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“Jenita!” Rides The Stage In City Hall, Part Deux
David 'Kip' Koontz

March 14, 2002

Act II, Scene I: (The setting is upstairs boardroom in City Hall soon after Jenita’s ascendance to mayoralty. Jenita is meeting with a group of neighbors of the church who are explaining their concerns about the size of church’s addition).

During this meeting, Catherine Parks flops, as she admits that she didn’t really understand RLUIPA when she made her ruling on it before and that she didn’t see how it was applicable now, as the church was not being prevented from practicing religion.

Jenita empathetically listens as the neighbors explain what has transpired over the previous 3½ years.

The neighbors explain that they have never said they were opposed to anything but the size of the addition. They admit that they have concerns about the use of the facility; after all, it was the pastor of the church who said it was to be used for more than just handicap accessibility.

The neighbors explain that they are concerned about accepting on faith the “word” of church leaders that they will abide by the agreement not to put in seats or use the addition for more than handicap accessibility based on current behavior of the church.

The church also owns the property to the east of their sanctuary. That property is to be used for residences and residences alone. Zoning and permits state that.

Upon obtaining use the property, however, the church immediately tore the fence down that separates that property from their sanctuary and consistently use the adjoining yards for a multitude of activities. There are regular meetings held in the property. There have been consistent violations of their permits reported to City Hall.

 Jenita says she understands their concerns.

The neighbors explain that they have been subjected to periodic harassment after they have testified against the size of the addition. Car tires have been slashed. Trash has been dumped on doorsteps. House windows smashed.  Many neighbors are now so afraid they will not even testify against the size of the addition for fear of what may happen afterward.

The neighbors are told that Jenita agrees that the best solution would be for the church to compromise on the size of the addition.

The neighbors leave basking in what they believe to be the warm glow of Jenitaism.

(Fade to black).

Act II, Scene II: (Lights up. The setting is the hearing room of City Hall where Jenita and the new Board of Aldermen are set to decide the fate of Mayor Jim Grimes’ backdoor agreement with the Presbyterian Church).

At this hearing both sides present their positions.

The neighbors discuss that the back room deal bypasses the prescribed rules established by the City Charter and should not be approved.

This issue of the applicability of RLUIPA is discussed with aldermen questioning whether it applies; especially in light of the city’s own representatives changing their minds.

The agreement deal is tabled for further examination and study.

(Fade to black).

Act II, Scene III: (Lights up. The setting is the interior of Jenita’s office in City Hall. Jenita is meeting with Bruce Dean to discuss alternative ways for the church to get exactly what they want).

Foot Note: While it is not known exactly what happened during this meeting the end result will soon become known.

(Fade to black).

Act II, Scene IV: (Lights up. The setting is the office of the attorney for those opposed to the size of the addition, Mr. Nick Hoogstraten, who for days has been asking Jenita for a copy of what is to be discussed at the upcoming mayor and board meeting. We come in just after Heather Price Smith sends a version of some sort of agreement).

It seems that in the spirit of openness that was promised just a month prior, Jenita crafts her own version of an agreement with Mr. Dean. This agreement not only affords the church the same perks and privileges that her predecessor’s back room deal did, but expands on it.

This version of the agreement even offers to help cover the church’s legal fees in the event they are sued because of the agreement and subsequent approval of the size of the addition.

Curiously this version had not even been given to any aldermen. Several aldermen have to obtain copies of it from the opponents after they are called and asked to comment on it.

Many are left scratching their heads wondering why they were not included in this process.

Foot Note: Several days are spent trying to figure out why taxpayers should have to foot the bill to defend a private entity against themselves, as the real version of Jenita’s deal is completed elsewhere.

(Fade to black).

Act II, Scene V: (Lights up and the setting is the packed hearing room at City Hall. A reporter slips a copy of the final deal Jenita has crafted with Mr. Dean to Mr. Hoogstraten, the first time he has seen it).

Jenita, (knowing that she has crafted a back room deal with Mr. Dean), informs the assembled that she recognizes the meeting might become contentious. She admonishes the audience to play nice and keep a sense of humor.

Jenita asks Mr. Hoogstraten to start things off. Mr. Hoogstraaten points out that this agreement allows the church to entirely by-pass the process that is prescribed by the City Charter.

The agreement is criticized for setting the precedent of allowing one to craft a deal with the mayor should you disagree with the city’s boards and commissions answers.

The agreement is criticized for setting the precedent that allows anyone to build up to an 11,000 square feet of building/addition anywhere in the city with only having to obtain staff approval.

The agreement is coming about without consultation with the aldermen or with those who are opposed to the size of the addition.

Several [most are afraid of what my befall them if they testify] neighbors of the church, keeping one eye on their backs, along with two members of the BZA, testify that the city’s process should be allowed to work and urge the aldermen to vote down the agreement.

Jenita yields the floor to Mr. Dean who extols the virtue of the agreement and repeatedly tells everyone how RLUIPA does apply to this case because for 3½ years they have been denied this addition (even though the law is only a year old, he blames the city for not following a law that didn’t exist).

The project manager for the church insists that they have compromised, compromised, compromised, though he is unable to produce any proof of it except for one instance. They agreed to a roof line setback.

The church has agreed to a 6-foot setback between the addition and their immediate neighbor. But, you see, what is simply the law to everyone else becomes a compromise for the church under Jenita’s deal.

