MAYOR AND COUNCIL
MARCH 2, 2020
Mayor Cerino called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers David Foster, Thomas Herz, Ellsworth Tolliver and Meghan Efland, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk) and guests.
Mayor Cerino stated that the meeting began early this evening to make a priority to hold a discussion of the recent racial incidents on the Washington College campus and because the concerned college students were having their own “Town Hall Meeting” at 8 p.m. on campus. He said that he wanted to give the students a public forum to talk to local elected officials. Mayor Cerino stated that he would begin with speakers who requested to heard and then the floor would be open to comments or questions at the end.
Mayor Cerino noted that all the Kent County Commissioners were present, as well as Sheriff Price and the Chestertown Police Department and thanked them for attending.
Mayor Cerino stated that there has been a series of incidents at Washington College with individuals driving through the campus yelling racial slurs at minority students, noting that the first incident happened in November 2019. He said that the students were usually female who were walking alone or in small groups. Additional incidents have been reported within the last two weeks.
Mayor Cerino stated that as Mayor he is limited in what he can do as these incidents occurred on private property. He said that students and people of color in their community had to know that these racist incidents, clearly meant to intimidate, were not acceptable to the Mayor and Council and that the Council would do everything in their power to deal with the issues in a timely manner by using any resources and laws that they can. Mayor Cerino stated that the Mayor and Council supports every student at Washington College. He said that the elected officials are here to listen tonight and to let the community know that this matter is being taken seriously. He said that acts like this had no place in Chestertown or Kent County and most of the community appreciate the diversity in the community. Mayor Cerino stated that anything incidents like this are a loss for all citizens. Mayor Cerino stated that though morally despicable, these acts were not always illegal, which was problematic because people were coming to him wanting charges pressed.
Rev. Tolliver thanked everyone in attendance. He said that these incidents opened a window to the life of a black citizen in Chestertown and Kent County. He said that the incidents at the College were a high-profile opportunity to bring all people together and open dialogue focusing on ways to make changes in the community. Mr. Herz stated that he agreed with Rev. Tolliver and said that he wanted to publicly acknowledge the problem and said he would work with any of the groups for solutions to the issues.
Mayor Cerino stated that Washington College was private property and CPD could not be the first line of response. Washington College Campus Security was first to handle each of the situations and then they called in Chestertown Police Department if arrests were necessary. Mayor Cerino stated that if the Chestertown Police Department needs back-up assistance, they call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and after that the Maryland State Police. He asked Chief Dolgos to give a report of the incidents.
Chief Dolgos stated that the first incident took place on November 11thbut was not reported to the CPD until the week after by Campus Public Safety. At that point they reported a racial slur yelled at a black female by a white male in a white pick-up truck that was driving north on Rt. 213. There was no investigation at that time because the information was received after-the-fact. On November 23rd Public Safety reported a second incident that had occurred on November 22nd. It involved a white pick-up truck and an SUV driving through campus yelling at students, but what they were yelling could not be deciphered. However, one of the white males in the truck and two black college students did have a vocal altercation with racial slurs. There was one juvenile referred to juvenile services in this incidence for disturbing the peace and disrupting school activities.
Chief Dolgos stated that on February 16th there was another call from Public Safety of a vehicle driving through campus with 4 white males, one of whom was yelling racial slurs. In this instance, there was a witness and a victim. This case was still under investigation.
Chief Dolgos stated that on February 20th Public Safety investigated a possible racial incident that occurred in the area of the crosswalk on Washington Avenue. A white truck was revving its engine, but no words were exchanged. He said that this was reported to the CPD on February 21st, but it was ruled this was not conclusively a racial incident.
Chief Dolgos stated that through their investigations it was revealed that the incidents were isolated to a group of local juveniles using very poor judgement, with no evidence of organizations or groups involved.
Mayor Cerino asked how to proceed since the perpetrators were juveniles. Chief Dolgos stated that CPD would bring charges forward working with the States Attorney. Mayor Cerino stated it can be deduced from the discussions that the kids were in high school, of driving age, and were likely coming from a local school system. He said that if the juveniles were trying to intimate and frighten the college students they had succeeded. He said that this would not be tolerated in our community and as a community we need to do whatever has to be done to make this better. He asked the Washington College students in attendance to speak.
