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SATURDAY MAILBOX

Liquor board will conduct a fair hearing

The Sun's article "Late-night unruliness near club undermines goals for arts district" (Aug. 3) indicated that community residents and business owners have for years complained about Club Choices.

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As Club Choices has no liquor license, the Maryland Board of Liquor License Commissioners' only legally mandated responsibilities in this matter concern adult entertainment -- about which we have received no complaints.

A thorough check of our records also indicates that we have received no complaints concerning Trip's Place, over which we do have regulatory control at least since 1998. The board has no way of ascertaining if complaints were made to other agencies.

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Regarding the article's comments about our executive secretary Nathan C. Irby Jr.'s relationship with the club's owner, Anthony D. Triplin, an inquiry initiated by the commissioners found no activity by Mr. Irby that could be construed as illegal or unethical.

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City has never been presented with any evidence of wrongdoing by the executive secretary and Mr. Irby has the confidence and support of the commissioners.

Hearings concerning violations of the board's rules and regulations are generally scheduled in a timely manner.

Once it is scheduled, the commission will conduct a hearing involving Trip's Place in a fair and impartial manner, giving both parties the opportunity to present their case. A verdict will be rendered after the evidence has been presented and duly considered.

But allegations of special treatment are groundless and without merit.

Leonard R. Skolnik

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the board of Maryland's Board of Liquor License Commissioners. The letter was also signed by two other commissioners.

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Development adds to pressure on bay

I was dismayed to read that the Baltimore County Council agreed to the development of 110 homes on the Holly Neck peninsula ("Bayfront proposal roils quiet community," Aug. 11).

I am simply at a loss anymore to understand the actions of most local governments regarding development. Are they driven by fear of the political clout of developers? Could it be that there is an outdated or misguided belief that development always means economic prosperity?

Certainly, there seems to be no regard for the needs or desires of established communities to retain the character they presently possess. Equally troubling is an apparent inability to look into the future and perceive what environmental problems may be exacerbated by development.

Putting million-dollar homes in a community that has been middle-class and working-class changes the character of that community. Is this really a good thing?

And building yet more homes on the bay's tributaries seems unwise. Reading or listening to the news, one learns that the Chesapeake Bay is being overwhelmed by the effects of increasing population in the watershed.

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And yet development is allowed to proceed. It is, in fact, encouraged. Is this really the best public policy?

Is there no limit to the logic that promotes more development? Are property rights and economic development exempt from natural law? Is the relentless alteration of the landscape really a good thing?

And given a stressed-out Chesapeake Bay, water resources that are finite and overburdened public services, did the Baltimore County Council make a wise decision? I think not.

I pray that someday we, as a community of people, and those we elect to govern will see more value in leaving the land alone rather than always putting a human imprint on it.

Alan Gephardt

Baltimore

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Change habits, diet to curtail runoff

It's no surprise that "dead water" in the bay is surging ("On bay, 'dead water' surges," Aug. 7). It's also no surprise that all six watershed states have not reached the agreed-upon nutrient load reductions. And as long as the population is urged to make only minor lifestyle changes by the states and other relevant authorities (such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation), the problem will continue in its current form.

Watershed residents who are truly concerned about the problem should ask themselves: "What is the major source of my contribution to those nutrient loads and what can I do about it?"

For most people, the answer to that question will be modifying their diet.

The chicken industry, for instance, which The Sun's article mentioned, has a long history of trying to avoid its waste-handling and disposal responsibilities. And the article didn't even mention the impact of the dairy industry, although the most productive dairy county in the country is Lancaster County, Penn., which is on the shores of the Susquehanna River.

Since much of the chicken and dairy products available locally are produced locally, reducing chicken and dairy intake can directly reduce the nutrient loads in bay runoff.

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Replacing those products with foods of low environmental impact, such as vegetables, grains, beans and fruits, is therefore critical to the health of the bay. Otherwise, as long as we continue doing what we've been doing, we'll continue to get what we've gotten.

