The chicken wars

By Cathy Keim

Your worldview shapes how you see everything about you, and a great deal of that is shaped by your parents and the times in which they lived. I do not think it’s unfair to say that for older Americans our baseline assumptions about animals, food, and farms were less idealized than today’s vision of the family farm – particularly as much of the population had a rural background. My father grew up plowing behind mules and was eager to get away from the hard work by becoming a civil engineer. His mother told of plucking feathers from geese and chickens to make pillows. She was hilarious in her description of how mean the geese were and how they scared her when she was little. She also explained that during the Depression the only food they had to eat some days was what they got from her garden. There was genuine food insecurity in the everyday lives of average Americans less than one hundred years ago.

Since those days the explosion of technology has propelled the farmer into a world where the mule is replaced by mechanized equipment and the actual crops are genetically modified to produce many times the yield that my grandmother would have expected. Gone are the chickens pecking in her backyard for bugs, replaced by the much-maligned concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Where she enjoyed a Sunday dinner of a tiny chicken that took weeks to mature, we now have massive chickens weighing in at 8 pounds or more after a few weeks in a CAFO.

Americans have been so blessed with abundant food and are so far removed from the actual process of producing their food that we have begun to see a number of trends that are only possible due to our blessed abundance.

The demand for organic fruits and vegetables, locally sourced produce, heirloom tomatoes, and free range beef and chicken is all well and good for a financially independent society. However, a vast number of Americans with less financial flexibility are quite pleased to obtain their food at the local megastore at lower prices made possible by those terrifying “factory” farming methods.

It is rather amusing to see the same progressive crowd that is demanding that global warming deniers be shut up for their “anti-science” beliefs are the same progressives pushing to shut down the science-intensive, high-tech “factory” farms. The progressives loudly proclaim themselves to be the defender of science against the barbarians, i.e. conservatives. However, in the case of farming, they appear to be the ones who want us to retreat to archaic farming methods.

They show the same cognitive disconnect that the animal rights zealots exhibit. Their claims are correct, no matter the evidence against them, and other people are wrong. (They often dismiss the evidence as being bought and paid for by the agricultural mega-corporations, such as ADM or Monsanto. In their minds only the activists have pure motives.) Both groups ascribe to the time-tested progressive method of push as far as you can to achieve your goal, making any temporary alliances you need to succeed, drop back if the goal is unachievable, and then attack again at the next opportunity.

Thus we arrive at the current Chicken Wars on the Eastern Shore. Family farms are redefined as factory farms, which has a connotation better suited to rouse the troops. The new chicken houses that are being proposed are larger than older chicken houses. This is due to several reasons.

Maryland is a highly regulated state and those regulations cause people to change their behavior. Due to stormwater regulations, it may now be more advantageous to build several very large chicken houses together. Consider the local case of proposed chicken houses outside Salisbury, which is raising the ire of local neighbors and environmentalists:

The family considered permitting the two farms separately, (owner spokesman Basit) Zulfiqar said. But that would have doubled the amount of mandated stormwater structures and buffers areas, reducing the number of buildings they could put on the property.

Also, the demand to reduce the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry results in the need for additional space per chicken, thus larger chicken houses. Farmers, whether the family that lives down the lane or a person that is investing their life savings into their new venture, have to make a profit or they go out of business just like everybody else. You can be sure that farmers are looking to maximize their production and minimize their risk just like every other businessman, so if it is in their best interest to build larger chicken houses they will.

Their choice as to how to run their business on their own property and to feed hungry people in the process has been recast into a horror story of wicked businessmen abusing chickens in warehouses and polluting the earth. It is not to any farmer’s benefit to pollute his own property, nor is it beneficial for him to raise chickens in an environment that would not ensure the best growth with the best outcome.

Why are some groups so eager to impugn farmers with evil motives? Could it be that there is a larger agenda?

Progressives are infamous for using people to achieve their goals. In this case, the families that are protesting the building of the new chicken houses near their property are helping the progressives in their agenda. These families are using whatever “data” they can get to declare their concern for the paleochannel, their children’s health, and so forth. This really comes down to the “not in my back yard” argument dressed in the best clothes they can find.

