Healthcare Plans See Reductions of Premiums in Maryland for 2019

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced a reduction in next year’s insurance premium rates for individual healthcare plans in the state.

The two health insurance providers in the state’s Maryland Health Benefit Exchange — which operates the marketplace consumers use to purchase healthcare under the Affordable Care Act — Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, will offer an average of about a 13 percent reduction in premiums across the board, the governor said. The new rates will take effect on Jan. 1.

The announcement comes after the federal government in August approved the state’s request for a waiver to establish a reinsurance program to stabilize the insurance market and prevent rate spikes.

“Rather than huge increases in health insurance rates, we are instead delivering significantly and dramatically lower rates for Marylanders,” Hogan said. “For the first time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, all individual insurance rates in Maryland will go down instead of up.”

Prior to the waiver’s approval, insurance premiums were expected to increase dramatically next year for both HMO and PPO healthcare plans. CareFirst’s PPO rate was expected to increase by more than 90 percent. It will now decrease by 11 percent, the governor said.

CareFirst’s HMO plan, which covers more than half of the nearly 200,000 Marylanders with health insurance plans purchased in the individual market as of June 30, will see a 17 percent decrease.

Kaiser had proposed a rate increase of almost 40 percent. Instead their rates will drop by about 7 percent.

“As a result of these rates, the health insurance market in Maryland will finally have the chance to become more competitive and dynamic,” Hogan said, adding the reinsurance program will make healthcare more affordable and increase competition by coaxing more insurers into the market.

The reinsurance program is a temporary fix, however. The waiver runs through 2020 but could last through 2023, according to the waiver application — and a more permanent solution must be enacted by the federal government to ensure rates do not increase down the line, said Maryland Health Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer.

“Most of the rules regarding the Affordable Care Act are embedded in federal law. Very little authority is given to the states,” Redmer said. “What we really need — and what we’ve been advocating for years — is for Congress to put aside those partisan differences and come up with common sense solutions or give us more authority to make changes here in the states.”

Redmer declined to speculate whether insurance rates would increase after the waiver expires without a long-term solution in place.

“Short term, our health insurance rates are (going to be) much more competitive than they were this year,” Redmer said, adding that the lower rates will add more consumers to the insurance market making it healthier overall.

By Brooks DuBose

One Maryland, One Book 2018 – Bloodsworth with Tim Junkin

Long before Sarah Koenig’s brilliant Serial on NPR or Netflix’s award-winning Making a Murderer, which highlighted the importance and use of technology to save those falsely accused of high crimes, Talbot County’s Tim Junkin had already “been there, done that” with his pioneering and highly-regarded Bloodsworth some ten years before.

Destined to be a book that created an entirely new sub-genre of true crime since its publication, Bloodsworth tells the dramatic tale of  tale of Kirk Bloodsworth, a Dorchester County man charged and convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 1984. But, as Junkin documented in Bloodsworth, an introduction of  DNA evidence into the appeals process led to Bloodworth’s eventual release from prison.

Over a decade later, Tim Junkin’s Bloodsworth is back in the news as the 2018 selection for the popular One Maryland, One Book program, which encourages all residents of the state to read the same book in the hope of starting community conversations. In this case, it’s doubtful that will be a problem.

The Spy caught up with Tim at the Bullitt House a few weeks ago and thought it would be the most interesting to our readers to hear his account of this remarkable moment in the country’s pursuit of justice.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length. For more information about One Maryland, One Book please go here.

 

 

Eastern Neck Refuge Spared from Closure, but Funding Crunch Continues

The Tubby Point boardwalk at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. (Richard Pos, US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring a new manager at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, sparing a natural area popular with hunters, anglers and birdwatchers from at least partial closure.

The refuge, located in Maryland on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, was left without a full-time manager in September 2017 when that official took a job elsewhere in the Fish and Wildlife Service. Lacking funds to hire a replacement, agency officials began warning Eastern Neck supporters this summer that public access to the refuge was in jeopardy.

Although the agency hasn’t received any additional money, it announced in August that Eastern Neck will remain open to the public. That decision came about three weeks after the Bay Journal reported on the potential closure and the growing outcry from user groups and elected officials.

The refuge consists of a 2,200-acre island at the confluence of the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, about 70,000 people visit each year to catch glimpses of tundra swans and more than 200 other bird species, hunt deer and turkeys, and hike among the island’s pine trees and saltwater marsh.

