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April 5, 2005

The Failings of Hypocrisy

John W. Ashbury

Public figures, whether elected, bureaucratic or just activists, need to understand that their performance on the political stage determines their trustworthiness in all arenas. Mayor Jennifer Dougherty has failed to comprehend this concept.

In last week's editions of the Gazette newspapers in Frederick County, Katherine Heerbrandt authored a piece about the Cable 10 show "Pressing Issues." As features go, this was a welcome article about something to which more people should be paying attention.

"Pressing Issues," a roundtable discussion of topics of concern to all local citizens, began in 1998 and has been broadcast every week since with only a few exceptions.

The participants include both Republican and Democratic State Central Committee members and a whole host of community activists, including Alan Imhoff, Derek Shackelford, David 'Kip' Koontz, and yours truly, all of whom write for

Each week a moderator prepares a list of topics and questions. On some occasions the agenda doesn't reach the panelists until afternoon of the day the show is taped (Wednesdays).

And therein lies the rub - both for panelists and local officials. The participants don't have time to contact those involved in the topics to be discussed, and frequently the officials aren't available before air time.

In Ms. Heerbrandt's piece last week, Frederick Mayor Dougherty revealed that "her biggest that panelists do not call for firsthand facts, but rely on headlines and news accounts." She should know, for she was a panelist on "Pressing Issues" herself before she became mayor.

This brings a question to mind. Why would Her Imperial Majesty (HIM) think any of the panelists - other than those predisposed to believe whatever she says - would trust her to tell them the truth about any topic.

Several examples of her lack of veracity come quickly to mind. First up is the alleged "water crisis" that she used to halt all construction city. While we certainly had a water shortage, it was never as severe as she made it out to be. Hyperbole entered every conversation she had about the issue.

Then there was the dismissal of Jeff Reedy, the acting director of The Weinberg Center for The Arts. She insisted to the press that she knew nothing about it. Documents surfaced - and were published here on - which showed that she orchestrated that firing.

Perhaps the mayor was only being cautious because the Reedy affair was a "personnel issue." But that is a ploy used all too often to cover the backside of public officials who don't want to discuss an issue.

Instead of admitting she knew of the situation, she denied any knowledge whatsoever. When the documents were published, it was obvious that she had been less than forthright.

Moving forward now to the present, Madame Mayor has insisted for months that the aldermen's passage of the Homestead Property Tax Credit measure back in November was going to "severely" cut into the city's Fiscal Year 2006 budget. Her statements always made it sound like the city would be getting less revenue in FY '06 than in FY '05. That just isn't the case.

At first she said that action would "slash" $600,000 in expected revenues. Then her finance department delivered the more reasonable estimate that it would reduce revenues by only between $250,000 and $300,000.

Later came adjustments saying the actual revenue reduction would be closer to the original $600,000. What the city officials didn't say then was that the reason the earlier estimate was in error was because the previous assumptions of expected revenue without the tax credit has more than doubled.

So, now we are up to the time she offered her FY '06 budget to the aldermen for their consideration. Funny how all of a sudden the property tax revenue increase projections has now retreated to the earlier $1.5 million.

Several aldermen have said the city's finance people are still projecting a property tax revenue increase of close to $3 million. That figure even seems low when you remember that the county is expecting a nearly $20 million increase in property tax revenues.

All of this doesn't sit well with the mayor who wants to smack down the three Republicans on the Board of Aldermen in her concerted effort to bolster her re-election - and to lessen their chances at the polls.

She has proposed laying off 12 people and leaving vacant another 10 positions. Of the 12 to be "fired" as of July 1, two are required by the city's charter. (She says the city will still have the positions, but she won't fund them or put anyone in them.)

Also, eight of the 12 people being "let go" are minorities or handicapped. And all 12 are over the age of 40. And not one of the 12 was hired during her administration. Do we see a pattern here? Is she still blaming former Mayor Jim Grimes for all the city's current shortcomings?

So, with so many instances of false and misleading information coming from her mouth over the three years she has been in office, why would any of the "Pressing Issues" panelists believe anything she says?

And that leads to comments by "Lennie" Thompson, the president of the Board of County Commissioners, who told Ms. Heerbrandt that he frequently calls in to correct misstatements.

Yes, he does!

But one of the reasons that misstatements are made on the show about the activities of the commissioners is that Mr. Thompson frequently refuses to speak to reporters because he doesn't like something they wrote about him - true or not.

That could also hold true for anyone on "Pressing Issues" who has said something about him he didn't like. If nothing else, Mr. Thompson has proven time and again that he can be extremely petulant - unmitigatedly so.

"Pressing Issues" can be a fun program to watch, or on which to participate. But politicians and others in public life - and some of the panelists - shouldn't take themselves so seriously.

The show is intended to provide information and a variety of opinions on issues of concern to Frederick Countians. The opinions offered aren't necessarily the "correct" ones. They are just the speaker's opinion and nothing more.

So, when you watch "Pressing Issues," keep in mind that the show is entertainment. As panelists we can only hope that whatever we say - our opinions - will spark a further examination of the issues by those charged with making the decision. Then maybe - just maybe - the final decision will be the "correct" one.

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