Editorial: A Few Suggestions for Washington College’s New President

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Sometime this week, perhaps through a board memorandum or a campus-wide email, Washington College will install Kurt Landgraf as its new president. For a small college, and this tiny town, that is a big deal since it has only happened twenty-nine times since 1782.

And since it is such a rare occurrence, the Chestertown Spy has made it a habit of welcoming WC’s leaders on our editorial page since the first Spy began publication in the 1790s. That tradition continues here.

As an observer of Washington College and its presidents, the Spy has always had a high degree of respect, admiration, and more than a little sympathy for those that take on this line of work. It is no secret that being a president of a small college in today’s world is perhaps one of the most challenging jobs one can have, not only in higher education but any profession. Budgets are tight, expenses are high, student recruitment competitive, and fundraising goals aspirational, while trustees, faculty members, and alumni continue to have their own enormous expectations. This list goes on.

Given all that, it is truly remarkable there is so little done in the way of training for those rising to this level of academic leadership. In fact, except for some crash courses offered by places like Harvard, and perfunctory meetings with board members and senior administrators, new college presidents are responsible for their own orientation.

Given these limitations, the Spy, fondly devoted to Washington College, wants to help the new president climb the learning curve with a few suggestions beyond the standard, and often repeated, mantra that every president needs a “vision.” Here are some points, some ideas, for any new president to keep in mind, and – since it’s a college – some suggested supplementary reading from both the Spy and other sources.

1) Honor institutional memory: Washington College’s revolutionary position in higher education always seems to get lost in the College’s public relations push to promote the role George Washington played in the College’s creation. The Washington connection is a great story to tell, and all of WC’s presidents have fully embraced this narrative, even to the point where one president had been so limited in his knowledge  that he spent the first six months of his tenure incorrectly telling audiences that Washington had been the “founder” of the institution. That kind of fake history helps neither the school or its students.

But more importantly, the other story, the one in which Washington College’s creation fundamentally changed the role of higher education when it opened its doors in 1782, gets lost in all the hype. The Spy’s interview with WC’s retired professor Colin Dickson for a delightful discussion of William Smith and the College’s early years.

2) The Town and the College are intertwined: There has always been an active, if the not particularly valuable, debate in Chestertown on whether it is a “town with a college” or a “college town.” It doesn’t matter. It is only important for a new college president to know that this community and Washington College are irretrievably intertwined economically, intellectually, culturally, and physically. Rather than face an uncertain future separately, WC and Chestertown must work together in a serious and strategically meaningful way to remain relevant. The Spy most recently addressed this special relationship in an editorial a few months ago.

3) Choose scholarships over campus amenities: One of the most unforgivable sins in higher education these days is that a college’s endowment does not determine its commitment to economic diversity among its students. Case in point, Bowdoin College in Maine, with an endowment of almost $1.4 billion, only provides scholarship support to 45% of its students, but consistently wins the “best dormitory food” category in higher education by investing loads of money into that area. Washington College, on the other hand, supports about 60% of its students using its relatively modest endowment of $200 million. While there is always the temptation to keep up with the “Joneses” to improve recruitment of students who can pay $60,000 a year for that high end buffet at Bowdoin,  President Landgarf and others would profit from  journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s work last year that documents this moral conundrum.

4) Manage expectations: The dream of every college president is to have a “transformational” gift during their tenure which can catapult their school to a much higher orbit in ranking and prestige through the generosity of a $100 million-plus donation. The good news is that these gifts do sometimes happen (WC alum Betty Casey are you listening?) but not often. It is more often the case that a college president has to devote a decade or more to better position their school. Be realistic in your goals until that rare transformational moment takes place.

5) It’s ok to preach: At the end of the day, colleges need leaders, not administrators. While some may now consider the job as the “fundraiser in chief,” in reality the students and most faculty want a college president to use their bully pulpit to connect the dots between the issues of the day and the importance of critical thinking, moral judgment, and citizenship. While this suggestion might have seemed redundant a few decades ago, nowadays college presidents are taking on a corporate CEO model where commentary from on top might jeopardize the value of the “brand.”

6) Find your inner poet to lead: While it is true that students and parents demand higher “returns on investment” for their $100,000 plus tuition fees, in reality, they need and want a liberal arts experience. The fusion of the humanities with such things as “business management” is the essential differential between vocational education and the limitless capacity for knowledge and experience that comes with a small residential college.

