An Uprising Against the Establishment in a Little Town is a Good Sign for This Country.
by Jan Greenhawk, Editor/writer for Radio Free Oxford
I never thought it would happen.
I never thought the little town I live in; a little quaint town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a town that appears to be more blue than red, the town that seemed quite content to allow its government to control all that goes on within its boundaries, the town where many of us don’t have problems with crime or poverty, would be the birthplace of a citizen’s movement to wrest control back from those who would be autocrats.
It was the sudden “retirement” of a police chief who had expressed desire to stay on the job for at least six more years and the resulting town uproar that started the revolution.
It upset many of us who had been “asleep” for a long time. Yes, we might have wondered why during Covid our shoreline became a “beach” that was closed and why an outdoor dog park would be locked because it was a “park”. We questioned the authority of a paid employee to create restrictions for the population.
But with this event, people in our town realized that things weren’t right. Public information that should be readily accessible was not. Elected commissioners who should have been responsive and transparent in their work, were not. Job postings and interviews for positions that should have followed public policy and law did not.
People started asking questions. How did this happen? Who was really in charge? What were the qualifications of people running the town? Why were family members of current employees given high paying jobs?
What were the salaries of these small-town employees? $168,000 for a town manager of a town of approximately 650 full time residents? $86,000 for a “town planner” of such a small town? Why were other employees being paid so much less for comparable duties?
All those doubts and questions came to light in a meeting of approximately 300 citizens on a Tuesday night. People spoke. Some were loud, some were quiet. Some were animated, some were subdued. Everyone who spoke agreed that the town needed to be more transparent and responsive. “You work for us! You need to listen, be accountable and transparent.”
They didn’t like that. They had their lawyer run interference for them. One commissioner ran after people after the meeting shaking his finger at them and shouting, “Didn’t work, didn’t work, didn’t work” in reference to an imagined coup.
After that meeting, they thought we would go away. We didn’t.
At the next town meeting it was much calmer. Two commissioners read their comments about the previous meeting. We found out that some information about town practices was being posted online now. We heard about how they would do better. We were invited to be on an “ad hoc” citizen committee regarding hiring practices. We heard a tribute to the retired Chief of Police and a glowing biography of his replacement, who was apparently hired prior to the retirement of the former chief.
Then we heard a tribute to the current Town Manager who in her eleven-year tenure has supposedly saved this town from flood, famine and destruction via federal and state grants. After it was read, many of us wondered if we would be erecting a bronze monument to her in the Town Park.
No one applauded.
There was public comment. I participated and thanked the Commissioners for improving their transparency but wondered why it had taken such an event to provoke it. I also thanked them because the sudden retiring of our Chief led many of us who had been asleep for so many years to wake up and pay attention. I told them we could continue to follow what they did.
Others spoke about audits, services, etc.
Then a well-respected elderly statesman who is a longtime public official got up and spoke. I learned a lot from his speech. I learned that he was “embarrassed” by actions of people during the first meeting. Then he told everyone that if we wanted to complain about the commissioners, we needed to know they get paid $3000 a year and we should be thankful for them. And, if we didn’t like what they did, we should run.
He’s right in one respect. We should run.
But he was wrong in so many ways.
He was embarrassed by free speech. A man who is a lifetime Democrat, citizen of this country, and someone who has done quite well for himself, wants us to forget that free speech and citizen participation in government is what this country was built on. Thank God our founding fathers were loud, passionate men who called out our British leaders with free speech. Thank God they didn’t cower in the corner and beg to know the truth. They demanded it. Sometimes they were rude and aggressive.
The idea that he was “embarrassed” didn’t condemn us who spoke but showed him to be a man who wants to stifle our thoughts and ideas, place them in a neat bag of supplication before our elite rulers and couch them in words that plead and beg for them to listen. In short, ” How dare you. Sit down, shut up, and take it.”
His insinuation that these Commissioners should be excused for their actions because they don’t get paid much was ludicrous. No one put a gun to their heads and forced them to run. They ran on their own accord. Some of them vigorously campaigned for the position! One even came to my home to beg for my vote! They knew what the job was and what it paid when they ran. And they knew they should be held accountable and now they didn’t want to be.
As I said, he was right that we should run for office. But even that comment was not fully correct. This idea that if we don’t like the job an elected official is doing that we should be quiet unless we want to run. That’s a lot of offices and a lot of campaigning. There is NOTHING in our Constitution that says, “Only those who run for or gain office can criticize leaders.”
In his quest to silence the protest, he actually inspired people to keep going.
There was a third town meeting two weeks later. It started out quietly. The Commissioners introduced our new police chief who explained how he would be living 45 minutes away from our town but the State Police and Sheriff’s Office would pick up the slack when he went home at night. He told of his love for his hometown and how hard it would have been for him to move. He told us how he didn’t want to give up his participation in events in HIS town. He never spoke about OUR town and why he wanted to protect us. He was obviously someone who didn’t understand that this town which had a Chief who lived among us for over 30 years didn’t want a part timer.
The Commissioners and the Town Manager presented distraction after distraction. A new, unnecessary bike path from our town to a town eight miles away, a group of students coming to do a survey of what our town would look like in 2100 (when we will all probably be dead and gone), the fact that the grass in the town park was not going to be mowed until after the Easter Egg Hunt so the eggs could be hidden. Normal small-town minutiae clearly designed to take people off track. Motion after motion on town business were proposed and passed with barely a second of discussion.
After this, people read letters. One asked how we could participate more in the various commissions in town. Another suggested that the hiring of a new chief should be delayed until the hiring process could be followed correctly.
After being singled out by the President of Commissioners in a move that he obviously thought would be a challenge to me, I asked how many applicants had been interviewed for the position of Chief of Police. I described how I was told that the NEW chief had been appointed two days after the surprise retirement of the current chief. That was a quick posting and some super-fast interviews!
The downturn in the atmosphere occurred quickly after that when the President of the Commissioners decided he had had enough of this citizen participation nonsense. He started making nasty, snarky comments to people. The meeting turned into a display of his condescension, disgust and disregard of citizens. It was so bad one community member pointed it out in her public comment and chided the President of the Commissioners for it. He did not apologize. In fact, he was openly rude to HER. (By the way, I wonder if the elderly statesman would be embarrassed by that?)
We were still speaking out and they didn’t like it.
You see, the Town Commissioners, the town manager, and the town lawyer miscalculated the situation. They were used to sheep being at their meetings and lions showed up. They forgot that holding officials accountable and speaking up is what this country is about. They didn’t realize that we were now awake, and we didn’t want to go back to sleep and let them rule us. They thought they would have an easy route to do what they wanted. They didn’t see that we are now going to question everything they do.
It’s a part of what is happening across the country at the National, State and now local level. People have had enough of being ignored by public officials who are elected and paid by OUR TAX DOLLARS. People are tired of being told ” How dare you. Sit down, shut up and take it. ” It’s a grass roots movement that will not stop.
And this is just the beginning. Don’t like it? Embarrassed? Oh well. You can go take a nap.
Side note: I have nothing against the man who has been “hired’ to be our Chief of Police. I think he was promised an easy job of riding his bike through town, waving at the townspeople, and going home to his family and hometown at four each day. I think he was looking for a nice, comfy job to hold in his retirement. The Commissioners and town manager misled him. He should be a bit angry about that.
Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan is a retired teacher and a current Chapter Chair for Moms for Liberty, Talbot
© Janet L. Greenhawk and Radio Free Oxford, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet L. Greenhawk and Radio Free Oxford with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.