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Monday, October 12, 2015

Move The Taney Bust

George Wenschhof
It is past time to remove the Roger Brooke Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall in Frederick, Maryland.
On Thursday, the mayor and board of aldermen will hold a public meeting and listed at the end of the agenda is a discussion on the removal of the Taney Bust.
“Who is Taney”, you ask?
A former lawyer in Frederick, he shared his law office with his brother-in-law Frances Scott Key who would become famous for his composition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Taney would also become famous for serving on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, it was his writing of the majority (7-2) opinion of the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford case that provides overwhelming weight for the removal of his Bust from the grounds of city hall.
Scott had traveled with his Master and lived in free territories before returning to a slave state.  After the death of his Master, he sued for his freedom beginning in 1847.
Ten years later, after the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Taney would write in the majority opinion that, because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The framers of the Constitution, he wrote, believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”
Addressing the language in the Declaration of Independence that says, “all men are created equal,” Taney said “it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”
Historians widely agree this decision contributed to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 and the start of the Civil War in 1861.
This ill advised decision was repealed with the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. constitution.
It should not be a surprise that many people, especially African Americans are not happy to see this Taney Bust adorn the grounds of city hall in Frederick, Maryland.
Located in a prominent location in front of the entrance to city hall, visitors must walk past the Bust when entering the building.
The Bust was placed in its current position when the building was the Frederick County court house.
The discussion to move the Taney Bust is a not new to city hall officials.  Back in 2007, local African American professional E. Kevin Lollar began an effort that included other community activists and lawyers Willie Mahone and Barry Kissin. On 1-14-2008, Frederick NAACP president Guy Djoken wrote this column published on my Blog
Much public discussion followed over 2 years with the resulting compromise being a plaque containing a short explanation placed next to the Taney Bust in 2009.
Perhaps, it was the recent tragedy that took place in a Charleston, South Carolina church and the subsequent action by the S. Carolina state legislature to finally remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of their capitol that led to this latest attempt to remove the Bust.
Regardless of the cause for the latest impetus to remove the Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall, it is past time to do so.
Sadly over the weekend, the Taney Bust was vandalized by pouring red paint over it.
Also, this past weekend, the public notice of a planned KKK rally in nearby Braddock Heights reminds us that racism continues to exist and must be countered when it attempts to rise.
Many thanks to the close to 100 people who attended, on a Saturday evening, a peaceful candle-lit counter-rally in Braddock Heights organized by Kerri Eiker.  There was no reported sighting of the white robed individuals who had advertised cross burnings. Credit should go to these concerned citizens who made it known that racism and hate is not acceptable in Frederick County.
For those who argue “You cannot change history”, moving the Taney Bust from the grounds of city hall or taking down a Confederate Flag flying on the grounds of a state capitol is not changing history.
Rather, it is showing respect to those who were negatively impacted by history that we as a nation should not be proud of.
The Confederate Flag battle or otherwise, can be viewed in museums across the country and today is easily seen online.
In The City of Frederick there remains a home where Taney spent some of his time and is now a museum.  Perhaps, these grounds are the appropriate location to place the Bust and its companion plaque. There is also a Historical Society where the Bust could be moved.
When I posted on my Facebook page I intended to write a column on this issue, it solicited many comments.
The comment placed by Vivian Campbell Combs “Move it to his house…or the library, or museum…where people can see it, if they want to…not because they have to” made the most sense.
One should not be required to pass by the Taney Bust when they visit city hall.
Today, city officials should not look for legal means to provide them cover from taking action to remove the Bust.  They should just take action to do so.
Interestingly, back around 1920, way before the rise of the Hitler regime in Germany, a road in the city was named Swastika Road.  In 1960, the mayor and board of The City of Frederick, after much debate about how the name of the road was not reflective of the horrific Hitler regime and how you cannot change history, changed the name of the road.
On Thursday, city officials should vote to move the Taney Bust.
Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015