Joseph McLain, an internationally recognized chemist before he became WC’s president in the 1970s, insisted on holding weekly poetry recitals with students to drive home his conviction that science and the humanities must learn from each other. President Landgraf must find his own way to demonstrate his commitment to this ideal.

7). Enjoy the job and the town: As the Spy has noted before, surveys of new college presidents have found an overwhelming percentage either disliked or hated their jobs after their first year in office. There might be good reasons for that, given the enormous pressure placed upon these individuals, but the odds are that those who hate their job, regardless of their station in life, rarely perform well. One way to do that is to follow the first six points outlined here, but also fall in love with Chestertown and its people.

Editorial: The Departures of College Presidents Sheila Bair and Barbara Viniar

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Just as with friends getting divorced, when colleges separate from their presidents there is that familiar feeling of sadness as well as the usually unanswered question as to why it had to come to “this.”

“They seemed like the perfect couple, or “what a terrific team,” or, better yet, “they were made for each other, what happened?” The phrases that come to mind when everyone’s favorite couple announces they are getting a divorce seem no different than when a school’s board of directors sends out press releases that their current CEO has abruptly resigned.

And that seems to have been the case with the recent announcements by the Boards of Chesapeake College and Washington College that their current presidents, Barbara Viniar and Sheila Bair, both of whom had records of significant accomplishments, would be leaving their posts under less than clear circumstances.

The general public, just like friends of divorcing couples, is not in a position to seek clarification for these quick changes. Just like in observing a marriage from afar, they are not privy to the kind of private conflicts, misunderstandings, or simple incompatibility that college presidents may or may not have had with their governing boards. The community at large is left to mind their own “beeswax” having neither the authority, nor the position, to press for better answers.

The Spy finds itself in a similar position. We are not in the business to speculate or second-guess volunteer boards on managing these local institutions of higher education unless there is evidence of malfeasance which, to our knowledge, does not seem to be the case with in these two cases.

But that does not preclude us from saying that both of these women demonstrated a love of their institutions that achieved great and significant improvements in how their schools pursued their mission.

Barbara Viniar’s ten years at Chesapeake College almost perfectly paralleled the remarkable sea change in community college education throughout the country. And during that time, Dr. Viniar held firm in her conviction that through innovation and curriculum reform, Chesapeake College could navigate through the pitfalls of funding shortages and political conflicts to become all the more useful and relevant to the communities it serves. She should take pride that she has left the community college in Wye Mills stronger and more vibrant as a result of her leadership.

And while Sheila Bair at Washington College did not enjoy the same lengthy tenure as Dr. Viniar had, it was stunning for many observers, including the media, how quickly she was able to define the mission of the College to include an intensely public campaign to reduce student debt. She also instantaneously became the primary national advocate in shedding light on the precarious subprime educational loan market, earning her well-deserved coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

It is these records of accomplishment that make these transitions painful to hear. But it also a reminder of how extremely difficult being a college president is these days. Beyond the usual tensions that come with faculty demands, alumni grievances, and high board expectations, college leaders must operate will fewer resources, tighter regulations, and new performance metrics based on “return on investment” calculations. In short, these are really hard jobs.

As the Mid-Shore awaits news of their successors for both schools, it behooves us all to acknowledge the personal leadership offered by these impressive women. They both should feel a sense of accomplishment as they move on to their next role.

We wish them well and with our gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial: The Future of Chestertown and Its College Needs Your Attention

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For a variety of very good reasons, Washington College has made it a point to ensure that all prospective students, and their parents, are keenly aware that George Washington very deliberately allowed the College of Chester to be named after him, and backed that up with the largest personal donation to get the school off the ground.

And at the same time, the College rightly hammers home the exceptional fact that the man who convinced Washington to do so, the Very Rev’d William Smith, perhaps the most distinguished academic leader in the New World at the time, was the gifted visionary who created the college after his remarkable collaboration with Benjamin Franklin in starting what is now known as the University of Pennsylvania.

It is hard to imagine a more impressive beginning for any school, and yet what gets lost in this very accurate narrative is the fact that the town of Chestertown was the entity that founded the 10th oldest college in America. While Washington and Smith were the unique ingredients that made Washington College what it is, it was its citizens of the Mid-Shore that asked for it to be created in the first place.

