The Good, The Bad, And The Just Silly


No one has ever accused me of shying away from an unabashed appropriation of a cliche.

So let me sign off the year with one old chestnut that would shame the wool off sheep.

I've made a list, checked it twice. Going to write down what's happened in Howard this year, naughty and nice.

Here goes:

There have been some milestones -- two of which, sadly, faced challenges only last week.

The County Council distinguished itself by passing a ban on smoking in all county public places, except some restaurant bars and taverns. It was a positive step forward in protecting the health of county residents from the now-proven harms of second-hand smoke.

Still, because of the exemptions, it did not go far enough.

Surprisingly, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a business community champion who fought the ban, has insisted on trying to remove the exemptions.

Backing an amendment that would ban smoking across the board, Mr. Ecker makes the case that it simply is unfair to require some businesses to meet the ban while others are not. He also tosses in the assertion that he too is interested in public health.

Now, Bruce Bereano, the lord of lobbyists and patron saint of the tobacco industry, has come out against Mr. Ecker's amendment, even though he is much more accustomed to being on the county executive's side.

"What makes the legislation ludicrous is that bars and taverns are unique," Mr. Bereano said recently, apparently arguing that patrons of such establishments know when they enter that they are taking their lives into their own hands.

Besides that argument, the only other thing that seems ludicrous and unique about all this is the weird and ever-changing couplings of political bedfellows over this issue.

Another ground breaker occurred when the county's Zoning Board finally swallowed hard and approved a comprehensive rezoning plan for eastern Howard and the piecemeal rezoning of 682 rural acres in Marriottsville, where a developer plans to build a mix of housing, retail and commercial space.

Slow-growth advocates -- I used to call them no-growthers, but I figured that only incited them -- have mounted challenges on two fronts.

They've gone to Circuit Court with three suits to block the Marriottsville project as well as other zoning decisions.

And they've collected more than 3,000 signatures in their quest to put zoning decisions to a referendum.

None of this is surprising. Slow-growthers are loud, if not numerous. We'll have to wait on an outcome.

What follows is a synopsis of other events:

* The Columbia Council inched a step closer to bringing democracy to county governance and then stepped back.

* A long-fought-for golf course in Columbia finally got the go-ahead, only to face a last-ditch challenge.

* Howard has a new fire chief in James Edward Heller.

* School officials snubbed Mr. Ecker and approved a long-delayed pay raise.

L In other news, it's been a rough year for animals in Howard.

Elvira, the trumpeter, was apparently swan-napped from a Columbia lake, an event followed by the abuse of one of Elvira's siblings, whose feathers were spray-painted.

Thankfully, Columbia officials have taken trumpeters from the lake, replacing them with a less human-friendly variety of bird.

There also has been a rash of sexual mutilations of horses in Howard, as well as in a number of other Maryland jurisdictions. Breeders are stepping up security, but there have been no arrests.

And finally, four frisky cows took off into the wooded environs of eastern Howard, only to have two of them gunned down by a pseudo-paramilitary force the likes of which is normally reserved for hunting violent fugitives.

No word yet on the two surviving cows. By now they've inspired a sympathetic network of animal lovers to offer them safe havens as they continue their lives on the lam.

County residents also have witnessed at least two profoundly tragic events this year.

There was the death of Pam Basu, a young mother who had just bundled her 2-year-old into the car to begin her first day of day care when she became the victim of a carjacking. The ensuing violence has been detailed so many times, I decline to repeat the horrors here.

The death of this accomplished scientist ripped through the hearts of county residents and the nation.

And then there was the as-yet-unsolved murder of 15-year-old Tara Allison Gladden. There have been so many recent incidents of children meeting violent ends, but this one happened painfully close to home.

Maybe one of our New Year's resolutions should be to find ways, no matter how small, to stop the violence.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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