Candidates seek to en­sure in­clu­sive com­mu­nity

Kent County News - - NEWS - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CH­ESTER­TOWN — In May, the Kent County News pub­lished an ed­i­to­rial not­ing racist state­ments made at a can­di­date meet and greet in Ch­ester­town and ex­plained how what was said shows how much work still needs to be done to make this com­mu­nity one of in­clu­siv­ity for all peo­ple.

That led the Greater Ch­ester­town Ini­tia­tive, a coali­tion of lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion and busi­ness lead­ers, to ask the six candidates run­ning this year for Kent County com­mis­sioner what they think needs to be done to build an in­clu­sive com­mu­nity. Some candidates of­fered short an­swers, while oth­ers wrote lengthy re­sponses to the GCI’s ques­tion.

With all three com­mis­sion­ers’ seats on the bal­lot this year, the GCI posed a se­ries of ques­tions to the candidates. Along with seek­ing candidates’ views on in­clu­siv­ity, the GCI asked about eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, trans­porta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and the fu­ture of Ch­ester­town’s hospi­tal.

The Kent County News has pro­vided the candidates’ an­swers to the GCI’s ques­tions re­lat­ing to each topic over the past four weeks. In ad­di­tion, the candidates’ full, unedited an­swers have been at­tached to each story on the pa­per’s web­site, www.thekent­coun­tynews.com.

For this, the fi­nal week of the se­ries, the fo­cus is on in­clu­siv­ity.

“In the May 17 edi­tion of the Kent County News, an ed­i­to­rial de­scribed how racism en­dures in our county. What work needs to be done to build the in­clu­sive com­mu­nity Kent County should be, and how would you im­ple­ment that work? How would you show the African Amer­i­can and Latino com­mu­ni­ties they are essen­tial to the suc­cess of our county?” the GCI asked the candidates.

In­cum­bent Demo­crat Ron Fithian, town man­ager of Rock Hall, wrote about how he grad­u­ated from Rock Hall High School in 1969, dur- ing the era of de­seg­re­ga­tion. He said some­one who was do­ing work on this year’s an­nual Legacy Day cel­e­bra­tion, which com­mem­o­rated stu­dents who went through school in­te­gra­tion, wanted to in­ter­view him about his ex­pe­ri­ences at the time.

“When I grew up here in Rock Hall, it was a com­mer­cial seafood town. Blacks and whites, we all worked to­gether, we played to­gether,” Fithian wrote. “And I’ll tell you when the blacks and whites start­ing go­ing to Rock Hall High School, I told him I hate to make a dull story out of it, but it re­ally didn’t seem to be a prob­lem for me. Maybe it’s easy for me to say be­cause they were com­ing to my school. But we don’t have the real prob­lem with the races that you might see on tele­vi­sion and stuff.”

He held up African Amer­i­can lead­ers like the late Clarence Hawkins, fel­low Com­mis­sioner Wil­liam Pick­rum and teacher and min­is­ter Leon Fri­son, as well as county depart­ment heads like War­den LaMonte Cook and Parks and Recre­ation Di­rec­tor Myra But­ler as ex­am­ples to show peo­ple of color that they are “essen­tial to the suc­cess of the county.” He said county of­fi­cials seek to put African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos on boards to en­sure “there is some kind of bal­ance.”

“It’s a tough one for me to an­swer be­cause some of my best friends are African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos. If there is that racism in Kent County, it cer­tainly isn’t any­where in my trav­els,” Fithian wrote. “So, I’m go­ing to treat ev­ery­one the same re­gard­less of who they are or what they look like un­til they prove to me that I shouldn’t. That’s the way I do it.”

In­cum­bent Pick­rum, a Demo­crat who spent a ca­reer in the U.S. Coast Guard and now works at Delaware State Univer­sity, is one of only two per­sons of color run­ning for county of­fice this year. Nivek John­son is run­ning for Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

“I will con­tinue to iden­tify op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­clu­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties. This must be en­cour­aged through all our so­cial net­works, i.e., churches, busi­ness groups, so­cial and ser­vice groups, etc. These groups must have an in­clu­sive frame of ref­er­ence,” Pick­rum wrote.

Pick­rum also wrote about his own sta­tus as a role model and his ef­forts to ag­gres­sively seek African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos for county em­ploy­ment and seats on boards. He said county em­ploy­ees should pe­ri­od­i­cally take racial and gen­der sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing.

“As a per­sonal story, when I re­turned home af­ter a ca­reer in the Coast Guard, I was not well re­ceived at an Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion meeting. In fact, I was asked why I was there. Af­ter care­ful thought, I de­cided to run for elec­tive of­fice. One of my goals from the be­gin­ning was to in­sure in­clu­sive­ness in county govern­ment,” Pick­rum wrote.

