A Chesapeake Portrait, Painted by Almost a Thousand Words by Tom Horton

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Photo by Dave Harp

Combing the beach, I stoop to pick up an essay for my upcoming college nature writing class. It’s a reddish, roundish pebble, tumbling in the clear lapping waves during a campout to the vanished community of Holland Island.

For a couple of centuries, before erosion forced Holland’s people to the mainland, my pebble was a brick, proud and sturdy and eminently useful in its uniform rectangularity for stacking when constructing a home’s foundation with precise edges and level tops.

Made by humans, who have the corner on corners as no other species, the brick has been reshaped by nature, which embraces the rounded, the curved and the meandering, from spiral galaxies and loopy marsh creeks to the shells of whelks.

The brick/pebble thus becomes distilled and refined to a rich essential — to an image — the straight versus the curved, the human versus the natural.

This gives my fledgling essayists a useful lens. Later in the semester we’ll look at farm drainage ditches versus swamps, the former doing one thing very well — whisking rainwater from cropland; the latter doing no one thing spectacularly — just nurturing life in diversity unknown to the ditch and the cornrow.

They may expand their view further, to the pavement and the curb, the gutter and the storm drain, versus the woody debris and leaf duff of the forest floor; they may ponder which of those landscapes, during a downpour, a trout in a stream would most like living next to.

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but a good word image is worth a hard drive’s worth of photos. Word imagery is especially important when you are writing to explain a six-state, 64,000-square-mile, Atlantic-to-Susquehanna ecosystem like the Chesapeake Bay. Here are a few of the images I’ve found useful over the decades:

The Skinny Bay

From Havre de Grace, MD, to Virginia Beach, the Bay’s about a million feet long — and up to 100,000 feet wide. Yet the average depth is around 21 feet. So many implications flow from that.

Large as it looks, the estuary has scant water to dilute runoff from Cooperstown, NY, to Altoona, PA, to Lynchburg, VA, so how we use the land matters big time for water quality.
This essential shallowness also means that light penetrates to the bottom copiously, growing lush habitats of seagrasses, which support waterfowl and waterfowl hunting cultures and soft-crabbing.

It means that wind pushes water around so easily that it is often more important, ecologically, than the tides. It also also dictates the classic “deadrise” designs of skipjacks and other watermen’s crafts, evolved to make their living in skinny water.

Wet

The Chesapeake ecosystem for most of time is widely understood to have been green, with forests covering most of its watershed. But thanks to the scientific detective work of people like Grace Brush of Johns Hopkins University, we now comprehend how much of the landscape was also wet, dammed and ponded by millions of beavers.

Brush’s work, now in book form — Decoding the Deep Sediments, available from Maryland Sea Grant — shows how prevalent the pollens of aquatic plants are in sediment cores that allow us to look back through what was washing into the Bay in centuries past.

Green and wet. Why does it matter so much? Because that landscape fostered the healthiest Chesapeake, the landscapes we should most try to emulate and restore.

Ask yourself, WWBD — what would beavers do?

Edges

Edges are inherently interesting: the gradations of color and texture that artists employ to draw the eye to the glorious intersections of the seasons, adorned by the great migrations of fish and fowl they trigger.

Life loves an edge. Hunters who prowl the seams where forest meets field know this, as do fishermen who troll the dropoffs from shallows to channels, as do blue herons and egrets, nesting eagles and beachcombers (I prefer “proggers,” the waterman’s term for them).

The Bay, with around 11,000 miles of tidal edges, is at the heart of the heart of this phenomenon. That includes the overwhelming preference of humans to also locate along the edge, drawn by everything from places to discharge waste, cool their power plants and hoist drinks to the sunset.

The search for peaceful co-existence between humans and the rest of edge-loving nature is a fundamental tension that runs through much of my writing.

Ecosystem Services

If you would be popularly read, avoid such terms, but not what they include. Consider the oyster. The revelation in recent decades of their immense values in filtering and cleansing Bay waters has fundamentally changed the way we regard them — not only as a tasty food and commerce by the bushel, but also as sanctuaries for the health of the Bay.

Some scientists say it’s likely that the reefs, built by oysters to form undisturbed, undredged, untonged communities, are at least as valuable for habitat as for their filtration.

