Publisher Notes: Please Chip in for the Spy this Month

Precisely seven years ago this month, the Talbot Spy began its life as an online news source for a community I had fallen in love with as an undergraduate at Washington College in 1974.  The premise was simple enough. By using the extraordinary tools that the internet provided, such as the ability to use multimedia, easy reader access, and relatively low cost start up, the Spy could be a powerful and useful complement to a legacy newspaper of record and engage more residents in the daily affairs, the arts and culture of their region.

The business plan was also just as simple. Generate enough revenue to cover these costs and provide modest stipends for the Spy’s editors and writers.  There was no vision for media domination or commercializing the “product” to monetize investment. The payback would come with a community well informed and respectful of diverse opinion.

Nor was there any guarantee of success. While I had known Talbot County relatively well,  it was hard to predict if this was a value-added proposition for a community that prided itself on not being an early adapter to most things.

Seven years later, the Talbot Spy has 15,000 readers a month reading it on average five times a month. It has attracted over 200 sponsors and has been able to pay its editors and writers the small stipends they were promised.

More importantly, the Spy has been able to remain true to its mission and aspirations. Over 2,000 educational video programs have been produced, over 10,000 original content articles or local opinion pieces have been published, and 15,000 vetted reader comments have been posted.

With the increased awareness that the Spy was indeed a community asset worthy of philanthropic support, I made arrangements with the Mid-Shore Community Foundation to become the Spy’s fiscal partner, allowing us to receive funding from private foundations as a non-profit entity starting in 2013.

All of these ingredients have worked together to keep the Spy afloat over these years, but the reality is that we, like every nonprofit organization, must seek a highly diverse revenue flow, and must now ask you, gentle reader, to chip in.

For the balance of March, the Spy will not be shy about asking for this support. Taking a page out of the playbook of other fundraising programs online, we will have a “pop-up” appear for a few moments to beg the question of a modest monthly contribution or one-time donation to keep the Spy going.

I hope with your help the Spy can continue to serve Talbot County for many decades to come with your help.

Please make a contribution here.

Dave Wheelan




Editorial: Not so Wild a Notion – A Small Grocery Store Can Work in Easton

There is probably not a day that goes by in downtown Easton when at least a few of the pedestrians that pass the now abandoned Safeway on Harrison Street don’t shed a tear for that missing food store. While a few might have some affection for the food store chain itself, it is more than likely that much of the grief is felt for the end of an era when walking or biking to a grocery store was an real option.

Since Safeway’s departure, a solid core of downtown residents now must now pile into their cars (if they have one) to head off to the larger food stores off the Bypass or Route 50, adding to Easton’s traffic pressures and rush hour congestion.

What makes this a particularly melancholy affair is the growing feeling that the old Safeway will not be occupied anytime soon with a replacement. In fact, it is more likely that no large food chain, even if permitted to locate there, would find it cost-effective to establish a such a small footprint venue.

This predicament is not unique to our community. With a return on investment in doubt and competition severe, these corporations are electing to drop their small stores and expand the number of “superstores” outside downtowns, allowing more parking and easy access for cars.

The result for Easton, sadly enough, is a substantial retail gap in our downtown district and, more importantly, quality of life.

But maybe it is not so wild a notion to imagine a return to a smaller scale, traditional grocery store (think of the beloved Todd’s on Aurora Street) capable of serving Easton’s growing pedestrian community and provide a modest profit.

The fact of the matter is that there are several models, in all different types of settings, that show that one does not need a 50,000 square-foot grocery chain store to succeed.

One remarkable example can be found on Race Street in downtown Cambridge. The Simmons Center Market has been serving its community since 1937 with marginal parking and a less than a convenient location for motorists. But with a regional reputation for quality meats and reasonable prices, the Central Market continues to strive notwithstanding its proximity to a Walmart Superstore and Food Lion chain store in the same town.

Looking beyond the Eastern Shore is the extraordinary story of the Bi-Rite grocery store in San Francisco, which provides no parking in a community without parking, and yet yields $4,000 per square foot. By contrast, traditional supermarket revenues are said to produce $200 to $300 per square foot while a Whole Foods store brings in $900 to $1,000 per square foot.

A four minute mini-documentary on Bi-Rite Market

It is with these kinds of case studies that should encourage one of our many local entrepreneurs (and their potential investors) to see a way forward to offer a similar experience for Easton’s downtown. We can only keep our fingers crossed that they do.


