A letter to the editor in the Nov. 21 Southern Maryland Extra gave an incorrect date for one of two public forums on the proposed baseball stadium in Hughesville. It was at the Nov. 17 session that the many speakers included only one who supported the plan. (Published 11/28/04)
Food Drive Gives Thanks
As the Scouting for Food coordinator for Boy Scouts of America's Western Shore District, I would like to thank the many citizens of St. Mary's and Calvert counties who donated over 31,000 pounds of food and over $600 in cash during this year's Scouting for Food Campaign.
This event has been held every year since 1988, and 2004 has been one of our most successful years so far. All of the food was donated to community organizations such as the Hope Food Pantry; Catholic Relief Services Emergency Food Bank; Mount Zion, Brooks and St. Paul's United Methodist churches; S.M.I.L.E. and many other organizations and churches that help citizens in need in these two counties.
Once again, thank you for your generosity in helping those in need.
Scouting for Food Campaign
Western Shore District
Boy Scouts of America
Each Vote Should Count
In response to the letter last Sunday commenting on my experience on Election Day [Letters, Nov. 14 Extra], I would like to offer these positive observations as a polling place monitor. There are simple fixes to the problems I noticed while monitoring the election. The first may require a small change in rules and practices, but if we really want people to vote in their designated polling places, it is important to make it easy for the voter.
I suggest posting voting lists in the halls and entranceways of the polling places so voters can easily check for their names before they spend half an hour or more in line. Then if there were a polling station aide nearby, voters in the wrong place could quickly learn where they should be and go to the right place or get a provisional ballot. In fact, the lists could be posted in stores, post offices and other places of public access considerably prior to the election with instructions on how to correct errors. This would allow more working people to vote because they would not have to spend as much time in line.
Another problem could be fixed easily. The sun shining on the computer voting machines made them hard to read. It was a lot like trying to read some ATMs in the bright sun. In the next election, sun screens or small umbrellas could be attached to affected voting machines or they could be positioned differently.
In response to [Sam] Bergeron-Willis's attack on your reporter Amit Paley and me published on Nov. 14, his personal sin is ignorance, which can be changed with just a little work. The following is a modest effort to help him with some facts. The first is found on the Internet under the Help America Vote Act. Section 302, also known as 42 United States Code 15482. It reads as follows: "(a) Provisional Voting Requirements. -- If an individual declares that such individual is a registered voter in the jurisdiction in which the individual desires to vote and that individual is eligible to vote in that jurisdiction for federal office, but the name of that individual does not appear on the list of eligible voters for the polling place or an election official asserts that the individual is not eligible to vote, such individual shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot as follows. . . ."
The written word does not get much clearer. To avoid personal and professional embarrassment, it behooves those with responsibilities associated with elections, at a minimum, to acquaint themselves with the basic laws associated with voting. They should certainly do so before attacking others who do have the facts, and reporters who have checked their facts, and before they write inadequately informed letters to the editor. If Bergeron-Willis would do a little research he will find that election scandals generally occur with those who administer the process, not with voter mistakes. Remember the 2000 fiasco in Florida, and the reports of machine tampering in California. Poll watchers and voter error are rarely a problem. Poll watchers are generally seen as helpful to ensuring the process is credible. In fact, the HAVA provisional ballot language became a part of the law because of the internationally embarrassing elections conducted by Florida officials prior to the 2000 election. They feigned regard for voters while carelessly and contemptuously striking them from the voter lists. It is well documented that blacks were taken off the Florida rolls while very few Cuban -- likely Republican -- voters were removed.
Bergeron-Willis embarrasses himself by making light of the fact that I collected the names of only 15 persons sent away from the Lusby polling station 1-6 after they were wrongly disqualified from voting. However, there were many more than 15. First, I did not start collecting names until about 10 a.m. after watching many voters being sent away and unsuccessfully trying to correct the problem. When I did try to get their names, I could not get to them all. Many were disgusted and just walked away. Some were so angry they did not want to talk to anyone. A number did not give me their names . . . [because] they could not take any more time off work. Standing in line for half an hour or more and then being sent someplace else to vote, and in all likelihood having to wait in line again, is a poll tax on wage-earning working people. They have taken time from their jobs to vote, and many employers do not pay for this lost time. The 15 names I gave the sheriff's deputies were a small portion of those who were denied their legal right to vote. (It was very generous of these sheriff's deputies to try to locate and get back to the polls the voters who were turned away.) The point is that even if it had only been one name, it would still be a violation of everyone's constitutional right to vote, the federal law, state law and an affront to our servicemen and women trying to establish democracy elsewhere in the world. This is not a trivial matter.
