Lack of Balance
I have lived in Baltimore for 43 years. I have taken pride in many of the great things about our city, including The Sun. It is very disappointing, therefore, to note the total lack of balance in your recent series on the Housing Authority's special vacancy program.
Clearly, The Sun has forgotten the abysmal problems of 1992, when daily we heard of people living in squalor as Housing Authority houses were left vacant and were stripped by vandals. At the same time, I recall that they had money to fix up the vacant house, but could not figure out how to spend it.
Along comes Dan Henson with a solution, and what does The Sun do? It decides to focus on the few negatives in a program which fixed up over a thousand apartments and housed over a thousand families in a very short period of time.
What the citizens of Baltimore should not forget is that public housing is vastly improved since this program was started. It is safer, cleaner, and we do not constantly hear the barrage of problems and tenant complaints which we did just a short time ago.
I think that I am willing to accept the relatively minuscule level of problems pointed to in The Sun articles in return for the overwhelming turnaround in public housing that is happening in this town.
I also recall that the Housing Authority had been criticized for not giving minority contractors work. It seems like Mr. Henson also made major progress on that important front.
In a city 60 percent minority, and in an agency whose customers are overwhelmingly minority, does it not make sense to try to give minority businesses some work?
I do not understand The Sun's attitude about giving minority contractors an opportunity to get a start toward breaking down the barriers of the Catch 22 which is government contracting.
There will be mistakes made and even some false starts, but I just believe that the good far outweighs the bad in this program.
The Sun ought to be ashamed of itself for its total lack of context and its institutional bias. The attack style of journalism that you are attempting is not becoming, especially when it apparently purposefully forgets to mention all of the facts.
R. V. Haysbert Sr.
Gun Control Laws
In his unbridled zeal to endorse the gun control agenda of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, Douglas Weil of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence conveniently overlooked several significant facts.
Federal regulations require a licensed dealer to report all transactions in which an unlicensed person has acquired two or more pistols and/or revolvers at one time or during five consecutive business days.
This report [ATF form F3310.4 (3-94)] must be submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms by the close of business on the day the multiple sale or other disposition occurs. So much for the alleged "large purchase of legal guns by straw purchasers" argument.
Criminals cannot be required to register their guns; nor can they be required to obtain a license. Such statutory schemes require a criminal to provide incriminating information and thus abridge the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination (Haynes v. United States, 1968).
Few readers would disagree that most crime is drug-related. Why, then, have Mr. Weil and MAHA, or anyone else for that matter, not proposed licensing and registration for drug dealers and a one-purchase-a-month restriction for drug addicts?
Perhaps it has something to do with the criminal's rather vexing habit of ignoring the law.
Peter Jay is quite correct: Gun control laws have a far greater impact on the law-abiding citizens than on criminals. Gun control laws are intended to ban guns, not reduce crime.
John H. Josselyn
The writer is the legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc.
Several days ago, I was asked to participate in an interview about the court work of the Office of Pupil Personnel, Baltimore County Public Schools.
At that time I requested that my direct quotes be amended to reflect accurate reporting of my words and intent.
The reporter agreed, but this reporter did not use my words in his article "Schools throw the book at parents of truants" (Feb. 16).
Let's set the record straight. Pupil personnel workers never take cases to court after a student has missed five days, unexcused.
In all cases, a student has missed an extensive period of time, prior to a court referral, and the parent has demonstrated some negligence or noncompliance, as it relates to the law.
In assisting the parent in making changes, numerous resources are provided prior to and after court actions.
Expectations for parents can include their attending counseling, daily phone communications about attendance, regular school conferencing, possibly requesting a change in work schedule or exploring use of vacation allotment in order to ameliorate the child's truancy.
I explained to the reporter that the parental commitment to make sure the child attends regularly must match the child's efforts to remain in an unsupervised, unproductive state.
A brief period of hardship (parental changes) can hopefully avoid a future long-term hardship -- an uneducated adult.
In conclusion, I shall continue to respond to requests from the media because the community needs to be informed about schools and their commitment to educate all our children.
The court is only one resource utilized to assist students to become educated citizens.
If this step is indicated, the office shall be responsible for requesting the court's assistance, not "throwing the book at parents."
State Welfare Data Problems
Kate Shatzkin's March 12 story, "Welfare computer woes grow," paints a skewed portrait of a computer system overwrought with problems . . .
The Client Information System integrates databases and files for all public assistance programs and for child support. The goal is to become a one-stop resource for case-workers and other staff in local departments of social services.
Two components are the Clients' Automated Resource and Eligibility System, which includes six public assistance programs, and the Child Support Enforcement System. Ms. Shatzkin chose to focus on the child support system, specifically Montgomery County's troubles using it.
What was not put into context is that the Client Information System is working in 19 counties and distributes over $6 million in child support benefits per month.
It would be gross untruth if we pretended everything is perfect. We have experienced our share of growing pains in the roll out of the system. But that was the purpose of bringing it up county by county, to correct what doesn't work before the next county is brought on-line.
The glitches we've encountered are not by any means unsolvable. So it was unfair for Ms. Shatzkin to characterize the system as "problem-plagued."
Problems in Montgomery County, we believe, are unique to that county and stem from the transferring of information from the old system onto the new one . . .
For a system this size to work efficiently requires up-front participation, cooperation and planning with local staff . . .
State and local staff in counties currently on CIS spent several prior months cleaning up case records to prevent processing delays.
Montgomery County's participation was minimal at best, causing many of the payment processing delays.
But we have deployed close to two dozen employees to Montgomery County to help correct the problem. We have vowed not to go on to additional counties until the system is fixed . . .
The termination of the state's contract with Systemhouse Inc., which Mx. Shatzkin said took years, actually took six months including Board of Public Works approval, once we decided to move.
To quote a person who used the system only a short time and dismissed it as "inferior and substandard" is a slap in the face to our valued employees who put in many hours past a 40-hour work week to make sure all customers received benefits to which they were entitled.
The Client Information System in Maryland, we believe, will be an asset and change the way public assistance and child support payments are distributed. It will help in delivery of services to customers. It will help other agencies.
Lois Y. Whitaker
The writer is deputy secretary for operations at the Maryland Department of Human Resources.