Out and About (Sort of): Academic Scam and Shame by Howard Freedlander


A week ago at a pleasant lunch in Washington, DC with a college friend, I learned from him about the breaking news regarding admissions bribery at some of our nation’s top universities. Included in this revelation was rampant cheating in college entrance exams and professional help in essay-writing.

My initial reaction was denial, followed by disgust.

Then, last Thursday, a participant at a meeting expressed a decided lack of surprise about the allegations concerning admissions and counseling misbehavior. I was flabbergasted at this response, characterizing it as blatantly cynical.

Another friend ascribed the bribery and manipulation of the admission process to cultural decay pervading our country. Discussion of this analysis warrants another column. It’s worth mentioning, however.

I suspect my two reactions wreaked of naivety. I’ve been living under a rock, I guess. Perhaps I’ve ignored the power of money and influence. That’s not entirely true, however, as I’ve chided and defended myself in the same paragraph.

Here’s what I’ve learned about this shameful episode now besmirching elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and University of Southern California. An unscrupulous college adviser in Boston, capitalizing on the incessant ambition of parents and their children to gain admission to prestigious universities and the perpetual fundraising by nearly all institutions of higher learning, gamed the system to his economic advantage. Now he faces a possible jail sentence.

What I’ve learned over the years as a volunteer fundraiser and friend-raiser for my university is the transactional attitude of many, but certainly not all well-heeled alumni and parents.

The faulty, unsavory logic goes like this: if colleges and universities are constantly seeking incredibly large amounts of money to preserve their fiscal stability, then it only seems reasonable to engage in a quid pro quo. So this errant thinking then prompts parents and alumni to offer huge sums of money for a child’s admission, as we learned the past week.

I despise this mindset. My alma mater will not accept a contribution from a parent whose child is amidst the application process; if this parent is an alumnus and large donor, the school will not accept a donation until the admissions process is completed.

Stories are legendary about longtime givers ceasing their generosity when their child is rejected. I can provide chapter and verse about this common response. I have listened to my share of anger. While I understand that rejection of a child (for anything) is searingly painful for a loving parent, I sympathize only to a small degree.

In the current controversy, the unethical college counselor arranged for someone to take exams for his clients’ children. I’m not sure how that’s done, but I won’t quibble, He arranged for young people to be placed on an athletic coach’s preferred list of applicants—even when the young person didn’t play that sport. The former tennis coach at Georgetown University allegedly engaged in this sordid behavior; his compensation was exceedingly ample.

This mess is abhorrent. No one wins.

Parents able to afford bribes, a college guidance counselor and athletic coaches willing to accept huge sums of money and the young person accepted on false premises—they all have lost their moral compass. I wonder, however, if the participants would agree. They might just bemoan the fact they got caught and say to themselves that they were simply playing the game affordable to them.

While my ire and revulsion are evident, I must admit some reluctance to accept the prevalent condemnation of wealthy people who have provided extraordinary educational and travel opportunities to their children– therefore giving them a distinct advantage over low-income applicants having had exposure to subjects embedded in entrance exams questions and in being fortunate to have impressive resumes.

I have yet to meet parents, regardless of their socioeconomic status, who haven’t extended themselves to a reasonable degree to pay for enrichment opportunities for their children. It’s human nature.

At the university that I attended, 13 percent of recent freshman classes have comprised first-generation, low-income individuals whose parents, I presume, pushed them to apply to this highly regarded school. I would hazard to say that parents of legacy applicants (children of alumni) are screaming at this new reality and possibly withdrawing their financial support.

I wanted to write another column this week. But I couldn’t ignore the crisis of conscience enveloping several major universities. It’s repugnant. It’s an example of money-driven misbehavior that engenders distrust of long-admired schools of higher learning.

Meanwhile, cynicism continues to grow. A transactional approach to college admissions seems distastefully pervasive. Integrity appears elusive.

Maybe it’s beneficial that the college guidance and admission process undergoes examination. My guess is that admission offices and standards of behavior—along with stricter oversight of college guidance advisers—will face intense scrutiny.

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.


