Bad for Business
Karl W. Bickel
While The Board of County Commissioners, under the leadership of President Blaine Young, has declared Frederick County open for business, Young’s erstwhile political ally Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has become bad for business.
Sheriff Jenkins has become a liability to both Mr. Young’s political aspirations as well as his entrepreneurial ambitions to say nothing of the impact on other community and business leaders trying to attract commercial opportunities and future residents to our county.
The sheriff’s handling, or shall we say mishandling, of the incident in which a Down syndrome young man lost his life, has now provoked a civil rights investigation by the U. S. Department of Justice, not the kind of publicity a county that is open for business needs. In January, Ethan Saylor died in a struggle with off-duty sheriff’s deputies while being ejected from a movie theatre for trying to view a show for a second time without paying for another ticket.
Let me say right now that any effort to affix responsibility for the death of Mr. Saylor is beyond the scope of this piece. What is being focused on here is the lack of leadership, which has contributed to this incident becoming a major news item that has given our community a black eye.
In addition to our Frederick News-Post, the Saylor story and our sheriff’s stonewalling has been featured in both major papers in the region, The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post with the latter being most critical of the sheriff’s lack of candor.
It is possible that the sheriff’s disdain for academics has left him unaware of basic leadership principles – such as when you have bad news get it out yourself and get it all out as soon as you can. You don’t want your detractors telling the story; and you don’t want it coming out piecemeal, being retold each time a new tidbit sees the light of day. This constant retelling of the story, nearly always from a negative viewpoint, compounds the harmful impact it has on the sheriff’s office and the community at large.
The sheriff’s initial misstep was not having an outside agency such as the Maryland State Police investigate the incident. Then as a result of stonewalling the press, the Saylor family and concerned community members by not releasing the findings of the investigation in a timely fashion, the sheriff has created an air of suspicion. The sustained negative media attention that resulted has portrayed our community in an unfavorable light, one that is not helpful to a county that is open for business.
The unfortunate incident took place January 12 of this year; and here we are, nearly eight months later, and it is still a top story commanding headlines and editorials.
Frederick should be showcased around the region for Frederick City’s Number One ranking among safe communities in the U.S. by Farmers Insurance Group, or its being included in the Blue Ridge Outdoor magazine poll of best beer towns. Instead, our community is being haunted by the negative media attention surrounding a tragic incident and the mismanagement of events in its aftermath.
This does not bode well for a county that is open for business.
Mr. Bickel has been a major city police officer, assistant professor and was second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. He writes from Monrovia.