Monday, July 02, 2012

Unequal Protection

Like a white-haired volcano, Dave Olds sits in his plush chair behind the commissioner's dais ready to erupt at the slightest provocation. His reputation as a hot-headed bombast of little substance precedes him and many, friend and foe alike, openly consider him to be the least cerebral, and least effective, member of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. For the most part, Olds is able to hide his temper from the public, but not always. Last Tuesday's commissioner's meeting was the latest example of his always tenuous filter failing him: his smug rudeness was on display for all to see.

On the docket for the commissioners and the public to consider on June 25, 2012 was county ordinance 12-11, another attempt by the self-anointed business community of Queen Anne's County, and the three commissioners they hold dear, to open the county to Wal-Mart or Home Depot style 'big box' retail. You can find my opinions on bringing big box retail to our county here, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about the treatment the citizens of Queen Anne's County might expect if they ever come to disagree with Commissioner Dave Olds.     

For the better part of an hour, Olds was obligated to listen to public input on the 'big box' issue, on which he had already made up his mind. As such, he views the public hearing on 12-11 as a waste of his time, a friviolous exercise in delaying the inevitable, when he and the two colleagues he aligns himself with on every issue vote to support the ordinance.

Many people expressed an opinion about the amendment, several supportive, several more opposed. As you watch the video, you can clearly see that Olds' is not interested in the opinons of those he disagrees with. As Merle Rockwell of Queenstown stepped to the microphone, she being the first person to oppose the ordinance, Olds can be seen with his face in his hands, perhaps attempting to hide a brief snooze, but certainly not attempting to hide his brash disinterest. Over the course of the next eleven citizens, ten of whom opposed 12-11, you can see that Olds' patience was wearing thin: he began spinning in his chair, looking for all the world like a petulant child made to sit through a trip to the DMV. A tantrum seemed inevitable, and indeed it was. 

The unfortunate Pompeii to Olds' Vesuvius was Jay Falstad of Millington, also of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association. Falstad is a familiar face on many issues before the commissioners, but this night's testimony was not to be like the others. Soon after Falstad started in on comments opposing the ordinance, he was interrupted by Olds, who asked derisively if Falstad "was a paid lobbyist?" Olds followed up with "Do you get paid by Queen Anne's Conservation?" and "Is you lobbying for the anti-growth groups in this county? [all grammatical errors are the speaker's own]" Olds went on to imply that, by saying he was testifying on his own behalf, and not the Conservation Association's behalf, Falstad was lying about who he was representing before the board that night. 

Falstad is a citizen of Queen Anne's County, so whether he was lobbying on his own behalf, or the behalf of a membership organization which he represents, is largely irrelevant. The idea that he has no opinions as an individual, because of his organizational affiliations, is spurious and easily rejected. He, like everyone else who spoke that night, had the irrevocable right to share their thoughts with the Board of Commissioners.

The fact that the citizens supporting the amendment, many of whom represented organized interests, were not subjected to the same type of spur-of-the-moment disclosure proves that Olds in fact has no problem with paid lobbyists, so long as they agree with his positions. Nearly all of those testifying in support of 12-11, including Business Queen Anne's head Camille O'Donnell and Business Queen Anne's attorney Joe Stevens had a vested commercial interest in seeing the amendment passed, indeed Business Queen Anne's wrote the amendment. Yet they were not accosted by Dave Olds. None of those testifying in opposition, including Falstad, were so driven by dollar bills.   

At the end of his remarks, Falstad received moderate applause, for which Commission President Steve Arentz rapped his gavel to restore order, saying that applause "wouldn't be tolerated." Arentz made no similar attempt to rein in Olds during his highly uncalled for outburst, making it clear that while Commissioners would be permitted to disrespect public citizens, no such permission would be extended to the citizens. If you listen to the video of the meeting (linked below) at the 2:02:06 mark, you can clearly hear Arentz mutter a single word under his breath: "stupid." I will let the reader determine for him or herself just what Mr. Arentz thought was so stupid.

Is this the venom which with citizens of Queen Anne's County can expect to be exposed when they find themselves with a differing viewpoint than Dave Olds and this Board of Commissioners? Later in the meeting, during the Commissioner's Roundtable, Commissioner David Dunmyer disregarded his prepared remarks in order to express his displeasure with the way Olds had carried himself, saying he was "stunned" at Olds' behavior. Like a satiated playground bully, Olds responded to Dunmyer by saying "That is your opinion. Next." 

I question the seriousness with which Olds approaches his job, the time and effort he puts into the very serious task of running a county that is home to 50,000 people and where his vote, on an otherwise split board, will have lasting impacts. His election to the Board of Commissioners should serve as a cautionary tale, proof of the overused cliche that elections have consequences, and no elections are more acutely consequential than the ones closest to home. Yet these are often the ones we pay the least attention to.  

I encourage you to come to your own conclusions by viewing Tuesday's commission meeting in its entirety by clicking here. I also encourage you to attend a meeting of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissionsers, to witness for yourself the way in which Mr. Olds carries himself.


Anonymous said...

Olds is a confirmed bully. During one commissioners campaign forum at the Farm Bureau meeting in Ruthsburg, campaign sheriff candidate Livingston Banks (a MD state trooper in his day job) had to stop Olds from, without provocation, physically assaulting Sveinn Storm, Republican activist. I wonder how many other such tales there are from firehouses that Olds has occupied in DC and Queen Anne's County of Olds doing the same thing. His usual excuse "I'm blue collar" doesn't work when he is a county commissioner. Queen Anne's county deserves better.

Neal Jackson

Anonymous said...

Enlightening as always. I only wish Mr. Kline wrote more often! This double standard (where businessmen are seen as people with a valid voice and environmentalists - paid or not - as disruptors with a destructive and sadistic agenda) is everywhere and it makes me sick. For these people, "development" should be based on an economics where social and environmental concerns have no place - indeed, these concerns violate a sacrosanct set of economic principles that are based not on what actually works in enriching communities but on greed-driven ideology.

When I say that the Eastern Shore - particularly Easton - "isn't what I grew up with", I’m not talking about the arrival of Latino culture or racial integration. I’m thinking of the old barns that have been replaced by chain restaurants and the Target that was (at least partly) built on top of a wetland. The only thing that keeps the “culture” of our built environment alive in Talbot County is the rich residents who don’t patronize Wal-Mart or the Golden Corral because they don’t want to rub shoulders with the working class. Ironically, many of these people are the ones who own McDonalds franchises or who push a pro-“development” agenda on a local level.

Brittany S