Out and About (Sort of): Depression Follow-Up by Howard Freedlander


Amid the music presented during For All Seasons’ ninth annual Heart & Music performed the past weekend at the Oxford Community Center. I harked back to my column last week about medical depression and its debilitating impact on self-worth and mental stability. The show’s message, as intended, struck one particularly powerful note: you are not alone.

As I wrote last week, newspaper and television pundit Michael Gerson, suffering since his 20s from serious depression, made the same point in his guest sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Feb. 17 and again during a PBS interview two days later. Help is readily available.

Gerson pointed to family, friends, medical professionals and God as vital sources of support as one copes painfully with the depths of despair, oppressive feelings and destructive thoughts of “no one loves me” and “no one cares.”

It doesn’t matter if you have gained fame and fortune; depression is an affliction that overrides all barriers. Suicides stun us.

Addiction to drugs, alcohol and work do not block the effects of medical depression. They are mere substitutes for beneficial mental health. The afflicted still feel alone, unable to climb that mountain of consistent health and well-being.

Local organizations like For All Seasons and Channel Marker provide professional assistance that enables people to achieve a level of mental health that may have seemed unattainable. They help those suffering from mental disease and emotional distance from family and friends to create lives free of personal destruction and full of healthy productivity.

Perhaps most of all, local mental health organizations provide an invaluable prescription: hope. Without it, depression may seem inescapable, except through addiction and suicide. Michael Gerson recommended another cure: love, both from within and without.

Like others sitting in Oxford Community Center on a rainy Friday night, I found that music, as is often the case, inspires heartfelt and joyous reactions. Of course, that was the legitimate purpose of the “Songs from the Stage, Broadway and Beyond.” Periodic renditions of particular cases handled successfully by For All Seasons and calls for financial support were appropriate.

Local nonprofits, so very important to the health and sustenance of our community, must have financial support if they are to continue serving those in need. As I’ve stated previously in Spy space, a community flourishes or flounders based upon participation in activities requiring generosity of time and money.


Allow me, readers, to veer sharply from depression and local efforts to help those afflicted with this disease to another issue that has proved harmful to the financial health of the Maryland crab industry. And that is the dearth this past summer of H-2B visas to enable foreign workers, mostly Mexicans, to work in the crab processing business in Dorchester County. The loss amounted to 40 percent; three out of four Dorchester County crab processors received no visas

I read in The Star Democrat that U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and First District Congressman Andy Harris are prodding the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to issue enough visas to help American businesses, including the crab houses in Dorchester County. I urge these three Maryland lawmakers to be relentless in their efforts to support local seafood businesses.

I suspect the issue is political and related to the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. That’s a shame. Dorchester County crab processors have sought and failed to recruit American workers. They want to stay in business in an industry important to the Eastern Shore and tasteful to the rest of the country.

As I end this column and acknowledge its disjointed subjects, I join readers in hoping that spring weather is quickly approaching. I well realize that the month of March is an annual tease, offering the prospect of warmth and then bombarding us sometimes with cold temperatures and snow.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Despair and Hope by Howard Freedlander


At the end of a PBS NewsHour a few weeks ago, I listened intently to what seemed to be a startling non-news story. It seemed out of place, though riveting.

And it was entirely newsworthy.

The subject was depression, a medical and mental disease that not only is common but no longer remains hidden behind the doors of the rich and poor. It’s an equal-opportunity malady. It often leads to suicide.

Michael Gerson, a political columnist for the Washington Post, a sometime commentator for the NewsHour and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, proclaimed he suffered from depression. His revelation came when he delivered a guest sermon Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Two days later, he answered questions from PBS’ Judy Woodruff.

Gerson held nothing back. He recently had been hospitalized, reaching the depths of despair and self-loathing.

“Like nearly one in 10 Americans, and like many of you, I live with this insidious chronic disease. Depression is a malfunction of the instrument we use to determine reality,” he said.

Asked how long he had suffered from depression, Gerson said, “Really since my 20s. But, like a lot of people, I thought I was coping. I was on antidepressants. I was able to finish my work. And that’s how a lot of men and women determine whether they’re succeeding or not.

