This morning I reported “Six Executive Board members of the Columbia Democratic Club submit a statement of “no confidence” in the leadership of the club President“. I reached out to Jake Burdett (current President of that club) in order to get his side of this story. He informed me that he had addressed this issue in the past and here is what he posted on March 4th in the Columbia Democratic Club Facebook Group:
Most or all of the manufactured outrage in the CDC right now is because there are members of our E-Board who not only think that the County should keep its inhumane contract with ICE, but that they will do absolutely everything to keep this club from speaking out about the associated gross human rights abuses, including nearly killing our November panel on immigration, as well as trying to kill our legislative teams. When that didn’t work, they tried to change passwords and take over our social media accounts, because they don’t want Club members to be critical of Democrats or question the local political establishment. When I reset the passwords to the accounts after this took place, it was purposefully misleadingly framed publicly as me hijacking the accounts.
The Full Version:
Over the past few days, members of this club have witnessed public accusations and arguments, and perhaps have shaken their heads a few times and asked themselves “what the hell is going on with the CDC?”. This is what you are witnessing: myself and other Executive Board members have been subject to incredible levels of cyber bullying and intimidation for MONTHS, which has now evolved into public lies, smears, and character assassination attempts. Some background:
Since I was elected President of this club in September 2020, we saw significant increase in membership activity and interest, and many members expressed a strong desire for the club to delve into public policy and the pressing issues our community faces. To that end, I made several changes to the CDC to make us more active to engage our membership, and I’m proud of many of the successful outcomes of these efforts, such as:
- Having consistent 50+ people turnout at monthly meetings (this is unheard of for CDC) due to interesting panels on relevant community issues
- We made a tangible difference in getting the Dem Circuit Court Judge nominee elected by being the first Democratic Club to get behind the Dem nominee
- We helped move the needle in the GA Senate elections through our postcard drive
- We’ve seen a HUGE surge in paid memberships, both shortly after I was elected in late 2020, and continuing through 2021, even to this day, raising hundreds of dollars for the club
- We massively increased our online presence through a new club twitter account and Facebook page, and;
- We’ve engaged dozens of volunteers through our legislative teams, and also submitted testimony and had an actual impact on helping give some of these important bills momentum.
Rising Tension: The November Immigration Panel – the HoCo ICE Contract
Things were pretty calm internally among the CDC Executive Board for awhile, and it was not until the lead-up to our November meeting on immigration reform that tensions among Executive Board members began to really ramp up. There was strong pushback against the immigration panel from certain Executive Board members stemming from the fact that Democratic Councilmember (CM) Liz Walsh’s County bill to end the Howard County contract with ICE to hold detainees that had passed a Council vote with majority support had recently just been vetoed by Democratic County Executive Calvin Ball, who sided with Democratic Councilmember Opel Jones and Republican Councilmember David Yungmann, who both originally voted against CM Walsh’s bill. Despite overwhelming support by elected and non-elected Democrats alike to end the ICE contract, because these Executive Board members sit on County Committees and Commissions that are nominated by CE Ball, they did not want to be affiliated with anything that could reflect poorly on CE Ball out of fear of jeopardizing their reappointments. For example, one Executive Board member was the Chair of the Human Rights Commission.
As a compromise to certain Executive Board members to support an immigration reform panel at our November meeting, it was agreed that the meeting would not focus on Liz Walsh’s County bill that had already been vetoed, but rather on future immigration reforms, such as CM Jones’ Liberty Act, and State Delegate Vaughn Stewart’s Dignity not Detention Act to end all ICE contracts housing detainees in MD. With this compromise reached, an invite was sent to CM Jones to speak on the panel about his Liberty Act 13 days before the meeting. After over a week with no response from CM Jones and with the upcoming meeting/panel already being promoted publicly, the event was only 4 days away at that point, and then CM Walsh reached out offering to come on the panel. I told CM Walsh’s staffer that the meeting was not going to be about CM Walsh’s prior bill to end the ICE contract, but that CM Walsh was still welcome to come on the panel to talk about the other upcoming immigration reform legislation if she wanted, and they agreed. Within only a few hours after telling my VP, who is a personal friend of CM Jones, that CM Walsh was going to be on the panel, I received an email from CM Jones responding to the email invite that had been sent 10 days prior, notifying me that he would love to be on the panel. Subsequently, I informed CM Jones, that CM Walsh was also now booked to appear on the panel. CM Jones expressed that he was not comfortable being on a panel with CM Walsh in that context. Although this was an incredibly unreasonable demand to have to choose between 2 Democratic Councilmembers, I felt pressure from certain Executive Board members, and in order to foster consensus, we disinvited CM Walsh to accommodate CM Jones so that he could come on to talk about his Liberty Act.
However, even after the accommodation was made, CM Jones still pulled out of the panel 2 hours before the meeting, because he didn’t like that he was not told in advance every single question he may be asked (none of the panelists were, and no one else had an issue with this), including the unscripted Q&A section with general club membership. A Q&A with a Councilmember is an opportunity that currently doesn’t exist in Council Public Hearings or Council Work Sessions, so CM Jones cancelling last second greatly reduced the full potential of that November panel, as neither Howard County CM was able to make it on in the end, so our membership was deprived of a discussion on an important upcoming local bill.
