Favorite moments from a year of Independent Q&As

 

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Wherever I go, people want to talk about the Q&A features in our newspaper.
The most typical reaction? Readers appreciate knowing more about the news- and decision-makers in our community.
The interviews, it seems, allow people to feel more connected to the subjects, and more aware of issues facing our community.
People also tell me that even though they thought they already knew an interview subject, that they still learned something surprising from their answers.
In our first year, we profiled 38 community leaders. Tony Weeg was the photographer for all but three of them; his photos make the feature a pillar of the Independent’s success.
With that said, the following are favorite excerpts from a year of incredible interviews.

Jim Perdue

Q. How are you different than Frank?
A. You can’t walk in footsteps. Dad and I had different ways of doing things. It’s interesting, I’ve noticed that in the G4s (the fourth-generation Perdue family members), they each have their strengths and weaknesses. My dad was a real entrepreneur, a risk taker.
I wouldn’t say I’m so much of an entrepreneur or a risk taker, but I have my own interests. I think I might be more focused on the people side. He was 100 percent focused on the quality side, nothing else really mattered. That doesn’t mean he didn’t care about the people, he did. He awarded (company) stock to the workers — forget about the family — he made sure to reward the people who worked to ensure the quality.
Marketing mattered to him a lot later on. Everything had high standards to him.
I still follow the Three P’s — people, product, profit. It begins with people — take care of your people and they’ll give you a good product, which guarantees profitability.

Rick Pollitt
Q. It seems like the County Council has been perpetually divided during your tenure. Is that a good thing, or troubling to you?
A. Normally, I think it’s a good thing. Normally, I like the idea of a wide variety of opinions and discourse — if it can be kept on a professional level. I don’t challenge many people’s motives when they espouse a particular point of view.
What I have found is that we actually have two Republican parties in Wicomico County. We have the more moderate Republican Party, like the Lew Rileys and Bob Lawrences, who work for the good of the county. Then you have the others who are just obstructionists. They’re opposed to anything we are doing, simply because I’m a Democrat. They don’t want me to succeed, and they’re just so blatant about it.
When the County Council voted last year for my budget, 4-3, three of those four (voting in favor) were Republicans. And the local Republican machine went right up to the microphone, right on television, and tore them up — saying we didn’t vote for you to do that and we’re going to remember that in the next election. And how dare you betray us and support the county executive’s budget?
To me, that was a profile in courage on their part, because there were acting in what was the best interest of the county.

Jim Ireton

Q. Your five years as mayor has certainly contained some drama. How have you managed to weather so many tests?
A. Drama? What drama? (Laughs.) I’ve never been sure if politics and entertainment are a direct reflection of people, in general, or vice versa.
I’ve weathered my drama, some self-induced some not, by being genuine and direct.
I also don’t make promises I can’t keep. I’m still true to the values and beliefs that our neighborhoods sent me here with.
Taking on the big battles will be trumped up into drama by the media. I don’t shy away from those battles.

Phil Tilghman

Q. We talked a little about the revenue cap. There are people who blame the tax increase, implemented by the council that you were on, for the rise in the VOICE, and the referendum that allowed the revenue cap.
A. It was a perfect storm. After years and years and years of not increasing taxes, the new council got together and said, ‘OK, what do we want to do first?’ And we said we want to fully fund the request of the Board of Education, we want to bring the Sheriff’s Office deputies closer to a parity situation with the state police (pay). We were training all of these officers and losing them to Ocean City or Pocomoke – not just to the state police.
And then there was the issue of our bonded indebtedness, nearly all of which was for school construction, and I brought up again my (previously) unsuccessful attempt from three councils before to have the recordation tax raised – and they agreed to that, saying that it would generate a million and a half to $2 million a year, based on the transfer of property.
There was a lot of growth then, and my thought was growth would be paying for the new schools and the new classrooms.
I don’t think the increase in taxes bothered the Realtors, anywhere near as much as they were bothered by the recordation tax, which they thought would hurt their ability to sell homes. So, they got involved.
And then there was always this – I’ll call them a ‘cast of characters’ who, no matter what you wanted to do, they were against.
Every time we had a public hearing, you’d see the same people out in the audience with a scowl on their face. All of those things united – and the Realtors really led the VOICE thing, and when they got that petition signed we were dead in the water – we meaning the county.
They very thing we were trying to accomplish by the tax increase and the recordation tax actually turned out to be the vehicle – you know, Wicomico County is close to the bottom in support for education, because of the revenue cap.
So the very thing we were trying to do ended up being the worst enemy of education, frankly.