“But I was very much in a downward spiral of depression, that my psychiatrist said, you’re on a dangerous course. And she was exactly right.”

What I learned from listening to Gerson was that his success was deceptive; he hid his severe mental distress behind his work ethic and journalistic achievements. He needed and wanted more from life.

As he said during his guest sermon, his most effective antidepressant, while living in his “right mind,” was devotion to a loving God. He said, “Love is the heart of all things. God promises strength; when it fails, there’s perseverance; when it fails, there’s hope; when it fails, there’s love, which never fails.”

Gerson explained, clearly and concisely, that the depression-ridden brain produces thoughts of self-loathing: no one likes or cares about me. It’s untrue. However, the brain, affected by chemical reactions, particularly during a “depressive episode,” betrays a destructive reality that “really takes other people to break into that and say, this is wrong. This is not true. What you’re thinking is not correct.”

In his sermon, Gerson said, “Despair grows like a tumor.”

Speaking in the spiritual confines of the National Cathedral instead of a television studio, Gerson called for the power of God’s grace and promise of hope to cope with depression and its debilitating effects. Gerson made a strong case for divine intervention. His confession within the majestic cathedral spoke powerfully to the role of God amid personal distress.

During his PBS interview, Gerson acknowledged the crying need for professional help and compassion from family and friends.

“People should get professional help. You can’t will yourself out of this disease, any more than you can will yourself out of tuberculosis. This is a physical disease that—where you need help… but isolation can be deadly. And that has to be broken by family and also broken by the people themselves that are involved with this,” Gerson said.

Over the years I’ve known people suffering from depression. I’ve read about suicide, particularly among young people who feel unable to cope and battle the life-threatening despair. I’ve tried to understand the pain.

Somehow, when a public figure decides to remove the cloak of secrecy about this pervasive disease, depression becomes more understandable. Maybe, Michael Gerson opened the minds and hearts of those suffering from a common brain disease, giving them permission to claim their own pulpits to disclose their pain and seek professional assistance.

They need not feel stigmatized.

For those of us in the realm of family and friends, Gerson offered us a pathway to provide compassion and caring.

We can donate grace. We can express friendship and love.

If this Washington Post columnist were concluding this column, he might write that despair is not a person’s destiny, that hope is a healthy choice and that God’s love, when combined with medical intervention, can be a strong antidepressant.

Gerson might add this admonition: don’t give up the fight. Life is too precious—even if perilous at times.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Too Harshly Judged? By Howard Freedlander


As the number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination grows every week, I think about the four women who have stepped into the race and immediately confronted criticism of their styles. I wonder if voters judge women more harshly and unforgivingly than they do men.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s persistently populist message of addressing income inequality often paints her as shrill and combative. Were she a man voicing these opinions, I wonder if she would be viewed as passionate and driven.

Shortly after Sen. Amy Klobuchar declared her intentions, news reports surfaced that she was a demanding, sometimes angry boss. Again, I wondered that if she were a man, would the stories of her behavior been considered newsworthy, or simply an example of someone who drives herself and her staff relentlessly—and, perhaps, abusively at times?  Mind you, I am not excusing unacceptable, power-driven behavior by bosses.

I recall reading some years ago that former Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski was considered one of the meanest members of Congress in her treatment of her staff. Yet, this diminutive U.S. Senator was an effective and unrelenting advocate for her constituents. And she didn’t have to face the merciless glare of the national media because she harbored no ambition for higher office.

During the Presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I often encountered friends, mostly Republican who disliked their party’s standard-bearer, but who adamantly said they could not vote for Clinton, but never explained why. They just said they hated her.

Was she considered shrill? Was her laugh considered fake? Was her association with her husband simply too much to endure? Was she just a poor campaigner who seemed stiff and uncomfortable on the political stage?

Last week, my former boss, Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, was re-elected by the General Assembly to her fifth term. She sits on the powerful Board of Public Works with the governor and the comptroller. She is reasoned, steady, low-key and policy-driven.

Kopp neither seeks nor relishes public drama. Prior to her re-election, she was criticized by members of her Democrat party for failing to be more strident and outspoken when dealing with the governor and comptroller on matters of great import.

