About Dave Wheelan

For the Love of Adkins Arboretum

What’s not to love about a 400-acre arboretum less than 30 minutes from your door for most of us living on the Mid-Shore? Nothing. But what is hard is to decide what you love the most about the Adkins Arboretum just outside Ridgely, Maryland.

This proves to be a difficult choice for the thousands of annual visitors and members of this natural Eastern Shore gem adjacent to the 4,000-acre Tuckahoe State Park in Caroline County. And it is particularly challenging for the Adkins staff who provide an extraordinary range of programming that includes nature, gardening, visual arts, music, poetry, and environmental education throughout the year.

All of that has not stopped the Spy in asking a few of the Adkins team what they loved the most of this “living collection” of more than 600 native plant species and natural forest. We sat down with Ginna Tiernan, its Executive Director:  Jenny Houghton, Assistant Director; Kellen McCluskey, Membership; and Emily Castle, who works on the Arboretum’s Funshine Garden, to confess their top choices.

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

Plein Art Easton Founder Nancy Tankersley Looks Back Fifteen Years

Nancy Tankersley has a good chuckle when remembering the first time she started talking to people in town about doing a Plein Air festival in Talbot County. She had just returned from the famed Carmel, California Plein Art event in 2004. And with a new gallery and studio opening on South Street in Easton that year, she felt the entire region could get a significant boost if Easton had its own.

And while everyone she met was polite, there was some humorous puzzlement, and a bit of a pushback from some local leaders before Nancy, with the help of Al Bond and Plein Air Magazine publisher Eric Rhoads, was successful in her making her case.

No one is baffled anymore.

After fifteen years, Plein Air Easton has turned out to be a remarkable major event for Talbot County and the surrounding area. With hundreds of artists in residence for days at a time, and twice that number of patrons eager to follow one of the most significant art movements in modern history, Nancy Tankersley prediction that it would be a net gain for the community proved spot on.

But even Nancy would be the first to tell you that no one back in 2004 could ever imagine the current world of Plein Air’s popularity and its impact on the contemporary art world.

The Spy sat down with Nancy at the Spy’s Easton studio to talk about Plein Air Easton’s roots and impact before all its artists start arriving next week.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about Plein Air Easton please go here.



Focus on Talbot: Mr. Pack Doubles Down by Dan Watson

The Talbot County Charter states, “No business may be transacted…except in public session.” The 1977 Maryland Open Meetings Act (“OMA” or Act) similarly requires that “public bodies meet in open session” unless the Act expressly provides otherwise. The goal of the Act is to require “that public business be conducted openly…to ensure the accountability of government to the citizens.”

In February the County Council, led by President Corey Pack, refused to respond at all to inquiries about actions taken behind closed doors, insisting that information would be released only via a formal Public Information Act (“PIA”) request. When that request was filed, the Council then refused to release any of the key documents that would reveal what transpired—the ten emails and eight texts that are still being withheld—claiming executive privilege (which is discretionary) and refusing to explain (as required by law) why releasing those texts and emails would harm the public interest.

The handful of documents that were released, together with a cryptic list of materials being withheld, were nevertheless enough to reveal that the County Council had identified a specific policy question to resolve, had collectively deliberated on that topic via numerous text and email exchanges over 36 hours, and had voted on a policy decision—all without the public even knowing about it. (The decision was not unanimous, but we still do not know who voted which way.)

On that basis I filed a complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board (“OMCB”). In response, the County argued that, on the grounds of a number of technical issues, it had not “held a meeting,” and so, in effect, the public had no right to know how it had come to its decisions or who had voted in what manner.

On July 1, the OMCB found that the Talbot County Council “violated the Act when it did not provide the public with an opportunity to observe its deliberations on its position…” (The Board did not address the Charter violation, as it is not in their purview, but as the issues are the same, I believe that violation is confirmed as well.)

On Sunday, July 7, Mr. Pack replied with quite an extraordinary commentary published in both the Talbot Spy and Star Democrat. It seems he’s doubling down on a bet that people won’t try to follow what really happened, or don’t care.

Mr. Pack’s missive actually has some superficial appeal to common sense, if one were to accept his inaccurate representation of the issues and is unfamiliar with the back-story and the OMCB’s opinion. But let’s review some of his charges one-by-one.