Palmer Gillis

Q. What’s in the future for Palmer Gillis?
A. I will maintain my passionate, junkie desire to make Downtown a livable, viable economic engine and centerpiece for our community to be proud of — one puzzle piece at a time until I die.
Some may want that to be sooner rather than later!

Mike Dunn

Q. How would you inspire others to follow your lead?
A. Well, I would tell them very simply: Get involved.
It’s not enough to just be shuffling your kids to and from practices and games and recitals. All of that is important, for sure. But, for towns like us to thrive, we need to be selfless on occasion.
There’s a whole group of young professionals in town who are leading by example – Jamie Heater, Joey Gilkerson, Brad Gillis, Jake Day, Matt Holloway, Scott Malone, Kim Hudson. They get it.
Look to them for inspiration. I know I do.

Peggy Naleppa

Q. As a community leader who I’m sure has experienced a number of life lessons after four decades in the health care industry, is there still more to learn?
A. I am not a holier than thou person, nor do I claim to make perfect decisions, but I do try and learn from each situation how to be better and grow, to improve.
I can’t control opinions of me nor would I ever want to, but I can control how I respond to circumstances.
On my bedside stand is the Bible and Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” – no greater humbling experience.
As a physician and Holocaust survivor, he describes his experience of six years at Auschwitz. He found many situations (as I do) that connect with angry, ego oriented, self- righteous and judgmental people.
His teachings show that we cannot change people, but we can change ourselves and how we respond to people.
Dr. Frankl had to find beauty in the fishbone in water the Nazi’s delivered to him in the form of a daily soup. It’s an amazing chronicle of the importance of a positive mindset and a WILL to see the good in all things.
I read sections from this book regularly. I chose in my own way to respond with Christian standards and those of others that I admire, like Frankl and Mother Theresa.

Jake Day

Q. There seems to be a growing feeling that Salisbury is either on the cusp of – or already in – a local renaissance. Do you feel that too? Any idea what’s triggered it?
A. It is in a renaissance. Here’s what I know – I know revitalizations. I know Downtown. I’ve studied this for most of my conscious life.
Revitalizations don’t stop – and they don’t happen in 12 months.
What we’ve done in the last year is strap on the turbocharger. The next 20 years will be the rest of the story.
The renaissance is happening and it needed government, it needed the city, but it isn’t exclusively because of government.
We had to be a part of it and the city as barrier had to be removed. That’s what we did a year ago. We transitioned from city as barrier to city as leader.
But again, the city isn’t the whole story. It’s only one small slice in my opinion.
The philanthropic community, the business community, the nonprofit community, the investment community, the state, the county – that’s the rest of the story.

John Allen

Q. What would you say to other local executives who would like to be more community-involved, but are a bit hesitant?
A. There’s no need to be hesitant. We cannot sit on the sidelines and then have an issue about how things are or are not progressing.
It’s time to lead, time to roll up our sleeves and get in the game. It’s time to be part of the solution.
We have a cultural belief in our company that “Collaboration Wins.” I can’t have all the answers but working with others leads to better results. You’re not on your own. We’re here to support you in making a difference.

Ray Hoy

Q. There’s somewhat of a perception in some segments of the community that too many local citizens don’t put the value on education that they should.
A. You may be talking about the vocal minority of people who attend budget hearings and complain about just about everything. At least I always hope that they represent a small but very vocal minority.
Those people aren’t willing to pay for education because they and/or their children already have their education and they don’t wish to pay for someone else’s.
I generally sit there quietly and think that they must have been shortchanged in their education to have such a narrow view of their world.
To me, they represent another reason that everyone needs a good education and I’m sorry for them that they didn’t get one.