Rather than grasping at these arguments, perhaps they should reflect on their decision to live next to zoned farmland. If we remove all farmland from use because somebody builds a house next to it, then we have two choices: we make people move into the city core, or we starve. Either of these two choices are in line with the progressive plans.

Take a look at Agenda 21 approved by the United Nations and our own elites and you will find that all the current rage to build in the city core so that no citizens will need a car is really the beginning of insisting that all citizens live in the city core and cannot have a car. Only those deemed worthy of having their own transportation, such as government workers, will be allowed to.

The push for organic sustainable farming works into their plans also since they wish to decrease the world’s population significantly. If we turn back from using the GMO crops we will rapidly revert back to the food insecurity that is not such a distant memory.

But back to the Eastern Shore Chicken Wars of today. For those who believe that this is only about stopping mega-sized chicken houses next to family houses, just think back to the unsuccessful but prolonged attack on the Hudson family and their farm a few years ago. The same entities that are joining in this attack were there to drag the Hudson family through the mud for years.

Kathy Phillips and the Assateague Coastal Trust, John Groutt and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, and others will continue to agitate against farmers on the Eastern Shore even after this incident is settled.

Take some time to look at the principles involved and find out the facts rather than depending on the emotional arguments being presented. There will be an informational meeting on March 22, 2016, at 6pm at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Radical Green will be there – will you?

Elected school board hearing: take one

Last Thursday about 40 people gathered at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center to speak out on the prospects of an elected school board for Wicomico County. When I saw the full parking lot I thought I would never get a seat; alas, most of them were here for a kids consignment sale going on simultaneously at the venue. I took the photo as I walked in and the crowd only increased a little bit.

But the County Council presented a number of options available, broken down into three categories: fully elected, a hybrid of elected and appointed members, or the status quo of a fully-appointed board.

Further subdivision of the elected option provided for either a five-member elected board based strictly on County Council districts or a seven-member elected board with five district plus two at-large to mimic our County Council. Meanwhile, the hybrid option would have five members elected from the County Council districts with the other two appointed by either the governor, the County Executive, or a nominating commission. That nominating commission could direct the governor on which members are acceptable in an all-appointed option or we could stay with the current system of appointment.

Out of 22 who spoke, 14 preferred an all-elected option. Woody Willing addressed the diversity concern, stating “there’s no better way to have diversity than electing seven people.” Ann Suthowski, who was “in favor of a 100 percent elected school board,” pointed out that four of the seven members work or worked in education, three lived within a mile of each other while the eastern and western ends of the county were not represented, and as far as she could ascertain only one member was under 60 years of age with kids in school.

Turning to Senator Jim Mathias, at whose behest the hearings were scheduled, Suthowski concluded that elected school boards were good enough for the other two counties he represented, so why not Wicomico?

Others who backed the elected board saw it as a way to promote fiscal accountability. Kay Gibson bemoaned her lack of choice in the matter when half her property tax dollars went to education – as she put it, being “taxed without representation.”

Transparency and parental involvement were also common themes. Dr. Mark Edney called an elected school board the “most transparent, democratic approach,” as opposed to the “secretive, crony-driven process” we had in place. Dave Parker stayed on that theme, revealing that a previous Appointments Secretary told him, “we don’t much care who (the Central Committee) interviews.”

“I like this governor,” added Parker, “but I don’t want him selecting my school board.”

Involvement was key to Donnie Scholl, who thought an elected board would “maximize parental involvement.”

But the handful who preferred the hybrid or appointed boards had their reasons. Kelsey Maddox said “if I had to choose, I would say hybrid.” She rejected the notion that the 90 or more percent of counties with elected boards had the best system simply by virtue of the sheer numbers.

Current WCBOE president Don Fitzgerald was in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. He also bellowed that the current school board has “worked hard in this community” and that he was no crony.

Most of the elected board naysayers, though, circled their wagons around the diversity concept. Gary Hammer, who heads the local teachers’ union, said his body was not against an elected board but previous proposals “did not account for diversity.” He believed there should be more than a yes-or-no choice between elected and appointed. Another former board member, Jon Sherwell, added that “effectively, an appointed board can be diverse.” He also questioned some of the assumptions made by the We Decide Wicomico group and others, arguing that he was appointed despite being unaffiliated.

