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Opinion: Reopen Government Now!

| April 30, 2021, 06:00 PM

Since Governor Hogan ended the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Maryland and Anne Arundel County businesses, restaurants, bars, and churches have been open to the public at reduced capacity. When Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman ordered another restaurant lockdown last December, Governor Hogan literally rolled his eyes and said there was, “ no scientific basis to support it.” Judge William Mulford issued an injunction to block Pittman’s lockdown, stating that it was, “arbitrary and capricious,” and that the Pittman Administration’s own data didn’t support it. Even as the pandemic peaked, businesses, restaurants, and churches remained open, because medical experts said it could be done safely. So why are our city and county councils still locked down?

If mask-wearing, social distancing, and reduced seating have permitted us to safely shop in grocery stores, eat in restaurants, go to bars, visit small shops, attend political protests, and go to church for the last year, why are city and county council meetings, as well as board and commission meetings, still locked down a year later? If our restaurants, businesses, and churches could follow executive orders regarding masks, distancing, and capacity before vaccines were available, and reopen, then why couldn’t our city and county council meetings reopen under the same circumstances, following the same guidelines?

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Some argue that “allowing” the public to “participate” in council meetings via zoom is “just as good “as testifying directly before them in person. They are wrong. Having served as a council member and state delegate for 16 years, I know in-person testimony makes a huge difference. Council members, and the media, cannot easily ignore or mute the comments of a person standing in front of them. Nor can the presence of citizens gathered to petition, chastise, or praise them be minimized. Presence is power. It’s why the Constitution guarantees our right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of our grievances. It’s been a year since the lockdown ended. Our city and county council’s continued lockdown is clearly not, “for our own protection.” It has simply become a tool partisan city and county councils use to mute public dissent on tax increases, overly restrictive executive orders, and other governmental actions. It cannot be allowed to become part of “the new normal.”

It’s long past time for our city and county councils to end their lockdowns and reopen. Elected officials and their staff became eligible for vaccines in January, at the same time as our most at-risk elderly population. How can council members urging people to get vaccinated have any credibility when they refuse to reopen their council meetings after being vaccinated? Why can’t council meetings use the same mask, distancing, and reduced seating as restaurants or churches do now, which would protect those who are unvaccinated, and choose to attend? Perhaps our city and county councils would prefer to hold their meetings outside in a tent; after all, restaurants were expected to serve their customers under tents with two flaps open in cold December weather.

Government exists to serve you, not dictate to you. Doesn’t equity demand that our representatives share the same burdens they lay upon those they represent? Or is it just too hard for our city and county councils to follow the same orders churches, businesses, and restaurants must follow? Isn’t your right to personally petition and speak to your representatives as constitutionally important as your right to attend church? And if you can attend church safely and pray out loud, why can’t you attend a county council meeting and speak? If the city and county councils follow the same executive order requirements as churches, what’s the difference?

There is no difference. The Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Councils need to reopen now. Because it’s your government.

Herb McMillan served on the Annapolis City Council and represented Annapolis in the House of Delegates. He is a Republican candidate for County Executive.

Severn Bank

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