First, Mr. Pack goes on the offensive, claiming that the County Council is the victim here. He said ““I believe the OMCB is using Talbot County in an attempt to further its own agenda. For the OMCB to use a made up violation of the Act to further its own political agenda is shameful.” (He did not use the words “witch hunt.”) In fact, the OMCB has no political agenda.  It is composed of three independent attorneys experienced in governmental law and all appointed at different times by Governor Hogan.

One signer was formerly the city attorney of Annapolis and later the Anne Arundel County Attorney. Another is the current Anne Arundel County attorney who has practiced in that office for fifteen years. The Chair of the OMCB is the city attorney for the City of Havre de Grace. If anyone knows the practicalities and mores of local government as they relate to the need for transparency while getting business done efficiently, these three attorneys do. They analyzed the Talbot matter in a detailed 7-page opinion.

Secondly, Mr. Pack three times stated outright that all of the text and email communications central to the matter (and still secret) were between just two members. (“Discussions were not in the form of group email but in fact were one-on-one…” “For the OMCB to conclude that talking to each other one-on-one constitutes a meeting of the elected body is absolutely preposterous.” “To consider communications between two elected officials….”) This misinformation is of great importance, as the quorum for a “meeting” is three members. And in fact, as the County’s own list of withheld materials makes clear and as the OMCB opinion examines in detail, at least six communications were indeed “group emails” involving all five council members.

Third, Mr. Pack said, “Never has the Board communicated its intentions to consider electronic communications within its purview.” The OMCB opinion is replete with citations of prior discussions and warnings concerning use of emails in conducting public business, including the 1996 Opinion referred to by Mr. Pack which included this statement from the Attorney General: “To be sure, email could conceivably be the medium of exchange when a quorum of a public body has convened.” The matter is addressed in Open Meetings Act training sessions.

Forth, Mr. Pack stated his belief that “Citizens trust public officials to gather the best information they can when making decisions about [citizens’] welfare….” In my opinion, civic trust will be much better fostered when the Council releases the texts and emails which it proclaims (without explanation) cannot be shared because it would endanger the public interest; when informal inquiries yield straight answers; when citizens do not have to go through the PIA process (at some expense) to get information that should be readily available; when the council listens to all sides on important matters, rather than any single interest group; and when council elections are free of fabricated charges and fabricated spokesmen.

Fifth, Mr. Pack claimed, “In my 10 years on TCC there has never been a deliberate attempt to evade the OMA”…. “This council and councils before, understand the importance of an open and transparent elected body, and…have always taken steps to ensure we stayed in compliance with current law.”

I believe Mr. Pack would have us forget that on May 4, 2016 the OMCB sent to him— then as now, President of the Council—a notice of violation of the Act, a violation that could hardly have been inadvertent. This makes two in three years.

It should not be hard for the Talbot County Council to abide by the Maryland Open Meetings Act, and no one is trying to interfere with normal activity of government. The over-wrought claim that this recent opinion “will dramatically harm day-to-day operations across the State of Maryland” (“across the nation”!) and that it will “cripple elected bodies” is simply a diversion to avoid facing the actual violation at hand.

And since the secretive proceedings in February have been found to constitute a meeting, aren’t the text and email communications tantamount to the public discussion that would have played out at the front of the Bradley room? They should be released forthwith.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

A Shore Mother Navigates the New World of Transgender Policy in Talbot County

It is relatively easy to have a conversation in the abstract about transgender identity in such fields as health, religion, or government policy, but it’s an entirely different matter when it comes to the everyday challenges of navigating the rights of individuals with accommodations such as restrooms and locker rooms.

And it’s also a very different story when it’s your child needing to be accommodated.

That was the case with Lynn Brennan and her family when a daughter became a son between the seventh and eighth grade in the Talbot County Public School district a few years ago. At a time when state and local governments had not developed guidelines for transgender students, Lynn’s family was the first locally to enter into this new and complex terrain for public schools, teachers, and students.

In her interview with the Spy, Lynn tells the compelling story of her family working with a St. Michaels school principal to thoughtfully prepare for this significant cultural change. And a lot of progress was made to respect her son’s access to bathroom and locker room facilities.

But all of this was before the Trump Administration’s rollback of Obama-era civil rights safeguards, or more recently, the Supreme Court weighing in favor of transgender access in Doe v. Boyertown Area School District this May.

