School board hires ombudsman, votes to replace elementary

The Howard County Board of Education hired an ombudsman after a three-month search and voted to build a replacement school for the crowded Bushy Park Elementary in Glenwood.

At Thursday's first school board meeting of the new year, Courtney Watson, the chairman, introduced Robin Shell, who will begin fielding questions and complaints as the school system's ombudsman Feb. 7.

As a part-time employee of the school board, Shell, 42, will work three days a week and have an annual salary of $48,000.

"I'm a facilitator, bringing parties together," Shell, an attorney, said in describing her job philosophy.

School board members heard the results of a long-expected study to relieve crowding at Bushy Park, where enrollment this year of 698 children is more than 150 percent of capacity. The study examined renovating and expanding the school or replacing it with a building that would accommodate 788 children.

School administrators recommended to the board construction of a $26.7 million school adjacent to the existing building. Renovating and expanding the existing school would cost $1 million more, and take a year longer to complete, according to the study.

Infrastructure needs bring a warning from Robey

Howard's economy is great and getting better, but County Executive James N. Robey warned last week that beneath the surface, decay is lurking.

Expensive repairs to Howard's infrastructure, including roads, sewers and county-owned buildings, may strain future budgets, Robey told 300 Chamber of Commerce members at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City in his seventh annual State of the County speech.

Robey listed the good news - from having the second-highest median household income in the nation to the state's top-rated school system - and he illustrated each point by having one person stand for each point, holding a huge, bright yellow smiley-face sign.

"I bring a much greater optimism to today's address than I have in a number of years," Robey said.

But unseen infrastructure needs are going unmet, he warned. If left undone, he said, "these systems are doomed to fail, causing further road congestion, environmental concerns," and hurting public services.

Gallion chosen as county's welfare agency director

After a five-month joint state-county search, a veteran Prince George's County social services official has been chosen to direct Howard County's welfare agency.

Charlene R. Gallion, 50, was chosen by Howard County Executive James N. Robey and state human resources director Christopher J. McCabe. The District Heights resident had been deputy director for family investment at the Prince George's social services office since 1996 and is a 27-year veteran of state service.

Gallion said she was thankful and "humbled" by her selection. She is to start Feb. 2.

A combined county-state committee whittled the final eight applicants to two, and Robey said he and McCabe agreed on Gallion.

Robey said he was very impressed with Gallion.

"What struck me was all that she had accomplished in Prince George's County," Robey said. In the final interview, he said, Gallion presented a six-month action plan she would implement if selected.

The state salary for the position is $84,933, and Howard has a $7,713 supplement budgeted for the job, officials said.

Teenage drivers targeted in safety initiative

In the first six months of 2004, no one younger than age 21 died in a traffic accident in Howard County.

The next six months, however, brought a shower of pain to the friends and families of four young people who were killed in car crashes, including a 3-year-old girl who was not strapped into a child safety seat.

The public, particularly in Montgomery County where 13 people younger than age 21 were killed in collisions last year, was riveted on the issues involved - speeding, inexperienced drivers, alcohol or drug intoxication.

Last week, some of Howard County's top officials - including the police chief, the county executive and the schools superintendent - announced a broad initiative to focus on youth driving safety this year. Citing national statistics, police said motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 20.

Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay sketched out details, including plans to buy "two or three" more unmarked vehicles for traffic enforcement, launch an Arrive Alive program in high schools and invite students and parents to witness drunken-driving checkpoints on county roads.

Sailor from Ellicott City survives helicopter crash

A 21-year-old Navy photographer from Ellicott City survived the crash of a helicopter ferrying help for tsunami victims from the USS Abraham Lincoln to the Banda Aceh airport in Indonesia early last week without serious injury.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob J. Kirk, whose photography and compassion for tsunami victims were featured in an article in The Sun on Monday, called his father early Monday after the accident on Sumatra that injured two servicemen.

"He just feels really banged up," John Kirk said.

The U.S. military said 10 people were aboard the Navy Seahawk helicopter when it crashed in a rice paddy near the airport. A military official blamed the crash on a "possible mechanical failure," the Associated Press reported.

One serviceman fractured an ankle in the crash and another dislocated a hip, according to news reports. The other eight suffered "no significant injuries," a military official said.

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