A June 21 Metro article about a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting that mentioned a misdirected emergency call incorrectly said that an Alexandria police dispatcher transferred the original 911 call to Fairfax. A fire department dispatcher handled the call. (Published 6/24/2005)
Fairfax County last night refused to join a long list of local governments to formally oppose the expanded investigative powers granted to law enforcement agencies under the USA Patriot Act.
The Board of Supervisors, after a soul-searching debate about civil liberties and a local government's right to judge issues of national security, voted instead to send a letter to the county's delegation to Congress expressing concerns about the legislation, which is up for reauthorization this year.
The letter was a compromise between doing nothing and embracing a resolution criticizing the Patriot Act that several supervisors said alarmed them. Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) proposed the measure, which opposed efforts by law enforcement officials to infringe on privacy. Hudgins, urged by civil liberties groups, brought the issue to her colleagues a year ago but was stymied.
"I did not bring this forward lightly then, and I don't now," Hudgins said, referring to provisions of the law enacted by Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Language "that treads on human and civil rights need to be questioned."
Hundreds of cities, towns and counties across the country -- including Alexandria, Arlington, the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- have approved resolutions condemning provisions of the Patriot Act, which allows investigators to see citizens' library records and eases requirements for search warrants.
When Hudgins first raised the issue, the board asked County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to report on how the Patriot Act has affected Fairfax agencies and residents. Hudgins said last night that she was "shocked" at Griffin's response, which said the legislation has "had little or no effect on county government" except to provide grants to increase security.
But several supervisors said they were not convinced that the law has violated Fairfax residents' rights. "You serve as the conscience of this board," Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) told Hudgins. "But inherent in this resolution is the assumption that every aspect of the Patriot Act is inherently bad. It's engaging in some kind of hyperbole."
Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who suggested the letter, said he was "loath to be judging whether violations [of civil liberties] have occurred in our community." The motion to draft a letter passed 7 to 0, with Hudgins abstaining until, she said, she saw a draft. Two board members, Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), were absent.
In other action, Connolly demanded a full accounting from the police and fire departments of the death last week of a man who was having trouble breathing and waited 14 minutes for an ambulance in the Alexandria area.
Confusion between Alexandria and Fairfax police over who should respond to the call caused the unusually long wait, officials said. The man died a short time later.
County officials are awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine in part whether a rapid response might have saved him. The 911 call was routed incorrectly by Verizon to Alexandria, and a police dispatcher transferred it to Fairfax, but the caller hung up and called again.
Connolly said yesterday that officials are probing whether a dispatcher's error in either jurisdiction was a factor in the delay.
The board also approved a restructuring of the county registrar's office, which has been in turmoil over questions of mismanagement and the lack of job security for election workers.
The county electoral board appointed a registrar last week to replace Diane McIntyre, who was fired in February after criticism that she did not adequately prepare for the presidential election.
Yesterday, supervisors announced that they would no longer supplement the state-funded salary of about $9,000 for the electoral board secretary, Margaret K. Luca, saying that her position does not need to be full-time. The supervisors also pledged to reclassify election workers to give them the same job protections as other county employees.