Candidate Survey: Justin Kiska for Frederick County Council At-Large
Justin M. Kiska
Office Sought and District
Frederick County Council At-Large
Bachelor’s in Communication from The George Washington University
Theatre Owner & Producer
County Council Candidate in 2014; Special Assistant and Scheduler to Former Transportation and Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole; Policy Intern for Empower America
Why are you running for office?
The simple answer is because there’s work to do. I’ve always been amazed by Frederick County’s potential. Growing up here, I knew what could be possible. This is a community grounded in its history but looking to its future. We’re at a time when we need leaders in Winchester Hall who will encourage and enable the county and its residents to thrive as we continue further into the 21st Century. It’s the Council’s job to show up and get things done, not simply fight ideological battles when at the local level, it’s about “keeping the trains running on time.”
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
On the national level, people like Bob and Elizabeth Dole and Jack Kemp. I was fortunate to have worked for these people and got to see firsthand what it meant to serve in government. They were from the generation that served because it meant something. It rubbed off on me. Locally, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Rick Weldon, Kelly Schulz, and David Brinkley. They showed up to do their jobs and do them well. They weren’t there to make names for themselves, they were there because they wanted to make things happen. They also understood that working with people who had a different opinion wasn’t a bad thing.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
‘Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics.’ It was fascinating to read how so much of what happened then is still happening fifty years later. On the flip side, some of the events that took place during that election changed the shape of how things would be done in the future — for good and bad.
What will be your top priority in elected to this position?
Over the last three years, there have been a number of times when the County Council has missed its chance to exercise its power as the legislative arm of our government, instead making itself subservient to the County Executive; as opposed to a true check and balance. The next County Council needs to take steps to provide a true balance in Winchester Hall. After all, they’re there to represent the residents of Frederick just as much as the County Executive.
What is the biggest issue facing your county?
With more than 240,000 residents in Frederick County, future growth is a very important, and often times divisive, issue. The fact is, Frederick County is growing and it’s going to continue to grow. That being the case, we must be prepared and plan for this development so that everyone will have a chance to benefit. The members of the County Council will have many decisions to make in the coming years that could change the landscape of Frederick, both literally and figuratively. For future growth to occur, however, having the supporting infrastructure in place is key. Our roads must be able to support increased traffic; our schools must be able to handle more students; and our public services must be able to provide the highest level of service possible. Growth is good if it is planned carefully and correctly. We cannot simply allow growth and development for growth and development’s sake.
What is your position on taxes and spending?
A government cannot be run like a business – even though many say it should. However, some of the same principles used to run a successful business can also be applied to government. Should a government spend more money than it takes in? No. Should government officials make sure they get the biggest bang for every tax dollar spent? Yes. In the perfect world, there would be enough money to fund every organization, agency, department, and service at or above 100%. Sadly, the budget does not usually allow for this. It is up to county leaders to make the tough decisions and determine where each dollar is best spent, regardless of whether or not it is the most popular decision.
I have also publicly called for an amendment to the County’s Charter in regard to the budget process. As it stand currently, the Executive is responsible for putting the budget together and deciding how much and where county dollars will be spent. If the Council desires to make any changes, it can only decrease spending. It cannot increase funding for any budget item. To provide a true check and balance to the Executive, the County Council should be given the authority to not only decrease funding for particular line items but increase it as well, with the caveat that they are able to find the money in other areas to keep the budget balanced – a Charter amendment for which the next Council should advocate.
What is your position on a county tax cap?
In theory, the idea of a tax cap is not a bad one. However, without having specific details, it would be hard to say whether this would be something I would or wouldn’t support. When it comes to taxes in a general sense, I believe they must be kept at reasonable levels and rates. People work hard for their money. It shouldn’t be the goal of any government to take more than absolutely necessary.
What is your position on land use issues?
Before anything should ever be decided with regard to the use of land, a property owner’s rights need to be taken into consideration. The government needs to be careful when it comes to telling someone what they can and cannot do on their own property. It should go without saying there are certain circumstances when the government has a responsibility to oversee what is happening on a piece of property, such as making sure a company is not dumping its waste into a river — that’s public health and safety. But putting bike paths along a river front on private property, for example, would completely infringe on the property owner’s rights.
What is your position on public safety?
The safety and security of residents is one of the most important jobs of any government. It should be our goal to have the best trained sheriff’s deputies, fire fighters, and EMS teams. In return for the highest skilled first responders, we must make sure they have the best equipment and technology to help them do their jobs. We cannot expect the highest standard of service from them if we do not give them the tools and training necessary to provide that service.