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Networking invaluable at summer conference

August 21, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County officials said Monday that the 2007 Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City, Md., was valuable because it gave local officials the chance to make contacts.

The annual conference, held last week from Wednesday to Saturday, is designed to help officials from across Maryland learn more about issues facing their counties.

The 25 panel discussions on topics ranging from financial management to public safety, followed by a keynote address from the governor, were the hallmarks of the event.

But more important, local officials said, were the informal opportunities to chat with representatives from state and other county governments in the hallways and between panel discussions.

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"Without a doubt, the most valuable aspect of the conference is not the sessions you attend but the contacts you make," County Administrator Gregory Murray said.

Murray said he had a chance to meet with several state officials to discuss "everything from local finances to funding for a local senior center."

Murray said a lingering issue for the county involving state restrictions on water and sewer that conflict with separate state restrictions on development was addressed during an informal discussion between county and state officials.

Murray and Commissioner James F. Kercheval pointed out the conflict and scheduled a meeting with two state officials that might never have happened otherwise, Murray said.

"It's that little bit of interaction that is invaluable. You can discuss situations and schedule meetings face to face that you've been trying to resolve over the phone for a year," Murray said.

Kercheval said he talked with Cabinet officials about the state's Green Fund bill, which would impose an impervious surfaces fee on new parking lot construction. Kercheval said he understands the benefits of such a bill, which would pay for cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, but said he wanted to talk to state officials about the negative effects it would have on economic development in the county.

It's that local perspective that state officials might otherwise not get that makes a conference such as MACo so important, Kercheval said.

"The governor's Cabinet is filled with new directors. These are the folks that make everything work and it's so important that they can put a face to a name when they talk to us. It makes it easier to let them know what's going on here," Kercheval said.

Also attending the conference were Commissioners' President John F. Barr and Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray.

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