Bully moose: Intimidation is unacceptable

October 05, 2008|By CANDUS THOMSON | CANDUS THOMSON,candy.thomson@baltsun.com

"We're going to burn your building down ... if you keep talking like that."

"Let's go. Let's go outside."

Each statement was made at a recent public meeting. Neither was appropriate. Each speaker owes the target a public apology.

I mean, seriously, is this what we're coming to, where a forum to discuss ideas becomes a platform to bully?

The first statement was made by Larry Simns, head of the Maryland Watermen's Association, to Department of Natural Resources biologist Lynn Fegley.

The threat was made at a meeting of the Tidal Fish Advisory Commission during a discussion of blue crab regulations.

The well-attended meeting featured spirited give and take. There's nothing wrong with that. Watermen deserve timely information about their livelihoods, and there were rumblings that DNR was being less than forthcoming with the crab population numbers from their dredge survey.

Then the exchange turned heated, with Fegley, the point person, at the receiving end of the blowtorch.

More than once, watermen suggested that they might fudge catch numbers to increase the harvest quota for the next season. Fegley and others warned against that, saying it might lead to further restrictions on the harvest.

Simns, his voice rising to be heard, warned Fegley: "We're going to burn your building down. That's what's going to happen if you keep talking like that."

He said it. An audio recording exists. The comment was not followed by a retraction.

Simns is not stupid. He does not have a limited vocabulary. He lobbies the General Assembly every session. He writes a monthly column for the Waterman's Gazette.

Sometimes, he and I agree. For example, I don't believe striped bass fishing should be limited to recreational anglers. I believe that too many recreational anglers get away with poaching. And I do believe that, if things are as dire as experts say, recreational crabbers should have to log their take just as watermen do.

Originally, I was going to let the inflammatory comment pass. Fegley didn't want to make a big deal of it, and nothing had mysteriously burst into flames.

But in his column this month, Simns announced that I was going to write about his outburst and take it "completely out of context," portraying him and fellow association officer Russell Dize "as being hard on Lynn Fegley."

What's out of context about threatening arson? Nobody thought Simns was offering to buy Fegley a housewarming present.

But let Simns explain himself further: " ... Let me make this simple and perfectly clear, Russell and I were not attacking Lynn or anybody else among the lower ranks at DNR; we were merely delivering a message on behalf of the watermen that was to be relayed to the rest of the department. It was not our intention to hurt anyone's feelings and I apologize if that was the case, but I stand by everything I said and I'm sure Russell stands by everything he said, too. When you make some measured decision affecting people's livelihood, you simply cannot expect us to take it lying down."

But what Simns did went beyond "giving somebody from DNR a piece of our minds," as he claimed in his column.

He threatened to burn down someone's home or office, no doubt affecting that person's livelihood. And he stands by that statement.

DNR Secretary John Griffin said he made his displeasure known to Simns.

"I told him: 'My staff is not available for abuse. If you've got a beef, you can come to me'" said Griffin, who doesn't want threats to alter the way his staff makes decisions.

The veteran state official said he understands times are tough for watermen, but "nothing justifies that kind of reaction."

I don't think watermen concerned about their image or lawmakers who go out of their way to secure money for the beleaguered commercial industry (that's you, Sen. Barbara Mikulski) should take that threat lying down, either.

Simns should apologize. And not one of those phony political "if anyone was offended" deals. Let me make this simple and perfectly clear, a threat is offensive.

The second uncivilized comment was made during the public meeting on allowing bowhunting on the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed.

If ever there was a time for hunters to play it cool and be responsible adults, this was it. The groundwork had been laid. The size of the deer population was way beyond the capacity of the land to support it. Baltimore City and county officials were primed.

But then a few guys decided to run their mouths, with one bozo challenging a woman to settle their argument by stepping outside.

That's swell, guys. Whom were you trying to impress?

One of my favorite hunter safety course instructors in the state always warns his students against playing to stereotype.

"Eighty percent of the population is neither for or against hunting," Chuck Lewis advises. "Don't be a slob and give them a reason to turn against you. Be considerate. Be thoughtful."

Amen.

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