Women outraged over Frederick commissioners' comments
Two advise parents to stay married; women at home to raise their children
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This story was corrected on Feb. 11, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
Women are reacting with outrage over the comments made by two Frederick County commissioners Tuesday advising Head Start mothers to stay married and not hold jobs outside the home.
Commissioners Kirby Delauter (R) and C. Paul Smith (R) said during a meeting that the best way to help their children succeed in life is to stay married and stay home with their children. Both men touted their wives and the sacrifices they made by not holding jobs outside the home.
"I was horribly and incredibly offended," said Emily Woodruff of Brunswick, a married working mother of a 16-month-old daughter. "It was completely backwards to suggest to people that they have to work. They're completely out of touch. I was extremely offended."
Woodruff works as a customer service representative with Mr. Handyman of Metropolitan Washington.
On Tuesday, commissioners voted 4-1 to pull $2.3 million in county funding from the Head Start program as of March 1.
Commissioners' President Blaine R. Young (R) and commissioners Delauter, Smith and Billy Shreve (R) voted in favor of pulling the funding.
Commissioner David P. Gray (R) was the lone vote against the move, arguing that his colleagues were making a rash decision.
But Gray's colleagues said they will take the county's share $2.3 million and put it toward a $12 million projected deficit for the county's projected $440 million fiscal 2012 budget.
The program is designed to serve children ages 3 to 4 in families that fall below the federal poverty line: $22,050 in salary for a family of four. The program serves nearly 280 students annually throughout the county and has existed for 39 years.
Commissioners listened Tuesday as emotionally distraught parents begged them not to pull the county's share of the funding.
Delauter and Smith said they understood their concerns, but then proceeded to offer their own advice.
"As many of you know, I had a lot of kids and my wife stayed home at a significant sacrifice in those early years, because she knew she had to be with those kids," said Smith, who is the parent of 12 children. "I know everybody isn't able to survive doing that, but clearly if we can strengthen marriage, we can decrease the number of children we have to reach."
Smith, an attorney, said his comments were fitting since the board had just issued a proclamation earlier that morning supporting the institution of marriage.
"I think it is very significant that we did make this Marriage Week announcement today because that is the best long-term way to help our children," he said.
Smith said on Wednesday he has yet to receive any complaints from angry women, and he stood by his comments. But Smith said he did get a call from Channel 7 in Washington, D.C., asking for interview to explain his comments.
Meanwhile, Delauter, who did not return phone calls today, said Tuesday during the meeting that he agreed with Smith.
"I'd just like to say that I have four kids that graduated from Frederick County Public Schools," he said. "My wife is college educated and could go out and get a very good job. She gave that up for 18 years, so she could stay home with our kids and we gave up a lot to do that. I agree with Commissioner Smith. The marriage thing is very important."
Delauter told the parents that they should not rely on the government to educate their kids.
"I never relied on anyone else to guarantee the education of my kids," he said. "My wife and I are the ultimate decision makers on the education of our kids."
Shreve could not be reached for comment today, but Gray and Young both said they received calls from WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., asking for an opinion.
"He asked me my opinion, and I said that part of the deterioration of our country is the government raising our kids," said Young, who referred to "latch-key kids" who are forced to be home alone while their parents work. "Then there are those parents that don't take responsibility for their kids."
Gray, who was unable to be interviewed on radio, said he thinks Delauter and Smith have no idea how some families struggle to live.
"I think they failed to understand how other people live," Gray said. "One [Delauter] owns a construction company and the other guy [Smith] is a lawyer. I guess they had the means to do it [marry women would could stay home]. There are a lot of people that can't."
Sue Oehmig, executive director of Hope Alive, a shelter in Sabillasville that serves homeless women and their children in Frederick County, reacted with shock when she learned about their comments Wednesday.
"I'm speechless," Oehmig said. "I don't know what to say. It's shocking in this day and age when life is difficult and challenging for so many families. I would like them to say that to the hundreds of single women that call us every year asking for help. I'm embarrassed for Frederick County. We've just been set back 20 years."
Antonette Hoffman, a stay-at-home mom from Brunswick, agreed.
"They [Delauter and Smith] make it sound so easy," she said. "Do they think the parents of children in Head Start work for the government? They seem to forget that some of these women are single mothers."
Hoffman herself was a single mother at one time and remembers when she needed help. "When I was pregnant with my first child his father left me," she said. "I'm married now and I have a four-month-old baby girl and I stay at home. But I'm truly disgusted by what they said."
Frederick County resident Amber Hagan is equally angry over the comments. "I cannot believe that we stand here in 2011 and still have situations like this occurring," Hagan said in an e-mail. "...Kids will be just fine if parents stay married? They can't seriously think it is that black and white."
Former City of Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty (D) reacted much the same upon hearing the comments.
"Really? They said that?" she said. "The reality is that people are struggling to make ends meet with two incomes. ... That's why foreclosures are up, that's why short sales are up and that's why homelessness is up."
"What does family and marriage have to do with the economy or creating jobs, which is what they ran on?"
Teresa Cunningham of Jefferson was having lunch with two of her friends at Dougherty's downtown Frederick restaurant, Magoo's Pub & Eatery, when she learned of the comments.
"Oh my God!" Cunningham said. "I am astounded that they would make statements like that. Many families would prefer to have two parents in a family, but that is often not possible."
Cunningham's friends Moira Finefrock of Frederick and Claire Negas of Braddock Heights, agreed.
"How can these representatives be so out of touch with economic conditions of people?" Finefrock said.
"Taxes should be kept to a minimum so one parent can stay home, but that should be their choice if they want to stay home. ... And why can't it be the man who stays home?" Negas said.
Meanwhile, Head Start teachers and staff are meeting with Mitch Hose, director of the county's Human Resource Department on Thursday to go over the benefits and severance plans that they may be entitled to receive after Feb. 28, their last day of work with the county.
Correction: The original version of this story misspelled Magoo's Pub & Eatery.