Cumberland Times-News

March 15, 2013

County officials ban critic from speaking

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Kenneth Wilmot is a persistent man, and his regular attacks on the county’s animal control and shelter policies and practices have led to a clash with county commissioners.

Allegany County commissioners have imposed a ban on Wilmot from speaking on animal control issues at county commission meetings during the public comment period.

“I think it’s a disgrace ... that you people try to restrict anyone’s right to speak on any subject,” Wilmot said.

Wilmot got up at Thursday’s regular commission meeting to say that the ban violated his First Amendment rights.

Before he started talking, Commission President Michael McKay intervened to lay down the law. McKay reminded Wilmot of the letter sent to him by County Administrator David Eberly on Feb. 11.

The letter primarily dealt with the investigation of one of Wilmot’s charges. Toward the end of the letter’s second page, the “rules” were set out.

“Moving forward, I’ve been directed to communicate to you that the county will no longer afford to you the opportunity to speak at the county commissioners public business meetings on matters related to animal control issues,” the letter read.

Wilmot remains free to speak on other topics and at animal control advisory board meetings, the letter said.

Commissioners make the final decisions on board policy, but McKay said the advisory board is the proper place to raise his concerns. The letter told Wilmot that rather than voice concerns publicly at commission meetings, he should arrange to speak to a commissioner privately on animal control issues.

Wilmot, who served for many years in the armed forces, “in every hell-hole on Earth,” as he puts it, said it is wrong that he is being denied the freedoms he served to protect.

McKay has said he’s been frustrated by Wilmot’s continued charges about animal control and the shelter and that such charges are unfounded. He ordered an investigation in one case that showed the charges were unfounded.

At an earlier meeting, McKay made his concerns clear.

“This particular citizen has been coming for over a year to complain,” he said. While McKay said at the February meeting that he wants to be open to citizen comments, the commissioner added that he was tired of baseless accusations.

“We have dealt with this for over a year. ... It needs to stop,” he said.

McKay was also concerned that Wilmot’s accusations damaged the credibility of law enforcement, and can have serious consequences because public trust in the police could be undermined.

Wilmot’s regular comments, usually at least every other week during the public comment period, mix specific allegations of bad practices at animal control and the shelter along with his disagreement with animal control and shelter policies.

Wilmot’s comments have not created a disturbance so far, although he has verbally sparred with commissioners and animal welfare advocates at meetings. His comments have also drawn occasional boos, as well as laughter.

Wilmot has been a regular at public comment time during commission meetings for the past two years.

Commissioners haven’t been shy in engaging in dialogue, asking questions or stating their disagreements with citizens during the public comment period.

Each person is alloted 10 minutes in five-minute segments. Speakers who use the first five minutes go to the back of the line for their next five.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, commissioners listened, but didn’t comment, on remarks made by Edward Taylor Jr. during the public comment period.

Taylor said he was speaking as president of the Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization. He criticized the nonprofit groups coming before the commission requesting budget funds. Taylor said his organization takes no public funds and that if an organization is worthwhile, it should be able to survive on its own.

Taylor criticized the Allegany County Arts Council and Canal Place, although he reserved special anger for the Family Crisis Resource Center. Taylor said the organization is anti-family and shouldn’t be given taxpayer money. He said the organization started with good intentions, but now promotes the liberal agenda.

The Times-News asked the FCRC if it wished to respond.

“Most nonprofits are put in the position to request county funding because many grants supporting nonprofits require a local match of funds. Without support from the county, many grant-funded programs in Allegany County would be in jeopardy,” said Sarah Kaiser, executive director of the FCRC.

“FCRC supports healthy families and, in doing so, we seek to eliminate rape, child abuse, incest and domestic violence. It is our hope that each child has a safe and loving home in which to thrive. FCRC provides many services to both males and females, adults and children,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.