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.

CAP on A Miner Detail February 3

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Citizens Above Partisanship to participate in live podcast on Feb. 3

HAGERSTOWN, MD – Citizens Above Partisanship, a non-partisan group of Washington County Maryland residents advocating for candidates and issues that serve the common good, will participate in a live podcast panel discussion on February 3 at The Flying Camel in downtown Hagerstown, moderated by A Miner Detail Podcast host Ryan Miner. 

Panelists will discuss how extreme partisanship is eroding local politics and will provide solutions to transcend the partisan divide affecting Washington County. Panelists include CAP Executive Committee members Kira Hamman, Scott Bryan, and Ken Buckler.

EVENT DETAILS:

  • Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 at The Flying Camel
  • Happy Hour: 4-5 p.m.
  • Panel Discussion: 5:-6:30 p.m.
  • Question-and-Answer session: 6:30-7:00 p.m.
  • Read more here

About A Miner Detail Podcast

Launched in January 2015 by Washington County native Ryan Miner, A Miner Detail Podcast is the fusion between Maryland news and politics. It’s all about Maryland! Miner and his guests engage in a weekly no-holds-barred conversation about issues driving the conversation, featuring Maryland newsmakers and news breakers, journalists, politicos, policy wonks, prognosticators, political activists, organizers, community leaders, and more! 

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.

General Election Endorsements

In keeping with our mission to promote cooperative politics for the benefit of all Washington County residents, Citizens Above Partisanship endorses the following candidates for local offices in the 2018 General Election:

John Krowka for Board of Education

John believes in smart school spending and the need for community engagement in public education. He is a strong advocate for career and technical education, particularly in agriculture. John has a PhD himself but recognizes that career readiness doesn’t always involve a college degree. “In education, one size does not fit all,” John says, and we agree.

Donna Brightman for County Commissioner

Donna has been involved in local government for over a decade, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Washington County. As a member of the Board of Education, Donna advocated for education to benefit all children in Washington County. She has served as President of both the WCBOE and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and can work across differences to move the county forward. Donna’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Cort Meinelschmidt for County Commissioner

A small business owner in the county himself, Cort believes in smart economic development that brings career opportunities, and not just jobs, to Washington County. He is committed to combating the opioid crisis in our county on multiple fronts, beginning with quality education for our children and including cooperation with law enforcement, community organizations, and healthcare professionals. Cort’s nuanced approach to complex issues is one of the reasons we support him.

Elizabeth Paul for County Commissioner

Elizabeth has a long history of bipartisan cooperation, having worked for both Republican and Democratic elected officials at the state and national levels. With roots in rural southern Washington County, she is an steady advocate for the agricultural community as well as our emergency services personnel. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership, both of which are sorely needed in Washington County government.