Editorial: The Color of Purple in Talbot County

It’s hard to think that those of us who live in Talbot County can ever go back to what the color purple meant to us after the last thirty days. Gone forever are the associations of that color with the Baltimore Ravens, ecumenical symbols, Purple Heart citations, or even an artist formerly known as Prince.

No, the color purple now stands out as strikingly different to thousands of us in the community because of the flawless launch of the “Talbot Goes Purple” awareness campaign, sponsored by the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Rotary, which powerfully drew attention to the horrific opioid crisis on the Mid-Shore.

The selection of the color for such use is remarkable in itself. Purple is considered the most complex on the color spectrum. Before a dye was accidentally created in a chemistry lab a few hundred years ago, purple could only be produced by using rare sea snails, leaving it to be the exclusive property of the very rich or religious orders of the times.

Perhaps because of this rarity, purple has always been historically linked to royalty, magic, and mystery, but more recently it has been seen to represent spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing, strength and abundance.

The latter might explain why it was the perfect color to use in Talbot County last month. As one of Alice Waters characters said in her classic novel, The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

And notice it, we did.

From bumper stickers to grids of purple lights glowing nightly in downtown Easton, the community could not avoid the color nor what it represented for local families overwhelmed by the most savage drug epidemic in our country’s history.

And yet even with this sad connotation, it is a feeling of hope that remains purple’s best quality. In can move us beyond hopelessness and remind the community of what ties us together. As demonstrated over the last month, it has become a sign of compassion and support to all those impacted by this cruel and evil force. As more and more residents of Easton replaced their traditional exterior lighting for purple bulbs throughout the last four weeks, there was a glowing sense of a county sharing something very much in common.


Editorial: We’ve Been There with the Talbot Boys Before but Haven’t Done Anything

When the full impact was felt from the violence in Charlottesville that took place in front of a statue of a Confederate general last weekend, it is suspected that more than a few Talbot County citizens felt a certain degree of deja vu as the media once again put the spotlight on similar Civil War memorials commemorating those who served to defend the institution of slavery and state rights.

Two summers ago, Talbot County faced its own moral dilemma in discussing the fate of the Confederate soldier monument entitled “For The Talbot Boys” on the Courthouse lawn in downtown Easton. This came in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, which motivated the local chapter of the NAACP to file an official complaint with the County requesting that the statue be removed.

That NAACP complaint led the Talbot County community into an intensive six-month conversation about racism and the history of the Eastern Shore and slavery. Several town hall meetings were arranged to discuss these issues, dozens of letters to local newspapers were published, and open hearings were hosted by Talbot County Council.

The Talbot Spy also felt the need to provide extensive coverage of this issue. Thinking it was consistent with our educational mission, and also seeing it as what educators called a “teachable moment,” we completed an eight part special series (re-published in today’s Spy) with historians, religious leaders, elected officials, and local citizens to provide context and commentary on what Talbot County needed to do in the face of this difficult moral dilemma. We also didn’t hesitate to offer our own opinion on the statute.

The outcome of this debate, as ratified by the Talbot County Council members, was to keep the Talbot Boys statue where it stands today. Their decision, represented by Council President Corey Pack remarks, talked about the legal and cultural reasons why monuments like the Talbot Boys should not be disturbed. While President Pack made it clear that more could be done to acknowledge the real history behind the statute, as well as the Union boys that also died in the conflict,  the Council did not see these solutions as part of their legislative responsibility but encouraged citizens to take on a leadership role to rectify these profound gaps.

But since that summer of 2015, it is sad to note that not one group or individual has stepped forward to ensure that the full story of Talbot County in the Civil War is honored. The Talbot Boys still sits on the Courthouse lawn without interpretation, without a balanced viewpoint, nor acknowledging the other four hundred young boys from Talbot County that fought for the Union and end slavery.

Perhaps the Charlottesville tragedy will spur our community to take action finally. But this time, let’s please finish the job.




Editorial: The Departures of College Presidents Sheila Bair and Barbara Viniar

Just as with friends getting divorced, when colleges separate from their presidents there is that familiar feeling of sadness as well as the usually unanswered question as to why it had to come to “this.”

“They seemed like the perfect couple, or “what a terrific team,” or, better yet, “they were made for each other, what happened?” The phrases that come to mind when everyone’s favorite couple announces they are getting a divorce seem no different than when a school’s board of directors sends out press releases that their current CEO has abruptly resigned.

And that seems to have been the case with the recent announcements by the Boards of Chesapeake College and Washington College that their current presidents, Barbara Viniar and Sheila Bair, both of whom had records of significant accomplishments, would be leaving their posts under less than clear circumstances.