Mark E. Rifkin

Baltimore

Agribusiness can aid the environment

Recent articles in The Sun have highlighted the state's role in nutrient management issues for the Chesapeake Bay ("Nutrient runoff to be focus of Shore summit," Aug. 4) and the Maryland Department of the Environment's approach to those issues ("6 months after battle, future of Md. environment chief foggy," Aug. 5). But there also are a wealth of federal resources literally just down Interstate 95.

In Beltsville, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) sponsors crop research that could be applied to bay nutrient management. In Washington, the Department of Energy's Office of the Biomass Program sponsors research into alternative uses for agricultural crops.

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These twin federal research efforts offer potential solutions to bay nutrient management.

ARS programs have developed a variety of fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing crops that can be harvested as cash crops or left fallow in a buffer zone that would filter excess nitrogen from bay runoff. The more these fast-growing crops are harvested, the thicker they grow and the more nitrogen they buffer.

Some of these crops can be used as biomass, which the energy department promotes as an alternative energy source, and as a chemical building block that can replace petroleum.

Use of these national resources to protect our most treasured bay resource creates agribusiness opportunities. What a thought -- instead of the excesses of regulation, remove excess nutrient runoff through profitable agribusiness approaches.

Yes, approached in the right way, business can be good for the environment.

Tom Snyder

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Ellicott City

The writer is program manager for the Buy Bio Program at Argonne National Laboratory.

The vote count must be verifiable

The almost-too-late discussion of the computerized, touch-screen voting machine's integrity distresses me ("Voting machine review ordered," Aug. 7 and "Ballot sanctity," editorial, Aug. 8).

I served as field operations director for Ellen R. Sauerbrey's campaigns for governor in both 1994 and 1998. And I think the ability to verify what the voters voted is essential to the integrity of our democratic system.

It has been suggested that the best defense of the computerized voting system is that there has never been a documented case of voter fraud. Of course not -- there is no documentation to prove fraud even if it has occurred.

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Some have said that the voting machines are just like using an ATM machine. But that's not so. When you participate in a transaction at an ATM machine there are two auditors -- you and the bank with which you are dealing.

In short, the question comes down to this: Show me the audit trail.

Until the audit trail is clear and verifiable, the computerized voting machines should be put on hold.

George W. Towle

Lutherville

Candidates deface city neighborhoods

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Every election year, Baltimore is defaced by political candidates.

We are not complaining about legally placed lawn and window signs or bumper stickers. Nor are we even registering a concern about fliers being placed on automobiles and posters and stickers placed on city property.

We are lodging a formal complaint, however, against the large number of candidates, past and present, who affix their campaign literature to vacant and boarded-up houses and properties.

Some of these campaign signs go back two, three, four and five elections ago. These signs are clearly an eyesore in the neighborhoods.

And a significant number of these signs appear in areas that are experiencing a plethora of challenges -- i.e., an abundance of liquor stores, daily street-corner drug sales and distribution, high levels of violence or high rates of teen-age pregnancy and school dropouts.

We must first end the practice of placing signs on boarded-up and vacant houses and properties. Second, we must legislate stiff fines and penalties for candidates cited for such violations.

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The city should also publish a list of individuals or organizations that continue to trash our city and violate its laws in this manner.

Why is it that those faced with the most challenges in life are disregarded and disrespected by the very people -- elected and potential officeholders -- who are supposed to protect, represent, uplift and assist them?

And how can one, in truth, promise citizens that one will help clean up the neighborhood while at the same time trashing it?

Marvin L. 'Doc' Cheatham Sr.

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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Tobacco takes much greater toll

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. should support the efforts of the Smoke Free Baltimore County anti-smoking coalition to ban smoking in county workplaces, including restaurants and bars ("Tougher smoking limits sought," Aug. 6).

When someone lights up in a restaurant or bar, a patron can leave if he or she does not want to breathe the second-hand smoke. However, the options are not so straightforward for restaurant workers, who often inhale secondhand tobacco smoke for 10-12 hours a day in establishments where smoking is permitted.

Mr. Smith's concern that a smoking ban will have a negative economic impact on restaurants is understandable, but it doesn't hold up.

In fact, restaurant owners in cities such as Boston, for example, report that their smoke-free dining rooms have drawn more customers.

The costs of caring for smoking-related diseases is what hurts our economy and every Maryland taxpayer.