“We’re very excited [about the decision],” said Melissa Baile, president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, a support group for the refuge. “I think they did not realize how much the refuge meant to the constituency and the country in general.”

Baile added that her group’s work isn’t over. Federal funding has been shrinking for the refuge system during this decade. If Eastern Neck supporters don’t stand guard, they could be facing another closure threat within a few years, she said.

To pay for the new staff member, the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a branch of the service that oversees the region’s refuges, will have to reallocate funds it had reserved for other causes, said Terri Edwards, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. So far, no timeframe has been set for making the new hire.

In July, Marcia Pradines, the Chesapeake Marshlands’ project leader, told the Bay Journal there was a possibility of a full shutdown at Eastern Neck and a gate turning back visitors at the entrance. “It’s not something we want to happen,” she said at the time. “In the end, it’s a budget reality.”

The staffing decisions wouldn’t have affected access to the county road that traverses the island, Pradines said. It would have remained open to Bogles Wharf, home to a county-maintained boat ramp and small pier.

By early August, Fish and Wildlife officials softened the potential blow. The entrance gate would remain open, allowing hunting, fishing, birdwatching and “other wildlife dependent uses,” regardless of staffing decisions, they said in a message posted to the refuge’s website.
The fate of the visitor center, along with the five walking trails, two boardwalks and maintenance activities, remained in limbo.

As the agency pondered its next step, employees from the Marshlands complex’s headquarters in Dorchester County shared the refuge’s administrative work — and the four-hour roundtrip drive that accompanies it.

The all-volunteer Friends of Eastern Neck has stepped in to complete other chores. In addition to their longtime responsibility of managing the visitor center, members are helping to conduct special events and performing countless hours of repairs and upkeep across the island. At times, the island is devoid of paid or volunteer staff, save for a lone volunteer clerk manning the front desk, said Phil Cicconi, vice president of the Friends group.

The Friends group, Baile said, wrote letters and emails to elected officials and Fish and Wildlife staff to keep their beloved refuge open. They lined up a growing list of allies in the fight, including the Kent County Commissioners, the Patuxent Bird Club and the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The movement attracted the help of Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, among others. In December, he wrote a letter to Fish and Wildlife’s parent agency, the Interior Department, calling for the position to be filled in light of Eastern Neck’s importance to Kent’s economy.

Van Hollen applauded the move to keep the refuge open. But like Baile, he counseled vigilance. “Filling this position will help the Refuge better serve visitors, the local community, and area wildlife,” he said. “I will continue working to ensure our state has the federal resources necessary to support our economy and our environment.”

Eastern Neck’s supporters also looked to Rep. Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who represents the Eastern Shore. He is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and belongs to the controlling party. Harris said in a statement that earmarking funding specifically for Eastern Neck would violate congressional rules, but that he was actively seeking other solutions.

Eastern Neck is not alone in its budget challenge. Accounting for inflation and fixed costs, the nation’s network of more than 560 refuges receives nearly $100 million less funding today than in 2010, according to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, a coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups. The funding crunch has led the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave 488 refuge jobs unfilled, a loss of one out of seven positions.

“It’s a nationwide system problem. What’s happening in Eastern Neck is happening all across the United States,” said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs with the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “You can limp along for a few years, tightening your belt and no travel and, whenever somebody retires, you don’t fill the position. But at a point, you can’t do anymore.”

Over the last 15 years, national refuges across the country have been forced to shut down visitor centers or cut back on the number of days they’re open. The popular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, for example, was forced to close its visitor center two days a week after it lost two park rangers to budget cuts.

In Rhode Island, the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center was closed for three consecutive winters. Supporters raised money to install solar panels, cutting costs enough to allow it to open for the winter of 2008–09.

The Trump administration requested $473 million in funding for the refuge system in fiscal 2019, a 2.7 percent decrease from current spending. An Interior Department appropriations bill approved by the Republican-controlled House along party lines in July sets aside nearly $489 million, a rise of less than 1 percent. The Senate passed its own version, sending the legislation to a conference committee to hash out the differences.

“You have to understand that you can berate the administration as much as you want, but ultimately it comes down to the legislative branch — Congress — to appropriate the money,” Sorenson-Groves said.

By Jeremy Cox

Jeremy Cox is a Bay Journal staff writer based in Salisbury, MD, where he also teaches communications courses at Salisbury University.

In Leesburg, African-American Elders hold Mixed Views on Confederate Statue

Editor’s note: This story is one of a four Capital News Service articles on how the debate over Confederate statues is playing out in small towns in the South.