The general public, just like friends of divorcing couples, is not in a position to seek clarification for these quick changes. Just like in observing a marriage from afar, they are not privy to the kind of private conflicts, misunderstandings, or simple incompatibility that college presidents may or may not have had with their governing boards. The community at large is left to mind their own “beeswax” having neither the authority, nor the position, to press for better answers.

The Spy finds itself in a similar position. We are not in the business to speculate or second-guess volunteer boards on managing these local institutions of higher education unless there is evidence of malfeasance which, to our knowledge, does not seem to be the case with in these two cases.

But that does not preclude us from saying that both of these women demonstrated a love of their institutions that achieved great and significant improvements in how their schools pursued their mission.

Barbara Viniar’s ten years at Chesapeake College almost perfectly paralleled the remarkable sea change in community college education throughout the country. And during that time, Dr. Viniar held firm in her conviction that through innovation and curriculum reform, Chesapeake College could navigate through the pitfalls of funding shortages and political conflicts to become all the more useful and relevant to the communities it serves. She should take pride that she has left the community college in Wye Mills stronger and more vibrant as a result of her leadership.

And while Sheila Bair at Washington College did not enjoy the same lengthy tenure as Dr. Viniar had, it was stunning for many observers, including the media, how quickly she was able to define the mission of the College to include an intensely public campaign to reduce student debt. She also instantaneously became the primary national advocate in shedding light on the precarious subprime educational loan market, earning her well-deserved coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

It is these records of accomplishment that make these transitions painful to hear. But it also a reminder of how extremely difficult being a college president is these days. Beyond the usual tensions that come with faculty demands, alumni grievances, and high board expectations, college leaders must operate will fewer resources, tighter regulations, and new performance metrics based on “return on investment” calculations. In short, these are really hard jobs.

As the Mid-Shore awaits news of their successors for both schools, it behooves us all to acknowledge the personal leadership offered by these impressive women. They both should feel a sense of accomplishment as they move on to their next role.

We wish them well and with our gratitude.


Editorial: The Serious Threat of Fake News

As our more observant readers noticed today, the Spy has run our annual fake news story in honor of April Fools’ Day with the announcement that the Eastern Shore will have its own rapid transit system next year. We have also enlisted columnist Howard Freedlander into this fictional project with his reporting that Annapolis is moving ahead with a tunnel from the Bay Bridge toll center to Claiborne to connect with the new system. We hope these two breaking news stories will be enjoyed as much by the Mid-Shore region as it has been for the Spy team to produce.

April Fools Day has always been a cherished tradition at the Spy. From our announcement last year that Trump International was constructing a luxury twenty-four story apartment building in Claiborne to the Town of Chestertown accepting responsibility of Binny, an orphaned giraffe, in exchange for funding the town’s Marina on the Chester, The Spy writers allow this field day of imagination to test readers aptitude in depend on their judgment of what is true or false, no matter how crafty our art director is with photoshop

We are also glad that this unofficial national holiday comes only once a year, since the Spy, like any responsible publication, depends on the community’s trust to fulfill our mission as an important educational news source for the Mid-Shore. While it is always tempting to take poetic license during the rest of the year, our desire to maintain our reputation for credibility will always trump our enjoyment of irony or mischief.

Sadly, we are living in a culture where an increasingly large number of independent media sources have turned April Fools Day into a daily occurrence. The production of fake news, from every end of the political spectrum, has invaded our daily consumption of information. And the results of which has been devastating.

In the last year alone, fake news impacted a presidential election, caused a gun assault at a family pizza restaurant in DC, and has sent the United States Congress into endless and costly investigations using false news reports on such topics as Benghazi or presidential wiretapping.

It is particularly hard to imagine that this harmful practice will end anytime soon but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must remain such a potent force in our culture. But it does require that citizens, the country’s consumers of news, become increasingly become more vigilant in relying on their good judgment and common sense rather than accept at face value what they find on the internet.

Publisher Notes: The Spy, President Trump, and David Montgomery

Perhaps it overstates the obvious that there is no good owner’s manual on how a small community newspaper, dedicated to public education, can reasonably and constructively cover this unprecedented time with the advent of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Traditional schools of political thoughts, such as liberal and conservative ideology, have become blurred as the country’s new leader swings comfortably between multiple think camps with a very idiosyncratic approach to policy formation.

One consequence of this new Trump reality is that news sources, even ones like the small nonpartisan and nonprofit Spy, have become increasingly susceptible to charges of bias on how they have presented the dynamic, and sometimes nerve-rattling, repercussions of policy shifts coming from the new administration.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery

While the Spy has not lost much sleep from the few cases where readers have found fault with how we present the news, the Trump presidency does indeed offer unique challenges in fulfilling our mission in providing a diverse and safe harbor for community commentary.

