A Look Back on Mayor Brown’s First 100 Days
Q: Mayor Snoots decided not to run for re-election. What were some factors that influenced your decision to run for Mayor?
A: I believe in Brunswick and the significant potential we have here. While some progress has been made surrounding infrastructure and downtown revitalization, we still have much more work to do on many fronts. It was important to me that we continue building and expanding our successes. I could not let the City slip backwards in any way, so I felt compelled to step up and run for Mayor. Also, with our City facing this unprecedented pandemic, it is more important than ever that we navigate the challenging times ahead but keep focus on some of Brunswick’s major challenges and not let them fall to the wayside; such as the infrastructure and downtown revitalization challenges.
Q: You ran for Council during a “normal” election cycle, what were the challenges of campaigning during a pandemic?
A: The pandemic presented many challenges for campaigning. It made it more difficult to connect with the community and hear about the issues that the community felt to be most critical. In typical campaigns, I would like to hold a series of meet & greets and talk to as many people as possible on what issues they feel are most significant for Brunswick. These styles are important in a “small town” to really get to know your constituents and their concerns from my perspective. However, I did pivot and rely more on social media, but also text messages, phone calls, and sending a mailer to every home in Brunswick that introduced myself and opened the door for communication to hear from the residents. I think these were successful and did allow from engagement.
Q: Election night is over. Mayor-Elect Brown awakens the next day. Explain that feeling. What was that day like?
A: It was a very humbling and exciting feeling. My passion and love for this City runs deep. I truly believe that our City holds enormous potential. One of the things I also thought about was all those generations who came before me. The honor it is to serve in their footsteps. Of course, there is also the feeling of the weight of the world on your shoulders. The complexity of leading a growing City with its own set of unique challenges, but also leading during a global pandemic.
Q: As you know, from the day after the election until the moment you are sworn into office is known as a transition period. How was the transition for you?
A: Having served as a council member for 2 years, the transition for me was rather seamless. The transition period is very quick from election night until being sworn in the following week. Former Mayor Snoots afforded me the opportunity to immediately begin working with staff to make sure things were in place for a smooth transition.
Q: Improvements to communication was a centerpiece of your campaign. The Brunswick Herald acknowledges your effort to engage the public through social media, a great improvement from the last administration. However, as Brunswick’s source for news, the Herald is concerned by the condition of the sound quality of city business aired on cable Channel 99. Do you share this concern? What are the plans to improve the sound quality on Channel 99?
A: I am proud to report that the City already has a signed contract with an AV company to completely re-do the sound & video system in the Council chambers. This project should be completed by early 2021. The even better news is that I was able to secure funding from Frederick County through CARES Act Funding to completely fund the AV overhaul! We very much look forward to our residents being able to hear and see our meetings on both channel 99 and the City of Brunswick website! I am happy to report that our Finance & Utility Commission meetings will also now be live streamed and televised!
Q: If communication was the centerpiece of your campaign, water/sewer was the main dish. What has been accomplished regarding utilities in the first 100 days and what is planned in 2021?
A: In my first 100 days, we have taken a several approaches to address water/sewer challenges. First, the staff and I have been working together to make sure we are educating the community as best as possible to the inner workings of our utility billing and enterprise fund process. I feel that a lot of the confusion surrounds a lack of information the public has on how the City operates. The City has also adopted a Utility Bill Adjustment Policy. There have always been challenges surrounding individuals who are suddenly faced with a large utility bill and how the City deals with that. Do we provide a courtesy waiver or not? The City had little to no policies that allowed for any types of review or adjustments. This is a sensitive area as we must be sure we are keeping the City’s Enterprise Fund healthy when looking at utility bill adjustments. The City now has a policy that allows for water bills exceeding 100% of a customer’s average use to be adjusted down to tier 1 water rates. This policy allows for 1 adjustment every several years based on a strict set of criteria, but nonetheless the policy does allow for some relief when customers experience large bill spikes due to potential leaks. We have also been continuing our work on the meter replacement/technology project. This project substantially upgrades the technology the City uses to read water meters. This allows us to provide better customer service when it comes to leak detection, providing more frequent meter readings and customer notification when issues are found. We have enlisted the help of a contractor to help speed this project up. Not to mention, replacing old/broken meters helps ensure that accurate and fair bills are being distributed among all customers so that broken meter customers aren’t only being charged for minimum usage or we don’t have estimated billing. We have also finally awarded the Yourtee Springs project contract and that project is well underway to bringing Yourtee Springs back online! This project has a completion date of 1 year (hopefully sooner)! Last, I will continue working with our Department Heads and Finance Commission on identifying our most pressing infrastructure priorities, as well as ways to secure funding to help get these projects over the finish line. We are currently looking at investing over $1 million dollars towards critical I&I projects. I&I is when rain/storm water enters the sewer system. This creates a large expense for the City to have to treat rainwater at the Wastewater Plant before it can be released into the river. I&I projects help reduce this. Other primary focuses will be replacing the 100-year-old reservoir site at the Water Towers as well as replacing and relining our antiquated water pipes.