Gertrude Evans, 70, was born into the Jim Crow South and lived through the rocky integration of Leesburg when firemen filled a swimming pool with cement and garbage rather than permit its integration.

More than a half-century later, she turned to art as therapy to work through that traumatic period when she wasn’t allowed to sit on the red stools at Little John’s drugstore or watch a movie at the neighborhood Tally Ho theater.

The white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last year brought “everything to the surface,” she told Capital News Service recently. “…  I mean you see (racism), you see it.”

For the first time, she said, she’s been thinking too about the Confederate statue in front of the Leesburg courthouse. She doesn’t believe it should be moved but, still, “it’s the first thing you see” downtown.

“It causes conversation — good.” But “take it down and put it in Ball’s Bluff (Battlefield), you’ll never see it again,” she said. History will be forgotten.

Leesburg’s statue, like so many others around the country, became the subject of renewed concern following the 2015 murder of nine black church members by a white supremacist who posed on social media with a Confederate flag. One member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has recommended the statue be moved to Ball’s Bluff Battlefield two and a half miles away where the Confederacy defeated the Union.

Virginia law prevents the county from moving or relocating the monument. In September 2017, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors decided not to ask the state for authority to move the statue, but it asked the county’s heritage commission to make recommendations this summer regarding the statue and its surroundings.

Capital News Service recently interviewed community members in Leesburg as part of a series exploring the views of African-American and white residents in five southern cities where Confederate statues stand on public land in front of courthouses.

Teams of reporters traveled to Anderson, South Carolina; Easton, Maryland; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Franklin, Tennessee; and Leesburg, Virginia. They also interviewed leaders of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Most residents, black and white, were wary of taking dramatic steps, such as removing the statues, that would inflame tensions within their communities and could make it more difficult for future generations to understand the Civil War and segregationist Jim Crow eras. Most residents also said they preferred adding more context to Civil War memorials than removing them all together.

Derek Summers Jr., 36, and the founder of Loudoun County’s Citizens’ Committee against Domestic Violence, said he feels the Confederate statue’s gun pointing at him when he drives or walks past it on North King Street nearly every day.

“It’s like letting you know that in the hearts and mind of some of these folk here, the fight’s not over,” said Summers, seated on a bench next to the statue.

David Dixon, 59, owner of Jackson’s Barber Shop a few blocks down the road, has passed the statue on his commute to Leesburg for 24 years. He said the monument doesn’t bother him.

“My personality and the way I am, I really don’t care,” he said. “ … I look more toward the future than the past.”

Marquez Mitchell has passed the Leesburg statue when he visits Jackson’s for a haircut every few weeks. Confederate monuments “represent hatred and slavery, even though on paper they said we were free,” the Harpers Ferry resident said.

As a child, 41-year-old Chris Johnson would go to concerts near the courtyard of the statue. Johnson, a lifelong Leesburg resident, said the statue doesn’t bother him, but “what it stands for” does.

“They don’t need to destroy it necessarily, because there are people who find value in it. But I think for the greater good it is something that should be moved,” Johnson said.

Jim Roberts who leads a walking tour to commemorate African-American history here, leaves the statue off his itinerary. As a child, Roberts played near the statue and never paid much attention to it. He believes the newcomers are offended by it, not so much the old-timers.

“I can’t waste time thinking about what happened 150 years ago because it’s over and done with,” he said.

Horace Nelson Lassiter, 84, a barber at Robinson’s Barber shop which opened in 1962 said the statue “doesn’t bother me. I don’t care what is already done,” he said.

Lassiter was one of the first black police officers in the Loudoun County Deputy Sheriff’s Department in the 1960’s, and took the position “to show black people that they could get a job.”

“There’s still racism (in Leesburg). It hasn’t changed … It’s not the younger people, it’s the older people in my age group,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter’s wife, Mary Louise Lassiter, 81, a prominent activist in Loudoun County and

former local NAACP chapter president wants the statue to stay and for visitors to understand the pain slaves went through on courthouse grounds.

“When they’re told, hopefully they’ll understand the torture of all of those people who were put in those stocks.”

Formerly A Slave Market, Now a Favorite Lunch Spot

The square where the statue sits operated as a slave market throughout of the Civil War. Today the statue is surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, a bar and the original courthouse. Government employees often lunch feet away from where whipping posts, cages and auction blocks once stood.

