Zoning counsel would strengthen citizens' roleAn issue...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Zoning counsel would strengthen citizens' role

An issue will soon come before the Howard County Council which gets to the heart of citizen representation and participation in government. That issue is the creation of an Office of Zoning Counsel (also referred to as People's Counsel).

Any citizen who has testified at a public hearing, especially quasi-judicial hearings such as the zoning board, knows the frustration felt when going up against special interests with much more time, money and political influence at their disposal.

A zoning counsel helps to level that playing field.

Currently, two proposals for a counsel's position are being discussed.

There is legislation being drafted by County Council members Guy J. Guzzone and Christopher J. Merdon, and there is a referendum drive that has been initiated by Edward Walter, a local zoning activist.

Both proposals, while different in respects, have great merit. Across the county, citizen groups and activists have discussed this proposal for nearly a year. This groundswell of support must ultimately convince the County Council that creating this office is in the county's interest.

Some may decry the creation of a counsel as being "more big government."

To the contrary, the counsel would bring the zoning process closer to the average resident, not seclude it further in the catacombs.

Some may suggest other ways by which the zoning process can be streamlined and made more accessible to citizens.

Let those proposals be discussed and debated on their own merits, not in opposition to the creation of a counsel.

The bottom line is, someone to serve in this capacity is desperately needed. It is time for the zoning playing field to be leveled.

The fact that the creation of this position is being championed by legislators and activists alike warrants the attention of all Howard countians to this matter.

I urge that citizens call their council members to find out more about this proposal, ask questions, and to ask council members where they stand on this issue.

More importantly, speak at the County Council hearing July 17 to show your support for this initiative.

And for emphasis of your support, sign Mr. Walter's petition.

Bill Woodcock, Ellicott City

The writer is president of the Howard County Citizens Association.

Taxpayers robbed for gift to Hickey

As I have frequently suspected, the Howard County Board of Education sorely lacks any sense of fiscal responsibility toward the taxpayers in Howard County("Signs protest 'gift' to Hickey," July 5.)

The board decided to give Michael Hickey, the departing school superintendent, an additional $16,000 "retirement gift" because he "deserves a gracious thank-you."

Furthermore, the board said, the gift did not "deprive the children" and besides, if they did not spend the money, it would "have been given back to the County Council" anyway.

Let me remind the Board of Education that giving the money back to the County Council is the same as returning it to the taxpayers.

If Sandra French, Steve Bounds and Jane Schuchardt are so certain that we, the taxpayers, want to give Dr. Hickey more money, then I suggest that they take up a private collection.

Think about this the next time you pay your property tax bill and the 52 percent of it that is allocated for education.

Perhaps it is not the pot of money that is too small, but the minds that administer it.

Rose Davis, Ellicott City

School bus seat belts should be mandatory

How can any responsible county, city or local government put children on a school bus with no seat belts?

Why is every citizen required by law to buckle up their children in private vehicles when the government puts children on a bus with no protection?

Seat belts either should be used or they should not be used. It is morally reprehensible to require citizens to use them and not require them to be installed on their own transportation vehicles.

I was appalled to hear a 5-year-old child on the news tonight (June 27) saying, "My friend went flying by me!"

I personally think every bus on the road should be parked until they can meet the same requirements demanded of the rest of us.

No parent should have to go through what the parents of the children on the school bus that overturned on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway had to go through.

Jo Anne B. Hill, Lisbon

Combine park, school on Blandair Farm site

I'm wondering why the powers that be in Howard County are choosing to put a park on the Blandair Farm property formerly owned by Elizabeth C. Smith.

Mrs. Smith's heirs have sold the property to the county, although the sale has been held up in court.

Recently, the county was given the go-ahead to complete the sale ("Judge paves way for sale of Blandair," June 27).

Just a few months ago, Howard County was considering the Baugher Farm for the site of a new school, even though there are people living and working on the Baugher Farm.

Perhaps the 300 acres of the Blandair Farm could be considered for a school and a park and the people living and farming in Howard County can keep their livelihood intact with out fear of eviction.

Donna Gozik, Marriottsville

Boy Scouts leaders as positive role models

I wish a young man with the credentials of James Dale had been my son's Boy Scout leader ("Boy Scouts' ban on gay leaders upheld by court," June 29).

It would have been wonderful for him to have such a positive role model when he was realizing he was gay -- someone to demonstrate that people are indeed judged by their accomplishments, and that the values learned from his home, church and scouting experience were in fact solid and dependable.

I guess that would have been unrealistic, though. Not only have the Scouts let us down, but the Methodist men applauded the situation.

I'm glad my son was strong enough to grow up with his values intact. Personally, I'm pretty disheartened with the institutions I thought we could count on for support.

Patricia Glasgow, Columbia

Turf battles harm engineering programs

The Sun had an interesting article June 27 on race and higher education in Maryland. Unfortunately, it was tucked away on Page 9B.

Despite the fact that Maryland has exactly the "right" number of public colleges and departments, there still seems to be discontent among the educators. This time the problem is duplication.

Earl Richardson, president of Morgan State University, notes that "the higher education field is crowded in the Baltimore area." And he complains of the need for "exclusive" programs at this college.

Why not simply merge a few schools or let the highest-quality departments remain? Talk about wasting money.

While racial gaps may occur at various levels, it is imperative that the higher education spectrum consider quality first in establishing departments.

Dr. Richardson already has a 95 percent black student body at Morgan. This condition has been in existence for decades. Now he wants to limit other schools to protect his own lack of desegregation.

I would imagine that there are various majors at Morgan State which are duplicated now at other public schools. Dr. Richardson suggests that "schools with white majority enrollment have been able to offer scholarships to attract black students" but that Morgan State "does not have funds to attract white enrollment." Let's see some hard numbers.

Why not merge the institutions? That would save money and equalize the issue of scholarships based on need. But this apparently is not viable and seldom mentioned.

Then there is the unanswered puzzle offered by Dr. Richardson: Those backing an undergraduate major in electrical engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County "point out that although Morgan State has that program exclusively, it still only has 1 percent white enrollment."

He says, that "all things being equal, if two universities have the same programs, the majority of white students will choose to go to traditionally white institutions and most blacks will go to historically black schools."

But of course not all things are equal. For example, there is a vast difference in the country in engineering programs.

According to U.S. News & World Report, University of Maryland, College Park awarded 125 Ph.D.s in all fields of engineering for the 1997-1998 year while Johns Hopkins University awarded 51. How many at Morgan?

This mess will only be resolved when alternatives have been considered. This appears to be unlikely. Too many turf battles.

R.D. Bush, Columbia

Gore oil holdings provide industry ties

Instead of trying to alleviate the problem of high oil prices in this country, the Democratic candidate for the presidency is using the problem to play politics.

The vice president is quoted as saying, "My opponent comes out of the oil industry. His experience is as an oil company executive and he [once] called for higher oil prices to boost the oil company profits."

But, Al Gore fails to say that he himself is owner of over $500,000 worth of Occidental Oil shares, the recipient of $20,000 a year from the same company .

By allowing the same company to buy federal land, Elk Hills oilfield in California, as part of his program of "reinventing government," he increased the value of Occidental shares by 10 percent, from which he also benefited.

Otto C. Beyer, Ellicott City

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