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As Long as We Remember...

August 10, 2010

Intimidation in the Wrong Place

Farrell Keough

There comes a time when our politicians simply become too comfortable in their positions. Rather than focus on their constituents, they move forward with actions to their real or perceived benefit.


Two cases will illustrate these actions – the first relates to the spouse of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett; the second takes place within our own Board of County Commissioners.


In a June 2010 article, Katherine Heerbrandt wrote about a rather slippery payment scheme for lodging by Del. Joseph Bartlett (R., Frederick) during his sessions in Annapolis. Within that article are the following two lines of text:


[Delegate Charles] Jenkins was not so careful in his reaction, calling Bartlett's arrangement "a nice way to supplement your income."


"I think it stinks to high heaven, having a cozy relationship with your girlfriend and paying her rent," he said.


These quotes are pertinent because this column is not about the use of that per diem. Rather, it is about the reaction to these comments by Ellen Bartlett, the wife of our Congressman.


You may remember a column from 2009 describing a situation with respect to Michael Hough and endorsements. Since then, Sherry Greenfield has uncovered yet more information. In short, Mr. Hough has a track record of walking the edge of rules and ethical behavior. But he is not alone!


In a recent email blast, Mr. Hough sent a letter “From the [d]esk of Ellen Bartlett.” Mrs. Bartlett not only shows her support for Mr. Hough, but crosses a line indicating she will be watching the constituency to ensure their support goes to the “right” person:


“P.P.S. I've asked Michael to let me know as individuals respond to my request for support hope we can count on you.”


Consider that post-post-postscriptum – Mrs. Bartlett will be checking to make sure we voters are adhering to her request – which skirts the boundary of making it a demand.


The wife of an elected Congressman is keeping an eye out for the actions of the constituency! At what point did our public servants become so brazen that they feel quite comfortable to let us know they will be watching our actions – especially in a contested primary. In a free society, it is our right to chose who we want to support. Veiled threats like this are deplorable.


Let’s consider this statement. Is there any history of past actions which might shed light on this action? Why, yes, there is.


During the 2002 campaign season, Mrs. Bartlett’s son, Joseph, was not included on a sign promoting Robert Ehrlich, David Brinkley, Paul Stull, and Louise Snodgrass – Paul Stull later removed his name from the sign. Upon seeing the signs, Mrs. Bartlett was unable to contain her ‘passion.’


Ellen Bartlett, whose son was a 4A hopeful omitted from the questionable material, yanked one of the signs from a campaigner at a polling place, threw it on the ground and stood on it, according to the campaigner, Bill Haraway.




Said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, Mrs. Bartlett's husband, "If somebody wants to criticize her for being a mother, let them go to it."


William N. Haraway wrote a follow up Letter to the Editor to give his first-hand account of the incident. In short, this is not isolated. Having a family of such power engage in these activities is beyond unseemly; it walks the edge of intimidation. Our elected representatives are our servants – we are not their serfs!


I would ask the reader to consider making the choice of Charles Jenkins for the Delegate 3-B position for Washington and Frederick counties. As one noted scholar elucidated, Mr. Jenkins represents “class over cash” in this campaign!


Regardless of how protective a person feel toward their family, there is no justification for these kinds of actions. Nor should any candidate avail themselves to this kind of implied extortion.


* * * * * * * * *


In another odd circumstance, the county is holding “[a]n informational briefing for candidates” for county commissioner. As reported in the Frederick News Post, Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns asked for an ethics review of this event. The briefing will cover finances, utilities, and solid waste divisions. Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson has forwarded this complaint to the Ethics Commission.


While it was noted by Robin Santangelo, the county’s public information officer, that similar briefings were held in 2002 and 2006, one should still question how the county justifies such an action. The county posits this will create an efficiency of county employees’ time. By having a one-fell-swoop meeting, they will not have to spend time with each individual candidate and thus save countless hours.


While this rationalization sounds efficient on the face, it belies a number of serious problems.


First, this is taking place before the primary – hence, each candidate is an interested party, not an actual candidate for the position.


Second, these people interested in representing us have the responsibility to learn these issues and functions on their own. Being spoon fed by staff at taxpayers’ expense is not how someone interested in representing us should carry on their campaign.


When staff teaches about process and “what is what,” a good candidate must realize the bias and one-sided perspective they are receiving. I have no issues with any of the county staff, but as one of my previous columns noted, staff will be there after the elected official is gone, and they can present only the side they know.


If a sea change comes to our Board of County commissioners, those candidates will need to realize that some of the staff may rail against the changes they will propose. With only the one perspective given to them, the need to think outside the status quo becomes all the more difficult.


Finally, those people interested in running for county commissioner already should have pursued this information! If they want to represent us, then it is incumbent upon them to have done the footwork and homework to learn and understand this information.


Having this “informational briefing” is like reading the Cliff Notes the night before taking a test.


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