We talked to Lynn a few weeks ago at the Spy HQ.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about the Shore’s transgender community please go here




The Spy Newspapers of America with Steve Goldman

When I started the Chestertown Spy in 2009, I wasn’t convinced that having a local newspaper with “spy” in the masthead was the best idea around. During the months prior to launching my concept of a web-based, hyper-local and educational news source, I continued to postpone deciding on its name until the very last minute.

My heart said yes; I loved the fact that the new publication could be named after Chestertown’s first newspaper in 1793, but my mind said this could be a grave mistake. For every one person in town that knew of the original newspaper’s existence, there were nine people who could easily interpret the the word “spy” in less than generous ways.

Nonetheless, John Lang, the Spy’s first executive editor and former AP reporter, lobbied hard to use the old name, and I agreed to look again at the 18th century Spy one more time before we were to turn on the new site.

And in looking at the old version of the Chestertown Spy, I began to see how these two entities, divided by over two hundred years, would be remarkably similar in the content they would provide the community. While public affairs remained a primary focus, you can see in the early Spy a surprisingly wide range of topics that reflected a passion for the arts and culture.

With subjects as diverse as philosophy, health, education, spirituality, poetry, and storytelling, the first Spy surprisingly incorporated many of the same topics the new Spy inspired provide greater Chestertown. It was a perfect fit and I’ve never regretted the decision nor the responsibility in carrying on the original Chestertown Spy’s mission.

But this journey into the historic roots of the Spy also led me on a quest of sorts in understanding why so many colonial newspapers used that name in their masthead. By 1820, there were more than 14 newspapers in America that used that Spy in their name, starting with the venerable Massachusetts Spy which started in 1770.

And when I discovered that the largest private collection of historical newspapers in the United States was located in none other than Oxford Maryland, I drove over to meet its owner, Steve Goldman, who build this remarkable archive of American history to get a crash course on the Spy newspapers of America as well as his thoughts on journalism then and now.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Stephen A. Goldman Historical Newspapers please go here.





Novelist Christopher Tilghman on Family Tales at the Hermitage

Given writer Christopher Tilghman’s talents as a storyteller, it should come to no surprise that his books constantly find themselves on the New York Times bestseller list. What is surprising though is his literary reliance on his multigenerational family home on the banks of the Chester River for his inspiration for those award-winning historical novels.

The Hermitage is a manor house that has stood in the same place in Queen Anne’s County since being built in 1659. The product of the first of many Richard Tilghmans who made their mark on the Eastern Shore, the Royal Navy surgeon, arrived to the new world in 1650, and set into motion the construction of what was known as “Tilghman’s Hermitage.”

And for countless generations, the Tilghman family has painstakingly maintained this historic property, ensuring that the numerous houses on the site are kept up for future Tilghmans to use and to continue the stewardship of one of Maryland’s most historic properties.

The University of Virginia Creative Writing teacher still makes the summer trek to return to the family homestead, but these frequent visits not only refresh memories of when, as one of his brothers coined the phrase, “I grew up coming here,” but it has allowed him to channel century old family stories into a framework for three novels and numerous short stories.

The Spy sat down with Chris at the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford for a quick chat prior to his talk on his most recent novel, Thomas and Beal in the Midi, hosted by the Mystery loves Company bookstore.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. Christopher Tighlman’s books are available at Mystery Loves Company and the Bookplate in Chestertown and, of course, Amazon

Spy Profile: Keasha Haythe and a Foundation of Hope for Young Girls

By far, one of the best examples of helping young black boys grow up in a complex world is none other than Talbot County’s Building African American Minds (BAAM). The creation of Derick Daly and his wife, Dina; BAAM has grown from its humble roots in 2004 into a phenomenal institution for the region. Now in its 15th year, the growth of BAAM can best be seen as they grow their campus of classrooms and recreation facilities on Jowite Street, which serves over one hundred boys.

While there is universal admiration for BAAM and their remarkable success, there was invariably a question on many people’s minds about the contrast between this mature organization daily impacting the lives and future of young boys and the lack of a similar program for girls. And one of those who was worried about this gap was Mid-Shore civic leader and economic development expert Keasha Haythe.

