Community group, town argue about spot at
local farmers' market
(8/26/2004) Catherine Forrence of Emmitsburg wants to
stand at a booth at the town's weekly farmers' market and register people to
vote, not just as a certified volunteer with the Frederick County Board of
Elections, but also as president of Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg
Emmitsburg officials welcomed her as a certified
volunteer, but do not want her to advertise that she is also representing COPE,
the nonprofit group that works to slow development in town.
The town also wants to limit her participation in the
farmers' market to once per month to allow other community groups to
participate if they so desire.
Forrence disagrees with both those conditions, even
though she signed an agreement with the town limiting her to once a month in
the market, and forbidding her to talk about political issues.
Though COPE has not provided any money to set up the
table, Forrence and others in the group said they want to "sponsor" the table
as a community service.
The Frederick County Board of Elections certified
Forrence in late July to accept voter registrations. She then asked Emmitsburg
Hoover for permission to set up a table at the farmers' market held
every Friday on the northbound side of South Seton Avenue.
Hoover approved the request on a "trial basis," he said
in a letter dated July 27. The letter permits Forrence to set up the table the
first Friday of every month. She set up the first registration on Aug. 6.
Now Forrence is asking why something she perceives as
beneficial to the community is being limited to only once per month.
The deadline for voter registration for Frederick
County is 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 12, which would leave seven Fridays remaining
before the deadline. Forrence will only be able to set up twice before that
date, but wants to do it every week, she said.
Hoover said Forrence is being restricted to once per
month because the farmers' market Committee, made up of three volunteers from
the community, wanted to allow other community groups to set up a table at the
Only one slot is available for a community table each
week at the market. As of Tuesday, no community group had yet requested the
slot, he said.
Forrence is also concerned because she may not
advertise at the farmers' market or on the town's cable channel 99 that the
table is "sponsored" by COPE.
In a letter to the mayor and town manager David Haller,
dated Aug. 20, town Commission President Bill O'Neil, the founder and former
president of COPE, asked why a recently televised announcement about the voter
registration table on the town's cable channel was edited to remove COPE's
name. He suggested the editing was for "purely political reasons."
Referencing other nonprofit groups, such as the
Lions Club, the Knights of
Columbus and the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association, O'Neil wrote
that he expects COPE to be identified in the cable channel announcements in the
"Otherwise, similar postings for local events sponsored
by all other nonprofit organizations may be subject to the same anonymity;
leaving only the event, date time and location -- without the host's or
sponsoring organization's name listed in the notice. After all, what is fair
for one, is fair for all," he wrote.
O'Neil also argued that COPE, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit
organization, should be permitted to have the table there each week.
A 501(c)(4) organization is a nonprofit tax status for
a group organized exclusively for social welfare. The organization may engage
in some political activities, but they are not permitted to be the
organization's primary activity, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Hoover said he sees COPE's primary activities as
political and that is not something the committee wants at the weekly farmers'
Other groups such as the Lions and Knights of Columbus,
to which O'Neil referred in his letter, are not political organizations, Hoover
said, however any group that wants to set up voter registration at the market
would have the same restrictions.
Hoover said Forrence, who is an authorized
representative of the Board of Elections, may run the voter registration, and
the voter registration will be announced on the television. But neither the
table nor the cable announcements may bear COPE's name, he said.
"Do they want to register voters or advertise for COPE?
Which is more important?" Hoover said.
Forrence is also being prohibited from discussing
candidates and town political issues while manning the table, according to the
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