Calvert’s League of Women Voters turns 50 this year
League of Women Voters of Calvert County celebrates milestone anniversary this year
Born out of a book club in 1967, the League of Women Voters of Calvert County celebrates half a century this year. In August, the league gathered to celebrate the anniversary in the very place the idea was spouted, in a cabin in Scientists Cliffs in Port Republic.
Sharon Bickel, who said she is “new” to the league, having been a member for eight years, said there was a previous Calvert County league that hadn’t thrived. The book club in Scientists Cliffs thought a league would come in handy in regards to a proposed amendment to the state constitution.
The League of Women Voters is a national, state and county organization that originally grew out of the suffrage movement, Bickel said. Now, it’s a nonpartisan organization aimed at encouraging participation in local government, helping people understand policy issues and encouraging education and advocacy. The league does not support or oppose candi- dates.
The use of “women” in the name of the group is a misnomer because about 30 percent of the Calvert league is men. Anyone is welcome to join the league, but it’s unlikely that “women” will be taken out of the name because of the connection of the League of Women Voters nationally to the suffrage movement, said Roberta Safer, first vice president.
Safer said voter service was the primary focus and the league did, and still does, a voters’ guide. Before the internet, the voters’ guide was especially crucial for informing voters. Now, the league has a website for the voters’ guide materials.
The Calvert league has an observer corps for the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners meetings and Board of Education meetings. It is working on forming an observer corps for the planning commission.
In addition to providing voter information online, the league holds candidate forums, helps register voters and conducts studies on local issues. The most recent study was on transparency in county government.
Throughout the years, the league’s studies and members have been the seed for many changes and fixtures in Calvert County. Marie Andrews, one of the former presidents of the league, who joined in 1977, said the league was her most important connection when she moved to the county.
During her time in the league, in the wake of a league study on education in Calvert, Andrews said the league and a local church worked with youth to help bring a movie theater to Calvert County.
“At least the kids thought they had accomplished something,” Andrews said. The Calvert Collaborative for Children and Youth, formerly the Calvert Crusade for Children, also came out of a league study. And out of that group stemmed the Edward T. Hall Aquatic Center and the Harriet Elizabeth Brown Community Center. Additionally, Calvert Hospice’s early roots come out of a league study on mental health, and the local housing authority’s origins have roots in a league study on housing.
More recently, the league has seen some developments in light of its transparency study released several years ago. Bickel said the county government wasn’t happy with the study, but the commissioners still participated in the league’s fundraiser event a year later.
An extra budget town hall meeting earlier this month was part of what the league asked for in its transparency study, Safer said. Bickel explained that the county budget starts in July but input didn’t usually start until March when most things had already been decided. The league suggested a public meeting at the beginning of the budget process.
“It seems to really have caught on,” Bickel said.
Other residual effects of the transparency study include the county publishing its seal on all newspaper legal notices, the draft budget being released at least a week before the public hearing and a permanent site secured for a community center in Prince Frederick.
“About 50 percent of what we asked for was done,” Bickel said.
During a celebration of the league’s 50th anniversary Aug. 26, attended by about 30 people, speakers from many chapters of the league’s history shared and the event was attended by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) and former state senator Bernie Fowler.
Up next for the league is a follow-up study on the response to the transparency study, which will include a forum on the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act. Additionally, the league will hold its annual legislative evening from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at Calvert Pines Senior Center.
Several members of the league, including Margaret Dunkle, presented at the celebration.
Senate President Thomas V. Mile Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, prince Georges) presented a proclamation to the league. Roberta Safer is pictured on the right.
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) and former senator Bernie Fowler attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the League of Women Voters of Calvert County in August.