Several members of the church get up to criticize the opponents to the size of the addition and cry about how they would be so horribly inconvenienced if the size of the addition were smaller. They do not explain, nor are they asked, why?

Ms. Parks is asked her opinion on the matter and flip-flops again and says that a variance isn’t needed after all because the church has promised not to put in seats.

 Ms. Parks trips up a bit when asked if that would be the same if the church would put in folding chairs. Ms. Parks sputters and spurts saying “yes” and then “no” and then simply finishes by saying the code is confusing.

Ms. Smith, who had called for a full-blown look into the RLUIPA matter, capitulates to the inevitability of the power of Jenita.

She says that this is the best way out of a sticky situation. She adds that she feels the city can enter into this kind of agreement with the church because RLUIPA told her it is okay to do so.

Jenita asks if there is discussion or comments by the aldermen.

Ms. Kuzemchak asks the church what type of architect they used, a “church architect” or a regular “ run of the mill” kind. They used a “run of the mill” kind.

Alderman Dave Lenhart shares a touching story about how he is in charge of the building committee for his church. He talks about how he has to work with a “church architect” and pronounces that while the Presbyterian Church didn’t use a “church architect,” Mr. Lenhart deems the Presbyterian plans as good  and efficient ones, based on his observation.

Ms. Kuzemchak, queried Mr. Lenhart about whether he had spoken to his “church architect” about the Presbyterian plan. Mr. Lenhart, obviously confused, said “he had done so every other week for the last four years.”

This misspeak is allowed to stand unquestioned and comforts Ms. Kuzemchak on the validity of the Presbyterian Church’s plans.

Mr. Lenhart concludes by announcing that he believes the county has made things difficult for his church to build and something about how it shouldn’t be this difficult.

Alderman Baldi is in a fighting mood. He announces defiantly, smugly and a bit self-righteously, that he no longer needs to recuse himself from the proceedings.

Mr. Baldi states that he has personally taken the matter to the Ethics Commission and he reads from a letter that states they find no problem with his testifying. He claims they reached that conclusion after listening to “testimony”. There is no explanation of who offered testimony.

Alderman Marcia Hall seizes the floor and reads a scripted decree explaining why the church should have the addition and motions for approval, which Mr. Baldi instantly seconds.

Jenita calls for the vote and Mr. Lenhart joins Ms. Hall and Mr. Baldi in voting for approval.

Ms. Kuzemchak explains that her vote against isn’t against the “church” but more of the process and her belief that the size should be smaller.

Alderman Bill Hall explains that he isn’t opposed to the church, but is opposed to sidestepping the city process and therefore is unable to vote for approval. Mr. Hall says that he is afraid of the precedent a “for” vote has set and that is the precedent of allowing folks to go straight to the mayor should they not get the results they want from the process.

He ends the discussion on this matter by saying “a privilege given once will be a right demanded by attorneys later on.”

(Fade to black, curtain comes down).

End of Act Two.

Denouement:

Unfortunately, this is not a play or a movie. This has actually happened.

City government has now said - and set precedent - that one should just go to City Hall and meet with Jenita to get what you want.

One might ask if you should put a “For Sale” sign in front of City Hall? Along with back room deals and handshake agreements many can, in all probability, expect that the notion of “the more you spend the more you get” will apply.

One can in turn question whether there will really be a move for campaign funding reform as has been promised? After all, campaign committees make the perfect recipient for the contribution given in return for a handshake deal.

One must question how, in these days of open government and fresh approaches, could this happen the way it did?

Why was a back room deal forged between Jenita and Mr. Dean other than to get this sticky situation off the table as quickly as possible?

Why would anyone think that it is ethical for Mr. Baldi to vote on a matter in which he is so directly involved? Next, you will tell us that we should believe Bill Clinton when he told us he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky.

One has to question what does the Ethics Commission think their role is? What does one have to do to have a conflict of interest?

This is sickening.

Why would Marcia Hall read a prepared statement in order to make her motion to approve the addition? Couldn’t she just “wing it?”

She had to repay the Presbyterian Church board member who hosted at least one fundraiser for her campaign. Yes, but in light of her passion, you’d think she could be more eloquent.

It seems that public input doesn’t matter to Ms. Hall. Jenita has insisted that Ms. Hall wrote her statement during the public comments and discussion.

That’s hard to believe (and hysterically funny) for so many reasons. But if true, we should thank Ms. Hall for paying attention to the citizens of Frederick as they express their opinions.

One must question why we should accept the precedent that the process for approval of construction that is outlined in our codes and Charter can be so flagrantly and wantonly disregarded?

We must question why we should accept the precedent that says you can now build up to an 11,000 square foot building/addition in the city with only staff approval.

We must be afraid of these precedents and afraid of what will happen as a result of them.

It will be interesting to see how long the line gets outside Jenita’s office door, now that everyone knows what he or she needs to do to beat the system. Some inside of City Hall say the door only opens to “the right” people. Wonder who they are?

As Evita appeared on her balcony to make decrees that gave the peasants the belief that democracy existed in Argentina, Jenita at least got a rubber stamp vote from the aldermen to prove to us peasants that democracy exists in Frederick.

One has to wonder whether the Historic District Commission will approve of putting a balcony on City Hall? Will they even be asked? Having one, however, would make the entire charade simpler.


 

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