Pick­rum of­fered his sup­port for the Kent County Lo­cal Man­age­ment Board and how it has been tasked with co­or­di­nat­ing as­sis­tance and sup­port for chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

“I will en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of an African-Amer­i­can, Latino and non-mi­nor­ity busi­ness di­rec­tory, spon­sored by the County. This will pro­vide lo­cal gov­ern­ments and res­i­dents a re­source to uti­lize these lo­cal busi­nesses,” Pick­rum also wrote.

In­cum­bent Repub­li­can Bill Short, a lo­cal busi­ness owner, wrote that in­clu­sion is im­per­a­tive to the county’s over­all suc­cess. He said he is a com­mis­sioner for all peo­ple, with a six-year record of do­ing so.

“All eth­nic and racial back­grounds add value to our com­mu­nity. As an elected of­fi­cial I work to move the County and all of its cit­i­zens for­ward with­out a racial or eth­nic di­vide,” Short wrote.

Repub­li­can chal­lenger Bob Ja­cob, also a lo­cal busi­ness owner, agreed that African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos are essen­tial to the county.

He wrote about play­ing sports when he was grow­ing up, and how it was just a bunch of kids try­ing to win a game. Color did not mat­ter, he said.

Ja­cob said that held true when he worked at Dixon Valve and Cou­pling Co. He said ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of color or gen­der, was just try­ing to get a job done.

“Peo­ple are not born racist. They are taught it. I per­son­ally think ev­ery­one in life should be given the op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed in what­ever they do,” Ja­cob wrote. “Ev­ery­body de­serves an equal shot no mat­ter who you are. It is all about equal­ity. Our dif­fer­ences are our strengths, we learn from each other and grow to­gether.”

Ja­cob said he has al­ways been more goal-ori­ented, rather than fo­cused on race. He said one of his com­mit­ments will be to make sure ev­ery­one is on an even play­ing field, re­gard­less of color or gen­der.

Repub­li­can chal­lenger Tom Ma­son, a farmer, said ev­ery­one should prac­tice the Golden Rule, treat­ing oth­ers they way they would want to be treated.

“I would have an all in­clu­sive govern­ment where the African Amer­i­can and Latino com­mu­ni­ties will have equal op­por­tu­nity to serve on com­mit­tees and par­tic­i­pate in all as­pects of county govern­ment. All cit­i­zens will be treated with re­spect and equal­ity when it comes to liv­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in our com­mu­nity. All county de­part­ments will be ex­pected to pro­vide the same ser­vices to all of our com­mu­nity with­out a racial or eth­nic di­vide,” Ma­son wrote.

Demo­cratic chal­lenger Tom Tim­ber­man, an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness con­sul­tant, wrote that Kent County’s his­toric record on race re­la­tions, down through the 1960s and 1970s, is not en­cour­ag­ing. He said ad­mirable steps be­ing taken now — the reboot of a So­cial Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, an ac­tive event cal­en­dar at his­toric Sum­ner Hall and the an­nual Legacy Day cel­e­bra­tion — can be as­sessed against that back­ground.

“It’s essen­tial that mi­nori­ties ac­tu­ally be­lieve that they are lis­tened to, that they are heard and that ac­tions are taken as a re­sult,” Tim­ber­man wrote.

He wants to see more African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos in­volved in county man­age­ment. He wants to see them hired to de­liver county ser­vices. He also wants to see lo­cal boards and com­mit­tees in­clude more di­verse mem­bers in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

“An ini­tia­tive to iden­tify, re­cruit, hire or ap­point mi­nor­ity mem­bers should be a Com­mis­sion pri­or­ity,” Tim­ber­man wrote. “This must start with teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors in the pub­lic school sys­tem. African Amer­i­can and Latino chil­dren and their par­ents will be­gin to be­lieve they are essen­tial to the suc­cess of the County if they are seen to oc­cupy essen­tial po­si­tions.”

Tim­ber­man sug­gested an outreach pro­gram email­ing the com­mis­sion­ers’ meeting agen­das to African Amer­i­can churches and churches with high Latino pop­u­la­tions. He said they should be in­vited to speak at meet­ings, to sug­gest agenda items and to serve on ad-hoc com­mit­tees. He said the com­mis­sion­ers also should fund an ar­chive of their weekly meet­ings on the county web­site.

“And fi­nally, one Com­mis­sion meeting per month should be con­ducted in each of the other four in­cor­po­rated towns to en­cour­age at­ten­dance by res­i­dents who do not live in Ch­ester­town and are with­out per­sonal trans­porta­tion,” Tim­ber­man wrote.

The elec­tion is Nov. 6. Early vot­ing runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 1.

PHO­TOS BY JACK RODGERS

The candidates for Kent County com­mis­sioner are, top row from left, Ron Fithian, Bob Ja­cob and Tom Ma­son, bot­tom row from left, Wil­liam Pick­rum, Bill Short and Tom Tim­ber­man.

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