Despite CM Jones’ and my VP’s interference, the Nov. meeting still went very well, and I was looking forward to moving past the contentious issue of immigration, and hopefully being able to work on other issues a majority of the membership agrees on. However, this would sadly only be the beginning of a long pattern of internal attempts to sabotage club activities and cause chaos and dysfunction in the Club, both publicly and privately.
Attempts to Kill Legislative Teams, Override Membership:
Let me make this clear: As club president, I seek consensus, not just from the Executive Board, but most importantly, from the general membership – who the Executive Board is supposed to represent. One way I incorporated membership feedback into the planning of Club activity was at our December meeting, where most of the meeting was dedicated to giving the general membership an opportunity to speak to each other and share with the Executive Board what they wanted to see from the CDC in 2021. The overwhelming consensus from membership at this meeting was to function as a grassroots group, and to be more “activist” in nature than we had been in the past, including taking stances on issues and bills so that we can actually have an influence on what our Democratic representatives do, rather than just watch passively from the sidelines and cheer on whatever happens. Being a grassroots organization requires fidelity to the truth and to our values, and not blind loyalty to party leadership: That’s how we got Trump.
At our January general membership meeting, we invited the Howard County State Delegation to present their bills to the group. In accordance with the membership desire to influence public policy, a legislative committee format was proposed that would allow members to join specific issue-based teams – immigration, criminal justice, education, etc.
These legislative committee plans were shared with the membership at the January general meeting. We informed them that we were going to send out a survey to have the membership vote on bills of interest, and those bills that received majority support from voting members on the survey would be officially advocated for by the respective legislative subcommittees, mainly in the form of submitting written testimony on behalf of that issue team, and promoting our work on social media. I think it’s very important to point out that up to this point, we had been planning these legislative teams for months now, both privately and publicly, and not a single Executive Board member expressed any concerns with the legislative Committee and its intended goals – and in fact, they were all quite excited about the legislative teams.
However, shortly after the survey was sent out and we were able to see the initial results, some Executive Board members suddenly began voicing arbitrary process-related concerns, ultimately attempting to shut down the entire legislative committee – after we had been promoting and planning it for months, and after dozens of members voted and signed up enthusiastically to participate in the teams. Why were certain Executive Board members all of a sudden trying to kill the legislative teams after we started to get results on the survey? It’s simple: Dignity not Detention (Delegate Vaughn Stewart’s bill to end all the ICE contracts in MD, including the one in Howard County) was on the survey, and was quickly looking to be one of the most popular bills on the survey with our membership, meaning the CDC would have to submit testimony in favor of ending Howard County’s contract with ICE to detain undocumented people – a move which would reflect poorly on CE Ball and CM Jones who fought to keep the ICE contract in place. Yes, as it turns out, this coordinated attempt to deny the members an opportunity to participate in testifying for Anton’s Law, LEOBR Repeal, the Blueprint veto override vote, and other hugely important state bills was carried out with a singular goal of preventing the club from writing in support of the Dignity not Detention Act. At every turn, one board member or another attempted to slow down, derail, and destroy the entire process that was already in motion, despite lacking the bylaw authority or consent from general membership to do so.
As I firmly believe the will of the members should be protected, I resisted any over-reach attempts by particular Executive Board members to kill the legislative committee process. The initiative of the Legislative Committee was a resounding success thanks to the leadership of Meagan Braganca and Kiana Fok, and many participating members were very pleased with the effort, and did not want to see the teams dissolved. All together, the club acted on 12 bills, and I’m super proud of the fruits of this effort, and thankful for every member who participated in the process. But, it was not before facing many obstacles and roadblocks thrown by certain Executive Board members to try to sabotage these efforts.
At our last general membership meeting in February, the same Executive Board members who opposed the Dignity not Detention Act, and who wanted to kill the legislative teams, also attempted to undermine the membership’s will to join the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, which a majority voted to join at that meeting. One Executive Board member suggested that he had a problem with this coalition’s approach; another disingenuously said she was not very familiar with this coalition and wanted to wait longer and learn more before making a decision, even though there are documented social media interactions that suggest otherwise, and we literally had a representative from the Coalition on our November immigration panel to speak about the Coalition. Despite these bad faith arguments, they were not successful in preventing a vote to join the Coalition from taking place, and 24 members voted to join the Coalition, with no one voting against it, and 10 members abstaining. Even after the vote to join the Immigration Coalition was successful, though, certain members of the Executive Board still tried to invalidate many of the votes in favor of joining the Immigration Coalition, claiming some of the people who voted had not paid membership dues, even though those members have Paypal receipts proving they are indeed dues-paying members.
