La Plata Mayor Jeannine James said that forging stronger bonds between Maryland’s municipalities and the state government is not just a goal as a newly elected member of the Maryland Municipal League’s board of directors, but a passion.
“I just sometimes feel that we don’t know what’s going on at a higher level,” James said. “I know that this governor is very interactive with the municipalities and I love that, but I think all of us have to be aware of what’s going on.”
James was one of three people elected for a first term on the 31-member board during the league’s annual conference in Ocean City in late June. She is one of 10 at-large members.
La Plata’s town clerk, Danielle Mandley, also serves on the board in her capacity as president of the Maryland Municipal Clerks Association.
James’ association with MML began last year, when the board president invited her to join one of the league’s five standing committees. James chose the legislative committee because of her long-standing interest in law.
“I thought that would be a really good fit for me,” said James, who has a master’s degree in mass communication and law. “I have always sought out knowledge on, especially, legal issues. That is kind of my passion.”
James said that she “absolutely loved” serving on the legislative committee because it gave her an opportunity to see bills that affect municipalities as they were being crafted, and to weigh in on behalf of the league.
According to Jim Peck, MML’s research specialist, the legislative committee has several duties: It reviews proposed legislation drafted by municipalities, and it also makes recommendations to the league’s members as to what the league’s legislative priorities should be for the coming General Assembly session.
“A major function of the legislative committee is to review bills that come before the General Assembly,” Peck said. “The members review each bill to determine its municipal impact, then they rate it by the likelihood of its passage and determine what position the league will take” on the bill, voting to either support or oppose it, or support it with amendments.
James said that she also volunteered to serve on MML’s Academy for Excellence in Local Government, which offers voluntary certification for municipal officials.
This is not the first time that La Plata has had a presence on the Municipal League’s board. Longtime town manager Doug Miller also served on it during his tenure, and former La Plata Mayor William Eckman served as its president in the mid-90s.
The mission of the Maryland Municipal League, which was founded in 1936, is to advocate both in Annapolis and in Washington, D.C., on behalf of 157 municipal governments and two special taxing districts across the state. It also conducts policy research and analysis, holds education and outreach events and exchanges information with other municipal leagues around the country.
One of the issues that James will be focusing on during her first yearlong term on the board is legislation related to the siting of so-called “small cell” wireless transmitters in towns.
As reported in the Maryland Independent earlier this year, four bills were introduced during this year’s General Assembly session that proposed a uniform set of procedures as well as permitting and siting requirements for installing and regulating the placement of equipment to support small-cell systems, also called 5G systems. However, all four bills were withdrawn for further study.
Earlier this year, La Plata adopted three emergency ordinances that addressed the placement of small wireless telecommunications antennas and their related equipment in public rights-of-way, set permit fees for companies seeking to install small cell equipment in the town and established design criteria for small cell structures.
“We all want 5G, but we also want to preserve the aesthetics of our town,” James said. “My goal is to work with the municipalities to inform them how they can both commingle.”
James said that she already has good working relationships with many members of the MML’s board of directors, so that she will be able to hit the ground running with raising awareness of the pending 5G legislation and showcasing La Plata as an example of how to address the issue.
“I just want to make sure that everyone is aware of that it’s not a hopeless situation, that when we work together we are much stronger,” James said. “We just need to let the utility companies know, ‘You are welcome, let’s work together so we can have a better community.’”