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April 19, 2011

Charter, Please

Roy Meachum

The county legislation delegation breakfasted with the Chamber of Commerce last week. The main dish was charter.


State Sen. Ron Young volunteered he and fellow Democrat Del. Galen Clagett were in favor of the effort to bring sense to the frequently disorderly Board of County Commissioners for 40 years, before I bought the house at 107 East Fourth Street. When I entered into the local political fray in 1984, voters were going through a relative calm.


When Mr. Clagett was appointed to the charter board writing committee, the doo-doo hit the fan on East Church Street. Galen was nakedly ambitious. He was furthermore unable to blend in with the powerful machine run by Del. James E. (Doc) McClellan; the part-time veterinarian opposed hubristic Mr. Clagett not so much because of their political differences as the county commissioner’s drive for higher office.


As I recall, several years after Publisher George Delaplaine decided to run my Frederick News-Post column, the idea of a charter surfaced; I favored bringing Frederick on-line with Maryland’s larger, more efficient counties. In particular, I wrote the Sheriff’s Department, with its old-fashioned political perks, should be replaced by county police that would be more efficient and less-inclined to be a one-man show.


Unfortunately for my reasoning the man who wore the star was Dr. McClellan’s henchman Robert Snyder. When the powerful delegate turned in his General Assembly seat, he successfully bargained for the sheriff to be appointed to the county liquor board where they continue to dictate alcohol policies. But that was later, after they joined forces with Mayor Paul Gordon to torpedo the charter. Mr. Gordon’s beef? He had a strong aversion to Galen Clagett.


The referendum was never about modernizing Winchester Hall government but organized on personal opposition. As baseball’s most strident apologist said, “We wuz robbed!”


While the county grew in population and economy, ranking impressively in the state’s best developed, Frederick was saddled with a horse and buggy form of government. Why? you might very well ask. Simply because of personal animosity toward one man, in the expectation that, despite their objections, Galen Clagett might wind up in the chair of county executive. An office written by the charter drawers as the most powerful under the new system.


“Doc” McClellan’s fear of the former commissioner president was revealed to me on North Market Street; he pulled me into a doorway and expressed anxiety that delegate-candidate Clagett might get more votes in the upcoming 1986 election. Instead, the political boss cut his throat; when all the votes were counted somebody else wound up in Annapolis. It was the most naked exhibition of machine clout that I ever witnessed up close.


Others aver that the very reason why Galen Clagett was appointed to the charter committee was to cut the throat of the new form of government. In any event, the one-time golden boy of local politics did not achieve elected office until “Doc” McClellan “retired.” Actually the machine boss was chased from the field by Anita Stup who reached Annapolis by scorning the usual way of doing business.


Once a McClellan protégé, current County Commission President Blaine Young revived the notion of charter and astutely managed to get a committee established, only to have a pesky lawsuit threatened that calls for a referendum, not on charter, but the make-up of the committee itself. Whatever the intention, the action threatens to stick the county with the horse and buggy system.


As I said before: Enough already!


Let’s get on with the matter of pulling Winchester Hall into the 21st century, as Chamber of Commerce President Ric Adams said, and so yell I.



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