Hal Chernoff

Q. You work each day with kids who live in Salisbury. What do you see?
A. Working with kids everyday I see trends that have changed through the years and it bothers me a lot. There are a large number of kids that are getting farther and farther away from those basic core values.
What scares me is when I try to imagine if it can ever turn back. Someday the kids that you see just hanging out or in gangs and on the street will get old and the question is what comes behind them.
I am not seeing a change in the value system, so it is hard to expect a change in our culture. I have no idea how to fix the big picture so I focus on only what I can control.
Too many kids are not taught the basics values early enough and consistently enough so it is ingrained in them.
All kids can drift off course, but at least the one that were taught core values early on have something to gravitate back to when they start to mature.
Some kids have nothing solid to go back to when the time comes for a change.

Kel Nagel

Q. What is it like being an avowed liberal in a rather conservative community?
A. I sort of get used to having my candidates lose elections.
Basically, the people are nice about it. I have an awful lot of conservative friends, including most of the doctors.
It’s interesting. I think the community would be better served by having a more-progressive attitude in some ways. When I was on the school board, we ran that in a very moderate way. There was no liberals vs. conservatives. Of course, it was back when Democrats and Republicans were allowed to talk to each other.
So, we managed — usually. We took a consensus opinion and tried to do common sense stuff.
Why try to change someone’s mind if you’re just going to make them mad?

Janet Dudley-Eshbach

Q. What are your favorite things about this community?
A. The many cultural opportunities. Getting sand between your toes without having to go too far.
The relative lack of traffic and, by contrast, the many beautiful fields and waterways.
Above all, the people.
From the traditional watermen, to the City and County Councils, to the local residents, business people and the University’s faculty, staff and students, we are a richly diverse community.
Many who leave our region return.
And, as they say, there’s a reason there is no charge when you head west on the Bay Bridge, but do pay a toll when heading east. Our Eastern Shore is so worth it!

Kathleen Momme

Q. How did you get into the community impact business and raising funds to make a difference in communities?
A. Crazy but true, I learned at the age of 12 the reality of sharing your heart and lifting someone else up was the most incredible feeling in the world.
I was a junior high school student who would take a “D” on a book report instead of standing up in front of class with wobbly knees and shaking hands to present, and yet my public speaking insecurity took an “AP” leap forward when I was blessed with the opportunity to bring a smile to those in need.
This opportunity originated when I witnessed Bethesda Florist’s marketing efforts with an Easter Bunny giving out daffodils during Holy Week.
The light bulb went on for me to be the Easter Bunny for the local Bethesda Naval Hospital. From there on up it was an amazing journey of learning how much people truly want to help others, starting with a special neighbor, Peggy Rutley … God bless her soul … who on Easter Tuesday hemmed the last available — a Men’s XL — Easter Bunny Costume to fit my 4-foot-frame along with the People’s Drug Store manager, who when I shared with him my intentions on being the Easter Bunny he immediately gave me two grocery carts to fill at no charge for gifts to give for the children in the pediatric ward.
And this was the beginning of a 10-year volunteer project every Easter Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I served as the Volunteer Easter Bunny for Bethesda Naval, Suburban and Sibley hospitals, along with St. Anne’s Orphanage for all ages and all wards. I learned early how people genuinely want to make a difference and they will if they see your sincerity.
I realized that my career would have to match the gift I was provided for sharing my heart and lifting others up.

John Fredericksen

Q. What makes a good teacher?
A. Passion. Passion for kids.
A teacher can be competent in their subject area, and I’ve had a lot of competent people over the years, but that is second to having that passion, having that drive that causes them to say: “I want to be with those kids. I want to help that kid. I want to help every kid.”
If they don’t have that passion, that love for kids, the kids will read it. The kids just aren’t going to do it.
There are some technical skills that will help do the job, but it’s the emotion that’s going to put that kid over the top. The kid reads the emotional drive of that teacher. They can tell if that teacher is sitting there thinking: “One more day until retirement … help me ….”
The kid reads that and the kid responds to that.

