Don't Muzzle Free Speech

I read on The Washington Post Web site that the Board of County Supervisors is considering putting a gag order on speakers at meetings. This is unfortunate and should not be allowed to go any further.

Supervisor Ruth Griggs's position, as reported by the paper, is a sound one. I also might add that the proposal infringes on freedom of speech.

In the end, the situation will get better if these people are given a chance to speak like everyone else. If they are muzzled, then they will be denied their rights to speak at public forums. I might also encourage these speakers to use Prince William Extra for an additional soapbox to stand on and make their case.

This is exactly what freedom of speech means.

To those supervisors who support this gag, I remind them of the old saying: If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

Ruth, keep up the good work.

GREG GORHAM

Manassas

Call to Action

Just before the June primary elections, a new action committee was formed called DAC (Disabled Action Committee). DAC is unusual in its operation as it doesn't collect money to support any elected official's campaign or buy political favors. Anyone can join DAC, from the elderly and disabled to the nondisabled.

DAC was formed to unite everyone in a bipartisan effort, to inform members/citizens of our elected representatives' voting records and their effectiveness to us, their constituents. We at DAC will endorse politicians who have our best interests at heart, but we only suggest to our members who those people are. Each person still makes his own decision on who to vote for.

At the Jan. 6 town meeting held at the McCoart Administration Building, I had the opportunity to speak to our local elected officials before they went off to Richmond to begin the 2000 General Assembly. The problem is a lack of affordable housing for the elderly, disabled, low and fixed income and single parented households. We are reaching crisis proportions as apartment complexes continue an ongoing habit of rent gouging and charging "water and sewage" fees on unmetered apartment units.

At this time there are no laws to prevent rental agencies from doing so, and Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) has informed me that this is a legislative matter for the General Assembly.

I suggested a clear and simple solution of having all rental agencies, apartment complexes and trailer lots over 25 units in size to set aside 10 percent of their rentals, at 25 percent below the fair market rental rate, for the low- and fixed-income and single-parented homes. Also to ban "water and sewage" fees on unmetered units immediately.

If you agree, I urge you to call Richmond at 1-800-889-0229 and ask your elected representatives to mandate a waiver against these outrageous rental practices. It's your choice to either be pushed out of your home or fight back.

KEITH KESSLER

Founder, DAC

Dale City

Their Own Private Santa

I know the holidays are over, but I would like to take the time to tell your readers about my best holiday memory this year. I am a single mom with seven children, and three of my children were selected to participate in the Shop With a Cop program. This paper did a lovely article about this community effort. Please allow me to share with you just one of the "post-shopping" stories that are out there.

Several hours after my children's shopping experience (which was lovely and enjoyed by all and much appreciated), I received a telephone call from Officer Bob Bowen from (I believe) the Prince William County Police Department. He told me that he had been my 4-year-old daughter's "shopping partner" earlier that day. He told me that one of my children had mentioned that we were looking for an affordable artificial tree. When I said that yes, we were, he said that he had one in the attic that had belonged to his parents and that we would be welcome to it if we were interested. Before I could even ask how to go about getting the tree home, he offered to bring it over to us in about an hour.

I got off the phone after thanking him and turned to my father, who was visiting from Missouri, and said, "You are not going to believe this!" I told him of Officer Bowen's generous offer and we marveled at the kindness of this man, who had already volunteered his entire morning to participate in the Shop With a Cop program and his willingness to give his parent's tree to a total stranger. Sometime later, Officer Bowen called back and said that he had taken the tree out of storage and set it up to make sure that all the parts were intact, discovered that the stand was missing a piece, and was currently fashioning a new stand for the tree. He didn't want us to think that he had forgotten about us, and said he would be over soon. Later that day, I needed to go out for a bit, but my older children were home when he arrived.

When I got home, my 17-year-old son greeted me at the door. He said, "Mom, you are not gonna believe this." I went inside, and not only was the tree standing in the middle of my living room but there were several bags of lights, ornaments, velvet bows, even a tree skirt, all obviously new, waiting for us to put on the tree. I sat down in a chair, eyes tearing, and my 13-year-old daughter said, "Mom, this is going to be the most special tree we've ever had." And it was--and still is.

I have not been able to take it down yet. I know we will eventually, but for now, every time we walk through the living room, we remember the kindness and generosity of this man who spent his entire day making sure that our family had the best Christmas he could provide.

To all the officers who participated in the Shop With a Cop program, the lovely folks at Wal-Mart, the volunteers who wrapped gifts for the children so they could surprise their families, the staff of KC's for the wonderful breakfast, and most of all, Officer Robert Bowen, our own private Santa, thank you for your time, your efforts, your devotion to your community and your love for your fellow man. We will never forget all you have done and continue to do.

To all your readers, know that this community is cared for on a very personal level by the law enforcement agencies that protect and serve here. My family is proof of that. Thank you.

KIMBERLY PILLOW

Manassas