The county commissioners have named Frank Johnson their liaison to Carroll's eight municipalities, the newly formed Council of Governments and the Maryland Municipal League, a position that will force him to resign from the Mount Airy Town Council.
"The decision to resign comes reluctantly and with a great deal of regret, but I am putting my trust in God that this is the right thing to do," Johnson, special assistant to Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, said yesterday.
"I got involved with the county initially on behalf of the towns. I guess this shows to what extent I am willing to make a commitment to them."
Overlapping meeting schedules and possible conflicts of interest also played in the decision, he said.
"You can't work both ends of the stick," Johnson said. "So much can be done from this position because of the commitment of this board of commissioners."
The commissioners had expected to make the appointment effective immediately, but Johnson requested a delay until mid-May to allow him time to work on the town budget and to give his council colleagues time to find a replacement.
Johnson was elected three years ago and named council president last year, when town voters swept out the old guard. A lawyer versed in code enforcement and zoning law, he also is council liaison to the town's planning board.
The announcement was a surprise to Mount Airy Mayor James S. Holt, who found out yesterday afternoon via an e-mail from the town clerk.
"I'm not happy, but I'm not disappointed. ... This is just the way he's leaving," Holt said.
Johnson's command of planning and land-use laws is rare for a municipal leader, Holt said.
"He's got a vast amount of knowledge, and it will be difficult to replace," Holt said. "But we'll have to carry on."
The town will seek applications for Johnson's replacement, whom the mayor will appoint with the council's approval, possibly as early as the May meeting, town officials said.
Johnson, 40, made his reputation as an authority on growth issues in a town that was struggling with the rapid influx of Washington-area commuters. He advocated and helped to craft the development limits that put the town at the forefront of controlling growth in Carroll's southern half.
He also campaigned tenaciously for the victorious slate of reform candidates in last fall's county elections.
Johnson helped lead an effort to unify Carroll's eight towns as a single lobbying force, which has become the Council of Governments.
His municipal experience and precise style make him the perfect person to send to meetings with town and state officials, Gouge said.
"The new job fits well with special assistant," said Johnson. "Julia is liaison with several metropolitan groups and that will keep me in the loop." Gouge works closely with the Greater Baltimore Alliance and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
Mount Airy has been Johnson's home since 1994, and he will continue to work on its behalf, he said.
"I will still be involved in the town, just in a different way and on different levels," he said.