Barrie Tilghman

Q. It has been observed that Salisbury elects reasonable people to the City Council, but there’s something in the water at the GOB that turns the occupants of Room 301 into unreasonable people.
A. The problem arises when people run for City Council without an understanding of the role of the mayor and the City Council.
Too often individuals come into office believing the role of the City Council is more executive than legislative. Then they are frustrated that they cannot do more.
They spend way too much time in the minor details of government instead of thinking strategically and directing policy through legislative priorities.
Councils that make a difference — and I had the opportunity to work with strategic council members — understand that they have a great deal of influence through working with the executive (mayor) to implement far reaching policy changes.
Too often, councils spend time arguing with the mayor about minor details and not concentrating on ways to improve the citizens’ quality of life.
We have seen too many examples of that in the past. The citizens are the losers when this type of thinking prevails.

Memo Diriker

Q. What would the community do if we didn’t have your community visioning ideas?
A. When we look at communities that are very successful elsewhere in our country, we see that a shared vision is the single most important common denominator.
Truly successful economic accomplishments rarely happen spontaneously. Opportunities can only be turned into success if an infrastructure is put in place to exploit those opportunities.
Building such infrastructure, whether they are hard, such as roadways and facilities or soft, such as workforce and software, takes time and a lot of resources. Without a common vision, the public policy decision-makers will not have the mandate to make such long-term plans and to commit the resources needed.
All we would have is a patchwork of less than perfect endeavors that come and go from our economic landscape without any lasting benefits.

Erick Sahler

Q. Who have been some of your favorite political leaders/community leaders?
A. I am inspired most by those who give quietly and selflessly.
Carol Hobbs and Faye Wilson leap to mind, for their devotion to their churches and communities. Allen Seaton and Don Fitzgerald, also. They have given endlessly to girls softball.
I am constantly amazed by the commitment and dedication to our kids by Gary Hammer and Butch Waller, and that’s tough to say for someone who bleeds Bennett red. It’s inconceivable how many lives they have touched during their careers.
I believe Mike Lewis, Barbara Duncan and Matt Maciarello pulled this community back from the brink. Kim Hudson rescued Winter Wonderland and Mike Dunn saved the Fourth of July fireworks.
And Jake Day truly is the catalyst who sprung Salisbury forward.

Butch Waller

Q: What your favorite memory growing up in Salisbury?
A: Living in this town. Growing up on Monticello Avenue. Having pine woods across the street that I was a cowboy in. And on the other side of the street, jungle type woods with vines where I could be Tarzan and all of that kind of stuff.
Snowstorms as a kid – looking at the pitiful little lamp post we had and being mad when the snow quit.
Being able to go to the campus school at SU and being taught by those great teachers. Being fortunate enough to grow up with the kids I grew up with. Being fortunate enough to go to good schools, and to be able to associate with athletics early, and get a chance to get a taste of the other side of the classroom.
Having good coaches. And having a really great mother, who I miss big time. Big time.

Jackie Jennings

Q. Talk about what it means to live here and give back to your community.
A. I think we all want to live and work in a thriving community, and that’s not going to happen unless everyone rolls up their sleeves and pitches in.
This town is amazingly philanthropic; it’s rare that I ask for help or a donation or look for a volunteer and don’t get a response.
I’ve learned that people really want to help; you just have to ask them. I also believe in karma, and I know for a fact that the more you give, the more you get back.

Steve Hammond

Q. Walter Cronkite is still talked about as being the “most trusted man in America.” Is it important to convey trust to your audience?
A. It’s absolutely important that viewers trust me.
I’m not quite sure how you convey it. Trust is earned. It takes time and you have to work hard to make sure that your reporting is accurate and fair.
Over the years, I think I’ve earned the trust of WBOC viewers.

Susan Purnell

Q. You’re regarded as role model for how a business person should also be involved in community projects.
A. My Mom has an embroidered picture on the wall that says, “Those who give have all things.” She and Dad instilled that truth in me.
There is so much need in our community, and I feel there is a moral imperative for all of us to help in any way we can to make a difference. There is no better feeling than knowing your efforts have helped make life a little better for someone.

Barbara Duncan

Q. You’re low key, yet commanding. And demanding. How does one develop that combination? How does one make it all work?
A. My comportment comes from years of experience. I’ve had the privilege of working under some great leaders.
As my knowledge of law enforcement grew I make it my business to take the best of what these leaders offered to guide me in developing my style of leadership. My former agency provided me with ample opportunity for growth and maturity and over time I gained the experience necessary to lead by example.
Leadership is a daily challenge, one I readily submit to and constantly learn from. My experience has taught me that when you demand more of yourself and those you lead, you get a better result every time.

