Two weeks ago, Frederick's mayor and Board of Aldermen met for their regular Wednesday afternoon workshop session. Business unfolded uneventfully for the first 45 minutes, with routine discussion of mundane city affairs.
But then alderman William Hall, a Democrat with a long history of clashes with Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, asked for a person who had previously testified to answer some further questions.
Dougherty, also a Democrat, told Hall the question was out of order. Hall disagreed. From there, things quickly degenerated.
"You will not shut me up," said Hall, as he jabbed his finger toward Dougherty, his voice rising to just below a shout.
"Mr. Hall, I'm not trying to shut you up," Dougherty replied.
"You don't understand what I'm saying, lady," Hall said, and later continued: "I was born in segregation. I'll be daggone if you're going to put me back in it."
The formal meeting ended shortly afterward, but the discussion continued. According to witnesses, Dougherty and Hall continued arguing to the point that Vinnie Hughes, the city's chief operations officer, and Police Chief Kim Dine had to step between them.
Hall, who is in his second term as the only African American on the board, has frequently complained in public meetings that Dougherty, as the presiding officer at the meetings, preempts his input. Dougherty has generally said that she follows meeting rules to the letter, and that Hall has a tendency to speak out of order.
It is clear to even casual observers of public meetings that there is little love lost between Hall and Dougherty. Of all the aldermen and mayoral candidates, Hall received the most votes in the November 2000 elections, thereby becoming president pro tem of the Board of Aldermen -- a position that carries little formal authority but traditionally has been treated with a certain degree of respect that Hall has indicated he feels Dougherty does not give him.
The animosity between Hall and Dougherty recently reached a new high -- a line was crossed Jan. 15. The discord has raised concerns that the city's business is getting lost in the shuffle.
As a result, city officials have agreed to attend mediation sessions with a local nonprofit mediation center -- an unusual step for elected politicians, according to the center's executive director.
"I think that [the mayor and Board of Aldermen] are getting the message," said Alderman Donna Kuzemchak Ramsburg (D). "The general public has had it."
Alderman Marcia Hall (D), who has generally managed to remain removed from the discord between Hall and Dougherty, suggested the whole group attend mediation sessions through Community Alternative Mediation, or CALM.
Hall, who is not related to William Hall, suggested the same thing last year, but Dougherty and the aldermen could not agree on a schedule, and the idea fell apart.
Several aldermen, and Dougherty, said they are "optimistic" it will happen this time.
"I'm hopeful," said Kuzemchak. "But I'll believe it when I see it."
"I think some people are expending a lot of energy in nonproductive areas," Marcia Hall said. "I don't think anyone's happy about it, and I think for the most part [the general public] have stopped seeing it as either Bill Hall or Jennifer Dougherty, that it's both. Both sides have stepped over the line."
The animosity between Dougherty and aldermen William Hall and Dave Lenhart, a Republican, surfaced quickly, within the first few months of Dougherty's new administration. Hall and Lenhart made it clear they disagreed with the new mayor on many issues, and that they weren't afraid to say so.
There would be occasional spats during the Board of Aldermen's weekly meetings, a few rhetorical blows traded in the newspapers. But nothing out of the ordinary for a city with a lively political scene and a host of pressing problems, from a water-supply crisis to finding a new police chief to lingering scandals from the previous administration.
Local newspapers have devoted considerable ink to the feud between Hall and Dougherty -- attention that some aldermen said they would rather have been devoted to city issues.
Dougherty said she believes the city is "still getting a lot done."
"Sometimes Bill and I become a distraction, that's true, and I have culpability in that because I am frustrated when there is lack of focus on the issue at hand."
Hall could not be reached for comment.
CALM, a nonprofit corporation organized through the Maryland State Judiciary, does divorce mediation, employer-employee disputes and "community conferencing," which typically involves disputes among more than five people.
The group, which began operating in Frederick five years ago, does about 50 mediations a year, but has never mediated for elected officials, said executive director Kate Cullen Palmisano.
Lenhart, frequently a Dougherty critic, said he thinks the mediation sessions "are going to happen."
"If mediation will help [Dougherty] to put her in a position to work with the aldermen and my constituents, I am glad to help," Lenhart said. "But I am not here to rubber-stamp decisions made by her behind closed doors and I will continue to respectfully disagree with her on those matters, when decisions are made behind closed doors."