Out and About (Sort of): Turn for the Better in Annapolis? Farewell to a Museum Stalwart by Howard Freedlander

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In January, I suggested that readers look to Annapolis and not be distracted solely by the noise, chaos and ill-advised actions emanating from the unstable White House and polarized Congress.

Among the substantive policies being discussed in the Maryland General Assembly is what one report characterized as a “frat-boy” culture that has produced egregious behavior toward female legislators, staffers and lobbyists. It must come to a stop; at the very least, it must be acknowledged, yielding a process whereby the accusers can feel comfortable reporting degrading sexual harassment and feel assured that the legislative will take action against the alleged perpetrators.

An article in the Friday, March 2, 2018 edition of The Baltimore Sun reported that State. Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County legislator, claimed that a lobbyist inappropriately touched her during a karaoke night Thursday at a local bar in Annapolis. The lobbyist, Gil Genn, a former legislator, denied Kagan’s claim. Kagan further said that when she and Genn served together in the House of Delegates in the late 1990s, he touched her improperly. He refuted this allegation.

According to the Sun, “Although Maryland’s female legislators published a report describing anonymous accounts of sexual harassment in the General Assembly, Kagan is the first sitting Maryland lawmaker to publicly accuse someone of inappropriate conduct.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller’s chief of staff contacted Sen. Kagan after seeing her Facebook post and recommended she report the incident, according to The Baltimore Sun. The General Assembly changed its sexual harassment policy late last year to encompass tracking of complaints and an annual report that noted “sustained cases of harassment,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

Ironically, House Bill (HB) 1342, introduced Feb.9, 2018, amends existing law governing the State Ethics Commission, to include instances when a lobbyist sexually harasses a General Assembly member or legislative employees, or when a delegate or senator harasses a lobbyist. The bill also includes use of an independent investigator, submission of finding; maintenance of records concerning workplace harassment training and a bi-yearly survey of legislators and employees to gauge the extent of discrimination and harassment, the effectiveness of prevention and reform and the sufficiency of the complaint and reporting process.

It might be that public embarrassment is the most effective punishment.

During the past six months, we have read and heard about the revelations of unconscionable behavior on the part of entertainment, business, military and political figures who used the power of their positions to exercise control over vulnerable women concerned about their jobs and retribution should they report the abhorrent behavior. Women now feel empowered to step forward, bravely and uncomfortably, identify those men who believed they could continue extracting sexual favors by using fear and intimidation—and money to silence those who might reveal the names of their perpetrators.

The fact that Sen. Kagan is the first lawmaker to go public with what she claimed was inappropriate and insulting is telling.

Maybe the culture is changing. Maybe Cheryl Kagan’s charges will spur others to come forward and spotlight misbehavior.

On the good news of the ledger, I am impressed, though not surprised, that five out of seven Democratic candidates for governor have chosen women as their running mates. This is remarkable, a great commentary on the times and competency of women. I am well aware that these choices by five men were politically smart, and, as noted, in line with the times. Nonetheless, it is precedent-setting.
Maryland has had one female lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who served eight years with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

She then ran for governor in 2002. It was her campaign to lose, and she did. Nevertheless, this Kennedy scion is a terrific person, whom I like very much. Running for office is not her forte.

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I must mention a retirement event that I recently attended for a long-term employee of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM). He is Richard Scofield, a well-known, well-respected anchor in the museum’s shipyard.

I’ve attended many career farewells in my life, some better than others. Sometimes the toasts and testimonies are sincere, sometimes not.

Last Wednesday night, a room full of more than 150 people at the Miles River Yacht Club paid tribute to a person who cared about volunteers and, of course, his craft as a shipwright. Perhaps 80 percent of the attendees were volunteers, who learned valuable skills from Rick, who lives with his wife Robin in St. Michaels. I was amazed at the turnout.

The event combined good humor and genuine appreciation for a person who devoted 33 years to CBMM. He reflected the best attributes of a skilled boat-builder and patient teacher.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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