Mitzi Perdue

Q. Frank often told people you were a lot smarter than him.
A. If a paper airplane is more powerful than a rocket ship to the moon, than I am smarter than Frank.
I thought his brilliance was incandescent
I kind of tried to hide from him what I’m about to say, but my usual reaction to a lot of what he said was pure and simple awe. He had amazing insight, and I can think of times when I was certain that he had to be wrong about something — and then the facts would prove him right.
He was genius.

Mike Lewis

Q. You were a most-inspirational and sensitive leader during the community’s shared nightmare of the Sarah Foxwell search and murder investigation. Some people in law enforcement have told me that case changed their lives forever. What was the effect on you?
A. I don’t think there’s anyone in our area today whose lives were not adversely affected over that horrific crime.
The kidnapping and murder of any child is unspeakable, but to have this happen in our back yard was unconscionable. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned that an innocent 11-year-old child had been kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night.
What followed was a massive coordinated effort to locate a missing child here in Wicomico County. Joined by thousands of community volunteers, law enforcement officers mobilized in Wicomico County as Christmas loomed on the horizon.
The dedicated efforts and commitment of hundreds of deputies, troopers, and FBI agents culminated with the discovery of the charred remains of little Sarah on Christmas Day 2009.
Chief Deputy Gary Baker and I were joined by Assistant State’s Attorney Sam Vincent as we walked into the crime scene to view her remains. Words cannot express our profound loss that day.
Our sadness for her family and this community was overwhelming. I was physically and emotionally void of any meaningful response other than sobbing with those around me.
Over the course of those three days, some three thousand people, deeply touched by Sarah’s abduction, mobilized into an unprecedented and powerful force driven by faith and determination that we would locate our fallen angel.
Our hearts remain broken.
Sarah’s picture remains prominently displayed in the hallway just outside my office. Situated near the entrance to our Wicomico Bureau of Investigation, it serves as a reminder as to why we do our jobs.
The detectives — deputies and troopers — who serve in this bureau are the cream of the crop. I proudly work with each one of them every day. Wicomico County citizens should be proud.
None of us will ever forget Christmas 2009.

Matt Maciarello

Q. We often hear that too many people sometimes don’t trust law enforcement and therefore don’t cooperate in police investigations and trials.
A. When I took my oath of office, in my mind I committed myself to doing justice. That includes convicting the guilty, protecting the innocent and, at times, giving victims a voice.
But, in my mind, I also committed to bettering the reputation of the justice system because find out when you spend time in some communities that people have different perspectives on the justice system, some clearly do not think that it works for them.
I am a big believer in the principle of “seek first to understand,” and from my time and study I see that part of the problem is that there is a problem with connectivity, some people do not feel connected to their government.
They also do not understand it — I mean there is a lack of understanding of the role of the police officer and the prosecutor, what their rights are, where those rights begin and end.
So all of the law enforcement leaders in our community, collectively, have attempted to establish real relationships in all communities so that citizens feel that, at the very least, we will be accessible to answer their questions or give them information about the case or situation that they are concerned about.
We may not give them the answer that they want, but I think we do a great job of responding if we are able. I have met a number of citizens in my office to go over particular cases or policies with the hope that this sense of connectivity would help in their perceptions of law enforcement and the legal system in general.

Independent Q&A Subjects

Jim Perdue
Jim Ireton
John Allen
Jake Day
Peggy Naleppa
Janet Dudley-Eshbach
Rick Pollitt
Barbara Duncan
Mike Lewis
Hal Chernoff
Donnie Drewer
Kathleen Momme
Palmer Gillis
Barrie Parsons Tilghman
Jennifer Hope Wills
Peter Franchot
Dave Ryan
Mitzi Perdue
Steve Hammond
Sherman Wood
Butch Waller
Jim Berkman
Brad Gillis
Joey Gilkerson
Jackie Jennings
John Fredericksen
Susan Purnell
Ray Hoy
Mark Welsh
Matt Maciarello
Eric Booth
Erick Sahler
Lee Beauchamp
Memo Diriker
Kel Nagel
Marty Neat
Mike Dunn
Phil Tilghman

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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