Harford County residents were likely surprised by this week's decision of the Harford County Council to bar the public from approaching council members at regular meetings, particularly because the justification was the threat of "lone terrorists." Lone wolf terrorist attacks in places like New York City and Ottawa have gotten considerable attention this year, but death by lightning strike or snake bite remains far more common.

We are left scratching our heads to imagine what scenario Council President Richard Slutzky might have had in mind when he adopted the new rules to keep the county's elected officials a safe distance from proletarian spectators. Here's the best we could come up with.



Skip, the aspiring lone wolf terrorist, sat at his computer mulling over his potential targets.

A crowded shopping mall, school or house of worship? Too obvious.

New York's financial district? Not again.

A bus or train packed with commuters? Too European.

Then it came to him. In Maryland, there was a county named Harford, the state's sixth most populous subdivision. In the county seat of Bel Air, there were seven men who regularly considered such matters as whether to offer county employees a retirement incentive or provide a $500,000 loan to Frito-Lay to help pay for an expansion. All he would have to do is pose as a private citizen or member of the news media in order to approach the council members at the conclusion of their meeting.

That he could do harm to them much more easily elsewhere — when there are not two sheriff's deputies around as there are during council meetings, for instance, or metal detectors — didn't occur to him. Skip wasn't necessarily the brightest aspiring lone wolf terrorist, but he was dedicated.

But lo, that wouldn't be possible now. Sitting glumly at his computer, Skip read the fateful news: The council had agreed to forbid people from approaching council members after a meeting even to simply say hello. Against all odds, logic or reason, Harford County Council President Slutzky had somehow been on to Skip's game. "In the past, we didn't have these kinds of international terrorism incidents … these threats of lone terrorists," the accursed man had explained.

Skip couldn't help but admire this Slutzky fellow. How many suburban politicians would risk the ridicule and scorn that would surely be heaped on anyone who chose to set aside democratic principles and a 42-year tradition of openness and accessibility to cover the infinitesimally tiny possibility of a lone wolf attack — and one that would be deterred by a mere policy change over whether visitors could approach the dais?

Why, people would probably assume this was about avoiding the discomfort of face-to-face encounters with reporters and constituents and not about safety. After all, the ban on fraternization and proximity didn't extend to county council employees or anyone else who might be in the chambers during such meetings. Didn't their lives count for something? Or was this more about avoiding such unpleasantness as tough questions from the media, unscripted remarks by council members or cross words from aggrieved county residents?

But Skip didn't think too hard about it. All he knew was that he'd been stymied. "Round One to you, Slutzky, and your darned inflated sense of self-importance," Skip muttered.


Far-fetched? You bet, given that neither the council nor the county sheriff's office reports that there have been any threats made against the County Council. But clearly, the council president must believe it likely. Or does he? The policy came out at the same time as another requiring that questions from the media after council meetings go through a newly hired spokeswoman who must somehow have been judged safe from attack — unless of course this is all really about controlling information and the council's message.

Confused by this sudden onset of fear and imperiousness in Harford County? We are, too. If nothing else, the incident has made the Harford County Council look like its members have been watching too much bad TV drama and not enough C-SPAN.