2:00 PM EST, January 26, 2013
In 1994, I worked closely with residents all over Howard County to gather the 10,000 signatures needed to put a charter amendment on the ballot that allowed county residents to take to referendum changes to the general plan, the zoning map and zoning regulations.
In what was described at the time as the nastiest race in county history, and over the vehement objection of county officials and the development community, 67 percent of voters wisely approved the amendment in the 1994 election.
Unfortunately, right after the amendment was adopted, the county stated that it was refusing to implement major aspects of it. Thus for the last 19 years, citizens of Howard County have been denied the opportunity to circulate referendum petitions and use their vote to veto countless decisions by county officials.
Four years ago, county residents sued, claiming that between 2008 and 2009 alone the county had denied them their right to circulate petitions and vote on land use-related matters at least 118 times.
So far, after almost four years of litigation, neither the federal nor state courts will even consider the residents' claims.
On Feb. 7 these citizens will be arguing before Maryland's highest court that they have a right to have a court determine whether their First Amendment rights of free speech and petitioning and their right to vote have been violated by the county's actions.
This should be a slam-dunk. If you can't enter the courthouse door to get a court to determine your most fundamental rights — free speech and the right to vote — you have no rights. I thought this was America, but maybe Howard County seceded from the Union long ago.
Valerie McGuire, Laurel
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