Local NAACP head Mary Ashanti added that the appointed board has “given us an opportunity” and remarked “the issue for me is how it will be written in the referendum.” But whether it will get that far may be up to Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, who warned that the Ways and Means Committee in the House was interested in preserving diversity and having public input. (No one in our local delegation sits on that committee, which heard last year’s bill.)

As it turned out, about half of those present spoke, although Sample-Hughes was the only legislator to testify. No one on County Council chose to add remarks, nor did Senator Mathias or Delegates Carl Anderton and Mary Beth Carozza, who also listened in.

The next hearing will be at the Delmar Elementary School on Foskey Lane next Tuesday, September 22. I won’t be there so sometime in the next few days I will have a message for that hearing. When it comes out, feel free to share.

WCRC meeting – July 2015

July 27, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – July 2015 

Sometimes we make the best advance plans and they go for naught. It happened to the Wicomico County Republican Club tonight when not just one, but both of their scheduled speakers had to send their regrets thanks to Uncle Sam and an Annapolis meeting. So we heard from neither Jake Day nor Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio tonight.

But we did get some business done and firmed up a number of dates for future reference.

Alison Pulcher filled in for Jake Day a little bit as his campaign manager, officially sending his regrets by noting he was “really sad” that he couldn’t be there. One question which was asked is why the onetime Republican switched parties, with Pulcher responding her belief that he has “ideologies on both sides of the plate.” She herself was impressed with the passion on both sides of the aisle here, as she isn’t a native to the region.

In his Central Committee report, Mark McIver confirmed the Lincoln Day Dinner is slated for November 7 and will feature Andy Harris. But he also asked for a moment of silence for longtime WCRCC member Blan Harcum, whose farm was the scene of an incident today that left Mark “devastated.”

After that silence, McIver was asked whether the Central Committee had any involvement with the local liquor board, which they do not. But it was a point that we should check into as appointments were allegedly made at the behest of one of our local Senators, and not the one who is of our party.

The conversation then turned to the elected school board as McIver was one of those chosen to testify in an open work session before County Council. Intentionally or not, it was somewhat stacked with Democrats and opponents of an elected board.

Marc Kilmer chimed in, announcing public hearings were scheduled for September 10, 22, and 29, and October 15. They would be distributed between the Pittsville/Parsonsburg area, Delmar, the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and First Baptist Church in Salisbury. The only confirmed date/location so far is September 22 at the WYCC.

Kilmer conceded, though, that things may be beyond our control. When it comes to getting the legislation necessary for the transition, “the only person that matters is Jim Mathias.” Custom requires that all Senators representing a county should be on board with legislation affecting it, and Mathias shares representation with Addie Eckardt, who supports the elected board.

Since the two newest school board members were there, it was asked if they could make the point to the incoming superintendent that this was something they may have to work with. The process will begin soon, but one thing I didn’t know is that the new administrator has to win state approval as well. I suspect we may not get the school board’s first choice.

Because we lost an officer when Joe Collins was selected for the Board of Elections, we had to select a new 2nd vice-president and Dave Snyder stepped forward. He was elected by acclamation.

The next announcement was that the Wicomico County Fair was coming up August 14-16. I had a signup sheet out for fine Republicans to work at our table, and I’m pleased with the response. Ann Suthowski suggested we let the elected and appointed officials know we would be there.

Another event on the horizon is the Crab Feast, which is coming together. We should have the liquor license this week, so “our biggest fundraiser” was just in need of volunteers to help with setup, cooking, takedown, and the silent auction. We are set for September 12 otherwise, and the tickets are just $30.

That was pretty much the extent of a tidy meeting which came in under an hour. Next month we hope to reschedule Jake Day (and maybe Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio) – regardless we will reconvene on August 24.

Fred Barnes featured speaker at Wicomico event

April 26, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Fred Barnes featured speaker at Wicomico event 

I’m a few days later than I would like to be with this post, but there’s still time to act. As the organizing committee writes:

Please join us for the 5th annual “National Day of Prayer” Breakfast. For over 80 years, Christians have carried on this tradition of fellowship and goodwill across the country as witness to the importance of spiritual values to this great nation.

