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Havre de Grace council approves officers for all schools

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All Havre de Grace schools will have a school resource officer through the end of the school year.

After a split vote on the issue last time, the Havre de Grace City Council unanimously approved another budget amendment Tuesday night granting $63,200 to expand the SRO program permanently by adding two additional, dedicated police patrol positions.

The funding is possible because the city has collected more real property taxes for fiscal year 2013 than projected by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, Mayor Wayne Dougherty wrote in the new budget amendment.

One principal and two teachers told the council they were grateful for the amendment, and Dougherty said he has received many calls or e-mails supporting more school resource officers.

Council members Joe Smith and Barbara Wagner, who voted last time against expanding the SRO program through March, supported the new amendment.

Debbie Freels, principal of Meadowvale Elementary School, thanked the council for supporting the program and said it would make her and parents feel even better about protecting children and staff.

She came with an assistant principal, fourth-grade teacher, third-grade teacher and custodian. About 10 Harford County Public Schools employees were in the audience, after Councilman Bill Martin asked for a show of hands.

"We are all here this evening to express to you our gratitude for allowing us to have an SRO in all of our schools," Freels said. "As principal, my primary goal is maintaining the safety and security of not only the children in my building but my staff members and every visitor that walks through the door."

She said the officer came to Meadowvale on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting and immediately went over the school's plan for safety, which includes everyone being buzzed into the building and keeping all doors locked.

"We concluded that we have a pretty air-tight plan at Meadowvale," she said, but noted: "If someone comes to our door with an assault rifle, our plan is not going to prevent that person from entering our building."

Freels said she takes her job "very seriously" and considers everyone in the building part of her extended family.

"Knowing I would not be able to prevent [an attacker] from coming in was a huge, huge burden," she said.

When Meadowvale got an officer, "it not only made me feel more secure but it made my teachers and staff feel more secure and it made my parents feel more secure," she said.

The parent of a pre-kindergarten student told her that the child came home and said, "Mommy, the good guys were at school today."

"That mom felt secure that her child, her 4-year-old child, was going to be safe in the building," she said.

Freels added the officer provides many other services, can help children learn problem-solving, be part of the curriculum and facilitate elementary school children's transition to middle school.

A teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School also said having an SRO at the school has made everyone feel "a lot safer" and gives the children a positive influence.

Councilman Randy Craig thanked everyone who supported this and noted the council "thankfully" voted at its last meeting to extend the program through March.

Councilman Joe Smith said he would be supporting the amendment this time and reiterated that his previous vote was not so much against the SRO program.

"It really has to do with process and questioning how things were being done," he said, noting it is "unfortunate and a little bit sad" that it takes an event like the Newtown shooting to get people to act.

"I still have some questions on how we can improve on the process perhaps," he said.

Nevertheless, Smith noted President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders last week to support SROs around the country and develop emergency response plans at schools.

"Schools are a priority," he said, adding the problem of gun violence is complex.

"It's not just adding SROs, how we control guns, deal with mental health, it's a combination," Smith said. "We cannot combat this problem until we look at all of those together."

Councilman Bill Martin, a teacher, praised the effectiveness of SROs.

"It's more than just an armed guard. I really don't like using the word armed guard," he said. "It's just a great person to have in a building."

"I feel very frustrated sometimes in the aftermath of what happened in Newtown," Martin said, noting his daughter goes to Meadowvale and two more children go to Havre de Grace Middle School and a kindergarten.

"I felt like I was screaming in a glass bowl when all I heard from our elected leadership was talking about things that I don't think is going to keep somebody safe," he said.

Martin said someone could come into a school with a baseball bat and do the same amount of damage as the young man with an assault rifle at Newtown.

He hopes SROs will be the norm in the country within a decade.

"Let's start tonight," he said. "In Havre de Grace, we don't follow, we lead."

Councilman Dave Glenn, who was not at the last meeting, also said children are "near and dear" to his heart.

"Without a doubt, we got it right," he said. "I view us as the leading change agent. We led the way for everybody else."

Craig also criticized Smith's comment that the process needs to be questioned, saying that in Annapolis, it takes a long time for anything to happen and some items have to go through committees multiple times.

He said he thought it was important to fund the program initially to get the city through March.

"That's how decisions get made here and hopefully that's how decisions will get made, for a favorable outcome for all our schools," he said.

Dougherty also said the advantage of local government is that something can be passed in a short time.

