A seagull chattered away in the parking lot of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City (Md.) as, indoors, hundreds of elected officials gathered for the Maryland Municipal League annual meeting, June 26-29.
Just inside, in the front lobby, Taneytown Mayor Jim McCarron and city administrator Henry Heine; Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones; Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin; and Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz and Councilmember Dennis Frazier gathered to compare notes after attending a roundtable forum with state cabinet secretaries.
This year the MML, which represents 157 Maryland cities and towns, is celebrating its 75th anniversary and its annual meeting focused on classes, workshops, lectures, roundtable discussions and seminars that spanned four days, beginning as early as 7:30 a.m. and lasting until 10:30 p.m.
Asked about Monday’s training sessions and presentations, Utz said he had a chance to talk with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who had addressed the MML opening session.
Cardin gave an update on how the federal budget deficit continues to affect cities and towns across the state. Cardin had said of local municipalities, “You guys really have no place to hide,” said Utz.
Utz said he talked with Cardin about the need for additional municipal funding; especially for unfunded federal mandates, such as Total Minimum Daily Load (an environmental regulation for water quality) and other issues that affect municipalities.
“I got some good contacts; … got to talk with (Maryland Department of the Environment) Bob Summers,” Utz said. “This experience has been invaluable, if not for the networking alone. This has been great. I’ve had opportunities to meet with many state officials
“I had conversations that will help us as early as next week, and years to come,” said Utz.
“It’s been well worth the time,” he said. “It’s hard to get away to get down here. But its well worth it for the knowledge gained and the information I can take home.”
As Jones approached the gaggle of mayors, the conversation turned to the MML board of directors election that had taken place earlier in the afternoon.
Nevin and McCarron noted that for the first time since the 1990s, Carroll County has three officials — Jones, Nevin and Utz — serving on the MML board.
The board governs and makes policy for the MML, and also serves as a powerful legislative advocacy with the Maryland General Assembly.
The roots of the MML were formed by legislative advocacy. It was founded in 1936 by Annapolis Mayor Louis Phelps in an effort for Maryland municipalities to obtain funds available from the Work Progress Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Several Carroll County officials have served as president of the MML in the past —McCarron had from 1997-98.
In addition to McCarron, Union Bridge Mayor Edward Williar served (1961-62); Taneytown Mayor Neal Powell (1972-73); Lloyd Helt Jr. (1984-85); and New Windsor Mayor Jack Gullo Jr. (1999-2000).
Jones said, “I’ve hardly missed a single convention since 1981.”
“It’s great to be back (as a municipal elected official),” Jones said. “This is the best form of government in Maryland. When you get something done (at the city and town government level,) you keep moving forward.”
The MML held its first June convention in 1949. Today, it is the largest gathering of its kind in Maryland and is, “the premier training event for Maryland’s cities and towns,” said the MML executive director, Scott Hancock.
The convention also featured an exhibition hall with more than 200 vendors, with a “wide array of products and services that can save local municipalities money, said Hancock.
The theme for this year’s convention was “Working Together Today for a Successful Tomorrow.” Hancock said.
“This 2011 MML convention is our best yet,” he said. “We are proud to be able to foster the exchange of ideas and develop invaluable event offers many opportunities to learn how to work together today to create a successful tomorrow.”
For newly elected Westminster councilmembers Paul Whitson and Frazier, it was their first MML meeting.
“It’s been a great experience. Very practical. Good classes. I’ve taken classes in budgeting, consensus and team building… to name a few,” said Whitson.
Regarding the convention’s worth to newl-elected officials, Nevins said, “What other job do you get and show up for — and you get no training? This is where we can go and get the training we need to be effective civic leaders.”
“It (the MML meeting) has been a great opportunity,” added Mount Airy Councilmember David Blais. “Nhe networking is good. I’ve learned a lot.
“Things are constantly changing,” he said, “and I’m always looking to learn better ways we can do things in town.”