'Their chance to speak' -- Gazette.Net


It was Gail Murdock's idea to set up a public forum.

The Mechanicsville resident had been thinking for awhile that senior citizens in St. Mary's County needed an opportunity to have their say about laws that affect them and a chance to ask questions about upcoming legislation.

Murdock serves as the state's legislative chairman for the American Legion.

In that position, Murdock spends a lot of time in Annapolis. “I listen to all the testimony and money is being spent. But I never see any bills for senior citizens,” he said.

Murdock is also a member of the St. Mary's County Commission on Aging. And it was at one of the commission's meetings that he suggested setting up a public forum for seniors, where state politicians could address senior issues and hear local seniors' concerns.

Bettie Broadhurst of Leonardtown, chairman of that commission, said the 10-member group liked the idea. “We felt that seniors had a lot of questions, a lot of concerns,” she said.

Politicians were contacted, a location reserved, and now a senior forum is set for Friday, Sept. 28, at 9:30 a.m. at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary's, Calvert, Charles), Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary's) and Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary's) are scheduled to participate. Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary's, Charles) could not attend due to a schedule conflict. While not slated to speak, Commission President Jack Russell (D) is expected to also attend.

“I want them to start off with telling us what they've done this last session for senior citizens,” Murdock said.

A question-and-answer session will follow the opening comments. And participants will have the chance to express their questions, views, suggestions or approval.

“This is the seniors' opportunity to say, 'Hey, have you thought about this? .... How about introducing a bill for this?'” Broadhurst said.

She noted that it does no good to sit at home and complain about the state of things. “You participate,” she said. “This is your time to voice our concerns.”

“This is their chance to speak up and tell the politicians what they think. This is their shot,” Murdock said.

Broadhurst and Murdock mentioned a variety of issues that could be addressed taxes, senior housing, availability of public transportation, affordable health care, oversight of utilities and costs all issues that affect seniors.

“Of course, taxes are high in the state of Maryland,” Broadhurst said. “Seniors are on a fixed income. [Due to the state's tax rate], I see my friends leaving the state, which is sad.”

Murdock said the American Legion has been working every year trying to get military retirement pay to be tax exempt in Maryland; a change he said that 26 other states have already put in place. This disparity is another reason seniors may choose to leave the state, he said, and a concern particularly for St. Mary's County, which is home to so many military retirees.

The forum will also be a chance to discuss what is already in place to assist senior citizens.

“A lot of seniors don't realize what is available in this county,” Murdock said. “We've got a lot of programs that people need to know about.”

“The department of aging has incredible services wonderful trips, meals, fun days out, computer labs,” Broadhurst said.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, St. Mary's County is home to close to 16,000 people who are 60 years old or older. That number is approximately 15 percent of the county's total population.

Of those 16,000, however, only 8 to 10 percent participate in the activities at the county's three senior activity centers, according to Lori Jennings-Harris, director of St. Mary's County Department of Aging and Human Services.

“Hopefully, a lot of people will come out [to the forum] and then go out and spread the word” about available services,” Murdock said.

“Show up. Don't just sit there and wait for things to happen around you,” Broadhurst said.


If you want to go

The senior forum will be hosted by the St. Mary's County Department of Aging and Human Services on Friday, Sept. 28, at 9:30 a.m. at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, which is located at 44219 Airport Road in California. Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary's, Calvert, Charles), Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary's) and Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary's) are scheduled to participate.

Each speaker will speak for 15 minutes. The floor will then be opened to the audience for a question-and-answer session with the panel.

Reservations are requested to assist with planning for refreshments; however, reservations are not required. For more information or to reserve a seat, call 301-475-4200, ext. 1050.