- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

FREDERICK, Md. — A Frederick County commissioner yesterday apologized to county residents for penalizing the county parks department $35,000 because one of its employees wouldn’t remove his hat.

Michael L. Cady also led the Board of County Commissioners in voting to restore the money it had deleted from the agency’s budget last week, intending that the groundskeeper be fired.

The amount approximated the worker’s wages and benefits.

Mr. Cady, 61, an Olympic weightlifting coach and former Marine, said yesterday that he had overreacted during the meeting Thursday.

The newly hired worker, Westley B. Etters, had come to that session to be introduced to the commissioners, a county custom. Mr. Cady said he became irritated when Mr. Etters kept his head covered during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mr. Etters was then introduced to the board, and Mr. Cady suggested he remove his knit hat.

Mr. Etters refused, pointing out that Commissioner Jan H. Gardner also was wearing a hat — a St. Patrick’s Day gag gift from Mr. Cady — and asked whether county commissioners had special privileges.

Mr. Cady said yesterday that Mr. Etters’ “defiant” response “went through me like a knife, and I responded from emotion.”

Mr. Cady said he had received many messages from the public about the incident.

“What I have learned,” he said, “is that people expect far more from me, an elected official, than from an employee, and they are right.”

He apologized to residents but not to Mr. Etters, “as his behavior was disrespectful and defiant.”

Mr. Etters didn’t return calls to his home and workplace yesterday. He still works for the parks department, agency head Paul Dial said.

The vote to restore the funds was 4-1, with board President John L. Thompson dissenting.

Mr. Thompson, who had sided with the three-member majority on Thursday, said he voted against restoring the funds because he wanted to “wait until related personnel matters were resolved.”

Mr. Cady moved to delete the funds last week after his motion to fire Mr. Etters for insubordination was defeated.

An assistant county attorney, Linda Thall, told the Frederick News-Post on Friday that the commissioners lacked the authority to fire Mr. Etters because he doesn’t report directly to them.

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