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December 21, 2007

More Lennie

Roy Meachum

You want proof farmers have become the new outcasts? Check the Thursday front page of the Frederick News-Post for Commissioner John L. Thompson, Jr.'s latest bureaucratic fandango.

It must have seemed like old times for Winchester Hall's all-time demagogue. And, indeed, looking across the table were David Gray and Jan Gardner, now the president of the commission. The three managed to sweep along newcomer Kai Hagen. Charles Jenkins cast the only vote that reflected the agricultural community's contributions to the county.

When I moved up the pike, almost exactly 25 years back, Commissioners Charlie Smith and Richard Grossnickle were solid tributes to farmers' political muscle; they both worked the land. The crunching vote proves the exact opposite.

As of Wednesday, property owners may no longer sell acres to pay off medical bills or other heavy debts. They are now forbidden to give land to a child who wants to farm on their own.

Of course, the new law does not expressly outlaw those rights but insists every new parcel must meet stiff requirements upon division. Presenting gifts of the dirt children grew upon could become prohibitively expensive.

The changes mean farmers must have a buyer willing and financially able before they even think about splitting their homesteads.

All this was triggered by a planning staff finding that one lot was used to create a 244,500 square-foot retail center. Of course, I find it difficult to believe there were regulations that could not have prevented that happening.

To illustrate how really bad things could be, News-Post Reporter Meg Bernhardt cited testimony by Gary Castle. He told the panel a farmer thinking about a 100 acre sub-division would have to hand the county $400,000. And that's only for the forest planning requirements, Mr. Castle said, on an open field lot with a stream running through. The county's other requirements add to the significant bill.

The discussion took place while commissioners agreed to shut out the once powerful Frederick County Farm Bureau. The organization proposed that its members be able to sell parcels of land to pay off heavy medical bills, to go into a separate business, or to their children and other heirs.

In an example of political cock-eyed logic, Ms. Gardner said she supported Mr. Thompson's idea because the Farm Bureau's proposal left the county in a pickle. The tricky point to her came over the illegality of demanding road access for a lot that's already created. No one apparently pointed out that accessibility to roads could be written into building permits.

As I said, Charles Jenkins was the only commissioner that did not go along with GOP Commissioner Thompson's successful effort to generate another layer of bureaucracy.

Stupid me! I thought Republicans were in favor of less governmental control, not more.

While he was up, so to speak, Walkersville's master manipulator proclaimed he had undergone a personality switch. Tackling future use of another parcel, south of the city, he wants to be considered Cochise.

Too bad he didn't choose another Indian chief, several were famous for never surrendering, taking their tribes over the Canadian border when Washington's pressure could no longer be resisted. As it was, the Apache leader Mr. Thompson chose was notable for his mobility, moving all over the Southwest. He retired to his native Arizona when he heard death's rushing wings.

Does this mean our own latter-day "Cochise" plans to scurry out of the county? I certainly hope so. Pushkin and I will be more than happy to kick in for any fund that moves "Lennie" Thompson far from here.

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