Md. fires DSS deputy after she criticizes state officials

Maryland Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe fired Howard County's assistant director of social services seven weeks after she publicly reported that state officials were refusing to fill vacant jobs that Howard County would pay for.

Kathi H. Heslin, 52, of Frederick said state Department of Human Resources personnel officials came to her Columbia office June 30, told her "there is a change in leadership," and gave her 15 minutes to leave.

"I was devastated," said Heslin, who acknowledged that she was in an exempt position and served at the pleasure of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his appointee, McCabe. "I've been with the Department of Human Resources since 1976 and have never done anything but do the best that I could."

The firing left her 18 months' shy of qualifying for her 30-year state pension.

"There was absolutely no reason to let her go," said Melody Higgins, chairwoman of Howard County's social services board. "It's a strong coincidence that after she speaks out, she loses her job."

On May 17, Heslin reported to the board that state officials had refused Howard County permission to fill five vacant clerical positions even though the salaries would be paid for by private and county government funds. The report stated that state officials would not allow the hirings because "the perception of increasing state government is not acceptable."

Heslin's replacement is Larry C. Pinkett, 57, a five-year employee with a sales and marketing background who said he was laid off with 15 other DHR employees in a budget-cutting move last month. He was formerly family investment director of the Office of Work Opportunities.

State planning to widen part of Route 32

Declaring that reducing traffic accidents and easing congestion trumps concerns about suburban sprawl, state transportation officials last week said that they would forge ahead with a long-debated widening of Route 32 through western Howard County.

The state Department of Transportation is seeking an exception to Maryland's Smart Growth law to widen a nine-mile stretch of the heavily traveled highway connecting Carroll County with Annapolis, even though planning officials have acknowledged the project from Interstate 70 to Route 108 is likely to encourage more residential development in a once-rural area that has experienced major growth.

Even though funding for the widening, expected to cost more than $200 million, is in question, Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said that he was seeking approval to proceed from the state Board of Public Works now because he and other transportation officials see it as the only way to make the highway safer and less congested.

The move is likely to be welcomed by many commuters who must endure the bumper-to-bumper crawl during morning and evening rush hours, but it bothers opponents of sprawl who worry that it will further promote more low-density development in western Howard and Carroll counties.

18-month term imposed in drunken-driving fatality

A Glen Burnie man was sentenced Friday to 18 months in jail followed by a year of house arrest for driving drunk into the path of an oncoming car last fall and killing its driver, Lisa Michelle Foster, 23, of Elkridge.

Christopher Michael Rider, 20, expressed remorse for the Oct. 11 crash that killed Foster, telling Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck that he hopes "Lisa Foster's friends and family can forgive me one day."

Dozens of relatives and friends of Foster, a Howard High School graduate, wept during the hearing. The victim's mother, Audrey Foster, said in a voice cracking with sorrow that she barely sleeps at night, and when she does, she replays the fatal crash in her mind and wakes up hoping it was a nightmare.

Rider, whose blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent was more than twice the legal limit, was drinking underage.

According to witnesses, Rider's vehicle repeatedly crossed the double yellow line to pass cars on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and may have topped 80 mph in an area zoned for 30 mph in the northern section of the county, said Assistant State's Attorney Shelly Stickell.

Manck sentenced Rider to 10 years - the maximum for manslaughter - and suspended all but 18 months of it. He added five years of supervised probation, the first of which is to be under house arrest.

He also included 100 hours of community service, in which Rider must speak to groups about drunken driving and substance abuse counseling.

Official is 'embarrassed' at banning of Hlass

The head of the Long Reach Village Board said last week he is "very dismayed and embarrassed" that the village's representative on the Columbia Council has been banned from the neighborhood shopping center after accusations of harassing and threatening employees of the company that manages the center.

Board Chairman William A. Taylor said he will be conferring with the board - which can enact the process to recall a council representative - about David Hlass being banning from the shopping and social hub for a year and will proceed from there.

"I don't know what's going to come out of it," said Taylor, adding that the group could meet within the next few weeks.

Hlass, who had been complaining about Perrine & Wheeler Real Estate Investments' management of Long Reach Village Center, was banned from the center June 7.

The village board has the authority to call for a special meeting in which voters could decide to recall a council representative - which has never been done.

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