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Our View: It’s fine to disagree with elected officials, just do it the right way

Our Sunday editorial expressed our disagreement with the Board of Commissioners decision last week to close the Northern Landfill for two weeks.

Of note, we did not call the commissioners crude names. We did not call upon residents to throw their garbage on the lawn of any of the commissioners. We did not make any threats whatsoever to any elected official or their family.

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Apparently, however, some Carroll County citizens did all of the above, which is reprehensible.

Clearly, closing the landfill in Westminster was not a popular decision. Our coverage of Thursday’s meeting had well over 100 comments shortly being posted to our Facebook page and the comments were overwhelmingly in opposition to the decision. Nothing wrong with that. People should give feedback to their elected officials.

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Of course, many weren’t just upset about the decision. They were upset about something Commmissioner Stephen Wantz said during Thursday’s meeting. Frustrated with the fact that people didn’t seem to heed the commissioners’ earlier guidance to use the landfill sparingly as a safety measure, Wantz made a comment he probably regretted immediately — or at least as soon as he was able to check his email or voicemail.

“Maybe while they’re coming up with a cure for [coronavirus] they could come up with a cure for stupid," he said, "because if you would just listen we wouldn’t be in this place right now.”

One would’ve thought he’d called his constituents deplorables. His comment was quickly turned against him. That, in itself, is fine. Like all elected officials, Wantz understands he will be held accountable for his actions and words.

But, as often happens, some took it too far. We can only guess exactly what Wantz endured personally based on some of the comments that had to be removed from our Facebook page.

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Wantz addressed his comment and the decision on Tuesday during a budget work session.

“All of us are struggling to make the right decisions during these trying times," Wantz said. "We’re all frustrated, and I’m only human. And last week I used a wrong choice of words in reference to our landfill.”

The comment apparently sparked threats.

“I also have a problem with personal threats to myself and my family, which I think were a little bit over the top," he said Tuesday. “I believe there’s a correct way to disagree.”

He’s absolutely right.

Wantz is the president of the Board of Commissioners and since the local state of emergency was declared on March 13, Wantz has not only been empowered to make decisions, he has been the face of the county’s fight against the coronavirus fight, whether fielding questions from reporters throughout the region outside Pleasant View Nursing Home or from CNN or from Carroll countians during last week’s virtual town hall.

Given all that, and his “stupid” comment, he has been the target of much of the criticism regarding the landfill’s closing. Ironically, Wantz spoke out against closing the landfill for a full month, as was initially suggested, during the meeting and brainstormed other possible solutions before reluctantly voting in the affirmative to help the motion carry, 3-2.

The commissioners are scheduled to discuss the landfill issue again at their Thursday, April 16 meeting. It’s possible they will change course. It’s almost certain Wantz will choose his words more carefully.

“To all those that I have offended, again, please, please bear with me, as I and my colleagues are all making decisions that we’re not used to,” Wantz said. “There’s no template for this and we’re doing the best that we can.”

It probably won’t be the last time a commissioner, speaking extemporaneously, says something Carroll countians don’t like. It certainly won’t be the last time a commissioner makes an unpopular decision. We encourage citizens to make their voices heard during public comment, to call or email their opinions to our elected officials and, of course, to leave comments on our stories.

But as Wantz said, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Do it the right way.

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