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November 16, 2006

Be Careful What You Ask For

John W. Ashbury

Why is it that when elections are over in Frederick County, controversy immediately rears its ugly head? Perhaps it is egos; or maybe it's just plain stupidity.

Back in 1994, David Gray, who had served as a commissioners for four years, wanted desperately to be president of the board, but Mark Hoke, a commissioner who had retired in 1990, beat him out on election night. But it was close.

So, when absentee ballots were counted the following Thursday in Winchester Hall, Mr. Gray was on hand, hoping beyond hope that he would overtake the retired commander of Fort Detrick. It didn't happen. The distance between them grew wider; and Mr. Gray had to wait until 1998 to claim the chairman's seat.

This year, once again, Mr. Gray is in the middle of the cesspool. However, this time he wants to give up the presidency to a member of the minority party - Democrat Jan Gardner, who, in announcing her candidacy back in the summer, promoted the election of Republican Gray.

So, here we go again. The acrimony has started already. Mrs. Gardner was furious with the editors of The Gazette last week when the paper headlined: "Gardner Won't Be President."

It would appear that she suffers from the same delusion that plagued Galen Clagett back in 1978. In that election three Republicans - Mac Remsburg, Mary Williams and Richard Grossnickle - were elected along with Democrats Charles Smith and Mr. Clagett. Mrs. Williams received the most votes among the Republicans and her GOP colleagues picked her as president. Mr. Clagett was beside himself because he had received more votes than Mrs. Williams.

It stuck in his craw for four years.

In December 1982, with three Democrats in the majority, Mr. Clagett, as the recipient of the most votes among the Democrats, became president. And with the support of Commissioner Sterling Bollinger an ordinance was adopted to codify the selection of the president of the Board of County Commissioners as the member of the majority party receiving the most votes in the election.

Now, fast forward to the present and we find Mr. Gray, Charles Jenkins and John L. "Lennie" Thompson - in that order and all Republicans - sitting in the catbird seat.

But Mr. Gray, whose reputation for avoiding Winchester Hall unless the commissioners were slated to meet is legendary, has thrown a fly into the ointment. He now says that he will move to make Mrs. Gardner the president of the commissioners. His statement has swelled the head of Mrs. Gardner, who has been seen prancing around social gatherings like she had been elected president of The United States.

In Winchester Hall the president is a somewhat less powerful position. Setting the agenda for meetings, handling the gavel at those meetings and representing the county at official functions counts as all the perks of the position, unless you count the extra $500 the president gets on the expense account.

Looking at this from another angle, Mr. Gray's madness could have a silver lining. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat mayor of Baltimore, has just been elected Maryland governor. And he is a well-known party partisan and will obviously feel more comfortable dealing with a Democrat as president of the Frederick County commissioners. This would also apply to both Maryland Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House of Delegates Mike Busch.

This can of worms won't be officially resolved until some time in December. And it will only be the first of many confusing and controversial issues the new commissioners will face.

In the meantime, grab hold of something screwed to the floor as trial balloons will be floated by each of the newly-elected commissioners.

Look for Mr. Gray to once again seek to be liaison to The Planning and Zoning Commission. He served as a member of that panel for 10 years before being elected commissioner in 1990, after two unsuccessful attempts, once as a Democrat and once as an independent.

He also may seek to restore the privilege of voting as a member of that panel. If that happens, he will have to be very careful that he doesn't vote on issues that will eventually make their way to the commissioners for consideration.

Richard Grossnickle served as chairman of the Planning Commission in each of his 12 years as a county commissioner, voting on most issues including those that were going upstairs. But David Gray isn't a Richard Grossnickle.

Kai Hagen won't be able to hold his tongue on any issue for the next four years. He provides lengthy commentary to every question put before him, failing to understand that brevity makes for shorter meetings.

It is possible that he will seek to be liaison to every board or commission in the county because he always knows more than anyone else about everything.

Following the "sock puppet" incident at Brunswick Railroad Days, WFMD's morning host, Bob Miller, composed a parody which offered the "Commissioners' Christmas Sock Puppet Collection." He intoned with great seriousness that Mr. Hagen's sock puppet came with a 4,000 word instruction manual.

Charles Jenkins, a lone voice crying in the wilderness for the next four years, will have to accept the leavings - with the possible exception of The Roads Board. He based his entire campaign on working to better the traffic situation countywide, so he has a legitimate claim on that position. He would also like to be on the FACT panel, but Commissioner Gardner may give him a battle on that one.

It might be in the best interest of the other four commissioners to elect current Commissioners' President Thompson to another four years in the post. He has conducted himself - and the meetings - with dignity and respect, far different from his first four years as a commissioner.

He still demagogues every issue he can, but we can expect far more of his antics as he returns to being a simple commissioner. He may well set his colleagues in fits with ludicrous proposals he knows full well will be rejected, either by them or the county's delegation to The General Assembly. And it is possible he may break Mr. Gray's record for fewest appearances in Winchester Hall over a four year term.

With the shake-up across the electoral board here, at the state and across the nation, the next four years promise to be filled with everything that makes columnists happy - something to write about without having to search for it.

Keep in touch. And be sure to add to your list of favorites. We are in for exciting times - like it or not.

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