On Non-Partisanship

Last week, CAP was called out on social media by both the right (for not condemning Jacqueline Fischer’s now-infamous facebook post) and the left (for having endorsed Brenda Thiam for City Council).

To be very clear, we condemn all calls for harm to other human beings, implicit or explicit. Having never endorsed or, as an organization, otherwise supported Ms. Fischer, it seems unnecessary for us to specifically condemn her wholly unacceptable post, but let the record show that we do. Beyond that, we condemn the toxic barrage that goes on every day on social media, ranging from offensive stereotypes to overt threats of violence. We condemn these things not because they are partisan but because they dehumanize fellow citizens and do further damage to our already fragile democracy.

Furthermore, we remain proud to have endorsed Dr. Thiam, who we are confident will do great things in Annapolis. Our endorsement of her, as of all our endorsees, in no way implies that she herself is expected to be non-partisan. Our name, Citizens Above Partisanship, means that we believe citizenship should be held above partisanship, and that elected officials should cooperate across party lines for the common good. But we are not against partisanship, which is an inevitable feature of our political system and is not, in and of itself, bad. Dr. Thiam has given us every reason to believe that she is willing and able to govern cooperatively, and we continue to support her as she endeavors to do so.

More interesting than either of these attacks themselves is that they illustrate an important fact: non-partisanship is hard. Non-partisanship is not centrism. When only middle-of-the-road views are tolerated, all we really have is a new type of partisanship. Centrists are welcome, of course, but so are those further out on the ends of the political spectrum. Non-partisanship seeks common ground, yes, but it doesn’t require that everyone spend all their time there. It seeks to bridge differences, not to minimize or ignore them.

There is no political litmus test for non-partisanship, but perhaps there is a sort of “openness” test. No one is asked to check their convictions at the door, but they are, maybe, asked to leave their prejudices and preconceptions there, and to trust that other people have done the same.

CAP Announces 2020 Endorsements

Members of Citizens Above Partisanship voted last week to endorse the following candidates for local offices in the 2020 general election:

Mayor of Hagerstown:

  • Emily Keller

Hagerstown City Council:

  • Brooke Grossman
  • Shelley McIntire
  • Brenda Thiam

Washington County Board of Education:

  • Pieter Bickford
  • Benjamin Forrest
  • Melissa Williams

All of the above races are nonpartisan; however, in keeping with CAP’s mission, the candidates we are endorsing span the political and ideological spectrum. Most importantly, all have demonstrated a willingness to work across divides, partisan and otherwise, for the good of the constituents they serve. Details of the reasons for our support follow.

Emily Keller
Emily is completing her first term as a member of the Hagerstown City Council, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Hagerstown. As a member of the City Council, she initiated Washington Goes Purple in order to address opioid addiction. She has proven she can work across differences to move the city forward. Emily’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Brooke Grossman
Brooke is a resident of Hagerstown’s City Center. She believes in the strength of Hagerstown and its residents. She is a solutions-focused leader who believes strongly in collaboration and wants to make sure that the voices of all Hagerstown residents are heard. She is passionate about ensuring that Hagerstown is poised to attract new economic opportunities that not only benefit the municipality, but also the residents of the city.

Shelley McIntire 
Shelley is a current City Councilwoman who was appointed by the Mayor and City Council in 2017. She owns and runs a small business in the county and believes in helping her community through action. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership. Shelley has demonstrated an impressive ability to work collaboratively to improve Hagerstown.

Brenda Thiam
Brenda is running for City Council to work alongside the citizens of Hagerstown and to set high goals and accomplish them. She believes in wise spending, citizen empowerment, a safer community, and enhanced economic growth. Brenda’s nuanced approach to complex issues and a sincere desire to work across party lines for the future of Hagerstown is why we support her.

Pieter Bickford
Pieter is a current member of the Board of Education. He has a strong desire to work with his fellow board members and the public to lead appropriately. Pieter understands the challenges to diversifying WCPS staff and leadership and is supportive of efforts to do so.

Benjamin Forrest
Benjamin believes a leader is someone who listens to the people they lead. He is passionate about getting teachers the materials and resources they need and recruiting high quality teachers. He wants to address race and equity issues and talk to those most impacted by these issues.

Melissa Williams
Melissa is a lifelong resident of Washington County and has spent her thirty-five year career in public education in the schools of Washington County. She currently serves as the President for the Board of Education. Her desire to find a way to better serve lower income students and continue to advocate for all students shows that she shares CAP’s values.

CAP Stands With Our Community

Citizens Above Partisanship joins the overwhelming majority of our community, spanning the political and ideological spectrum, in heartbreak and outrage over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others. Like you, we condemn the racist behavior that continues to lead to disproportionate violence against the African American community. We stand with communities of color in Washington County and around the country. We also support the efforts of those in the law enforcement community who seek to end discriminatory policing and ensure the safety and security of all community members, and we call for replacing violence and looting with meaningful dialogue and substantive action.