While the slave auctions in Leesburg were much smaller than those in other Virginia towns, the courthouse was the epicenter of the city’s slavery institution. In 1856, the court ordered that whippings move off courthouse property, according to newspaper advertisements at the time.

Three lynchings of black men accused of crimes also took place in Leesburg, in 1880, 1889 and 1902, according to the “Lynching in Virginia” history project at George Mason University.

Six years later, in 1908, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Leesburg chapter paid to have the statue erected to commemorate soldiers who had died in the war. Like most

Confederate statues across the South, the Leesburg statue’s unveiling came during “a terrible period of disenfranchisement — the Jim Crow period where enforced segregation and disenfranchisement really started to bleed,” said Jim Hall, author of the “Last Lynching in Northern Virginia.”

The president of the Leesburg chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy declined to comment, but the national organization has said it does not support racism, white supremacy or the white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville, and that it opposes their use of Confederate symbols.  Many of its members say the Civil War was not about preserving slavery, a view historians dispute.

“The statues that celebrate the Confederacy were put up when African-Americans were demanding to be treated like human beings,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair said Phyllis Randall, the only member of the board to vote in favor of asking the state for authority over the statue.

Known as “Loudoun’s silent sentinel,” the bronze figure built by famed sculptor Frederick William Sievers is a soldier with his gun cocked and his eyes fixed forward. It stands higher than both the Korean War monument to the right of the courthouse entrance and the Revolutionary War monument to the left.

In 2005, the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter organized the cleaning and rededication of the statue.

It was cleaned with ground up walnut shells to help dissolve the mint green oxidation covering it.

Statue Oversees Businesses District

The generic soldier has an unobstructed view of the Downtown Saloon, a biker bar established in the 1960’s and decorated in bras and Confederate symbols. The menus have images of the courthouse and statue on them. The bar sells T-shirts with art of the statue. Sometimes, motorcycle riding members of the Mechanized Cavalry of the Sons of Confederate Veterans visit and park outside.

A sticker on the mirror behind the bar says “Dixie Rider,” overlayed on top of a Confederate flag.

Scott Warner, in a black T-shirt with a Confederate flag on the left pocket, said of the statue: “Any soldier who dies for what he believes in needs to be honored.” The statue’s fate has “become a political issue and it shouldn’t be,” he said. “It’s our history.”

Not many people paid attention to the statue “until Charlottesville,” said 46-year-old Jim Boyce, seated in the restaurant. “You can’t get rid of everything,” he said. “If you get rid of everything, the history isn’t here.”

Margaret Brown, a member of the Black History Committee at the local Thomas Balch Library, protested against the statue last summer after the march in Charlottesville. She said the biker bar was an intimidating presence for protestors.

“There were some guys who were across the bar who were pretty aggressive with their motorcycles,” revving the engines and glaring at the protestors, she said.

Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun County NAACP, said the statue shouldn’t be located in a place for justice.

“The courthouse is a seat of power and people were trying to send a message to black citizens,” he said.

Pastor Michelle Thomas, a member of the nine-person commission assessing the future of the statue, said the statue “has the microphone —  of hate and oppression and fear.”

Evans, though, has mixed feelings. The statue controversy has made her want to know more about the Civil War era.

“I know my ancestors were enslaved. But I don’t know how they were treated,” she said. “It just makes me think and wonder … I’m very interested in that whole era.”

By Alexandria Carolan

CNS staff writers Ariel Guillory and Elisee Browchuk contributed to this report.

Legacy of Slavery and Segregation Influences Debate on Talbot Boys Statue

Editor’s note: This story is one of a four Capital News Service articles on how the debate over Confederate statues is playing out in small towns in the South. It begins with a profile of the Talbot Boys controversy in Easton.

When residents here describe their town, they describe a paradise. There’s no crime and everyone—black and white—gets along in neighborhoods just a few miles from the banks of the Eastern Shore’s Tred Avon River in Talbot County.

Those waters, however, once led to one of the most prominent slave ports in the country. Talbot County profited off of the human cargo the ships carried, condemning slaves to labor that sustained thriving agriculture and seafood industries.

With the Civil War came the opportunity for slaves to gain freedom through military service. Eighteen who fought for the Union then returned to Easton to found Unionville, a haven that got them through the violence of the later segregationist Jim Crow era.

Throughout the 20th century, black and white communities in Easton developed into the largely middle-class households they are today, but as parallel, segregated worlds. Lines started to blur once segregation ended. But as much as Easton and its neighbor Unionville may want to move past the deeply unequal relationships that etched their past, they can never quite escape them.

