Friday, December 12, 2014

Coach needs some coaching

Harford County, Maryland, is rather conservative country, full of the sort of people who love to point out that we elect people to serve us in political office, not the other way around.

So it was a bit of a surprise this week when the new Harford County council president, one Richard Slutzky, came up with a new rule to keep a space between constituents  - aka "the people" - and elected representatives within council chambers.

Apparently, Mr Slutzky did not like the way that people would stay in council chambers and wait to discuss matters of concern with the people they elect and pay to handle matters of concern. Quite possibly, he saw Al Anybody sitting there and thought it was Al Qaeda, or he saw Aunt Iris with a question about a loose dog and took Iris for ISIS.  Displaying an almost-incredible lack of political sense, Mr Slutzky had Sherrie Johnson, the newly-appointed council spokeswoman (and a former Channel 2 News reporter) put the policy in place and did not even tell the councilmembers about it.

Slutzky claims that "security" is the primary reason for not allowing citizens to have face-to-face contact with their elected representatives following public meetings, although uniformed Harford County Sheriff's deputies provide security at the council chambers, and all in attendance pass through metal detectors and security checks by the deputies.

"At this time it is our intent that unless invited by the council we recommend that neither the press nor the citizens approach the dais at the end of a council meeting and councilmembers are free to leave the dais" if they want, Slutzky said at Monday night's meeting, which led to a Tuesday full of councilmembers saying "Don't blame me! It's not MY idea!" to their constituents who called to find out why they couldn't see their councilperson about an issue.

"Just like many of you I didn't know about the policy until it was already out there," Councilman Chad Shrodes said. "That's not good."

"I am just as available today as I was yesterday," Councilman Jim McMahan said.

Newly-elected Councilman Curtis Beulah said he wants the people he represents to feel comfortable in asking him about issues.

"I have no boss here. I answer to the citizens," he said.

By Tuesday night, Slutzky (whose campaign signs identified him as "Coach") had started whistling a whole new tune. "The intent was to become more efficient and effective in managing the requests for information," he said.

But he went on to say that he is not the boss of the councilmembers and they can do what they want about being approached by citizens.

So to sum it up: on Monday the head of the Harford County council was telling lowly citizens to keep clear of their exalted rulers on the council, and not to bother them with their importunings for trash pickup, police protection and zoning problems.  And on Tuesday, he was acting like he never said such a thing and he wouldn't have had the authority to say it anyway.

Memo to The Coach:  Your salary is paid by the people who might just want to take a few moments of your valuable time.  And try to remember, before you cook up these goofy policies, you might share them with the people you work with so they can tell you how goofy they are.

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