prince George's County and Wicomico County had some great examples as to how they balanced these considerations in the development of specific park projects.

Another session of interest shined a light on "Coping with the Fast-Changing World of Local Planning." During the past decade, there has been a changing dynamic for local governments as they seek to craft a sensible framework to guide local land use issues. The concept of smart growth has made its way into the mainstream, and local governments are now trying to rethink older communities and commercial centers, as opposed to just building something new down the road.

One speaker in particular encouraged local planning agencies to focus more on developing the "functional elements" of local plan implementation. Specifically, it was suggested that customized plans to address future housing, transportation, and other infrastructure needs were essential now, rather than getting bogged down in local land use/zoning revisions.

On the last day of every MACo conference, the . This year, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown shared his thoughts, in place of Governor O'Malley.  I believe that his words succinctly sum up what local leaders across Maryland have been working to do during these challenging times. Lt. Governor Brown said, "We do our best when we’re working together with our eyes focused on the future—a future with more jobs and a stronger economy. We’re at our best when we take care of one another and use the tools of government to protect our neighbors and expand opportunity."

Doug August 20, 2012 at 10:38 AM
IMO opinion, the most important issue that should concern people in all 23 counties, is having a governor who has raised taxes and fees 24 times, while chasing out 5 major corporations in the state, while trying to spin his sad failures as "wins for the region".
JCG August 20, 2012 at 02:01 PM
To Doug, Unfortunately, I "BELIEVE" ( remember that ) the next Governor will be Gansler or Brown so Murderland will continue to be the same as it has been. This is what happens when you have a one party state for 40 years. BTW, I think we need more traffic congestion and overdevelopment.....don't you ??? Boy, I could just rant on this subject all day. ;-(
John Dingedahl August 20, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Be very careful regarding the last sentence of Browns remarks. It is code for: increase handouts, let the nanny state take care of you, and increase taxes and fees to pay for all this. Brown is being groomed by 'owe Malley' to be the next 'Dear Leader' of the state.
Kevin August 20, 2012 at 06:01 PM
"This annual event draws nearly 2,500 local, state, and federal government officials together.." IN OCEAN CITY DURING AUGUST NO LESS.... I have an idea that they'll hate to hear and never implement ... SAVE THE $$$ and VIDEO CONFERENCE FROM YOUR CUSHY OFFICES! Seriously, each presenter could have just created a video presentation and posted it on a shared website. But I guess that would ruin a *free* vacation. I'm aware of other maryland government agency "gatherings for best practices" in Vegas among other places. Sucks to be a taxpayer. How about we only HIRE people that know how to do their jobs, that don't need to go to Ocean City ANNUALLY to learn how?
Kevin August 20, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I just noticed the reference to having the Lt. Governor offer "closing remarks" at this conference. THANK GOD he made the time to travel to Ocean City to give these crucial words instead of sending an email. The thousands of dollars and lost government workers are worth the sacrifice of this conference on the beach. maybe the Lt. Gov got to meet some constituents on the beach too, that would make it all worthwhile for me to shake his hand at the beach.

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