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December 17, 2010

Ruling Ourselves

Roy Meachum

Never tied to a partisan point of view, I’ve always considered charter to be the best of all possible forms of government for Frederick County.


Readers with long memories may recall my Frederick News-Post columns, years before was born, I preached the commissioners’ form was obsolete; it harkened back to the period of farmers/tenant when everybody had direct access to government.


At the same time, I argued for a county police department; but then the sheriff was only an appendage to Frederick’s political machine.


Chuck Jenkins’ current operation stands in opposition to my proposition the department should be folded into the overall scheme for integration, for efficiency and citizens’ control. I simply cannot imagine any law enforcement department more responsive or responsible than the present sheriff’s agency.


When the commissioners put forth the idea the chief obstacle was Galen Clagett, the former president of the Board of County Commissioners.


An opposition movement, centered on onetime mayor Paul Gordon, insisted the push for charter government was a thinly disguised effort by former Commissioner Clagett to grab the influential post of county executive for himself. All kind of factors, especially Frederick Mayor Gordon, figured into the voters’ rejection of charter.


The stand-alone referendum’s turnout was very tiny; somewhere around two percent as I recall. The existing county population was scarcely prepared for the reality: daily newcomers threatened their majority. Newly arrived nearly 28 years ago, I understood. As my friend and future employer George Delaplaine observed, I didn’t want to “pull up the moat behind me;” keeping all Frederick’s amenities for myself.


Developers were the real threat, building complexes to replace the county’s historic architecture. That much I agreed to; massive developments were simply antithesis to why my wife and I moved here from Bethesda in 1983.


Over the years, as a journalistic observer, I have commented on the wild vacillations in Winchester Hall. Voters simply contradicted themselves at every election. Commissioners were inevitably accepted or rejected on the basis of how they felt about development.


As a registered Democrat, I applaud the all-Republican board that supports the charter system with a county executive. It appears to me the only possibility that Winchester Hall cannot be subjected to the ying-and-yang of county politics. Frederick GOP Mayor Randy McClement offers a prime example; his rule of the city is tempered by the democratic majority on the Board of Aldermen.


The issue of charter government is a non-emotional question; it is entirely practical for everybody who cares about the county. Should the future be decided by constant spitting fights among the five separately elected commissioners or relinquish control to a single human being held accountable to elected officials?


My years of cynicism, as a columnist and as a private individual, leave me no choice. The individual chosen first for Frederick’s top official matters less than the pragmatic transformation in Winchester Hall.


As Paul Gordon felt about Galen Clagett, antipathy for Blaine Young should not deprive future generations from being governed by certainly a better system than we have now!


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