“You have people here who may be descendants of folk who held others in bondage and the descendants of the people who were held in bondage,” said Rev. Nancy Dennis of St. Stephen’s AME Church in Unionville. “They work together, they engage in business transactions together, they socialize together, they help each other when there’s crisis.”

This proximity is one reason why a recent but unresolved debate about taking down Easton’s Confederate statue has been so delicate.

Soldiers who sacrificed their lives to ensure that African American slaves would never be free are glorified in a bronze statue on the courthouse lawn. Five miles away in Unionville, the graves of 18 of their military opponents, born into slavery, are buried behind a church where their descendants worship every Sunday.

Around the bend from the church graveyard is Wye House Plantation, which was the largest plantation on the Eastern Shore and where Frederick Douglass was enslaved. The original structure looms and a descendant of Douglass’ owner still lives there. Though a statue of Douglass was erected in front of the courthouse to honor the abolitionist, the county council approved it after months of debate and stipulated it could not exceed the height of the Confederate statue it parallels.

Communities with Confederate statues across the country are reckoning with relics commemorating the Civil War. In Charlottesville last year, such a statue became the gathering point for a white nationalist and Nazi rally that erupted into violence and left one anti-protester dead. Baltimore authorities removed four Confederate monuments overnight in their city just a few days later.

People in Easton are grappling with how their histories are honored as a handful of activist residents are forcing the town to confront its past.

Talbot Boys

Although the controversy over Easton’s Talbot Boys statue has simmered for only a couple of years, its story begins 104 years ago.

Joseph B. Seth, a lawyer from Easton, wrote a letter to Col. David G. McIntosh of Towson in 1914, asking McIntosh to help him secure a monument with the names of the 84 Confederate soldiers from Talbot County.

“We had more men from this County to gain positions of high distinction than there were from any other County in the Country, either North or South,” he wrote.

When Easton erected the monument in July of 1914, Seth realized his mission was incomplete. He expressed to McIntosh his interest in placing a unique statue on top of the monument, unlike the common statues of soldiers throughout the country.

“It is my desire to get away from the conventional soldier figure which is found on all of the monuments North and South, and to get an allegorical figure representing youth and courage,” he wrote.

The county dedicated the Talbot Boys statue on June 5, 1916, an image of a boy soldier standing at attention holding a Confederate flag that drapes over his left shoulder. Although some Easton residents say they either ignore the statue or knew nothing about it as children, their tune changed three years ago when concerned residents notified the local NAACP chapter of their opposition to Talbot Boys after feeling alarmed by the shooting of nine black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

The NAACP then requested the statue’s removal and a countywide debate over which side of the town’s history to honor ensued.

A Painful History

Before the Civil War, Talbot County had the tenth largest slave population in the state. People from Africa and the Caribbean were brought into the deepwater port at Oxford, operated by founding father Robert Morris, according to local historian Bernard Demczuk. They were then distributed on both sides of the Tred Avon River using a ferry now considered the longest running private ferry in the country.

There were 3,725 slaves and 2,964 free blacks living in the county by 1860. Slaves were sold at an open market where the county courthouse now stands.

When war broke out, brothers in the county found themselves fighting against each other, though three times as many fought for the Union as the Confederate cause.

The Talbot Boys statue was erected 51 years after the war ended during the height of segregationist Jim Crow period.

“You had this climate in 1913, 14, 15 of the highest office in the land saying it’s good to attack black people, it’s the American way,” said Demczuk. “That’s why the statue was put up.”

During that same era, there were several lynchings on the Eastern Shore, Demczuk said. Black residents, such as those in Unionville five miles away, knew not to wander far from home.

“That community was self-sustaining and it was insular and it had to be,” Demczuk, who wrote a dissertation on Unionville, said. “They had to grow their own food, they had to have their own school system, they had to have their own midwives, they had to have their own health care and child care because they couldn’t go to the white schools. They were confined. Racism and Jim Crow and the [Ku Klux] Klan confined them into this community.”

Memories and Photo Albums

Harriette Lowery grew up in Easton but visited her grandparents in Unionville every Sunday for dinner. Her family migrated to Baltimore when she was 14, but, like many Easton residents, she said she was later drawn back to the small town’s peacefulness.

What she didn’t know was that her great great grandfather, Benjamin Demby, had been drawn back to the county decades earlier as well after serving in the United States Colored Troops.

