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:

Citizens Above Partisanship Releases Campaign Finance Analysis

CAP has analyzed the data from campaign finance reports filed with the state by candidates for County Commissioner in the 2018 election.

The report includes:

  • Top Contributors: Who donated the most money to whom?
  • Contribution Breakdown: Who had the most funding?
  • Geo-location: Where did contributions come from, both in and outside of the county?

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL REPORT

Government for All Citizens: Reflections on Partisanship

By Scott Bryan

Leadership that represents all the citizens of Washington County.  When I ran for County Commissioner this year, that leadership was something I believed was needed; something that was missing among our current elected officials. It seemed to me, as a novice on the political scene, that we had a Commission that was made up not only of a single demographic, but, just as importantly, of a single mindset.

As I sat down next to Donna Brightman and Bernie Semler on December 2 to talk with Ryan Miner about the election, I wondered how representative leadership for the county would be a part of the discussion.  I had become good friends with both Donna and Bernie during our campaigns. Donna had run in the Commissioner race and Bernie for State’s Attorney. I know both of them to be honest, decent, dedicated individuals who care more about the future of Washington County than about their own personal interests and agendas. Indeed, both had made tremendous sacrifices to offer their services to the citizens of the county.

I knew that I could trust both Donna and Bernie, but I was concerned that their recent defeats – after both running outstanding and inspired campaigns – would still be fresh wounds. These were wounds that I had also felt, but mine have had considerably more time to heal since I lost in the primary four months ago. I knew the purpose of the panel was to discuss what had happened in the election, our issues and concerns, and the path forward for the county in the near future – essentially, how to get that representative leadership that I believed was missing. But would the pain and disappointment of losing that we all felt, and that I thought I had moved past, return during the panel?

I was also thinking about the fact that Ryan, as moderator, had told us that he was going to ask “edgy” questions. I know Ryan to be an honest journalist who seeks the truth and does a great job of bringing issues into the light of day. But as the only Republican on the panel, and likely with a liberal-leaning audience, would I be able to get my points across effectively and professionally? And, by the way, would anyone care what I had to say?

As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Donna and Bernie and I talked openly and candidly about what we perceive to be the challenges facing our community. We discussed the effect of national politics on local politics, particularly how polarization at the national level has impacted local elections. And we agreed that although it’s difficult to have an impact nationally, we can absolutely make a difference locally. The three of us showed people that night what non-partisanship looks like and that regardless of party affiliation, personal beliefs, or positions on issues people can have meaningful discussions about important issues facing us as a community. That we can disagree, yet listen to each other and consider other points of view. Maybe we can even learn something from each other.

If there was a significant takeaway from the discussion, it was that more unites us than divides us. Anyone can indeed have an honest discussion with people who have differing points of view. Community members can ask questions of former candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the resulting dialogue may result in a widening of knowledge for everyone involved. Local politics need not be devoid of respect, dignity, and class.  Perhaps most importantly, there are people who want leadership representative of all the citizens of Washington County, and there are people willing to provide that leadership. Engagement, not disengagement, is what will move us forward.

Stay Involved. Keep Showing Up.

By Donna Brightman

The following originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Herald-Mail on November 21.

 

To the editor:

The last several months have been an incredible journey.

While the results of the election did not lend victory to our team, our message resonated all over Washington County — from Hancock to Cascade, from Boonsboro to Smithsburg, from Williamsport to Sharpsburg, from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg and Keedysville in between. The people heard us loud and clear.

We still have a voice and we will use it:

  • We will continue to push for integrity and accountability in local government.
  • We believe in ethics in our local government. We will not accept anything less than full, unabridged transparency.
  • We believe in a safe work environment for county employees, where harassment and bullying are not tolerated.
  • We believe in our small businesses.
  • We will stand by our sisters and brothers in our fire and EMS community.
  • We will champion and showcase our ag community to the rest of Maryland.
  • We will never accept corruption in government as the status quo and we will never concede an injustice. Not now, not ever.

To my family and friends: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel the love! To every supporter, volunteer, contributor, and well-wisher: Thank you, sincerely, for inspiring me, for believing in me and for entrusting me to be your voice.

Stay involved. Do not be discouraged. Show up, attend meetings, demand answers from your elected officials and hold them accountable; they answer to you.

Congratulations to the victors in this commissioner race: We trust you will serve with integrity, honor and humility.

Donna L. Brightman

Former candidate for Washington County commissioner

Garretts Mill Road in South County

 

After the Election

By Greg Murray, Treasurer to the Donna Brightman campaign

What can we say about the election? Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be difficult to get a female Democrat elected to the Board of County Commissioners in Washington County. Even so, the goal was to get the message of change out to the public and help shed light on all the issues that any candidate would need to address. That happened. Washington County is the better for it.

Looking at the vote tallies it’s obvious that the party line carried the day, but what did that say? First, the five Republicans were followed by two female Democrats – Donna Brightman and Elizabeth Paul. Their voices were heard. Second, two new Board members were seated – Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. And third, the voters overwhelmingly chose a new president for the Board, with the potential that the vice president will be one of the new members rather than an incumbent (pending final tallies, and of course the new Board must actually elect the new officers). Change carried the day. The voters wanted a different direction on the Board and they got it. Again, this is good for Washington County.

After 40 years as a Republican (I hear many of you groan), I saw in Donna Brightman someone who really understood the need to get the county back on track, and she helped make that happen. The outcome may not have been everything we wanted, but it also was not unexpected. We wanted to make change, and change was made.