Subsequent facts make it clear that there were many who were denied their rights by county functionaries. In a Nov. 10 news report, Election Administrator Gail Hatfield is reported as saying: "It looks like two-thirds of the provisional ballots are being accepted. That is they were good ballots" and would be counted for some elected positions. At the time of this comment, there were 240 provisional ballots being opened and counted. Again these were the few who were allowed to vote after the Calvert County Board of Elections was instructed by Annapolis to pass out the provisional ballots. Calvert County did not start passing out provisional ballots until 4 p.m. By that time, two-thirds of the time the polls were open had elapsed. If this ratio had held throughout the day, about 720 provisional ballots submitted would have been accepted. President Bush took Florida with fewer votes than that in 2000, and the mayoral race in Chesapeake Beach is being disputed over 57 votes. This is not trivial stuff.
I talked with the staff in the Calvert County election office and administrator Hatfield during the first week of October about provisional ballots. Two election judges told me that they had been told not to make provisional ballots available at the polling stations. When I was at the Calvert County Board of Elections offices, with a few voter registrations I had collected in Drum Point, I raised the issue and was told the county was following state procedures -- I had the feeling I was being dismissed.
No vote or voter should be trivialized as the Republican precinct captain for Precinct 1-6 in Lusby does in his letter when he says some voters could not be found: "Surprise, surprise, surprise." Following the media attention, I had a number of persons call me with their stories of rejection. I had one call from a woman who was turned away without a ballot. She is the wife of a U.S. Navy commander who had recently been transferred to the Pentagon. One can assume she has experienced a number of transfers and that she certainly knows how to register to vote. She said she was also refused a ballot, although she was sure she had registered properly.
Bergeron-Willis wonders why I was in the polling station in the first place and then concludes that I was electioneering. I was the credentialed Democratic poll observer. If he had checked with the chief election judge, George Ernst, he would have been so informed. However, I was properly electioneering outside the polling place well outside the 300-foot limit as provided in the law and marked on the sidewalk to the polling place.
On the recommendation of the U.S. State Department, I have managed elections and voter registration and observed elections in the trouble spots of the world -- Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus and Kosovo. I have held office in Wisconsin and served as an election judge in a number of U.S. elections. To put it simply, I am gravely concerned with Bergeron-Willis's seeming lack of willingness to work across party lines to ensure that all persons can exercise their legal right to vote.
John L. Zalusky
Stick to the Facts
Charming, quaint and a small-town atmosphere: I think that is what brought most of us to the Town of Chesapeake Beach. If you would speak to the long-term residents, you would find that most are pleased with the positive changes and improvements that have taken place here over the years. I am very proud to be a member of the Town Council, to serve our community, and to continue to enhance the amenities that make this town a great place to live. . . . The town employees are dedicated, and they extend themselves greatly to assist town residents. . . . Mayor Gerald Donovan has worked for over 25 years as our mayor, providing the vision and leadership helping to make our town as beautiful as it is today.
It is unfortunate that continued rumors, misinformation and outright deceptions are frequently disseminated throughout our community. Town corruption . . . as alleged by town residents Marguerite Thomas, Joseph W. Johnson and council members Pat "Irish" Mahoney and Richard Manning are absolutely false and unfounded. Their calumnious remarks damage the reputation and integrity of the mayor and town council and are reckless and destructive to the town image. Anyone can allege anything. Allegations are one thing, fact is quite another. What are some of the facts? Let's take for example the recent election. Candidate for mayor Johnson alleged that Donovan's supporters intimidated voters and illegally posted campaign signs within 300 feet of the town hall polling place. . . . If Johnson has a corruption complaint, he should file it.
Over the past 25 years, why have no complaints been filed and prosecuted? Because they are unfounded. Council member Mahoney, who is serving his third term, has alleged town misconduct and has encouraged his constituents to speak out. Why has he not filed any formal complaints with any state or federal agency? Because his rhetoric is untrue. I know for a fact that on Nov. 2, except to vote, Donovan never went near town hall. He spent the entire day at the North Beach firehouse. . . . If voters were intimidated by Donovan supporters, then evidence should be brought forth forthwith. Who was intimidated, and who were the intimidators?