"If you want to get something done, the local level is where it gets done and it gets done right away," he said. "At other levels, I sometimes just shake my head - bickering about what letter's after your name."

"In Havre de Grace, we are very fortunate that we can get a solution, and not a solution that takes months but a solution that takes a very short period of time," he said.

"There comes a point when as an elected official, you have so much feedback coming back, you know you are working for the people and not against the people," Dougherty added.

Despite the talk about saving time, the council spent about 45 minutes on council members' personal remarks.

They marked the 50th anniversary of the Havre de Grace Art Show, which Dougherty called "a wonderful achievement."

The Mardi Gras Parade in February, Women's 5K by the Bay and the Art Show were all approved.

Dougherty said the second annual Duck Dunk, to which he wore a tuxedo, was successful and put together well.

"Volunteers from Susquehanna Hose Company and Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps couldn't be more ... cordial to those of us coming out of the water, freezing to death, trying to breathe," he said. "I thought it was great."

Martin and Glenn were not available for the Duck Dunk this time, as they were under the weather.

Planning director Neal Mills gave an update on the Upper Chesapeake medical campus complex, for which the planning commission approved the preliminary site plan last month.

He said the planning department still needs final stormwater management approval and the final forest conservation plan for that project.

"There are more challenges for Upper Chesapeake than our planning department because now they have several business and regulatory challenges that they have to meet, beginning with what is called a certificate of need that's granted by the state of Maryland," he said.

Mills said the next window for that is February but Upper Chesapeake cannot meet that, so they are looking toward August.

"The decision on that could take up to a year for the state agency that overlooks that," he said. "If you do the math, probably the earliest that we would start issuing building permits and you'd start to see some construction activity would be next summer, probably late next summer, early fall."

Smith said he was glad to see state Comptroller Peter Franchot visit recently and mentioned Franchot stopped in his business, where he was also welcomed by Dougherty, Wagner and representatives from Havre de Grace Main Street.

Craig made a dig at Smith's recounting of the visit, saying it was "disheartening" that Franchot visited Youth's Benefit Elementary School and not a Havre de Grace School, which perhaps the councilman could have suggested he do instead of just visiting a business.

Todd Cregar, a Havre de Grace native and Marine stationed in Hawaii, was recognized for being selected to carry the U.S. flag during the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. His wife, Stephanie Cregar ,and mother, Samantha Cregar, received a city proclamation on his behalf.

Fond farewells

Several council members recalled Charlie Barker and Tommy Jordan, two prominent Havre de Grace residents who died recently.

Craig noted both "gave much back to our city" and said he knew Barker a lot through his church.

"To have a top-rate physician like that in our community is fantastic," he said about Jordan.

Councilman Dave Glenn also said his thoughts and prayers go out to the Barker and Jordan families. He attended the funeral for Barker and said both are icons of the community.

"What a beautiful service and what a beautiful send-off for a very, very special lady," he said.

Glenn said he just got home from Barker's funeral when he heard of Jordan's death.

"I couldn't believe it; it was a true shock," he said. "Tommy, I'm really gonna miss you."

Councilman John Correri also said they were two people who have made a huge impression on the town.

With Barker, "it was just magic with her," he said, calling her "one of the happiest people you ever met in her life, so positive, always gave you 200 percent."

He also said he has known Jordan his whole life and called him "a guy that was just driven to succeed."

"I can't say enough for what they meant to me and this community," Correri said.

Dougherty also talked about Barker's impressive stamina and commitment to Havre de Grace.

"Charlie was very brave from the time of diagnosis, but yet Charlie Barker worked right up until the end," he said, noting that a few days before that end, she called Dougherty's office to brush up on the logistics of some volunteer programs.

"To the family of Charlie Barker, my prayers go to you," he said. "I thank you for sharing Charlie with us."

"When you thought she did everything she could do, there was more she did," he said.

Financial report

Dougherty presented the second-quarter financial report, noting city revenues exceeded goals by almost $440,000 through Dec. 31.

The General Fund finished the quarter almost $2.2 million ahead of expectations, although almost $1.3 million had already been committed to ensuring adequate funds are available for the water and sewer fund.

The water and sewer fund earned almost $330,000 and the Marina experienced a $30,000 loss.

Real property taxes were more than $205,000 greater than expected and the city's share of state income taxes also exceeded expectations by more than $205,000.

A $25,000 decline in building permits partly offset those increases.

The city began the year with a fund balance of more than $3.7 million and has added almost $2.8 million through the end of the quarter.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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