And One Last Favorite: Horseshoe Crabs

These marvelous animals are living fossils for whom the rise and fall of dinosaurs was just a short span in the species’ history. When they scrabble onto remote beaches in May and June, with nothing else in the scene but the full moon gleaming on their bronze-colored shells from above, sand and the lapping of saltwater below — that’s as close as you will ever get to traveling back in time half a billion years.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

A Precious Thing by Nancy Mugele

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With all due respect to Easter, and a slight nod to April Fool’s Day, to me the first of April signals the beginning of National Poetry Month. I know I am a literary geek, but as a poet myself, I am inspired by this month dedicated to poets and their craft. National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

For me, poetry has always been the vehicle which allows me to observe and comment on my world. I cannot remember a time when I did not read and write poems and I can still recite poems memorized in my childhood. I especially loved reading and writing Haiku as a young girl and later expanded my writing using rhyming techniques. In my early 20s I began to explore free verse or open form poetry which does not follow a specific pattern and that is the style I currently use.

My first published poem appeared in my local hometown newspaper when I was in the 6th Grade. I won a town-wide poetry contest and that was all I needed to throw myself into writing. I have had several poems published in Poetic Voices of America anthologies over the years and they sit on my bookshelf as a reminder to Write On. I wrote a poem to each of my children when they were born – that is another story – but, I have a journal for each of them which I hope one day they will treasure.

In addition to reading and writing poetry this month at Kent School, on April 27 our Middle School students will be inspired by Femi the DriFish, a spoken word artist and slam poet who uses his artistry to encourage others to discover their own unique voices. Slam poetry expresses someone’s personal story usually in an intensely emotional and very powerful way. I am so looking forward to be moved and motivated.

Last May I had the privilege to be a part of the presentation of the Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College. An incredible endowed prize that is transformational to a young writer. For me, a highlight of the evening was a talk by Baltimore poet Elizabeth Spires whom I know. Elizabeth began her career as a professor at Washington College while she was also writing poetry. Her sixth poetry collection was published last summer and she currently directs the creative writing department at Goucher College. In her address, she asked, “Why do we write?” She detailed many reasons like wanting to tell a story and working through an emotional issue, but her description of the need to write because it is “a precious thing” resonated with me. Writing is truly a precious thing and one that I will always make time for.

Elizabeth taught me the value of writing monosyllable poems – where every word is just one syllable – as an exercise in my writing process. After you have written one there are usually nuggets you can then explore more deeply. Here is an example of a recent morning exercise, my Monosyllable to the Chester River.

I gaze

past my own porch

to the edge of grass,

Where the sand smooths

stones made by time

on its beach.

 

The tide

in ebb and flow,

bleeds deep blue and grey,

While the sun sets

and geese land on

glass paths for night.

As I write now from my home office (aka kitchen counter) which faces the Chester River, a lone Washington College crew shell is passing my house slicing the water with care and courage. A precious thing is beginning.

Follow me on Twitter @nancymugele for a taste of poetry each day during the month of April and join me on April 17 at 5:30 p.m. when I am honored to emcee Chestertown RiverArt’s Listening to the Earth: The Art of Stewardship juried exhibition of art and poetry.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Op-Ed: How Much Woods Would a Woodpecker Need if It’s to Succeed? By Tom Horton

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The piney woods stretching for miles around us smell springy, as warm winds melt the last of a big January snow. At the crest of a rise, Bobby Clontz stops his pickup: “Look back . . . that’s a hard view to beat.”

A tawny, sunlit sea of native grasses and low shrubs laps the dark columns of tall, widely spaced loblolly pines. Light streams through the green needles, which gleam as they toss in the breeze. It’s a classic pine savannah, often described as “parklike.” Psychologist John Falk has found humans associate strongly with such landscapes, which resemble the African savannahs where humanoids climbed down from the trees hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Bobby Clontz, left, and Bryan Watts walk through the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve, just south of the James River. (Dave Harp)

Such pine parks once covered much of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Virginia to Texas; nowadays, perhaps 1 percent remains. And this remnant, including the 3,200 acres that Clontz manages here at The Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve just south of the James River, is now strongly linked with a tiny, endangered bird.

The red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as nationally endangered three years before the federal Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. The cardinal-size bird depends on pines old enough to have become diseased with a fungus that rots their heartwood, a process of decay that can take up to a century or longer.

The heart-rot that would mean ruin to the logger is the salvation of the RCW, as it is commonly called by birders and conservationists. A red-cockaded woodpecker may spend a year or two of its five-year average lifespan excavating its nest, boring through several inches of tough, outer wood and creating a chamber in the softened heart of an old pine.

The red-cockaded woodpecker

Piney Grove Preserve is a “lifeline,” the last shot for the bird in the whole Chesapeake region, said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, who’s along today. Since the 1970s, as corporate logging took down the remaining great old pines, the center, part of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, has been documenting the bird’s march toward extinction in Virginia and researching its habitat needs.

“Mitchell [Byrd, founder of the Center] would come back to check on a nesting area and find woodpeckers flying around, landing on stumps where their habitat used to be,” Watts recounted. By 2002, Virginia was down to two nesting pairs. The last RCWs in Maryland disappeared from Dorchester County, their northernmost range, between the 1950s and 1970s, as the last old-growth pines there were clear-cut.

Virginia state Sen. Garland Gray, whose timber company owned Piney Grove, was no friend of endangered birds, deliberately cutting and otherwise altering their nesting areas to avoid restrictions of the Endangered Species Act.

Ironically, Gray’s company cut pines on a long-term rotation — every 70–90 years — unusual in an industry that typically harvested trees at much earlier ages. So, when The Nature Conservancy acquired Piney Grove in the late 1990s, it was already potential RCW habitat.
Birds had to be trapped and transferred from North Carolina to jump-start breeding in the preserve. We hear proof today that it has worked: the woodpecker’s nasal, raspy calls and probing the bark platelets of pines for insects.

Sheets of whitish sap girdling some trees make it easy to spot nesting cavities. The woodpecker spends a good deal of its day chipping sapwood around its nest to encourage a flow of sticky resin that discourages snakes and other predators from entering.

Piney Grove, Watts and Clontz said, is nearly at “saturation,” with 13 nesting red-cockaded woodpecker pairs and 70 birds total. The additional birds are integral to the RCW’s unusual, cooperative nesting. They act as “helpers” by helping to feed the nesting pairs’ young. A nesting “cluster” can require up to 400 acres of territory, Clontz said.

Setting the woods on fire is one of Clontz’s most important duties. He’s burned as much as three square miles at a time. Fire is key to pine savannahs, keeping the understory open and free of hardwoods, which discourages predators and creates the habitat that the woodpecker needs.

Expansion plans, using adjoining state forests and pending private land deals by The Nature Conservancy, could soon enlarge the bird’s habitat here to as much as 30,000 acres.

This is critical, Watts said, because all of the other RCW restoration sites in this northernmost part of the bird’s range (North Carolina and Virginia) may vanish because of accelerating sea level rise in the next century. An attempt to get the woodpeckers nesting in the nearby Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has not yet worked.

What’s good for the woodpecker also lends needed help to other species, like the brown-headed nuthatch, chuck-will’s-widow, bobwhite quail, coastal fox squirrel and Bachman’s sparrow. All but the sparrow are thriving at Piney Grove, and Watts wants to introduce that bird here as well. Nontidal wetlands throughout Piney Grove form a rich habitat for state-threatened fish and salamanders. Clontz is re-introducing longleaf pines, too. Longer lived than loblollies, they form the primary red-cockaded woodpecker habitat throughout most of its range and once covered an estimated one million acres in Virginia.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is up to 6,000 nesting clusters throughout its range, extending through coastal plain pines all the way to Texas. The core of its comeback involved U.S. military bases like Fort Bragg and Eglin Air Force Base. Their training missions required preserving large blocks of old forest, which military exercises frequently set afire—a perfect prescription for the bird, Clontz said.

The little bird has driven big changes. Research on its habitat needs by Watts’ center has changed forest management across millions of acres, far beyond Virginia.

And the military, in part from concerns it that would become the last refuge for the woodpecker, created a multi-billion-dollar program to protect natural lands outside of bases for a variety of purposes, a program that now extends throughout the Chesapeake watershed.

Tending to the woodpeckers’ survival, as with so many endangered species recovery efforts, brings science and conservation to bear on restoring whole ecosystems.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. 