So, Kopp’s critics want a fighter, a person who willingly and happily will engage in battle as the cameras roll and the print media scribbles away. My reaction is hogwash! Do voters want drama and dispute, or do they want good, sound governing?

Women in politics constantly face a conundrum: seek a solution and compromise—seemingly out of fashion these fractious days—or claim the stage with histrionics and hysteria.

In our sadly polarized country, a key question is whether a woman is electable as the President of the United States. The United Kingdom has a female prime minister, as does Germany. Yet, our nation seems culturally disinclined to elect a woman to lead our country. The Democrat party seems to be awaiting a decision by former Vice President Joe Biden to enter the presidential sweepstakes and then anoint him as the person best able to defeat President Trump.

At this point, I have made no choice. But gender is not a factor. It would be foolhardy to choose my favorite candidate on how they were born. The consequences are too significant for our nation.

I simply want to vote for someone who, in my opinion, can change the trajectory of our country and serve as a responsible, sensible and moral leader of our nation. We have no such person now in the White House.

Electability is becoming the current catchphrase. I have no qualms about that criterion. My concern is irrational criticism of women running for office, barbs that would not be aimed at men as they seek higher office.

Adjectives such as “shrill,” “strident” and “ambitious” seem reserved for criticizing women. On the other hand, men are described as “passionate,” “forthright” and “outspoken.” The adjective war seems imbalanced.

Women face more difficult barriers in garnering favorable public perception.

When I earlier mentioned Nancy Kopp, I could feel the irony as I tapped my keyboard. She’s effective because of her mild but determined manner. Yet some—mainly men–wish her to be more combative, though the results may be minimal.

My plea is for fairness. Gender is meaningless. Judgments colored by bias poison public discourse.

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.


Out and About (Sort of): Must Be Preserved by Howard Freedlander


Does anyone care about American history?

This is a fraught question. The better query is: do people care enough to ensure that Colonial Williamsburg survives dwindling attendance, massive debt and too-hefty raids on the endowment?

When I say “better,” I’m showing my own bias toward a place—actually a museum and special experience—that is peerless in our country. I’m not discounting heavy history tomes or museums scattered throughout our country that capture parts of our national heritage.

Whenever my wife and I spend time immersed in a past that spawned our founding fathers, I feel as if I’m returning to school and paying attention this time around to the words, the lessons, the architecture and the culture.

The picture isn’t always pretty.

Amid the stories about the towering figures who roamed the streets and frequented the pubs, the subjugation of African-Americans has drawn scant concern or compassion.

During our short stay last week, I listened to interpreters portraying Martha Washington and Colonel George Washington and enjoyed modern-day musicians playing and singing pieces treasured by slaves as they painfully coped with bondage.

The musical performance was somber and poignant. The songs were freighted with messages of a sad acquiescence to lives controlled by slave owners. Colonial Williamsburg celebrated its 40th anniversary of paying tribute to the city’s black residents.

Impressed with her high social standing, Martha was a 27-year-old widow when she met a young colonel in the Virginia Militia, in Williamsburg. He had fought for the British in the French and Indian War. They married in 1759, catapulting Washington from an ordinary planter at Mt. Vernon in Fairfax County, VA to a large and wealthy landowner.

Having inherited 17,000 acres from her deceased husband, Daniel Parke Custis, Martha was determined that her second husband become a competent farmer. Throughout the interpretation, Martha always referred to the future Revolutionary War commanding officer and president as “the colonel.”

When in Williamsburg, the audience always must remember the time period in which the interpreter is performing. Though I don’t recall the specific year in which Martha was talking, it preceded the war. She spoke disapprovingly of her son Jack’s poor academic record in college and his heated interest in Eleanor Calvert, who was a member of the prominent Calvert family in Maryland. To no avail, Martha and the colonel tried to distract Jack’s love interest, at least for a time.

What’s particularly fascinating about the interaction with the interpreters comes when they go “out of character” and take any and all questions, whether they relate to colonial or modern-day matters. In response to my question about Martha’s experience as the first First Lady, the interpreter left no doubt that Mrs. Washington much disliked the role in which she was placed for eight years. She did like life better in Philadelphia than she did in New York, site of the country’s first capital.

