Perhaps Sheriff Fitzgerald should have been interviewed when Money Magazine recently listed Columbia, Maryland as being the #1 place to live among towns with 50-300k residents. That statement isn’t meant to be click-bait for this story. It’s meant to start a discussion about the realities that aren’t always seen (or known) about the towns where we live. I used to be a believer too about Howard County, and Columbia, MD specifically being one of the best places to live. Until I experienced the reality of things that the assigned Money Magazine reporter who visited Columbia could have never experienced.
When I read the story about Fitzgerald (originally on Facebook), the first thing that came to my mind was that I wasn’t surprised. I’ll qualify that statement by writing that there were a number of things I wasn’t surprised by. First, I wasn’t surprised by the swift response calling for Fitzgerald’s impeachment. What else could Kittleman and anyone influential in Howard County do when the Money Magazine story just hit the stands within weeks of the damning report released by the commission about the Sheriff? Damage-control anyone? Second, I wasn’t surprised that someone needs to be thrown under the bus. There is a lawsuit pending in which a Republican who didn’t win the election for the Sheriff position is alleging that Wayne Robey (clerk of Circuit Court for Howard County) failed to administer the official oath to Fitzgerald (making it that he isn’t actually the sheriff?). But you see, if that lawsuit prevails, what will it say about Wayne Robey or the way things are done in Howard County?
The folks in Howard County who know EXACTLY how things work there (and like it) are the ones benefiting from it. Parties who benefit from something (even if it’s “wrong”) will rarely say or do anything that will potentially affect or impact the benefit. And systems rely upon all of the players playing their part to keep it running as desired. So, let’s look at this microcosm of players a little closer.
Wayne Robey is the son of James Robey, who retired as a Maryland Senator in January of 2015 after almost 50 years of public service. Starting as a beat cop on the police force, he was appointed as Chief of Police in 1991, but retired in 1998 to run for Howard County Executive. He was elected as such in 1998 and again in 2002. He then ran for the Maryland Senate, and won. He was also a Human Rights Commission award recipient in 2013, in the same year as the Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County. This is the same commission that released the widely-discussed report concerning Sheriff Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who has been the sheriff for the past 10 years, worked in the same police force as James Robey. What I think is most interesting about the outrage over Fitzgerald is that everyone is focusing on racial comments made by him, when the majority of the almost 48 page report is about either bullying and intimidation of subordinates who didn’t support his campaign for reelection OR him loudly proclaiming to anyone around that he could do whatever he felt like doing because he was the sheriff. That message is getting lost because everyone was and is focusing on racial comments.
Granted, perhaps race is important because of the national discussion about race and law enforcement treatment of minorities in particular. More likely, race in this story/mess is important because the Money Magazine cover apparently has a photo of an African American Columbia family on it. And, I like Calvin Ball, don’t get me wrong, but I wonder how many people in America who see that Money Magazine issue featuring the #1 place to live (Columbia, MD) realize that the family on the cover aren’t just a random African-American family but is instead… Mr. Ball, the Chair of the Howard County Council!
I write this because the video on Money Magazine’s website SEE HERE that accompanies the report is narrated by Ball, features his family, but only indicates he is a “columbia resident”. The written text for the article has the following to say: “When he got married, Ball, now a college administrator, told his wife, Shani, there was only one place he would raise their children.” Well yes, he may be a college administrator, but why does it not also mention that he is the CHAIRMAN of the county council?
County Executive Kittleman, who surprised everyone by winning as a Republican, appointed 22 members of a Spending Affordability Advisory Committee in January 2015 after his election. One of the members appointed was Lonnie Robbins, Chief Admin Officer of the Commission that released the Fitzgerald report. The SAAC’s task is to review revenues and expenses for the county in order to make recommendations. Apparently, in the Executive Order signed by Kittleman for its creation, the county was to not “overburden itself with debt”, citing the goal of maintaining an excellent bond rating. SEE HERE
Ball was quoted for a March 4, 2016 Baltimore Sun article concerning the county’s bond rating. (www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/ellicott-city/ph-ho-cf-bond-rating-0310-20160304-story.html) Conceivably, he is aware of when the bond ratings come out. Bonds are associated with the ability to raise money in order to help pay for projects, and one of the factors that determine bond ratings is the tax base, income, population and employment info for the area. In other words, the more you want to live in Columbia, the more likely it is that the housing prices will rise or at least stay stable. General obligation bonds are secured by the taxing power of the government, and obligates the government to levy taxes on assessed property to a level needed to meet the bond payment obligation.
