A Promise Broken

At the St. Mary's County Commissioners' Forum on Tuesday, Mr. David Triantos handed the commissioners a videotape which he said consisted of more than 20 minutes of excerpts from various meetings and hearings where the developer of First Colony promised to "build FDR Boulevard." I attended meetings where I heard similar promises. Apparently such promises never got recorded into the [Planned Unit Development] PUD document. Whose responsibility is that? Shall we place the blame on the Department of Planning and Zoning staff, on the previous Planning Commission, on the previous Board of County Commissioners, or on the citizens who didn't do an adequate job of calling attention to the fact that the developer of First Colony had many promises to offer when he was seeking the zoning, but none of them were in writing?

It's too bad there weren't more women on the previous Board of County Commissioners. Every woman over the age of 14 knows that when you have something a man wants, he will promise you anything. After he has what he wants, you need to have those promises in writing.

CLARE WHITBECK

Leonardtown

`Censorship' Is Theft of Rights

The following is written in response to Margit K. Miller's letter to the editor, "End `Yellow Journalism,' " in the July 11 edition of the Southern Maryland Extra of The Washington Post.

On Nov. 3, 1998, in St. Mary's County, it is alleged that a group of people conspired to intentionally minimize public knowledge of a certain story in a local newspaper, by taking possession of nearly 3,000 copies through mass purchase and, allegedly, theft.

Without regard to the specific newspaper, the subject of the story, or even the question of the alleged theft, the general public should still seriously consider the actions and the members of this group.

First . . . Article 27, Sec. 345, of the Annotated Code of Maryland states: "A person commits the offense of theft when that person willfully or knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers." It is punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than 60 days or both. The General Assembly has left it to the courts to decide when the number of newspapers removed from public access constitutes "unauthorized control."

Even if it were not a crime, this was clearly an overt act of attempted public censorship. Who gave these people the right to arbitrarily decide what thousands of other people should or should not know? Furthermore, their actions violated the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Consider, also, that this incident occurred on Election Day and that it was a politically motivated act for the benefit of one specific candidate. That this group supposedly acted in response to the arguably "dirty politics" of the newspaper is no excuse for violating civil rights and state law. Neither is this a valid reason to deny voters access to information on which to make an informed voting decision. Voters have a right to judge for themselves the credibility of both the source and the content of the information.

It should be of serious concern that the people, who allegedly committed this act, were some off-duty deputies of the St. Mary's County sheriff's department. Furthermore, it is alleged that they acted with the knowledge of an attorney, who was a candidate for state's attorney, and the incumbent sheriff, both of whom now hold public office. All of these people are sworn to uphold the law. Ms. Miller offered the feeble excuse that the "deputies bought these newspapers on their own time." Since when are deputies permitted to break the law, on or off duty, and the sheriff allowed to condone it beforehand? Certainly, they cannot seek to excuse their act by virtue of ignorance of the law.

Ms. Miller asked, "Do these deputies have any civil rights, freedom to protest, freedom of expression, freedom to buy what is for sale?" Yes, they do. But no matter how great the supposed provocation, they do not have the right or freedom to violate civil rights and state law, or to attempt to sway the outcome of an election through the unlawful suppression of public information.

Ms. Miller, and I suspect many other people, are inclined to defend the state's attorney, the sheriff and these deputies because of an intense dislike and repugnance for the newspaper, its editor and the subject of the Election Day story. However, what if it had been the KKK interfering with the distribution of a black newspaper, or American Nazis acting against a Jewish newspaper, or management suppressing a labor union's newspaper? We cannot employ a double standard in the protection of the rights of free speech and freedom of the press. Disagreeable, even disreputable, speech and journalism must be equally protected under the law; otherwise, these rights will decline to the level of a privilege.

The unlawful interference with any newspaper, publication or other means of public communication cannot become an acceptable part of the political and electoral process. We cannot tolerate candidates for office, law enforcement officers and elected officials, who willfully violate the rights of others and the law when it suits their personal and political purposes. It is deeply unfortunate that too many people, involved in the pursuit of personal and partisan political gains, have lost sight of the fact that the ends do not justify the means.

VERNON GRAY

California

Excursion Train's Destination

The recent announcement and stories concerning the Navy's awarding the contract for use of the government railway running from Indian Head to White Plains to the Northern Central Railway will be a dramatic undertaking for economic development and tourism for Charles County, not to mention the much-needed boost and help for the town of Indian Head. I was especially pleased and delighted to hear of the final announcement of approval since it culminated an endeavor begun by three men that began back in 1996, and supported by many since.

I remember the day when Lou Scalfari, the base's command architect met with me in my office when I was town manager of Indian Head in 1996. One of the primary goals [the] council wanted me to do upon my hiring in 1993 was to begin a revitalization of the town through economic development. Lou's visit that day was in the midst of that revitalization and his suggestion of utilizing the government's rail line to attract an excursion/dinner train to the county certainly convinced me to support his proposal. I discussed the train idea with the mayor and council, received their support and proceeded to find a willing train operator. . . . Jake Bair was the director of the Maryland Center for Environmental Training at Charles County Community College. . . . I told Jake of our plans for a dinner train, and he provided me with the name of Ken Britten of the Northern Central Railway, who was operating a similar enterprise in Pennsylvania.

I called Mr. Bitten -- [and] did not have to convince him too much about coming to Charles County. . . . [G]overnmental regulations required quite an amount of bureaucratic action and approvals through the Navy and federal chain of command before the final approval was granted.

During this time, I had a job change which brought me over to the county's Economic Development Commission, where I continued to support the excursion/dinner train project. . . .

I want to thank everyone who had a part to play in bringing the excursion/dinner train to Charles County. Without the support and assistance of so many dedicated and hard-working, persistent folks, this project would only have remained a dream. I especially want to extend my gratitude to Lou Scalfari for his dogged determination, Jake Bair for his informing me of Ken Bitten and the Northern Central Railway, and Ken Bitten for not getting discouraged during the process and seeing this project through with us.

One other point: The announcement from the Northern Central Railway that the line from Indian Head to White Plains will be called "the Route of the Great Blue Heron" is very meaningful. Not only can you get a glimpse of the great blue heron along the route, but it is also the designated bird for Charles County.

JOSEPH A. MANGINI JR.

Indian Head

Parran's Voice Heard More Than Enough

In reference to Commissioner John Douglas Parran's letter [Extra, July 11], perhaps he does not understand the meaning of a majority. On the Calvert County Board of Commissioners (BOCC), which consists of five members, it means that when three commissioners vote yea or nay, the vote determines passage or rejection of a motion. Mr. Parran cannot say his voice is not heard if he loses on a 3-2 vote. He simply does not prevail and that is good.

The constant sniveling Mr. Parran exhibits via letters to the editor and remarks at BOCC meetings are an embarrassment to the people of this county and he is making the board look very bad. Commissioners have ample opportunity to voice their opinions on this board -- perhaps too much opportunity from what I see and hear. Sticking to issues is not a virtue for several commissioners on this board.

Perhaps Mr. Parran does not have the insight or sensitivity to understand this, but for the sake of the county and its local government, it would be refreshing if he would try to behave like a responsible, thinking and mature person. Mr. Parran's narcissistic tendencies are undermining the workings and objectives of the Board of County Commissioners. . . .

Many of us sincerely hope for the recovery of Mr. Parran from deafness, blindness and insensitivity to the proper decorum of a public official. And please, Mr. Parran, no more letters. We can hear and see you, loud and clear, every Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon on our public access cable channel. That is quite enough, thank you!

ANITA L. JAZWINSKI

Dunkirk

Flag Desecration Is an American Right

In a letter which appeared in the July 4 edition, Mr. Bobby Sturgell takes U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer to task for again opposing the proposal to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag desecration. I applaud Hoyer for placing the individual liberties embedded in the First Amendment to the Constitution . . . above the alleged majority of the American public which Sturgell says support the proposed amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Mr. Sturgell misses no opportunity to criticize Hoyer's performance and suggests that Hoyer "paints himself as pro-military." I find Sturgell's remarks offensive as well as inaccurate. Steny Hoyer has worked very hard to protect the military facilities in Southern Maryland from the base closure process, using his former position on the Military Construction Subcommittee to help steer our region employees and missions from other activities being closed. This benefits our economy -- a condition which I would have thought Sturgell supports. Hoyer also continues to work hard for the civilian employees in this region of which I am one. To suggest that military service is somehow a prerequisite for patriotism or public office is unfortunate, but not surprising coming from someone who covets political office himself.

I suspect there are many veterans besides me who, while proud of our military service, oppose the constitutional amendment. The flag is only a symbol of the freedoms which make this country great. I, for one, have no desire to see the United States join the ranks of Iran and Cuba as countries which criminalize flag burning. Our country is truly unique. Let's not permit the misguided few who choose to treat our flag inappropriately become an excuse to lessen the individual freedoms we all enjoy. U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey [D-Neb.], [a] congressional Medal of Honor winner presently serving in Congress, opposes the amendment, as does Sen. Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.]. Both members, a Democrat and Republican, see nothing patriotic about diminishing individual rights -- that's a position I can support proudly.

FRED BUMGARNER

Chesapeake Beach