Two puzzles it's not likely will be solved this month

January 23, 1997

If you want to get my attention, writing an anonymous letter is usually not the way to do it. Some years ago, The Herald-Mail decided that if letter writers felt strongly enough to express an opinion, then they ought to put their name on the letter.

That said, I recently received an unsigned letter that piqued my interest. It was accompanied by a Dec. 11, 1995 Herald-Mail editorial concerning the death of Keith Shives, a county roads department worker who died when a road roller flipped over on him.

Six months after the accident, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a 52-page report that found glaring inadequacies in the department's safety and training programs, and a civil suit has been field by Shives' family.


The editorial noted that in the summer of 1995, some members of the County Commissioners had indignantly demanded the release of an audit concerning financial irregularities at the school board. They should, said the editorial, "do no less in this case."

Citing this passage, my anonymous letter writer said: "You demanded answers at the time, but here it is better than a year later and we know no more than we did in 1995." Maybe, said, the writer, "a man in your position could find some answers to this question."

According to County Attorney Richard Douglas, the MOSHA case has "for all intents and purposes been settled. We just need to get together with some of the parties. We improved a safety program there dramatically."

And how about the civil suit?

"It's in discovery," Douglas said. That means both sides in the suit are in the process of taking depositions and disclosing evidence to each other.

In my view, it is unlikely, until the trial is complete - and maybe not even then - that the county will discipline anyone who may have been at fault in this situation. That's because that would immediately be seized upon as evidence that someone in authority was at fault.

Reading the MOSHA report, with its descriptions of missing records and non-existent training, makes it clear that someone was at fault. I await the civil trial with great interest.

The commissioners did say that safety issues at the roads department had nothing to do with the one-week suspension of six workers there earlier this month. According to one worker's wife, the crews were ordered to report at 3 a.m., though there wasn't a flake of snow in evidence at that time.

A few men apparently decided that was ridiculous, and didn't come in until a half hour after the snow did start, at about 7 a.m.

Defying the boss, even if he or she is wrong, is not the path to harmony in one's career. But what I find really interesting is that according to one of the wives of the men who were suspended, had they reported as ordered, they would have been paid time-and-a-half.

How many workers, even if they believed their assignment was a waste of time, would question the boss and turn down extra money in the process? We'll have more details, as they become available.

* * *

Speaking of puzzles, here's one related to the Maryland Theatre. On Jan. 11, The Herald-Mail quoted Patricia Wolford, the theater's acting director and board president, as saying that Farmer & Merchants Bank, the lead bank for the group holding the historic theater's mortgage, had agreed to renegotiate a $130,000 balloon payment due in May by breaking it into smaller amounts due over several years.

F&M to the rescue, right? Local bank saves historic theater, correct? Well, maybe, except that if the bank has agreed to such a rescue, it's being mighty modest about it.

Bob Ernst, F&M's director of commercial lending, said that the bank "would make no comment. We have a very confidential relationship between us and our borrower and therefore we choose not to discuss that with the newspaper at this time."

F&M has been a supporter of many good causes in this community, including the Maryland Symphony's July Concert an Antietam. If they've worked out a rescue plan I'd like to give them pat on the back, so call me with the good news, please.

Theater officials didn't get any good news from the Washington County Gaming Commission, which it asked for $200,000-plus, apparently unaware that the limit for each charity is $15,000.

No one appeared to make a plea for the cash, which the application said would be earmarked for paint, wallpaper and plaster repair, even though the commission was still mulling over what to do with $70,000 it didn't allocate until this past Tuesday. Perhaps the good folks from F&M can help with that application next time around.

The Herald-Mail Articles