It was at a ceremony in 1998 that Lowery said she first heard the story of the 18 soldiers. Brig. Gen. Albert Hunter was digging into the lost history, and Lowery knew one of the 18 was probably an ancestor of hers. When she learned she was correct, she was dumbfounded that her family had never told her about her heritage.

“I was 48 years old and it was the first time I’d ever heard that story,” Lowery said. “I could not understand why.”

County council member Dirck Bartlett similarly did not know he had a connection to Unionville until five years ago.

Now he treasures a thick, buckled family photo album with a portrait of Ezekiel Cowgill, the quaker abolitionist who leased the land in Unionville to the soldiers for one dollar per month. Bartlett said he found the family relic advertised in a newspaper.

Everyone in Easton seems to have a similar story. Everyone is related to someone, and despite decades where the community avoided discussing such matters, Easton’s current generation finds deep value in preserving such memories.

In the basement of an antique shop, the Talbot County Historical Society manages a vault to preserve items families have donated. Everything from dollhouses to old dresses are now becoming artifacts.

This is one reason why removing an artifact with 84 Confederate names feels wrong to people like Bartlett.

“As bad of a cause as that was, they were still just soldiers from families in this area and the families decided to honor them with a statue,” he said. “I just didn’t think it was my place to tear [it] down.”

Imposing any edits to Easton’s physical history feels radical for many white residents, even though the statue’s origin can be easily traced back to the violence of Jim Crow which followed post-Civil War Reconstruction. Many black residents who recognize that history don’t want to relive the trials that came with taking a stand against their oppressors.

That’s where the issue of maintaining the peace finds its way back into Easton’s dialogue. Doing nothing is the most peaceful option both for those who appreciate the statue and those who find it offensive.

But more insistent voices are eager to push for change. When they do, many of even the most non-confrontational residents find themselves falling on one side or the other.

Controversy

Easton’s Talbot Boys statue stands on the Talbot County Courthouse lawn. Some residents believe its position sends a message of hate to those seeking justice and inaccurately portrays the Confederacy as the winner of the Civil War.

Richard Potter, an Easton native and president of the NAACP, led the organization’s efforts in 2015 to remove the Talbot Boys statue from the lawn. The members submitted recommendations to the county council, which included relocating the statue to a museum and replacing it with a statue that honors both sides of the Civil War.

The courthouse is a place where Americans go to seek a fair and just trial, according to the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—yet, on one side of its lawn stands “a statue that honors individuals who were pro-slavery and wanted to keep us—a particular group of people—oppressed,” Potter said.

When the county council voted against the recommendations, they did so in an illegally closed meeting, a move that prompted the NAACP to partner with the ACLU of Maryland to fight the council’s violation of the Open Meetings Act. The council voted again in public, and the decision was the same—no.

For the more conciliatory voices, including Bartlett, a workaround solution came in 2011 when the county council allowed the Frederick Douglass Honor Society to erect a statue of Douglass. The statues stand 51 feet apart, on either side of the walkway leading up to the courthouse doors, both depicting life in 1800s Easton, when Confederates and those who supported the Union lived as neighbors.

Bartlett voted against the NAACP’s recommendations because he believed the Talbot Boys and Douglass statues complement one another by accurately depicting the county’s history with the Confederacy and Douglass’ triumph over slavery.

“The NAACP didn’t see it that way and that took me by surprise,” he said. “I thought that having both the statues was actually a good thing because it showed the progression of history, and having torn down the Talbot Boys statue, no one would ever know that there were Southern Sympathizers in Easton.”

Although the Douglass statue is viewed as a peaceful solution, it doesn’t tell the story of the other side of the Civil War—the Union side, according to Potter.

“[The NAACP] won’t be finished until that statue is removed and we have a monument up there that depicts the entire truth about the Civil War, as it relates to Talbot County,” he said.

By Teri West and Kirstyn Flood

 

District One in 2018: A Spy Goes to Harford County to Meet Barry Glassman

This Election 2018 profile is the third of a six-part series on the intricate makeup and character of the 1st Congressional District of Maryland. Each month, the Spy will be interviewing different 1st District residents from the Western Shore to the Lower Shore, both Democrats and Republicans, to discuss their unique sub-region of one of the largest congressional districts in the country, and the issues and political climate of those communities.

When Barry Glassman was attending Washington College in the early 1980s, he mirrored a world that ranged from the unbridled optimism of Ronald Reagan on one end and the cultural acceptance of TV’s right wing teen idol, Alex P. Keaton, on the other. Not burdened with memories of Watergate or the violence of the 1960s, Glassman, and his contemporaries, eagerly welcomed the Reagan era’s full throttle patriotism and America’s new, and much more hip, form of political conservatism.

