Voices From The Readers

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Fire Department Troubles Put City at Risk

Editor:

I am writing regarding the recent events with the fire department and the city. After reading the article, I am flabbergasted as a resident and taxpayer. Let me first say that I have been employed by Howard County Fire and Rescue for over 25 years. I was a volunteer firefighter in the county for 4 ½ years prior to that.

What is happening in Ocean City is not just an issue of career firefighters versus volunteer. It is a power struggle, with the volunteer’s refusing to let go of the past and the cities views of moving on to the future. Quite simply put, GROWING PAINS!

The persons that will suffer the most are the citizens that live in and visit Ocean City. Our safety is at the center of this pulling and tugging over power and money. We should come first.

It is a national trend in the country, to move toward full-time professional firefighters and paramedics to guarantee full-time coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to those in the communities who foot the tax bill. In today’s economically unstable world it is impossible to guarantee volunteer coverage in an acceptable manner to meet the needs of the community, especially the ever busy and growing Ocean City.

While splitting the system in Ocean City may seem financially responsible, and it may alleviate some of the power struggles, it will only depreciate the services we as citizens receive. We will be put at undue risks with almost certain increased response times, understaffed units and the department trying to meet federally-mandated guidelines for structural firefighting. (These rules require certain staffing levels be met on the fire scene prior to a crew entering a structure).

In one editorial I read in a city paper this past weekend, I saw it written that with the newer fire codes that buildings are less likely to suffer a tragic fire. That was a ludicrous statement. I have seen sprinklered buildings (wood construction) burn almost to the ground. Fire can overcome a sprinklered building depending on the construction. How many three- and four-story buildings of ordinary frame construction do we have in town? How many un-sprinklered town homes? How many un-sprinklered single-family homes? I guess you get my point.

With increased traffic we also see increased response times for apparatus to get to the scene. Add this to a building fire of ordinary construction, very minimal staffing and we have a potential catastrophe waiting to happen. It is a matter of time.

Career staffing, while it does have a cost, is guaranteed to be there, in the station for a response. We should look at them as an insurance policy for ALL of the CITIZENS in the city. The volunteers have done a great job over the years. They would be an added benefit in staffing when an emergency situation occurs.

Both sides need to come together to accept the addition of more full time career personnel to better handle the increased emergency responses and provide the premium service that we as taxpayers and tourists deserve.

It does not mean that it needs to be the end of a long term relationship between the city and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company. A properly integrated chain of command can be devised as well as proper career supervision.

One other thing I would like to comment on.

I am not sure of the credentials of Mr. Larmore, who was nominated by the city to become the paid fire chief. Nothing against Mr. Larmore, but I think the city should advertise this position and seek out an individual that has the expertise already, as a manager of both career and volunteer personnel. Managing a combination system is very complex. Experience in this is a necessity.

Michael W. Anuszewski Jr.
Ocean City

Support Heather’s Law

Editor:

Over  the  Christmas  holidays,  my family  and  I  traveled  to  Florida  to visit  my  daughter  Heather who was employed  at  Walt  Disney  World.

As part  of  this  trip  we  had scheduled  a  meeting  at  Disney’s wedding  planner  to  discuss  plans for  Heather’s  upcoming  wedding. This meeting was  to  take  place  at  noon  on  January  3,  2008.

At 11:30 a.m., while traveling  to meet  her  mom  and  I  at  the wedding  planner,  and while  stopped at  a traffic  signal,  Heather  was involved  in  a  10-car  accident. Patrick, Heather’s fiance survived, but our Heather was killed instantly.  She was 26 years old.

It is alleged  that  the  tractor trailer driver  that  caused  the  accident was text  messaging  his  driver’s log when the  accident  occurred.

On  March  4,  2008,  my  wife  and  I were  honored  to  testify  in Annapolis  in  favor  of  House Bill 1110 that  would  ban  text messaging while  driving  except  in  the  case  of emergency.  Although this bill died in committee, we live to fight another day.

We have started  a  letter-writing campaign  and  petition  drive  to bring  this  much-needed  legislation back  to  the  General  Assembly  if not now before  the  session  ends then  certainly  in  2009.

If we can save one life from ending needlessly, save one family from the pain and suffering that we feel today than our efforts are well worth it. We urge everyone to join us by writing their Senators and Delegates in Annapolis urging support for a ban on text messaging while driving.  With everyone’s help Heather’s Law will become a reality.

Russell Hurd

Abington

State Budget Bill Misses Mark

Editor:

The Senate has passed Governor O’Malley’s budget. The vote was disappointing. Only 7 members voted against a budget funded on record tax increases; a budget that unsustainably increased spending and added to Maryland’s structural deficit, even as our economy slides into recession. 

This week, the House takes up the budget. The Maryland Taxpayers Association strongly urges the House to offer amendments that will reduce spending consistent with today’s lower revenue reality. If such amendments are not accepted, MTA urges legislators to vote against a budget that:

·         Is based on record tax increases

·         Creates future structural deficits

·         Counts on revenue from a future referendum (slots)

·         Exceeds inflation plus the rate of population growth

·         Does not allow for a possible revenue shortfall.

