Carroll County history is replete with colorful conflicts, many of operatic proportions, between the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, the Carroll County delegation to Annapolis, and the sheriff.
Carroll County’s reputation for low crime and an aggressive approach to public safety is not a recent phenomenon. However, as one can imagine whenever a community determines any public policy to be of paramount importance, there are bound to be impassioned conflicts and drama.
In the most recent act of this history-laden ongoing opera, last fall, on October 4, 2007, the Carroll County commissioners opted to move forward with a plan to form a county police department headed by an appointed chief of police – totally separate from the existing Carroll County Sheriff’s Department.
Not willing to disappoint future historians, troubadours from far-flung regions of the Carroll County Empire descended upon the political stage and chaos ensued. I read several of the news accounts with the soundtrack of “Les Misérables” playing in the background.
What followed was acrimony and personal viciousness between supporters of the county commissioners and supporters of the sheriff’s department at a level that took most by surprise.
Some members of the Carroll County delegation got involved and sponsored legislation that passed in the last session of the General Assembly to force the commissioners’ police initiative to go to referendum if the commissioners voted to move forward with their plans.
After almost a year of drama and intrigue of middle school proportions, on August 7 the commissioners took an abrupt U-turn and voted to halt their plans for a county police force. The brakes were squealing and the mud was flying; the smoke from burning rubber and the truckloads of flaming newspapers filled the political arena with acrid smoke.
When it was all over, everyone took a deep breath, paused for a moment, and then promptly began the mud slinging all over again.
Just as with any good storytelling, “La Policía,” the current absurd epic Carroll County constitutional conflict over the future of the police, has many layers, story lines, strong personalities, and plot twists.
For me, the level of absurdity inspired visions of what is, unfortunately, only the first act of “La Policía” – borrowed from Les Misérables. There will be many more acts to follow. Close your eyes and imagine…
As the curtains rise, the scene before the bewildered citizen audience is the barricaded Carroll County office building.
It’s August 7, 2008, and the commissioners have just voted 2-1 to halt their move of last October to establish a county police plan.
As the smoke rises from the stage, there is a break in the action as members of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department prepare to storm the barricades.
Blinking red and blue police lights reflect back and forth in the smoke.
The three commissioners are standing on top of the barricades. Commissioners Mike Zimmer and Dean Minnich are on either side of Julia Gouge, holding her steady as she waves an oversized Carroll County flag.
Office building employees have broken out the windows and are showering the storming sheriff’s deputies with furniture.
The stage is littered with burning newspapers as the local media shelled the participants with folded newspapers shot from makeshift artillery.
Off to the side, Channel 13 reporter Mike Schuh is attempting to interview Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. The only thing is – the chief has the 1971 Led Zeppelin classic, “The Battle of Evermore,” coincidentally, the title of the first act of “La Policía,” – cranked-up so loud on the car stereo no one can hear a thing.
Inside the building the receptionist, Kay Church, is serving cookies, answering the phones and has armed herself with a salad shooter and a big bag of carrots.
Ted Zaleski, the director of management and budget, is huddled to the side with Vivian Laxton, the public information administrator, as they try to figure out who is playing what character from Les Misérables.
Getting back to reality, as if anyone can tell what is real and what is theatre of the absurd at this point in time, it will appear that no one has won and everyone has lost.
However, arguably the average citizen – whose faith, trust, and confidence in elected officials, various other community leaders, and law enforcement, is reaching the lowest depths of the septic tank – is the biggest loser.
Certainly much of the public has become accustomed to various elected officials squabbling childishly over matters of esoteric public policy. However, there is something foreboding and insidious about law enforcement and elected officials playing political shuffleboard with matters of our safety.
Much of the public knows only what has been said in various public hearings, or what they have read in the newspaper and are not aware that the officers from various different police agencies working the streets are – by and large – working together fine.
Oh, sure, there are differences of opinion and personality clashes, but when the lights and sirens are turned-on, they get the job done – in spite of the leadership at the top.
Nevertheless, be forewarned. Buy the gallon-size container of headache medication now. The debate over securing adequate police protection in the future is not going to go away. In all likelihood, it will now be an issue for debate in the 2010 county elections.
Perhaps, in the interim, we can hope that our community leaders will learn that in the middle of the night when we call the police for help, the overwhelming majority of us do not give a rat’s behind what uniform shows up as long as they care, are well trained, and properly equipped.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org