George Wenschhof
The election of Jan Gardner(D) as the first county executive of Frederick County, Maryland has perpetuated the decades long battle between two factions who primarily differ on how best to manage growth.
Gardner’s actions to date have been a reversal of actions taken by the previous board of county commissioners’ president Blaine Young(R) and Company.  Young and Company expanded the differences between the two factions from growth management to include the level of education funding and a desire to privatize government services which I described in a previous column entitled Blaine and Co. bad for Frederick County.
The latest move by Gardner is her threat to use eminent domain to void the contract of the business sale of the services being provided at Citizens and Montevue senior assisted care centers owned by the county government.
For Frederick County residents, it is a modern day real life portrayal of the movie “Groundhog Day”.
This perpetual back and forth battle has also caught the eye of many outsiders and political leaders in Annapolis.  The running joke “Is there something in their water?” never seems to get old as it applies no matter who wins.
Following Jan’s convincing of the council to reopen the Monrovia Town Center development approval, stacking committees with her appointees (a common practice by the winner), reversing the ill advised “English Only” ordinance and ethics committee decisions, she has now turned her sights on undoing the sale of the “business only” interest of the Citizen and Montevue senior assisted care centers.
She enjoys the support of a 4-3 vote from the council by ensuring Republican Bud Otis would become the president after the three Democrats on the council voted for him over Republican Billy Shreve.  Since then, Jan has received Otis’s vote with the 3 Democrats on every issue she presents to the council.
Republican council members Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve, who were part of the previous board of county commissioners referred by me as Blaine and Company, enjoyed a board with a sure 4-1 vote on every issue presented by Blaine.  They are exasperated because they are now a minority on the council.
Crying foul at every move made by Gardner and complaining she is only focused on undoing everything their board did, Shreve and Delauter seem to forget they spent their 4 years in office undoing everything Gardner and her “Dream Team” had done in the previous administration. Jan coined the name “Dream Team” when she and fellow Democrat Kai Hagen ran with and won with Republicans David Gray and John “Lennie” Thompson in the 2006 election.
The sale of the Citizens/Montevue business interest was another of the actions by Blaine Young, while enjoying a 4-1 majority on the board that illustrates his arrogance and persistence in doing what he wanted during his administration, even if it was ill advised.
Blaine began his obsession of selling the county owned land, building and services by first disbanding their board of directors, firing the director and sending a threatening letter to city officials.  A letter I questioned at the time whether it had board approval in a column.  In order to sell the land, subdivision was required and needed city approval.
I also pointed out in another column, there was legal action underway pertaining to deed restrictions and the state had provided a $200,000 loan that meant the state board of public works needed to approve the sale.
I opined it would be best to let the legal issues be decided before approving any sale.  In a meeting, the board of public works agreed.
Stymied, a frustrated Young intent on selling the facilities, received legal advice he could sell the business only interest of the centers with the option on the sale of the land and buildings dependent upon court decisions.
This brings us to present day where Gardner, who made it known during her campaign for county executive she opposed the sale of the facilities.
She has withheld questionable payments negotiated by Young from the county to the Buyer and is undergoing mediation in an attempt to dissolve the contract.
The contract agreed to by Blaine and Company is a poor one for the county and should be voided.  Decisions by the court still have not been made and no action to sell any interest in the centers should have been done by the previous board.
Speculation on the future of the long serving county attorney is rampant because he has provided opinions on both sides of this and other issues over the years, depending upon who was in power.  His credibility questioned, some believe resignation is the best option.
Let’s hope legal rulings will be issued soon and mediation will result in the voiding of this ill advised agreement.  The use of eminent domain to recapture a “business interest” is a stretch and is also not advisable.  It is used to claim land such as property for an airport expansion.  But in this case, the land has not been transferred so there is no need to recapture by use of eminent domain.
Optimistically, the county will retain the business interest, land and buildings. Afterward, a committee should be appointed by Gardner and confirmed by the council to review management options to include the reappointment of a board of directors and to develop financial plans for the future of the Citizens/Montevue senior assisted living centers.
Stay tuned.