The letters, cards, gifts and music sent to soldiers in the Persian Gulf region from county school students provide more than just a warm message from home.

They also serve as an outlet for students with confused feelings about the reason parents and family friends are away.

But coming to that realization took time for county officials.

Immediately after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, some school officials refused to allow students to talk to the media about their parents leaving to the gulf.

Ken Nichols, former Annapolis High principal, now on special assignment at the Board of Education, said the crackdown was required in order to protect students from retaliation from Hussein.

A few months and more than 2,000 letters from the county later, the school system is a bit wiser. Instead of fearing that terrorists will seek out first-graders who had less-than-favorable opinions of Saddam, officials are encouraging students to tackle the issue in their own ways.

Doing so has meant letter-writing campaigns by just about every class in the county, including special education students at Pasadena Elementary.

The yellow ribbons tied in front of Benfield Elementary are another visible sign that students do understand and have a need to express their concerns about the military action that has the potential to affect virtually every aspect of their lives.

From Central Middle School alone, more than 600 letters are on their way to Saudi Arabia, and students in the International Studies classes at Broadneck High took it a step further.

Students already studying the Middle East sent a cassette of a radio broadcast with personal messages from students with the cooperation of WNAV-AM radio station in Annapolis. And, in keeping with the revised policy, the school system invited the media to cover all of these events.

In a county with a strong military influence -- Fort Meade and the U.S.

Naval Academy -- silence is not golden when it comes to addressing anxieties for military families.

SOURCE: Dianne Williams-Hayes 'LIGHTHIZER YEARS'A FOND LOOK BACK On page 52, he stands calf-deep in a swamp, his hands insouciantly tucked into a pair of brown waste-high duck-waders, a stalk of sea grass dangling from his lips, staring contemplatively into the sunlight, looking for all the world like a glowing, overgrown Huckleberry Finn.

Welcome to "The Lighthizer Years, 1982-1990, Achievement Through Strategic Planning," a publication of Anne Arundel government.

The glossy 100-page publication made its debut last month at a roast that marked County Executive O. James Lighthizer's departure from office after eight years.

It is filled with charts and graphs detailing county services and the former executive's term in office.

Printed and mailed at a cost of $72,985, the booklet is perhaps most vital for assigning a formal title -- "chief of programming" -- to Robert Agee. A close friend of Lighthizer, Agee had been called vaguely "chief aide" and, facetiously, "assistant county executive."

The point is now moot, because Agee is following Lighthizer as his aide in state government, where the former executive starts a new job next month as secretary of transportation.

But the booklet, mailed to 25,000 county residents on a list of volunteers, advisory commissions and civic associations, has not been universally well-received.

"I am absolutely shocked and appalled at the arrogance of attitude of Orville James Lighthizer that he would stick the county with a bill of $72,000 for this publication," Stuart Morris, a longtime Lighthizer critic, called to say Friday. "It's not a public service. It's nothing but a paean to Lighthizer."

Morris, president of the Severn River Association and a member of the county Republican Central Committee, found the tribute to Democrat Lighthizer in his post office box.

But county Public Information Officer Denise Rankin, the booklet's author and formerly Lighthizer's spokeswoman, defended the booklet as a justified expense.

"What we intended to do was inventory for the community the range of services that have been created during the past eight years as part of an informational outreach," she said.

The publication, which is full of phone numbers and lists of public services, was part of efforts to better inform taxpayers about where their money goes and how they can benefit, Rankin said. She likened it to the Department of Aging's taxi subsidy service for rural and isolated seniors and the county's touch-screen computer kiosks in Annapolis Mall and the North County Library.

But Morris is unmoved. He issued a challenge to The Friends of Lighthizer -- who paid for the Democrat's roast and a Ford Bronco as a parting gift -- to pick up the tab for "The Lighthizer Years."

It will be up to new County Executive Robert R. Neall to decide whether he will publish a similar report in the future.

SOURCE: Samuel Goldreich

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