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As Long as We Remember...

August 12, 2008

Perception Often Worse Than Truth

Farrell Keough

Perceptions are a tricky thing. There are times in life when a person can feel so strongly about a situation they are willing to suffer the consequences of people believing they are either wrong or have some nefarious intent.


This situation seems to be playing out with the Frederick Board of County Commissioners on the decisions involved in a Waste To Energy (WTE) plant.


For those who read this website regularly, you are likely aware of the numerous situations involved in this decision. For those of you interested in the specifics, a number of articles have been written on the topic by both Commissioner Kai Hagen and Commissioner Jan Gardner. The most recent is on Air It Out With George. This is actually the second set of articles in a series – Commissioner Gardner met the deadline for the first article, while Commissioner Hagen was unable to meet that requirement.


These are very telling columns; especially when juxtaposed. In short, the reader will note that Commissioner Gardner’s article has many references to published studies which will back her viewpoints. Commissioner Hagen’s article has very little in the way of references, but he does write a lot of words in an attempt to back his position. But, don’t take my word for it, read these on your own. Be sure to look into Commissioner Gardner’s first article as well.


You may also have seen Joan McIntyre’s multiple columns on the subject as well. And, most recently, Don Kornreich, of The Frederick News Post, wrote an interesting piece on the possible implications of an elected official aligning himself with a potential company who may bid on a county project.


Many may have been aware of the actions of a national lobbying group called Clean Water Action. This organization has canvassed this area to try and tell people of the evils of WTE. Unfortunately, much of their information was either incorrect, poorly documented, or lacking of a full explanation. To that end, the commissioners replied to the following corrections.


What makes this outside lobbying group of interest is a two fold situation; they not only are inserting themselves into our local decision making process, but have included a form letter to influence the Board of County Commissioners. From my understanding, the commissioners received numerous emails using this form letter. Initially only three were from local residents and the remainder were from people as far away as England. What a perplexing way to attempt to influence our local leaders.


The myriad of coincidences hanging over Commissioner Hagen with respect to the “process” of the vote and progression on creating a WTE is evolving well beyond a simple shared interest. Commissioner Hagen has publicly admitted to have had direct ties to this national lobbying organization, Clean Water Action. But another oddity is no one seems to know just how this group came to involve themselves in our community other than they said they were invited by ‘someone local.’


All of these events – and the coincidences surrounding them – makes one wonder just how this new commissioner plans to influence the direction of our community. While improprieties in Commissioner Hagen’s actions may not be evident, the perception remains.


Unlike the other commissioners who accept a vote against them, Commissioner Hagen looks to be taking another track. He has both publicly disparaged other commissioners, and now is involving himself with outside groups to influence a vote that directly impacts our county. Having yet to present a viable alternative, Commissioner Hagen looks to be tossing aside his position as an elected official and has reverted back to becoming a community activist, influencing public opinion.


The techniques include calling the WTE an incinerator rather than the actual technology it involves; it is not an open burning of trash, but rather highly regulated incineration coupled with the creation of energy. He allows catch phrases to influence the public by creating signs stating “No Incinerator.”


Scare tactics including misinformation about the levels of toxic releases from the WTE are promoted. Some of the “activists” within this group opposing the WTE have taken to slurring private citizens. In short, it seems that no method will be out of bounds to work towards usurping the democratic process of voting on the WTE.


This brings us back to the topic at hand: perceptions. It may be that an elected official sees a truth that is worth fighting for and putting their reputation on line. But, one must question the method and whether the ends truly do justify the means.


Within this fight is the potential to change the political dynamic within this county from one of rigorous argumentation with an acceptance of the vote or outcome to something akin to the “scorched earth” politics we have suffered in days past.



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