Elk­ton, Main St. busi­ness dis­pute led to protest clo­sure

Own­ers, of­fi­cials ne­go­ti­ate res­o­lu­tion

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS & JANE BELLMYER [email protected]­cil­whig.com

— A nearly day­long clo­sure of a pop­u­lar Main Street busi­ness in protest of al­leged ha­rass­ment by a town em­ployee drew the at­ten­tion of many lo­cals and town lead­ers, who were able to ne­go­ti­ate a res­o­lu­tion be­fore the day’s end.

Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors posted a sign on its door at 116 E. Main St. on Thurs­day morn­ing, an­nounc­ing that it was closed for the day as a form of protest and di­rect­ing shop­pers to call Elk­ton Town Hall for more in­for­ma­tion.

ELK­TON

About 7 p.m. Wed­nes­day, the store, which opened in May 2017, posted on its Face­book page that the clo­sure was in re­sponse to “mis­treat­ment from a paid town em­ployee.”

“We’ve been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing per­ceived per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ha­rass­ment by the town em­ployee to the point that we’ve reached this hard-line,” the post read. “We will re­main closed un­til fur­ther no­tice.”

Steven Jen­nings, who owns the store with his hus­band, John Palmer, told the Whig on Thurs­day morn­ing that he would not com­ment on the sit­u­a­tion beyond the post­ing, pre­fer­ring to give town of­fi­cials a

chance to re­spond.

“It’s not about fol­low­ing the ‘rules’ but how we’ve been treated … even bul­lied,” the post read. “We will not be bul­lied any­more.”

By mid­day Thurs­day, the so­cial me­dia post­ing had drawn com­ments from more than 125 peo­ple and town hall had re­ceived in­quiries about the store, of­fi­cials re­ported.

Mayor Rob Alt be­gan dis­cus­sions with the store’s own­ers in the af­ter­noon, and by 3 p.m. had reached a res­o­lu­tion: the store would re­open, the em­ployee’s con­duct would be in­ves­ti­gated, the mayor of­fered a pub­lic apol­ogy and mer­chants would be di­rected to for­ward all com­plaints about town staff di­rectly to the town ad­min­is­tra­tor.

“From the town per­spec­tive, there was a grievance with our zon­ing de­part­ment,” Alt told the Whig of the episode, de­clin­ing to elab­o­rate be­cause it was a per­son­nel is­sue. “We have been in con­ver­sa­tion with them to­day and I be­lieve we’ve reached an un­der­stand­ing. We’ve got a great chem­istry to­gether and they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of suc­cess in Elk­ton.”

Alt pub­licly apol­o­gized to the own­ers of Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors in par­tic­u­lar and all town busi­nesses for the is­sue in a re­sponse to Brook­bend’s Face­book post.

“I feel as though we are not lis­ten­ing to you,” he wrote. “I prom­ise that you will be heard, and you have been heard.”

By 3:30 p.m. Thurs­day, the store posted on so­cial me­dia that it was “open — and awe­some.”

“All we asked is for a pub­lic apol­ogy to all mer­chants down­town, and we re­ceived it from our Mayor Rob Alt ap­prox­i­mately an hour ago on be­half of the en­tire town,” the Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors post reads. “We have ac­cepted this apol­ogy and re­opened our doors.”

At the same time, Jen­nings ex­pressed re­gret “that our mis­treat­ment spilled out into the pub­lic,” but added it was time to stand up and say enough is enough.

Alt, who said that Jen­nings and Palmer are also his res­i­den­tial neigh­bors, noted that the is­sue has been “stew­ing for sev­eral months.”

“They re­ally care about this town and (the clo­sure) was their way of show­ing that,” he said. “I may not have agreed with their method, but I think shows their ded­i­ca­tion.”

The good news, ac­cord­ing to the mayor, was that the zon­ing is­sue at hand is cor­rectable. While some sur­mised on­line Thurs­day that the is­sue had to do with Brook­bend’s use of side­walks for sale of their items, Alt would only say that was not the is­sue at hand.

“We’re try­ing our best to work with down­town mer­chants to make sure their con­cerns are ad­dressed,” he said. “We’re here to serve and we do have to do what­ever what we can, within the rules, to treat res­i­dents and busi­nesses well.” it

As to whether he be­lieved the un­named town em­ployee had “ha­rassed” the busi­ness, Alt said that “quite frankly I don’t know all the de­tails.”

“That’s not re­ally some­thing the elected of­fi­cials would be in­volved in,” he added. “We’re the elected body, and the mayor and the com­mis­sion­ers re­ally only have over­sight over one per­son: the town ad­min­is­tra­tor. Ev­ery­one else re­ports to the ad­min­is­tra­tor.”

Alt re­ported Town Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lewis Ge­orge was “truly in­ves­ti­gat­ing the griev­ances, and will ad­dress any per­son­nel is­sue he finds.” that

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors at 116 E. Main St. in Elk­ton closed Thurs­day in protest of how the store’s own­ers feel they are be­ing treated by town of­fi­cials. Af­ter dis­cus­sions with the mayor, the store re­opened late in the day.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

The side­walk in front of Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors of East Main Street in Elk­ton was quiet Thurs­day be­cause the own­ers have closed the store, cit­ing ha­rass­ment from a town em­ployee. It later re­opened af­ter re­solv­ing the dis­pute with the town.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

This sign taped to the win­dow of Brook­bend In­te­ri­ors on East Main Street in Elk­ton tells po­ten­tial cus­tomers the store in closed.

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