Saturday, August 25, 2018

The S-Word

Yesterday this paragraph in a statement from the County Executive caught my eye:

We are disappointed that Preservation Maryland is using this five-year plan as an opportunity to advance its own special interest agenda.   For them to use the word “scheme” in describing this plan is simply an irresponsible characterization, especially since it released the statement before it even reviewed the written plan.

In my opinion, saying that Preservation Maryland has a “special interest agenda” is just about as ugly as saying the folks at MSEA are “union thugs.” Not a good way to win friends and influence people. In addition, if your plan involves the future of a location well-known for its historical significance, why wouldn’t you have involved a well-known and respected  preservation group in the process from the get-go? These are not folks who should have been waiting to read a report. They should have been actively involved in creating the report.

I do find the use of “special interest” here to be offensive. I think it is used to belittle and discredit the work and reputation of Preservation Maryland. It’s also a weird word choice when you consider that most talk of “special interests” in Howard County lately has been in references to developers who are willing to make large political donations in the hopes of influencing outcomes. A non-profit like Preservation Maryland is hardly backed by high-rolling historical preservation fat cats. That’s not where the big money is. Really. 

This immediately brought to mind another use of the word by Governor Hogan.

Hogan vetoed Senate Bill 739, which would have added two certified school teachers and the parent of a public school student to the State Board of Education.
Hogan said he vetoed the bill because he saw it as a move that would risk turning the critical policy-making body into a collection of special interest group representatives. 
In both cases it seems as though “special interest” is a term one uses when you don’t want to allow someone a place at the table.

Now, there is another s-word in play here, and that is the use of the word “scheme” which Mr. Kittleman objects to. I don’t find it in the official statement from Preservation Maryland, but perhaps one of my readers can direct me to it. In the UK the word scheme does not have a negative connotation. It simply means “a large-scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting a particular idea into effect.” (And that is the first dictionary definition in the US as well.) But in general Americans see a scheme as something devised with nefarious intent. And since I don’t know the context here, I can’t make an intelligent assessment. 

The fact remains that, instead of trading s-words, the County Government would have been far wiser to have been formulating a plan in cooperation with Preservation Maryland. I certainly don’t want to accuse Mr. Kittleman of “scheming”, but the mere act of leaving valuable stakeholders out of the process can’t help but make the plan somewhat suspect. 

None of this is to pass any judgement in the plan itself. But, when you are making decisions of this magnitude, shouldn’t the emphasis be on being inclusive rather than exclusive?

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