Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sykesville Officials Use Public Funds to Influence Speed Camera Vote

Local elected officials in the Town of Sykesville are using taxpayer funds to pay for political advertising meant to influence the outcome of the upcoming Speed Camera referendum on Tuesday May 4rth. At an April 12th meeting the town council approved funding to support the vote including 2 mass "informational mailings". The first letter was written by the town manager (a full time employee of the town paid out of taxpayer funds), and was mailed to all Sykesville residents at public expense. A second mailing which will explain "the benefits of photo enforcement" (but no counter-arguments) is scheduled to be delivered shortly before the vote takes place.

The first mailing presents various arguments for speed cameras and against various alternatives to the cameras without including any arguments of cameras opponents. The letter, written on stationary bearing Mayor Michael Miller's name, also attempts to discredit the petitioners by referring to them as "outside special interest groups" who went around knocking on doors "spreading disinformation". The petition organizer, Chris Martin, is a longtime Sykesville resident who has not accepted funding from any outside organizations for the effort and who has stated that he has paid the group's modest expenses out of pocket

The petition organizers were not informed about the mailing, were not given the opportunity review or comment on it before it was sent. They were not permitted to include a rebuttal or response in the mailings.

The letter does not mention any details such as the fact that the ordinance turns almost every road in the town into a school zone for the explicit purpose of using speed cameras, and that the school previously had only one school zone. It also does not mention that the Maryland SHA has published guidelines which state that "Not all roadways within a ½ mile radius of schools are considered School Zones" and "School zones should not be established solely for the purpose of installing speed cameras".

During the petition effort the Sykesville Police Chief wrote and distributed speed camera fact sheet which was entitled "Why Speed Cameras?", which again did not include any counterarguments to the cameras, hoping to stall the signature gathering effort. Chief Williams (a political appointee who is paid out of taxpayer funds) has been conducting interviews with local media outlets to push the Mayor and Council majority's position favoring the cameras to the public.

The referendum is scheduled for Tuesday May 4th from 8am-8pm at the Sykesville Town House. All registered voters with a domicile in Sykesville are eligible to participate in the referendum. Read the full text of the ordinance HERE.