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As Long as We Remember...

May 6, 2005

Deceit, Lies and Behind-Closed-Doors Decisions

Roy Meachum

Donna Ramsburg electrified much of the city this week by claiming her husband was the specific target of the latest recommendation to cut jobs in the new budget. Until her angry diatribe, most folks simply didn't know she had reached down into the ranks of city employees for her new husband.

Her bellowing raised the ethical question: Does not the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsburg both draw municipal checks pose an automatic question of conflict of interest? Especially since she was already his superior when they wed.

Retiring Alderman Dave Lenhart was, in fact, fourth in line when he furnished the regularly scheduled workshop a suggested list of positions that might be dropped in next year's budget. Mayor Jennifer Dougherty's was first, followed by recommendations from Republican mayoral candidate Joe Baldi and the aforementioned Mrs. Ramsburg.

But let's make clear: she is not always wrong. Let me state that for the record. She can be hypocritical, have no doubt. In her two-term public career, the former Donna Kuzemchak has been known to carry water on both her shoulders and atop her head.

Acknowledging campaign contributors, for example, she endorsed megabucks from the municipal treasury to accommodate developers. It happens that we are on the same page with that issue, but I make no pretensions. Funding roads that will provide jobs makes sense.

But jobs, including Mrs. Ramsburg's husband's, does not happen to be the topic of today's sermon. I am thoroughly ticked off by the hypocrisy attached to the issue by Mayor Jennifer Dougherty and her closest collaborators, Marcia Hall and the purchasing department buyer's wife, who is also an elected official.

It was perfectly all right with Frederick's women aldermen - let that contradiction pass - when Her Honor announced she intended to cut a dozen occupied positions, including the Charter mandated human resources director and the director of parks and recreation, and 13 vacant ones as well. (Let's dispense with the feminine sexists who claim the trio suffers simply because they are women. In my time I have endorsed and supported a slew of non-males, including Fran Baker, Ellen Sauerbrey, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Jennifer Dougherty in her first race.)

Indeed, in a display of blatant sexism, Ms. Dougherty received warm endorsement from only her female colleagues who chose to ignore both the illegality of her proposal and damage to the dozen human beings who were told the mayor wanted them out on the street. So much for the argument that only women can bring compassion to public service.

It made no difference to any of the three that the budget eliminating the jobs had been neither submitted nor approved. By charter, the mayor lacked the authority, at that point, to let anyone go. They all trilled, in a highly partisan chorus, that the villain that had visited misfortune on the unfortunate employees was Alderman Dave Lenhart, by his successful motion enacting a new ceiling on property tax assessments.

As pointed out, in various quarters, including, figures quoted to justify the drastic throat-slicing were adjusted and readjusted to meet Ms. Dougherty's agenda. Depending on the day and her mood, it seems, the figure fluctuated wildly, but was always in excess of outside observers' estimates.

Budget director Jon Angel's projections consistently mirror the needs of whichever party happens to be sitting in City Hall's top office at the time. He operates on the hoary principal that holds figures never lie but..

When Mr. Lenhart first petitioned to give house owners a break, he became the target for all the furies that attack any and all who express reservations about anything Ms. Dougherty decrees. By comparison, advocates of papal infallibility appear wishy-washy.

Led by the wife of an ex-mayor notorious for his dictatorial manner, the Jennifer brigade swoops in on every person who potentially poses threat to her reelection. The Carroll Creek valkyries were fortunately available when duty called to dismantle Mr. Lenhart.

They had just done with savaging Mike Cady because various sources, especially inside the Dougherty camp, viewed the commissioner as a mayoral wannabe. That was never true, as Mr. Cady insisted repeatedly: he likes thoroughly the variety and challenges that come with Winchester Hall. Becoming mayor of a single city would narrow his focus, he said again and again.

At that time, Mr. Lenhart was widely known to be considering a race for the General Assembly; the story of his recruitment by GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich to run against incumbent Galen Clagett was old news. The first-term alderman had already made abundantly clear his extreme reluctance about plunging again into the tortured mess City Hall has become in recent years. His widely advertised faulty heart condition may have figured in his thinking; his family certainly did.

Never mind, the radical feminist choir proclaimed wide and near that Dave Lenhart's every tic and tremble were programmed to make him mayor this year. They still insist, as Mrs. Ramsburg was quoted in the local daily: "I think that Alderman Lenhart is taking partisan politics to a whole new level."

Missing from that attitude is the alderman's announcement he plans to move his family South in time for the new school year; that will disqualify him totally from Maryland politics, partisan or otherwise. He has nothing personal to gain for the rest of his term, which expires in January, not November as the local daily reported.

For audacity in suggesting the Ramsburg family might be deprived of a city paycheck, she howled her wounded indignation: "This is blatant spite," she was quoted, "Alderman Lenhart - our self-proclaimed 'Christian' - has yet again shown his true colors."

She was right again but in the wrong direction. What Dave Lenhart "showed" was the blatant hypocrisy that lies at the core of the current City Hall administration, defended by Donna Ramsburg and Marcia Hall. Deceit, lies and behind closed-doors decisions are daily routine on the official calendar.

In announcing her fully expected candidacy for four more years Jennifer Dougherty promised one and all she would never change. At least Her Honor can occasionally but not very often speak the truth but rarely when it comes to minding the taxpayers' business.

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