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And tobacco use causes one-third of all cancers and is responsible for one in five deaths in the United States.

Our greater concern should be for the health of workers and county residents.

Pamela Brown

Woodlawn

Quality control is real hospital crisis

There is a crisis in the U.S. hospital industry, but it's not caused by trial lawyers or medical insurance carriers ("Doctors, lawyers tangle again," Aug. 7).

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Every year, U.S. hospitals cause more than 360,000 preventable deaths and over 600,000 preventable injuries. It's clear that preventable deaths and injuries in U.S. hospitals occur far too often. They are the eighth-largest cause of deaths in the United States. This is not the patients' fault.

Hospitals administrators can change malpractice insurance rates by having a quality assurance program that is not a paper exercise.

The delivery of quality medical care requires excellent clinicians and hospital administration, comprehensive management of data related to indicators of quality and an effective risk-management program.

Hospital administrators must facilitate quality assurance by providing adequate personnel to provide clinicians with data to verify that internal quality assurance activities are appropriate.

Any decisions that affect the clinicians' ability to deliver quality care must be made noninvested third parties before the conclusions can be accepted.

Until U.S. hospital administrators reform their current paper exercise in the areas of quality control measures, quality monitors and quality assurance programs, "we the people" are going to need trial lawyers to discipline the hospitals and their doctors.

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Dick Johnson

Catonsville

The writer is the founder of the Golden Hour Coalition Inc., a watchdog group for Maryland's emergency medical service system.

Bible doesn't allow us to pick and choose

The Sun has been filled with letters of support for both a gay bishop and gay marriage. And many Christians have jumped on the bandwagon under the banner of "tolerance," love or some other doctrine of acceptance.

Unfortunately, despite all the hoopla lately, the Bible is not the least bit tolerant. It is, in fact, a fairly detailed guide on what is and what is not acceptable. The Bible condemns people who steal, lie, covet, practice other religions, commit adultery, premarital sex, murder (not killing) and etc. etc. Christ Himself said His way was narrow.

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You can reject the Bible, but you must reject it all. God did not allow us to cut and paste. And, yes, that means no shellfish or pork and that slavery is not a sin -- at least not one specifically condemned in the Bible.

Homosexuality is condemned in both the Old and New Testament. The passages are not ambiguous and the condemnation is unequivocal.

You cannot be homosexual or practice homosexuality without sinning against the word of God. Period.

The Bible is politically incorrect these days. It always has been. God was pretty opinionated and left no room for our views. The Bible is not democratic, inclusive or subject to revision. It is what it is. God was not a liberal theologian.

But if you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, you must take the whole enchilada.

We cannot recast God in our image. It works the other way around.

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Kenneth E. Iman

Baltimore

Hoopla over safety shoots an airball

Kudos to Kevin Cowherd for pooh-poohing the proposed banishment of portable basketball hoops in neighborhoods in Sykesville and elsewhere ("Big hoopla over portable hoops is problematic," Aug. 11). While Mr. Cowherd chose a comedic bent, as a parent in all seriousness one has to wonder about the motives of the opponents of these hoops.

When most of us were growing up, there was always a "mean old man" (or lady) who opposed our playing Wiffle ball or some other game in close proximity to his or her property or in the street abutting it.

That person would peek out the window, staring sternly, just waiting for the opportunity for the ball to touch his or her precious lawn or driveway -- and then confiscate it if we didn't retrieve it quickly enough, and yell at us if we beat them to it.

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I would ask those who now oppose these basketball hoops to reflect back upon their childhood and think what a blessing it would have been to have these hoops back then.

The suggestion that opponents of the hoops are worried about the safety of the kids is disingenuous at best. One would think that these hoops were mounted adjacent to Interstate 95 or the autobahn upon hearing their protests -- instead of on cul-de-sacs and lightly traveled neighborhood streets.

One might even argue that these hoops heighten our awareness of the possibility of children at play -- thus providing a safer environment.

The benefits of these hoops far outweigh the negatives

Steve Couzantino

Pasadena

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Tips for teens seeking jobs

I just wanted to add a few other tips to Susan Reimer's column about teen-agers looking for employment ("Skills teens need to learn to get -- and keep -- a job," Aug. 5).

