Report Cards Can Create Slippery Slopes

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Good grades are important — most would agree with that. In an education setting, grades can reflect understanding of a topic, and/or the amount of time and work put forth to complete the task or assessment. Parameters are set in advance so that students may know what standards they will be graded on.

It works a bit differently when you are in an elected roll. Or a recent report card from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) would suggest it does.

Earlier this month, a constituent (we will call her Ms. Smith) reached out to me to share her disappointment in me over my recently received midterm grade of D by LCV. In my reply, I expressed that I too was disappointed and did not agree with this barely passing grade.

The non-partisan environmental group based their grades on “voting record, public comments on conservation issues and responding to concerns of the environmental community, and the views of environmental leaders and organizations in the county.”

As someone elected by the people of District 5, I take the commitments I have made seriously. Legislation can, at times, create conflicting priorities that legislators must wade through, and determine where they fall on behalf of those they represent. I have overwhelmingly supported legislation that benefits the environment, while balancing fiscal responsibility. It is a slippery slope for one to become persuaded by grading systems of special interest groups. Imagine the outcome if elected leaders voted on legislation to receive a passing grade from organized groups, even if it meant abandoning the commitments made to voters. Principles are important.

I went on to share with this constituent the details of my voting record.

In the past two years, I have voted in favor of prohibitions to variances in resource conservation areas (Bill 5-20), updated stormwater management (Bill 67-20), moving the county’s vehicle fleet from gas to hybrid vehicles (Bill 106-20) and improving the process for sanitary sewer connection that could greatly reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay (Bills 79-20 and 80-20). I have supported bills on land preservation through agricultural diversification (Bill 14-19), the clean energy loan program (Bill 80-19), and legislation that incentivizes the revitalization of developed areas (Bill 64-20). I was also a co-sponsor of a resolution calling for a tree planting incentive program in the county (Resolution 48-19) and the land acquisition at Quiet Waters Park, land that was ripe for development but will now be part of our county parks (Resolution 38-19). Unfortunately, the majority of these bills were related to our zoning code, an area of legislation that LCV would not consider.

I pointed out to Ms. Smith that the grading scale seemed to be dependent on two bills: the Styrofoam ban bill (Bill 5-19) and the forest conservation bill (Bill 68-19).

I encouraged Ms. Smith to review the discussion that took place during deliberations over the Styrofoam bill. She would learn that I inquired about how the school system was going to pay for the annual increase of more than $500,000 to change from Styrofoam to other products for school meal trays. The answer was that there was no answer. It was stated from bill sponsors that the goal was not to increase school meal prices (cost to families), or to increase the school budget to cover the cost, but that the increased expense would be absorbed in other ways. Spending without knowing where the money was coming from. It was an unfunded mandate.

Environmental issues are important ones and so are the decisions on spending your tax dollars.

I ultimately voted against the bill for this reason. I acknowledged Styrofoam was a product that should be eliminated from use; however, the unknown fiscal impact was not something I could support. Ultimately the increased cost became an increase in the school system budget. My concern became the reality.

When discussing the forest conservation bill with Ms. Smith, she shared her agreement with the League of Conservation Voters on the amendments that the council introduced, amendments that “weakened” the legislation. In response, I shared that most bills require four votes to pass, some require five. In this case, it was those amendments that helped the council unanimously pass what is one of the strongest forest conservation laws in Maryland. Having spent dozens of hours on this piece of legislation, I take great pride in knowing that Anne Arundel County was the first jurisdiction in the state to increase forest protections. Context and perspective are important.

I valued this communication with Ms. Smith. Given background and history, I believe she understood my disappointment over the grading scale and report card. Reasonable and informed dialogue can really change the trajectory of a conversation, and it is something I welcome as your councilwoman.

In the coming months, the county council will discuss legislation regarding littering fines; the Revenue Reserve Fund; the General Development Plan, otherwise known as Plan2040; and other bills. You can see a full list by visiting www.aacounty.org/departments/county-council/legislation, and as always, you can reach me at amanda.fiedler@aacounty.org.

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