The Anne Arundel County Council voted down an amendment Monday night to give the county’s new Police Accountability Board investigative powers.
The amendment, co-sponsored by Democratic council members Sarah Lacey, of Jessup, and Lisa Rodvien, of Annapolis, would have allowed the board to review internal reports and evidence, issue subpoenas and interview witnesses.
This was one of the main asks of the Anne Arundel County Coalition for Police Accountability, a collection of human rights groups that is advocating for more robust reform.
Only the sponsors, Lacey and Rodvien, voted for the amendment. The county administration opposed it because, as they interpret the state law requiring jurisdictions to create these boards, the panel is designed to be a reporting body, not investigatory.
“The state set up a very specific framework for that oversight. Unfortunately, this amendment puts responsibilities and powers into the PAB that exist [only] in the investigatory agency and the ACC [Administrative Charging Committee] so we oppose,” said Pete Baron, director of government relations for the Office of the County Executive.
County Executive Steuart Pittman said he hopes future amendments and discussion will focus more on building the board the way it was designed to be built under state law.
“I think a lot of the focus last night was on things that the state bill does not do, that the county cannot do and I hope that we’ll be shifting focus in the coming weeks to the things that the Police Accountability Board does do and can do,” Pittman said Tuesday.
The vote disappointed the coalition, which rallied Monday at People’s Park across from the Arundel Center, where the council convenes, for the second consecutive council meeting.
Coalition members and people of color from Prince George’s County and Baltimore, as well as Anne Arundel, shared stories of family members being beaten and killed by police in the state, pleading for the council to consider the pain certain police interactions have caused their families. Rev. Stephen Tillett of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church emphasized a point that coalition members have made consistently — they are not anti-police; they simply want a system that would hold violent or corrupt officers accountable.
“I think about a young man in my congregation who was with some other young people and was stopped and there was a point when the officer, I don’t know if they wanted him to stand or sit or whatever, the officer just hauled off and punched him in the chest,” Tillett said. “When he asked him, ‘Why did you hit me?’ he said ‘Just deal with it.’ That’s some nonsense. No one should feel they have the authority to do that.”
Tillett added that, if police officers are doing their best to treat residents fairly, a more powerful board shouldn’t scare them.
“My question is, what are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of transparency?”
Almost every speaker at the meeting was strongly against the Police Accountability Board bill without the coalition’s provisions being included.
“After you heard the pain of the folks at this table who came one by one and gave you their stories, that gave you the facts, that gave you the history. You have a job to do tonight. You have to go home and look in the mirror and you have to ask yourself, what do I see?” said Randy Rowel from Morgan State University, father of Randy Rowel Jr., who was recently named the chair of the Annapolis Environmental Commission, and William Rowel, an adviser to Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley.
Steven Waddy of the Anne Arundel County NAACP reminded the council that this is an election year.
“We’re not just pleading, we’re not just demanding, but we’re recommending and we’re also going to be voting and it’s going to be more than voting if you keep ignoring,” Waddy said.
The Police Accountability Board bill is now at 58 amendments, most of which have been debated and voted upon. Discussion of the measure, and possibly more amendments, will continue at the council’s next meeting April 4.
Quiet Waters Retreat leased to Chesapeake Conservancy
The council voted unanimously in favor of leasing about 5 acres of county-owned property known as Quiet Waters Retreat, a waterfront space near Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, to the Chesapeake Conservation Center, a subsidiary of the Chesapeake Conservancy, for at least 30 years. The conservancy will pay the county $1 a year for the lease.
The county bought the entire 19-acre property near the park in 2019 for about $8 million, $2 million of which came from the conservancy, thanks to a donation from philanthropists James and Sylvia Earl. Now, the conservancy is working to realize the dream the Earls have for the space.
“In 2016, Dad learned of the almost 20-acre parcel abutting Quiet Waters Park where developers were attempting to gain the legal right to build houses. After touring the property he knew he could not let private homes spoil this pristine natural area,” said Matthew Earl, son of James and Sylvia. “Instead, Dad envisioned a beautiful site where the public could enjoy the views and waterfront access and a center where several environmental organizations could work together to increase their collaboration, knowledge and effectiveness.”
The conservancy plans to build the Earl Conservation Center on the 5 acres, which will be financed by the family, Matthew said. The rest of the 19-acre site will be open to the public for hiking and enjoying the waterfront view.
“It is such a treasure that it will be available for the public, the community — not just a few wealthy homeowners who would have been able to build their homes there, but it will be available for everyone in one of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen in Anne Arundel County,” said Rodvien, who represents District 6, where Quiet Waters Park is located.
Language Access Bill passes
Maryland Policy & Politics
The council also voted 6-1 to approve a bill requiring county government documents and videos to be available to be translated into other languages, a process Pittman says is already beginning.
Council member Nathan Volke, a Pasadena Republican, cast the lone “no” vote. He said he didn’t understand why this was something that had to go through the council if the county was already working on it. Baron responded that the work would have a more lasting effect and be able to be done more efficiently if it was made party of the county code.
The bill requires all county agencies to take “reasonable steps” to make webpages accessible for non-English speaking groups that constitute at least 0.5% of the county’s population. For non-English speaking groups constituting 3% of the population, agencies must also provide document translations or oral translations of things like meetings if the agencies interact with people in the community at least weekly.
Tara Kim, a student at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena and student member on the county’s Human Relations Commission, said this bill was especially exciting for her as her mother is a Korean immigrant and doesn’t speak English fluently.
“I spent countless hours sitting on the phone for her filling out her taxes, writing her papers, translating everything from bank calls to ordering pizza,” Kim said. “This bill allows someone to talk to her, for her to get involved in what her daughter sees in the county she grew up in and maybe someday she’ll soon be able to become a speaker.”
Rodvien, a former ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] teacher, noted the importance of the bill.
“Obviously we are a country of many languages and therefore our government should be accessible regardless of what language a person speaks,” she said. “Every person deserves to have access to their government.”