When coming to a business to request an application or to submit an application, teen-agers should be dressed appropriately. They should not be in jeans, with bellies hanging out and wearing flip-flops.

Fill out the application completely and sign in all the appropriate places. On an application that asks for references, be sure to complete that part. Even if the teen-ager has not had a job before, he or she can list a guidance counselor, favorite teacher, scout leader, minister, youth group leader or someone for whom they did babysitting.

This will give an employer a better idea who the applicant is than using their friends' names or a boyfriend's mother.

If their application is accepted, they need to come to work on time and be flexible with their schedules (within the limitations of school and sports of course).

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If they find the job they have accepted doesn't meet their expectations, it is a good idea to give two weeks' notice before quitting and not just abandon the position because that could hurt future employment recommendations.

Elizabeth R. Keys

Millersville

Curing state's budget woes

The Sun reported that, at the recent Board of Public Works meeting during which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s $208 million in budget cuts were approved, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said the governor was "dealt a dirty hand" and blamed the state's fiscal crisis on "reckless overspending" by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly ("$208 million slashed from Md. budget," July 31).

If we were talking about any other Democratic politician in Maryland, I would say I am shocked at Mr. Schaefer's proclivity to blame the Assembly and defend Mr. Ehrlich.

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However, since we are talking about former Gov. Schaefer, who has demonstrated an intense dislike for former Gov. Glendening both during and after the Glendening administration, I am not so much shocked as disappointed in his twisting of the facts to fuel his continued animosity toward Mr. Glendening. But enough is enough.

The notion that the General Assembly and Mr. Glendening were spending like crazy is not accurate. When times were good we did spend money -- on new initiatives such as children's health insurance, Smart Growth, K-12 schooling and higher education. We also wisely invested heavily in one-time, pay-as-you-go capital expenditures and projects.

But the state's general fund budget actually grew less than personal income in three of the last five years. Unfortunately, revenues also grew less than personal income in the last three years because of the recession, leaving the state no choice but to reduce spending.

Yet the General Assembly worked with Mr. Ehrlich this past session to develop a balanced budget while maintaining Maryland's AAA bond rating. And we did not touch $500 million in the Rainy Day Fund.

Keep in mind also that Mr. Glendening and the General Assembly reduced personal income taxes by 10 percent, providing very welcome relief to Maryland taxpayers. However, the tax cut also reduced general fund revenues by about $500 million a year -- and those revenues were not replaced by other sources.

This revenue loss was exacerbated by the recent recession. In fiscal 2002 general fund revenues declined by 4.6 percent from fiscal 2001, and revenues fell another 1 percent in 2003. Two straight years of absolute revenue declines have put a double whammy on the state budget, creating the worst fiscal problem in recent memory.

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But I am tired of hearing a Democrat [Mr. Schaefer] pick on the General Assembly, particularly someone who did no better when he was in charge.

In the 1991-1993 fiscal crisis, when Mr. Schaefer was governor, eight rounds of executive cost containment and legislation resulted in budget cuts of more than $1.6 billion, including layoffs of hundreds of state employees and furloughs of up to a week for tens of thousands of state employees remaining on the payroll.

Education aid for teachers' benefits and student transportation was slashed and other aid to counties and municipalities was reduced 40 percent, while the state's Rainy Day Fund was completely depleted.

Is that the former governor's prescription for the current crisis too?

I am also tired of hearing Mr. Ehrlich say that if the Assembly had passed slots this year, we wouldn't be in this situation. Unless the governor has come up with a way to automatically infuse the state with $600 million from slots to balance the fiscal 2005 budget and another $1.2 billion for the next year, that cannot be true.

Even the most generous slot revenue estimates would not cover the $1.6 billion needed to fully fund K-12 education over the next four years and plug the rest of the state's structural deficit.

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It is time for all of the leaders of Maryland -- from both parties -- to work collaboratively to bring the state budget back into the black. Through a combination of new revenues -- possibly including slots money -- and less spending, we can exercise fiscal responsibility and fulfill our commitment to fully fund the Thornton school funding plan.

Howard P. Rawlings

Annapolis

The writer is chairman of Maryland's House Appropriations Committee.


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