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June 27, 2006

Holtzinger's Harassers

Roy Meachum

Lacking anything of substance to get on Mayor Jeff Holtzinger's "case," there's been an overabundance of yipping about minor squabbles from the uninformed and irresponsible. Let's call them Holtzinger's Harassers.

The Frederick News-Post devoted considerable space last Thursday to a pair of issues that have had the mayor's critics in terrible, meaningless lather. They wanted His Honor drawn and quartered or its modern equivalent for the "unethical" hiring of sister-in-law Donna Folden. They also erroneously pointed out city-police negotiations over a new contract threatened the department's law-enforcing capabilities.

Flushing out all available correspondence through the Freedom of Information act, News-Post reporter Liam Farrell painstakingly took readers through the bureaucratic process that resulted in Ms. Folden regaining the job as project manager. In essence: she was the best qualified applicant willing to take the position.

Reporter Farrell's story touched on others who had applied; some were more suitable for financial or budgetary jobs. A possible contender changed her mind. And so it went, according to the "inside" e-mail obtained by the daily paper. One thing was very clear: Mr. Holtzinger had doodley in-put into reviewing credentials, interviews and certainly not the final decision to put his sister-in-law on the city payroll. Again.

Still, Donna Folden will provide a spark for overwrought comment by the public and desperate members of the media. Whatever the ethics involved, her brother-in-law would have been politically better served if the lady had taken her talents elsewhere. But would that have been fair to the taxpayers? Human Resources and the search committee apparently ascertained it would not.

This is not to suggest the howling will cease. Heaven forbid! Newspapers and their employees have space to fill. Every election leaves in its wake a disgruntled mob; last year's outcome was far from the exception. Supporters of Jennifer Dougherty refused to let go, even though she was the first mayor in modern memory to lose in the primary. The Democrat victor was defeated in his turn by Republican Holtzinger. Never mind.

It is very possible to suspect the current mayor's critics are impelled by worn-out loyalty, perhaps mingled with an attitude based on wait-until-next-time. They draw deep comfort from the oft-repeated and very mistaken assertion Mr. Holtzinger will chuck in City Hall after one term.

That may very well be why there was such a fuss over negotiations conducted by the mayor with the city's Fraternal Order of Police. I'm not talking about the things said by the union to the media. That's all part of the bargaining game.

More behind shielding hands than out in public, comments were passed that the drawn-out talks mainly illustrated the gentleman's incompetence; his lack of caring for law enforcement in the city. The longtime city engineer and the most experienced candidate in Frederick's voting history was depicted as a fumbling dolt, when what he was really trying to do was save taxpayers' pockets.

One of the items on the bargaining docket was an effort to permit all officers to drive around in official patrol cars, even when they were off-duty. The privilege is currently restricted to cops who live in the city while, supposedly, every sheriff's deputy has a cruiser full time whatever the place of residence. As I recall the original argument, more than providing convenient transportation was involved. Even a parked marked car serves as a deterrent, but city vehicles in the county in no may make Frederick's streets and neighborhoods safer.

The most ridiculous rumor of all had to do with sheriff's Sergeant Bill Folden, not Donna's husband. The whispering campaign alleged Mr. Holtzinger's other brother-in-law furnished counsel that caused the mayor to stand up to the union. But Mr. Folden presently serves as president of the county's FOP. There's no way he would sell-out his brother officers, especially when he hopes to become the next sheriff.

William Jefferson Holtzinger is not the best qualified for sainthood among my acquaintances. Make no mistake. As he well knows, I have a gripe with his administration's performance in a specific area. But nothing I write or say can change what is already done. If further provoked by circumstances, indeed, this columnist will get around to lowering the boom, hoping to avoid future mistakes.

Why should politician Holtzinger be treated any differently than his predecessors over the last 24 years? But in no case did I rush to judgment. Every newly elected official deserves space to figure out direction for his administration. The current mayor's predecessor operated for some seven months without a beep from this quarter, and I had opposed her for the job.

Particularly, it seems to me, when journalists have their opinion wiped out at the poll, they should be careful and avoid displaying bias and prejudice, which is what is happening right now. In this profession, we have a responsibility to avoid harassing officials without due cause. That's not what Thomas Jefferson meant, at all.

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