Unlike almost every other private liberal arts college in the country, WC was not the result of a wealthy patron, a religious order, or a state government but a town that wanted a college. And it was this community that made the unprecedented decision to start the first independent and secular college of a new nation. (1)

In fact, Kent County was already a leader in education at the time with the formation of the Kent County School, which was so well established that in 1742, the headmaster, Charles Peale, none other than the father of the renowned painter Charles Willson Peale, submitted the following advertisement seeking students:

Kent County School in Chestertown Maryland is where young gentleman are bordered and taught the Greek and Latin tongues, writing, arithmetic, merchants accounts, surveying, navigation, the use of the globes, by the largest and most accurate pair in America.

The genesis of a college started in 1780 when town leaders, with such local names like Barroll, Paca, Piper, Sewall, Wickes, and Wilmer, recruited Smith to develop the curriculum, hire professors, and fundraise for the project. Smith did this with exceptional skill. In total, almost three hundred residents on the Eastern Shore donated to start the school and build its first classroom building in what would be the third largest in the new world.

The take-home message from all this is that from its very beginning, Washington College has been intimately intertwined with the town that created it. And because of this extraordinary heritage, there has always been an acute and lasting interest in how the school operates and functions even as the governance and financial ties between the town and the college have long separated.

And over those 235 years, Washington College and Chestertown have collectively felt the good and bad times in unison. From the thrill of having scholars as neighbors and the sight of international luminaries walking on High Street to the devastation of campus fires and periodic downtown economic downturns, these two institutions have found creative ways to fortify each other during challenging times.

We are in one of those challenging times.

The town remains explicitly confronted with the harsh reality that large scale manufacturing and storefront retail, staples of Chestertown’s economy, will never return to the historically high levels of the past since both of these have radically been altered by offshore factories and the rise of web-based shopping.

And while the College remains strong in recruitment and academic achievement, virtually every rural liberal arts school in the country is now facing the painful reality of a dwindling pool of prospective students as a result of demographic shifts, a growing popularity of more urban campuses, and most disconcerting, the rising costs of education.

With sober forecasts predicting modest economic growth rates and a shrinking number of college-bound students for the foreseeable future, both the town and college will undoubtedly feel the stress of this precarious environment, particularly at a time when both institutions seek major infrastructure improvements to attract visitors, entrepreneurs, and a new freshman class.

It would seem reasonable, perhaps even obvious, that the best course of action is for these historically linked entities to work strategically together to advance each other’s mission. And for many years now, leaders of both have demonstrated at least an intellectual agreement with that concept, but it is the “how” part that continues to trip up plans for sophisticated collaborative strategies and mutually supported projects like the waterfront, downtown revitalization (hotel), and North Chestertown’s development.

That “how” part is not an easy one. For many years now, initiatives have begun and ended, strategic planning gets started but then proposed, and just a few years ago, a blue-ribbon town-gown task force had to be suddenly abandoned due to a stunning error in administrative oversight and the overzealous and premature use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of a local reporter.

And yet even with these extraordinary setbacks, it is the Spy’s contention that Chestertown and Washington College still has the motivation, the leadership, and the emotional bonds to find a constructive and meaningful way forward in the years and decades ahead.

That is why the Chestertown Spy will be moderating an unprecedented public forum on April 11 with Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino and Washington College President Sheila Bair to share with the community their current strategic plans and discuss how those plans can be strengthened through collaboration. It also is a time for community residents to share with these two leaders their own ideas and dreams for a new vision of what this college town, or, if you prefer, a town with a college, can look like in the 21st Century.

It is unlikely that one meeting will have any direct impact on long-term solutions, but it is a start in getting these two important parts of our community starting to act as a family rather than respectful if slightly distant neighbors.

We welcome your participation that evening.

 

 

The Future of Chestertown and Washington College Forum will be held on April 11 at 5 pm at the Decker Theatre on the campus of Washington College.

(1) Although other institutions claim founding dates between 1770 and 1781, none possessed college charters or were empowered to grant degrees, and most were merely “log-cabin grammar schools” that evolved much later into full-fledged colleges, according to the authoritative book on the subject, Donald G. Tewksbury’s The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War (Columbia University Press, 1932). Tewksbury accorded Washington College standing as the nation’s tenth-oldest institution of higher learning, directly after the renowned “Colonial Nine.”

