Ordinarily this is the sort of public embarrassment that sends people in small-town politics—or any other kind, for that matter—into involuntary early retirement. Not Schlosnagle. In February 1994 he was elected to his fifth consecutive two-year term as mayor of Friendsville, a quiet rural community 180 miles west of Baltimore that residents—with apparent reason—call "the friendliest little town in Maryland." While other U.S. cities are trying to enact measures to send known sex offenders packing, friendly Friendsville elected the popular Democrat to his $720-a-year part-time job by a vote of 99 to 58. Just one week earlier, he had been found guilty—for at least the third time—of exposing himself, this go-around in a shopping-center parking lot. This Feb. 27 he pleaded guilty to one of two counts of indecent exposure that were still pending (the second was dropped). He will be sentenced within the next few months and could face up to four years in prison and a $1,000 fine. But Schlosnagle refuses to resign. "The people here have known me all my life," he says. "They know I've had a few problems, [but] they know I love this town."
Twila Fike, co-owner of Twila's Old Mill Restaurant downtown on Maple Street, agrees. "We feel Spence is getting counseling now, and the problem is being taken care of," she says. "I mean, sickness is sickness. If I get cancer, are you gonna hate me? Hey, the guy has done an amazing job for this town."
Indeed, during his nearly 10 years as mayor, Schlosnagle has obtained enough state and federal funds to upgrade the town's water and sewer plants, develop an 18-acre public park, build a senior citizens' housing complex and repair the town's crumbling sidewalks. Still, support for him is hardly unanimous. His car has been spray-painted and egged, and clearly some people agree with William Youngblood, a retired metalworker, who calls Schlosnagle "an embarrassment to all of us."
Melanie Uphold, 31, would second the motion. In 1991, Schlosnagle was convicted of battering her when they were coworkers at the Will o' the Wisp resort in nearby Oakland. Uphold charged that Schlosnagle lost his temper after a cash register malfunctioned, and, when she made light of it, he grabbed her in a choke hold. "He's basically a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," she says. "He flies out of control, and it can be pretty scary." Schlosnagle claims he got angry only when Uphold started making fun of him and insists he merely "touched her shoulder."
That he is still in office, say some townspeople, is due less to his own good works than to the goodwill felt for his parents. For 33 years, Raymond Schlosnagle, now 78, and his wife, Alta, 73, owned and operated the town's general store, and during lean times after World War II they were known for generously extending credit. The mayor, youngest of the couple's four children, still lives with his parents in their redbrick house on Main Street next door to the Grace Lutheran Church. "He's always been good to everyone, ever since he was a boy," says Alta of her son. "The people who live here know how much he does for them. They see him working day and night, trying to make things better for the town. That's why he keeps winning, if you ask me."
Schlosnagle worked in his parents' store for years, but it was while studying business at nearby Garrett Community College that he got interested in politics. At 19, he won a seat on the Friendsville town council and two years later was elected mayor—reportedly the youngest in Maryland's history.
As for his habit of exposing himself, Schlosnagle—with the help of weekly, court-mandated group-therapy sessions—has come to believe that it stems from his sexual molestation, at 13, by two older boys. "The psychiatrists told me later that when I perform these acts, it's a way of lashing out against the abuse I went through," he has said. The experience was so traumatic that he was unable to discuss it in detail until he entered therapy.
Although he may face a jail sentence soon, Schlosnagle insists he will not be shamed out of office. "I see this illness as my cross," he says simply. "You know, a while ago some people came to me and said, 'We want you to resign.' And I said, 'Why? I've got work to do! This town needs to get things done.' "
TOM NUGENT in Friendsville
- Tom Nugent.
IN LITTLE FRIENDSVILLE, MD. (POP. 577), Spencer Schlosnagle's legal troubles are legendary. Since 1992, the lanky motel worker has been arrested half a dozen times for indecent exposure. Once, say police, while driving on I-68, he honked his car horn to alert fellow motorists, then began masturbating until he accidentally steered his car into a guardrail. All in all, Schlosnagle, 31, has racked up more than eight years of suspended sentences, 100 hours of community service, 30 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.