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The Tentacle


December 5, 2006

Winchester Hall

Roy Meachum

For readers unfamiliar with early church history, the first Christians staged their own versions of the Romans' hedonistic festivals. They were called "agape," a love feast.

Something like that happened in Winchester Hall last Friday; even veteran commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson was surprised. With hardly a peep, his freshly elected colleagues agreed to forward recommendations to the county legislative delegation asking for tightened laws on so-called lobbyists.

Mr. Thompson's coming off eight years of running the Board of County Commissioners - four by vote and four by the unwillingness of David Gray to assert his authority. While insisting lawyers, consultants and others should be labeled and forced to pay for the privilege, he was never able to get this far.

His vision of what the voters need in the way of protection does not accord with mine. He wants Big Daddy government; I prefer to believe the electorate is intelligent and informed, when it wants to be. At that point, the Thompsonites can jump in, shouting there's their point. Left alone, the developers would pave every square meter in Frederick County, they say. I heartily disagree.

Over the years my opinion has shifted. In my early days I was suspicious, simply because I was ignorant of how the process worked. I have never lived in a development.

My current home is the oldest; there have been three. The first house on East Fourth Street was the product of the post-Civil War immigration that contributed so many buildings to downtown. It was followed by a former farm house with a mansard roof that sits at Ninth and North Market; in mid-18th century maps it was the only blip on the charts between The Square Corner and Rose Hill Manor, Thomas Johnson's splendid residence.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I moved into the present residence where I fully expect to live for the rest of my life. The newer part was built up front, as an add-on to the log house behind. The kitchen walls are virtually a foot thick, consisting of logs and plaster. The foundation in that part is still log. Did I mention the kitchen has a cooking fireplace?

Being in and out of development housing over the 20-plus years Frederick has been my home, I know some are very nice and comfortable. But not my cup of tea. My point is that had "Lennie" Thompson's prime targets depended on the likes of me they might be on-relief, as the saying goes.

It strikes me as more than slightly hypocritical when some commissioners return in the evening to their relatively new homes after a day of preaching no one else should enjoy the opportunity they had. Members of the press in similar circumstances deserve nothing but scorn.

Among the other errata peddled about was the canard that opposition to newcomers comes largely from older residents. To the contrary, every hearing on the subject draws folks who have been here a relatively short time; having found what they were looking for they desperately want to keep others away.

When I first arrived on the local scene, the nation and the county were beset by very high interest rates. Folks who needed financing could hardly afford to buy: I made it in through a renewal of the GI Bill that let me take out another mortgage; the first had been in College Park some 30 years before.

Winchester Hall was not in the best of shape; county teachers' pay rivaled the poorest parts of the state. Skilled workers took their gear and headed down the turnpike; Montgomery and Howard counties still appealed to the money boys (and girls).

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Gray were around in those days, and both have dipped their beaks - as the Italians say - into the development business. Mr. Gray, if only a small way, has joined those he decried so many years as a member first of the Planning Commission then as a county commissioner for 12 years. Mr. Thompson has ridden his mantra of developers as evil incarnate to three terms in Winchester Hall.

The announced intention of the new commissioners to go back and change rulings issued by their predecessors points straight to the courtroom and a drain on the county treasury for legal fees; and then there's always the possibility of costly penalties.

I don't mean to rain on the parade of love and self-congratulations generated by the very first meeting of the men and single woman who will guide our destiny the next four years. But love, as all the world knows, sometimes can deny the practical.

In the weeks ahead the new commissioners should eschew the fancy words and settle down to pragmatism, that's what they were elected for: Finding a sensible way out of the mess generated by all those people clamoring to get in on Frederick's good life.



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