Editorial: The Serious Threat of Fake News

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As our more observant readers noticed today, the Spy has run our annual fake news story in honor of April Fools’ Day with the announcement that the Eastern Shore will have its own rapid transit system next year. We have also enlisted columnist Howard Freedlander into this fictional project with his reporting that Annapolis is moving ahead with a tunnel from the Bay Bridge toll center to Claiborne to connect with the new system. We hope these two breaking news stories will be enjoyed as much by the Mid-Shore region as it has been for the Spy team to produce.

April Fools Day has always been a cherished tradition at the Spy. From our announcement last year that Trump International was constructing a luxury twenty-four story apartment building in Claiborne to the Town of Chestertown accepting responsibility of Binny, an orphaned giraffe, in exchange for funding the town’s Marina on the Chester, The Spy writers allow this field day of imagination to test readers aptitude in depend on their judgment of what is true or false, no matter how crafty our art director is with photoshop

We are also glad that this unofficial national holiday comes only once a year, since the Spy, like any responsible publication, depends on the community’s trust to fulfill our mission as an important educational news source for the Mid-Shore. While it is always tempting to take poetic license during the rest of the year, our desire to maintain our reputation for credibility will always trump our enjoyment of irony or mischief.

Sadly, we are living in a culture where an increasingly large number of independent media sources have turned April Fools Day into a daily occurrence. The production of fake news, from every end of the political spectrum, has invaded our daily consumption of information. And the results of which has been devastating.

In the last year alone, fake news impacted a presidential election, caused a gun assault at a family pizza restaurant in DC, and has sent the United States Congress into endless and costly investigations using false news reports on such topics as Benghazi or presidential wiretapping.

It is particularly hard to imagine that this harmful practice will end anytime soon but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must remain such a potent force in our culture. But it does require that citizens, the country’s consumers of news, become increasingly become more vigilant in relying on their good judgment and common sense rather than accept at face value what they find on the internet.

Publisher Notes: The Spy, President Trump, and David Montgomery

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Perhaps it overstates the obvious that there is no good owner’s manual on how a small community newspaper, dedicated to public education, can reasonably and constructively cover this unprecedented time with the advent of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Traditional schools of political thoughts, such as liberal and conservative ideology, have become blurred as the country’s new leader swings comfortably between multiple think camps with a very idiosyncratic approach to policy formation.

One consequence of this new Trump reality is that news sources, even ones like the small nonpartisan and nonprofit Spy, have become increasingly susceptible to charges of bias on how they have presented the dynamic, and sometimes nerve-rattling, repercussions of policy shifts coming from the new administration.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery

While the Spy has not lost much sleep from the few cases where readers have found fault with how we present the news, the Trump presidency does indeed offer unique challenges in fulfilling our mission in providing a diverse and safe harbor for community commentary.

A case in point has been our efforts for different points of view with our columnists. Since we started the Spy in 2009, we have intentionally sought out writers of all political persuasions to write authoritatively on public policy. Many of those columnists have come from the highest levels of public service with previous Democratic and Republican state and federal administrations, and as a group, at least in “normal times,” would be considered a wide and healthy spectrum of opinion.

But the Trump years, no matter where one stands on the issues, will not be “normal times.” And as a consequence, several of our writers who may be steadfast supporters of the “center-right” policies have philosophically or politically separated themselves from Trump policies or leadership approach.

While it is safe to say that Spy columnists can take any position they care to, as the Spy publisher and executive editor, it was incumbent for me to close this gap in our point of view section (P.O.V.), and I am therefore very pleased to announce that Spy friend and highly respected economist David Montgomery has agreed to help.

While David is not affiliated with the new administration, and may at times be critical of Trump policies, the Spy is very fortunate to have someone of David’s exceptional background discuss and intellectually analyze the ideas and policies of the new president on a frequent basis. He starts in today’s edition.

David, now retired, was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He has taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

A Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University, and also earning a doctorate from Harvard, David has been a gifted advocate for the power of free markets and smaller governments. Given credit for developing the successful economic theorem which produced “cap and trade” emissions to protect California’s air in the late 1970s, as well as a writer on Catholic theology, it is particularly rewarding to have someone of David’s caliber sharing with our readers his thoughtful take on world events.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher & Executive Editor

Editorial: The Inn on the Chester – The Case for a WC Hotel & Conference Center

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Over the past few years, the Chestertown Spy has been less than discreet in advocating for a medium-sized, high-quality hotel for Chestertown. At the same time, it has also encouraged Washington College to assume a leadership role in its development.  Part of this is tied to the Spy’s desire for a bright, prosperous future for the town it loves, but also because it’s the right time and circumstances for WC to do so.

For decades, some very hard realities (capital, financing, market analysis, revenue projections) have given pause for such a role to dozens of WC leaders going as far back as the Douglass Cater administration in the 1980s. For reasons that were rational and irrational, the numbers never seemed to work enough to move forward with such a plan. Nonetheless, that interest and passion for such a facility remains as strong now as it did thirty five years ago.

Why? Because the rewards of building a Chestertown hotel are so strikingly transparent. The ability to accommodate medium-sized conferences, weddings, family reunions, returning alumni, prospective students and their parents, visiting dignitaries, as well as business people calling on local manufacturers, marketing firms, and other service industries, not only makes such a thing economically viable, these guests bring with them sizable discretionary dollars for shopping, dining, and other services.

The Inn at Swarthmore

The Inn at Swarthmore

In the world of higher education, even with relatively smaller schools, this has been the rationale in investing in the hospitality market. Over the last decade, countless schools have taken the plunge with hotel facilities ranging from twenty to eighty rooms.  Denison, Swarthmore, Kenyon, Gettysburg, Oberlin, Sewanee and W&L are just the latest examples of this trend.

While many of these schools may have better market capacity, larger endowments, and wealthier donor/investor constituencies to work with, the truth is that many other schools do not. That would include Flagler College, College of the Ozarks, Savannah College of Art and Design, or Wells College in upper state New York.

It may be true on the face of it that Chestertown and Washington College have significant handicaps to overcome in finding a solid business plan, the Spy’s albeit modest research into the business of town-gown hotels strongly suggests that these are minor roadblocks that can be effectively removed through creative financial and strategic partnerships.

Oberlin College is a good example.

In Oberlin’s case, a liberal arts college located in rural Ohio about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, the school ultimately built a hotel with seventy guest rooms that features a restaurant focused on local food and modest conference center. Planned to be “the cornerstone of Oberlin’s Green Arts District,”the facility’s 105,000 square feet also houses the college’s admissions and development staff. That sounds like a textbook definition of mixed use.The total cost was close to $36 million.

The expenses of a Chestertown equivalent would be significantly lower than that figure. Chestertown’s sweet spot for rooms would be more in the order of forty rooms. With that factored in, as well as a more similar comparison with the recently built Inn at Swarthmore, which cost closer to $25 million.

While $25 million sounds better than $35 million, it still turns out to be a huge sum for a small college in a small town. So where does Washington College get that kind of capital?

The Hotel at Oberlin

The Hotel at Oberlin

In the case of Oberlin, almost 60% of the construction costs were financed. Secondly, the school created a naming opportunity for a leadership donation (in this case $5 million from an Oberlin alum) and finally a consortium of donors/investors/community supporters to close the gap.

Another smart thing that Oberlin did was to place non-academic divisions of the school in the new building rather than build separate facilities. In this case, as noted above, Oberlin decided to relocate the College’s external relations staff there in order to maximize contact with prospective students, alumni, and donors under the same roof.

With waterfront access, a similar model could be used in Chestertown for WC alumni and admissions centers.  Or, equally appealing, would be to create a center that would include the hotel and one of its three centers of excellence like its renowned Center for Society and the Environment. Those strategies would undoubtedly add to the cost of the project but would reduce costs in other parts of the College’s capital budget.

Using a working number of $25 million, it would be mean that $15 million would be financed, a major donor, given a strong case for support, should be able to be found at the $3-5 million naming opportunity level, and the balance would come from other donors, investors, possible alumni timeshare programs, as well as the room guarantee contracts with the region’s larger institutions, included the College, the local hospital, manufacturers like Dixon Valve, and other, smaller service providers, schools, and retailers, proportionate to their annual need and circumstances.

Another factor that would make this goal achievable would be a strong “All In” response from the Town of Chestertown and Kent County. A project of this magnitude needs the careful escort of these governments through permitting and regulatory issues. And the project needs grassroots support from town citizens as well.

In the final analysis, as local developer John Wilson so clearly articulated in his interview with the Spy this fall, every project like this needs a champion. While Washington College must take the lead, a Chestertown hotel will need hundreds of champions to make this happen.

Let us hope the will is there.

Wax

 

 

Editorial: Dear Governor Hogan, On the Matter of the Chestertown Marina….