Colonel George Washington (aka Ron Carnegie)

Portraying George Washington in 1775, the interpreter, deliberately humorless and ponderous, spoke in great detail about his farming activities. He criticized the Boston Tea Party. Instead he thought that colonial planters simply shouldn’t sell their goods to England as protest against British tyranny. When I asked Colonel Washington about his military experience during the French and Indian War, he spoke disparagingly about the arrogant attitude exhibited by British officers toward American officers.

Out of character, Washington’s interpreter said that General Washington, though stoic and many-layered, did have a sense of humor. He also was prone to discount friends and associates who “betrayed” him, not necessarily personally but policy-wise.

These interactions with what Colonial Williamsburg’s “nation builders” captivate me. Not just performers but historians, the interpreters provide invaluable insight into historic figures.

It’s no secret that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is facing severe financial challenge. In an interview in late June 2018 in the Daily Press, a newspaper covering Hampton, Newport News and Gloucester, Mitchell Reiss, the CEO (and former president of Washington College), said, ‘We are starting to save the foundation.’

In 2017, the foundation withdrew $68 million, a whopping 9.8 percent from unrestricted endowment funds. In 2018, the foundation was slated to withdraw $58 million, or 8.3 percent. Typically, nonprofits withdraw no more than 5 percent from endowment. Reiss said the foundation was seeking a 6 percent withdrawal.

As of the Daily Press interview, the foundation’s debt was $300 million.

In 2017, Colonial Williamsburg cut 71 positions and outsourced 262 jobs to four outside vendors. The foundation has 2,100 employees.
Fundraising is strong. In 2017, new gifts and pledges jumped 8.5 percent from $44.9 million in 2016 to $48.7 million, according to the Daily Press article.

Colonial Williamsburg is a gem. The importance of our colonial history is undeniable. Williamsburg was a training ground for Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison and George Washington, the men who gave birth to our country and established our constitutional government.

My wife and I cherish the priceless value of Colonial Williamsburg. It must remain a part of our historic landscape. For financial reasons, it must operate differently and prudently. And that’s happening. while competing with attractions and visitor experiences that have no historic significance, such as its neighbor, Busch Gardens.

Fun is fine. Mixed with some education, it’s better. Colonial Williamsburg is my fancy.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Hope for Journalism by Howard Freedlander


Last week I promised to continue the conversation about reversing the sad decline of local news and its detrimental effect on democracy as measured by informed citizen participation.

In recent years I’ve become a devotee of digital media, such as state-level websites like Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. They allow me to get my daily fix of Annapolis politics. The former offers original articles written by experienced staff journalists, while the latter typically has one staff-written article and an aggregation of stories from print publications throughout Maryland.

Both of these nonprofit electronic publications are funded primarily by foundations keenly interested and invested in the need for professional coverage of local and state government. They also fundraise through periodic appeals. Subscriptions cost nothing.

To put my money where my convictions are, I happily donate to one of the publications noted above. I remain somewhat bemused to observe how journalists-turned editors-turned business-owners unabashedly seek donations from readers, understanding, I believe, that donors cannot be allowed to influence the news product.

Closer to home, the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy, another nonprofit digital medium, has a business model that differs from Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. It carries local sponsorship advertising. It too offers free subscriptions. Last year, its ninth in existence, the Spy conducted a successful fundraising appeal.

Though I don’t pretend to be able to justify the feasibility of one business model over another, the common thread seems to be an infusion of privately-raised money. This similarity seems rooted in a commitment by donors—comprising wealthy owners, foundations, individuals and joint-venture entrepreneurs—to sustainment of information-gathering vehicles that preserve a democracy dependent on public accountability and oversight.

Traditional newspapers and magazines continue to rely on paid advertising and subscriptions.

I further suggest that communities on the brink of losing a valuable local newspaper coalesce to raise money to ensure the future of a community asset. While I realize that every community, large and small, has pressing social needs, I believe that the local newspaper provides an invaluable service to residents; it’s a bulwark against the diminution of democracy.

