SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Young killer belongs in the adult system

Your editorial "Two wrongs" (May 9) does not include important facts that led prosecutors to handle the Devon T. Richardson case in the adult system. Records presented publicly in this murder case reflect that Devon was committed to the Department of Juvenile Services at the time of the murder and was already placed in a community home commitment program offering intensive therapy and intervention because of a prior adjudication.

Records introduced at the transfer hearing indicate that Devon consistently failed to take advantage of these services and rehabilitation. A court medical report suggested that the juvenile justice system had exhausted all possible interventions and treatments and that attempts to use out-of-home placements had proved futile, and therefore adult prosecution was recommended by the professional psychiatric court staff. The message to prosecutors and the court was clear, that there was no additional service, treatment or rehabilitation left to offer Devon in the juvenile justice system.

Devon's plea to second-degree murder is in the interest of justice.

The real issue is what is needed to rehabilitate and punish youthful, violent offenders such as Devon. For many years, I have advocated for a youthful offender facility where treatment and rehabilitation would be provided to violent youthful offenders, but with the proper confinement and punishment needed in the interest of public safety.

Maryland needs a facility to accommodate the growing numbers of violent youthful offenders processed through our courts every year and who straddle our juvenile and criminal justice systems. This facility should separate these violent offenders not only from adults but also from less-violent juveniles.

In a case like this, prosecutors are faced with two options: a short commitment to the Department of Juvenile Services, or an option such as the youthful offender program at the Patuxent Institution, where Devon will have access to treatment, with meaningful incarceration for this tragic crime. The right choice was made.

Patricia C. Jessamy

Baltimore

The writer is state's attorney for Baltimore.

Kudos to St. John's for rankings boycott

Thank you for your article on St. John's College's boycott of the peer-review section of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings ("St. John's boycotts college rankings," May 12).

I particularly enjoyed the quotes from presidents of other colleges in the area. I think that they illustrate well what St. John's President Christopher Nelson may have meant when he said that there is "a real evil" affecting higher education.

St. Mary's College President Jane Margaret O'Brien and Hood College President Ronald Volpe sounded much like politicians afraid of alienating voters, or popularity-hungry schoolchildren refusing to join unless "everybody else is doing it."

I am convinced that most colleges are getting out of the business of human development and into the business of ... maybe just business.

Those other colleges can keep their "intangibles," supposedly measured by the peer-review section of the U.S. News survey. What do you think are the institutional consequences of back-slapping and navel-gazing by these elitist politicos motivated by money and prestige?

Instead of turning to a magazine to tell us how to further develop our minds and human potential, all families ought to be looking to the real substance of the college: the curriculum. The values of an institution are also evident in the way it chooses to spend its money, the way it treats its faculty, staff and students, and the way it uses its influence in the world for good or the alternative.

In my family, we will be looking for a college that believes that the weight of a good education, like the value of a good book or the measure of a human soul, can never be truly quantified.

Corita Stull

Baltimore

Institute a safety tax on monster vehicles

While looking for a small, 40-plus miles per gallon economy vehicle, I quickly ran afoul of the soccer mom's safety threshold: Small economy cars would be crushed in the school pickup line between the monster SUVs.

This is the main conundrum in economizing on our gluttony for gas ("Senate panel OKs fuel economy rise," May 9): Everyone wants bigness for safety at the expense of smallness for economy.

In a future sustainable world, everyone would drive small cars getting 50-plus miles per gallon, or bicycles or scooters. But with today's monster American SUVs, gluttonous drivers tend to buy huge vehicles and thus buy safety at the expense of others.

We need a monster tax on monster vehicles to bring safety and equality into balance and create incentives to move toward smaller, sustainable and safe vehicles.

All vehicles above a certain size should require payment of a $1,000 "monster tax" on the purchase. This tax would go into an equality safety fund. After any collision between a big SUV or truck and a smaller economy car, there would be an automatic $500 payout toward the damage on the smaller car.

Creating disincentives for those who own these massive machines while getting everyone to economize and slow down would be an environmental benefit and a safety benefit for everyone.

