David Grand: Levelheaded approach prevails over wrongheaded notion in county public information position

I've always been selective in the public meetings I've I gone to over the last 20 years, with my criteria being that the topic must hold the promise of drawing a large turnout, along with having the potential for raucous behavior to make it worthwhile for me to miss a meal or a favorite TV show.

And, when entering a meeting, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, and rush to find a seat in the back, so as to avoid any evil stares or verbal missiles. 

None of those precautions were necessary when I entered the Board of County Commissioners' meeting room on Nov. 29.

There were only three other people there, besides the board members. 

So, throwing caution to the wind, I took a seat in the front row, which had me almost eyeball to eyeball with the board members.

One of the agenda items pertained to the county's contract for a communications/public information officer. The discussion opened on a cordial note, with members in agreement of the necessity for having someone assume that role, serving as the conduit between the commissioners and media outlets — and, in turn, keeping constituents abreast of the latest goings-on.

But that collegial spirit was short-lived when Commissioner Haven Shoemaker — who as of late has become the voice of reason on the board and the arch penny pincher — made a motion to have someone from within the ranks to perform that function, as opposed to contracting it out.

That set the stage for what was to be a mano y mano between him and Commissioner Richard Rothschild, with Commissioner Robin Frazier supporting Rothschild's argument that an expert is needed in the media relations role.

As I watched them fighting like kids in a sandbox, rather than maintaining the decorum expected of a deliberative body of public officials, I knew my coming there would be handsomely rewarded by providing me with ample fodder for an insightful blog.

Rothschild and Frazier tipped their hand as to their preference for awarding a service contract to Jim Simpson, while Commissioner Doug Howard expressed his concerns on the other side, agreeing in large part with Shoemaker.

That made it a foregone conclusion that Shoemaker's motion would receive two ayes and two nays when voted on, leaving it up to Commissioner David Roush to break the tie.

Given that he seems to enjoy playing the role of devil's advocate, there was no way to predict which of the sides he'd align himself with.

The argument centered partly around expense — both Howard and Shoemaker expressed concern about spending the money for the position — but also seemed a debate about the purpose of the position.

In other words: Is the public affairs role more about disseminating information about the happenings of county government (which Shoemaker and Howard suggested could be done by existing staff), or broadcasting to media near and far the commissioners' viewpoints on issues such as property rights, PlanMaryland, and the United Nations' Agenda 21 (as Rothschild suggested is crucial to save our county and our country)?

Ultimately, when the last point-counterpoint exchanges ground to an end, Roush signed on with the Howard-Shoemaker team — much to the consternation of the Frazier-Rothschild team.

Then, with a sigh of relief, I hurried to the nearest fast food restaurant to quiet my growling stomach before returning home for a long overdue nap.

But that nap didn't have the recuperative effects I thought it would, especially after I read a few days later that the board, in playing its version of musical chairs, voted in secret ballot to give Rothschild the title of board vice-president for the coming year. This past year, Shoemaker had held that title. Howard will retain his post as president of the board

I wondered if Rothschild ordered a new nameplate with that revised title right after his anointment? Being VP leaves him with only one higher rung on the ladder to climb on the board … before he extends his ambitions even further to seek a position at the state or national level.

Remember, you read it here first.

Quote of the week:

"There are two sides to every question: my side and the wrong side."  — Mark Twain

David Grand writes from Westminster. Read more at Grand Times, http://davgrand.wordpress.com/

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