About Dave Wheelan

Cecil Circuit Court Judge William Davis Talks Justice on the Eve of MLK Day


If there is a good example of what Martin Luther King Jr. was hoping for in America, it might be found with Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. The product of a mostly white high school in Delaware, followed by a primarily black college experience at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and now as the first elected black judge in a county that is made up of 90% white residents, Davis understands first hand the importance of diversity, as well as how America has changed since Dr. King poetically asked that Americans be judged by the quality of their character and not the color of their skin.

Davis also understands the importance of fair justice.  And while he is the first to admit that the American legal system has a long way to go before “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” he faithfully believes that he and his fellow judges in Cecil County are making that a reality on the Upper Shore.

As the judge prepares his remarks for his keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast in Rock Hall next week, the Spy ran up to Elkton last week to talk to him between his court cases, about MLK, his thoughts on young people in the African-American community, and the mighty stream of justice in Maryland.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For information on the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast please go here.



Memoir as Fiction: Vietnam Vet Jim Richardson Remembers a War Through a Novel


Unlike most authors who have been kind enough to sit down for an interview with the Spy to talk about a new book, Mid-Shore artist Jim Richardson’s recently released novel is almost sold out, is not available on Amazon, nor available at local stores. In fact, if you want to buy a copy (only 50 left in inventory), you’ll need to knock on his door in Claiborne with eighteen dollars in cash to get one or borrow it from a friend.

While the popularity of Middle Blue is indeed extremely comforting to Jim, it’s not without the knowledge that he only ordered 200 to be printed in the first place. His pleasure comes from successfully finding a way to tell his family and friends what it was like as a twenty-one year old drafted into the Vietnam War.

Disinclined to use the more traditional format of writing a memoir, Jim took his wartime experience and channeled it through the experience of three fictional characters who find friendship in the midst of the tragic and surreal last years of America’s attempt to win a war that could not win.

Jim sat down with the Spy to talk about the experience of writing the book (including the book’s illustrations), his goal of sharing his Vietnam experience with loved ones, and the therapeutic value that comes with memories rediscovered and documented.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. As noted, this is book is only available from the author. Jim’s email is designs@atlanticbb.net


The Road of Photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee: A Conversation with Author Peter Elliott


For those who remember Constance Stuart Larrabee, particularly those living on the Mid-Shore, it will always be gratifying to know that at the very end of her life Constance knew there was a high degree of attention paid to her photography.

While the native South African had been living on the Mid-Shore for more than forty years, she was intentionally reserved on talking about her work as a documentary photographer in the years before marrying a former military attache, Colonel Sterling Loop Larrabee, in 1949. If locals knew anything about Larrabee, it was for her reputation as a successful breeder of Norwich Terriers, not as South Africa’s first female World War Two correspondent. She clearly preferred it that way for reasons still not entirely known.

It was only when she was seventy that a close friend, Ed Maxcy, convinced her to share her portfolio of images from her visits to rural South African villages, the war, the streets of Johannesburg and, later, Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Bay. She began working with such distinguished institutions such as the Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Yale’s Center for British Art, Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as our own Washington College and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, through much of the eighties and early nineties on several well received exhibitions. All of which gave Larrabee the certain knowledge that her lifetime contribution to photography had been well-noted before she died in 2000.

But for those who have never heard her name, or seen her stunning images, there is good news to be had. Almost twenty years after her passing, fellow South African and author Peter Elliott has just completed a new biography of Larrabee after two years of extensive research.

Elliott, retiring to the South of France after a distinguished career as a London-based corporate attorney, began his new vocation as a writer on history and art, and had stumbled on Larrabee’s war photography while researching South Africa’s role in World War II.

Awed by their composition and warmth, Peter has meticulously tracked down every one of Constance’s documentary projects as well as applied a critical appraisal of her work, including a few myths she created along the way on her technique, in the newly released Constances: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee published by Cantaloup Press.

Through the wonders of technology, the Spy interviewed Peter via Skype from his home in Languedoc, France to talk about Constance, her photography, and the lasting legacy of her work.

This video is approximately twenty-eight minutes in length. Constance: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee can be purchased at the Book Plate in Chestertown or on Amazon here.



Tradition, Speed and Grace: The Log Canoes of John C. North II


For many on the Mid-Shore, it’s not hard to remember the moment they first saw a Chesapeake Bay log canoe. These majestical floating museums of Bay history, with their simple design lines and overwhelming white blankets of sails, is a remarkable sight on a summer day.

