Concerns of racism, intolerance prompt launch of #OneHoward initiative

Kittleman: "It is wrong for us to focus on an election."

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman is launching a series of community conversations to push community dialogue and reinforce the county's commitment to inclusiveness.

Coming in the wake of the presidential election and reports of racially charged incidents at county schools, Kittleman, a Republican who did not vote for either major party presidential candidate, said the forum is not a direct response to the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

Called #OneHoward, the series will provide residents and local county officials an opportunity to promote positive dialogue and respect. The forum is not a direct response to the election of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, Kittleman said.

"It is wrong for us to focus on an election," he said. "We should focus on what we can do as a community to come together… it is wrong if we just talk about Donald Trump. If it's Donald Trump today, it could be something else tomorrow."

Most Howard County residents — nearly 63 percent — voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton while 29 percent voted for Trump. Kittleman did not disclose who he voted for, adding that both major party candidates did not represent his ideals and values.

At the forum, county leaders will deliver statements at the first conversation, scheduled for Dec. 3 from 2 to 4 p.m at the Bain 50+ Center in Columbia. An open format town hall discussion will follow. Earlier this month, residents proposed the idea at the county executive's town hall in North Laurel.

"No matter who is doing the mistreatment, we need to make sure that it is not going to be acceptable in Howard County," Kittleman said. His father, the late Bob Kittleman, was a civil rights leader known for being the first white person to join the local county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and becoming the first white president of the chapter.

David Steele, president of the county's local NAACP, plans to join other local leaders at the series to reinvigorate the county's commitment to unity and inclusiveness.

The forum will include representation from local schools and the police department. William J. McMahon, the new Howard County sheriff, will also attend.

McMahon, a former police chief, replaced former Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald, who resigned after the release of an incriminating report alleging Fitzgerald used racially charged language, berated employees and discriminated against at least one employee based on political creed.

"It worries me that sentiment has somehow been lost over time. We need to rekindle that," said Steele. "We cannot assume Howard County is somehow immune from these issues. Let's not make that assumption anymore."

The county's public service campaign, led by the Howard County Library System, boasts the county's commitment to "Choose Civility." The community-wide initiative, best known for its forest green bumper stickers, aims to build a more respectful, emphatic and tolerant county.

Steele hopes to see a more diverse representation at local public forums.

"We need to see people from all walks of life, including various religions, not just African-American clergy," Steele said. "We can't make this a black-white issue at all because it isn't."

Racial tensions rocked Howard County schools earlier this month as school administrators investigated at least three separate incidents involving county students. Two incidents involved photos posted on social media, and racially insensitive graffiti was found in a bathroom stall at Murray Hill Middle.

Kittleman stressed #OneHoward was not a "one-time forum."

"Saturday is the beginning. It is not the end," Kittleman said.

Town halls and community conversations have become a staple of Kittleman's term. The county executive held four community town halls last year and recently launched a series of public charettes to jump start the long-term recovery of historic Ellicott City, which was hit by a major flood in late July.

To register for the community conversation, go to bit.ly/2ftjduw. Registration is not required.

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