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Column Ends, but Not War of Words

After Initial Shock, Residents Weigh In On Frederick Writer

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2004; Page B03

The end of summer has offered especially juicy morsels for any local news columnist in Frederick County.

Protesters picketed a business that fired an employee for heckling President Bush. The Board of Education kicked off a pilot program with all-male classes to raise the boys' test scores. The Ethics Commission was delving into the conduct of two county commissioners, and Frederick police started posting pictures of suspected prostitutes and their alleged customers on the department's Web site.

Roy Meachum says he was trying to uphold the integrity of the Frederick News-Post, his employer of about 20 years. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

As if that were not enough, just over the border in Washington County, the Ku Klux Klan stirred a fuss out of all proportion to the tiny number (nine) who marched through Sharpsburg.

So, amid a pundit's smorgasbord almost too rich for late summer, it came as a surprise that Roy Meachum, whose voice had been thundering and entertaining three times a week for about 20 years in the Frederick News-Post, had fallen silent.

To his many, many fans, the sudden end came as a loss. To his many, many victims, the end came not a moment too soon. But almost everyone expressed surprise.

"He was probably the first thing people turned the paper to," said Earl "Rocky" Mackintosh, a businessman and vice president of the Defenders of Citizens Rights Inc., a property rights group. "Others avoided reading him like the plague."

Ask Meachum, and he says he was fired. Ask the newspaper, and it says it was a contractual misunderstanding.

Whatever it was, the end of an institution had people talking as Frederick County residents awakened last week to the possibility that there would be no more hide-flaying blasts at county Board of Commissioners President John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr. (R), no more ink bombs heaved at Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty (D), and no more rambling, sometimes lyrical, sometimes purple meditations, about art, his native Louisiana, his elderly mother, the Roman Catholic Church or his four-footed sidekick, Pushkin. (It's an English pointer -- not a Dalmatian, he says.)

"I think it's a tragedy," said Michael L. Cady, vice president of the Board of Commissioners. "He stimulates people to think. He's entertaining. He has a 20-year history with our community. I think he's the most popular columnist in Frederick County."

Well, maybe not popular, Cady hastened to add -- but a must-read.

"Monday, Wednesday, Friday -- you go to the editorial page to see who has the Roy Meachum target on him today," Cady said.

Down the hall at the Board of Commissioners offices, however, Thompson practically kicked up his heels.

Over the years, Meachum has lumped Thompson -- far and away his favorite punching bag -- in with Nazi Germany's show trials, communist commissars and the Klan.

But Thompson also punched back. He hung a T-shirt in Winchester Hall that says, "Roy Meachum . . . another word for liar." He sought -- unsuccessfully -- to pass an official resolution to the same effect. He invites any and all to view the montage of Meachum's anti-Lennie columns plastered on his office door.

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