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April 15, 2005

City Hall Cha-Cha-Cha!

Roy Meachum

Maybe because the topic at hand happens to be The Weinberg Center for the Arts, for whatever reason Jennifer Dougherty's performance as Frederick's mayor reminds of nothing so much as the cha-cha-cha. The once-fashionable dance consisted of stepping forward then back, then forward and back while swirling and moving rapidly all the time.

The Gazette's Katherine Heerbrandt reported Her Honor's latest move to keep the dance going. She guaranteed her pitiable handling of the Weinberg will remain a public scandal by defaulting on an agreement with the center's former director and producer Stewart Seal.

As mentioned in this space more than a week before the first story appeared in the print media, the mayor forged a settlement with Mr. Seal, rather than going to court. The terms of the settlement, at City Hall's request, were subject to a confidentiality clause.

As Mr. Seal's lawyer N. Lynn Board told reporter Heerbrandt, Her Honor went overboard in confidentiality; she decided to keep to herself a public apology to the gentleman and his family, which was accepted by both parties:

The agreed wording should have included:

"The city is relieved to be able to put this litigation behind us and apologizes for any impact the city's actions may have caused Mr. Seal and his family."

None of that appeared in the official statement and former city attorney Ms. Board filed yet another court motion demanding the mayor simply live up to her oft-repeated bragging about meticulously following all law, regulations and agreements.

By way of trying to muffle impact from the latest legal action, Ms. Dougherty offered to divulge the details of the settlement, if Mr. Seal is willing. Since the push for secrecy had come from her, I can't imagine Stewart will not agree.

He had asked for $3.5 million in his wrongful termination suit; speculation on the street puts the final figure even higher. His reputation could be fully restored by disclosure of the penalty City Hall will pay.

Moreover, as's Monday editorial reasonably argued, since public money's involved the public has the right to know how much taxpayers are on the hook for the egregious and abominable performance by the mayor and her chief of operations, Vincent Hughes.

Mr. Hughes triggered the firing by charging Mr. Seal had spent $8,900, which came out of the old movie house's approved $500,000 restoration costs, without consulting City Hall. The added cost still left the project under budget.

In reply, the Weinberg's director pointed out the expenditures were required to meet standards set by city, county and state regulations. Doing the work at the time saved taxpayers big bucks, as opposed to having the contractor stand down until bureaucrats, like Mr. Hughes, deigned to recommend to the mayor what should be done.

First, Mr. Seal was ordered suspended for a week by Mr. Hughes who immediately recommended firing, which took another month and came on a technicality that obviously did not hold up under legal scrutiny.

Now Ms. Dougherty has endangered the resulting settlement by failing to live up to the important provision that would expunge the public record of suggestions Stewart Seal acted improperly. She also set the stage for the dance to go on; not that it ever stopped.

Provided a bully pulpit in the local daily, Ms. Dougherty's operations director recently complained all the problems of the Weinberg had been largely manufactured by my columns. A quick search of the newspaper's archives would have revealed otherwise, but none was made.

The settlement emphasizes Vinny Hughes and the truth remain strangers to each other; but then he serves as chief toady in an administration that has made total mockery of any claim of open government. In other words, he alway s sings Jennifer's favorite song. Cha-cha-cha!

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