Using a fact to tell a lie (Blaine Young banks on voter ignorance)!

Blaine Young is the president of the last Frederick County Board of County Commissioners, he is a candidate to be the first Frederick County Executive, and he is a liar.

I understand…and have been reminded by a few friends…that, at least in politics, the common practice is to use a variety of euphemisms for “lies,” “lying” or “liar.”

Some would suggest I say instead that something Blaine has said or written is not true, or perhaps that it is misleading, inaccurate or false.

I could note that information is being manipulated, that it is not factual, or that it is a half-truth.

I could claim that he is shading or twisting or stretching the truth.

I could chose to describe comments as dishonest or distorted or deceptive.

I could even use any number of somewhat softer and less edgy terms, calling something hogwash or baloney or malarkey. I could say he is fibbing!

We have so many commonly used euphemisms for lying that one has to wonder if it is because there are so many ways to lie, or because lying is so common, or because we work so hard to avoid calling a lie a lie…and a liar a liar.

We’re so reluctant to use the term that you’d almost think it was a “four letter word!” No doubt, people often respond to hearing it as if it was.

But there is a great deal at stake in Frederick County right now, and using a euphemism, or many, seems like soft-peddling something that is really very serious. And it is especially serious because we are talking about someone who is, in essence, running the county as he sees fit, and is campaigning to run the county for another four years (or more).

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“When you become complacent with someone lying, whether it is a close friend, the media, or your government, then you have essentially given them permission to continue to do so and most often at your expense.”
― Gary Hopkins

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Blaine Young is in a position of public trust. And we can not trust him to tell the truth.

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I’ve been paying attention for a number of years, and do not hesitate to write that throughout his campaign in 2010, throughout his tenure as a county commissioner since then, and, perhaps more than ever before, throughout his current campaign against former county commissioner Jan Gardner, Blaine has demonstrated an easy ability and willingness to lie.

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“It seemed there was no end at all to the lies a person could tell,
once [he] got started.”
― Kim Edwards

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Of course, there are many ways to lie. There are “big lies,” outright lies of commission, subtle lies of omission, etc, etc. But, no matter how one tells a lie, one thing all lies have in common is that they are purposeful deception.

Intentional, self-serving and purposeful deception, on matters large and small, from a position of power and influence over lives and our community — a position of public trust.

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“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.”
― Alfred Tennyson

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I could write a column a day between now and the election detailing all sorts of lies. And I may, at least, write a handful that break down some of the larger and most significant lies.

But, in this instance, I want to focus on what some might deem a less important or less serious or less substantial kind of lie, because I’ve seen more and more of them as Blaine has grown more comfortable in his role, more polished…more slick.

And that is when he presents a basic fact, but does so in a manner that makes it the basis of yet another lie.

For instance, here is a paragraph excerpted from Blaine Young’s column in the October, 2014 issue of the Emmitsburg News Journal:

“Despite Gardner’s anti-developer rhetoric, 2,329 residential building permits (County/Non-City of Frederick) were issued under the Gardner Board (2007-2010). This compares to the 1,751 permits issued under the Young Board (2011-through July 31, 2014). This means that 578 less home were built under my watch to date.”

Recently, Blaine has shared this fact a number of times. And while I haven’t double checked the exact numbers, and assume the gap will shrink over the last five months of his term, I assume the basic fact is accurate.

But, even if the assertion is technically true, in Blaine’s hands the statement becomes the basis of yet another lie. You might describe it as a lie of omission, or a half truth, but the point is that it is an intentional, self-serving and purposeful deception.

A lie.

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“The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide.
– Hannah Arendt

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Make no mistake, in this instance, Blaine has a “clear notion of the truth” that he “wishes to hide.” He knows he is using a fact to deceive readers…and voters. He also knows that much or most of his audience does not have the broader knowledge or background information to see the deceit.

First of all, why would Blaine lie about such a thing? Well…that’s an easy one.