Prayer breakfasts richly reward the spiritual growth of communities. They give us the opportunity to fellowship and share our faith in the Living God, to worship and rejoice in a spirit of unity at the breakfast hour.

Come on Thursday, May 7th to observe the National Day of Prayer, let us give praise to God and seek His guidance in our daily lives and in the development of our communities on Delmarva.

The organizing committee has to be excited and pleased, though, about the speaker they secured.

Nationally-acclaimed writer and commentator Fred Barnes is co-founder and executive editor of The Weekly Standard. He has been senior editor and White House correspondent for The New Republic, covered national affairs for the Washington Star and Baltimore Sun, written for the American Spectator, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, The Public Interest, Policy Review, London’s Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, and hosted or appeared on TV programs Beltway Boys, Special Report with Bret Baier, The McLaughlin Group, Fox News Sunday, CBS This Morning, Nightline, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, News Hour with Jim Lehrer and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

More importantly, when Fred and his wife Barbara asked Jesus into their lives in 1980, he says, “Our lives changed dramatically – for the better. It had taken a decade for us to reach this point, a decade of reading, prayer, and meeting many Christians. We saw what Christ had done in the lives of believers. We wanted to live as they did, seeking to emulate Christ. Our faith supports us. We’ve learned a lot about forgiveness and prayer and being servants. I’ve enjoyed writing and television enormously, but they are secondary to family and faith in Christ.”

Fred graduated from the University of Virginia and was a Neiman Fellow at Harvard. He and Barbara have four children, nine grandchildren, and attend Christ the King Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Barnes is perhaps the most noteworthy speaker the event has secured in its half-decade, so it’s well worth the $20 if you can make it – be advised it’s not an event for the night owls as the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center doors open at 6:30 in the morning.

Tickets can be secured at the Country House in Salisbury, or by mail – however, the deadline is coming up quickly as it is May 1. (Hence my chagrin at taking so long to post it.) The mailing address is Salisbury Area Prayer Breakfast Committee, P.O. Box 521, Salisbury, MD 21803, and checks should be made payable to the Salisbury Area Prayer Breakfast Committee.

I would expect there to be a packed house in the Midway Room, which seats up to 600 people.

It’s not often that the worlds of religion and politics intersect in a positive way these days, so this may be an event worth attending.

A Wicomico changing of the guard

December 2, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A Wicomico changing of the guard 

It was an exciting day and a contentious night for the new County Executive and County Council here in Wicomico County. It’s not often the incoming governor pays attention to an event in our fair county.

But the auditorium at Wor-Wic Community College was packed to its 200-plus person capacity to watch our second County Executive (and first such Republican) Bob Culver take the oath of office from Clerk of the Court Mark Bowen.

After the presentation of colors, the Rev. George Patterson delivered an invocation where he prayed that Culver would be “seasoned with wisdom, grace, and humility” as he took this office.

That quickly, since it had to be finished by noon, Culver took the oath flanked by members of his family.

In his remarks which followed, Bob expressed how he was “humbled and honored” by his election, about which he commented that he “wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change.”

His approach was going to be relatively simple, as he believed “good, workable ideas can come from either side,” but at the same time “‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will no longer be the rule.” On the other hand, change wouldn’t be made for its own sake.

Culver’s brief address, which lasted less than four minutes, concluded with a simple request: “we need your ideas.” He then introduced the Governor-elect.

Along with Culver, Larry Hogan announced “we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Hogan was optimistic about Wicomico County and the rest of the Eastern Shore, promising we “will no longer be taken for granted…you’ll have a seat at the table.”

His first order of business affecting us locally was fighting the Phosphorus Management Tool, new regulations he accused Governor O”Malley of “push(ing) at the midnight hour, on his way out the door.” Hogan wasn’t necessarily opposed to regulations on farmers, but believed they needed to be based on science and not “promised to a special interest group.”

Turning to the new County Executive, Hogan said “Bob is truly a salt of the earth kind of guy” and that he “can’t think of anyone more qualified” to grow the local economy based on his business experience than Culver.

The ceremony wasn’t all that long, but it was lunchtime and many of those who came to the swearing-in went to the next building to celebrate with a reception hosted by Culver.

I must say the catering was outstanding, and people generally left in a good, optimistic mood.

