Friendsville stresses mayor's contributions

April 10, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FRIENDSVILLE -- Mention this small town hard against the Youghiogheny River just about anywhere in the Western Maryland mountains, and you'll likely hear about its five-term mayor, Spencer R. Schlosnagle.

You'll hear about the motel desk-clerk, now 30, who at 21 became the youngest person ever elected mayor anywhere in Maryland. You'll hear about a man who boosted the Garrett County town's self-esteem with a little sprucing up and by pushing paper to capture nearly $2 million in grants for water and sewer system renovations and a river-front park.

You'll hear, also, how Mr. Schlosnagle won re-election against two challengers in February -- only a week after a jury in neighboring Allegany County found him guilty of indecent exposure. He was charged with exposing himself to a man on a motorcycle while sitting in his car in a Cumberland mall parking lot.

Despite that conviction -- and four other yet-to-be-tried charges of indecent exposure -- Friendsville, population 577, still gave him a dominant 99 votes.

"People like him," explained the Rev. Stephen F. Yelovich, pastor of Friendsville's Grace Lutheran Church, which Mr. Schlosnagle attends. "Whenever they have a need, he's there. He got re-elected, and by a big amount in spite of everything. He's highly thought of."

The mayor's lawyer, Linda W. Buckel, told Allegany Circuit Judge J. Frederick Sharer during a sentencing hearing last week on the indecent-exposure conviction that her client suffers from an "impulsive personality disorder" and was seeking counseling.

Judge Sharer then sentenced Mr. Schlosnagle to a one-year suspended jail term, a $250 fine and three years' probation. He also ordered the mayor to get counseling.

Mr. Schlosnagle also will have a probation-violation hearing in Garrett County this month because of the indecent-exposure conviction. He was on probation from an 1992 assault charge involving a woman.

The pending indecent exposure charges against the mayor stem from individual complaints filed with state police by motorists on heavily traveled Interstate 68 last August and November.

Mr. Schlosnagle would not talk about any of the allegations, but he did speculate that the charges may be political in nature. He declined to elaborate. A Democrat, Mr. Schlosnagle was elected to the Town Council at age 19 and is interested in trying for county commissioner.

Several of the mayor's supporters also talked vaguely about political sabotage, but would not cite specifics, either.

Yet, others familiar with the mayor dismiss such speculation.

"I don't think it's a political vendetta," said Sgt. Daniel Stanton of the Maryland State Police barracks in McHenry. "I think the cases have been investigated thoroughly, and I think that the reports are accurate and have been presented as best they can."

"There's nothing involved politically that I know of," said Don Fratz, chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

But Mr. Fratz also said Mr. Schlosnagle's once-promising political career is doomed by the controversy, especially in a county where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 3-to-1.

"I don't think county voters would go for him," Mr. Fratz said. "The town would. They like him, and he has done a lot of good things for the town. [But countywide], I don't even think Democrat voters would go for him."

Wayne Wilt, chairman of Garrett's Republican Central Committee, declined to speculate about any political vendetta against Mr. Schlosnagle or his political future, other than to say that it's "very difficult for any Democrat to get elected to office."

Friendsville's support of Mr. Schlosnagle may puzzle outsiders. But to residents here, who have known him all his life, he gets things done.

He's brought businesses into once vacant buildings and pushed for the repair and construction of new sidewalks and the trimming of overgrown trees along Main and other streets -- helping to revamp the image of a town once disparagingly known as the county's "Dodge City." The town was once home to four or five bars where frequent fights and occasional shootings occurred.

The mayor also has pushed to collect unpaid taxes and sewer fees. And for whatever Friendsville needs -- from Christmas lights to sidewalk benches -- Mr. Schlosnagle is out collecting donations.

When the banks of the ice-clogged Youghiogheny River overflowed one day in February, threatening the town's upgraded sewer plant, Mr. Schlosnagle was on the phone for hours to the governor's office and state and county emergency management offices for help, securing sandbags.

"I love it here," he said. "I want to see the town grow. People don't knock Friendsville like they used to."

Mr. Schlosnagle always has lived in Friendsville. His father and mother here there, too. His father served on the Town Council. The younger Mr. Schlosnagle ran successfully for mayor -- a post that pays $30 a meeting -- two years after joining the council.

Twila Fike, owner of Twila's Old Mill Restaurant, backs the

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