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Sharpsburg council gives woman silent treatment

September 15, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

SHARPSBURG - Since moving to Sharpsburg four years ago with her family, Jennifer Silbert has regularly attended Town Council meetings, written for the local newsletter and devoted her time to civic organizations.

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That's why it came as a surprise to her Monday evening when the Town Council rejected, without explanation, her offer to fill a slot as an alternate to the zoning and appeals committee after Mayor George Kesler asked for volunteers.

"I couldn't believe it," Silbert said. She said being an alternate was a "small way I could get involved."

Councilwoman Denise Troxell's motion at Monday's meeting to appoint Silbert to the position was met with silence by other council members.

The motion died for a lack of a second.

A shocked Silbert, who was in the audience, asked why she was not considered for the position.

The four council members other than Troxell at the meeting did not look at Silbert or respond.

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Visibly upset, Silbert asked the council again, but got no response. Eventually she got up and left the meeting, saying she would no longer attend council meetings or write for the newsletter.

Silbert, 39, said Tuesday she believes she was rejected because she is a relative newcomer to Sharpsburg.

Troxell said she was "surprised and appalled" by the reaction to her motion and said Silbert deserved a response from the council.

"I think she is opinionated and a good citizen that wants to be involved in her community. She comes to all the meetings and volunteers for the Town Crier" newsletter, Troxell said. "She wants to be involved and is willing to work."

Councilman Hal Spielman said he has nothing personal against Silbert, but that the zoning and appeals committee has enough members and alternates.

He said he did not respond to Silbert's question because "I didn't think she was asking me."

Councilman Ralph Hammond declined to comment Wednesday. Council members Patti Hammond and Weaver could not be reached for comment.

Kesler, who nominated Silbert for the vacant position, said she is one of few people who attend the council meetings and "has shown some interest in the county and this sort of thing."

As mayor, however, Kesler could not second Troxell's motion.

Alternates occasionally fill in for the regular zoning and appeals committee members, Kesler said.

When asked if he felt the council was obligated to provide a reason for rejecting a candidate for a committee, he said: "I'm not going to answer that."

Vice Mayor Sidney Gale did not attend Monday's meeting because he was preparing for a trip, he said.

Although Silbert is an acquaintance, Gale said he would have wanted to interview her before considering her for the post.

"We wouldn't want to appoint people without knowing their feelings and how they would react to certain circumstances," he said.

He said he doesn't believe the council has to provide a reason for declining an applicant's offer.

Silbert's being new to the town was not the issue, he said. He said he was elected to office after living in town less than 10 years and Troxell was as well.

At council meetings, Silbert has said she is against the commercial development of the town and is concerned with speeding in Sharpsburg.

Silbert said she came to Sharpsburg because she liked its history and the small-town atmosphere.

"I wanted a safer environment to raise my children, with less crime and a more community atmosphere," she said.

Silbert regularly attended town council meetings and used her degree in marketing to write articles about local businesses for The Town Crier.

Silbert said she has reconsidered and will continue writing for the Town Crier but will not attend any future council meetings.

The Council's behavior set a negative precedent for future committee openings, she said.

She suggested that a list of qualifications be developed for committee members and that council be required to justify rejecting someone that meets all of the criteria.

One way of doing this would be to get elected to a seat on council. Silbert said she may run in the future.

Since some of the council members have been in office for years, Silbert said she would be able to present a fresh perspective.

"The irony is I'm on their side. I support their efforts in preserving the town," Silbert said.

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