As she reflected back on her own challenges as a young girl growing up, she became all the more determined to find a way in which middle school girls could better prepare for their adult lives, including understanding entrepreneurship, business plans, and career education, but also the soft skills needed for social interaction, conflict resolution, and the building of personal self-esteem.

And in 2016, with the help of Talbot County Public Schools and various other government agencies, Keasha created the Foundation of Hope. Directly initially for 6th-grade girls, the program within only a few years now attracts some twenty students motivated to take advantage of  this special mentoring program.

The Spy caught up with Keasha a few weeks ago at the Easton Middle School for a better understanding of the Foundation’s goals and aspirations.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Foundation of Hope or to volunteer please go here

CBMM Celebrates Women and Boats

It seems fitting that while the Rosenfeld family’s photography is considered epic on so many levels in the world of art, it had to be pointed out to the legionary father and sons by a woman that they had documented the incredible 2oth Century arc of cultural change that women experienced as they transitioned from occasional passengers on board boats to literally taking the helm by the end of the 1900s.

The good news for the Rosenfelds was that this woman was Margaret Anderson Rosenfeld, the daughter-in-law of Stanley Rosenfeld. And through her meticulous research, Margaret, professor emeritus at the University of Delaware, has curated a remarkable collection of her family’s images at all stages of this progression.

First shown at the Mystic Seaport, and now on view at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, “On Land and On Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection” is an outstanding narrative of women and their relationship with boats and the sea.

The Spy spent some time recently with Pete Lesher, chief curator at the CBMM, and its president, Kristen Greenaway, to better understand the exhibition of their observations about women and maritime history.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about “On Land and On Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection” please go here.


Looking Back: Lawrie Bloom and 34 Years of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

One of the Mid-Shore’s best examples of having good luck was the serendipitous events that caused the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival to be created thirty-four years ago. And it begins with a Navy engineer with a love of sailing who decides to buy a summer home in St. Michaels in 1985.

Lawrie Bloom, Cathy Cho, Todd Phillips, Maria Lambros, Marcy Rosen and Peggy Pearson.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy here except for the fact that Ralph Bloom, the new homebuyer, had a son who was a classical musician who happened to be affiliated with some of the best symphony orchestras in North America. And when he discovered that his family had a new home in St. Michaels, the first idea that popped into his head was how Talbot County would make a wonderful venue for a new chamber music festival. That musician was J. Lawrie Bloom, and in the thirty-four years since that moment took place, he and his friend and co-founder, Marcy Rosen, have built one of the most prestigious summer music programs of its type in the United States.

Now, after years of commuting from Chicago, where he is the bass clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a professor of music at Northwestern University, Bloom has decided to step down from his role as the artistic co-director of the Chamber Music Festival this season and, to his great joy, will be replaced by violinist Catherine Cho, who will join Marcy Rosen in running the music program each year.

The Spy thought it was a good time to talk to Lawrie about the early beginnings of the festival and how it grew not only to be a first-class musical event but eventually became Chesapeake Music, which now sponsors its own jazz festival, a children program called First Strings, and the International Chesapeake Music Competition.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival and Chesapeake Music please go here




Mid-Shore Arts: Kevin Fitzgerald and the Art of Landscapes at the Troika

There is a noticeable wince in artist Kevin Fitzgerald’s face when he is reminded that a significant number of his paintings are now hanging in the homes of celebrities including the home of Barack and Michelle Obama’s home in Washington, D.C.

While he remains humbled by this kind of unique success, it’s evident in his interview with the Spy the day before an exhibition of his work goes up at the Troika Gallery that he wants his remarkable landscapes of the Eastern Shore and the Atlantic coastline to stand on its own after decades of concentrating on horizontal perspectives of open space and water.

As the third generation of Fitzgerald artists, the Maryland Institute of Art alum experienced a turning point in his career when his wife and a gallery owner pushed him to show his work beyond his studio in Berlin near Ocean City. With representation in an Annapolis gallery in the 1990s, Kevin catapulted to the top of regional artists that allowed him to leave his day job as construction contractor and become the full time artist he had always hoped to be.

In his Spy interview at the Troika yesterday, the artist talks about his family background, the primal urge for human beings to seek out landscapes, and the extraordinary power of the Shore to calm and restore balance with the earth’s seasons.

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

We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.