Making hay about Bartenfelder lease

May 24, 2010

Joe Bartenfelder, a farmer and Baltimore County councilman who is running for county executive, grows hay for his daughter's horses on the bulk of a plot that he leases from Baltimore City — not even a cash crop for this hard-working farm family that shows up every single weekend of the year at Baltimore's local farmers markets. ("City to raise county councilman's rent," May 21.) He may be growing hay, but he's not the one making it. That old expression refers to those who take advantage of favorable circumstances. Nevertheless, it seems like there are plenty of people who are making hay while the sun shines on his Fullerton property.

First there is the 24-hour media machine that needs to manufacture news even if there isn't any. Should there have been a more thorough investigation before focusing on a single property? What about interviewing the other leaseholders that share the parcel with Mr. Bartenfelder? It seems specious to only cover the specifics of his 20-acre holding when there are 200 acres in question. Also, before rushing to judgment, the historic nature of this lease arrangement should be taken into consideration. It was negotiated in the 1960s by Mr. Bartenfelder's grandfather when he was only a boy, and Baltimore City never questioned the terms until Mr. Bartenfelder was running for a high-profile office. Under close analysis, this story appears to fall into the category of a non-news event, rather than a hot-off-the-press issue that has racked up an impressive 36 inches of column space in two consecutive editions of the paper.

Then there's the city, which acts like it just discovered a cash cow it would like to milk. The land is compromised because as the landlord they can disrupt the fields at any time during the growing cycle to perform maintenance on their equipment. Even so, they say they want to raise the rent. They don't want to triple or even quadruple it — no, they want a six-fold increase to what they call to fair market value! "The value of the property is diminished," says Mr. Bartenfelder. What's fair about that? Apparently, they would like to have their cake and eat it too.

Finally there are Mr. Bartenfelder's political opponents. Whether they invited this inquiry or not, they stand to benefit tremendously from the mere whiff of impropriety, even the unfounded variety. Politics is a contact sport, and any time you can smear your adversary with the brush of an ethics investigation is a good day if you are running for office in Baltimore County.

So to refer to the old adage again, let The Sun shine its journalistic light in the right direction, perhaps by investigating the rest of the leases, looking into real corruption or ethics violations, or covering the actual political race in Baltimore County, instead of trying to drum up a story that doesn't really exist.

Ruth Goldstein, Baltimore

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