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November 17, 2006

Black Beast in a White Suit

Roy Meachum

John "Lennie" Thompson takes more than considerable pride in his role as the "bete noire" (black beast) to developers. He has succeeded in making himself the nightmare for the entire business community.

The commissioner wears a crisply white polyester suit to dramatize his role as the self-anointed champion against those who provide the economic lifeline for the community. In particular, he stands four-square against anyone who would improve the quality of county life.

Over the past eight years he has emerged as the chief totem and principal chief of the no-growth tribe. Within the ranks of the pull-up-the-moat gang, he is The Man!

Only a funny thing happened on his way to re-election as the president of the Board of County Commissioners; he almost wound up on the street. He skidded into the last slot by the whiskers of his chiny-chin-chin.

That was the one clear message from last week's voting for Winchester Hall. Otherwise I found it, as usual, depressingly predictable. For all these years I have been able to set my watch by the electorate's penchant for switching the county board's direction the way folks change socks.

If the current commissioners' panel is perceived as pro-growth, then you can bet their successors will try to strangle development. The opposite equally applies: The next time around, the members who are seen as hampering Frederick's economic development get the boot.

It happens every four years.

And surprisingly, whatever the bristling rhetoric from the likes of Mr. Thompson, the building industry has little to say in the electoral process. Companies line up and fund candidates they hope will be sympathetic. They work against the likes of Mr. Thompson. Frequently to no avail. In 2002, the man in the glaring white suit not only survived but wound up as the board's big cheese.

But something there was that was different about this November. Mr. Thompson has made an art of blaming builders for all the world's ill - voting against such necessities as water, roads and schools because they help "only" developers. He has been, literally, the poster boy for the crowd that wants the county back in the days before the French and Indians War.

Most people decided his bombast was overblown (it has been for years). They didn't trust his judgment (the world is not black and white, Lennie). They suspected his motive (there must be something more than giving him a job every four years).

Moreover, they decided to reward a woman who has been his favorite target over the past eight years. With more atrocious manners and cruelty than intelligence, Mr. Thompson over the years has lambasted and ridiculed Jan Gardner, leaving her frequently in tears. It's not necessary to agree with her points of view to deeply sympathize.

Getting the most votes, Ms. Gardner now has the potential to become the president, if a pesky ordinance is modified: it called for the post to go to the chief bell ringer for the board's majority. As a Democrat, she enjoys the sole comfort of Kai Hagen; the other commissioners are Republicans.

Naturally, David Gray has proposed changing the ordinance so he will not have to serve as president; he brought home the biggest GOP share. Mr. Gray's triumph this month was a stirring tribute to the electorate's talent for amnesia. Voters confused his lack of spine with the willingness of a nice guy. He raises no opposition because that would take effort on his part. In modern times, he enjoys the reputation for absenting himself from Winchester Hall more than any other commissioner.

As for Lennie Thompson, he can be counted upon to deploy all his bullying bluster, in an effort to exercise control that voters told him he no longer deserves. It was nice to see they got that right!

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