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Permit hunters mired in duck soup

December 06, 1999

In Washington, D.C., they had Teapot Dome. In Washington County, we have Teapot Duck.

What passes for scandal has sunk to a new low, and excuse me for sounding depressed about it.

Here's what happened. It seems the state assigns designated areas for hunters to set up their duck blinds every season and in theory awards those spaces on a first-come, first served basis.

Since some choice spots, particularly on islands in the Potomac River, are highly prized by hunters, the line outside the courthouse doors forms in the wee hours of the morning.

This year, however, an assistant state's attorney and a sheriff's deputy got into the courthouse before business hours, using keys that the prosecutor had for after-hours access to the law library.

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When other duck hunters, who had to wait outside, were finally let in, they discovered that the two county employees were already there and had grabbed two choice Washington County spots from which to outwit slow, web-footed birds with brains the size of cashews.

The prosecutor, for his part, said that he in no way used his position to gain the advantage, which must mean that all duck hunters in Washington County have keys to the county courthouse, but just didn't think to use them.

The prosecutor also said that it wouldn't have been safe for him, a pursuer of bad guys, to wait outside because of the courthouse's proximity to the - what's the adjective the establishment is using to dance around the crime issue within the Jonathan Street neighborhood these days. Troubled? Volatile? Bloodlettingly challenged?

Boy, there's a headline we won't be putting on our tourism brochures anytime soon: "Prosecutor, sheriff's deputy scared to stand on a Hagerstown streetcorner at night."

Excuse me for giggling, but the thought of any self-respecting Jonathan Street resident lowering himself to pick up a briarwood pipe and a canvass jacket and taking his Brittany spaniel out for a go at the birds - much less show up at the courthouse at four in the morning for a permit - just tickles me more than I can say.

True story: When I was covering the General Assembly years ago there was some bill or another that would have given some advantage or another to actual Eastern Shore residents over nonresidents in the upcoming bird season.

One state senator from Montgomery County stood up and made an impassioned floor speech contending that if the bill passed all the "poor, disadvantaged children from the inner cities" might suffer a crippling disadvantage for duck hunting.

Looking back, I think that moment was when I felt my last vestiges of respect for elected government trickling away.

But I said I was depressed, and I am. Because in Washington County, even our scandals are lame.

And the employees in question did apparently get to the courthouse before anyone else. They just waited inside, is all. If I may offer some "constructive criticism" of the plot, the way favoritism is supposed to work is like this:

Since you have the keys, you show up five minutes before the building opens and cut in front of all the poor shmoes who have been standing in line for hours. You don't get to the courthouse at 12:30 a.m. and wait like everyone else. There's no point.

Brother, do I have to tell government how to do everything?




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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