Whose campaign signs were alleged illegal? Long on words and short on facts. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 300- foot ban on electioneering was unconstitutional. The state attorney general forwarded an opinion to local election boards informing the boards that the 300-foot rule was unenforceable. Rick Manning, who was chairman of the town election committee, was informed by Gail Hatfield, Calvert County election administrator, of the unconstitutionality of our town charter's 300-foot ban. Unfortunately, Manning did nothing to make any changes to the town's election rules during his tenure as chairman of the committee. . . . The state rule has a 100-foot limit. I personally measured both the sign south and north of the town hall. Both were beyond 100 feet from the entrance and exit of the town hall polling place. . . . However, Mahoney and Johnson and his family were actively campaigning on town property, and they were well within the 100-foot ban. . . . Before Johnson casts a stone, he needs to check his own conduct. Absolutely, I stand behind the honesty and integrity of Chesapeake Beach election board members Malcolm Funn, Randy Getman and Chuck MacDonald.
For a few to declare unfounded, unsubstantiated and unwarranted claims of corruption for their own self-interest, selfishness and personal vendettas is outrageous and damaging to our town. These miscreants should be held accountable. When one has a legitimate claim of misconduct -- file it. Allow it to be investigated, and let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise, shut up. False allegations cast a terrible cloud upon our community.
During the previous election campaign, Mahoney and Manning scared the town residents by proclaiming that casino gambling was coming to Chesapeake Beach. Not true. Four years ago, all town council candidates stated their opposition to casino gambling within the town. No one on the Town Council -- neither then or now -- supports casino gambling within the town of Chesapeake Beach. The council has never addressed it, suggested it or supported it. It is a nonissue! The rumor that the new Chesapeake Beach Hotel and Spa was built for casino gambling and would not survive without it is false. The mayor does not support casino gambling. The community should not rely on rumor but should seek the facts. Telephone or visit town hall, attend a town hall meeting and contact your town officials. Get a consensus from your council, but get the facts!
Keep in mind, we are one of three town centers within Calvert County where growth is to occur and to be concentrated so that rural land can be preserved within the county. We are a model for responsible financial management. Growth is inevitable, and we manage it to improve our community. We maintain our small-town atmosphere, we are environmentally conscious, and we follow the state's smart growth program in land preservation and community revitalization.
Aspersions cast upon our planning and zoning commission of failing to inform the public of zoning changes and secret backroom deals are ludicrous. The town's planning and zoning commission is self-governing and under no control of the Town Council and mayor. Any and all changes in zoning have been publicly advertised and debated through public meetings and hearings (all of which are well-documented and available at town hall). Changes in zoning were a direct result of the updating of the town's Comprehensive Plan.
During the next four years, I hope and pray that we will work diligently to end the name-calling and slander directed upon the town and its dedicated public officials. Negativity affects all of us. Don't rely on rumor. Come to a council meeting, ask questions, obtain the facts and above all be informed.
Stewart B. Cumbo
Town of Chesapeake Beach
Who Pays for Stadium?
At the information meeting Oct. 26 for the proposed minor league baseball park in Hughesville, Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D) stated that the public money for the stadium had no impact on the public money for schools. He also said that whether or not the stadium went forward, it wouldn't affect the money for schools and that the money came from different pots. If municipal bonds are used for funding schools, infrastructure and stadiums, then why doesn't it affect school funding?
Isn't it true that the funds needed to repay bonds for sports stadiums will often come from a tax increase?
If there is a stadium cost overrun, who pays these additional costs? Wouldn't Charles County have to pay them out of its operating budget? In fact wouldn't that reduce funds available for other services such as police and fire protection?
Who will pay for the police who must attend and patrol at every game?
Sufficient information has been written about the public funding of stadiums to statistically show that they are a drain on communities.
On Nov. 8, I dropped off a packet for each of the Charles County commissioners containing articles and studies on public financing of stadiums. I have since e-mailed them Internet links to many more of these articles. With all this information available, how can they possibly consider funding a private minor league baseball stadium for Hughesville or for Charles County? I like baseball as much as anyone else, but public funds should not be used for this stadium. In addition, a private baseball stadium needs to be located where the infrastructure will support it. This baseball stadium could be completed a year before the Hughesville Bypass. We all know that these types of road projects aren't always completed on schedule. How can officials even consider this at this time?
It is important to note that of the many speakers at the Oct. 26 meeting, only one was pro-stadium.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Al Smith (R) immediately told those present that he was for the stadium. He then told us he would consider all the comments and questions we presented before making his decision. Seems to me he has already made his decision. Is Smith representing the residents of Charles County or is he representing corporate welfare?
Charles County residents need to decide if they want their hard-earned tax dollars to make private team owners richer, or do they want those dollars to be used for funding our schools, police, fire and rescue and infrastructure.
I urge all Charles County residents to watch the broadcast of this meeting on Comcast public access television Channel 95 when it airs.