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Recently local papers ran articles detailing the “progress” being made in the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission’s ability to take properties to tax sales less threatening and more fair. What was not reported was any mention of the underlying and totally unethical issue of allowing MetCom to even present noncustomers with a bill of any kind. Might we assume no progress was made on that point? Or was any even attempted?

Hiding behind a law passed back in 1957, and thus apparently following that cherished St. Mary’s County motto of “but we’ve always done it that way,” MetCom has been handing both customers and noncustomers alike bills for service. Please note it has been for service, whether rendered or not.

And this charade was finally brought to light when an 88-year-old county resident, who had never used one drop of MetCom-produced water or produced any MetCom-handled sewage, found his home up for possible loss through a tax sale. And why? Because he hadn’t paid for what he hadn’t used.

What’s next? Shall we give the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, another public utility, the same ability to present bills to noncustomers past whose home SMECO power lines run? And let’s not forget our friends at Verizon (the phone company, which is also a regulated public utility) or Metrocast, the county’s franchise holder for cable service. Why shouldn’t these organizations have the same rights as MetCom? Let’s start with the Amish. They seem to be adamantly noncustomers. Oh, the horror. How dare they?

Thanks to the press, we learn that almost all other water and sewer utilities in the state have similar authority. And we learn that the last holdout, a county over on the Eastern Shore, is headed in the same direction as MetCom (and other others) because (and why not), everybody else is doing it.

This brings us to the Freddie Hessman Effect.

Freddie Hessman was one of my childhood buddies. He was slight older than I, and he lived directly across the street. Being a little older, he was slightly more, how shall we say it, “high-spirited” and “adventure-prone.” How many times, then, did my mother say to me, “If Freddie Hessman jumped off the roof, does that mean you should jump off the roof?” Or, “If Freddie Hessman tips over trash cans, and soaps car windows on Halloween, does that mean you should?” I think you get the idea.

Thus, the Freddie Hessman Effect, which for the ethically challenged might be translated this way: Just because you can do it doesn’t make it right. And just because others do it doesn’t mean you should do it, too.

Going forward, I might suggest that future construction in areas served or designated to be served by MetCom water and sewer clearly be required to hook up to such services, then they can and should be billed for services they use. If they fail to pay, disconnect them until they do. (Yes, I know, not practical for sewer service, but it is for water.) After a reasonable grace period, and allowing for whatever hardship cases the county commissioners (but not the MetCom board; that would be a gross conflict of interest) deem appropriate, notify the credit rating agencies and place a lien on the property.

Finally, might I suggest this: Any MetCom board member, any county commissioner, any member of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly who cannot or will not differentiate between “legal” and “ethical” should pick up a pen, right now, and resign your office. You do not deserve our trust and you do not deserve to hold office. Or get on board and strongly object to any organization presenting bills to anybody who does not use that organization’s services. If you don’t, plain and simple, you are endorsing fraud.

John Walters, Leonardtown