Nomination of Cook tabled; council plans to meet with her

Barbara M. Cook has been Howard County government's top lawyer for so long, her reappointment to new four-year terms has become routine - except for this year.

The County Council tabled her nomination when it came up for a vote at a legislative meeting Feb. 4, and the members want to have a closed-door meeting with her before the vote.

The reason is not clear, though a group of Elkridge residents complained bitterly during last year's election campaign that they felt Cook's office was not helpful to them in a controversial zoning case.

There have been some private rumbles of discontent among council members since that incident, sources close to the council said.

Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone said the members "were expressing our responsibility over a very important position."

But he refused to elaborate on what he said is a personnel matter.

Advocacy group seeking to aid Hispanic community

A group of Howard Hispanic leaders hope a new nonprofit organization they are creating can serve as an advocate for growing numbers of low-income Hispanic immigrants to the county.

The organization, Alianza de la Comunidad ("Community Alliance"), hopes to "increase the living standard of the Hispanic community in Howard County," said Viviana Simon, co-chairwoman of Alianza's steering committee.

The group recently received a $10,000 grant from Horizon Foundation, a Howard nonprofit that supports health care issues.

The money will be used to develop the organization and to identify the needs of Hispanics in Howard.

Schools lead the parade of capital funding requests

The funding requests are much higher, but the supply of money is lower for Howard County's annual list of proposed capital projects - the subject of a Planning Board public hearing Monday night in the George Howard Building. The requests for the budget year that begins July 1 total $203.4 million, compared with this year's approved budget of $106.3 million.

County schools represent the largest single category, with a request of $87 million, followed by Howard Community College, which is asking for $25.2 million. Money to help build a new, 12th high school, three new elementary schools and a new performance arts building at the college lead the list, along with $19 million for road construction.

But county officials are expecting less state school construction money, and the cash surpluses spent on capital projects a few years ago are gone, too.

Man admits vandalizing an unfinished school

An Ellicott City man confessed in court Monday to driving a stolen bulldozer through an unfinished school last year and apologized, saying he was "highly intoxicated" at the time.

James A. McCormack, 20, of the 8200 block of Tall Trees Court was arrested and charged Thursday with causing more than $100,000 in damage at Bellows Spring Elementary School, in the 3100 block of Old Stockbridge Drive, on Dec. 29.

McCormack also was charged with a separate set of sex counts, including perverted practice, child pornography and second-degree assault involving a 17-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy. McCormack was being held in lieu of $150,000 bond at the Howard County Detention Center.

3 senators reject Robey's transfer tax proposal

Money for schools normally comes first in wealthy Howard County, but a county plan to raise $215 million for school construction was effectively killed Wednesday by the county's three state senators.

The decision is the first rejection of a major Howard school funding effort in recent memory and heightens a funding crisis for the county's top-rated, but crowded school system, which uses 107 portable classrooms. The school system is asking for $200 million in new capital projects over the next two years - including money for three new elementary schools and a new high school.

County Executive James N. Robey has said he will be hard-pressed for money next budget year after escaping a projected $18 million deficit last year.

No redistricting exceptions, school board decides

The Howard County Board of Education dashed the last hopes of some families Thursday night when it voted against allowing redistricted fourth- and seventh-graders to open-enroll at their current schools in August for their final elementary or middle school years.

"We have to set the rules and then stick to the rules," said board member James P. O'Donnell. "We don't have the capacity in our schools where we can make exceptions like that."

The board also adopted a calendar for next school year during its meeting and directed the formation of a committee to study teacher workloads.

Wal-Mart to open store in Dobbin Center

Retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will open a store in a former Kmart in Columbia's Dobbin Center, a move that real estate observers say will help revitalize the aging center.

The announcement comes almost a year after Kmart Corp. announced that it was closing the 108,000-square-foot store along Little Patuxent Parkway as part of a major downsizing.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart, which has no outlet in Columbia, said the store will provide about 200 jobs. Observers say it also will draw more shoppers and other retailers.

Renovations are expected to begin soon, and the Wal-Mart could open early next year, Keith Morris, a community affairs director for Wal-Mart, said Thursday.

The company is planning to spend $2.5 million to $3 million.

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