From those early beginnings in Chestertown, where he sought his first political office as the president of WC’s Student Government Association, Glassman made politics a career choice that has taken him to become a Maryland state delegate, senator, and now the County Executive of Harford County.

A few weeks ago, the Spy drove over to Bel Air to talk the County Executive Glassman about his native Harford County, its role in the 1st District, as well as the increasingly polarized nature of national politics and what it means to be a Reagan Republican in the era of Donald Trump.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. 

When Things Go Wrong: A Spy Chat with Easton Utilities Crisis Point Person Jim Crowley

As the Mid-Shore finds itself once again in the hurricane season, there is a relatively consistent feeling among Easton Utilities customers that the government-owned distributors of power (gas and electric), cable and internet services is exceptionally well equipped to handle whatever weather crisis comes its way. That’s no doubt due to the utility company’s well-earned reputation for customer service and safety.

But the Spy was curious, as we often are, about who were the actual people that would be leading the Talbot County’s recovery effort and we found one the other day.

If and when things go wrong around here, one of the critical point people will be Jim Crowley, the gas and safety manager for Easton Utilities. With a highly technical background of safety and crisis management, starting with his degree from the Mass Maritime Academy, Jim will be an essential part of the county’s SWAT team of agencies to get the greater Easton area back on its feet.

The Spy caught up with Jim outside of EU’s headquarters off Harrison Street last week to talk about the company plans for the “what ifs” that come with regional crisis management.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Easton Utilities and what one can do to prepare for servere weather please go here

Washington Post: Seafood Company Diluted Chesapeake Blue Crab Meat with Imported Crab

Based on a tipster telling authorities that a Virginia seafood supplier was selling premium Chesapeake blue crab meat cut with cheaper foreign crab, federal agents fanned out to markets across Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina, scooping up crab meat from Casey’s Seafood and sending it out for the type of DNA analysis more common in rape and murder cases.

The results would reveal the tip of what authorities say is a massive fraud worth millions of dollars, one so large it has shaken the food industry and raised questions about just how much of the iconic food labeled as local comes from the Chesapeake Bay.

Please read the full article here

Supporters Rally to save Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge from Closing

Photo by Dave Harp

A national wildlife refuge that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year to the Chesapeake Bay may be forced to close to the public soon.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering shuttering the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge because it lacks the funding to hire a new refuge manager, said Marcia Pradines, project leader at the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a branch of the service that oversees the Chesapeake region’s national refuges.

“If the position isn’t filled, that’s a possibility,” Pradines said, “It’s not something we want to happen. In the end, it’s a budget reality.”

The refuge consists of a 2,200-acre island lying on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where the Chester River meets the Chesapeake. About 70,000 people visit each year to catch glimpses of tundra swans and more than 200 other bird species, to hunt deer and turkeys, and to hike among the island’s pine trees and saltwater marsh, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“People just like to drive down there sometimes,” said Melissa Baile, president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, a support group for the refuge. “You just feel the peacefulness. It’s just easy to get away when you go down there.”

The manager position has been empty since last September, when Cindy Beemiller left for a refuge on Long Island, NY. The financially strapped Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have the funding to fill the position, Pradines said. Beemiller was one of two paid employees assigned to the property; the other, a maintenance worker, is the only one who remains.

If Congress doesn’t appropriate significantly more money for the refuge system for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Eastern Neck may have to close to the public, she said, adding that it’s unclear when Fish & Wildlife will make that call.

The extent of the shutdown would depend on funding availability, Pradines said. The county road that traverses the island would remain open as far as Bogles Wharf Road, at the end of which are a county-maintained boat ramp and two small piers. But the road leading further south on the island would be closed, barring access to the visitor center and to the five walking trails and two boardwalks. It’s also possible that trail maintenance and other activities would cease, Pradines added.

As the agency ponders its next step, employees from the Marshlands complex’s headquarters in Dorchester County have been sharing the refuge’s administrative work — and the four-hour roundtrip drive that accompanies it.

The all-volunteer Friends of Eastern Neck has stepped in to cover other chores. In addition to their longtime responsibility of managing the visitor center, members are helping to conduct special events and performing countless hours of repairs and upkeep across the island.

