Pounding out government decisions

June 05, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND


The Jefferson County, W.Va., Commissioners best not be looking over their shoulder. The Hagerstown City Council better not take a peek in the rear view.

Somethin' might be gaining on them.

That somethin' would be the Washington Township (Pa.) Board of Supervisors, which last week set the bar of public meltdowns Really, Really High - and I'm thinking it might be hard for competing dysfunctional Tri-State governments to clear the new height.

The police had to be called in at one point, but by the sounds of it, that was one of the evening's duller moments.


During a meeting over development Tuesday, affairs got so out-of-control that, according to The Herald-Mail, "Supervisor Chairman Carroll Sturm, a participant in the yelling, broke his gavel while trying to restore order."

Whew, that's intense. Whack the gavel so hard it snaps. Even in the most dramatic pop-culture gavel pounding - Greg Marmalard in "Animal House," Headmaster Trask in "Scent of a Woman," Judge Chamberlain Haller in "My Cousin Vinny" - that's a first.

Khrushchev pounded his shoe, but even he didn't break a heel. Then there was the memorable 1979 "Saturday Night Live" skit featuring the gavel pounding of Mr. Bill, which came in the same year Al Pacino screamed "YOU'RE out of order; THE WHOLE TRIAL is out of order!" to the echoes of gaveldom.

But nary a gavel-snap.

This Waynesboro gavel-snapping comes with an asterisk, however, since it was reportedly "already glued." So it's like Bonds' home run record.

And what was there about the meeting that caused such anger? Who knows? And who cares? It's just good ole democracy at work in the Jerry Springer era.

It involved a government complex, a "relief route" and development that may or may not occur along the relief route - which I can only speculate is like a bypass or a boulevard, except that instead of trees in the median it has port-o-johns.

Taxpayers, being taxpayers, wanted to know how much the new government complex would cost, but the consultants, being consultants, had no idea.

The shouting, meanwhile, commenced for "nearly two hours" until, "during a lull in the arguments," the insurrection was broken into two groups assigned to planning their own government-complex designs on two different sites.

One group "built two-story buildings," left out the fire department and "parked vehicles in a flood plain."

The other "spread out the buildings, pushing stockpiles and storage sheds to the back of the property ... (T)he group moved vehicles to the west side of the property, so the morning sun would melt ice off the trucks."

Cool. I think we've all done this. But usually it's in a sandbox at age 2 1/2.

I love the idea of citizens as site engineers more than I can say. Forget the professionals, let's bring in Calvin and Hobbes. It's got to make the entire Tonka Toy corporation stand up and cheer. If a town wants to wake up one day to find its snowplows parked in the women's lavatory, that's probably a pretty good way to go about it.

And their commitment to solar energy is pretty enlightened, too. Let the sun melt the ice. It's like if you need to lift a sofa, you just plant an acorn under it and wait 20 years. But you get three cloudy days in a row and the whole site plan is shot to hell.

Obviously, I myself have no problems with this screaming, gavel-pounding and government-by-Tinkertoy. But it does make one wonder what happened to the fine art of writing a memo.

Somehow, we have come to decide that your position has more validity if you scream it at the top of your lungs. It's like if someone you are trying to communicate with speaks a different language, your first reaction is to talk louder.

But I certainly do not wish to discourage the practice. In fact, I see it as a challenge. Waynesboro has cleared 20 feet in the piehole vault. Hagerstown and Jefferson County have three chances to top the record.

Helpful Hint: Instead of gavels at the next meeting, bring a couple bottles of Jack Daniel's and some pool cues.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

The Herald-Mail Articles