Our country, and our community, is living through so much right now that it can be difficult to feel hopeful. Yet hope is what keeps us going as human beings – the hope that we can overcome the obstacles facing us and that tomorrow will be better than today. At CAP, we believe that overcoming those obstacles is easier when we do it together. That belief inspired the formation of our organization three years ago, and it has guided us since then in providing public forums for discussion of issues ranging from education to the local economy to race relations in Washington County.

We also believe that our work together is more effective when our political leaders prioritize community over partisan polarization. It is critical that we identify, support, and ultimately elect qualified candidates for local offices who represent the diversity of Washington County and who will cooperate across party lines to help us move ahead stronger than before. Now more than ever, CAP is committed to doing that.

Aleshire & Souders Discuss Municipal Government in Washington County

On February 24, Citizens Above Partisanship hosted a panel discussion on local government at the Smithsburg Town Hall. The panel, featuring Smithsburg Town Councilman Donnie Souders and Hagerstown City Councilman Kristin Aleshire, covered local municipality concerns and initiatives ranging from diversity to local economy.

You can watch the panel here:

CAP Pushes Back on Ethics Panel Report

At the Tuesday, November 12 County Commissioners’ meeting, the county’s ad hoc Ethics Review Panel gave its report. The panel recommended no substantive changes to the existing Ethics Commission or Ethics Ordinance, and made those recommendations without any meaningful public input. In response, CAP Chair Kira Hamman spoke on behalf of the organization at the November 18 Commissioners’ meeting. What follows is a version of the comments made there that was sent as a letter to the editors of the Herald-Mail on November 25 but has yet to appear.

 

To the Editors:

We are writing on behalf of Citizens Above Partisanship, a nonpartisan political action committee focused on encouraging cooperative government in Washington County.

One of our organization’s key priorities is ethics in local government, and we are very concerned about the county’s existing Ethics Commission and Ethics Ordinance. Members of ethics commissions should never be under the authority of the same elected officials they are charged to investigate, as they currently are in Washington County. Furthermore, as recent incidents in county government illustrate, unethical actions do not always involve financial gain, yet that is all the current ordinance addresses. Finally, there is no mechanism currently in place to enforce penalties for ethics violations, and this lack of enforcement leads directly to a lack of accountability.

We were hopeful last year when Commissioners Meinelschmidt and Keefer chose to focus on these issues and appointed an ad hoc Ethics Review Panel to review and revise the county’s commission and ordinance. We were subsequently dismayed, following the commission’s November 12 meeting, that the panel’s report recommended no substantive changes to either the structure of the commission or the ordinance itself.

More concerningly, these recommendations were made with virtually no public input. The panel held one public hearing, on Tuesday, September 10. A small notice of the meeting appeared in the Herald-Mail at the end of the previous week. That’s it.

The hearing was not publicized via the County Commissioners’ email list. It did not appear on the county’s social media channels. No press release was sent out. And neither the hearing nor the minutes of other panel deliberations were, or are, mentioned on the county web site.

Unsurprisingly, nobody went.

Leaving aside how uncomfortably close this comes to a violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act, it is inconsistent with the principle of transparency in government that we hope and trust the Washington County Commissioners hold dear. Beyond that, even if the hearing had been well-publicized, it failed to garner any input. This should have automatically triggered additional hearings and attempts to collect feedback from the community. Ethics ordinances address the very integrity of our government and cannot meaningfully be discussed, let alone revised, without the participation of community stakeholders.

Therefore, we ask that the commissioners do the following:

    1. Re-convene an ad hoc Ethics Review Panel.
    2. Charge the panel to hold well-publicized meetings at a variety of locations around the county.
    3. Offer a well-publicized and robust option to give input online.
    4. Accept recommendations from the panel only after meaningful input from a diversity of stakeholders has been gathered, and no sooner than 90 days from the beginning of the process.
    5. Finally, make all deliberations public in the form of well-publicized open meetings with publicly available written minutes.

We ask that this process begin immediately.

Sincerely,

Citizens Above Partisanship Executive Committee

 

It is our understanding that the County Commissioners are now considering holding a new public forum to discuss the Ethics Commission and Ordinance. We encourage all CAP members and supporters to reach out to them in support of such a forum, and to attend it if and when it occurs. We will keep you up to date as we hear more.

Keller, Kifer Discuss City of Hagerstown

On Monday night CAP members heard from Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller and Chief of Police Joey Kifer about current initiatives, ongoing challenges, and future directions for the city. The conversation addressed topics including economic development, addiction and recovery, homelessness and housing, and the relationship between the city and county governments.

Both Keller and Kifer spoke of positive changes in downtown Hagerstown. Kifer cited an extremely low crime rate, saying that “crime downtown is petty stuff,” and reporting significant decreases in virtually every category over the last five years. Keller added that Hagerstown is “better than most people think we are – we get a lot of bad press.” She mentioned substantial investment in the downtown arts district, including the new Maryland Theatre, an addition to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and many new businesses. At the same time, Keller said, bringing more people downtown to live and play will require significant investment in housing and infrastructure, including basic things like grocery stores.

