Takoma Park Mayor Sammie A. Abbott's editorship of the city's newsletter came under attack at a recent City Council meeting from critics who charged he used the monthly paper for his own causes.
But Abbott and supporters countered that the tabloid-size publication, distributed to the city's residents, has increased community involvement in local issues.
The newsletter itself took up the controversy in the 24-page September issue with one article critical of its operation and three in favor.
Political adversaries appeared at the council session to criticize Abbott's editorship. Ronald Wylie, a federal attorney who lost twice to Abbott in mayoral contests, questioned whether it was appropriate for an elected official to run a tax-financed newsletter.
He also objected to the City Council's endorsement in the September issue of candidates for state and local elections.
The council was divided on whether the potential for abuse in choosing what goes into the city paper outweighs the value of opening it to debate on local issues.
Council member Joseph Faulkner, in an article in the September issue, charged Abbott with "subtle and pernicious abuses," including promoting political causes and rejecting articles critical of Abbott's performance.
Council member William Eckert, at the meeting, said that although Abbott did not overtly reject opposing views, his dual role as mayor and editor has intimidated those with other ideas on local concerns.
Several council members commended Abbott, a graphic artist, for transforming the paper over the last two years from a list of recreational events printed on stapled sheets to the tabloid featuring community news. Abbott writes for, edits and does graphics and layout for the newsletter, without charge to the city.
To that Eckert countered, "Even Mussolini made the trains run on time."
At that point "I really blew my top," Abbott said later. "I think I cussed."
Abbott said discussion of controversial issues in the newsletter has heightened citizen involvement in local issues. He said Takoma Park received a larger tax rebate from Montgomery County this year because of his mobilization efforts through newsletter articles.
Opposition to opinion pieces in the paper comes from those who "don't have the guts or knowledge to write. They don't want anything put in there they don't like," he said.
In the September issue, Abbott wrote that since he took over the newsletter 2 1/2 years ago he has expanded the publication's size at no extra cost to the city. He said he underspent the paper's $18,000 annual budget by $400 in fiscal 1981 and by $311 in fiscal 1982.
Boy and Girl Scouts and members of the Takoma Park Boys and Girls Club distribute 8,500 copies of the newsletter throughout the city at a cost of about $600 an issue, he said.