Havre de Grace councilman advocates for same-sex marriage question

Questions on the ballot for the upcoming election, specifically the ones dealing with same-sex marriage and county charter amendments, brought out some opinions at Havre de Grace's council meeting Monday.

Councilman Joe Smith, who said earlier he would address several of the ballot topics, focused instead on just same-sex marriage and tried to counter some of the opposition to that legislation.

He said many residents in Havre de Grace and throughout Maryland are looking for legal recognition of their relationships, without which they are subject to penalties and discrimination.

Same-sex couples simply want to live "knowing they have equal rights under the law" and while marriage might be seen as religious by some, the ballot question prevents people from being forced to perform ceremonies or provide services that run counter to their religious beliefs, he said.

"I have heard from some that this issue is not appropriate for comment from this dais," Smith said, but noted that other ballot issues have been addressed in a similar venue.

"For the numerous same-sex couples residing in Havre de Grace, it's a matter of love. It's a matter of fairness," he said before wishing a happy anniversary to his partner.

Smith got some applause from supporters in the audience, and from Councilwoman Barbara Wagner.

"I applaud you for that," Wagner said, noting his relationship of 25 years and joking that she has yet to be in a relationship for that long.

Joe Kochenderfer, who has long been involved in city government, also spoke against two ballot questions that apply to the county charter.

One would require the county council to fill a vacant county executive position with a voter of the same political party. The other would allow council members to apply for employment with county government immediately after they leave office.

The first amendment would leave the county in "a quandary" should an unaffiliated voter somehow become elected and then leave office, Kochenderfer said. In such a situation, the person could not be replaced by a member of their party.

While the county has only "two viable parties" currently, Kochenderfer said, "there are many voters who would not be identified with either party if there were reasonable alternatives."

He pointed out that independent voters essentially face "taxation without representation" because they also help pay for primary elections in which they are not allowed to participate.

Regarding the second amendment, Kochenderfer said he did not think people should be eligible for county employment immediately after leaving the council, as they would have "certain insider knowledge" and would be "at a distinct advantage over someone with no such connections."

He said the amendment would veer too close to "self-promotion and nepotism."

Also during the meeting, the council introduced budget transfers totaling $1.1 million. The projects include a $100,000 federal grant for Lilly Run, a $126,400 state grant for basketball and tennis court lighting at Juniata Street, an additional $75,000 for opera house restoration, $75,000 for David Craig Park improvements and $23,400 for water treatment plant facade improvement.

Another budget transfer also would move $43,000 toward promotional activity for the War of 1812 bicentennial celebration.

Emily Caron, a senior from Havre de Grace High School, served as mayor for the day and used her comments period to make a pitch for a new high school.

"Although I will never attend the new school, I plan to live in Havre de Grace after college," Emily said.

Members of the SMILES community service program and the local chapter of Relay for Life were honored for their work this year, as was the Havre de Grace Housing Authority and economic development director Meghan Simmons for Economic Development Week in Maryland.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett was in the audience as his wife, Elaine, was recognized as chairwoman of Relay for Life.

Mike Bennett said the event meant a lot to him because he has been a prostate cancer survivor for three years.

The council adopted the updated International Building Code, with 10 amendments to the city code that were largely typographical and administrative corrections.

A request by Best Choice driving school to put a picket fence in a right-of-way, in the 400 block of South Juniata Street, was unanimously denied by the council.

Police chief Teresa Walter said several vehicles were broken into Sunday night and one of them was Councilman Bill Martin's.

Martin joked about his truck being broken into, noting a Rod Stewart CD was stolen and guessing the perpetrator is therefore between 45 and 55 years old.

He also said, however, he was "very impressed" with the demeanor of the officers who responded to his call for service.

Several council members spoke about the recent Graw Days event, and Councilman Randy Craig said it shows the recent debate about whether the city can safely put on events is a moot point.

Speaking to Walter, he said: "I think your department in particular has shown that it can be done, it can be done well and it can be done safe."

The council went into a closed session to discuss potential land acquisition and personnel matters.