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MVA story kept in the news due to lack of action

February 05, 2006|By Terry Headlee

Even after nearly 25 years in the newspaper business, it never ceases to amaze me how elected officials never cease to amaze me.

The sudden resignation of Hagerstown Mayor Richard Trump last week probably would be a good topic for this column - seeing how nobody saw it coming.

But I, along with many of our readers who have phoned and e-mailed us, still are having a hard time getting past the story about the Hagerstown city councilwoman who was caught last month driving a car with an expired registration.

Driving with dead tags normally wouldn't be a huge deal, except that Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean not only didn't get a ticket, she was driven to and from the Motor Vehicle Administration office by a police lieutenant so she could renew her registration.

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Parson-McBean said she felt the ride was justified because she was on city business - though she won't disclose what it was.

That's not all. When asked to explain why Parson-McBean received this courtesy, Police Capt. Charles Summers explained that council members "do hold a different, more special relationship than the average citizen" with the police department.

Now that's an interesting statement because can you imagine the difficulty that the city police officers have right now when they try to write a ticket to a motorist driving with an expired registration or rolling through a stop sign?

There's more. At the next council meeting, Parson-McBean thanked The Herald-Mail for putting her picture in the paper, saying that the photo of her smiling would sell newspapers. At last Tuesday's council meeting, Parson-McBean commented that media coverage can be divisive, "especially when there's spin put on things."

I'm not really sure what "spin" she is talking about since this isn't that complicated of a story.

And the police department still hasn't retracted the "special relationship" comment, so I guess you can't blame citizens who are furious that they aren't good enough to get preferential treatment if they also break the law. Not that they should, I might add.

But what is really amazing is how this story could have been nipped in the bud rather quickly.

When the story first broke in the Jan. 21 edition, Parson-McBean could have said she would donate $60 (the estimated cost of the fine) to a charity of her choice, such as the Memorial Recreation Center. She also could have said that she regretted accepting the ride to the MVA. At the same time, the police department could have retracted the "special relationship" comment by saying that no citizen is above the law, including the mayor and council, and that it won't happen again.

That's it.

End of discussion.

The story probably would have died out after a couple of days.

But as you all know by now, that's not how it played out.

It took about 10 days, but Hagerstown City Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer finally said last Tuesday night what some, if not many, city residents have been thinking and saying for more than a week.

To her credit, Cromer was the first to speak out about it, saying that the majority of the council members, including herself, "do not find that we are above the law," and added that accepting the ride to the MVA and the subsequent comments by Summers were inappropriate.

As of today, there have been no further comments from Parson-McBean or the police department.

That hasn't stopped you, the readers, from weighing in on the controversy.

It also hasn't stopped the reporting of this matter.

For the record, The Herald-Mail filed a request Tuesday with the City of Hagerstown under the Maryland Public Information Act for documents.

We currently are seeking, among other things, the exact procedures that the city police department follow when a driver is found to have an expired registration or license, copies of tickets issued for expired registration in the past three months, and a list of those individuals who were cited and had their vehicles towed for expired registration. There's more, but that's a good start.

One of the harder decisions we make on a daily basis is deciding when to let go of a story.

But this seems like a no-brainer.

As long as some on the city council think they are above the law and the city police don't back off from the "special relationship" comment then this story isn't going to go away.

Stay tuned.




Terry Headlee is executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7594, or by e-mail at terryh@herald-mail.com.

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