Ms. Paris Mercier, senior at Washington College and former president of the BSU (Black Student Union), said that she was happy to see the turnout this evening. She said that that there have now been 5 hate crimes on the campus since October, beginning with the one that caused the cancellation of a school play. She said this had impacted the black students in the college community and that there is a heightened fear on campus. She said that there is a shared sense of trauma and the students feel like they are being advised to go somewhere else if they want to feel safe because the College was not a safe place. She said that sense extends to the students in the High School. Ms. Mercier stated that she had been working with students for 3 years about the continual hate they receive, and she said she feels that she is a failure as an advocate, and that we had all failed in that respect. Ms. Mercier said that there were administrators of schools who have failed the students who are depending on them and it shouldn’t take incidents of hate to address the situations. She said that the daily incidents in the public schools deserved the same attention that the College is now getting. She said there is work to be done and it won’t happen without all hands and minds working together. Children cannot fight this battle alone and kids need protection. She asked that the school system and the College build bridges to reconcile the crimes that have been committed. Ms. Mercier asked that people exercise their privilege to advocate for the needs of those who that do not have that same privilege.
The Mayor acknowledged the College President, Mr. Kurt Landgraf and invited him to speak. President Landgraf stated that Washington College was not at the meeting to cast blame on anyone. He thanked the Mayor and Council, Kent County Commissioners, CPD and the Sheriff’s Department for attending the meeting and said that they were all in this together. He said that these types of incidents did not just started happening but have been occurring for years. He said that he first noticed it when he came to Chestertown and it has only heightened since the cancellation of the play in October. President Landgraf stated that Chestertown and Washington College have been arm in arm since 1782 in good and bad. He said that the most important thing for him is the safety of the students and worried aloud that when things like this escalate, it is not a long jump from words to physical violence.
President Landgraf stated that 20% of the College population were persons of color and there has been an effort by the College to diversify the campus. He said that an admissions event was held on Saturday and almost all questions were about how a potential student’s parents can be assured that their child will be safe. President Landgraf thanked Dr. Couch, adding that she was as partner with him in this matter. He said that Washington College has work to do and this is not just an external problem.
Dr. Karen Couch stated that that the County Administration and Board of Education were committed to the safety and well-being of their students. That is why they assume responsibility for anything in the public schools that gives someone a feeling of not being safe there or elsewhere. She said that they do not condone or excuse any form of racism and bullying is not permitted in school. She said that they are continuing to investigate reports made to the administration. She said that it was disappointing to learn what happened at the College, but it is an opportunity to examine all institutional practices and how to do things better.
Dr. Couch stated that law enforcement has not shared the names of the individuals who were apprehended but that does not excuse them from their insensitivity and racist behaviors. She said that everyone must work together for a long-lasting change in the community and that KCPS will partner with the community and work diligently toward creating a climate of tolerance and acceptance for every student who enters their doors regardless of the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, disability or economic status.
Mayor Cerino stated that he has two boys at Kent County High School and said that if there are students who feel as though they are being singled out during the school day, there are resources available to them and they should be used.
Ms. Robbi Behr stated that she was a member the Public School Advocacy Group called “Support Our Schools (SOS)” and said that she wanted to say that she was sorry that this happened and that as a community there has not been enough done to make people of color feel safe. In the interest of coming together to make Kent County safe for everyone, we must come together and treat others with respect regardless of color. Ms. Behr stated that this problem probably went back to long ago days and was a serious problem that needed a solution, but the people who needed to hear the message the most were not in the room. Ms. Behr stated that a plan from leadership that they could get behind was in order. She said that SOS would leave the lines of communication open and try to make connections with different organizations in the community to find solutions.
Mayor Cerino asked if anyone from the audience wanted to comment.
Ms. Rebecca Murphy stated that she was now a permanent resident of Chestertown but for years she had traveled back and forth to Chestertown and had experienced racism. She said that racism is difficult to confront when it is not screaming and violent and that this was one of the most important issues to fight in Chestertown. She said that it is the responsibility of every person, regardless of color, to acknowledge their privilege however it exists. She said that people had to be educated, to take responsibility and to be mindful of how words, actions and attitudes affect those who were different from you. Ms. Murphy stated that she appreciated what the Town was trying to do in response to the issue but had to think about how racism and sexism are experienced and that there is a moral obligation of others to see to acknowledge those feelings. She said that people need to listen, learn and accept.
Ms. Arlene Lee thanked the Mayor and Council for hosting the meeting and said that this was something the community needed to have, and that action had to be taken after the meeting because the problems have been occurring forever. She said that the Social Action Committee calls upon all elected officials to engage with them and join them in their training on “Undoing Racism” to resolve those issues. Ms. Lee stated that students in Kent County are reporting incidents that occur in school and they are not taken seriously or addressed. Some children are saying that they don’t feel safe at the Kent County High School campus.
Ms. Lee said that she left handouts on the table about anonymous ways to report acts of hate, violence, and other problems as well as information on the Rapid Response Team that is in place to help. Ms. Lee stated that there were over 200 members in the Social Action committee, and anyone was welcome to join.
Ms. Sue Caswell was present and said that one of her responsibilities as a teacher was to model behavior and said that something as simple as introducing yourself and speaking at a one-on-one level makes an immediate difference.