True Grit by Nancy Mugele

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I know all of us on the Eastern Shore know that the Chesapeake Bay retriever is the state dog of Maryland, but did you know that it has been the mascot of the University of Maryland Baltimore County since its founding in 1966. A bronze statue of a retriever, fondly named True Grit, stands proudly on campus and students regularly rub its nose for good luck. True Grit is an apt description of UMBC’s inspiring President – Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski – whom I have the pleasure of knowing. President Hrabowski, who has led UMBC since 1992, served as a Trustee of my former school and gave the Commencement Address at the last Roland Park Country School ceremony that I attended as an employee. He spoke in honor of retiring Head of School Emerita Jean Waller Brune. I have heard him speak several times over the years and it is the true definition of motivational.

I remember as he addressed the RPCS graduates that June morning in 2016, that grit and the value of resilience were the themes of his message. He shared that it was his parents who were “really preparing me for a world that wouldn’t immediately assume that I’d be the best thinker. How do you develop the toughness of skin, but also a strong sense of self? It’s this balance between confidence and humility.” I sat in awe of Freeman that day and when he was recently recognized by Time as one of the country’s Top Ten College Presidents I believed it was deserving. What he has done to guide underrepresented students toward the study of math, science, and engineering is exceptional. And his balance of grace, confidence, and humility is extraordinary.

I am thrilled for the UMBC Retrievers who made history last weekend when they upset UVA becoming the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed during the NCAA Tournament. The team certainly played with true grit reminiscent of their school’s leader. Yet, this accomplishment in college basketball history comes with an asterisk. *The Retrievers are the first men’s team to do it. In 1998, Harvard’s women’s basketball team became the first team to accomplish this amazing feat when it beat Stanford. I am not trying to take anything away from UMBC – just pointing out a fun fact for accuracy and sports trivia enthusiasts.

My family, friends, and colleagues know how much I like Twitter. That is another story, but last weekend I enjoyed following UMBC. After a message from Harvard welcoming UMBC to the “16 over 1 club,” UMBC athletics tweeted the following: “You will always be the first and we are honored to be mentioned in the same category as that upset.  Classy. How could the athletic department be anything but, with President Hrabowski at the helm.”

In a New York Times interview in 2017, Freeman Hrabowski said: “Nothing takes the place of hard work.  It’s about finding ways of using your brainpower to work as effectively as possible to reach your goals and never give up and continue to work at it.  And the world is not necessarily fair.  Get over it.  Just keep being your best.”

I think his men’s basketball team heeded his message. Hard work, true grit and believing in each other paid off. Congratulations to the UMBC Retrievers from the Kent School Ospreys! Despite your loss in Round Two of the NCAA Tournament – you touched our hearts and your accomplishment will forever be remembered.

Several members of my family are following March Madness results a little too closely for my liking. Don’t tell anyone, but I am sure there is a pot of gold at the end for someone. Sadly, I believe my family members’ brackets are all completely busted.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Op-Ed: Some Things We Know by William C. Baker

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By William C. Baker, for the Bay Journal News Service

In case anyone is asking: Warmer temperatures do hurt the Chesapeake Bay, in many ways.

In a February interview on a Las Vegas television station, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, suggested a warming climate might actually be a good thing. “We know that humans have flourished during times of warming trends. So, I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal temperature should be during the year 2100, or the year 2018?” he asked.

Here in the Chesapeake, there is overwhelming documentation of the damage that climate change will wreak on this national treasure. And it’s not just about the future. The inconvenient truth is that we’re already witnessing the damaging effects of climate change.

Based on long-term records from the piers at the Chesapeake’s two historic marine laboratories — dating back to 1938 at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory on Solomon’s Island, MD, and to 1948 at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at Gloucester Point — the Bay is getting warmer.

Warmer water has less capacity to hold dissolved oxygen, and dissolved oxygen is critical for life in the Bay, its rivers and its streams. Higher temperatures exacerbate the Chesapeake’s dead zones, expanding both the size and the duration of oxygen-deprived areas in the Bay.

Scientific models agree that storms will become more intense in the future. Storm intensity and increased rainfall will adversely affect the Bay’s ecological health. Increased scouring and runoff from more intense rain events, regardless of the season, carries significantly more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to local rivers, streams and eventually, the Bay.

