Chief sorry for spending controversyI am writing...


Chief sorry for spending controversy

I am writing to apologize profoundly to the members of my department, to the mayor who brought me to this city and to the people of Baltimore who have looked to me to help protect their lives and their property.

I have embarrassed and raised questions in the minds of many by my handling of the commissioner's expense account that was started decades ago through private donations and has been administered with broad discretion by different commissioners for much of the last 20 years. I should have treated the fund from the start as a public fund, even though it was not and never has been a public fund. Had I done this, we would have full and complete records of how the money was used, erasing all doubt about how and for what purposes it might have been spent.

As it was, the money was spent largely for training, recruiting, meetings with police officials here and in other parts of the country, travel related to these functions, and gifts for members of the department and visitors. If the audit Mayor Martin O'Malley has ordered finds personal or improper expenditures charged to the account, I will reimburse the fund.

Furthermore, I apologize to the members of my security detail, whose actions and overtime were earned legitimately in response to my direction, and have been called into question by my handling of this matter.

In particular, Agent Thomas Tobin, often cited in the media as my intermediary to the account, was simply trying to facilitate my travel arrangements and purchases of equipment and gifts for employees and visitors. I told him to make these transactions in cash, because neither he nor I could carry these expenses on our personal credit cards and we did not have access to a department credit card. I do not offer this as an excuse by any means, but much of our travel was precipitated by the events of Sept. 11 and our need to establish a fast and dependable network with people I know and trust.

It has been particularly painful for me to see Mr. Tobin's integrity questioned. He is a 22-year veteran who has served for more than a decade as a full-duty cop, even after a kidney transplant required medications that caused him to need multiple hip replacements.

He and other members of my detail have earned their overtime not only by staffing my movements inside and outside the city but also by doing one or more of the following: conducting investigations, monitoring crime scenes, apprehending criminal suspects and conducting drug and warrant operations in concert with other units of the department.

Two things happened Aug. 21 that caused me to write this letter. One was the death of yet another courageous police officer, killed while rushing to protect a fellow officer, reminded me that all my actions as police commissioner should be above reproach. The other was a call from a reporter asking whether questions about the fund have distracted me from our all-too-serious daily responsibilities. They have.

I am sorry for my failings as a human being, but I ask for your support in rededicating us all to the fight against the violence that still takes so many lives.

Edward T. Norris


The writer is police commissioner of Baltimore.

Faith groups provide services most effectively

Michele Gilman's article, "Do faith-based services work?" (Aug. 11) wrongly stated that religious groups provide no reliable empirical evidence that their social programs work; that for every success story, there is a horror story; that religious groups providing social services are inexperienced; and that there is little to deter religious groups from engaging in risky behavior.

Such a characterization of religious organizations that provide valuable social services could not be further from the truth.

The truth is that, historically, religious groups of all types have been the pioneers of social work in America. They have always been the most effective providers of such services and, as a whole, are by far the most experienced with them. And there is ample empirical evidence to support that claim.

From time to time, there are horror stories. Ms. Gilman mentioned the Roloff homes as an example of alleged child abuse. And, unfortunately, we're reading a lot about scandals in the Catholic Church.

But we must not allow these horror stories to cloud the fact that for every horror story there are hundreds of success stories.

To say otherwise is truly an offense to thousands of hardworking, compassionate people who work as board members, staff members and volunteers in thousands of religious nonprofits. Those people represent the very best of what our communities are about.

Ms. Gilman says "there is little to deter these institutions from engaging in risky behavior." But let's remember that these are religious organizations. While imperfections do exist, most of these groups are governed by people with the laws of God in their hearts.

Is there any greater deterrent to risky behavior, any greater inspiration to do good, than the worship of God?

Having said that, I fully accept that faith-based organizations receiving government funds must be accountable. That accountability should involve requiring organizational standards such as the Standards for Excellence developed by the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

Meeting such standards would do more to insure that organizations are well-managed and fulfilling obligations to all stakeholders. I believe most religious groups would welcome that kind of accountability.

Regardless of what happens with Charitable Choice and the use of vouchers, one thing is certain: Faith-based organizations and churches of all types will continue to provide quality social services to the neediest of people, with or without government funds, as they always have.

Robert K. Gehman


The writer is executive director of the Helping Up Mission, a faith-based nonprofit group that has served the city's poor and homeless since 1895.

Slots can replace lost tax revenues

The recent letter about the disadvantages of bringing slot machines to the Pimlico Race Course made sense ("Taking a gamble with public safety," Aug. 14). It has, in fact, been proven that new casinos lead to an increase in crime in their surrounding areas.

The only problem is that, like so many other citizens who share his concerns, the writer didn't offer any alternatives for bringing in the funds Maryland so badly needs for things such as schools and fighting crime.

Money generated by slot machines could not only take care of many of Maryland's problems, but also stop the holiday and weekend exoduses to neighboring states and strengthen Maryland's continually eroding tax base.

Over the decades, many large stores, franchises and blue-collar industries have left Maryland for greener pastures. Many of the lost tax dollars have yet to be replaced.

Those citizens so opposed to casinos in Maryland should ask states such as New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada where they would be without them.

Grafton K. Gray


The death penalty will never be fair

As a death penalty abolitionist who would never vote for anyone who believes in the death penalty, I read with interest the Aug. 6 article, "Death penalty stands differ."