Blaine knows that one of the primary reasons he has lost or is losing support from many who voted for him before, including or especially many Republicans, is the steadily growing perception over the last few years that his agenda has been — and continues to be — largely driven by developers.

Those who are close to the issues knew all along, since before the beginning even, but the vast majority of residents, taxpayers and voters do not pay as close attention, and do not know the process by which land use and zoning policies are developed and applied, and do not follow the details of all the specific issues and debates about land use and planning. Blaine knows that.

But, gradually, steadily, more and more people took note as the county commissioners relentlessly pushed through their developer-driven agenda. Most people may even have missed most of it, but they got enough bits and pieces to see the bigger picture as the commissioners gutted the school and roads portions of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, eliminated the excise tax developers paid to improve roads serving new development, reduced stream buffers, weakened the Forest Resource Ordinance, reduced funding for agricultural preservation, enabled developers to buy their way out of the requirements for Moderately Price Dwelling Units, transferred more than $150 million of future tax revenues (half of which would have gone to support education) to large residential developers, rezoned thousands of acres of farms and forest for residential development (where infrastructure is inadequate and will cost the most to provide), and signed one developer-written agreement after another that locked in all those things, and more, for the next eighteen to twenty-five years.

As dramatic and stunning as all that has been, clearly it has been some of the larger and highly controversial and hotly contested developments that have captured the most attention.

Just one of many examples is the Monrovia Town Center, which, to the dismay of a majority of the commissioners, was simply too big and too complicated to ram through the process quickly. For month after month after month, this issue was in the news, with hundreds of local residents sitting through seemingly endless hours of public hearings in front of the Planning Commission, then the Board of County Commissioners, about the rezoning, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the Developers Rights and Responsibility Agreement and more.

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The citizens — many of whom are Republicans — set up an organization, put up websites and Facebook pages, wrote letters to the editor, distributed signs that still blanket the area, stood along roadsides, gathered signatures and more. They pointed out the campaign contributions the developers have given to Blaine Young’s past and current campaign. And they have taken the matter to court.

And that is just one of the many individual and controversial developments, albeit a particularly high profile one, that has generated a citizen backlash and received a lot of media attention.

Anyway, the point is that Blaine knows that the growing perception that Frederick County government is being run for and by development interests is a serious problem for him as he campaigns to be the first county executive. He doesn’t have to speculate based on anecdotal evidence, since he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on polls that have, among other things, confirmed that it is one of the primary reasons many Republicans (including many who voted for him in 2010) may not or will not vote for him in 2014.

At this point, Blaine Young can not change the record. The initiatives and votes and campaign contributions and more are on the record, even if the negative effects of many of his actions will manifest themselves over a period of years.

But he can spend his truly unprecedented and developer-funded war chest to saturate the county with lies about his record, and lies about his opponent’s record. And he has been.

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“The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”
– Samuel Butler

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Given all the prevarication — or lying — that is going on, it may seem odd for me to highlight a single, factual paragraph about the number of building permits granted by his administration (to date) as compared to the previous board.

And, frankly, if it was not part of a well-developed and continuing pattern, it might not be worth writing about.

But consider what Blaine is trying to say — what he is trying to convince you — when he does that. He is saying, as he wrote in the same column, that “on growth [Jan Gardner] used a scattershot method. I on the other have governed with the vision of fiscal conservatism and managed growth. thanks to our effective growth planning.

Absolutely nothing is true in that statement…except that he as “governed.”

Whether one agreed with the previous board or not (disclaimer: I served on that board), and without going into all the details here and now, the description of its land use policies as “scattershot” is about as far from the truth as he could get. Among other things, the board that preceded the current one undertook a very thorough, two and a half year process to update and re-write the Frederick County Comprehensive Plan, engaging the public and a broad array of stakeholders, over the course of well more than 100 meetings, open houses and public hearings.