Speaking about challenges in the city, Keller mentioned opioid addiction and the success of Washington Goes Purple in raising awareness about the opioid crisis. Kifer noted the relationship between education and preventing addiction, lauding the recent increase in drug education in the public schools. He pointed to Antietam Academy as a major asset in supporting children who are dealing with issues that are disruptive to their educations. Providing a positive educational environment for those students, he said, helps break cycles that contribute to poverty, addiction, and crime. Kifer added that diversity in the police force has been a priority under his leadership, not only to ensure that law enforcement represents the community, but also to aid in understanding the needs of the community.

Asked about the problem of homelessness in the city, Kifer spoke movingly of trying to protect homeless citizens from risks inherent to their situation, such as harassment and violence. Keller talked about the enormous challenges such citizens face in simply finding food and shelter on a daily basis, leaving little time for job training and seeking employment. Many people without permanent addresses are unable to apply for jobs; others with temporary addresses may not be able to get things like utilities in their own names, making it difficult to establish credit and move to permanent housing. She discussed things the city is doing to try to help, such as the new Bridge to Change program and exploring various forms of affordable housing.

Discussing the relationship between the city and county governments, Keller said that they have a “mostly good relationship,” and that there have been some productive informal discussions between herself, Councilwoman Shelley McIntyre, and Commissioners Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. She acknowledged that things like fire & rescue, water & sewer, and resulting tax differentials constitute “pain points” between the city and county, but said, “my job is to protect the citizens of the City of Hagerstown.”

The discussion concluded with a lively Q & A, culminating in the following question from an audience member: “how do we change the narrative of Hagerstown?” Keller and Kifer both expressed frustration over what they consider disproportionate media coverage of a very few negative stories, and agreed that we need to do more to shine light on the many positive things happening in the city.

With that in mind, CAP invites all readers to our Party Above Partisanship at The Flying Camel Café on Thursday, December 19 from 5-7pm!

Citizens Above Partisanship Hosts Education Panel for Washington County

On Monday, Citizens Above Partisanship hosted a panel discussion on education at the Washington County Free Library. The panel, featuring Executive Director of the WCPS Education Foundation Caren Cramer and OnTrack Washington County Board of Directors Vice-President Paul Frey, covered local education concerns ranging from  post-secondary education paths to education funding.

Discussing the impact of OnTrack, Frey pointed out that “… the economy has changed based on technology, based on all kinds of issues, and so what we’re suggesting at OnTrack is we want cradle to career… if there’s a career, what steps do you have to take for that career.”

The panelists also discussed the respective roles of national and local control in education. “I do believe that states should have control over their education system, and filter that to the local counties,” said Cramer.

A very engaged audience asked the speakers some tough questions regarding local education. Although the panelists brought different perspectives to the discussion, both were obviously committed not only to quality education in Washington County but also to working together to achieve it. Their diverse perspectives worked together to give the audience a better understanding of all forms of education in the county, which is exactly the kind of cooperation that CAP stands for and works for. They have our sincere gratitude both for being panelists and for the work they do with their organizations.

A recording of the full panel discussion will be posted later this week on Citizens Above Partisanship’s YouTube Channel and their Facebook page.

Peaches and Politics!

We had a great time at the Leitersburg Peach Festival last weekend, talking to people from all around the county (and some surrounding counties, too) about cooperative government for the common good. Thanks to the Leitersburg Ruritan for having us!

Come visit us next weekend in Williamsport at C & O Canal Days!

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Gerrymandering and Maryland’s 6th Congressional District

Monday night’s panel discussion on gerrymandering and the recent Supreme Court case involving Maryland’s 6th Congressional district, which includes Washington County, featured Randy Barber, Chair of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee (speaking only for himself), and Len Lazarick, Editor of MarylandReporter.com. Amie Hoeber, former Republican candidate for the CD 6 seat, had been scheduled to speak but regrettably was unable to attend due to an emergency. Washington County Republican Central Committee Chair Jerry DeWolf did not respond to requests for participation.

Lazarick, who has been covering Maryland politics for many years, spoke about the current and historical context for the legal challenges to Maryland’s redistrict following the 2010 census. Barber advocated for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, a proposal similar to that put forth by Governor Hogan, but added that national action is needed. He said that if Maryland, where the gerrymandered districts favor Democrats, were to redistrict in a nonpartisan manner while other states remain gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, it would be tantamount to “unilateral disarmament.”

Coverage of the meeting by WDVM can be viewed here.

CAP’s next meeting, on Monday, May 20, will be on economic development in Washington County. Everyone is welcome!

 

Ethics Changes in Washington County

Last week’s vote by the County Commissioners to form an ad hoc committee to review the county’s ethics ordinance represents important progress on one of CAP’s top priorities. We fully support the Commission’s decision, and urge them to adopt changes that will strengthen the ordinance and give the Ethics Commission meaningful authority to enforce it.

Commissioner Cort Meinelschmidt discussed ethics changes in the county at CAP’s meeting on March 25 at the American Legion in Williamsport. You can watch that meeting here: