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


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


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


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


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.




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


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


Editorial: Chestertown Vigilance


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


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.

Editorial: Downtown Connectivity and Economic Development


It use to be the case that the only people forced out of restaurants, coffee shops, law offices and other public buildings to do their business were folks needing to smoke a cigarette. In the case of downtown Chestertown, you might want to add those trying to find a cell or a wifi signal.

Rain or shine, these poor souls can be found at peak times on High Street waving their cellphone praying that a connection can be found. Some succeed and some fail, depending on their service provider, but this daily spectacle on High Street can be a kind of charming reminder of how remote Chestertown remains.

But it also communicates to anyone who relies on the internet to do their work that our community is not quite open for business.

At a time when Chestertown is seriously developing a sophisticated economic development game plan, this may also be a good opportunity to reevaluate downtown’s current connectivity to make sure we don’t leave that impression.

One of the more gratifying moments for anyone running a business is to be in a new location and instantly gain access to a wifi network without a password. And, on the other side of the equation, there is nothing is more terrifying as not being able to get a stable cellular connection when you really need it.

Our typical business visitor is unpleasantly surprised with the lack of connectivity to reach the world’s information and commerce highway. As a result, the unconnected may be late for a meeting, lose a deal, not able to call the home office, or even tell their family they are running late.

While these examples do not typically rise to the level being life-threatening, they do send a very clear message that Chestertown remains comfortably in the 20th Century, i.e. a deal killer for young entrepreneurs, second home owners, and even retirees, who require 7/24 connectivity for themselves and their customers/visitors.

The tragedy of being typecast as a dark town is that it’s not accurate. The Town of Chestertown, through government grants, did indeed create a free outdoor public wifi network just a few years ago. And some stores and businesses have allowed customers or clients get on their own servers without password protection. And finally, Chestertown, just for the record, literally sits on one of the most robust fiber optic networks in the country.

So why does Chestertown connectivity still suck?

There are a few reasons. The first is that without a cell tower close to downtown, AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers (Sprint & T-Mobile seem to do better) lose a considerable amount of their internet and phone access range. Second, many businesses and stores (including Washington College’s campus) think that allowing open access to their networks will expose them to security risks. And finally, there is has been no coordinated effort yet to create a downtown connectivity strategy. On the latter, the time seems right to start such an effort.

By working together, Chestertown’s downtown stakeholders can very quickly end our era of dodgy connectivity for a surprisingly microscopic investment. By using the Town’s existing wifi network as its foundation, stores, law offices, banks and other public spaces can purchase, or can be provided with, very affordable booster routers ($50 -$100) to carry Chestertown’s free signal into their places of business. By doing so, Chestertown’s visitors can not only access the web, but they can regain the use of their cell phones since all carriers now allow cell phone calls to be placed through the internet rather than cellular radio signals. The only long-term cost would be the electricity needed for the router itself. Peanuts.

This is the kind of “low-hanging fruit” strategy one hopes Chestertown can deploy sooner rather than later as it plots its long-term goals for large and more complex economic development opportunities down the road.

Editorial: Local Health Care Requires Local Leadership in Chestertown


It is rather astonishing when one thinks about the current Chester River Hospital saga. Not that long ago, Chestertown’s small hospital was facing the subtle but unmistakable message of its parent organization, University of Maryland Medical-Regional Shore Health, that reductions of services were to be anticipated as part of a comprehensive review of regional health resources. In other words, prepare to shrink.

This in itself was not too surprising. The Chestertown community has known since the days the hospital first opened its doors that its small rural health center was a second tier faculty for medical services. But what was surprising was how quickly even some very essential services of care were now considered candidates for termination.

Year by year – some would say month by month – there was a growing pattern of actual department closings, or even worse, rumors of other departments closing. It didn’t matter whether these were fact or fiction, the increasing perception in Chestertown, and its surrounding environs, was that it was about to lose its hospital.

