After listening for 39 minutes to the video recording of last week’s Talbot County Council discussion and vote on removal of the Talbot Boys Monument from the grounds of the county courthouse, I was more disappointed than surprised by the backward thinking of Councilpersons Chuck Callahan, Frank Divilio and Laura Price.
I’ve read comments commending this threesome for resisting the nationwide tide of removing Confederate statues in towns and cities along the East Coast. For many in our community, Callahan, Divilio and Price are heroes for honoring the past and refusing to give into “leftist” criticism and pressure. They successfully voted in the majority against the removal.
On the other hand (right or left), Council President Corey Pack and Councilperson Lesher, representing the two minority votes, were viewed as following their consciences and supporting the position that the Talbot Boys Monument represents white supremacy and its ugly byproducts: hatred, bigotry and oppression.
As I’ve written before, I support the removal of a monument that blatantly counters those virtues—such as friendliness, compassionate citizenship, generosity of spirit and community betterment–that engender pride in our county. The 3-2 decision offers a different impression, one that tolerates a symbol of hostility and prejudice.
What the decision and preceding dialogue conveyed was a sad lack of leadership. Callahan and Divilio explicitly proposed evading their responsibility to make reasoned decisions by recommending a referendum in 2022 to enable the people to decide. That’s gutless.
Price focused her opposition on procedural grounds that made sense only to her. To this observer, her argument wreaked of stall tactics and legislative minutiae. She chose process over substance in opposing the resolution calling for the monument’s removal.
All three opponents then suggested that the time was wrong to make a decision as monumental at this. They played the Covid-19 pandemic card, saying that restrictions against public input by citizens forbidden to attend meetings negated a thoughtful decision. Under current circumstances, the public has been vocal.
Divilio, Callahan and Price opted for distraction and fatuous arguments. And they succeeded. The democratic process places a premium on majority votes.
Pack and Lesher showed courage. The former apologized for his vote five years ago opposing the removal. Apologies typically are in short supply in the body politic, for fear that contrition connotes weakness and possible legal consequences. In fact, it recognizes poor judgment.
Since it’s easy to criticize politicians who are making well-considered decisions based on their own convictions and their awareness of constituent concerns, I believe that the time has come for a creative approach that appeals, if possible, to both sides of the argument.
The public flogging by advocates needs to come to a stop.
I recommend creation by the county council of a blue-ribbon commission headed by someone respected for his/her objectivity and thoughtfulness, leading a group representing concerned segments of our community. I further suggest that the county council direct this commission to submit a proposal by Dec. 31, 2020.
If the proposal calls, for example, for the removal of both the Talbot Boys and the Frederick Douglass monuments to non-public space, one that captures the whole, unvarnished history of Talbot County, then that is something that the public and its public servants can debate.
This idea is not mine. Two writers have offered this idea in letters and comments in The Talbot Spy.
While this column has criticized Callahan, Divilio and Price and commended Pack and Lesher, I believe that the entire council would like to find a solution to a controversy that will not vanish without a palatable resolution. A future that combines creativity and tolerance, while enhancing the county’s image and tourism, should be the goal.
Discussion is healthy. Varied voices, even if discordant, are integral to the democratic process. Our elected representatives need to find a compromise proposal that allows all segments to feel that their input was valued.
Leadership can fill the current void and allay the dissension. A blue-ribbon commission that moves quickly to design a solution that solicits public input could clear the logjam.
The time is now. Not 2022.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.