Legislators have a fiduciary duty. Simply offering budget amendments doesn’t fulfill it. You can’t sing with the choir against tax increases on Sunday and then vote for fiscally irresponsible budgets on Monday. Many legislators did that last year and it did not go unnoticed.

Expanding the size, scope and funding of government simply hasn’t produced positive, measurable results. It’s time to say “no” to business as usual and “yes” to working families, small businesses, and retirees. They can’t afford another structural deficit and more tax increases. 

It’s time to freeze new programs, unneeded government expansion and spending.

Dee Hodges, President

Maryland Taxpayers Association

Who’s Going to Answer the Phone?

Editor:

Here is a trivia question of the day: What do presidential politics and Ocean City politics over fire service have in common? Answer: Who is going to answer the phone at 3 a.m.?

As an Ocean City property owner, former EMT, and a strong supporter of fire/EMS, I am appalled at the shenanigans of Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and the narrow mindedness of his colleagues on the council over the issue of fire and EMS services. Although I can’t speak for property owners in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, DC and other mid-Atlantic states, I can tell you that the ones I have spoken with in Maryland (from where I come) are fed up with the arrogance, lack of leadership, incompetence, and total disregard for the interests of the vast majority of not only the absentee property owners here, but also the millions of visitors who come here every year without any say in the decisions of this good ‘ole boy network that ultimately affect them.

I agree with a comment made during the town’s debate over marketing and advertising a few years ago, that "Ocean City is the best kept secret on the western shore." I think it is time for the folks "back home" to keep a closer eye on what goes on down here so that all of us have more peace-of-mind instead of all this conflict.

Chuck Jackson

Ocean City

DNA Database Bill Biased?

Editor:

Our Constitution promises a society free from fear of government surveillance and intrusion- a promise for all people in America. That is why we are opposed to legislation being considered in the Maryland General Assembly to allow for warrantless seizure of DNA from individuals who have not been convicted of any crime.

This DNA seizure is not for the purpose of establishing the identity of the arrestee. It is also not for the purpose of linking the arrestee to the crime for which he or she has been arrested. Nor is it for the purpose of exonerating the innocent. These are all claims that proponents make to try to convince the African American community to surrender its constitutional rights to support this misguided legislation. The real purpose is to stockpile DNA in state and federal DNA warehouses, called “databanks.”

The Fourth Amendment does not tolerate physically rounding people up and holding them in cells until we can prove they are guilty of a crime. DNA databanks simply sweep this kind of dragnet off the streets. And they mask the repugnancy of such dragnets in the scientific aura of DNA accuracy and CSI glamour.

These databanks are a sophisticated and secretive way to “round up the usual suspects” in the expectation that if they are not guilty of the crime for which they have been arrested, they are guilty of something. They serve as genetic dragnets – Fourth Amendment violations that no one can see.

Another disturbing reality lurks behind the same mask: African Americans are disproportionately represented in our DNA databanks, and this imbalance will be exacerbated by further expanding the databanks to arrestees.

In Maryland, and across the country, the “usual suspects” are overwhelmingly African American. Even though there is no difference in rates of criminal conduct, U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that for crimes of violence, blacks and Latinos are arrested at three times the rate as whites. In Maryland, for every white person in prison there are 6.2 African Americans. Although 27.9 percent of Maryland’s population is African American, 72.3 percent of Maryland’s prison population is black.

The unsettling consequence of this reality is a DNA warehouse comprised primarily of African Americans, now permanently designated criminal suspects- ready to be rounded up anytime there is a crime. 

As of this writing, the O’Malley Administration proposes to seize DNA from those arrested for crimes of violence and felony burglary; and enter the DNA into a state and federal databank of criminal suspects and offenders after arraignment. The House Judiciary Committee added an expungement provision that places the burden on a person who is not convicted to seek expungement of their own DNA. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is now considering the issue.

The current amendments to the bill do not address the fundamental civil rights violation of forcing the warrantless seizure of DNA from innocent persons. The amendments also do not address the fundamental civil rights violation of stockpiling the DNA of primarily the African American and Latino community in a permanent database that will forever brand them as criminal suspects.

The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland offered to support an expansion of the state’s DNA program that focuses directly on solving crimes of violence like rape and murder by improving crime scene DNA collection and analysis. The Caucus requested that current law regarding seizure of DNA by law enforcement apply to all forensic DNA databanks in the state. The Caucus offered to support a comprehensive approach to effective use of forensic DNA through a task force of forensic and genetic experts to identify gaps in the state’s current forensic DNA program and cost effective ways to address those gaps consistent with the Constitution. And the Caucus sought automatic expungement when there is no conviction, as well as provisions that would strengthen the state’s Innocence Project to provide actual support for exonerations of the innocent. 

All of these proposals were rejected by the House Judiciary Committee, so the Legislative Black Caucus voted early this week to oppose the bill as currently amended. 

We are proud of members of the Legislative Black Caucus for taking a strong stand in defense of these key Constitutional principles. They know as we do that no democratic good can come of a proposal that asks us to abandon our civil rights.

Edward S. Lee, President, Worcester County Branch NAACP

Gerald Stansbury, President, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches

Susan Goering, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, President, Baltimore City Branch NAACP

June White Dillard, President, Prince George’s County Branch NAACP

Henry Hailstock, President, Montgomery County Branch NAACP

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