And nowhere was that more clear than when over 500 people showed up at the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Department auditorium (which can only hold 300) for a town meeting a few months ago on the future of the CRH with UMM officials and local politicians. While some attendees came with an open mind, it was hard not to notice the level of fear, distrust, and anger that has been building in Kent County ever since the community health center was transferred over to the UMM system.

And it is not difficult to understand why that is.

Over the last decade, not only has there been extraordinary changes in our national health system, but many of the original commitments associated with the Chester River Hospital’s acquisition by the University of Maryland have been dramatically changed as well.

The argument back then was that since the Chester River Hospital would always be a small community health center, the concept was to connect the dots with the entire Mid-Shore region (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties) to collectively offer Eastern Shore residents a network of services that would eliminate the need to travel to the Western Shore for specialists and larger hospitals.

Central to this proposal was the construction of a primary hospital center in either Queenstown or Wye Mills, which would be centrally located (a 20 to 25 minute drive time) for the vast majority of Mid-Shore residents.

For reasons that are not entirely understood, that plan was scrapped over the last few years, and in its place is the current plan to locate the new hospital near the Easton Airport. The direct consequence of that decision would be that anyone living in Kent County would now face an average 50-minute commute (add fifteen minutes more during summer month beach traffic) to the new health facility, or about the equivalent time to Annapolis or Wilmington from downtown Chestertown.

At the same time that this important decision was being made, UMM still moved forward on the consolidation of its governance structure. Local hospital boards were replaced by one large board of directors, based in Easton; that would hypothetically have equal representation from each county.

So at the same time that plans for a regional hospital’s location were being newly determined, Chestertown and Kent County had lost its ability to hold UMM accountable for this significant change in thinking.

Under these circumstances, it is understandable why anger and fear have shown their ugly heads in letters to the editor and public gatherings. It has left many with the feeling that large organizations can simply walk away from promises without consequences and accountability.

That seems to be the case here. After many years of poor communications and a lack of representation in decision-making, this community does not have any sense of control in its medical health future.

The challenge for Chestertown is what to do.

Annapolis seems to have solved that problem, at least in the short term. Legislation is now underway that will put a freeze on any reduction of services at rural community hospitals throughout Maryland for at least one year. In response, UMM’s Regional Shore Health leaders have supported those measures as the way to regroup on how Kent County’s health care needs can be met.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of this solves the fundamental problem that the greater Chestertown community does not feel they have a real say in their hospital.

While there is some representation on Regional Shore Health’s current board of directors from the area, 4 out of 22 to be exact, this will not appease those who feel the community needs a real seat at a real table to care for a precious community asset. Without that fundamental level of engagement, any proposed plan for the hospital will ultimately continue this very disappointing and ugly sense of distrust and toxicity that currently exists.

Not so surprisingly, many national and regional organizations have had to confront this very issue of local versus regional control. Their solutions have been interesting to note, but there is ample reason to believe that one can have the benefits of regionalization without entirely giving up local control.

One need to look no farther than The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the country’s largest land conservation organization. While TNC has only one 501(c)(3) IRS number and only one fiduciary board of directors, they have formal advisory boards in all 50 states.

And those advisory boards have a formal role in the hiring of staff, the approval of budgets, as well as fundraising goals. With each state board, TNC has been able to attract some of the best leaders in that state from corporations, universities, medical centers, and private philanthropy. In other words, they do have a say in how that state’s program is run, but they also have a serious responsibility to ensure the success of the organization’s mission locally.

To assemble a similar group of dedicated, wise, and mature community leaders to direct the future course of the Chester River Hospital would significantly benefit both UMM and Kent County. While UM – Shore Regional Health would maintain their current board of directors and fiduciary responsibilities, a CRH advisory board would be empowered to play an active role in not only helping chart the course for CRH but act as long-term stewards for its needs, be that fundraising, the recruitment of doctors, or educating their neighbours about what a 21st Century hospital can be and cannot be.

Only local folks can do that.