Bob Bruninga

Glen Burnie

Working to clean up contaminated sites

The Sun's article "Toxic sites dot city's waterfront" (May 7) leaves the wrong impression of the extent of contamination from chrome residue from the Allied Chemical Co. (the predecessor of Honeywell International Inc.) plants and our remediation work in the city.

A list of Baltimore-area sites that contain chrome ore processing residue - all that we are aware of - was submitted to your reporter, and we count three construction sites, as opposed to "numerous construction projects around the city's waterfront." At two of these sites, chrome residue has been excavated. At the third, the developer has submitted an application for excavation to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

At the Dundalk Marine Terminal, contrary to the article, we are not "negotiating with MDE." For more than a year, we have been implementing a remediation agreement with the Maryland Port Administration and the MDE.

At the Race Street site in South Baltimore, we have signed a consent order with Baltimore and the MDE. The agreement includes timelines that will obligate Honeywell and the city to continue to maintain the site and to develop and implement remedies.

Federal and state laws provide that liability for remediation costs be divided among responsible parties that can include state and local governments. In order to expedite cleanups in some cases, we finance the work and then reach agreement with other responsible parties. This is the approach that we have taken with the Race Street site.

By using sound remediation practices and contemporary science, sites containing chrome residue contamination can once again become vital parts of the community.

David Wickersham

Morristown, N.J.

The writer is Honeywell's director of remediation and evaluation services.

Down payment aid helps poor families

The Sun's article "HUD to seek ban on mortgage 'aid'" (May 9) cites statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that could lead readers to believe that there has been a surge in foreclosures by homeowners who have received gifts from nonprofit organizations that provide down payment assistance. Unfortunately, government studies can have flaws.

These same statistics have been widely used by HUD to downplay the positive impact of nonprofit organizations that provide down payment assistance to low- to moderate-income individuals and families.

But last fall, the George Mason University School of Public Policy conducted an independent analysis of government housing research and strongly suggested that the performance problems of FHA loans involving nonprofit down payment assistance have been overstated by the government.

This analysis concluded that mortgage loans involving down payment assistance from nonprofit organizations do not have significantly higher default rates than mortgage loans involving other sorts of assistance or gifts.

Clearly, families in more precarious financial situations are more likely to have financial difficulties. But other than their lack of savings for a down payment, many of these families are financially qualified and deserve an opportunity to achieve the dream of homeownership.

I'm not saying there are no problems regarding nonprofit organizations that provide down payment assistance. But to eliminate programs involving down payment assistance based on flawed government studies would hurt thousands of potential homebuyers, negatively impact the economy and take away key programs that have helped more than 1 million lower-income families achieve homeownership.

Ann Ashburn

Gaithersburg

The writer is president of AmeriDream Inc., a nonprofit group that provides down payment assistance to homebuyers.

Communities can learn from dispute

Eric Siegel's article "Reservoir Hill project draws HUD rebuke" (May 5) highlights misunderstandings between the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding the terms under which a development could be pursued.

The critical lesson for communities in this situation is the dire need for organization and for a close working relationship between the city and the community.

In our experience, the request for proposals process allows for community comment during selection of the project. But after that is complete, community involvement is not automatic. And the project in question may change dramatically through the city review and negotiation.

Unless a community is well organized and aggressive, very few of those details seep back out to the public.

Reservoir Hill is a fairly well organized community, and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council is a reasonably sophisticated organization. Yet we have been pretty much in the dark about the changes to and challenges in the Druid Park Lake Drive project.

How much harder is it for residents where community organization is lacking?

Recently, the city has taken some steps toward greater engagement with communities.

The position of deputy commissioner of neighborhood investment was recently created, and the city is establishing a cadre of neighborhood liaisons. Such changes are welcome and may help the situation.

But we need to see the city put in place solid, formal processes that guarantee a close working relationship between the city and the community affected by a project through all stages of planning, and secure the right and ability of the public to comment on plans for the use of public property.

For communities, the message in the Reservoir Hill dispute is simple: Get organized.

Remington Stone John Ruffin Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the board president and the executive director of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council Inc.

