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March 22, 2005

Off With His Head.err...I Mean Hat

David 'Kip' Koontz

When one thinks about what issues facing Frederick County government are pressing these days one might think of "how much development should there be?" Or "how do we fund our necessary infrastructure?" Or "how can we cover the costs for those necessary public safety concerns such as police and fire coverage?"

"How can we afford to build new schools" also comes to mind. One might think of taxes, too.

But it seems those have all been shoved aside and replaced with "LOOK IT, THAT MAN THERE IS WEARING A HAT INSIDE WINCHESTER HALL!"

In two separate instances recently, the matter of wearing hats inside has come to the fore.

A couple of weeks ago, the growing importance of this matter surfaced at a Board of County Commissioner work session as a department manager stood prepared to introduce a new employee - a customary practice.

This particular week, however, found one manager's new employee donning a baseball cap backwards during the introductions.

Before reaching the offender, it seems, Commissioner John Lovell barked an order to the man to "take that hat off!"

While many people generally know that one should take one's hat off indoors, it is quite possible that in today's relaxed society, where one can even find it appropriate to wear white shoes after Labor Day, that a guy may presume it is indeed okay to keep his hat on indoors.

But does a county commissioner need to make an issue to the point where he embarrasses a new employee in front of all assembled?

One might think it tacky and inappropriate behavior for someone in office to do to someone, but.

It seems that and more is appropriate to castigate those menacing, hat-wearing-inside-Winchester-Hall, offenders.

Last week Randy Davis, of the county's Parks and Recreation Department, stood along side his new employee, Westley Etters, who made the unfortunate mistake of wearing a knit cap.

Why was his hat wearing an unfortunate mistake you ask?

Well this time, Commissioner Mike Cady joined the anti-hat wearing faction of the Board of County Commissioners and chimed in to ask Mr. Etters if the Air Force had stopped teaching their airmen to remove their hats (it seems that when introduced it was mentioned that Mr. Etters had served in the Air Force).

Mr. Etters responded that he removed his hat while he served, but neglected to remove it when questioned by Commissioner Cady.

Uh, oh.

At that, Commissioner Cady immediately motioned for Mr. Etter's dismissal for insubordination.

Seriously, what was Mr. Cady thinking?

Insubordination? Sufficient grounds for dismissal?

Did Mr. Etters really do anything that qualified as insubordination or immediate grounds for dismissal?

Mr. Cady's behavior in this was considered by many to be extreme, but he managed to get a second for his motion from co anti-hat wearing Commissioner John Lovell, forcing discussion and a vote on it.

What a waste of time.

Fortunately cooler heads prevailed with Commissioners Lennie Thompson, Jan Gardner and Bruce Reeder voting "no" on the firing.

But with a built up head of steam and zeal of exaggerated proportions, Commissioner Cady, in obvious anger at the commissioner's vote on the firing, took on the Department of Parks and Recreation for its employee's "insubordination" (does anyone get the rationale?) and motioned that $35,000 be removed from the parks and recreation budget immediately.

Maybe Mr. Cady was thinking that if the compensation package of Mr. Etters wasn't funded, he'd get rid of him that way.

Whatever the thinking, Commissioner Cady managed to garner Commissioner Lovell's support for this, most likely going along with the "reasoning" of Commissioner Cady, whatever that may have been, and picked up Commissioner Thompson's vote as well to scrap the 35K.

Commissioner Thompson most likely supported it as he has consistently voted against park and rec. funding being the fan of implementing user fees that he is.

What an ugly precedent to start.

Is this much ado about nothing?

To most folks, YES!

It seems easy enough to think that if this has been the consistent concern to Commissioners Cady and Lovell some purport it to be, that they could they have issued an email or memo to department heads informing them that when they introduce new employees that they need to be hatless.

This is behavior that appears to be receiving a virtually unanimous negative response locally.

To this negative response Commissioner Cady is said to have used an "I did it because Mr. Etters didn't take his hat off during the Pledge of Allegiance" defense.

That doesn't quite work; however, in that the Pledge of Allegiance occurs at the very start of the meeting and the "fire him" episode didn't occur until quite some time after that.

But, accepting this defense for a second, couldn't Commissioner Cady have simply asked Mr. Etters to remove his hat, or mention aloud that it is customary to do so when the Pledge is recited instead of blowing the matter way out of proportion and embarrassing himself and his fellow commissioners?

According to those who were in attendance, the incident actually occurred about half way through the introductions of new employees and that at no time did Commissioner Cady mention the Pledge of Allegiance at all.

Further, it is doubtful that Commissioner Cady would have been able to see Mr. Etters during the Pledge, if he were himself reciting it, as when the Pledge is recited, the Commissioners' backs are to the audience.

If this was at the crux of the matter, wouldn't one think he'd mention it and the exact moment it occurred?

Wouldn't the transcript of the day's events read somewhere in them, something about the Pledge, if the Pledge were the issue?

They do not.

While Commissioner Cady has issued an apology and states that his response to Mr. Etter's "defiant" words came from emotion, many believe that Mr. Cady's apology is not one of sincere emotion, thinking that he is actually only sorry he ended up being the recipient of so much negative response.

Emotion or not, this is behavior that only brings unnecessary attention and serves only to showcase to all how ludicrous some of our area's elected officials behave.

One has to wonder whether, when voting, people thought they'd end up watching some of their county commissioners voting to fire and voting to remove budget funds in a fit of emotion.

The publicity this has generated is bad for our county and those who serve it.

This is unfortunate for Frederick.

It is even more unfortunate to have elected officials who diminish their office over such trivial pursuits.

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