Open meetings best antidote to secret schemesAnne Arundel...


August 29, 1999

Open meetings best antidote to secret schemes

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens got it exactly right when she said that the public had the right to see the expendi- ture of public funds.

She was referring to highly questionable financial transactions by the board of the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation as reported in The Sun.

It is difficult to believe that such blatant self-enrichment actually would have occurred if the public and the media had been able to attend the meetings of this board.

Despite being funded by public monies, governed by public officials or their appointees, and having considerable authority to spend tax dollars, such corporations are not considered public bodies subject to Maryland's open meetings law.

Clearly, they should be. Baltimoreans know only too well how short the public's end of the stick is when economic development business is conducted in secret.

Public scrutiny is a far more effective means of protecting the public interest than commitments to stricter bylaws as The Sun suggested (Editorial, "Putting public interest first," Aug. 20), or any other scheme by which the foxes continue to guard the henhouse.

Kathleen Skullney, Annapolis

The writer is executive director of Common Cause-Maryland.

Voters should choose county school board

I was involved in the nomination process of the Anne Arundel County school board some years ago.

I was one of a dozen or so PTA members from our children's school who attended meetings during which candidates spoke. We listened. We discussed the candidates among our group. Then we cast our votes.

One of the candidates received a vote from most members in our group. This same candidate happened to receive far more votes countywide than any other. He was, in the eyes of 200 or 300 parents who gave up family time to participate in the process, the most capable candidate for the school board.

Does anyone remember the positive contributions made by the people's choice candidate? Was the people's choice candidate re-elected to the school board? Did the people's choice candidate serve with honor?

Unfortunately, the answer to all three questions are "no." The people's candidate never served. The governor needed one of his own on the board.

The time is now for the state to allow "we the people" to elect our school board.

Dan Tewell, Baltimore

The writer is issues committee chairman of the Reform Party of Maryland.

Concern for the public good?

The state's encouragement of citizens to turn in their neighbors for suspected watering ban violations sure brings out the worst in some people.

This was dramatically illustrated in The Sun's Aug. 12 story about the Howard County couple, Bill and Pat Kidwell, who tried to embarrass their local fire department and its chief ("Fire chief caught filling pool says divers use it for training").

Fire officials told The Sun that they needed to add water to the swimming pool that they occasionally use for training exercises in preparation for testing new diving equipment.

It is obvious that the fire company thought its actions were completely above board. After all, rational people simply don't commit intentional violations in broad daylight in a bright red fire truck with their name painted on the side in large letters.

If the couple truly thought the firefighters were not in compliance with the rules, one would think they might first ask the fire company directly.

Or, they could have reported it to county government. But when, as The Sun reported, one of their first actions was to call TV stations, one can't help but think that their motivation had little to do with concern for the public good.

Edward L. Maddox, Millersville

Flag-burning amendment would turn back clock

We are on the threshold of turning back the clock 212 years by amending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to place severe restraints on the freedom of speech.

I refer to the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the American flag. Amending the Constitution is a two-setp process. First, two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate must approve the proposal. Then, it is presented to the state legislatures and three-fourths of them must approve.

To demonstrate how close we are to completing the first step, for several years the House has overwhelmingly passed the proposal, but the Senate has refused to go along. However, the Senate fell only a couple of votes short on the last occasion and is creeping closer to passage. Then the debate really gets underway.

Before there was a Constitution, Thomas Jefferson said, "The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right."

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