Mr. James Saunders stated that he has lived in Kent County for 75 years and said that there has been growth regarding how people treat one another, but worried that the youth of today not be allowed to change Chestertown back how it was the 1950s. Mr. Saunders stated that in 1958 the black and white people had to sit in different sections at the movie theater. At that time, he was living on Water Street and had a close group of friends, 5 were black and 1 was white. He said the white boy’s mother gave each of them a quarter to go to the movies, but they were not allowed to sit together when they got there. The black boys had to go to their area and the white boy had to go sit with the white people (even though he wanted to sit with his black friends). Mr. Saunders stated that his other friends left the movie early so they could protect their white friend when he exited the theater because the other white boys were going to beat up the white youth for being friends with black people. He said that this is not really about color, it is about how your heart feels. Mr. Saunders stated that right now there were racial remarks being made but asked what the next step were going to be. Mr. Saunders stated that 90% of the Town was great but the other 10% can bring everyone down and back to earlier times.
A Spanish professor at Washington College said that young people are being radicalized through social media, but it is unseen because it is done on an iPod or a cell phone. She said that de-radicalization had to happen, and Washington College was trying to find the resources to do it. She also said that the Hispanic population was missing from this meeting but would not come to a meeting because they are scared. She said that the students yelling and screaming at people who are different from them think that they are powerful, and the target is easily moved from one minority to another. She said that if one group feels unsafe, everyone should feel unsafe.
Ms. Chanelle Murray stated that she moved back to the Kent County area for better living and she enrolled her children in a private school. She said that her children were picked on and she started watching what was happening and it was the teachers who were singling her children out. She said that the kids were calling her daughter black and nobody should care what color her skin is. Ms. Murray stated that babies don’t know to hate, they are taught to hate, and people had to stop teaching it. She said that there was an incident where people were throwing white supremacy literature in her neighborhood as recently as when Obama ran for election.
Mr. John Queen of the Bayside Hoyas commended Mayor Cerino for jumping in front of a moving train when he didn’t have to. He said that he thought people were being too nice in this meeting and glazing over what was happening in the community. He said that the reason why white kids are comfortable using racial slurs is because there is a culture here that has bred it. The white people in this county have not made a change. He said that the County Commissioners already said that they don’t see race problems as an issue. He said that everyone talks about working together, but a person can’t benefit from white privilege and talk about race. He said that the work that needs to be done has to be done to make the change and it is not happening.
Ms. Wanda Boyer stated that the wanted to thank the Council for hosting the meeting and said that this issue had to be nipped in the bud. Ms. Boyer stated that she was afraid that there were going to be more serious problems if it isn’t controlled. She said that 20 years ago, a simple fight in Washington Square turned into firehoses being turned on people in a parking lot. She said that life is not supposed to be like this anymore and when the black people are reaching out the white people aren’t pulling them in. She said that these problems are real, and that the community had to come together as one to fix it.
Bishop Tilghman, former president of the NAACP, said that racism is an issue that will never go away, but it must be dealt with. He said that there were always going to be bad apples in the bunch, but the bad apples had to be sorted out before the entire basket rots. He said that more than talk must happen and that he would do whatever he can to work with the College.
The Mayor and Council meeting was suspended at 8:00 to go into the Utilities Commission Meeting. The Council meeting resumed at 8:18 p.m.
Mayor Cerino asked if there were any additions or corrections to the minutes of the Mayor and Council Meeting of February 18, 2020. Rev. Tolliver moved to approve the minutes of the Mayor and Council meeting of February 18, 2020 as submitted, was seconded by Mr. Herz and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that total operating funds on hand for unrestricted use was $1,501,120.50
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to approve the payment of the bills. Ms. Efland moved to approve payment of the bills as submitted, was seconded by Mr. Herz and carried unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that there were two ordinances mandated by the Maryland Critical Areas Commission for the Critical Area ordinance, one was an update to the original Ordinance and the other was the new map. He said that Ordinance 02-2020 and Ordinance 03-2020 could be adopted at this meeting. Mr. Ingersoll discussed the changes to the mapping since the last update along with the levels of development based upon zones and said that Stepne would be the only development left in the Critical Area. He said that Heron Point was an example of a development built in the Critical Area Resource Conservation Area through specific approval of the Critical Area Commission and the use of the County growth allocation.
Ms. Efland moved to adopt Ordinance 02-2020 An Ordinance to Update the Critical Area Ordinance 01-2019, was seconded by Mr. Herz and carried unanimously.
