- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A social media post made by Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly last week after it became clear that proposed legislation to crack down on large dance parties would not move forward this year drew a rebuke from Del. Sally Y. Jameson.
Kelly (D) first proposed the legislation at the commissioners’ Feb. 26 meeting, describing it as an effort to cut down on “violence at large entertainment gatherings” by requiring that promoters seeking to rent out and stage parties at local community halls first obtain a liquor license.
Such parties often involve underage drinking and drug use, and can lead to dangerous situations, Kelly said.
“I don’t believe that they bring any benefit, and our citizens certainly don’t want to see them, either,” she added.
Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) said his officers usually hear about the events, which are often known as “RAGE” — Rowdy Alcoholics Getting (in)Ebriated — parties, right before they happen, and thus have to “scramble at the last minute” to ensure they are safe. The bill, he added, would have made it the promoter’s responsibility to provide security while also giving police adequate notice of the event.
The parties have not become rampant in the county, Coffey said, but his department wanted to be proactive with the bill proposal.
“I won’t say they’ve been a big problem at all at this particular time, but we’re just trying to head off this problem that we see,” Coffey said.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) worked on similar legislation for Prince George’s County during his time as a prosecutor there, and approached the county about working on a similar bill for Charles.
In some cases, local establishments will book certain bands or acts without knowing that their performances have been “equated to violence and trouble,” Coffey said.
One such scenario occurred a couple weeks ago at Sartik’s, a La Plata night club, Coffey said.
“We ended up not having any problems there,” he added, noting that the sheriff’s office made sure to have plenty of officers at the event.
Kelly requested at the Feb. 26 meeting that the board vote to forward the proposal to the legislature so it could be drafted prior to March 4, the last day bills could be introduced without having to first go before a special committee for review.
Commissioners Ken Robinson (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) endorsed the bill, but Commissioner Debra Davis (D) objected to being asked to vote moments after receiving the proposal.
“I need to read it. You just handed it to me,” Davis said. “I can’t support or not support it if I don’t read it.”
The delegation received the proposal Feb. 28, which did not leave enough time for the bill to be drafted by March 4, Jameson (D-Charles) said. The delegate said she had spoken to a liaison with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office about their interest in the bill shortly after the legislative session began in January.
“And yet here we are at the last minute, and it’s a huge bill,” she said.
Jameson came away from a March 2 discussion with Kelly with the idea that the proposal had yet to receive unanimous support from the five commissioners.
“So that tells me they need to do a little more work on their public process and make sure everyone has input on the bill,” she said. “I need to know that it has full approval of the board of commissioners.”
The House of Delegates is currently working on the state’s fiscal 2014 budget and considering controversial bills to repeal the state’s death penalty and enact stricter gun control measures.
Alcohol-related legislation can be particularly time consuming and tough to push through Annapolis, so Jameson felt it would be better for the proposal to go through the same process as other local bill initiatives and for the delegation to introduce it at the beginning of the 2014 session.
Each winter, the county holds public hearings on bill proposals before forwarding a legislative package to the delegation.
“This type of a bill coming in late and having to go through the alcohol subcommittee, it was way too involved. But we did offer to begin the process,” Jameson said. “It’s an exhaustive process, and it has worked well for over a decade.”
But Jameson took exception to a post Kelly made on her Facebook page last week when it became clear the bill was not moving forward this year.
The post read, in part, “Attn: promoters. Come to Charles County — bring us your drug dealers, drug users, bring the guns and violence, bring fighting and hang around after the party is over and damage our communities and by all means commit some crimes. Make sure that our sheriff’s deputies spend time dealing with all of this hassle when they could be patrolling tax paying citizens’ neighborhoods. Too bad for Charles County — politics got in the way today.”
“For her to basically say that because the bill was not going to move forward, that we should invite all the drug dealers, drug users, so on and so forth, to our community, I thought that was absolutely crazy,” Jameson said. “Politics weren’t [involved] in it. It was about process.
“I would have never dreamed that anything in our conversation would have led to her putting something like this up on Facebook. There’s no rhyme or reason and no sense to it. … I don’t play these games. I don’t have time for all this drama.”
When told of Jameson’s reaction, Kelly said, “I’m sorry that she feels that way, but I feel that we really had a opportunity to get this through.”
Kelly said the post was meant to be “tongue-in-cheek” and that her statement that “politics got in the way” referred to the tedious process of passing legislation.
“You can have the best idea that makes perfect sense and think you can make an assumption that everyone is one the same page and wants to move forward, [but] there are people that will get in the way of things and throw out every negative thing possible,” Kelly said. “You can’t always wait, sometimes you need to move forward.”
Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) objected to the proposal because “nobody had time to take a look at it.”
“I got the proposal, the email after it had been sent up to Annapolis,” he said. “That was my main concern, and since then, I’ve gotten calls from four or five different [businesses]” also expressing concerns.
Covington echoed Jameson in calling his objection “more of a process issue” and felt the issue was worth examining.
“I know that people have said that it’s an effective bill in Prince George’s County, but let’s be clear about something: Charles County is not Prince George’s County,” he added. “We don’t have the same demographics, and we don’t have the same problems. We should just not accept blindly wholesale legislation from some other jurisdiction because it might have worked there.”
Coffey said he was “disappointed” to hear the bill would not be moving forward but was pleased to know it is still on the table for next year.
“Hopefully we can work out all the kinks and get everyone on the same page, because I think it is a good thing for the community,” he said.
Wilson said he didn’t have a problem putting the bill off until next year, citing Covington’s objection and stating that “any time there’s a bill, there should be a public hearing and public input.”
“I think the idea is sound,” Wilson said. “If there’s any dances and they’re going to be inviting individuals from outside the county, they should be responsible for their safety.”
Kelly said she intended to raise the matter at the commissioners’ weekly meeting Tuesday afternoon but had not done so as of press time.
Though the county can’t mandate that promoters first obtain liquor licenses, Kelly said she wanted to look into whether it could require permits for such parties.
“The reason I think it’s important and the reason I don’t think we can wait until the next legislative session is these parties are dangerous,” she said.
While police are capable of shutting the parties down if illegal activity such as underage drinking is occurring, Kelly said that attempting to do so “is a recipe for problems.”