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February 11, 2008

Activist Frederick County

Steven R. Berryman

Great news! The System works. Activism is alive and well and living in Frederick County, Maryland. Where the system fails to work, it is fixing itself; and isn’t that what the system really is?

Over the last few months alone, we have witnessed national level interest in our local issues involving an illegal alien deportation program led by our Sheriff “Chuck” Jenkins, and also, separately, town zoning/land use and conservation in Walkersville. On the horizon, is the liquid gas facility being proposed in the Middletown Valley, which is already being vehemently opposed.

It is simpler to view the role of activism here when you view it through a negative prism.

Without the public discourse and action that inevitably ensues, in our cases, the costs to citizens could be to wake up and find that it is already too late to halt the tide of illegal immigration and related crime statistics; to stop a disruptive convention center that would wreck local infrastructure; or to prevent a liquefied gas storage and compression station to service Virginia.

Aren’t we glad to have the opportunity to take action and be part of “due processes?”

The common thread here is that these are all seminal issues with the possibility of creating consequences throughout America. Frederick County is at the “tip of the spear” on these hot-button items and others. Maybe there’s something in the water? Okay, hold that last one for another column!

First consider that without Sheriff Jenkins taking the bull by the horns, statistically speaking, our violent crime rate could continue to rise, and gangs could continue to infiltrate. Nationally, 50 percent of gang membership is thought to be populated by illegal aliens, who are easy targets for recruitment when disenfranchised by society as a function of their status as non-citizens.

Notice that I did not call them “illegal immigrants” as I learned from a listener’s call to WFMD radio. When you consider the linguistics, it really is an oxymoron. Immigrant status assumes that at least a process of legal documentation has begun, if not formal visa status.

The sheriff responded to root causes in overall crime rates and trends in Frederick County and took action in conjunction with our federal Department of Homeland Security. It took guts for him to understand that current catch-and-release was not working, and the feds, with responsibility here, were totally overwhelmed. He stepped up!

Unfortunately, only a few politicians have gotten behind this program to date. Ultimately, this program, as initiated by U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will be surviving only based upon its correct implementation. Will the databases hold up in a timely fashion for immigration status verification? Will the deportation as verified by a judge get bogged down?

The devil is in the details. To fully comply with fairness and push groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Casa de Maryland, a uniform method of enforcement and discovery must be maintained. This should tie-in well with the new REAL I.D., if the databases are connected. Yet another civil liberties topic!

Beware the law of unintended consequences, Sheriff! As for me, I feel safer with an activist Chuck Jenkins. So far, so good.

Now, back to the decision in Walkersville:

As I have written in previous columns, there was a legitimate up-swell of citizen concern over the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Inc.’s (AMC) application to build a huge convention center. “Convention” center is using its words from its own application.

Within the town’s code, a convention center is not allowed as a reason to obtain a special exception to change zoning from “Agriculture” use to “Institutional” use. Obviously the convention use was the primary use, based on design alone, and the issue of having a place of worship was secondary, and a ruse used essentially to get cheap or free infrastructure upgrades for itself at the expense of the taxpayers of Walkersville and Frederick County.

The Walkersville Appeals Board voted down the application unanimously, as it rightly should have. The effort on their part was heroic beyond measure by its members, led by Dan Thomas.

Based on size of the proposed convention building alone (and this description, in hindsight) the application should not even have been accepted for review, let alone deliberated for 28 hours over 11 days. I predict that the application process will now be upgraded as a result. The down-side of political correctness alone allowed this process to overtake a town of 5,600 citizens.

Don’t forget that it is critical to understand that the denial decision by the Appeals Board was not based on religion. The religious use was a formally approved use, according to the record of the deliberations and that part was approved. However, there were a total of 14 items for consideration that must be passed. They failed to pass muster on those.

A comprehensive review of Maryland case law was evaluated. Safety and road impact were evaluated. In the end, nine of these imperative issues were not satisfied and the application could have been denied based on just one of them.

A grassroots group – Citizens For Walkersville – came from the people and hired true experts on the matters at hand. In the end, the credibility of these experts trumped those of the AMC. That was the deciding factor.

I assisted the Citizens For Walkersville when asked, and I am fully informed from this perspective. On Sheriff Jenkins and the ICE program, I have an intermediate level of knowledge based on his interviews and hearing him speak. About Middletown Valley and the emerging liquid gas facility controversy, I am a novice.

However, on this last issue, as an “active citizen,” you can bet I will learn more!

Activism is having its day in Frederick County. The system works.

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