The Democratic majority of the Anne Arundel County Council voted down a controversial bill that would have banned outside parties from being authorized to fly their flags on county flagpoles.
Pasadena Republican Council member Nathan Volke, the legislation’s sponsor, initially introduced a broader bill banning all flags from county flagpoles other than the U.S., state and county standards. After community pushback, Volke revised the bill, but still failed to get the necessary votes at Monday night’s County Council meeting. The legislation failed along party lines with only Volke’s Republican colleagues, Amanda Fiedler of Arnold and Jessica Haire of Edgewater.
Patrick Enright, a Gambrills resident who served on the Charter Revision Commission, testified against the bill. Along with several people who came to testify last meeting and a deluge of nearly 50 online testimonials opposing the bill, Enright argued it was unnecessary and concerning.
“Is this bill needed?” Enright said. “Absolutely not. I believe it’s a solution looking for a nonexistent problem.”
According to Supervising County Attorney Kelly Kenney, issues with flags rarely come up in the county to her knowledge.
“There is no written policy but I believe that the county gets little to no requests for flying flags,” she said.
Volke disagreed with the characterization that his bill was searching for a problem, instead describing it as proactive. Both the original and new bill were inspired by a Supreme Court decision over a case in Boston in which the city told a group it couldn’t fly a Christian flag on a city flagpole because it violated the separation of church and state provision in the Constitution. The group sued and the case rose to the Supreme Court, which unanimously sided with the group, saying it had a right to express free speech.
“What often happens, at least in my experience, is problems develop and people come back and they say, ‘How is it that nobody thought about this beforehand,’” he said. “What we basically are doing is trying to preempt any kind of problem that could come up, generally that’s thought of as being forward-looking legislation.”
Council member Sarah Lacey, a Jessup Democrat, argued that the bill isn’t proactive, but targeted.
”An instinct in any council member to try to protect the county from liability is not just something that should be dismissed,” Lacey said, but added that doesn’t make this bill worthwhile. “To me, it’s not only that I think this is unnecessary and I agree with those who have said that but more than that I find it repugnant.”
Later in the meeting, a resolution passed with unanimous support to transfer about three acres of Anne Arundel County Board of Education land in Edgewater to the county to be used by the Woodland Beach Volunteer Fire Department as its replacement station. According to the resolution, the board has stated the property isn’t needed for school purposes anymore.
Board of Health
Earlier Monday night the County Council sat as the Board of Health as they do twice a year. County Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman presented to the board on how the health department’s various programs are doing and fielded questions.
With COVID-19 cases significantly down from the height of the pandemic and monkeypox vaccines more readily available Kalyanaraman was able to focus more on the department’s other regular offerings.
Maryland Policy & Politics
In recent months, the department helped facilitate a study on gun violence in Annapolis in order to collect more data on the issue to better target a solution. Cure Violence Global did a week-long visit to the city for the assessment about a month ago, said Kalyanaraman. Their team met with various community leaders and health providers to better understand the issues in the city and will share the assessment in the coming weeks.
Data shows that 50% of homicide victims in Annapolis are under 25 years old and 81% of homicide victims have been Black men in the past five years. Annapolis has seen more or similar amounts of gun homicides as the county as a whole over the past five years as well, according to the department.
Another upcoming project for the department is looking into creating an affordable farmers market in south county similar to one they operate now in Brooklyn Park. The department is now talking to the community and assessing the need.
The department has also seen an increase in the use of crisis services over the past few years. During fiscal 2022, 3,436 calls were made every month to the crisis warmline, compared to 2,725 a month the year before. The children’s warmline saw a similar increase with about 388 calls a month in fiscal 2022 compared to 302 a month the previous year.
The county is working to help meet the need of young people by addressing the shortage of school nurses. Karen Siska-Creel, Director of School Health Services for the department, said there is only one school nurse vacancy at the moment due to the department’s aggressive recruiting efforts.