Q: The city has some new hires who will be onboarding soon or are now working. What do you hope to see from a new Main Street Manager and a Grants Manager?
A: We are so excited that Carmen Hilton, Brunswick Main Street Manager and Eileen Dwyer, Grants Coordinator are both now on board the City of Brunswick team! I am very much looking forward to working with both individuals. I think Carmen and the Main Street Manager position will continue to bring a strong focused approach to downtown revitalization. We saw tremendous opportunities and doors open over the past 2 years with having a full-time professional manager. I very much look forward to seeing those opportunities continue to grow and progress to be made on the Main Street strategic plan and goals. The Grants Coordinator position brings a new and unique position to the City of Brunswick. This position will have a full-time dedicated staff member managing and administering grants, as well as seeking and applying for grants and funding available to help the City. Eileen brings unique experience to this position and we are excited to have her on board! At a pivotal moment of City growth, and we enter potentially difficult economic times, we must continue to explore every resource potentially available to us, and keep the momentum going on many of the goals and projects we have ahead of us. There are enormous funding source potentials out there and we look forward to having a full-time staff member to assist us with these efforts.
Q: How is the pandemic affecting city services? What has been the budgetary consequence of the pandemic?
A: The pandemic continues to impact City services. Our goal is to keep disruptions as minimal as possible while still protecting the health and welfare of our employees and citizens. We have had to close all City facilities to the public. We are still serving the public through phone, email, and drop box services, but we have residents who prefer in person interaction. It is also challenging for meetings with our various committees, commissions, and organizations who are used to face to face meetings. We pride ourselves on our small-town feel, face to face interactions are part of that. With that said, we have been successful at pivoting and keeping the business of the City moving forward despite the circumstances. So far, budgetary consequences have been minimal. Most of the City’s revenue comes from property taxes. Luckily, the Real Estate market has not seen significant impacts from the pandemic thus far. In other areas of revenue, such as park, pool, and parking, we have been able to compensate for these revenue losses through not having event expenses, etc. The City also entered the pandemic in a healthy financial status and continues to conservatively budget and forecast revenue reductions based on state data.
Q: How is your working relationship with the Council?
A: I believe I have a strong working relationship with the Council. I had the honor and privilege of serving with most of the council members over the past 2 years and have always tried to earn their respect. I try to be a voice of reason that listens to all sides of an argument or differing viewpoints. Compromise is important when conducting government business on behalf of such a diverse community.
Q: Please feel free to elaborate on any other issues accomplished in the first 100 days and/or topics you look forward to in the near future.
A: I want to be a leader that promotes our City and all the good things we have to offer, while still acknowledging and working on the issues we face and need to address. During even the most normal circumstances, being the Mayor of a growing City presents its challenges. Leading the City during a global pandemic brings an entirely new set of challenges. I am proud of the work we have completed thus far and being able to keep the City on a path to success despite the pandemic. We have been able to clean up our ordinance language surrounding City commission & committees and fill the seats on all our committees and commissions. In my opinion, it is very important to have strong committees and commissions that are making recommendations to myself and the council on the business of the City. This provides for an outlet to gauge the pulse of the community on some of the most important issues and decisions that face us. Having the groups not only full of volunteers, but also focused on their missions is critical to their success. I am also proud to be swiftly moving forward on downtown revitalization. The City recently entered contract to purchase the Newberry building utilizing grant funding from the Department of Housing & Community Development. This was a project I spearheaded during my time on Council and am continuing during my time as Mayor. We also continue to look at ways to implement recommendations from our Small Area Plan as we look towards adoption of a Conservation District in downtown Brunswick, as well as looking at ways for better connectivity of the C&O Canal and the downtown corridor. The City is also in the beginning stages of a complete City Charter overhaul, zoning ordinance update/review, and beginning to look at the next version of the City’s Master Plan. I have also been working to better streamline City processes and working on the City’s first ever compensation study to ensure we are attracting and retaining the most talented workforce. Attracting and retaining the most talented workforce benefits our residents in the long run! I look forward to keeping my finger on the pulse of the City. Praising our successes while understanding and grappling with our struggles.