Increases in water temperature are known to affect the distribution and health of aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake. For instance, species that are already stressed by high summer temperatures — such as the eelgrass, which provides important fish and crab habitats in the Lower Bay — may be greatly reduced or eliminated. Goodbye grasses. Goodbye crabs. Simply put, grasses equal crabs.

Warming waters caused by climate change also directly affect the distribution and range of animal species along the mid-Atlantic coast. Species at the southern end of their range, like soft-shell clams, are already retreating northward up the Atlantic Coast toward colder waters.

Atlantic menhaden, a critical forage fish in the Bay food web, haven’t produced strong year classes in the Bay in 20 years, possibly because climate-related shifts in ocean currents interfere with or interrupt their life cycles. The lack of strong menhaden reproduction in turn affects rockfish, which turn to blue crabs as a primary food source. That has negative nutritional consequences for the rockfish and obvious negative consequences for crabs.

And those same crabs may be facing new predators such as red drum, which have expanded their range northward into the Chesapeake.

There is no serious debate over the impact of climate change on the Bay. Climate change, and an EPA administrator continuing to ignore the science, are making all of our efforts to restore this national treasure much harder.

William C. Baker is president and CEO of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Opinion: Community-based Approach to Gun Ownership by Zane Carter

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I have hunted since childhood and keep my guns safely secured. My oldest guns are hand-me-downs from my father, including the bolt action .22 that he hunted with in 1912 at age twelve and gave to me on my twelfth birthday. I agree with the second amendment as it was intended by the single-shot musket owners who passed it in 1791. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This legislation came on the heels of the Revolutionary War which ended the British occupation of the fledgling colonies that were to become the United States of America. So it’s no wonder that our forefathers thought it important that we citizens have access to the armaments needed to defend ourselves from invading or occupying forces.

However, there is a way to avoid the thousands of murders, suicides and accidental deaths caused by guns each year and still have access to the firearms we hunt with and those we’d rely on to defend our sovereignty if need be. I propose that the federal and/or state governments fund the construction of local arsenals operated by members of our community who manage the deposit, safe storage and dispensing of all firearms for the surrounding community.

This would eliminate the risk of having deadly firearms in reach of children, distraught family members, angry spouses, robbers, the emotionally unbalanced and would-be mass murders. Registration and storage of all firearms would need to be mandatory, so that unregistered guns could be seized from psychopaths and criminals including thugs, thieves, gang members, drug dealers and others who possessed illegal firearms.

All the “common sense” gun laws currently being bandied about by cowardly legislators aren’t worth the time it takes to say “hyperbole.” The problem is not the laws, it’s the guns. And all the rhetoric in the world won’t change that.

The NRA trumpets the slogan, “It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.” This is exactly why we need to keep bad guys from owning guns. As demonstrated in Australia, which banned firearms altogether, once the guns are off the street, deaths caused by guns cease to be a problem. The NRA also pushes the slogan, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people.” This ignores the obvious fact that killers overwhelmingly choose to kill with guns, which enable them to kill quickly, easily, at a distance and in large numbers.

I would be quite happy to store my guns in a community arsenal, safe from thieves, intruders or curious visitors. Then just before hunting season, I could show my ID and hunting license and check out whatever shotgun or hunting rifle I needed for the season. Each gun would be released with a trigger lock so the owner could store their gun safely at home. We gun owners could construct a secure shooting range at the arsenal to brush up on our skills. It might even include skeet shooting for us bird hunters.

There would need to be some exemptions. Farmers could be allowed to keep a hunting rifle at their farm for predators that threaten their livestock or poultry. Cattle ranchers might carry sidearms to ward off rattle snakes, bobcats or other dangerous animals. Marksmanship competition like turkey shoots could be held at the arsenal.

Once all of us law abiding citizens put our guns in storage, law officers could finally identify the law breakers among us and confiscate their weapons. Though law enforcement officers would be armed, they’d no longer face the threat of being outgunned, and in time they might find it unnecessary to wear bulletproof vests. And once criminals don’t have guns, the rest of us won’t need to arm ourselves or worry about mass shootings in our schools or at public gatherings. Metal detectors at schools could become relics of the past, teachers wouldn’t need to enforce gun laws and students could spend their time studying rather than practicing “active shooter” drills.

