The Mount Airy Lottery
The “awful aughts” were not kind to Mount Airy. The last decade seemed to have been on the minds of citizens who crowded into the Mount Airy town hall on March 8 to nominate candidates to vie for elected offices in the upcoming election.
The mayor’s office and two council seats are up for grabs when Mount Airy’s citizens go to the polls to select new leadership for the town on May 3.
At the meeting citizens nominated Wendi Peters, currently a town council member, and Patrick Rockinberg, who currently serves on the town planning and zoning commission to vie for the mayor’s office, currently held by Peter Helt.
For the two council seats currently held by Gary Nelson and Chris Everich, citizens choose three to stand for election: David M. Blais, Scott Strong, and incumbent Councilman Everich.
Many observers will say that in the last quarter-century Mount Airy, the town of almost 10,000 which straddles the Frederick and Carroll County border, has developed quite a reputation for its contentious elections, and the infliction of mental anguish, embarrassment, and humiliation that passes for the town’s deliberative decision-making process.
In the last several years, Mount Airy has stayed in the news for its self-inflicted political turmoil and intrigue, allegations of ethics violations, quarrels over growth and annexation, recreation, and water.
In 2009, a total of three citizens took turns in the mayor’s office in a year of public bickering and disagreement.
Mr. Helt, who was voted in as mayor by the council on December 7, 2009, after the council voted out former Mayor David Pyatt, chose not to stand for election. Mayor Helt had taken the place of former Mayor Frank Johnson, Jr., who was elected in 2006 and resigned in February 2009.
There was also turnover in 2009 among the council members as Mr. Everich was chosen to take the place former councilman John Woodhull, who moved out of town and did not finish his term.
It was standing room only at the Mount Airy Board of Supervisors of Elections citizens’ meeting in the town hall. The chairman of the elections board, Bruce Walz, banged the gavel and brought the short, 20-minute meeting to order at precisely 7 P.M.
A distinguished member of the community, B.J. Dixon, the former town clerk who retired after 30-years of service, approached the podium first.
“I’m here this evening not only as a resident of the town; not only as a past employee of the town; but as a concerned citizen who feels we need to get the town back on track with someone that has leadership abilities. I’m here to nominate Councilwoman Wendi Peters for the office of mayor,” said Ms. Dixon.
Tony Falletta then rose to nominate Pat Rockinberg for mayor. He explained that “Pat moved to Mount Airy in 1997 and since that time has been very active in the community… It was during the 2006 election cycle that I first met Pat and have come to admire his leadership abilities.”
Mayor Helt nominated Mr. Everich by citing a Bible verse from Proverbs 15:22, “‘without counsel, plans go awry. But in the multitude of counselors they are established.’ In short it is better to get the opinion of many counselors than to have a bunch of ‘yes’ men. I have found Chris Everich to be a good counselor and not a ‘yes’ man. Chris can be talked to, reasoned with and learned from.”
Former Mayor Pyatt nominated Mr. Blais by noting that “he earned his Eagle Scout badge from Mount Airy’s Troop 460, graduated from Linganore High School, and has served honorably in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years.”
To wrap-up the meeting, Tim Askeland nominated Mr. Strong. He iterated that Mr. Strong could make a positive contribution to the community because he is a volunteer sports coach for Mount Airy’s children and he vigorously opposed a recent annexation initiative for the Rigler property.
As I stood in the back of the room observing the interactions of the town’s community leaders, I was amazed that anyone would want to be an elected official in Mount Airy, and my thoughts drifted to Shirley Jackson’s Kafkaesque short story, “The Lottery.”
Ms. Jackson’s peculiar saga of American realism was first published in June 1948, and it depicted in gritty detail the tale of a village that also had a periodic selection ritual; however, instead of a ‘nominations meeting,’ the tradition was referred to as “the lottery.”
Just as Mr. Walz did at the beginning of the Mount Airy nomination ritual, the lottery, err, election rules were carefully explained.
Instead of citizens standing up before the gathered townspeople to choose candidates to stand for election, in Ms. Jackson’s harrowing saga, lottery slips are placed in a black box, which is metaphorically reminiscent of the tattooing torture machine in Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.”
Just like Ms. Jackson’ story, the irony of the short, solemn, seemingly civil, ceremonies in Mount Airy was found in the countervailing details; the stolen glances, the subtle shuffling of feet, perfidious restlessness, and the traded whispers of intrigue and conspiracy.
However, in “The Lottery,” instead of nominating persons to run for election, the citizens nominate one person they elect to assassinate – stone to death – at the end of the ritual procedures, something like what is done in Mount Airy these days, only the primary weapons are maligning one’s integrity and invidiously assassinating one’s character.
Elections are held in the town every two years. Citizens will have an opportunity to vote Monday, May 3, from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. at the Firemen's Activities Building on Twin Arch Road.
It is not known if citizens are asked to bring their own bucket of stones for the occasion.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at email@example.com.