Like a local utility, a newspaper or website fuels and sustains the health of a community. Residents have a vessel into which they can pour their concerns and opinions.

To take the analogy to a local utility one step further, I would go so far to say that local journalism produces a form of “renewable energy” on the part of its readers. The democratic process works best when citizens become engaged in local matters based upon what they read and hear.

In an opinion piece written recently by Megan McArdle in The Washington Post, she wrote,” Journalism isn’t going away, exactly. There are business models that work, largely two: funding by donors or wealthy owners willing to operate at a loss, or subscriptions. But those models can’t support all the journalism now being done.

“The number of donors doesn’t magically increase just because more are needed. And subscription models have limits, because most people can only afford a few at a time.”

Pointing to the ability of digital media to produce an outlet that doesn’t require printing presses and large amounts of newsprint, McArdle wrote, “Once a digital article has been written, an increasing readership costs the publisher almost nothing; in economist-speak, the marginal cost is near zero.”

I must add a caveat to what might appear to be this column’s bias for digital media. My day is incomplete without feeling compelled to hold and read actual newspapers. But I’m paying increasing attention to digital news sources on my ever-present iPhone.

I’m just an unrepentant news junkie.

Like most everything else we do in our capitalistic society, we must pay for print and digital journalism, whether through subscriptions or donations, if we think it’s important to our lives and democracy.

We have choices.

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.


Out and About (Sort of): Local News Deficit by Howard Freedlander


Our country has a crisis close to my heart. Print journalism is suffering from economic pressure that is stanching the flow of information to residents of communities throughout the country.

Our democracy, strengthened by coverage and hard-nosed oversight of local and state governments, is weaker and untethered; citizens are unaware of decisions and their justification.

As a former community newspaper editor, I understand that better informed readers are better citizens because they learn about their communities and became involved in public decision-making. Though annoyed sometimes by persistent public outcry or even simple questioning, policymakers realize that citizen participation improves the final product.

Not surprisingly, I devour print news. I yearn to be informed. I spend hours every day reading newspapers. I’m addicted. This addiction, however, is healthy. No intervention is necessary.

Recent media coverage of the declining health of local news coverage tells a sorry story.

According to an opinion piece recently written by Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott in the Washington Post, the number of newspaper employees in our country dropped from 456,000 to about 183,000, from 1990 to 2016. Closer to home, The Baltimore Sun employed in the early 1990s four full-time reporters and one part-time person covering Maryland State government, including the 90-day General Assembly. Now it has two reporters occupying desks on the bottom floor of the State House in Annapolis.

Who’s covering decisions and legislation that affects all of us in Maryland?

Who’s making sure that the sausage-making is above-board, free of corruption and conflict of interest?

Who’s covering public hearings and then bothering to stay afterwards to ask questions about what really just happened, and why? After all, we’re talking about a $46 billion enterprise funded by tax dollars.

News stories are going uncovered. Instead, news releases prepared by the entities involved in the outcome become the primary source of information.  

Accountability diminishes on the local level.

For example, Steve Cavendish, president of the Nashville (TN) Public Media, a nonprofit news start-up and former editor of the Nashville Scene and Washington City Paper, pointed during a PBS Newshour interview last week to a recent merger between LifePoint Health and RCCH Healthcare Partners near Nashville, TN in a deal amounting to nearly $6 billion and affecting about 1,000 employees. The Tennessean covered the story, according to Cavendish, with an Associated Press article written in New York. A local rewrite of a news release then followed at the end of the day.

Penny Abernathy, chair of journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina, also appearing with Cavendish last week on the PBS Newshour, cited the loss of print advertising revenue and lack of ability to make up for this deficit through digital advertising and subscription revenue as the reason for the loss of 1,800 newspapers in the past 16 years.

Asked about the impact on consumers, Abernathy said, “Well, it means the rise of news deserts in which residents in communities, hundreds of communities, even thousands, in this country have limited, very limited access to the sort of news and information that’s been the lifeblood of our democracy, everything from when and where to vote, to topics such as education, health, emergency and safety information that we need.”

I believe the state of journalism is dire.

