- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A “partisan” decision by a Democrat to collect the names of attendees at commissioners’ monthly constituent meetings has spurred Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) to stop asking visitors to sign in, fearing for their privacy, he said last month.
Collins declined to name the people involved, but a Charles County government spokeswoman wrote in an email that Howard Dent of Newburg, a frequent attendee at commissioners’ meetings, requested the sign-in sheets from Collins’ Sept. 24 meeting, which were provided because the information was collected during public meetings.
At his meeting held Oct. 22 at the Capital Clubhouse in Waldorf, Collins said he didn’t use the sign-in information for political purposes, like distributing newsletters, and didn’t want anyone else to, either.
“There was an issue that arose that was distressing to me in many ways. I’ve gone away from the requiring of information because, unfortunately, I was concerned that people were attempting to use information by citizens for very political reasons. … I felt uncomfortable with those requests. I had no authority or power over how those names were used,” he said.
Dent said he requested the information because he could, and to make a point about transparency and public information. He “hadn’t given … any thought” to whether he’d use the information, he said. Though Collins was first to mention the request publicly, Dent had submitted Maryland Public Information Act requests for the attendees of recent meetings of all four board members who hold them, Dent said; county spokespeople said Collins’ was the only list he had requested and that Nancy Schertler, Dent’s wife, had requested that for Commissioner Debra M. Davis’ (D) September meeting.
“It’s just the whole idea is we’re looking for transparency in government. I think the county commissioners and everybody needs to understand that whatever they do was a matter of public record,” Dent said. “It’s something that’s there and people, everybody needs to understand that anything that happens at Reuben’s meeting is a matter of public record.”
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said she was aware of the requests and understood that the sheets were public. When she held her own meeting last month, she said she would make sure visitors knew that before they signed in.
“My sense is that they’re certainly entitled to them and that certainly we don’t have any, we as a board have no problem providing those at our individual town hall meetings. I do recall concern about making sure anyone who signed in knew it was public. I’m not sure they understood that,” she said.
Davis did not return calls seeking comment.