Now it is up to the new leadership to carry that change forward for the betterment of Washington County. We support them in that. Hopefully we can put the nonsense aside and truly get back to business.

Upcoming Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum
Monday, May 21
6:30-8:00 p.m.

Room 334
Washington County Free Library
Fletcher Branch
100 S. Potomac Street, Hagerstown

Featuring the candidates CAP is endorsing for
County Commissioner and Board of Education:

Donna Brightman
Scott Bryan
John Krowka
Cort Meinelschmidt
Elizabeth Paul

Everyone welcome!

To submit a question for the candidates to address at the forum, please complete the form below:

Kickoff Celebrates Political Cooperation

Citizens Above Partisanship’s extremely successful Meet the Candidates Kickoff party at Bulls & Bears on Thursday, May 10 was concrete evidence that Washington County is ready for cooperative, nonpartisan government. The event was attended by four of the five candidates CAP is endorsing in the 2018 election and by more than 50 community members and supporters. Attendees enjoyed food, drink, and animated conversation about the future of Washington County. Overheard were discussions of education funding, tax policy, and economic development, as well as spirited debate about candidates for statewide office. These conversations were certainly energetic, but they were also mutually respectful, with an eye toward how to best serve the common good.

Each candidate addressed the crowd briefly, talking about their support for CAP’s mission of nonpartisan cooperation and about their individual campaign objectives. John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education, led off by talking about smart school spending, career readiness that doesn’t always involve a college degree, the need for community engagement, and the fact that “one size does not fit all” in education.

The crowd then heard from the candidates CAP is endorsing for County Commissioner. These candidates span the political spectrum, but while they spoke from different perspectives they voiced similar concerns. Donna Brightman asked the crowd to redirect the frustration they might be feeling about politics at the national level into meaningful action at the local level. Scott Bryan emphasized the importance of mutual trust between a community and its leaders. Cort Meinelschmidt talked about the need for a budget that meets the needs of all citizens, and praised Krowka for his emphasis on education that serves all students. Although Elizabeth Paul was unable to be at the Kickoff, a campaign representative spoke on her behalf about her commitment to ethical leadership and responsible governance.

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The breadth of support for CAP’s mission was further evident in the wide range of donations to the silent auction that took place at the Kickoff. From Fountain Head Country Club to Talon Studio Tattoo and with many, many others in between, small businesses all over the county clearly understand the necessity of cooperative government in Washington County. Other business donors included:

CAP is deeply grateful to all these businesses, as well as to the individual artists and collectors who also donated to the auction, and of course to everyone who came out to the Kickoff to support our candidates and our mission. Democracy takes work. It’s good to know that we can have fun at the same time!

 

CAP Announces Endorsements

Citizens Above Partisanship met Monday night to vote on endorsements in the races for Washington County Commissioner and Board of Education. After spirited discussion, members voted to endorse five candidates for County Commissioner:

In addition, CAP endorses John Krowka for the nonpartisan Board of Education.

In keeping with its nonpartisan mission, CAP’s County Commissioner endorsements include three Democrats and two Republicans. All are passionate about working across political differences for the good of all Washington County residents and are committed to CAP’s three priorities: education, the economy, and ethics.

Watch this space for candidate profiles in the coming weeks, and be sure to get your ticket to meet them in person at our Meet the Candidates event on May 10.

Update May 3: We are saddened to learn that Harry Jones has had to withdraw from the race.

 

Washington County’s Ethics Fail

It was with disappointment, if not surprise, that we read the findings of the county Ethics Commission released late last week.

Where to begin? With the leaking of a document clearly classified as confidential by the county’s own Harassment Policy? With the decision that said leak was not unethical because it was not for “private gain,” a caveat that is nowhere mentioned in the policy itself? Perhaps with the twin decision that misleading the public by selectively leaking incomplete information is also perfectly ethical, for the same reason. Maybe we should begin with the county’s Ethics Ordinance, which deals almost exclusively with financial disclosure. Or with the murky Ethics Commission itself, appointed by the very commissioners it was charged to investigate. Apparently the entirety of Washington County government believes that nothing is unethical unless it leads to personal financial gain. As they say, foll­­­­­ow the money.

In any case, clearly nobody wants to begin where it actually began, with the allegations of gross misconduct brought against Commissioner LeRoy Myers. Oh, a powerful man made unwanted sexual advances toward a subordinate woman? Yawn. Nothing unethical about that.

Aristotle conceived of ethical behavior as the “good action” which is necessary for living a virtuous life. Ethical judgements are complex. We get that. Nevertheless, by any measure save their own, the Board of County Commissioners is an ethical failure.

Citizens Above Partisanship’s statement of priorities calls ethical considerations “the highest, philosophical level of our democracy;” the one that guides all our other priorities. “Ethics are a manifestation of our common values and our commitment to shared humanity,” the statement goes on. The necessity of doing the difficult, messy work of making local government reflect those values and commitment has never been more evident.

We call on the Board of County Commissioners to establish a robust, confidential reporting structure for ethics violations and a meaningfully independent Ethics Commission to handle such reports. If the current Board is unable or unwilling to do so, then we call on them to step aside for candidates who will. Good government presupposes selfless commitment to a common good. If our current commissioners cannot concretely demonstrate that they have that commitment, then we will elect commissioners who can.