Bases in Kurdistan may be best option

Ted Galen Carpenter's argument that permanent U.S. military bases in Kurdistan are "A dangerous idea for redeployment" (Opinion

Commentary, May 15) is flawed for two reasons.

First, he seriously understates the advantages accruing to the United States from such a redeployment strategy. Second, he bases his opposition to the idea on the concerns of the Muslim world, Turkey and Iran, and not on an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of such a plan to American foreign policy interests.

Mr. Carpenter sees the only advantage to a Kurdistan basing strategy as being the removal of U.S. troops from harm's way. However, permanent military bases in Kurdistan would serve as staging areas for engaging terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan; for intervening in internal Iraqi fighting according to our agenda and interests; for deterring Iran from any ill-considered adventurism (nuclear or not); and to strategically remind all in the region of our bedrock commitment to the defense of Israel.

He worries that bases in Kurdistan would damage America's standing in the Arab world. Unfortunately, I don't think our standing in the Arab world can get much worse. Those who hate us would still hate us, but those we can count as allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states) would publicly join the hue and cry but privately recognize the value of an American presence to counter the extremists who threaten their regimes and the value of an American presence to defend their oilfields.

Mr. Carpenter argues that bases in Kurdistan could entangle the U.S. in internal Iraqi power struggles. But we already are entangled. We cannot continue trying to referee a multisided civil war and insurgency. We cannot impose reconciliation of Sunni and Shiite after 1,500 years of hatred. It will not happen. We need to go on offense and pursue our interests: an independent and democratic ally in Kurdistan and the ability to militarily engage whom we want, when we want and how we want.

There is absolutely no good way to get out of Iraq. The only course open to us is to define our interests and to pursue them. It was a gigantic mistake to invade Iraq, but it would be an even greater mistake to just turn tail and run.

Stephen Kiss

Montpelier

Very little secrecy on stem cell panel

A recent column in The Sun complained that the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission (MSCRC) had a "penchant for secrecy" and was not being open enough in its decision-making process regarding funding of stem cell research ("Expose state's stem cell funding to sunlight," Opinion

Commentary, May 15).

The writer, John M. Simpson, representing a nonprofit foundation in California, appears woefully ignorant of the MSCRC's process for recommending awards for funding and of the scientific peer review process in general. His main complaint seems to be that the MSCRC somehow diverted from the usual process of making such decisions, having met in closed session to consider the 85 applications for funding submitted this year.

Scientific merit review panels have been meeting in closed sessions for decades. There are many good reasons that this is a standard practice: For one, it allows panelists to voice their concerns honestly and directly, without having to worry about how their words might be misinterpreted by others. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation run hundreds of such panels each year, and the U.S. is widely recognized as having the best research funding system in the world.

Mr. Simpson writes, "I don't give money to people unless I know who they are, why they want it and what they plan to do with it." Assuming he pays taxes, he's simply wrong about this, because governments do not let taxpayers review each and every expenditure (including the funds that support NIH and NSF).

In fact, the process for funding scientific research through the MSCRC is one of the most open government programs we have. Throughout our first year, as we have developed all aspects of the grant program and the procedures for review and decision-making, all commission meetings have been open to the public. The only closed meetings have been the two meetings at which the detailed proposals were compared. Our requests for proposals are public documents, and all awards will be announced publicly.

Mr. Simpson writes that details of proposed research will be withheld. On the contrary, scientists funded by the commission are expected to share their results as widely as possible, and they will be required to present their results at an annual public symposium.

In fact, the primary purpose of the MSCRC is to support science that will benefit the public by advancing the promising new field of human stem cell research, which we hope will lead to new treatments and cures for a wide range of diseases.

Steven L. Salzberg

College Park

The writer is a computer science professor at the University of Maryland and a member of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission. This letter was signed by eight other members of the commission.

Spanish TV offers chance for learning

I was happy to learn that Spanish-language television will be available on Maryland Public Television, which my family supports ("Spanish public TV an insult to majority," letters, May 10).