At times, the island is devoid of personnel support, save for a lone volunteer manning the front desk, said Phil Cicconi, vice president of the Friends group. Although refuge staff installed a panic button, many of the older, female volunteers feel unsafe.

Shutting down the refuge, he said, would cause it to fall into disrepair and potentially attract relic-hunters who operate “like ninjas in the night.” The island is a trove of Native American artifacts. Cicconi worries that thieves might strip anything of value from the visitor center building, a renovated 1930s-era hunting lodge.

The island was one of the first English settlements in Maryland. In 1650, Maj. Joseph Wickes received a grant for 800 acres of land and constructed a mansion that has since disappeared. Eastern Neck became Kent County’s seat; Wickes, its chief justice.

The Friends group’s latest task, Baile said, is writing letters and emails to elected officials and Fish and Wildlife staff, urging them to keep their beloved refuge open. They have lined up a growing list of allies in the fight, including the Kent County Commissioners, Patuxent Bird Club and Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The Friends group also has partnered with their counterparts at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to create a website to fan public support: friendsofblackwater.org/help-eastern-neck.html. “We’ve done everything we think we can do,” she said.

But it may not be enough. Eastern Neck is the latest refuge in a growing list that has faced cutbacks and potential closure because of a lack of federal investment, said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs with the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

Accounting for inflation and fixed costs, the nation’s network of more than 560 refuges receives nearly $100 million less funding today than in 2010, according to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, a coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups. The funding crunch has led the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave 488 refuge jobs unfilled, a loss of one out of seven positions.

“It’s a nationwide system problem. What’s happening in Eastern Neck is happening all across the United States,” Sorenson-Groves said. “You can limp along for a few years, tightening your belt and no travel and, whenever somebody retires, you don’t fill the position. But at a point, you can’t do anymore.”

Across the country, many refuges over the past 15 years have been forced to shut down visitor centers or cut back on the number of days they’re open, she said. The popular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, for example, was forced to close its visitor center two days a week after it lost two park rangers to budget cuts. In Rhode Island, the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center was closed for three consecutive winters. Supporters raised money to install solar panels, cutting costs enough to allow it to open for the winter of 2008-2009.

The Trump administration requested $473 million in funding for the refuge system in fiscal 2019, a 2.7 percent decrease from current spending. An Interior Department appropriations bill approved in July by the House of Representatives sets aside nearly $489 million, a rise of less than 1 percent. That slight increase, if passed in the Senate, would have little effect on the refuge system’s staffing and maintenance woes, Sorenson-Groves said.

“You have to understand that you can berate the administration as much as you want, but ultimately it comes down to the legislative branch — Congress — to appropriate the money,” she said.

Eastern Neck’s supporters look to Rep. Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, as their best hope for action. He is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and belongs to the controlling party.

But Harris said his hands are largely tied. “The Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is a valuable resource in Maryland’s first district,” he said in a statement. “While an amendment earmarking funding specifically for Eastern Neck would violate congressional rules, I am actively investigating this issue and exploring solutions that will allow the refuge to continue providing services to Marylanders.”

For her part, Baile said she hopes to find a sympathetic ear when the refuge system’s Northeast district head, Scott Kahan, visits Eastern Neck during his annual field trip toward the end of August.

“People love this refuge. We have good visitation. It services not only our local community but also people from all over the country,” Baile said. “You’re willing to close down a whole refuge over $25,000 or $30,000? It’s a question of him prioritizing other things over us.”

By Jeremy Cox

Bay Journal staff writer Jeremy Cox is based in Salisbury, MD.

Spy Poll Results: Chestertown Overwhelmingly Likes Idea of Nonstop Public Transportation to Easton

The results of a Spy poll on public transportation is in, and the conclusions might surprise a few people.

In short, Residents of Kent County overwhelmingly support some form of public transportation to downtown Easton, based on an hourly schedule, with an average cost around $15 per ticket, departing every hour, and would be willing to do so more often if offered special discounts by restaurants or performance venues.

Over 170 Spy readers responded to the Spy poll posted last week asking Chestertownians if they would use a non-stop shuttle service between downtown Chestertown and downtown Easton for either work or pleasure. A summary of the survey is shown below.

1.  Would you use an nonstop bus shuttle from Chestertown to Easton?

2.   What would be a fair round trip fee for such a trip?

3.  Ideally, what schedule would you prefer if a service was offered?

4.  Would your employer help you cover some these costs?

5.  If traveling for entertainment or dining, would you be more likely to use the service if there were special discounts rates offered by restaurants or performance venues?