And if we ever need to defend our sovereignty from some invading force, our community arsenal could give us back our guns and the federal government might even provide seasoned military leaders so we could form the “well-regulated militia” that our forefathers envisioned.

Zane Carter is a retired advertising executive who now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Op-Ed: Sunshine Week by Craig O’Donnell

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Schools consume the lion’s share of local budgets in Maryland, and the transparent operation of every school board is important.

The public’s business is directly connected to the public’s pocketbook, and all school boards should remember that, with a very few true exceptions, discussing public business in closed session is optional, not required.

If a topic is debated behind closed doors, the topic itself is not confidential.

It’s Sunshine Week at news organizations around the country, and public access to public information is under examination.

Appropriately, the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) put out its opinion, 12 OMCB 09, on the Kent County Board of Education’s meeting documentation in time for Sunshine Week.

The opinion is odd, since the OMCB usually provides detailed analysis where open meetings violations are concerned. In fact, the one-page opinion makes little sense without a copy of the BOE’s lawyer’s response letter.

The letter by Leslie Stallman admitted that many of the allegations were justified and said the BOE would correct what it does. Now it’s up to the public to make sure that happens.

Stallman wrote: “The Board recognizes that the meeting minutes attached to the Complaint lack certain requirements …. While the meeting minutes do contain a ‘record of the vote of each member as to the closing of the session’ and a broad statement of the purpose of the closed session, the minutes lack a statement of the time and place of the closed session and the citation of the authority under § 3-305 and the listing of the topics of discussion, persons present, and action taken during the closed session ….

“In an effort to rectify this deficiency, the Board has consulted with counsel and intends to update its practices to bring them in compliance with the OMA’s requirements for post-closed session disclosures in its meeting minutes.”

In plain words, every month most of the legally required information about its closed-door activities was missing from the Kent BOE’s minutes.

The letter goes on to deal specifically with various meetings, including several where the BOE claimed they were consulting with lawyers, without revealing, as required, who the attorney was.

On another date in March, the BOE said it would discuss “collective bargaining” (without further explanation) but did not. Each time the BOE talked to a lawyer, they said they were getting “legal advice on a legal matter.”

The BOE wasn’t always forthcoming with the specific reason for holding a discussion outside public view (it must provide one). And so on.

The letter repeatedly says the BOE, “… will endeavor to include more meaningful descriptions of the topics for closed-session discussion as required .…”

Whether the violations were “serious,” as I thought – the OMCB thinks not, without explaining to anyone what a “serious” violation would be – it’s clear they were ongoing, repeated monthly, relying on the same generalities.

The public is entitled to more and better information, but considering that this problem with the Board of Education is of long standing, the public had better be on its toes and speak up when public business is described in vague and general terms.


Craig O’Donnell is a former Kent County News reporter who has been a close observer of local government and its compliance with the Maryland Open Meetings Act. He filed the complaint on which this commentary is based. He currently writes for the Dover Post in Delaware.

I Wish I Could Believe in a Third Bridge by Judy Gifford

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I wish I could believe the rosy scenario put forth by proponents of a third Bay Bridge terminating in Kent County.

I wish they had convinced me with their statistics and growth trends that once the four or six-lane highway connecting the bridge to wherever it is built, Kent County would not become another Middletown, Delaware where big box stores and chain restaurants are popping up faster than you can count.

I wish I could believe that it will not bother me to see the homes and farms of family, friends, and neighbors taken by the state through the use of eminent domain and destroyed in order for supporters to get to Baltimore 45 minutes faster.

I wish I could believe that watching beautiful farmland ripped up, topsoil carted away and carbon released into the atmosphere was a fair price to pay for what they call progress or growth.
I wish I could believe that good jobs for all would magically appear and that the county could control the pressure from developers and land speculators once our land use ordinances have been overridden by the state.

I wish I could believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for this project could not be better spent on schools and teachers, rural health care, improving existing infrastructure and efforts to clean up the Bay.

But I can’t. I do, however, believe that Kent County is not sentenced to doom and gloom if we prevail and prevent a bridge terminus at Kent County’s shoreline and a massive approach road to Route 301.
In fact, I believe the conversation between supporters and opponents provides an opportunity to focus on what we can do now to improve the circumstances of all of us who live in Kent County without sacrificing our unique characteristics and qualities of life. Without waiting 10 to 15 years for the promises of the yellow brick road.

The way to address our core challenges and opportunities is through the hard work of community development. More encompassing than economic development, community development is not as alluring as a new road but is more effective in making decisions that our grandchildren will be proud of.

In community development, where people are the most important resource, strategies for success are driven by local vision (our county comprehensive plan), are proactive and future-oriented, embrace change, and assume risk, rather than wait for trolling developers.
Rather than bank on the unlikely reality that the proponents’ assumptions are correct, we should look at our assets and capitalize on our competitive advantage.

Kent County is home to a respected college campus, beautiful waterfront, an abundance of natural resources, a historic downtown, prominent cultural and heritage sites, a multitude of recreational activities, hubs of small business activity, high speed internet access, the most progressive farmers in the country and a trove of talented and dedicated citizens who want to make Kent County even better.

It is clear that Kent County is well suited to be a model for rural development. A rapid influx of people and unconstrained development from a third span of the Bay Bridge would thwart these efforts and overwhelm our community. Let the Eastern Shore be. That is what I believe.

Judy Gifford lives in Kennedyville and is co-owner of St. Brigid’s Farm.

Family First by Nancy Mugele

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Photo c.1987 – Tom, Tracy, Jim and me

 

My brother and sister-in-law spent less than 24 hours at the Red Roof Inn two weekends ago. They live in the Boston area, and traveled south to watch their son, a junior assistant captain of the Villanova ice hockey team, in his final tournament of the season. Nova made it to championship game, and unfortunately, lost a heartbreaker in overtime. I don’t care what the reason was for the visit though. To have been the local bed and breakfast for their overnight trip to Aston, Pennsylvania, was an honor, even if we did spend most of the non-hockey time debating politics! When your extended family lives far away, any excuse for a visit – no matter how brief – is greatly appreciated.

My brother Tom is only 16 months younger than I am so we grew up side by side. I was a model student and a goody-two-shoes (as many girls and first children are – said with a smirk!) and he was, well, let’s just say, not exactly my twin. He once put my kitten, Jingles, in a tree, and when she climbed higher, we had to call the fire department to get her down. He followed that by putting her on the roof of the house, and the firemen told us that was the last time they were coming for Jingles. But I got my brother back when I found out that he had tried his first beer. I told my parents, and he was grounded for a year. I am not kidding – he was literally grounded for an entire year. He only recently forgave me.

When Tom got married I was lucky enough to finally get the sister I had always wanted. I grew up with three younger brothers. In our early 20s Tracy and I enjoyed vacationing together and spending time together. We raised our kids together, and although there was a geographic distance, we communicated regularly on the trials and tribulations of babies, toddlers, elementary students, middle schoolers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We always found ways to get together through the years – most often on Easter and the 4th of July. There were also many years when we watched the Major League Baseball All Star Game together in Baltimore over crabs but that is another story. Our thirty-plus-year-friendship and the relationships our children enjoy are so very special.

During the 2011 – 2012 academic year,  I had the privilege to work part time as the Interim Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) during a leadership transition. I was on its board and my Head at Roland Park Country School granted me a year of working part time so that I could also serve NCGS. It was an incredible year visiting public and independent girls’ schools across the country. But, the very best part of the year was that the NCGS offices were located just outside of Boston and I stayed with Tom and Tracy when I was there – which was nearly every other week that year!

I got to see my nephews play high school varsity ice hockey, ate a lot of sushi and Italian cookies from Modern Pastry with them, and deepened our relationship. There is nothing like living with your sibling’s family on a semi-regular basis. I am being serious. It was amazing. Tracy always had my favorite coffee creamer – Italian sweet cream – in the fridge, and Tom, a wine collector, always had the best wines uncorked when I arrived. My home away from home that year was heavenly.

Family is the foundation that grounds us all, and I am so fortunate to have a tight circle of five that is expanded on both my side and Jim’s side with love and support. I have also been lucky in my career that I have always worked for people who believed that family came first. Well, maybe not lucky, since it was a question I specifically asked in interviews. “Is this a family friendly environment?” You would be surprised by the answer to that question in many companies. I told the professional community at Kent School when I began that my motto is family first – so they could rest assured that I would understand and support their family priorities – always. I have found that as a leader there is nothing better you can model than family first – extended family most definitely included!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.