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.

Editorial: The Future of Smallness in Chestertown


At some point in the 1970s, the German economist E.F. Schumacher published a book of essays on long-term sustainability and small-scale economics. In Schumacher’s words, his thesis was that, “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.34.01 AMAn unknown Keynesian economist before he published Small is Beautiful, Schumacher became an overnight intellectual rock star, with praise from the likes of the New York Times and the London Times hailing it as one of the most influential books since World War II.

And nowhere was it more popular than with people living in small towns. Drawn to Schumacher’s model for small-scale economic equilibrium, nicknamed the “enoughness” doctrine, small town advocates finally had some substantial evidence that “smallness” was a quantifiable virtue in its social, economic, and environmental sectors.

There is little doubt that Chestertownians felt that way. For decades, some would say centuries, the town of Chestertown, Kent County, along with Washington College and the Chester River Hospital, all have taken a particular pride in their “smallness.” Rather than aggressively seek growth in terms of general population, students, or patients, this community has unequivocally sided with the “small is best” argument.

Indeed, this real desire to remain small has translated into an almost unparalleled success. For almost 250 years, Chestertown has maintained a population level of 3,500 to 5,400 residents, while Kent County grew from 14,000 people to a whopping 21,000 during the same period.

This smallness is true as well with our major institutions. Both Washington College and the local hospital have made being small an essential part of their character. The College was planned for about 200 students in 1782 and it now hovers around 1,400 almost 238 years later. The hospital also has grown incrementally since its founding, primarily to expanding medical technology rather than an increased patient load.

In short, we like smallness; we live here because of our smallness, and we want to continue to keep it small in the future. But does smallness actually work anymore as a viable alternative to high-density, high-efficiency urban life?

The good news for smallness is that most experts agree it continues to offer significant social and environmental advantages over bigness, but the economic leg of the “small is beautiful” theorem seems to be falling apart.

Nowhere is this more painfully noted than with our public schools. Currently, Kent County has approximately 1,800 students in its entire school system, or about the size as just one mid-sized urban high school. In the abstract, creating a first rate K-12 education experience for only a few thousand kids doesn’t seem like a significant challenge, and yet the cost of smallness has a profound impact on our schools.

In terms of state funding, the small size of our student population is a serious disadvantage in the state of Maryland which allocates school funds based on a per-student formula. Nor can Kent County’s schools rely on a large county tax base to fill in the budget gaps. At the same time, that same state education system has mandated administrative and accountability policies that have added significant overhead burdens to Kent County Schools operational budget. Unlike a large and growing school system like Queen Anne’s County, which absorbs many of these costs given the size of their student population, KCPS must draw funds away from instruction use to be in compliance with federal and state agencies.

The same holds true for the Chester River Hospital, now part of UM-Regional Shore Health. Years ago, smallness was a significant positive differential when patients were choosing a surgeon or hospital. Compared to the cold and indifferent care found in larger hospitals, Chester River could compete with their intimate patient care and services with larger institutions with far more impressive reputations. It also could promote the Eastern Shore’s quality of life to help recruit and maintain medical professionals.

But now, with two working professionals having young families, our smallness has significantly reduced the opportunities for specialists and their working spouses to relocate to Chestertown. Smallness has also impacted the number and types of procedures done at Chester River in a statewide health system that now rewards the statistically best clinical outcomes at the greatest volume, i.e. large urban hospitals.

And the price of smallness is also impacting Washington College with its tiny student population of 1,400 students. Without having a large student body, which for liberal arts colleges these days averages north of 2,500 students for peer institutions, WC has fewer dollars to compete for faculty and scholarship assistance while at the same time must continue to offer similar programs and facilities of larger schools to remain competitive.

While Schumacher was not wrong that small is, indeed, beautiful, what he could not have predicted in the 1970s was how expensive smallness would turn out to be in 2016.

The answer to this new reality is not to end smallness but make it work more efficiently, and that means to new alliances and partnerships. From working with Queen Anne’s Public Schools to reduce administrative and maintenance overhead to having Washington College partner with another small school, like its former historic sister school, St. John’s College, to collectively reduce these non-academic expenses. Or in the case of the Chester River Hospital, work with the University of Maryland in good faith to redefine the role of what a small community hospital should be in the twenty-first century rather than cling to a twentieth century model.

Regardless of these kinds of options, the essential ingredient for finding the solution for smallness is another small town quality, namely trust. No partnership can succeed if trustworthiness is not present.

Unfortunately, trust in Chestertown, like every other place in the United States, is now at an all-time low. Distrust of institutions, large and small, and the people who run them, have sadly become the norm in our society. Unless our community can fight off this national trend, any effort to save the best of Chestertown’s smallness will have little long-term impact.

Editorial: Wishing for a Chestertown Convergence in 2016


When looking back on 2015, it was hard to see a Chestertown home run regarding economic development. The marina remains a complex problem to solve; Washington College’s new president has de-emphasised bricks and mortar projects, and plans remain vague at best for bringing hotel rooms and first tier fine dining to downtown.

But rather than see this as a lack of motion in getting Chestertown back on the road to financial recovery, it might be more helpful to take note of the extraordinary energy and success that has taken place to prepare the community for a quantum leap of activity in the years ahead.

That preparation includes the remarkable speed in having not only an arts and entertainment district approved last year but also the creation of an enterprise zone within the municipality almost concurrently.

It also included Chestertown leaders reaching out politically to work with a new governor on capital project support from the state for the marina’s most urgent needs. And it didn’t hurt to see that WC’s president come into her position with such an extraordinary background in finance and problem-solving.

2015 was also a year when Chestertown’s other primary organizations have also prepared themselves with staffing and reorganization to play key roles in its revitalization efforts. The Greater Chestertown Initiative, Downtown Chestertown Association, RiverArts, SANDBOX, Sultana Projects, Garfield Center, and local government are eager to play essential stakeholder roles.

The same holds true with our regional organizations, including the Chester River Association, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, as well as the government of Kent County itself.

All of this collective work recalls a unique quality of Japanese carpentry, where craftsmen spend most of their energy preparing their tools so they can be the most effective and efficient when executing construction. Chestertown in 2015, intentional or unintentionally, has made tremendous strides in creating or improving their tools for economic development.

It can only be hoped in 2016 that all of these stakeholders and plans can converge into one master movement for recovery. With all the hard work that needs to be done in the future, particularly in securing significant capital, there is a unique need for a comprehensive blueprint that defines stakeholder responsibilities.

The benefits of a collective vision for Chestertown’s economic development are seemingly endless. The roll-up of community capital needs and their costs provides lawmakers, philanthropists, and government agencies with a “big picture” vision of Chestertown’s future than only encourages more investment. An aggregate profile of need and responsibility will only improve funding opportunities and avoid duplicity. And finally, each stakeholder will see that their mission success will only improve through this kind of collaboration.

Some of this are already taking place informally, and perhaps the best way forward is to make the process as organic as possible rather than endanger it to a bureaucratic one. Regardless how the planning gets done, this coordinated effort will still require leadership to make it work effectively.

So let it be wished that all of this cumulative energy, vision, and leadership will come together in 2016 to start hitting those home runs with the beginning of the great Chestertown Convergence.