Transplants trying to supplant in-plants

July 20, 2003|By Lyn Widmyer

The transplants are coming! The transplants are coming!

I am not referring to hair plugs or spare body parts. The transplants I am talking about are the uncompromising, know-it-all newcomers who are flocking to Jefferson County demanding change.

Fortunately, in-plants are putting up a vigorous defense. "In-plants" are the uncompromising, know-it-all long term politicians who insist the status quo is just fine.

These two political factions have been at odds for decades. The most recent battlefront between transplants and in-plants is the Charles Town City Council. The key figures in the controversy are Councilmembers Matt Ward (Transplant) and Russell Miller (In-plant).


Ward, who is very bright and very outspoken, was re-elected to the council this past May. His platform included fighting and stopping harmful annexations and development projects. Being the Council's representative on the Planning Commission allowed Ward to help shape city policy in both these areas.

By a 4-3 vote, one month after his re-election, the Charles Town City Council ousted Ward from the Planning Commission.

Ward's defeated opponent was given a spot, as was a more congenial member of the City Council. Explaining his vote to remove Ward from the Planning Commission, Councilmember Miller states: "I call those who have come to our community from other places transplants. They have all the answers. I have lived here all my life, some 78 years I wonder how Charles Town survived so well for all these years without the help of these folks" Miller suggests that if Ward wishes to get more cooperation, he "might be wise to take a good hard look at himself and the way he acts and reacts toward others."

After attending a City Council meeting on several annexation requests back in February, I could have predicted Ward was in deep trouble. Even though all the annexation requests were withdrawn, Ward insisted on giving a prepared speech to the standing-room-only crowd. I heard Ward say the annexation process should include more study and more citizen participation. From the angry looks on the faces of other council members, I know what they heard. "You are not doing a good enough job and I am smarter than you."

Ward is from West Virginia and has lived in Charles Town seven years, but this know-it-all attitude keeps him in the transplant category.

The events at the Charles Town City Council highlight the worst attributes of the transplants and in-plants. I am frustrated and angered by long-time politicians who make policy not on what is being said but on who is saying it and how it is presented.

Because they have deep roots in the community, these elected officials in-plants generally assume they know what is best for everybody. This eliminates the need for annoying public meetings to hear what the voters think.

In Charles Town, the public-notice requirements for public meetings involve posting an agenda three days in advance on the City Hall door. Obviously public opinion is not a big priority since in-plants intuitively know what the city needs.

On the other hand, I think bright, concerned newcomers like Matt Ward need to realize the need for compromise. Long-time residents deserve some credit for the time and effort they have given to the community. Their commitment should be acknowledged. Change is not easy to "old-timers," and it will have to occur in a collegial atmosphere, not a confrontational one.

"Transplants" will soon dominate the political landscape, but until then coalitions between the "old" and "new" are essential to meet the problems facing Charles Town and Jefferson County.

The common feature of "transplants" and "in-plants" should be concern for the public interest. Right now the most common feature seems to be arrogance.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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