Montgomery County Office of Public Information becomes Office of Curfew Advocacy – UPDATED

Photo of 6 page "Frequently Asked Questions about the County Executive's Youth Curfew Proposal"

The six page FAQ on the curfew produced by the Montgomery County Office of Public Information

UPDATED – UPDATE(II)

During the Youth Town Hall on Wednesday night, a dense, six page “Frequently Asked Questions about the County Executive’s Youth Curfew Proposal” was distributed to the audience.  The FAQ document is also available online.

The language of the FAQ is usually careful enough to use the word “would” instead of “will be” throughout the document — though sometimes slipping to “is” in secondary paragraphs.  But readers should consider whether it is a proper and fair use of taxpayer money to advocate as strenuously for a curfew as this document does, when the issue is not decided and when many taxpayers equally strenuously object to the proposed measure.  Examples of leading language:

  • “If you do some research you’ll find that there are valid studies that say [curfews] don’t [work]and others that say they do.”
  • “The curfew wasn’t proposed based on statistics, it was based on what police are seeing as an emerging concern. We could sit back and wait until the situation gets worse, but the County Executive didn’t want to hold back if there was something that could be more quickly done that could make everyone safer.”
  • “As Police Chief Tom Manger said in his testimony before the County Council: “As a parent and a Police Chief, I do not want to limit the legitimate opportunities for entertainment and interaction for our young people. Nor do I want to stand idly by and not have at our disposal a tool which can help us manage situations before they turn ugly.””

Yet by everything I’ve heard, the vast majority of studies say curfews don’t work, only a handful do.   And it’s obvious from the next statement that the first one is disingenuous anyway — who cares about statistics, says the County Executive, he just wants to do something that *could* make you safer.  Curfew skeptics don’t advocate for Ike Leggett to “sit back and wait,” or for Chief Manger to “stand idly by” before situations “turn ugly” — they do demand that Montgomery County do something sensible, and that it not abrogate anyone’s equal rights to freedom of movement and association under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

The FAQ concludes by directing readers to http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/curfew for more information; this turns out to be an equally one-sided presentation of pro-curfew statements by Ike Leggett and others.

The mission of the Office of Public Information — the agency taking credit for the FAQ — is “to provide timely, accurate, and effective communication with the public” and specific county stakeholders such as public officials, businesses, and others.  Each reader can decide whether that is language elastic enough to permit one-sided pieces of advocacy like the FAQ or the “/curfew” page.

It seems disrespectful of the legislative process to be using taxpayer money to manipulate the public on a controversial issue councilmembers have not voted on yet. More importantly, it’s disrespectful of the public.  The Office of Public Information is the same one that provided staff and equipment to televise Wednesday’s Town Hall. It was thus both staging and televising a Youth Town Hall — complete with “APPLAUSE” signals to the audience — to allegedly air an important debate like this one, and simultaneously producing an FAQ placing it and the county squarely on one side of that debate.  It seems unfortunate and wrong that the  youthful, spirited participants in that Town Hall may have been part of a sham event — one that pretended the public still has input to a decision that seems to already have been reached.

UPDATE, 10/17: Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the other side of this debate, check out https://sites.google.com/site/standuptothemococurfew/curfew-facts, and have a look around the rest of the “Stop The Montgomery County Curfew” site.  The great thing about it is you know the high school students who put it together weren’t just doing it for a salary and benefits.

UPDATE, 10/19: “Maryland Juice” suggests curfew skeptics #occupyikeleggettsinbox about this (click the link or email to ike.leggett@montgomerycountymd.gov).

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EDIT, 10/17: replace “that’s” with “the first one.”

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5 Responses to Montgomery County Office of Public Information becomes Office of Curfew Advocacy – UPDATED

  1. Woody Brosnan says:

    Please! So the White House does not have the right to spend taxpayer money to defend his policies against Republican critics? Your cause is not helped by trivial arguments.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. And I appreciate your concern about our cause! 🙂 Comparing Leggett to the White House seems a little bit absurd, but OK, let’s work with it.

    This office is called the Montgomery County Office of Public Information, not the Montgomery County Executive Office of Public Information. Yet they are disseminating Leggett’s viewpoints in the county’s name — not about an *actual* county policy, but about a *proposed and controversial* policy that the Council has not yet approved (and hopefully will not approve).

    When Mr. Leggett wants to get his views out, he should do so, by all means. But he shouldn’t hide behind the skirts of an agency that ought to be just communicating the facts, he should do so with *his name signed to it*, so we know it’s one side of the story, not some kind of neutral presentation of the facts. I think the latter is what one instinctively and rightly expects of an “Office of Public Information.” Snow routes, town halls, how to comply with the rules, where the recycle centers are — yes. One-sided advocacy of a highly questionable policy — no.

    I can’t think of a similar office to MCOPI at the federal level, but if there were one I think you and I would watch it like hawks to make sure they didn’t get to do one-sided cable broadcasts, mailings, or publications.

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  3. Woody Brosnan says:

    Woody Brosnan wrote,

    So now you’re going to hang this on the name? This is not an agency. It’s the executive’s press officer. The Council also has a press office that tries to make them look good.

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  4. Well, I think it’s reasonable to assume that an office’s name implies its intent. But it’s not just the name — again, the stated mission of the Office of Public Information — which is what I have to go on — makes it seem like more than a glorified press spokesman for the County Exec to me, it makes it seem like an office or an agency: “The mission of the Office of Public Information is to provide timely, accurate, and effective communication with the public, the County Executive, departments and agencies, media, County employees, the County Council and other elected officials, businesses, civic groups, and every other segment of the Montgomery County community through the mass media, Internet, presentations,publications and graphics, cable television programming, and telephone and electronic requests for information and assistance.” (emphasis added) Nothing there about being the County Exec’s plaything. And at any rate, I think one-sided advocacy — which you seem to agree is what it’s doing — does a disservice to accuracy in this instance.

    But you’re comfortable with that, and I’m not; so again we’ll need to agree to disagree. Going forward, part of that involves maintaining a polite tone in our discussion, something I think you’re having a little trouble with. If I’ve provoked you in some way, I’m sorry for that.

    More importantly, I also think that you and Safe Silver Spring needn’t be suddenly invested in a curfew per se as the solution to whatever measurable crime problems are going on in the county. As recently as the beginning of the year, a curfew didn’t appear on Safe Silver Spring’s reported list of recommendations, as near as I can tell. And no wonder — curfews don’t work. Let’s work together to identify real solutions to actual problems.

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  5. Pingback: County Council tables curfew, loitering bills | Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition

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