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Please note that, for all the changes the current board has made regarding planning and zoning, they did not alter a single word in the 2010 comprehensive plan. The truth is they didn’t care about the extensive and detailed text of the plan, which addressed our natural resources and green infrastructure, the preservation of our agricultural and rural heritage, long term transportation choices, citizen services, economic development, the protection of our water resources, overall growth management and planning implementation, and more.

They didn’t care, and they didn’t bother to change any of it, because they knew that, no matter how comprehensive or detailed, it was essentially a set of guidelines, which they could simply ignore…and they did.

The part of the comprehensive plan that has the force of law was the maps. The maps include planned growth areas, priority funding areas, new roads and other infrastructure, and more. But most important, and to the point, they include the land use designation and zoning for every property in the county, and that was all they cared about.

Blaine may write that he has “managed growth” and used “effective growth planning,” but since the first few days of his tenure, “planning” wasn’t planning at all. The goals were basic and simple: get rid of some very talented county staff in the planning department, weaken or eliminate a laundry list of laws and codes that developers didn’t want, change the land use designation and zoning on thousands of acres of farm and forest (most of which was owned by substantial contributors to his campaign), and sign dozens of long term agreements that would prevent any changes by other elected officials over the next 20-25 years, for any reason.

When you think about that, please remember that before they made any changes to the maps, the 2010 comprehensive plan and maps already included enough land designated or zoned, in every zoning category, to accommodate projected growth in the county for the next 20 to 25 years. In addition, due to a combination of things, from the economic recession to significant demographic and market shifts to a number of changes in state policy and investment, the population growth projections were too high.

None of that mattered to the current board. Their “job” was to bulldoze the way for specific development interests, without regard to the principles and goals in the comprehensive plan. You might refer to that as a “scattershot” approach (as Blaine said of Jan Gardner), except that they knew exactly what they were aiming at.

And that brings us back to this paragraph from Blaine in the current issue of the Emmitsburg News Journal:

“Despite Gardner’s anti-developer rhetoric, 2,329 residential building permits (County/Non-City of Frederick) were issued under the Gardner Board (2007-2010). This compares to the 1,751 permits issued under the Young Board (2011-through July 31, 2014). This means that 578 less home were built under my watch to date.”

As noted, there are many things that the average citizen or voter does not know about how land use and zoning are determined and applied in the county. Clearly, Blaine is assuming so when he uses that basic fact to convey something completely contrary to the real truth — the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

It is a lie.

I don’t know of a better way to point that out than by saying that it would be a fact even if the current board of county commissioners had zoned every acre of agricultural land and resource conservation land for residential development!

Why? Because another part of the real truth is that, even after a property has its zoning changed, it takes a while for a project to go through all the steps between that moment and a residential building permit, especially so if it is part of a much larger development.

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“Anything is better than lies and deceit!”
― Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina

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Among other things, that means that many of the residential building permits that were issued during the previous board were from various decisions and approvals of the board which preceded it, and that many of the residential building permits issued during the current board were from various decisions and approvals of the previous board, and that the overwhelming majority of residential development zoned and/or approved by the current board will not have building permits issued until after their term is over.

The residential building permits will come later.

As will most of the negative effects.

Now, when Blaine repeats that factoid in columns, on the radio and in slick campaign mailers, he knows the “whole truth,” and he knows that the people who have been paying attention or are actively engaged in the process will not be fooled.

His goal is more modest than that. He hopes that by repeating that single point, over and over, it will fool a fraction of the less informed voters that have not really made up their mind. More precisely, knowing the demographics of the county, and projected partisan turnout rates, for just a fraction of the Republican voters in the county, he hopes to remove one of the key reasons they would be willing to consider crossing party lines to vote for Jan Gardner.

And, this year, a fraction of the Republican voters might just be enough to make all the difference.

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All lies and jest,
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.
Ooh-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

—from “The Boxer,” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle.

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