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January 9, 2007

More of the Same Old Lennie

Roy Meachum

If you missed WFMD's Friday Morning News Express - and you shouldn't let that happen again - host Bob Miller pulled a sneaker punch on me. Not himself, Bob Himself is much too kind.

Frederick's favorite radio personality had received that morning an email from a politician quoting my column that day. In a string he's played before, John L. "Lennie" Thompson, Jr., told the world less than the truth - an established habit. Under "Subject" he wrote "Meachum Compares Frederick's Slow Growth Officials to Adolph Hitler."

I did not receive a copy nor did's publisher and Editor John Ashbury. The distribution list included the station's news crew and their boss, Program Director Frank Mitchell.

To cover his legal backsides, lawyer Thompson quoted my words:

"Huey P. Long and Adolph Hitler were demagogues who told people what they wanted to hear; they built their reputation on convenient untruths. Frederick politicians who tell voters they can stop growth belong in the same category."

It was a comparison I had made before. The first time Mr. Thompson still hurled the gavel around as president of the Board of County Commissioners. Both times Mr. Thompson decided to omit Huey P. Long, the Louisiana politician known as The Kingfish, who came very close to installing his brand of socialism in Washington. When WFMD colleague Blaine Young likened the politician's treatment of developers to the untruth slander Hitler heaped on his country's minorities, Mr. Thompson scooped up publicity mileage by yelling "smear."

Such reckless tactics had much to do with his demotion by voters from first among equals in 2002 to last; in 2006, he barely managed to be re-elected last year. And still he manages to evade the truth when it suits his fancy.

In the current discussion about a need to move Frederick into a form of government more responsible to taxpayers, Winchester Hall's one-time power player attempted to con voters into believing his earlier grab for more power in the commissioners' hands amounted to the same thing. Hogwash!

Charter Home Rule - he wanted Code Home Rule - creates separate executive and legislative branches, elected independently and held responsible for its different functions. As run in every other county approximately Frederick's size, competition between the two branches provides protection for taxpayers. They are less than one-woman/man bandwagons than the commissioner system enables. County executives are forced to mediate, moderate and make compromises.

Mr. Thompson's favorite, Code Home Rule, cuts many of the ties that enable the General Assembly and the counties' legislative delegations to ban commissions or councils from riding roughshod, grabbing what they want frequently because of citizens' lack of specific interest in matters that might seem arcane. Actually they can be the skeleton keys to ruling. In the event, over the past 50 years, personalities have always played a bigger role than what was best for Frederick. It's still a factor.

Shortly after writing my first ever local column, I encountered a flood of sentiment that rushed by the need for reform and fixed on barring Galen Clagett from moving into Winchester Hall's top office.

In my view the "aginers" had catapulted the wagon where it didn't belong; potential candidates should be considered separately. At the time I was abruptly informed I didn't know how things worked here. I've since learned how things work and the argument still makes no sense.

I now hear that converting to charter would deliver the executive's job to current Democratic Commissioners' President Jan Gardner. Nu? Why not Republican Delegate Rick Weldon? One thing's for certain, what we have now has been judged and found very wanting for today's governmental needs.

At any rate, scanning the present board, it's difficult to imagine decisions over the next four years not based on a single criterion. That assumption can be considered safe because of the print medium's emotional embrace of the no-growth principle. Proponents and their press lackeys prefer "slow-growth," but - as Friday's column demonstrated - whichever faction is in the driver's seat - expansion happens at the same pace: a compounded 2.5 percent.

A recent commentary by the News-Post's self-proclaimed "political correspondent" ignored the facts, as usual. Cliff Cumber tried to drive stakes into the political hearts of defeated Commissioners Mike Cady and John Lovell, who came in one-two in the Republican primary.

Having slaughtered Mr. Cady's character early in his term, Mr. Cumber chose last week to blame the commissioner's defeat on his vote on New Market expansion. The former Gazette reporter irresponsibly manipulates his new bosses for personal political gains, especially his performance as a spear carrier in Mr. Thompson's "anti-development" army.

With full knowledge and cheering by his fellow commissioners, long-time weightlifting coach Mike Cady brought Olympic try-outs to Emmitsburg. Delegations arrived from around the globe, although some were kept home by the diplomatic and consular chaos resulting from the U.S. invasion of Iraq a few months earlier. It should have been an occasion for local pride; it was, after all, the second Olympics event held locally. Mr. Cumber had much to do with taking care of that.

In news stories, he insisted the weightlifting was a local event, sponsored by developers. Mr. Cady was criticized for using his office to solicit builders' contributions. The rare references to the Olympics committee came as afterthoughts.

The newspaper's "political correspondent" kicked up such a ruckus that the commissioner was charged by the county ethics panel, with what was not clear. Nor was Mr. Cady summoned and read the allegations. Nevertheless, because of the anti-developer propaganda generated by Mr. Cumber's stories on behalf of his "no-growth" constituency, the commissioner was found guilty on a single, incredible count. He still has never received his right to face his accusers and their accusations.

The man defeated at the next election was branded as seeking to make a profit because he volunteered to provide funding if any bills remained unpaid. In fact the U.S. Olympic Committee underwrote more than 75 percent of the Emmitsburg competition costs, leaving local sponsors to cover the rest from an event that certainly benefited this community.

It was not that the News-Post's "political correspondent" didn't know the facts; they were printed in columns I wrote for the paper at the time. He ignored the simple truth, with his editors' connivance, despite the column's corrections. Of course, under professional courtesy, I never used Clifford Cumber's name. He won. I left the paper the first time shortly afterwards.

Mike Cady is not the easiest person to get along with; he's as stubborn and inflexible as his critics claim. That made him a sitting target for the kind of insidious treatment he received from the no-growth crowd.

Maybe Mr. Cady would have lost last November anyway; it's the unscrupulous degradation of journalism I most object to and in the name of transitory political objectives, the sort of tactics embraced by "Lennie" Thompson.

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