Once hooked, most devotees can never seem to get enough of the images, history, racing, and cultural influence that come with this fleet of remaining log canoes on the Bay.  So it will be a great relief for them to know that Judge John North has just completed a masterful documentation of these unique qualities in the release of Tradition, Speed, and Grace: Chesapeake Bay Sailing Log Canoes, published by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

With the help of the CBMM historian Pete Lesher, photographer and artist Marc Castelli, and the encouragement of friends like Alexa and Tom Seip, Judge North has pulled together a classic summary of the log canoe’s role in Mid-Shore history and current life on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Spy jumped at the chance to talk to Judge North on this remarkable project. In his interview, which is also essential oral history, we focus on the four log canoes that are a special part of the North Family; Island Bird, Island Blossom, Jay Dee, and Persistence.

This video is approximately twenty-two minutes in length. The sale proceeds are to be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  The book is available for purchase at the CBMM store, the Trippe Gallery in Easton, or one can contact CBMM Guest Services Manager Sara McCafferty at smccafferty@cbmm.org to arrange a copy to be shipped.

Mid-Shore Profiles: Ron Liebman, Spiro Agnew, and Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man”


Given the legal discussions now taking place over the Bay Bridge in Washington, it is easy for those of a certain age to have flashbacks to the early 1970s as the drama of Watergate began to unfold, and the future of another sitting president was in doubt. But for many in Maryland, it was the fall of Richard Nixon’s vice president, and  former governor, Spiro Agnew, that comes to mind as law experts once again ponder if a sitting president (or vice president) has prosecutorial immunity from felony charges while in office.

In the case of Agnew, local Baltimore prosecutors, under the leadership of Republican state attorney George Beall, had overwhelming evidence that the sitting vice president had taken bribes for almost a decade, including the acceptance of tens of thousands in cash while in his White House office. The question was not only whether they could indict him, but could they do so in time before Nixon was thrown out of office, hence opening the door for an Agnew presidency.

It just so happens that one of the local Baltimore prosecutors in the center of this remarkable storm is Talbot County’s, Ron Liebman. This fact surfaced recently when Ron and his two other colleagues were the stars of the highly acclaimed “BagMan” podcast by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that turns the Agnew case into a first-class legal thriller.

After retiring as a partner from Patton Boggs, he and his wife, artist Simma Liebman, moved to Easton to begin what has been a extraordinarily successful second career as a legal mystery writer himself, with his fifth book, Big Law: A Novel recently published by Penguin.

The Spy caught up with Ron at the Bullitt House this week to talk about this surreal moment in American history.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. To hear Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man” please go here



LTO on High, Stams, and the Return of Neyah White and Brandywine Hartman to Chestertown


While Chestertown foodies will need to demonstrate a bit more patience over the next few months, there are some promising signs that High Street will soon be the center of a dining revolution in the not too far future.

That’s because of the Mid-Shore return of Neyah White and his wife, Brandywine Hartman, who is heading up a massive effort to restore the building where Andy’s and the Lemon Leaf restaurant called home until a few years ago as well as the old Stam’s Drug Store down the street.

Neyah, a native of Kent County, very quickly became one of San Francisco’s best known and successful bartenders in the 2000s when he moved there after college. With a remarkable career launched at some of that city’s most popular bars, including the Clift Hotel, Bacar, Mecca, and Supper Club, and then opening up the legendary Nopalito and Nopa, Neyah swiftly became rose to the top of the mixed drinks hierarchy from almost the day he settled in the Bay Area. But his one consistent long-term plan from day one was to return to Chestertown and open up his own bar.

That plan worked well for his bride to be, Brandywine Hartman, who had created her own remarkable reputation as one of the Fog City’s most applauded pastry chefs. With her background working with two of the city’s two Michelin-rated restaurants, Brandywine found herself as one of the stars of the critically-acclaimed Bar Agricole in the SOMA part of town before the two plotted their exit from California to return to Neyah’s hometown in 2016.

Since that time, life has come with a new baby, a temporary pop-up bar where JR’s and Andy’s was located, and more permanent plans to take the reins of a entirely new bar once the High Street building has been renovated, and the re-establishment of Stam’s a few blocks down as the home of an ice cream parlor and pastry shop.

The Spy caught up with Neyah, Brandywine and their daughter Suzie, a few weeks ago to talk about their new quality of life and their long-term plans of putting Chestertown on the foodie map in the Mid-Atlantic region.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LTO please go here.


Profiles in Spirituality: After Pittsburgh with Rabbi Peter Hyman


Given the daily pounding America is getting with its unending breaking news cycle, it might be helpful to recall that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting only took place only five weeks ago. This horrific attack at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation left eleven dead and seven injured in its aftermath, and left the country, and particularly its Jewish community, shocked and grieving.

That sense of disgust and outrage came very quickly to the Mid-Shore as well.  With the region’s new growth and pride of its Jewish community, this news was greeted with even heightened sense of concern for its neighbors and friends. There was also a desire for many to process this senseless act, which might be one reason that over 500 people gathered at Temple B’nai Israel shortly after the massacre to honor its victims and hold hope for the future.

