Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Diversity


Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every week.


In the May 17 edition of the Kent County News, an editorial described how racism endures in our county. What work needs to be done to build the inclusive community Kent County should be, and how would you implement that work? How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?

Ron Fithian

 l just had the gentlemen who is doing some work on the Legacy Days. When he found out I had graduated from high school in ’69 which meant I went through that whole integration when it started, he wanted to interview me. I’m going to tell you what basically I told him. When I grew up here in Rock Hall, it was a commercial seafood town. Blacks and whites all worked together and played together. And i’ll tell you when the blacks and whites starting going to Rock Hall High
School, it really didn’t seem to be a problem. Maybe it’s easy for me to say because they were coming to our school. But we didn’t have the real problems you might see on television. I think we’re very fortunate with that especially in Kent County. We all lived together, and it was just a natural thing. But as far as African Americans and the Latinos and how we can show them they are essential to the success of the county,

I think you need to look around at the Clarence Hawkinses, at the William Pickrums, at the Leon Frisons, leaders of this community, the preachers. Some of our more important department heads are African Americans. For example, Herb Dennis is an African American and he is the Warden of the Kent County Detention Center. One of the best we’ve ever had. And I’ve been around long enough to go through several changes of wardens. We have Myra Butler, who is in charge of Parks and Recreation. She plays a big role in Kent County, and she’s in charge of the Community Center and all of our park land. We try to make sure that African  Americans and Latinos are included not only as department heads and workers, but on our boards as well. And we’ll continue to do that. I Believe everyone has a chance in Kent County.

It’s easy for me to answer because some of my best friends are African Americans and Latinos. if there is racism in Kent County, it certainly isn’t anywhere in my travels. My father died when l was about 4 years old. His best friend was an African American and sung at his funeral. I mean we don’t look at things that way. I tend to treat everyone the same regardless of who they are or what they look like until they prove to me that I shouldn’t. That’s the way I do it. It’s one of the only good things my wife says about me. She says you might not have many, but one of the good qualities you have is—i’ve seen you walk into a meeting and you take the poorest person there and you talk to them like they’re the richest.” That is an impressive trait. I try to do that, and I would suggest everybody else do the same.

Bob Jacobs

The African Americans and Latinos are essential to the county. People are not born racist. They are taught it. I personally think everyone in life should be giving the opportunity to succeed in whatever they do. When I played sports in high school it was just a bunch of us kids just having fun trying to win a game no matter what color you are. Watching my son play sports 35 years later I saw the same thing. Routing for a bunch of kids regardless of color trying to win a game.

When I worked at Dixon Valve we were just a bunch of folks regardless of color or even gender just trying to get a job done. I have always been a goal oriented individual and don’t worry much about race. One of my commitments toward the community and making sure we are all on an even playing field no matter what color or gender you are. Everybody deserves an equal shot no matter who you are. It is all about equality. Our differences are our strengths, we learn from each other and grow together.

Tom Mason

When it comes to racial problems in our community we must practice the golden rule of treating others how we would like to be treated. I would have an all inclusive government where the African American and Latino communities will have equal opportunity to serve on committees and participate in all aspects of county government. All citizens will be treated with respect and equality when it comes to living and participating in our community. All county departments will be expected to provide the same services to all of our community without a racial or ethnic divide.

William Pickrum

I will continue to identify opportunities for inclusive opportunities.  This must be encouraged through all our social networks, i.e., churches, business groups, social and service groups, etc.  These groups must have an inclusive frame of reference.

  • How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?

Showing by example is the best method.  I have appointed the first female African-American Department Head in this county.  As an African-American, I have been a role model for this community and have successfully been elected as County Commissioner multiple terms.  I have aggressively sought African Americans and Latinos for county employment and to serve on county boards and committees.

As a personal story, when I returned home after a career in the Coast Guard, I was not well received at an Economic Advisory Commission meeting.  In fact, I was asked why I was there. After careful thought, I decided to run for elective office. One of my goals from the beginning was to insure inclusiveness in county government.

As a County Commissioner, I’ve supported the Local Management Board.  This Board works tirelessly to make sure this is achieved. Rosemary Ramsey-Granillo, as the Director of the Local Management Board, has worked to achieve this goal and is tasked with some actions;

  1. Create a vision for the role of local government and local child and family serving agencies in achieving results for children and families.
  2. Develop plans to command public and political attention and support for programs that will achieve results for children and families at the local level.

This Board is concerned with inclusiveness and demands it.

I will encourage the development of an African-American, Latino and non-minority business directory, sponsored by the County.  This will provide local governments and residents a resource to utilize these local businesses.

All county employees should get racial and gender sensitivity training periodically.  All other local county governments should do the same.

William Short

Inclusion is imperative to the County’s overall success. All ethnic and racial backgrounds add value to our community. As an elected official I work to move the County and all of its citizens forward without a racial or ethnic divide. As previously stated I am a Commissioner for all people and have a 6 year record of serving all.

Tom Timberman

Recently, the Kent County News did us a public service by pointing out that in 2018 racism and discrimination are still very much present in Kent County. This Editorial also reminds us that Kent County’s historic record in this regard, down to the 1960s and 70’s, is not encouraging. Thus, the admirable steps being taken now, e.g. the Social Action Committee, an active schedule of events at Sumner Hall and Legacy Day, can be assessed against this background.

It’s essential that minorities actually believe that they are listened to, that they are heard and that actions are taken as a result. More African-Americans and Latinos must be invited to become involved in County management. Minorities must be hired to deliver County services. County commissions and boards should also include more minority members to become part of the decision-making process.

An initiative to identify, recruit, hire or appoint minority members should be a Commission priority.

This must start with teachers and administrators in the public school system. African American and Latino children and their parents will begin to believe they are essential to the success of the County if they are seen to occupy essential positions.

The Commission can launch an outreach program by emailing their weekly meeting agenda to African American church pastors and those from Shrewsbury Parish and the Galena Catholic Church. These individuals should be invited to speak at the meetings, to suggest agenda items and to serve on ad hoc issue committees. The Commission can also fund a video archive of their weekly meetings on the County website.

And finally, one Commission meeting per month should be conducted in each of the other four incorporated towns to encourage attendance by residents who do not live in Chestertown and are without personal transportation.




Letters to Editor

  1. As I read each of the nominees responses to racism in our fair county and the historical under tide that continues to this day, unabated, makes me wonder which county some of them live in or I may have mistaken some of the responses as being naive and somewhat anal. Tom Tiberman has been a resident of Kent County for 22 years and still without missing a beat continues to describe people of color as minorities. People of Color in Kent County are smaller number than the larger white population but Tom fails to understand that the base word of “minority” is ” minor” less than not just in number of people but could be construed as less intelligence, Tom you gotta get out the county sometime. Tom Mason wants to treat all people by the gold rule of the Bible, to treat people as he wishes to be treated and if that would be the case, there wouldn’t be a need for the NAACP and Diversity Dialog and other groups combating racism and bigotry. Tom, to become a elected official, in my mind means to go into the communities of color and listen to their issues and the ills of racism that still plague our county’s systems both in jobs and housing. Part of the problem of battling racism is to believe we live in a colorblind society, where color isn’t seen, nope, that is impossible especially with a dysfunctional federal government allowing race as a divider. Our county isn’t immune to the scars and pain that racism has caused here. Looking at the league of Women Voters a great organization has so few women of color within their ranks and one is not enough. I have watched with awe the incredible advances in many areas that Chestertown and Kent County have made over the 17 years my wife and have resided here. I have watched as a interracial couple of being stared at as one of considered normal and loving, that is partly to do with the children of Kent County High School and our teachers who teach “Character Counts.” All of these gentlemen have a different perspective on diversity, of thought, of ethnicity but each one to a man, you will notice didn’t talk about women’s issues or our small and growing but vibrate LBGTQ community. I would expect our commissioners to be informed about all of us in our county, to bring us together to do more not less, to attract business and retain families already living here. Soon, time to have women running for office and not just posing questions.

    • I’m sure I’m not the only one that cringed at reading Mr. Fithian’s comment “. . . because some of my best friends are African Americans and Latinos . . .” I also noticed the stream of consciousness that drew a straight line from African Americans and Latinos to the poorest people in the room. He’d do better to talk about how interesting it is to LISTEN to everyone’s story, about how enriching and educational those conversations are, and about how those exchanges inform his thinking and decision making. Instead, he makes it sound like a cheap party trick. A politician’s ability to talk is not exactly headline news.

  2. It’s interesting to note that the question the GCI put forward was not “is diversity an issue in Kent County”? … but the answers provided here are certainly instructive. When a group of constituents comes forward with what they deem to be a problem, how will you respond? Will you listen to what they are saying and try to address the problem or will you tell them it isn’t actually a problem? Do you have ideas that you can put into action to work towards solving the problem? Are you actually equipped to solve the problem, and if not, will you call on others to help you solve the problem? Will you believe that your constituents have other experiences than you do personally that are equally valid? Will you provide actionable steps for the government and interested citizens and organizations to take to address the problem, or will you offer up some more platitudes?

    These candidates were given time to be thoughtful about this question. They weren’t approached on the street and expected to come up with answers on the spot. The GCI is not some radical group that only talks about fringe issues, so when they bring a question forward to our purported future leaders, I would expect the question to be taken seriously.

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