Social Media Hijacking, Admin Overreach, Blatant Public Misrepresentations:
As it became clear to certain members of the Executive Board that the bylaw did not provide them the latitude to act with impunity and shut down whatever club activities they didn’t like in the name of protecting the image of certain local elected Democrats, they decided to instead turn to authoritarian-style tactics to take full control of certain social media accounts, changing the rules on the fly (previously access to the Club social media accounts was given to ALL Executive Board members), and even censoring members they disagreed with politically.
This took an exceptionally unfortunate and public turn when certain members, including myself, were being locked out of the Club Twitter account. Repeated requests for the new account password, which had been changed by the Secretary without notice, were rebuffed. This attempt to lock myself and other Executive Board members out from the platform was a huge violation of trust that is very difficult to come back from. At this point, as the MailChimp was now being logged into also, presumably to also change the password, those of us who were locked out had to take decisive action to ensure that those who were hijacking the accounts without permission and only locking out certain members could not gain full control of all the Club accounts. To ensure we did not lose control of all Club accounts and pages, I reset our Google Drive/Gmail password, which was connected to all other Club accounts, and that allowed me to recover and re-change all the passwords that had been changed and withheld from myself and other Executive Board members.
In addition to trying to remove Club account access to certain Executive Board members without authority to do so, some of these Executive Board members who were participating in the account password hijacking were also abusing their authority as CDC FB group Admins, mainly by censuring views/opinions they disagreed with and functioning as a defacto “Ministry of Truth” – they got to determine what was “real news” and what was not. One such view was a series of blog posts that were critical of The Rouse Project and speculated that they may have hidden motives from developers, which was written by dues-paying CDC member Hiruy Hadgu. The previous group admins tried to justify their denial of these posts by calling them “fake news” and writing Hiruy off as some fringe conspiracy theorist. I can’t prove that Hiruy’s speculations in his blog posts are true, but certainly the Rouse Project and its goals should not be off the table for public discussion and debate, and to shut down those discussions is authoritarian and unacceptable, and against the core Democratic values of free speech, questioning of authority, and open debate.
And to push back on the narrative that believing that ‘the Rouse Project is a front group for developer interests’ is some fringe conspiracy theory that only Hiruy believes, please allow me to quote former Howard County Democratic County Executive Liz Bobo in her recent “Reflections” newsletter: in her newsletter, on the topic of the Rouse Project, Bobo writes “I want to mention my concern about the numerous troubling messages I have recently received about what I understand to be an effort underway to obtain control of a majority of the members of the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors (aka, the Columbia Council) in order to accomplish significantly increased development in the area of Symphony Woods. That effort has entitled itself “The Rouse Project,” If this concerns you, as it does me, I suggest that those of you who live in Columbia, get in touch with your Village’s Columbia Association representative and ask him/her if they know what’s going on.” (see pic attached). To be clear, just because Bobo is speculating that developer interests may be at play in the Rouse Project does not necessarily make Hiruy’s theory in the blog post automatically true, but it does go to show that many Democrats in Howard County and Columbia are very wary and skeptical of the Rouse Project, and discussion about it should be allowed and encouraged, rather than silenced in support of the “official narrative” co-signed by the previous admins acting as the “Ministry of Truth”.
With the previous group admins removed after they proved themselves untrustworthy due to trying to change the passwords without revealing the new passwords, and being overly censorious, Hiruy’s blog posts were now allowed to be posted in the CDC Facebook group. The series of blogs received swift criticism from the Executive Board members who had tried to lock myself and others out from the club accounts; allies in the community of these Executive Board members who opposed me also jumped in on the dogpile. What ensued was the most despicable display of partisan hackery and manufactured outrage and controversy to try to make me look bad publicly. The bullying, gaslighting, and half-truth tactics on display would put Trump to shame. What people witnessed on these forums, the sheer meanness of it, is a glimpse into the verbal abuse and intimidation dispensed by these Executive Board members to myself and others on the Executive Board on a near-daily basis. This treatment from these Executive Board members has led to one other Executive Board member literally getting bullied out of the group chat.
These Executive Board members trying to stir up fake outrage to sabotage me would have us believe that this was about some blog posts by someone (Hiruy) who has been making similar posts in the CDC group, and other local Democratic club groups, for years. It was not. It is to undermine an effective leadership that has increased membership and invigorated the club, and dared to ask our elected officials to do their jobs. The treatment I have received from these cruel Executive Board members and the community members they’ve been able to manipulate through false or out-of-context narratives is certainly not how to bring new people, and especially not young people, into the party.
I’m sorry that this had to become a big public spectacle, but I was not the one who chose to censor blog posts from a dues-paying member, try to lock other Executive Board members out of club accounts, and then air grievances out publicly on Facebook because I didn’t get my way. If anyone questions the accuracy of the events that have transpired as described here, I’m more than happy to provide receipts as proof.
I look forward to continuing to put together engaging and interesting meetings for our membership, as well as push the Club to take stands on important progressive issues.
Jake and I talked about setting up an online interview on the Scott E’s Blog Facebook channel in the near future to discuss what is happening with the Columbia Democratic Club and I hope to have that scheduled in the near future. Stay tuned.