Translation: that Money Magazine article and the impression it gives is very important for those whose performance is tied to bonds in any way shape or form. They need people to love Columbia and have the warm fuzzies for it. And THAT is why the less-than-one page on the racial suggestions is taking priority over the glaring issues revealed in the Fitzgerald report. Traditional media is always more concerned about creating story headlines that make people click on it. Race = clicks.
David Steele, from the Howard County NAACP, was reported to have made the following two statements according to THIS CBS story : “I am also deeply disturbed that it has taken this long for these allegations to be made public.” “I am concerned as well with the findings in the report that other senior leaders in the department condoned a negative environment.” Mr. Steele, I know that you know many truths about the county you are speaking about. It is the way things have been done for a long time in Howard county. James Rouse, who invisioned that Columbia would be a diverse community with living space for both the janitor and the CEO, should be turning over in his grave.
If you want to live in a place where the interests of developers are more important than those of the residents, then Columbia is the place for you. If you are fine to live in a place where your voice and viewpoints will be quashed if they conflict with the powers of government (or those in power), then Columbia is the place for you. If you can learn the ins and outs of who is connected to whom, and who you’ll have to kiss up to in order to have them do work in your favor, Columbia is your place. Heck, I’ve even heard stories of court plaintiffs bragging about being able to pay judges in order to win their case in Howard County. Many of the judges are in business with each other outside of the courthouse, so play accordingly. You will not find accountability with the judicial disclosure records, because there is no incentive for them to have to be honest with them (or the citizens). Friends help friends in court, and that’s just the way it is.
Columbia is a beautiful place to see and visually experience. Nearly everyone who visits comments on the beauty found in the architecture and the open space design of Columbia. But those things reflect the surface, and not the actual substance of Columbia. If today’s political climate shows us nothing else, it is the importance of digging beneath the surface in order to get to the truth of any situation. Columbia touts “Choose Civility” to be its prevailing mandate of sorts- the guiding principle in which Columbia/Howard County citizens are encouraged to treat each other, and it certainly sounds good. Problem is it, like the cover of Money Magazine, is meant to give an impression of something. In the process, it distorts and interferes with the interpretation of reality. In this way, “transparency” is a manufactured construct that actually seeks to achieve its own goals contrary to those of true transparency: accountability.
Fitzgerald is apparently going to resign his position, and I don’t think anyone is going to know the real reasons for that happening. With the lawsuit pending from McMahon, who ran for sheriff against Fitzgerald, it’s messed up that Governor Hogan will be appointing a new sheriff. Doing so effectively usurps the wishes of voters, which is not an entirely new concept for Howard County given the strange and highly unusual history of failed referendum attempts that have made their way through extremely ugly judicial proceedings in the county. Developers have friends too, who are highly connected through their developer relatives in the courts.
Suffice it to say, some stories remain hidden unless and until people demand otherwise. Nicely done, Team Robey and crew! Granted, this isn’t a post by any editorial board of a newspaper, but just know that many people know EXACTLY the way that things work in Howard County when you “Play Ball” or don’t. We just don’t all mix and mingle with folks who can parlay a last name and community college degree into being able to live in house that costs six figures! (as in, over $600k). Those that know the true cost to democracy that comes with playing that Howard County game (and care more about integrity and such) either fight like hell to change things, or move away. Sorry bond people, and sorry McMahon. It’s the way the ball bounces in Howard County.
We won’t necessarily call it “white privilege”, because this sad story doesn’t involve anyone of color, except for Calvin Ball and his family on Money Magazine. (how many people erroneously think the sheriff story was due to a complaint from a minority?) No, it’s a different sort of privilege not written about in that Money story.
Will Fitzgerald no longer be the sheriff of Howard County? Yes. Will that change discrimination, abusive treatment or the like in Howard County as reflected in those 47 pages? Ask Mr. Steele. He knows the answer, even if he can’t really say it.
Wake up, citizens. For those who have had encounters and “know the deal”… stay woke! (a statement that applies regardless of race)