As a taxpayer and resident of Howard County, I am incensed by the July 5 article that appeared in The Sun' s Howard County section, "Signs protest 'gift' to Hickey."
The article reported that the Howard County Board of Education, by a 4-1 vote, approved a gift of $16,000 to the ex-superintendent of schools, Michael E. Hickey, for a job well done.
Mr. Hickey responded that he has no intentions of returning the money.
By what right do these board members think that they can simply give the taxpayers' money away in this fashion? When state superintendent Nancy M. Grasmick retires as head of the Maryland Department of Education, is the governor to take "surplus funds" and give her a check? I certainly hope not.
I doubt that a gifted teacher will receive a $16,000 gift upon retirement.
Board Chairman Sandra French stated: "Any left-over money would not be allowed to be spent on education anyway. And it was from last year's budget. It had nothing to do with the budget decisions we made for [this] year."
Board member Lane Schuchardt was reported to say: "If we were depriving the children because of it, that would be different."
Is she implying that there are no unmet needs in the county school system? Am I to understand that we have a perfect educational system in Howard County that requires no further funding?
What utterly ludicrous statements! This money should have been spent for the children's education or returned to the taxpayers.
If these school board members wanted to make such a gift, they should have done so from their own pockets, or they should have given Mr. Hickey a retirement party and solicited funds privately to give him a gift.
For them to compare this gift to a golden parachute for a retiring CEO of a private company is sheer nonsense.
This was taxpayer money that could have been used for more productive enterprises.
Moreover, the board is setting a horrible precedent for the future. Are succeeding superintendents to receive similar gifts? And by what authority?
Interestingly enough, on the same news page, there were articles bemoaning the fact that some Howard County residents lack the funds to pay for absolute necessities such a heating oil, electricity and gas.
Another article, which is totally inconsistent with the statements of Ms. Schuchardt, reported that several of our elementary schools are about to become overcrowded.
I have serious questions whether the board had the legal authority to act in this manner. If so, it should never be used again.
For the board to claim a budget surplus to justify its decision to spend our taxpayer money in this fashion is fiscally irresponsible.
There will not always be surpluses. Should we not be saving for a rainy day when we need that money for programs for which dollars will then not be available?
This money was not the school board's money to give to Mr. Hickey and should not be his to keep.
Shame on him if he doesn't promptly return it to the county or the taxpayers to whom this money rightfully belongs.
Leslie J. Greenberg
People's Counsel to defend zoning laws
Several of us in Dorsey are extremely concerned about a recent threat to our quality of life.
A developer asked for a variance to reduce the 150-foot buffer required by law between a heavy manufacturing zone and our residential community. He wants to reduce that buffer to 30 feet, bulldoze the mature forest and put parking bays for tractor trailers next to our community.
The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended denial of the request, saying that it met none of the four criteria for a variance.
The developer appeared at the Board of Appeals with a lawyer, a landscape architect, an engineer, a commercial real estate broker and an architect.
After the first session, several residents obtained their own legal counsel. We will pay at least $3,000 to preserve the zoning required by law for our small community.
As a result of this experience, I strongly support Ed Walter's efforts to get a Howard County People's Counsel to defend existing zoning when developers ask for piecemeal changes.
Citizens should not have to hire a lawyer to defend the buffer mandated by law. Nor should anyone seriously consider granting a variance that puts tractor-trailer trucks within 30 feet of an existing residential neighborhood.
Animal owners must accept responsibility
I read with interest the Sun article regarding the problem of disposal of euthanized animals from Maryland shelters. ("Animal control groups struggling with disposal of euthanized pets," June 16) Rarely is the public forced to confront the reality of what happens to the majority of society's unwanted animals, even in the best shelters staffed by caring, compassionate employees.
J.J. Smith, president of Valley Proteins, who discontinued his Virginia company's service to area facilities due to public pressure, is correct in his statement: "The real sensational article is how irresponsible animal owners in America are, that so many animals have to be euthanized."
While shelter directors scramble to arrange expensive alternative disposal of 393 tons of bodies per year in just three local jurisdictions, we as taxpayers ought to be asking our local officials for a proactive plan to reduce the number of incoming animals for which they must pay.
To start, this plan would include a serious commitment to community outreach such as educational programs, and low-cost or free spay/neuter services. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on spay/neuter programs, a $7 savings is realized by taxpayers.
Volunteers from different groups all over our state work tirelessly on behalf of unwanted animals who have no voice. But we cannot work alone and desperately need the support of the public.
At the very least, citizens should do their part.
They should spay or neuter the animals they already have, and consider adopting your next one from a shelter or reputable rescue organization. And if they have time or money to spare, we all need their help.
The writer is a member of Animal Advocates of Howard County.
Democrats redefine racism in campaign
Democrats are so desperate to keep African-Americans in their corner that they have started redefining racism.
They criticize Texas Gov. George W. Bush's record on the death penalty as racist but raised no objections when in 1992, then-Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president, left the New Hampshire primary to go back to Arkansas to preside over an execution of a mentally retarded black man.
Regarding the Confederate flag: Why is it that no one criticizes Sen. Fritz Hollings (South Carolina) who was the Democratic governor of South Carolina when the Confederate flag was first flown above the state capitol? He hasn't been asked to apologize for that. But Governor Bush is being asked to apologize for going to Bob Jones University, where the current Democratic governor of South Carolina spoke two months earlier.
If Vice President Al Gore spoke at a Catholic church or at Notre Dame University, would that mean he or she supported the church's positions on abortion, the death penalty, or gay rights? Of course not, and no one would try to link the candidate with the church's positions.
So why do so with Mr. Bush? Because he's a Republican.
Therefore, according to the leading Democrats, racism is not determined by skin color or viewpoint; it's determined by party affiliation.
Boyd K. Rutherford
Nation destroyed by culture of money
John Blake's tirade against The Sun's editorial on the Supreme Court prayer ruling is totally misplaced. ("Supreme Court stretches Constitution," letter, July 16)
He asks why it is "anything goes" and "the jails are full," appearing to believe these emanate from the absence of prayers or belief in a god.
However, it simply begs the question of why so many nonbelievers -- atheists, humanists and other secularists -- are able to conduct their lives in respectable fashion.
Former Franciscan priest Emmett McLoughlin in his book "Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church" (Lye Stuart Publishers, 1962) presented a compendium of statistics to show that members of religious faiths were disproportionately represented in prisons and mental institutions, compared to nonbelievers.
It is arguable that statistics have changed significantly since then.
However, if Mr. Blake were to ask the real question -- "Why are so many children being abandoned by parents (to their work) and why stress and addictions are rife and the jails are filling?" -- he will have a real, rather than a false, answer. But perhaps it will be one one he doesn't like.
That is, people are ever more constrained by an economic determinist money culture to worship and grovel at their real true god: money.
Money has come to be the raison d'etre of a metastasizing plutocracy and corporatocracy in which people are ever more reduced to commercial commodities, and devalued against corporate profits and capital.
The very fact that many politicians use the prayer issue to grandstand and garner cheap votes discloses that it's more a distraction topic than anything else.
If the politicos can keep the people arguing over a non-issue like prayer, while defending it in schools, they will keep the public eye off the real crime of abandoning the populace to a rapacious corporate culture that values profits over people.
One day, perhaps Mr. Blake will wake up and smell the coffee. In the meantime, he can do me a favor by remembering that when a captive audience has religion stuffed down its throat by a public sponsor, then it is establishment of religion.
He would be better off, however, pursuing why all around us we behold the ongoing establishment of a corporatocracy that undermines and devalues all citizen concerns and values.
Philip A. Stahl