The Spy thought it would be a good time to check in with B’nai Israel’s Rabbi, Peter Hyman, who also directs the Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore, to help understand how a community recovers from such a painful trauma.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Temple B’nai Israel or the Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore please go here

Margie and Mickey Take A Bow: The Elsburgs Acknowledged at MSCF Awards Program


It seems like it was a combination of appropriately acknowledging Marge and Mickey Elsburg for their two decades of volunteer work on the Mid-Shore and some very good luck yesterday as the Mid-Shore Community Foundation awarded the couple their highest honor on Friday afternoon.

The Elsbergs received the Town Watch Society Award for countless hours of service to nonprofit organizations in Kent County and throughout the Mid-Shore since they moved to Chestertown in 1993. From leading roles with the Sultana Education Foundation, Chester River Health Foundation,  Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, Junior Achievement, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, and a host of other nonprofits, large and small, they both have personified  the best examples of volunteerism on the Eastern Shore.

The good bit of luck was due to the fact that the Elsbergs recently made the decision to leave the Shore to be with their son and family in Hanover, New Hampshire. With their home sold in Chestertown, they will be heading north soon. The Spy suspects we have not seen the last of them, but it seems like the perfect time for Margie and Mickey to take a bow from a grateful community.

This video is less than a minute in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Community Foundation please go here


Op-Ed: Sol Systems Tax Proposal is a Bad Deal for Kent County by Janet Christensen-Lewis


The Kent County Commissioners have been presented with a request to waive substantial Personal Property tax assessments in a Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) from Sol Systems, Inc. for the 7.2 MW Blue Star Solar Project in Massey. The assessed value would make Kent County entitled to $875,000 in revenue (starting in year one at $73,277 declining to $18,319 by year 9 and remaining constant), over the estimated 35-year life of the project. Sol-Systems is instead asking that amount be reduced to $50,000 ($1000 in year 1 with a 2% escalator ending in $1,961 in year 35). This should be rejected, as Kent County can ill afford this tax give away for the benefit of a for-profit corporation that will provide little local employment.

OneEnergy, the initial developer of the project, and Sol Systems, which entered into an agreement to purchase Blue Star Solar in April of 2017, have likely spent in excess of $150,000 on attorney’s fees alone, coupled with unknown other wasted money and time. This has occurred during 4-years of trying, but failing repeatedly, to get the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to accept their legal challenges at every step of their application process. This started with the initial attempt for a waiver to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), through the final request of withdrawal of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) issued in 2016 by the PSC. The last gasp in these efforts at the PSC was a request to operate outside the rules that govern the Community Solar pilot project, as a 6MW Community Solar project. This final step involved a pleading by their attorney that was rejected by three separate state entities: the Power Plant Research Program(PPRP), PSC Staff and the Commission itself. Not dissuaded by the rejection Blue Star Solar requested and was granted a rehearing after retaining new legal representation. This rehearing confirmed the original decision. Had the administrative and legal costs of these repeated attempts to avoid requirements for solar projects not been frittered away they would have gone a long way towards paying the tax bill.

Sol Systems is a highly successful solar finance and development firm, backed by a 25+ billion-dollar company, Sempra Energy. They manage over 650 million dollars in solar assets for utilities, banks and Fortune 500 companies (companies in the best position to take full advantage of the 30% federal Investment Tax subsidies for solar). They have been honored 5 years in a row by INC (an industry promotion organization) as one of the top revenue generators, boasting 229.4% revenue growth over the past three years. Sol Systems is therefore not an impoverished non-profit, but a highly successful for-profit company.

Sol Systems has stated that the agreement that they have entered with Washington College will not allow them to absorb a higher tax rate than what they have proposed. However, this did not seem to influence their behavior in spending extensive time and money trying to get the project they wanted rather than the project allowed as defined by Maryland regulations and the PSC. They are now requesting that Kent County absorb this loss in revenue for prior poor business decisions by the corporation. Who better to absorb the losses, Sol Systems or Kent County?

Together Sol Systems, and the recipient of the agreement, Washington College, surely benefit greatly with the $825,000 savings. But, how exactly do the residents of Kent County benefit? What is the precedent that will be set in future negotiations with other solar companies? This project sits on land in the Industrial/Employment district of the County. Both areas of this district were set aside for workforce development and employment but Sol Systems will provide minimal employment and no development. These lost opportunity costs for the occupied land are not factored into this proposal. At least the recently publicized subsidy give away to the new Amazon HQ2 by Virginia and New York were predicated on employment and growth; this Blue Star Solar boondoggle has neither of these attributes.

The current proposal as submitted needs to be rejected. The Kent County Commissioners, for the citizens they represent, need a proposal that requires reasonable eligible tax assessments to be made in order for Kent County to also be a beneficiary of the Blue Star Solar project in addition to Sol Systems and Washington College.

Janet Christensen-Lewis is a farmer and board chair of Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance.