A Matter of Influence

As reported in the Southern Maryland Extra ["Builders Group Lands Randall on Hot Seat," Oct. 31], it is alleged that St. Mary's County Commissioners President Julie Randall sanctioned the formation of an ad hoc committee of developers and builders to advise the board on the draft unified land development code. She claims that she didn't do this, but in the news article she is quoted as stating, "I did encourage them to do this," and in the transcript of her voice mail to the other commissioners she said, "I asked some folks in the community to get together an ad hoc committee--and give us input." Her own words contradict her denial.

Certainly, any county commissioner may ask private persons or groups for individual, informal advice. However, if an officially sanctioned group is to be formed to advise the board, then the board should initiate this action, and the general public should be invited to participate. In this case, the ad hoc committee was secretly formed, and its meetings and deliberations are not open to the public.

The second concern is the membership of the ad hoc committee. It comprises a blue-ribbon list of people with special interests in local land development. Therefore, the impartiality and objectivity of this committee is highly suspect. Is this group motivated by special interests, self-interests or public interests?

The third concern is that five of the eight members of the ad hoc committee donated over $7,000 to Democratic Party candidates for county commissioners in the 1998 elections. Randall received nearly $2,000 from these five members. This gives the appearance that political campaign donations have bought these people special access to and influence with the Board of County Commissioners. Obviously, they do have a special, behind-the-scenes relationship with Commissioners President Julie Randall.

This is not the first time that campaign donations have bought access and influence with this board of county commissioners. Of the 25 members of the board's Transition Team, 16 had made donations to one or more of the four Democrats on the commission.

Campaign donations from special interests have the potential to corrupt for a simple and obvious reason. The donors typically expect to receive something in return. What they are buying is favored access to public officials. The purchase of favored access leads to the status of favored influence. The fundamental harm caused is the undermining of the core values that have long been the strength of our representative democracy--that government serves all citizens without prejudice or favoritism; that all persons are equal in the eye of the law and lawmakers; and that ours is a government of the people. The public has a right to a government free of the undue influence of special-interest money.

Based on past experience, it is readily obvious what land developers are seeking. They want the Board of County Commissioners to rewrite the comprehensive land use plan, the zoning ordinance, the adequate public facilities ordinance, the subdivision regulations, the water and sewer plan, etc., in a manner that will permit unfettered development. They want the county commissioners to freely spend taxpayers' money to build roads, sewer and water lines, and waste water treatment plants in order to open land for development. They want the county commissioners to rubber-stamp rezonings. These are the strings attached to developers' campaign donations.

Commissioners President Julie Randall's relationship with this ad hoc committee has a strong appearance of impropriety, unethical conduct and extremely bad judgment. But of equal or greater concern is the fact that the other three Democrats on the board--Joe Anderson, Tom Mattingly and Dan Raley--are also thoroughly tainted by campaign donations from land developers and builders.

The final outcome of the unified development code, and if it favors the interests of land developers over the welfare of the general public, will reveal if these special interests got what they paid for in the 1998 county commissioner elections.

VERNON GRAY

California

Defending "Fair Share"

Much has been made lately over the "Association" or "Fair Share" fee being proposed by the Education Association of Charles County. This issue is largely misunderstood by the press, the general public and some of our local elected officials. As a teacher and member of the EACC, I feel the need to clarify a few things.

First of all, no one is proposing a measure forcing any teacher to join the association against that person's will. Without getting too detailed, what's being requested is that nonmembers be required to pay a portion of the cost of negotiating our agreement or contract with the Board of Education. The cost of negotiations are prohibitive to say the least. As it stands now, all certificated personnel, whether members or not, benefit from the results of negotiations. The association is required by law to negotiate for all certificated personnel, whether members or not. However, only members are required to pay for negotiations because the cost of negotiations comes out of our dues.

Second, simply enacting a "Fair Share" in no way infringes on anyone's freedom. The association is simply asking nonmembers to pay for services rendered. Contract negotiations are completely nonpartisan and have nothing to do with what the political leanings of the association or its members are. I think one would be hard pressed to find a teacher, member or not, who disagrees with the raises the association negotiated last year.

Finally, there seems to be an impression that the only teachers who need the association are those who get in trouble and need representation and that the "Fair Share" fee would force teachers to join who might never need representation. This is false in so many ways. All teachers benefit from the work of the association. Aside from negotiating the contract, the association also represents nonmembers when there has been a violation of the contract and a grievance needs to be filed. The association is also the only voice in the education world actively speaking out in defense of teachers and public education in general. I would assert that if one looks at who the members of the EACC are, you will find that they are dedicated, hard-working and the most concerned about the quality of education here, not bad teachers just worried about lawsuits.

I would like to commend the bravery of the local leaders like Buddy Linton, Jim Jarboe, Donald Wade and Margaret Young for sticking their political necks out in support of "Fair Share" fees. I would hope that the rest of our local leaders would exercise the same courage in their decision making and not be swayed by right-wing alarmists and so-called defenders of personal freedom suggesting that the association is out to make Charles County a "closed shop." This is a simple, nonpartisan issue of fairness and equity.

EVAN WEST

Indian Head

Lack of Medicare Coverage

In 1996 I had HMO insurance with NYLCare. They stopped insuring Medicare patients, and I joined Medicare First. Now Medicare First has pulled out of my area. They have stopped insuring people in 17 counties in Maryland, but they still insure seven counties and Baltimore City in Maryland.

I do not think the federal government should pay a private company that does not provide services for all counties in Maryland.

JULIA T. DOOLEY

Avenue

The Gun Ban's Bad Politics

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has forgotten he lives in the United States of America. His ridiculous proposal to ban handguns would turn Maryland into a police state. Not only is the plan constitutionally unsound, but it also smacks of extremism. This wacky idea is another reason why Maryland desperately needs a two-party system.

I support the Maryland Republican leadership's call for other, saner measures to ensure safety on our streets. For example, I am tired of hearing that violent criminals are allowed back on the street after serving light sentences. Why are violent criminals allowed to walk away free on legal technicalities?

Maryland needs to enforce the gun laws already on the books instead of making up new ones that take away our basic freedoms. It is no wonder that our state is rapidly becoming the "People's Republic of Maryland."

DIANE QUIGLEY

Edgewater

Cool Heads for Oversight

On Oct. 25, I was a citizen spectator at the Charles County citizens preliminary 2000 legislative proposals.

I was especially observant and concerned when Item No. 27 appeared on the agenda. It was a proposal to establish a Citizens Complaint Oversight Panel to review citizens' allegations of misconduct on the part of officers of the Sheriff's Department. Personally, I feel that this is a right step forward if the need is there. I was also concerned with Item No. 26, which was a proposal to authorize collective bargaining between the sheriff and other employees in his service.

Both items were the source of much discussion, seemingly, for quite a few citizens, as the large attendance showed. All of that is well and good as long as the discussions do not become "heated" as these seemed to be. That is the time when cooler heads should speak out. I was very pleased with remarks of Mrs. Salome Howard, who praised the officers of the Sheriff's Department who put their lives on the line each day and more than deserve the right to collective bargaining. Her remarks were well received by everyone there, for her reputation for many years of community service is well known. I was profoundly impressed with Cpl. Robert Foster, who shared his viewpoints concerning the alleged misconduct of officers of the Sheriff's Department. Both the attitude and statements of Mrs. Howard and Officer Foster were quite apropos at a time like this.

Speaking as a retired Equal Employment Opportunity officer from the Postal Service Field Offices, I know that the intelligent, cool and mature approach to resolutions as evidenced by these two people is the only way to achieve the resolution that is wanted by all.

May God bless all citizens such as Mrs. Howard and Officer Foster. I hope that we will, in the future, attract more people of this caliber to the proposed Citizens Oversight Panel.

LEMON H. MOSES JR.

Waldorf

Praising Mount Aventine

If you were not at Mount Aventine Halloween afternoon, you missed out on a special time. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), assisted by the Friends of Mount Aventine, hosted a Fall Family Fun Day on what turned out to be one of our finest October days. Pumpkin carving, crafts and face painting were set up for the children in front of the manor house. There were prizes for the best costume. There were ongoing house tours, historical lectures, nature walks, bird walks and hayrides throughout the property. There was the traditional Halloween cider, cake and cookies. And the resident Bald Eagles made their usual appearance overhead.

The Mount Aventine house sits on the brow of a hill sweeping up from the Potomac. Its view of the river and the Virginia shoreline is glorious in any season, but dressed up in its fall colors was spectacular on Halloween Day. All marveled at the serene beauty and uniqueness of the site and the foresight of the state in ensuring its protection. We were grateful to DNR for bringing us this memorable day. It was family recreation at its best. It seemed the right use of our state lands.

Don't miss the next open house at Mount Aventine.

CAROL GHEBELIAN

Indian Head

Credit Where Credit Is Due

In reading the Southern Maryland Extra the past two Sundays, I have seen an article and an editorial [letter to the editor] on Dr. James Craik Elementary School. I am very happy to see the recognition Craik has received and the money earned from the state. The staff, children, parents and administration are doing a wonderful job in improving MSPAP scores. All schools in this county do their best each day to see the children receive the best education possible.

While reading The Post and other publications on this subject, I am surprised at the amount of credit Ms. Berg-Nye is given and seems to be taking for the improvement in Dr. James Craik's MSPAP scores. If I am correct, last year was Ms. Berg-Nye's first year as principal at the school. This means the scores that Craik received and the recognition and state money were from Mr. Bob Morrow's tenure as principal. In the three articles I have read, Mr. Morrow has not been mentioned once, let alone given any credit by the writer or Ms. Berg-Nye. Let me clarify this is not a personal attack on Ms. Berg-Nye as I have never had the occasion to meet her. I know from being a Charles County teacher that everyone works hard to improve the education of our children. With MSPAP being such an important part of the school evaluation process, we should make sure to give praise where praise is due. Ms. Berg-Nye has been a principal in this county for some time. May I suggest your staff reporter take a look at the scores from her other schools. Then give her and every other person the credit they deserve for their MSPAP scores.

DON LAYTON

Waldorf