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Dear Governor Hogan,

Thank you for visiting Chestertown a few weeks ago for a first hand look at the Chestertown Marina project. There is nothing more reassuring than to have the governor spend “quality time” understanding a local need as great as our endangered public gateway to the Chester River.

Based on your conversation with town leaders, I’m sure you detected the unanimous feeling among Chestertonians that without state help to improve the marina’s existing infrastructure, the public’s downtown access to the Chester River will be forever lost.

While the use of the Chester has changed over time, the river has consistently been the lifeblood of Chestertown for over three centuries, even as the community transitioned from an agricultural port to a contemporary gateway for Chesapeake Bay water and land conservation efforts, education, and recreation. At the same time, it has become a powerful draw for out-of-state tourism, Washington College enrollment, and small businesses.

Without immediate marina improvement, this Town’s hopes for a post-recession economic resurgence will be greatly diminished. Without a viable public space at the very heart of the community, other potential plans for waterfront improvements — whether it be the renovation of the Armory, the placement of a new building for the Washington College Center for Environment & Society, or a riverside hotel and conference center — will fail to materialize. More tangibly, Kent County’s exceptional quality of life will be terminally compromised.

Every year, from large cities to small villages across Maryland, the citizens of Chestertown have supported waterfront capital improvements through their tax dollars to places like Cambridge, Havre de Grace, and Annapolis. Now, after several years of deferring to other worthy and productive projects, our community respectfully requests that it too receive assistance.

Rest assured, Chestertown’s plans for its waterfront do not end with the repair of the marina. The major stakeholders, including the Town, Washington College, and those in the private sector, see this as a critical part of a far more comprehensive vision to maximize the full economic and social impact that the Chester provides the Mid-Shore region. With the State of Maryland taking its proper leadership role to encourage public-private partnership, Chestertown’s capacity to remain vibrant for a fourth century looks very bright indeed.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration in this matter.

Your friend,

 

The Chestertown Spy

Wax

Editorial: Chestertown Vigilance

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While our community, like the rest of the country, has become preoccupied with a bizarre and unnerving presidential election season over the last six months, it is important to take note of the extraordinary political success that the citizens of Chestertown have had during the same timeframe.

Whether it be its victories in postponing a Chester Bridge repair project, an agreement with Shore Health to protect the town during oil remediation work, or most impressively, to convince the State Assembly and the University of Maryland Health System to freeze the downsizing of rural hospitals, including Chestertown’s, and instead launch a statewide study group to recommend long-term solutions to keep inpatient services at these medical centers, town and county folks have seen some extraordinary results on the political front.

In fact, it is a remarkable reminder of what citizen power can do given the will. But is also highlights of one of Chestertown’s most persistent qualities; its capacity for full-scale vigilance.

From colonial times until the present, Chestertown citizens have never hesitated to fight the system to protect their community. Starting with the famed Chestertown Tea Party in the 18th century, and highlighted by the region’s more recent collective efforts to fight off things like nuclear power plants, wind turbines, and industrial waste treatment centers, it is hard to say that the voice of the citizen is not being heard.

These acts of extreme vigilance can only be seen as a powerful, positive strategy. Against all odds, Chestertown and Kent County have consistently prevailed for over 300 years to keep their way of life and their landscape rural.

Undoubtedly, the threats to places like Kent County, whether it be development, environmental, or health care, will continue. And even current successes could easily become undone if indifference becomes the local prevailing mindset. So the need to maintain this remarkable vigilance is critical for this community’s long-term future.

There are few worries that Chestertown will maintain this kind of effort. History gives some reassurance of this, but it also true that communities, like people themselves, can master political skills and increasingly become more effective and organized with each new threat that pops up.

What must also be part of the long-term vigilance is to maintain civility despite the temptation to become mean-spirited. By in large, the region’s successes in getting their way were determined by collecting objective facts, relevant data, and a clear and well-reasoned point of view, not by attacking an individual’s motive, interjecting rumors of conspiracy, or yelling in anger at public meetings. While the town’s “opponents” may indeed have a different point of view, it serves no purpose to demonize and incite.

At a time when our current presidential campaign has become a new low for vulgarity and character assassination, it is all the more important for communities like Chestertown to rise to a higher level of discourse as we enter a new, very sad, era of political toxicity in our country.

Editorial: Zoning and Gun Control

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The New York Times recently reported the 100th birthday of zoning in our country. In 1916, New York City enacted the first zoning ordinance in the nation.

