Congratulations to MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart on writing our top post of the month! Laura’s excellent analysis of school construction geography was widely seen and provoked questions about county capital project decision making. Our Talbot County post saw lots of circulation and commentary on the Eastern Shore. The two major stories of Nine Districts and private school reopenings accounted for most of the rest of our top August posts. Keep reading and we’ll keep writing!
By sticking with the Confederacy over its own economy and tax base, the Talbot County Council has taken an enormous risk.
Here is why. The table below shows the percentage of total employment accounted for by the leisure and hospitality sector, defined as hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, museums, performing arts, spectator sports, recreation, gambling and related industries in 2019. This sector accounted for 10% of Maryland’s total employment that year. It accounted for 17% of Talbot County’s employment, third in the state behind Worcester County (37%) and Queen Anne’s County (22%).
This sector is extremely vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and Talbot is extremely dependent on it. It would also be vulnerable to any potential boycott caused by the county leaders’ embrace of the Confederacy. If both the COVID-19 crisis and a boycott hit Talbot County at the same time, it would be an unbearable double whammy to the county’s crucial leisure and hospitality businesses. Lacking an impregnable anchor like a large military base (as Harford, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s Counties have) or a sizeable federal government presence (as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties have), Talbot’s economy has no way to deal with a big hit on its tourism industry.
But there is more. Talbot County is not an everyday tourist destination. It offers a range of high-end amenities along with beautiful bayfront and riverfront property that attracts the wealthy, both as tourists and as full- or part-time residents. That brings sky-high property values to the county, an immense asset. Talbot County had the second-highest assessable base per capita ($231,388) in Maryland in FY20, behind only Worcester County and far surpassing the state average ($131,325). High property values enable Talbot County to have the lowest real property tax rate in the state as well as the second lowest income tax rate.
Not many places in Maryland have $5 million homes for sale like this one in Oxford.
The huge majority of counties on the East Coast would be jealous of Talbot County’s mix of high-end tourism and steep property values. But what happens if a progressive boycott is launched against the white supremacist preferences of its county leadership? The effects on the county’s tourism industry are obvious but what if property values are also affected because wealthy home purchasers choose to buy elsewhere? Commercial property values may already be at risk because of COVID-related economic losses and that is even before any potential boycott. If home price appreciation tapers off too, the county government could face very tough budget choices. Service cuts and tax increases are not unthinkable.
Because of its industry structure, Talbot County’s economy is exceedingly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. The county’s leaders must do everything possible to protect the golden egg that delivers its prosperity – its leisure and hospitality sector. Instead, the county council’s loyalty to the Confederacy has greatly increased the county’s economic peril by risking an anti-racism boycott. Talbot County residents and businesses could pay the ultimate price.
Congratulations to former Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman for making our top ten!
The break-out story of the month was the one about the Talbot Boys statue, which was shared dozens of times across the Eastern Shore. Now that Mississippi has removed the confederate battle flag from its state flag, there is no longer any excuse for Talbot County leaders to continue honoring the Confederacy.
Talbot County is one of the best vacation spots on the entire East Coast. Visitors can enjoy excellent restaurants, superb art galleries and museums, great shopping, boating on the bay and deluxe accommodations at the Inn at Perry Cabin, the Tidewater Inn, the Robert Morris Inn and Sandaway Suites. It’s a perfect place for affluent tourists from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York to get away for a long weekend. But Talbot County’s leaders might be ready to give all of that up. Why?
Because some of them appear to believe that honoring slavery is more important.
The issue at hand is the fate of the Talbot Boys statue at the Talbot County Courthouse in Easton. Dedicated in 1916, the statue is one of hundreds erected by sympathizers of the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) decades after the Civil War ended. As part of their effort to whitewash history, confederate supporters attempted to depict the conflict as being about states’ rights but the statements made by the seceding states themselves demonstrated that their real cause was protecting slavery. Opponents have tried to get the Talbot Boys statue removed before, but nationwide protests against racism have given the effort new energy.
On June 23, Talbot County Council President Corey Pack authored Resolution 290 for consideration by the 5-member council. The resolution would remove the statue but it would preserve the statue’s base, which says “C.S.A.” and lists the names of confederate soldiers from Talbot County. It also contains this language concerning other statues on county property.
No new statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action shall be permitted on County-owned property.
Existing statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action shall be removed from County-owned property.
The emphasis of new monuments associated with military action located on County-owned property shall be on the names of those American servicemen and women who served in the conflict.
For the avoidance of doubt, the prohibition on statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action does not apply to the statue of Frederick Douglass, who is remembered for his contributions to civil society.
Let’s remember that the Talbot Boys statue stands near the entrance to the county courthouse. Apparently, those who protect it believe that people of color should have to look at a monument to white supremacy as they enter the courthouse, a place in which they are supposed to receive equal justice under the law. What more wretched symbol of due process could there be than something that celebrates slavery?
Talbot County has a large and profitable tourism industry that is struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. It depends on people from Baltimore, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Fairfax, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and other (mostly progressive) communities staying over in Easton, St. Michaels and Oxford. Measured by percentage of employment and private sector wages paid, Talbot County is more dependent on its leisure and hospitality industries than anywhere else in Maryland except for Worcester and Queen Anne’s Counties.
What happens if Talbot’s county government comes out in defense of the Confederacy? Let’s just say that folks in the areas listed above are going to find out about that and they have MANY other tourism options in Maryland and elsewhere. Talbot would be wise to heed the experiences of South Carolina, which was boycotted by the NAACP and the NCAA for 15 years over its use of the confederate flag, and Arizona, which lost a Super Bowl because of its failure to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday. Do Talbot’s elected officials really want to roll the dice with their economy?
Talbot County’s leaders have a choice. They can join the 21st Century along with communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and the confederate capital of Richmond. Or they can trade tourism for nostalgia over slavery.