Of course, someone such as Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who supports assault weapons, would endorse capital punishment. But what I found more troubling is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's position. She once, rightly, opposed the death penalty, but is now in favor of a "fair" death penalty.

Regardless of what the Maryland death penalty study will reveal next month, the death penalty will never be fair.

Common sense and some knowledge of our criminal justice system indicate that the rich have much more access to justice than the poor. And, of course, people of color are victims of racism. So it is unsurprising that almost all death-row prisoners are poor, and many are also people of color.

It's time for Maryland to join the rest of the civilized world and abolish the death penalty.

Max Obuszewski


System must better handle the retarded

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision prohibiting the death penalty for people with mental retardation represents a milestone in protecting the basic rights of such persons in the criminal justice system.

The court based its decision largely on the fact that mental retardation, by definition, raises so many questions about miscommunication, misinformation and inadequate defense that imposition of the death penalty is simply unacceptable.

While the court's decision exempts persons with mental retardation from the death penalty, it is important to recognize that it does not exonerate them from other appropriate punishments.

Cases involving such individuals must still be judged on their own merits to determine competence to stand trial, criminal responsibility and other mitigating factors.

The decision undoubtedly will unleash a flurry of activity, as courts in states with death penalties examine the sentences of persons with mental retardation on death row, and legislatures enact new standards for proof of impairment.

The long-range impact of this decision, however, may be to shed additional light on the difficulties people with mental retardation face in the criminal justice system.

Ultimately, this may argue not for new laws, but for increased training for police officers, prosecutors, attorneys, judges and others regarding mental retardation, and the accommodations it requires.

Stephen H. Morgan


The writer is executive director of The Arc of Baltimore.

Reimer's all wrong about stock market

I am shocked and appalled that The Sun would even think of publishing Susan Reimer's column about pulling out of the market ("Stocks may go up and down, but a hot tub is forever," Aug. 4).

It is clear that Ms. Reimer is hardly a financial expert (hence her column appeared in the Home and Family section). This leads one to wonder why she's doling out financial advice, and sharing her new-found "freedom" from the market.

Ms. Reimer seems convinced the stock market will never come back in her lifetime, which leads one to believe that she has never laid eyes on the chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1926.

All it does is go up. That's it. The line is a very steady rise from left to right. There are dips here and there, but it always - I repeat, always - corrects itself, usually in three to five years.

Think of the last time we had three down years in a row: 1939-1941. Think of the surge in the economy that followed for the next 15 years.

I'd like to remind all skittish investors to take financial advice with a grain of salt, and remember to stay the course - "long term" in investment parlance means seven to ten years or more, not 12 to 18 months.

The stock market has outperformed every other form of investment over any and every 10-year period. That's a fact.

Stephen R. Harrell


Put some real money behind nursing law

Today, 15 percent of the nursing jobs in Maryland are vacant - and similar shortages exist across the country.

It would take 125,000 nurses to close this gap, and the situation is poised to get worse. Our corps of nurses is aging. In 1980, 26 percent of registered nurses were under age 30; that figure is now below 10 percent.

The shortage of nurses could seriously impact health care in this country. And there are no easy or quick solutions.

But late last month Congress passed the Nurse Reinvestment Act and President Bush quickly signed the bill into law on Aug. 1 ("Bill to encourage training of nurses signed by Bush," Aug. 2).

The bill's purpose is to encourage young people to enter nursing, give experienced nurses more education and training and promote nursing as a career that counts. And one of its prime movers was Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

This bill marks a major step forward in the effort to elevate nursing as a profession, but one crucial ingredient is missing: money. That requires a separate appropriations bill.

Congressional leaders must finish the job they started by voting to put dollars - substantial dollars - into the Nurse Reinvestment Act.

That's the best way to show their commitment to filling the nursing vacancies in hospitals, health centers, nursing homes and hospices.

Karen Haller Martha Hill Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, vice president of nursing and dean of the School of Nursing at the Johns Hopkins University.

Suburbs are sapping city's water supply

At 51 years of age, I am a lifelong Baltimore resident and proud of it. I live in Hamilton, next door to the house where I grew up. My sister lives in that house now. My mother lived there also. She passed away in August at 81. She was another lifelong city resident.

I have remained a loyal city resident even though many others (of all races) have sold the city out and fled to the suburbs.

The current water shortages are caused in large part by the boom of construction over the past several decades in those once-pristine areas.

Our reservoirs were not constructed to accommodate the current expanses of overpopulated suburban wastelands with their oceans of blacktop parking lots, which cause valuable rainfall to run off into storm drains and be lost instead of soaking into the earth and replenishing the water table. These valuable reservoirs were constructed for the city.

City police recently threatened me again with a $100 ticket for watering my garden with a hand-held hose.

I do not water my lawn. Lawns are useless. But I have nearly 40 years of work invested in my garden.

I try every year to plant over more lawn and create another beautiful ornamental bed. I have also been a bonsai grower for 30 years. They require water several times a day in this weather. My hands are too weak with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome to carry water buckets anymore.

I don't want to be isolationist, but I am tired of the county dwellers trashing the city while they derive their income here, enjoy the city's amenities and use our water to fill all their swimming pools and wash their stinking cars.

All I want to do is water my garden and not be harassed by the police because some misinformed crank thinks that I am breaking the law.

Robert Griffin


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