Like many other nationwide trends, the implementation of zoning ordinances spread slowly but surely across our country such that they are now a ubiquitous reality although there is the inevitable exception to the rule – Houston is a major city which still does not have a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The idea of zoning was embraced, and ordinances were enacted, in many towns and counties on the Eastern Shore in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today zoning ordinances are accepted – mostly – as effective tools in maintaining the “quality of life” that is unique to the Chesapeake Bay region.

But the essence and stark reality of zoning regulations are that they are profound restrictions on our fundamental property rights.

Those rights were established by centuries of the development of Anglo American “common law”. They were more fully legitimized and expanded by and through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and later codified by zoning regulations and other legislation.

Indeed, the right to the ownership, use, enjoyment and protection of property in the United States is one of the most fundamental and cherished rights of our democratic society and republic. Yet as a nation, we now universally accept the impact of the restrictions land use laws impose on our use of that property.

In 1926 – in a seminal case known as Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. – the Supreme Court confirmed that zoning regulations are a reasonable exercise by state and local governments of their “police powers” to protect the collective best interests of our citizens and communities.

Perhaps there are others who agree that a reflection upon the 100 year history of zoning in our country can give rise to a thoughtful and enlightened perspective on the current debate about the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

On one extreme side of that debate are those who believe that there should be virtually no governmental restrictions on the right to own firearms. On the other equally polarized side are those who believe that firearms of all types should be all but totally prohibited.

Unfortunately, the groups who advocate those extreme positions are not infrequently the loudest, to the end that they drown out the voices of those who believe that there can be a reasonable and appropriate middle ground which both limits and protects our Second Amendment rights in fairness to all – in many ways like the restrictions imposed on our property rights by zoning regulations.

The majority of us cherish and embrace our right to own and use firearms for recreational and safety purposes. Therefore, it may be that those people who fear that the “slippery slope” of gun ownership regulations will mean the decimation of our Second Amendment rights are unreasonably paranoid.

The key point is that reasonable regulations of gun use and ownership can be implemented – in the same fashion as zoning regulations – to the end that the Second Amendment will retain its profound importance to the psychology, culture and realities of our collective safety and enjoyment.

There are many Americans – probably a significant majority actually – who are “in the middle” in their belief that the right to bear arms was intended to be interpreted reasonably as time has passed since that essential Bill of Rights protection was enacted more than 200 years ago during the Age of Enlightenment & Reason in America.

Many people reasonably and instinctively believe that our Founding Fathers could not have intended for the Second Amendment to be interpreted expansively to allow individual citizens to bear modern weapons of war for the simple reason that they could not have anticipated the development of such destructive arms – and the potential harm they could cause if in the wrong hands. Likewise, notwithstanding their wisdom and intentions for the establishment and protection of personal liberties and property rights, the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the need for and benefit of zoning and laws.

While there are some inevitable imperfections in our zoning laws, the reasonable regulation of land use has given rise to our fantastic kaleidoscope, fabric and diversity of cities, towns and rural areas, and serve to protect the interests and rights of us all. There is no reason why reasonable regulations of firearms cannot do the same.

And one other thing . . . what is the big deal to and consternation of Second Amendment advocates about the imposition of “waiting periods” and gun registration and licensing requirements?

After all, our zoning ordinances include all sorts of waiting periods before the issuance of many types of building and use permits, zoning board approvals and the like, which in many cases are not issued until after weeks of public notice and hearings.

We all accept that permits – which are a type of registration and licensing – are needed for all sorts of land use, the most benign of which are for new homes . . . perhaps our most cherished property of all.

A dispassionate view of gun licensing and waiting period regulations is that they really should not be – and are not – a big deal when compared to the same type of restrictions on our property rights.

The point here is not subtle . . . if we can all accept restrictions on our property rights, should we not also be able to accept them on our right to bear firearms?

As we reflect upon the 100th birthday of zoning, perhaps there can be hope, and should be optimism, that we can find a common ground on a reasonable modern day interpretation of the Second Amendment . . . but like zoning regulations that restrict our most cherished property rights, it must be “somewhere in the middle” to reasonably protect the individual and collective interests of us all.

In other words, there are many of us who appreciate, have faith and believe that if the Constitution permits a century heritage of the reasonable regulation of our cherished property rights by zoning regulations, then it also permits reasonable regulation of our Second Amendment rights . . . no more and no less.