Bench needs diverse faces -- but qualifiedMore...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bench needs diverse faces -- but qualified

More often than not, I strongly agree with Kevin Thomas' commentary. However, I find I must disagree with his Oct. 29 column about judicial choices. There is no question that the Howard County legal community has for many years been an "old boy" network headquartered in Ellicott City. Clearly the bench and all aspects of the Howard County justice system must better display diversity. However, that does not justify an appointment process which ignores experience and competence and selects members of the judiciary solely on the basis of race and sex.

We suffer from a governor for whom political issues are paramount. His appointments -- beginning with the selection of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as lieutenant governor, whose sole qualifications were a big smile and an even bigger checkbook -- have been a consistent chain of mediocrity.

The governor's commission that created the new judicial selection process was seriously flawed because it merely substituted one political philosophy for another.

The new philosophy stressed women and blacks. Although that is an important value, the commission failed to address the much more serious issue of qualifications for a judge. Because it is almost impossible for anyone other than a state's attorney or trial attorney to get on the list (irrespective of race or gender), the system perpetuates one type of judge and that judge -- especially in the districts outside Baltimore -- is most often a white male. Again, the reason is a failure on the part of the governor to develop qualities of a good judge first and to have those qualities carefully scrutinized by the legislature and the public. A large measure of the outrage in this county about the appointment has to do with issues of experience, competence and temperament on the part of Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton. It is not to suggest that these lawyers are not quality people. It is to suggest that some believe them not to be the best qualified individuals for appointment to a very important position.

I agree with those people. It is in comprehensible to me that the governor did not appoint District Judges Lenore R. Gelfman and Louis A. Becker to the Circuit Court and then appoint Ms. Leasure and Ms. Staton to the District Court. In that way, he would have accomplished his mission and would have allowed these two lawyers a chance to develop sufficient experience to become competent for the Circuit Court. There are real and legitimate concerns about this governor, his appointments, his choice of politics above substance and about long-term issues of the courts in Maryland. Interestingly, one of the areas of consideration of the new courts commission is judicial selection standards.

Mr. Thomas, you are a wonderful writer with a keen and very important social sense, but be careful about broad-brush conclusions.

William I. Weston

Columbia

Information needed on maltreated dog

I work as a volunteer for Howard County Animal Control. Recently, a dog was brought in. He had been systematically starved by his owner and dumped on the side of the road to die. When I first saw him, he was waiting to be sent for his second visit to the veterinarian, with the hopes that he could be made well enough to be put up for adoption. I sat with him to keep him company while he waited. He looked at me, kissed my face, put his head in my lap and let out a sigh of peace and contentment. He was so happy to be touched and talked to, as sick as he felt.

I found out later that he had to be euthanized. He was too sick, there were too many old injuries and he was not a young dog.

If anyone knows anything about this dog, and how he got to where he was, please contact Howard County Animal Control at (410) 313-2780. He was an altered male German Shepherd, black and tan in color. His fur had bare patches where he had been bitten by fleas and part of one ear was missing. If you know of any animals being mistreated, please call your local animal control. Don't turn your back on these poor defenseless creatures. They deserve better from us humans.

Margaret Gitelman

Columbia

Catholic schools column showed bias

I have been a teacher for more than 30 years in the public school system and in parochial schools. I was disturbed by the biased, prejudiced and misleading column written by Mike Bowler ("Catholic schools: More for less," Oct. 8). He uses the self-serving statistics of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to compare with the more realistic data of the state of Maryland. As was shown in the wage comparison chart, the low salaries paid by the Catholic schools show the low value they place on teachers. Many of these teachers could not or would not deal with the diverse population of the public schools and in many cases are not qualified to teach by state-approved agencies.

The population of the public school system represents the true cross-section of American society. Private religious education segregates its population from the real make-up of this country. If these private, religious schools were required to take in all who applied for no cost, including the poor, the behavior-disabled and the physically, emotionally and mentally handicapped, would they still be giving "more for less"?

Joseph Gyetvai

Columbia

Official arguments on year-round school miss the real point of quality and cost

I am frustrated about the inability or unwillingness of county officials to frame the debate about year-round schooling in terms that can be easily understood by parents and taxpayers. Few or none have argued convincingly that year-round schooling would actually harm our children (and many have convincingly argued that it would help.) Conversely, the arguments against year-round scheduling tend to be, despite their passion, self-serving and/or of minimal real consequence when it comes to the paramount issues of quality and cost. So the next question is: will year-round scheduling save money? Notwithstanding other marginal costs and savings associated with one plan or the other, the biggest potential source of savings associated with year-round schooling would come from optimizing the use of our schools' physical plants.

Yet on Nov. 7, I read Howard Libit's article in The Sun, in which he wrote that the costs of year-round schooling would be higher than traditional scheduling if one figures in the expenditures required to build and run the two new elementary schools due to start construction next spring. I was incredulous.

Later in the day, I spoke with a well-informed Mr. Libit on the phone. Mr. Libit explained to me what I suspected: that the savings that county taxpayers might expect to attain by more efficient use of our school buildings would not occur because the additional two schools will result in classroom capacity that exceeds demand for the foreseeable future. Hence, no savings for more efficient usage.

I am discouraged at the level of often tangential rhetoric surrounding the issue of year-long schooling in Howard County. Not unlike any proposed change (and, Lord knows I see this over and over in my service on the Columbia Council), there are always a vocal few who will oppose any change -- and these folks are usually the most likely to loudly enter any debate. In my mind, one key reason for electing representatives to office is for such officials to stare down special interest groups on behalf of the majority (who are usually too busy making a living and paying taxes). Until the county can decide what scheduling makes sense, it should not spend any more money that will effectively erase a key argument in favor of year-round schooling.

Wise leaders need to recognize that the past is gone and Howard County must develop inventive and low-cost solutions that preserve our "muscle" and discard the "fat."

Too many people refuse to accept that over the past 50 years, Maryland's economy has come to depend on an ever-increasing federal work force. This pattern is changing and we have seen only the beginning. (Of the approximately 75,000 D.C. area federal employees who will disappear from the federal payroll, only about 20 percent are now gone.) We now face an opportunity to change our school schedule in such a way as to improve student performance, save money and perhaps make Howard County an even more attractive place to live and work. Until we are sure that we want to collectively turn our backs on these advantages, the county should not make additional obligations that undermine the strength of arguments favoring year-round schooling. It should suspend the construction of the two new schools until the issue is decided.

I am writing as an individual and do not purport to represent the Columbia Council on this issue.

Mike Rethman

Columbia

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