Security preparations made for Cardin visit

August 10, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Campus security and the Washington County Sheriff's Department will be on hand Wednesday to keep the peace as Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., hosts a "town-hall" style meeting at Hagerstown Community College to discuss health care reform legislation, a college spokeswoman said.

The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at HCC's Kepler Theater.

Similar meetings held across the country in recent weeks have erupted into shouting and heckling, but Cardin decided to proceed with scheduled "Health Care Town Halls" in Towson, Md., and Hagerstown because he feels public dialogue on the topic is important, said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin's office.

"He's hopeful that people will be respectful of each other and not try to disrupt it," Sullam said.

Cardin will also make a stop in Hancock at 3 p.m. Wednesday to present a ceremonial check for $1.2 million in federal stimulus funding to the Tri-State Community Health Center, Sullam said.


HCC spokeswoman Elizabeth K. Stull said police and security personnel are prepared to enforce order at the Kepler Theater meeting if necessary.

"We won't be tolerant of anyone who would be very disruptive," Stull said.

People who are disruptive will be asked to quiet down, and if they don't quiet down, they will be asked to leave, Stull said. If the situation escalates, police will make arrests, she said.

Stull said the college will allow people to demonstrate as long as they sign waivers of liability and adhere to the college's policy on demonstrations. Those guidelines state that gatherings should be conducted in an "orderly and peaceful manner," should not interfere with classes or events, should not block traffic or building access, and should not endanger people's safety or rights, among other rules.

Sullam said signs will not be allowed inside the theater.

Washington County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Patricia R. Heck said she has seen videos of the chaos that ensued at other town hall meetings, and was appalled by the protesters' disrespect toward elected officials and those who were trying to have a civil discussion.

"I've been very troubled -- probably every thinking person has been troubled -- by the fact that there's a misconception that freedom of speech means you can prevent other people from speaking," Heck said.

Heck said everyone has a right to ask questions, regardless of where they stand on health care reform.

"We have a lot of diverse opinions in Washington County, but we also have a sense of propriety and respect for one another, and tolerance, and I hope to see that flourish again," she said, adding that she was more concerned about organized protesters who might come from out of town.

Washington County Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Marilee Kerns said the Republican Central Committee spread the word about the meeting, but had not advised anyone on how to behave or organized any demonstrations.

"We are not the mob that Nancy Pelosi has portrayed us to be," Kerns said.

In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Pelosi, D-Calif., the speaker of the House, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House majority leader, called health care reform opponents' tactics "an ugly campaign" to disrupt meetings and prevent dialogue.

Kerns said she was upset at Democrats' portrayal of what she said was "genuine concern and genuine interest" in the topic.

"They call themselves the party of the tolerant, yet they can't tolerate any questions or concerns on their agenda," she said.

Kerns said she and others she knew who were planning to attend have been researching drafts of the bill and preparing questions.

"I do not expect any problems," she said.

Sullam said space will be limited at the event and participants will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For safety reasons, participants will be turned away when the theater's seats are filled, she said.

Cardin will present information about various proposals that are being discussed in the Senate and the House, then the senator will take questions from participants at open microphones, Sullam said.

"We want to try to get to as many people as possible, so we're not going to allow people to go into long-winded statements," she said.

People who plan to attend should RSVP by e-mailing, but an RSVP does not guarantee a seat, Sullam said.

If you go...

What: Health care reform town hall meeting

When: Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, 11400 Robinwood Drive

RSVP by e-mailing

Space is limited and attendees will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you go...

What: Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin presents funding to Tri-State Health Center

When: Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Where:130 W. High St., Hancock

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