A case in point has been our efforts for different points of view with our columnists. Since we started the Spy in 2009, we have intentionally sought out writers of all political persuasions to write authoritatively on public policy. Many of those columnists have come from the highest levels of public service with previous Democratic and Republican state and federal administrations, and as a group, at least in “normal times,” would be considered a wide and healthy spectrum of opinion.

But the Trump years, no matter where one stands on the issues, will not be “normal times.” And as a consequence, several of our writers who may be steadfast supporters of the “center-right” policies have philosophically or politically separated themselves from Trump policies or leadership approach.

While it is safe to say that Spy columnists can take any position they care to, as the Spy publisher and executive editor, it was incumbent for me to close this gap in our point of view section (P.O.V.), and I am therefore very pleased to announce that Spy friend and highly respected economist David Montgomery has agreed to help.

While David is not affiliated with the new administration, and may at times be critical of Trump policies, the Spy is very fortunate to have someone of David’s exceptional background discuss and intellectually analyze the ideas and policies of the new president on a frequent basis. He starts in today’s edition.

David, now retired, was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He has taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

A Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University, and also earning a doctorate from Harvard, David has been a gifted advocate for the power of free markets and smaller governments. Given credit for developing the successful economic theorem which produced “cap and trade” emissions to protect California’s air in the late 1970s, as well as a writer on Catholic theology, it is particularly rewarding to have someone of David’s caliber sharing with our readers his thoughtful take on world events.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher & Executive Editor

Editorial: The Importance of Ruth Starr Rose

Some thirty-five years ago, the stepson of a deceased local artist stepped into the Chestertown studio of art conservationist Ken Milton with the idea that Ken may have some interest in his mother’s work. Ken agreed to look at the art, and a few weeks later, Ken and Dick Rose met at Rose’s Colchester home to look at Ruth Starr Rose’s portfolio.

Remarkably, the artwork was not protected inside steel cabinets, or even carefully stored in an attic, but instead on Rose’s back porch. It was quite apparent that the paintings had been exposed to the elements for many years, but as Ken began pulling the art into the daylight, it didn’t take him long to realize he had come across something quite amazing.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.59.16 AM

Ruth Starr Rose

One by one, images of beautifully dressed children, handsome men in suits, pretty women in dresses, all African-Americans, started to emerge while Dick Rose slowly recalled his mother’s love for her neighbors in Unionville, who had become Ruth Starr Rose’s subjects for most of her career.

Over the next three decades, Milton would painstakingly repair and restore a significant number of her work, but it wasn’t until art historian Barbara Paca noticed one of them in his studio a few years ago that a unique partnership formed to find and protect Ruth Starr Rose’s work and the legacy of the families of Unionville and Copperville.

The cumulative effect of that hard work has finally emerged, and starting Friday, through the generosity and vision of the Dock Street Foundation, it will be on display at the Waterfowl Building for the next seven weeks. It might be the most important art exhibition ever to be shown on the Eastern Shore.

That may be in part due to Ruth Starr Rose’s skill as an artist. Trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the early 20th century, Rose quickly adopted a form of portraiture that demonstrated superior ability. But to place emphasis exclusively on the artist’s mastery would tragically misunderstand why Ruth Starr Rose’s art is so relevant. As competent an artist as she was, it was her subject matter that makes this exhibition the powerhouse that it is.

When she moved to Talbot County after her marriage, Rose rejected the temptation to continue her artwork with drawings of the Chesapeake Bay landscape or waterfowl in flight, and instead chose to concentrate on human portraits. But rather than work on traditional subjects of the times, like wealthy estate owners and their children, Rose instead was drawn into the community and its church that lay just outside her door.

And it is this cumulative impact of art, community, and spirituality that Rose brought to her portraits of African-Americans that makes this so invaluable to the Eastern Shore and its history. At a time when racial tensions still remain high, Rose’s work brings into focus a different kind of world of beauty, pride, and humanity.

From documenting families to finding visual imagery for traditional spirituals, Rose depicted the quiet dignity and historical relevance of Unionville and its residents in ways rarely seen. It was through this artist’s eye that one is reminded of the real Eastern Shore, and its African-American communities of strong families, local heroes, and breathtaking history.

Over the next few days, the Spy will be sharing some of that history with its readers to entice many on the Shore to make the trip to Easton to see Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World. This once in a lifetime event not only brings to life a part of the Eastern Shore too often ignored or misunderstood. but it will remind us again of what a special place it truly is.

Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World
April 30 to June 16
The Waterfowl Building
40 South Harrison Street
Easton, Maryland

Editorial: Talbot County’s other Food Hub

If residents have heard anything about a food hub lately in Talbot County, it is more than likely they are thinking about the rather ingenious idea of providing local, small acreage farmers with a distribution center to jointly sell their produce competitively to national wholesalers.

While it seems reasonable that this form of cooperative commerce should be entitled the title of the Talbot County “Food Hub,” it might be best to come up with an imaginative term for Talbot’s other food hub – that being its restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, specialty shops, farmers markets, and high-quality grocery stores.

And food hub means that every day of the year, a certain percentage of the fine people of Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Dorchester Counties, decide to get in their cars for the 30 to 50-minute ride to Talbot County for its surprisingly large and diverse food scene.

From picking up fresh produce, grabbing some sushi, or finding a venue for such important celebratory moments as anniversaries and milestone birthdays, the surrounding Mid-Shore counts on Talbot County to play that role.

When one pauses to ponder how far Talbot has grown since the days when the Rustic Inn in the Talbottown Shopping Center was the bee’s knees, with its generous supply of mini bread loafs and unlimited butter, it is a stunning example of what a food revolution actually means.

There are more than a few local heroes to thank for this remarkable turn of events. Early pioneer Amy Haines at Out of the Fire immediately comes to mind, as do the excellent team that brought us the Railway Market in the late 1970s. But the list is long, including the likes of the innovative Masthead in Oxford in the 1980s, the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels in the 1990s, or the opening of Scossa on Washington Street.

And this tradition is continuing in the 2000s with the likes of a Bartlett Pear, Rise-Up Coffee, Lyon Distilling Company, Gina’s, and more recently the charming addition of Sunflowers and Greens on Federal Street, the return of the sports bar with The Barn in Easton, or Trappe’s new hip BBQ Smokehouse.

There are certainly still some remaining gaps in the Talbot County portfolio. We still are lacking a serious bread company, Thai or Indian options don’t exist, we don’t have a food truck culture yet, and we lack an organization committed to significantly expand local produce in our community schools and food-assistance programs.

However, none of these seem outside the world of possibility as Talbot grows in reputation as the Eastern Shore’s best incubator climate for food entrepreneurs of all kinds.

All of this adds up to a remarkable moment in Talbot County’s economic history. It is this kind of regional food hub that not only allows locals to enjoy high-quality food experiences but provides an incredibly important incentive for families to come to Talbot for dining, but to coordinate those trips to take care of many of their other needs, be it from big box chains, the boutique stores on Goldsborough Street, or health and legal services. The aggregate impact of this kind of traffic is a really, really big deal now and in the future.

One simple way to show appropriation of our foodie leaders is, of course, through patronage. In short,we should all buy and eat their food. And there is no better time to start doing that with the launch Sunday of Talbot County’s annual Restaurant Week.

Participating restaurants also feature special prices and menus throughout the week. Two-course lunches will be available for $20.16 while three-course dinners are priced at $35.16.

And perhaps before every dinner starts this the week, we might also remember in a secular way the true meaning of the traditional Grace of “bless this food to our use and us to thy service, and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.”

Now let the meals begin.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.46.50 AM




Editorial: Talbot Boys Next Steps

After six months of debate, history lessons, editorials, and public comment, the Talbot County Council last week made the unanimous decision to keep the Confederate Veterans Memorial, a.k.a. The Talbot Boys, on the County Courthouse lawn. It was the right decision.

It was also the right decision to ask the Talbot County community to raise funds for a similar memorial for those who served in the Union army. This need for parity is long overdue.

There were still however quite a few questions left unanswered. Who or whom would lead this effort? What organization(s) should take responsibility?  What would be the budget and on what timetable?

It is not the Talbot County Council’s job to provide those answers. They have completed their work with serious intention and input, and it now falls on our community to do their part.

And there is little doubt that the citizens of Talbot County will step up and lead this project. It can only be hoped that this will be done sooner rather than later.

More importantly, it would be a very sad lost opportunity indeed if yet another monument was erected with just names and no context to help the visitor understand the Civil War’s impact on Talbot County and its people. In short, it is hoped that with this new monument comes space for signage devoted to telling that complex story to truly appreciate the honor given to those that served.


Help the Spy keep Spying in Talbot County

Please support the educational mission of the non-profit Talbot Spy with a modest contribution per month to help us continue our local coverage of Talbot County’s public affairs, arts and regional culture.

Click Here to Chip In