We seek information on social media. We satisfy ourselves with online websites that often feed our political biases. Local news is suffering from neglect. The longtime business model no longer works effectively, except in large newspaper operations like The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Though often maligned for its thin offering of local news and dependence on news releases, The Star Democrat is a vital part of the Mid-Shore community. It provides local news at its purest, including coverage of town and county governments, elections, high school sports, lively letters to the editor, civic organizations and obituaries.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of weekly newspapers in Caroline, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. They provide the glue that keeps a community engaged in current events and offers a forum for opposing points of view. Kent County News has been serving its primarily agricultural community since 1793.

The Star Democrat and our weeklies must live on. I would go so far to advocate that Mid-Shore residents should do everything possible to ensure its continued existence and avoid what has happened throughout the country.

We should subscribe. Business should continue to advertise. We should understand its importance to our community.

A news desert is undesirable.

Next week, I will continue this conversation. I will discuss alternative ways of funding news purveyors.

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.


Out and About (Sort of): Contentious Crossing by Howard Freedlander


About a year from now, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) will announce the location of the third Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing, having chosen from 14 options in Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Dorchester and Somerset counties. A no-build option also is on the table, so I understand.

Maryland Transportation Authority

The impact of a third span on the Eastern Shore will be monumental. Residential and commercial development will follow. Environmental effects will be severe. Quality of life, though an overused term, will take an irreversible blow.

Actual construction would be years off following completion of a federally mandated Environmental Impact Statement. I question how the State of Maryland would finance a $10-20 billion project at a time when public works projects of this size would require a large infusion of private money. Public-private (P3) projects are increasingly more common in the United States,

Nonetheless, the Eastern Shore should gird itself for battle. I say this, knowing that state law grants the Shore veto power over the selection of a crossing. However, state law can be changed, as an Anne Arundel state senator tried and failed to do last year.

As I’ve stated repeatedly in this column, legislative power is in the hands of Western Shore politicians. In this case, they are listening to constituents understandably upset over long waits from traffic congestion heading east and west over the current two Bay Bridge spans during the May-through-September vacation season.

As Eastern Shore residents, environmental groups and politicians prepare their arguments against a project that would undoubtedly change the rural face of Shore, I suggest that a particularly strong one is the real and overwhelming need to protect and preserve product farmland.  I’m not minimizing other excellent reasons for opposition, such as environmental degradation and increased real estate development. I’m just tacking one way for this column.

As John Piotti, president and CEO if American Farmland Trust, wrote recently in the Bay Journal, “Farmland is critical infrastructure akin to roads and bridges. It is the source of the food that sustains us. In addition, farmland provides open space, areas for recreation and habitat for wildlife. It also controls floods, suppresses fires, filters water and represents a vast carbon sink to mitigate and even help reverse climate change.

“Think Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”

According to Piotti, Shore farmland contributes more than $8.25 billion to the U.S. economy. Queen Anne’s County contains the most agricultural acreage and the largest farmland economy in Maryland. The largest percentage of land devoted to farming is in Kent County with a figure of 76 percent. The figure is 55 percent in Queen Anne’s County.

According to an academic study conducted in 2013 by professors at Georgia State and Marquette universities, interstate highways cause the conversion of 468 acres for each mile of roadway. I’m guessing it’s a little less for intrastate highways.

No bridge stands alone. It must be accompanied by an extensive road structure leading to and from the high-flying structure.  That’s the crux of the problem, apart from the thousands and thousands of cars dumped on the Shore as they hurry to coastal resorts.

There’s no telling if a persuasive argument such as the protection of productive farmland will win the day in the corridors of power in Annapolis. But increased and urgent preservation of farmland in the Delmarva peninsula just might thwart a land grab.

As a member of the board of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), I well know of this organization’s success in preserving 60,000 acres in 29 years in an area ranging from Cecil to Dorchester County. State, local and land trust preservation programs are vital to keeping vibrant the agricultural economy on the Eastern Shore.

So, what am I proposing?