But while Culver was “humbled and honored” by his election, the first County Council meeting under his tenure was definitely on the humbling side.

It began, though, with remarks from the outgoing County Council. In particular, retiring Council member Gail Bartkovich called her tenure “an honor, privilege…and tremendous education.” Interestingly enough, all three of the women who served in the 2010-14 term left County Council, leaving a body of seven men.

Stevie Prettyman acknowledged the large crowd “for a change” and thanked the citizens for their trust in her.

And while he wasn’t going anywhere, John Hall lamented the “loss of wisdom and integrity” provided by the outgoing members. Matt Holloway, who was also staying on, noted this edition of Council had accomplished a lot: building a new Bennett Middle School, supplying water to the Morris Mill neighborhood plagued by well contamination, and continually improving its bond ratings.

Similarly, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who was elected to the House of Delegates, thanked the people for “putting their trust in me as a leader.”

But she foreshadowed the discussion to come by expressing her disappointment that West Salisbury Elementary School would not be in the revised bonding program Culver was asking County Council to approve.

After a quick recess to rearrange seats, the new County Council was sworn in.

Returning members Joe Holloway (third from left), Matt Holloway (center), and John Hall (far right) were now joined by Larry Dodd (far left), Marc Kilmer (second from left), John Cannon (third from right), and Ernest Davis (second from right.) Dodd and Cannon have previously served one term apiece on County Council, though, leaving Kilmer and Davis as the two rookies.

Their first order of business was electing a president and vice-president. Since John Cannon and Matt Holloway were the lone nominees for those respective positions, Cannon took over the meeting with Matt Holloway seated next to him.

The other item on the agenda was the controversial reduction in new county debt from the $16.5 million requested by Rick Pollitt to a new $10.9 million total Culver desired, To accomplish this reduction Bob reduced the bonding amount for ongoing construction of Bennett Middle School, and postponed three other projects: work on the final phase of the Westside Collector Road, work on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and replacement of West Salisbury Elementary.

Projects which would remain, on the other hand, were Bennett Middle School, the purchase of land for dredge material placement for the Wicomico River, the purchase of the newly renovated State’s Attorney office, and renovations to Perdue Stadium.

Culver explained that the Bennett bond could be safely reduced without endangering progress. He also made the case that improvements to the river channel would allow for continued commerce and safer oil transport (as there is a refinery along the river), the purchase of the State’s Attorney office would save $300,000 annually in rent, and that the Perdue Stadium renovations were at the request of the Orioles and would ensure the team remains in Salisbury.

Joe Holloway commented that taking off the school was “probably a good idea” based on his conversation earlier that day with Larry Hogan, with Kilmer agreeing it was likely a “prudent course.” On the other hand, Larry Dodd was “disappointed” that the West Salisbury bond was removed, and Ernest Davis, who represents that district, criticized the deletion as pushing them to the back burner again.

That sentiment was echoed frequently in the public comments Cannon allowed. Over a dozen citizens stood up to blast the decision to drop the bond funding, many complaining about the deplorable shape the 50-year-old building is in and decrying its lack of air conditioning. (It’s worth pointing out the state denied Wicomico County’s request to address the air conditioning for FY2015 because the amount was too small – see page 173 here. Three other Wicomico County schools were granted funds.)

In the end, though, the vote was 5-1 to approve the revised bonding, with Davis opposed. Larry Dodd had to leave early for a family function.

After that vote, Kilmer expressed the sentiment that he wished he saw as much passion about what happens in the schools as he did about the school building. But in his president’s remarks, Cannon was more optimistic, saying “I see good things for Wicomico County.” He also expressed his appreciation for all that Rick Pollitt did in his eight years at the helm.

But it goes without saying that Culver’s honeymoon wasn’t very long. Several people expressed the belief that our place in line for funding would be lost and we could go another several years before the needs of West Salisbury were addressed. But Culver and County Council wanted to see some of the buildings for themselves to assess the needs. Aside from the question one observer brought up about the maintenance issues related by those testifying on West Salisbury’s behalf, it was a night filled with passion for a school of just 309 students.

Look for more battles as the FY2016 budget begins to take shape next year.

Early voting could be extended

October 28, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2012, Campaign 2012 - President, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on Early voting could be extended 

Updated at bottom, but as predicted early voting was extended through Friday, November 2.

Due to the possible effects of Hurricane Sandy, Governor Martin O’Malley has issued this statement:

Governor Martin O’Malley (Friday) issued an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency with respect to Hurricane Sandy.  Depending on how the storm develops, Hurricane Sandy may have an impact on early voting, which is scheduled to take place between Saturday, October 27 and Thursday, November 1.

The Election Law provides that “[i]n the event of a state of emergency, declared by the Governor in accordance with the provisions of law, that interferes with the electoral process, the emergency proclamation may:  (1) provide for the postponement, until a specific date, of the election in part or all of the State; (2) specify alternate voting locations; or (3) specify alternate voting systems.”  Md. Code Ann., Election Law Article, Sec. 8-103(a).

The Governor’s Office and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency are actively monitoring weather developments in order to determine whether changes to the early voting schedule may be necessary to protect public safety.  In the meantime, the State Board of Elections, the local boards, and all early voting locations should continue their preparations for early voting and ensure that all voting sites remain open and that all election staff report for duty.

As the storm stands at the moment (I’m writing this late Saturday night) the biggest impacts could come Monday into Tuesday, although deteriorating conditions may force a shortening of Sunday hours as well. My best guess is that whatever days are scrubbed will be added onto the back end, so losing Monday and Tuesday will likely mean early voting is extended into Friday and Saturday of this coming week.

Locally this may not matter as much since the Civic Center is also a polling place on Election Day (it just happens to be mine, so I know this.) But there may be other venues where interceding events place an extra financial strain on local boards of election which didn’t anticipate a change in schedule at this late date. It may also affect turnout slightly as two of the slower days of early voting are traded for two days with the potential for more activity, with an extra weekend day. Still, perhaps 80 to 90 percent of the in-person votes will be cast on Election Day itself.

Yet judging by this picture from Saturday interest in this election in general is high (h/t Jackie Wellfonder):

Early voting at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, October 27, 2012. Photo by Jackie Wellfonder.

I don’t suspect the lines will be as long on Sunday and may not be present at all Monday and perhaps Tuesday. But there are a lot of people who want to vote; let’s hope they choose wisely.

Meanwhile, there are two other local events which could be jeopardized by Hurricane Sandy: a townhall meeting Andy Harris scheduled for Monday evening in Fruitland and the U.S. Senate debate on Tuesday afternoon at Salisbury University. If I still have power I will strive to keep readers abreast of developments in both.

Update, Sunday 1 p.m.: Judging by these two Facebook pictures, early voting has heavy turnout again today. No word yet on whether voting is postponed for tomorrow and Tuesday.

Update, Sunday 2 p.m.: The Harris townhall slated for tomorrow has been scrubbed due to weather, according to the Congressman’s Facebook page. Same goes for early voting Monday, per an announcement from Governor Martin O’Malley.

Update 3, Sunday 5 p.m.: The PACE debate at Salisbury University involving the U.S. Senate candidates is another casualty of the weather.

Unintended consequences strike again!

Perhaps I’m picking on our county just a little too much – but I wonder if the liability is included in the $1.5 million land price?

This came from Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt and his mouthpiece Jim Fineran:

Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt, Jr., announced today that immediate traffic control procedures will be initiated on the portion of Glen Avenue directly north of the Wicomico Youth & Center by prohibiting vehicular traffic before, during and after major Civic Center events. The action follows two hit and run accidents on March 12th, involving pedestrians crossing Glen Avenue from the old mall parking lot to the Civic Center.

“We can’t delay on taking measures to insure the safety of our Civic Center patrons,” said Pollitt. “Stopping traffic on Glen Avenue is the quickest, cheapest way to make sure that our patrons can cross over to the Civic Center in safety. When we own that parking lot, we shall make improvements and pedestrian safety will be chief among them. We need, however, to do something now.”

The old mall parking lot is not owned by Wicomico County but Civic Center patrons have been using it for overflow parking. Among the upcoming major events scheduled for the arena are Bill Cosby, the annual poodle show, high school and Salisbury University graduations and the Fernando Guerrero boxing match.

