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March 8, 2005

Good Ol' Boys/Girls in City Hall

Roy Meachum

The biggest mess in local politics springs off efforts by the Board of Aldermen majority to lessen residency requirements for this year's municipal election. The incumbent mayor protests her veto stands up for the public good. Legal action has already started, looking to a resolution well before September's primary.

The three aldermen who support the reduction are Republican. Her Honor is a Democrat. The board's minority consists of two women, both Democrats. Fundamental principles are involved, which outweigh partisan labels and the male/female split.

Both sides moan they are only thinking of the people, yes, the people. We can doubt that is fully true, in either case. What I see is one of those ideological flip-flops, increasingly common as the 21st century advances. These Republicans favor individuals; this mayor eschews Democratic policy for more government.

Yesterday's politics went down much easier. While good ol' boys wrapped themselves in super-patriotism's red-white-and-blue, their current successors reach for a long white robe that proclaims, they insist, ethical purity.

Still they have this in common: having reached their elevated positions officials tend to treat the ordinary people as numbskulls who need protection, not from their enemies, domestic and foreign, but from themselves!

Frederick's charter demands aldermanic candidates must have resided in the city for at least a year before the election. Anyone interested in contesting for the mayor's seat faces a five-year minimum. When asked why, the local big mommas and poppas reply that only after having lived here a number of years could anybody be considered qualified for a City Hall berth. Balderdash!

My first mortgage was written in 1983, on an East Fourth Street property, and I've certainly paid close attention to local politicians' machinations, but I cannot be considered on an inside track to understand the bureaucratic machinery that runs Frederick.

My lack of interest and expertise in budgetary items present but one example of my lack of qualifications although I have haunted North Market Street for some 22 years. On the other hand, it is entirely possible someone who moved to town last month has brought along experience, insight and enthusiasm that could serve well the public need.

Laws impose restrictions on our individual "pursuit of happiness." In most cases, however, they merely promote the general welfare and protect the status quo; there are rules that enable us to live in tranquility with each other. Generally.

Pre-selecting the candidates available to the voters strikes me as rank paternalism by incumbents; it falls in the same category as the nation's Electoral College, which was created out of the upper class Founding Father' s fear that the unruly mob might actually determine who would govern these United States.

At their worst, colonial aristocrats Washington, Adams and Jefferson did not trust the common man; women they judged beyond the pale of the slightest participation in democracy, which this country is not!

We are a republic. That means we select officials to govern in our stead; enabling them to determine future officials sets up a machinery that can destroy the democratic process that guards against creation of tyranny.

You may be surprised to hear: we live under what has become the longest lasting government that permits and invites popular participation. Britain and France are Johnny and Pierre latecomers. Paris had an emperor until after our Civil War. London remained a private purview for monarchists and aristocrats when the last century bloomed. Even ancient Greece city-states did not survive over 200 years; the Roman republic went down with Julius Caesar's rise.

What Jefferson said of Freedom emphatically applies now to the democratic process: The price is eternal vigilance. And in every precinct.

City Hall boasts the ousting of the good ol' boys, still the mayor and her supporters are defending the last political machine's major ploy to keep outsiders out of office. Most of all the men who ran Frederick like a personal fiefdom wanted no outsiders messing around with their personal business. This is the reason the city contends with what may very well be the second longest residency requirement in the state of Maryland. Walkersville requirement for burgess stands at five years.

Self-protection that mirrors the good ol' boys' appears the only understandable reason the current mayor vetoed the aldermanic majority's vote to remove the restrictions. Like the bosses before her, Her Honor means to cut down on the competition, seeking to enhance her re-election prospects.

As a reader pointed out, she should have recused herself entirely on the issue. She gains the most when the requirements remain unchanged. Vetoing the measure reeked of self-interest. It was a crass violation of conflict of interest.

Wives are the real victims, when her supporters allege the opposition comes only from men who are afraid of a strong and decisive female mayor. Presumably, they consider women who support the changes either stupid or subservient, which places the pro-mayor claque in the image of Louis XIV who proclaimed himself "the state," impervious to others' opinions.

Personal plumbing poses the only real difference I see between City Hall's current regime and the county's former political machine. But give the good ol' boys an edge; they never seriously pretended to be acting in other interests but their own.

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