If a third Bay Bridge span is imminent—as measured possibly by a decade—then I suggest that a new initiative called Delmarva Oasis become part of our area’s consciousness. The intent is to preserve up to 50 percent of the land in Maryland’s Eastern Shore; currently the percentage is roughly 38 percent.

Delmarva Oasis makes particular sense in light of the threat presented by the potential construction of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span. It offers a way to protect and preserve valuable, food-producing farmland through the purchase of easements and the direct acquisition of land.

As John Piotti concluded, succinctly and sensibly, “We need to save the land that sustains us. No farms, no food, no future.”

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.

Addendum:  A fair number of Spy readers have asked to view the original pdf file of maps associated with Howard Freedlander’s most recent column in the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy on the fourteen possible third bay bridge span options produced by Federal Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority. Please review the document here. It is important to note that these maps are clearly labeled, as, “pre-decisional and deliberative.” The Spy appreciates the thoughtful comments on Howard’s piece about the impact of a possible new third span.


Out and About (Sort of): Pause Before Raising Wages by Howard Freedlander


As the Maryland General Assembly addresses legislation proposing a hike in the current minimum wage of $10.10 to $15 an hour, I recommend caution as well as compassion. Like most things in the political arena, a decision aimed at boosting take-home pay and relieving poverty is not simple or straightforward.

Since I wrote last week that I planned to devote this week’s column to examination and analysis of the minimum wage by this non-economist, I’ve read extensive emails sent me by a friend and economist and spoken with business and non-profit executives. A housing specialist also offered input.

I am torn.

Every working person should make enough money to live not impoverished, able to pay expenses. Everyone should feel compensated fairly and valued. Everyone should feel proud of one’s output, unburdened by a supervisor’s unrealistic expectations.

Employers, particularly those who own small businesses or manage social-service non-profits, face a quandary when state government decides to raise the minimum wage. Eager to pay their employees a fair wage, they now may face a mandate. They also must confront simple economics: can they afford to employ as many people at a higher hourly rate and make a desired profit or continue providing services?

If the answer is no, then employers must lay off employees. They may have no other alternative. The result is undesirable: former workers either must find another job or seek unemployment insurance.

Employers might cut benefits. That too is hurtful.

Nonprofits providing necessary services to poor individuals are in a squeeze when compelled to pay higher wages. The needy clients cannot pay higher fees, prompted by higher-paid service-providers.

Having spent considerable time in Annapolis, I well realize that opponents of bills such as ones dealing with mandated minimum wages or benefits always claim that the world will fall apart should legislation viewed as onerous be approved and signed by the governor. I also know that these cries of alarm are sometimes rhetorical devices.

This time around, I suggest that minimum-wage opponents receive a fair hearing. Their voices need to be heard and regarded. Further, I suggest that if the General Assembly find the politics irresistible to increase the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15, it do so in phases.

Private and non-profit sectors need time to adjust to a new wage reality.

And one more thing: I believe that the minimum wage be set differently for, say Baltimore County, than it is for, say, Dorchester County. This is reasonable. The cost of living differs. The volume of business and ability to pay employees is markedly different in Towson than it is in Cambridge.

Leaders of Maryland counties must have a respected voice. Decentralized decision-making may be unreasonable; input, though, is vital.

An unavoidable consequence of raising the minimum wage in a small business typically calls for hiking the hourly rates of those folks earning greater than the existing minimum wage. This is just a reality. Personnel expenses thus continue to rise for a small business owner.

Complexity underscores the minimum wage debate. It’s just so tempting to raise pay and enable people and their families to live more comfortably. To argue otherwise seems so heartless. It seems the right thing to do in a churning economy.

I ask Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch to consider the inevitable byproducts of a compassionate and politically pleasing legislative initiative. I wish I could jump on the bandwagon without any reservation.

I would like to be led by my heart. It’s just not rational.

Before I bring this column to a merciful close, I believe that raising the minimum wage should not be a stand-alone action. The legislature should combine an increase with additional incentives to build affordable and safe housing and provide job training and affordable day care. It simply makes sense if the state wishes to upgrade the income and output of workers in a holistic way.

At the risk of being redundant, I urge readers to pay heed to the Maryland General Assembly. What it does matters.

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.

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