Constitutional rights are not 'boat shows'
Recently, the mayor of Annapolis announced that city officials are considering charging a fee to organizations that come to rally, protest or otherwise make their views known in a law-abiding way to their elected representatives in Annapolis.
The Associated Press reports that one group, which holds the annual "March for Life" in Annapolis, might face an estimated $5,400 fee for police protection at its planned 1999 march.
Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson told the AP that he sees no difference between legislative rallies and other events such as the annual boat shows. "From the city's perspective, a group having a rally is not different from someone wanting to have a parade or hold an event. The only difference becomes what they do when they get there," he said.
Exactly right, Mr. Mayor. The difference is what they do when they get there. You might as well say that there's no difference between someone going to City Hall to get a driver's license or to register to vote, except, of course, "what they do when they get there." Because of the reason they are each going there, it is considered acceptable to charge a fee for a driver's license (a privilege), but completely unacceptable to charge a fee to register a citizen to vote (a right). It's the difference between transacting business and exercising the right of a citizen to petition his government.
At the dawn of the 21st Century, I am greatly concerned that it is still necessary to remind a mayor of a state capital (particularly in Maryland, with its historic struggle to provide a haven for tolerance) that all citizens have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.
This is not a privilege to be made available by government as long as the overhead costs are covered. It is a citizen's right and government must respect and protect it.
Surf and turf is a small price to pay
I would like to respond to a Jan. 24 letter in The Sun in Anne Arundel, "Mids savoring steak, lobster at taxpayer expense." If any thought was given to how hard these soldiers train, no one would begrudge them a special meal. They certainly don't eat like this all the time.
These "college students" have agreed to spend 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and up to 6 years of their lives in service to our country. Any one of those "college students" would lay down his life to protect your right to complain about the "$100,000" meal he received. Also, if $5.25 was recouped from each "mid" who ate the meal, how much was really spent? And how many people did this meal feed?
Added together, this was a very cheap meal, placed next to the $1,000-a-plate fundraisers for political parties.
I have personal experience with at least one soldier, who, after spending the entire spring and summer of 1996 in mud-encased huts that leaked constantly and had no hot water was given July Fourth dinner, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers, of steak and lobster.
If these few niceties are appalling to some taxpayers, maybe they should spend time in the shoes of a midshipman or military recruit, or in the shoes of a family member left behind to worry if their spouse, son or daughter is going to die to ensure that those same taxpayers can continue to complain about the steak and lobster dinner that costs $100,000. That dinner is too meager a thanks for those in the service of our country.
Anne M. Long
Complaints from two sides on track
Sometimes, it is difficult for editorial writers to recognize truth and fairness. I write in response to Brian Sullam's column Jan. 24, "Racetrack opponents and the sleaze factor."
Opponents of the racetrack -- Marcia Drenzyk, in particular -- have every reason to suspect the actions and motivations of our elected officials.
Let us not forget how the previous County Council led us to this point. It was the questionable and sleazy actions of that council, and the manner in which it railroaded special zoning legislation for the racetrack, that alienates the public trust of elected officials.
Moreover, we have all witnessed the tradition in this state and in others whereby politicians, arrogantly presuming that they know what is good for the people, make deals out of public earshot. Former Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr. was soundly defeated in the last election for such behavior.
Ms. Drenzyk is a courageous woman who cares deeply about her community. Single-handedly at times, she fights against an operation with considerable financial backing and, yes, Mr. Sullam, perhaps even the ability through previous connections to speak directly to and influence elected officials outside of the debate.
As you adroitly point out, it is intolerable for ethical concerns to be used to advance an agenda. Unfortunately, ethical practices, having already been stretched, are very much part of the racetrack debate. It is too late to put them back in the bag. The opponents must continue to demand high accountability on the part of all elected participants and public officials.
The issue of who really has the access to power and the ability to influence decisions is and always has been key to public policy. Regrettably, on many issues, most people would say that those with power and money can gain access and influence decisions.
Perceptions will change only when elected officials practice the highest of ethical standards.
Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens' decision to ask for Michael Gilligan's resignation was an attempt to do that.
Voters owe her their gratitude. Your paper should do more to encourage citizens to question the behavior of elected officials and not attack them for doing so.
You should review what Laura Sullivan has been writing about the supporters of the proposed racetrack in Pasadena. She writes that many, many people are opposed to the racetrack.
As has been shown in several cases, such as the Port Advisory public meeting at Northeast High School in Pasadena, the overwhelming majority were supporters.
We would hate to see this project go down because of a minority.
How can Laura Sullivan continue to write that overwhelming opposition exists to the Pasadena racetrack? At every meeting, supporters are the overwhelming majority.
We at RACEFANS have signatures, names and addresses to prove overwhelming support in Pasadena, Anne Arundel County and Maryland for this project.
The writer is vice president of RACEFANS (Racing Advocates Devoted Exclusively for Approval of New Speedway).
Pub Date: 2/07/99