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Washington County official faces scrutiny over comments, Facebook posting

A Washington County official faces scrutiny by the Maryland Senate for inappropriate comments.

A Washington County official faces scrutiny by the Maryland Senate over a derogatory comment he allegedly made about women and a racist Facebook post that depicts the "Little Rascals" character Buckwheat.

The questions swirl around Vincent G. "Woody" Spong, a Republican, who was named to the Washington County Board of Commissioners last year after former Commissioner William J. Wivell was appointed to the House of Delegates.

Spong was the choice of the county Republican Central Committee, which got to nominate a replacement because Wivell was a member of the party. While Spong is serving on an interim basis, the appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Such approvals are routine in replacements of local officials, but this nomination could face more trouble than most.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, said he has heard concerns about Spong from senators of both parties. He said he has seen nominations fail for conduct "less egregious" than alleged in his case.

Last year, Washington County Board of Education President Donna Brightman complained that Spong made demeaning comments about women during a meeting in December. In a public letter, Brightman said Spong made an inappropriate comment comparing "facts" of the school system's budget to "whores."

In his reply, Spong denied using the word "whore" but admitted to making a similar analogy. According to Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Spong wrote that he once took a statistics course:  "The only thing I remember from that class was the professor saying, 'Numbers are like ladies of the night. Once you put them down, you can get them to say anything.'"

Spong's comments prompted a complaint in December from the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Women’s Law Center of Maryland that urged the Senate committee to consider rejecting the nominee.

The objections to his nomination were compounded this week when local Republican blogger Ryan Miner spotted a posting on Spong's personal Facebook page. The posting depicted the 1930s and 1940s African-American character Buckwheat, widely regarded as a racial stereotype of a bygone era, and said that he had converted to Islam and taken the name Kareem of Wheat.

"Let's just hope that he doesn't become a cereal killer" was the joke's punchline. Miner reported Tuesday that Spong had since deleted the posting from his Facebook page.

Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, said Spong would receive a fair hearing but added that "this nominee has some explaining to do."

Spong, who could not be reached for comment at his home or office, was not receiving much support from the senators who represent his home county.

Sens. Andrew Serafini and George Edwards, both Republicans, released a joint statement saying they were aware of Mr. Spong's Facebook posting.

"While Mr. Spong has made valuable contributions to Washington County as an educator and community leader, his course of conduct over the past eight months raises concerns that will be considered by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee," the senators said. "We will continue to respect the authority of the committee to independently evaluate nominees and make recommendations to the Senate of Maryland."

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