Rev. Tolliver moved to adopt Ordinance 03-2020 An Ordinance to Adopt the Critical Area Map for Chestertown, was seconded by Mr. Foster and carried unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that Kent County recommended to the Town that Airbnb’s register with the Town and then Chestertown could forward their information to the County for them to collect the Hotel Tax. He said that Ms. Mulligan drafted an Ordinance from other jurisdictions’ models, and he gave copies to the Council. He said that he would like to introduce the Ordinance at the next meeting. Mayor Cerino stated that the hotels and B&Bs have asked the Town have this in place as they were losing business. Mr. Ingersoll stated that Town revenues from the hotel tax were down approximately $24,000.00 in the last fiscal year audit. He asked the Council to review it and said that he would ask that they make any changes they see fit and the ordinance will be introduced at the next meeting.
Mayor Cerino stated that the Town has been working with Washington College, Dixon Valve and Verizon for several years to update the cell service and it finally went live 2-weeks ago. He said that there was a noticeable difference in cell reception since the upgrade.
Mayor Cerino stated that he held a business forum with the C-2 downtown businesses on February 20th and said that the meeting was well-attended with at least 30 shop owners present. He said that he discussed all the improvements in the downtown area over the year and Main Street grants for façade improvements. He said that there were many ideas discussed to tie the Marina and transient businesses into the local businesses.
Mayor Cerino stated that Paul Showalter has resigned from the Planning Commission after 15 years of service. He said that he will be missed and that was a huge asset to the Commission, always giving terrific feedback and fair in his decision-making.
Mayor Cerino read a proclamation for Kids to Parks Day on Saturday, May 16th in Chestertown.
Mr. Foster stated that all was well in the First Ward and asked if the Councilmembers have members to identify for the Tax Differential Committee. He said that the members representing the First Ward would be Bob Miller and Scott Gornall.
Mr. Foster stated that most people still don’t know what a tax differential is and said that people need to be educated about it and the Kent County Commissioners must begin to understand how important of a matter it is. Mr. Foster stated that it was important to attend County Commissioners meetings and to be heard.
Mr. Foster stated that there were Economic Strategic Meetings taking place for a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the area. The next meeting would take place on Wednesday, March 11th from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the Kent County Commissioners Meeting room. Mr. Foster stated that the one of the subjects to be brought up is that the highest taxes are being paid in the area most suited for development because there was no tax differential or rebate for property owners.
Mr. Foster stated that there will be a film called “Gateway” about Opioid addiction shown on Wednesday, March 4th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Rock Hall’s Town Office.
Rev. Tolliver sated that Ms. Wanda Boyer was going to be the second representative from the Third Ward on the Redistricting Committee.
Rev. Tolliver stated that the grand opening of Carpenter Park was scheduled for Saturday, May 9th and that other details would be forthcoming.
Rev. Tolliver stated that he wanted to thank East Coast Storage for allowing Jimmy Reynolds to paint the mural on their building. He said that the mural was beautiful.
Ms. Efland stated that she was going to have Nick Garcia represent the Fourth Ward on the tax differential, adding that he was a sociology professor at Washington College and interested in getting his students involved. Ms. Efland stated that she was still working to find the second member on the committee.
Ms. Efland stated that daylight savings time began this weekend and reminded everyone to change the batteries in their smoke detectors.
Mr. Tom Herz stated that the representatives for the Second Ward for the Tax Differential Committee were Charley Athey and Jen Baker.
Mr. Herz stated that he wanted to thank Tom Sappington and Bill Ingersoll for helping with a downed wire in Ward Two.
Mr. Herz stated that he would be on vacation next meeting.
Mr. Herz stated that Barbara Jorgenson asked that he remind everyone that there will be an introduction to the Charrette for the Cannon Street Yard on Thursday, March 19th at Occasions on 327 Cannon Street beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Mr. Herz stated that he would like to make a motion to challenge staff and the Town Council to attend an “Undoing Racism” workshop when the Town secures funding with the help of organizations in the community for the program to limit the financial impact on the Town, allowing for time off for employees who wish to attend, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Rev. Tolliver said that pledges and plans were made this evening but something that they could do was to act in some way, and that the Undoing Racism workshop was an eye-opening experience. Mr. Herz stated that he would reach out the group and said that they would try to arrange for different people to attend with the Town organizing to show support.
Rev. Tolliver stated that this was an important issue and that everyone who showed an interest should be able to attend. Mr. Herz stated that people had to be open to the message. Ms. Efland stated that each workshop accommodates 40 people and the cost to cover the training was $15,000.00. Mr. Herz stated that he would look for donations. Ms. Efland stated that it would be nice to have people from different branches of local government attend knowing that it was voluntary. Mayor Cerino stated that this was a lofty goal as a 2-day workshop is a big commitment. Mr. Herz stated that he thought it was most important for people to know that the Town supports the workshop.
There being no further business and no other questions or comments from the audience, Ms. Efland moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:54 p.m., was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor