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The Tentacle


May 25, 2007

There They Go Again!

Roy Meachum

Somebody must have treated and turned on those pesky Winchester Hall fountains again. I have long suspected that John "Lennie" Thompson had his own water supply. But now the other commissioners display strong symptoms.

You may have read the Frederick News-Post story: "Ethics law creates headaches." It seems the Thompson-led crusade to punish everyone connected with the building trade turned out a mess that threatens, as I read, to strangle the county government.

Commissioners' President Jan Gardner was quoted as allowing as how she's going to need a special assistant to keep track and report all her conversations that touch upon development. That's what the law says.

To keep the people's business above board and totally honest, she must report the substance of the discussion even when a constituent comes up to her in a market; they can talk about the weather and probably not much else. The new law will kick in when the shoppers turn to what's happening to move Frederick up higher on the list of Maryland counties that have been urbanized.

The mess, according to Kai Hagen, came about when the developers twisted the collective arm of the local General Assembly and produced a bill that went too far. Generally, excess, like beauty, exists in the eyes of the beholder.

Emerging from his criticism is Mr. Hagen's total lack of respect for the legislators, individually and collectively. He obviously belongs to the unhappy band of officials that believes all other men and women are somehow deficit: they alone understand reality. They alone stand between the common good and unspeakable hordes that mean to destroy it, for personal gain.

On the current board he is not the exception.

The essence of democracy is what Carl Sandberg described as "the people, yes, the people." But this form of government works through laws based on principle not revenge.

In the run-up to the projected ethics code that targets developers and those officials supposedly susceptible to corruption, we heard about alleged instructions issued through cell phones. The other way mentioned in the media was a signal delivered by facial expressions from the audience. Sounds like low comedy to me.

If these things were true and unreported at the moments they happened, then the fault lies with the elected and appointed worthies who did not call them down on the spot. As described, the actions were probably criminal, under laws that prohibit undue influence.

Personally, I can't imagine any of the accused - and I know some players in that game - who would be so obviously crass. At the very least none could have access to the sizeable funds that might be suitable bribes. They would be too stupid to trust.

In the last elections, as we heard, the appeals of the successful candidates were emotional, with reason and logic left at the starting gate. The sole platform that worked amounted to "hang the developers, one and all."

Having won high office by a stratagem of fear, the present Board of County Commissioners should pay close attention and mend the bases that prompted the fear. New regulations and laws provide the only possible answer; these should be based on pragmatism and principle and aimed at no special class or individual.

Mr. Thompson agitated for years to enact a code that would stigmatize a vital segment of the county's economic life. His witch hunt succeeded when a board of "Lennie likes" came along; it failed to come out as mean-spirited as he proposed because of the checks and balances that are vital to this system. It came out, instead, as the bureaucratic monster that was the subject of this week's News-Post story.

Having studied the code's provisions and conditions for months now, it is ridiculous for the commissioners to yap at this late date; their protests would have made more sense earlier. But they may not have truly understood what they were in for.

Tainted water fountains have that effect.



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