Later Than Needed
Colleague Norm Covert picked me up for the annual party of TheTentacle.com’s publisher/editor John Ashbury. He and wife Gaile live in Thurmont, far from my Market Street’s yellow door.
Norm asked my opinion about the board that is trying to formulate a charter switching from the county commissioners’ system. I glibly replied something about then-Mayor Paul Gordon scuttling the previous attempt out of loathing and fear for Galen Clagett, a former Board of County Commissioner’s president. When I started columning over 27 years ago, conservative Democrats reigned over Winchester Hall and the local legislative districts. Pseudo-liberal Mr. Clagett represented a thorn to their right paws.
Having defeated Mayor Ron Young when he was overly ripe for retiring, Mr. Gordon was never that powerful; his was simply the nosiest public opposition to the charter idea. Behind the curtain – always stealthily – county political boss Del. James E. (Doc) McClellan presented the more formidable foe for anyone intended to shake up the government. His troops and henchmen were so anachronistic that anything that denoted change drove them up Winchester Hall’s walls.
What do I mean by “boss?” After the veterinarian tried and failed to receive the congressional seat of the suddenly deceased Goodloe Byron, he forged a truce with successor, Widow Beverly Byron, which left “Doc” free to run Frederick County politics – however struck his fancy.
In the vet’s pocket, the local machine was free to choose winning candidates for state offices, but independent Commissioner Clagett refused to submit. The control went so forward that Republican Jack Derr received permission to run for the late Sen. Edward Thomas’ state Senate seat. When Mr. Clagett offered his name for the Maryland legislature, he was crushed by Dr. McClellan who took me aside in a Market Street doorway to admit he was fearful of the possible revolution epitomized by the county commissioner.
With both Frederick Mayor Gordon and the county political boss determined to derail it, the balloting on the previous charter attempt floundered. An added factor for guaranteed failure was a special election that ensured low turnout, restricted to only those who had a special interest, one way or another. Results showed 77 percent of voters rejected the 1991 version, only 23 percent approved.
Appointed in March, nearly a year ago, Chairman Ken Coffey and the writing committee, appointed by the commissioners, have little obstacles and fewer opponents. There was a lawsuit postulating the public should have the major role in selecting the charter writers; but the petitioners never presented the number of qualified signatures. A judge dismissed it.
Frederick is Maryland’s largest county that relies on a low paid board – “citizen politicians,” whose living expenses are paid by another job. With succeeding commissioners, it became a weary joke. Current President Blaine Young and his family are comforted by his controversial radio host’s salary, augmented by his ownership of Frederick’s Yellow Cab. Yet there is frequent difficulty to know in what role Blaine is playing when he issues unpopular edicts. As commentator he deserves unlimited freedom of speech, while no politician can claim such privileges.
Street talk behind carefully positioned hands has the Young scion poised to grab the office of county executive and with the assistance of the GOBs (Good Ole Boys), especially “Doc” McClellan. This is not 1984 when my columning began. Frederick has grown bumptiously.
The charter vote is scheduled on the same day the nation elects a president, guaranteeing the largest turnout over four years. In both venues, this coming November 6, 2012, promises to be an old-fashioned political hayride.