Perhaps the best solution to this issue would be to eliminate the problem entirely and permanently close the portion of Glen Avenue in front of the WYCC. (As an added bonus, we could gain some pervious surface back – maybe they’ll count it towards the requirements of new stormwater regulations!) But residents farther east along Glen Avenue may object to a permanent closure.

Another possible solution would be a traffic signal at the corner of Glen Avenue and Civic Avenue, but that costs money too. Instead we’ll pay on a per-use basis for traffic control.

My point is that the county is buying this parcel of land and building the new parking lot despite the issue which has lay dormant for awhile but reared its ugly head again after the two pedestrians were struck. For years people have used the Old Mall parking lot as a shortcut or as overflow parking to the WYCC – I’ve even done it once or twice for the former Beast of the East custom motorcycle show and other events when the main parking lot was used as part of the exhibit area.

No question there’s an issue with the WYCC site – the planners of 60 years ago when the original was built didn’t fathom the extent of parking needed for events such as those held today. It’s been my opinion that the WYCC is nearing the end of its useful lifespan because of this and other issues. Had the county been thinking, a better use for the money spent on acreage for a far-off west side park or other lands bought with Program Open Space money may have been to secure the land adjacent to Perdue Stadium for a future Civic Center – parking already exists and access from any direction is excellent. Instead, they insist on placing lipstick on the pig that’s there now.

So we will now have the confusing spectacle of traffic being redirected and misdirected during selected events (granted, I believe the WYCC already does this during the poodle show.) With the bulk of these events occurring during the evening hours, perhaps the potential for tragedy is lessened for some (the pedestrians) but increased for anyone who needs to direct traffic (county employees.)

Shortsighted solutions begat unintended consequences. It’s a rule we forgot about when we approved the land deal.

In other local news, we learned that Salisbury City Councilman Gary Comegys was diagnosed with cancer. The 2009 mayoral candidate won his current City Council term in 2007, which obviously leads to speculation as to whether he will run again next spring when his term expires. Given his perceived position on the City Council as one of the three “establishment” votes against Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen (Cohen is also up in 2011 as is Council President Louise Smith) the prospect of an open seat may make the next year of local politics even more interesting.

But there are things more important than politics for all of us, and hopefully Comegys can make a full recovery and choose the political path he wishes to take free of any ill effects.

Wicomico County Council approves spending others’ money

In a hardly surprising move, the Wicomico County Council voted to accept the $300,000 per acre price for five acres across to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, spending $1.5 million in state money to purchase the land and put up a parking lot. The land had been used for years as supplemental parking for the WYCC anyway, but developers threatened to charge the county monthly rent and County Council chose not to call their bluff.

The vote was 4-3 to accept the offer, with Council President Gail Bartkovich and Councilmen Joe Holloway and Stevie Prettyman objecting. Previous to this vote, the Council did approve an amendment to make the purchase contingent on securing the promised Program Open Space money.

During the discussion preceding the vote, John Cannon asked whether the land was needed, but voted for it anyway based on the business interests behind it. Fellow Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes termed her support as a “quality of life” issue. For his part, Bill McCain added the “stars are just right” for purchasing the land and spoke about the effort to secure the POS dollars – it was a “great deal.” David MacLeod cited a 3:1 ratio of e-mails in support vs. opposition.

On the other hand, “this is not a win-win situation for the county,” said Prettyman. Joe Holloway cited current economic condidtions  as the reason for his opposition. Similarly, Bartkovich noted she could support this in “a better time and place” but for the public “the problem is the price.”

So now we’ve allocated the money to park near a white elephant with several weaknesses – the building is showing its age (built in the late 1970’s after its predecessor burned down in a spectacular fire), its capacity is too small to attract major sporting events and big-name concerts, and due to a legal covenant no alcohol sales are allowed on the site. In a decade or so, once regional economic fortunes turn around, the building will be a relic and the county will have this land – possibly along with another 15 acres adjacent to the newly purchased site at another $250,000 per acre.

Nor is the cost of converting the land from parking to parking factored in – the new purchase means the property needs to be compliant with new state regulations for storm drainage. Overall, the newly renovated site will provide parking for about 500 cars.

Perhaps the lot can be dedicated when it’s finished, and I have the perfect name to adopt for the new additional parking which will be used maybe 50 days a year: how about “Pollitt’s Folly?”

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