I was born in New York City, and a priority of my parents was that I would be bilingual. From the age of 7, I could speak, read and write Spanish.

I have been teaching the Spanish language, mostly at the Community College of Baltimore County, for 13 years.

On hearing that Spanish programs would be available on MPT, I thought of how it would benefit those who come to class to learn this beautiful language.

Last summer, at the Hunt Valley CCBC branch, there were 27 students in my class. Why did they come to class? Some came because of their jobs. Others were grandparents who were helping young ones. Others wished to travel. There are many reasons why they come to learn Spanish. And they are to be commended for this, for this is an international world today.

In my class, I encourage students to travel, to see foreign films such as the award-winning Volver and Pan's Labyrinth, to read books by Spanish authors such as Isabel Allende and Arturo Perez-Reverte, to learn about the customs and the leaders of other countries.

There is more to Spanish than conjugating verbs.

I hope Maryland Public Television will help make all this and more available.

Luz Damron

Baltimore

Bringing BRAC arrivals to Baltimore

While I cheered The Sun's call for Baltimore to aggressively seek to attract new residents from New Jersey and Virginia who will be coming our way as a result of the base realignment and closure process ("A chance to grow," editorial, April 22) and the later editorial that specifically calls for non-incremental improvements to MARC ("Putting traffic on track," April 25), I'm concerned about encouraging a foolish belief that newcomers who choose Baltimore can depend on MARC for transportation.

It's a given that we need more cars in the Interstate 95 corridor in Maryland like we need a bad outbreak of avian flu. But when we moved to Baltimore from the District of Columbia suburbs two years ago as empty nesters looking to downsize, simplify and "Get In On It," to quote the moronic, high-priced city slogan, I foolishly thought I'd have a pleasant commuting experience with a comfortable and affordable train ride each way to and from my job in Washington, courtesy of MARC. Wrong.

MARC is limping and wheezing. Before anybody starts talking about new stations or system expansions, I'd like to see Gov. Martin O'Malley's transportation secretary and the Maryland Transit Administration staff get the present system into some kind of decent operational shape.

The MARC trains are woefully overcrowded, and they regularly break down. Penn Station in Baltimore is crumbling, and there seems to be no hope of getting it repaired.

I love trains and believe that we once had a first-class mode of interurban, even transcontinental, travel by rail.

We let this great technology get ravaged and nearly trashed by tolerating the actions of greedy public officials. They sold us all out just to serve the special interests of the car and oil companies yearning for more highways and more dependence on private vehicles.

The Sun's recent article about the sad experience of our West Baltimore community with the "road to nowhere" ("Revival hope rides on MARC rail stop," April 23) shows the idiocy of our pro-car, pro-highway policies as well as the potential that a West Baltimore stop on a decent, reliable rail system might help heal the west-side communities and return them to health and growth.

I'll be retiring soon, so I can tough it out until then. But there are hundreds of Maryland citizens up and down our rail lines who deserve better from MARC and the MTA.

I hope that Mr. O'Malley, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari and their staffs will give the MTA the resources and political support needed to turn our current "Toonerville Trolley" services into a reliable, better-integrated network of public transportation.

John Bosley

Baltimore

The only aspect of your excellent editorial on development and growth under the U.S. military's base realignment and closure plan ("A chance to grow," April 22) with which I disagree is your suggestion of a "citywide" campaign to attract this development to Baltimore rather than the suburban counties. I believe this should be a statewide campaign.

As you point out, Baltimore can benefit greatly from this influx of thousands into our region. When the city benefits, all of Maryland benefits. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

You mention that competition with the city for this BRAC growth will be stiff. Let's stop for a minute and ask: Why would the counties compete? They are already struggling to keep up with the infrastructure needed for pre-BRAC growth.

Each year during the legislative session, we hear from the counties about their dire needs for budgetary relief for their burgeoning schools and crowded roads. Wisdom would call for the counties to put aside the competitive nature among them and agree to direct this development to the city as much as possible.

I have spoken with Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (head of the sub-Cabinet on BRAC) and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman about this.

I would urge others to do the same.

Elizabeth Bobo

Annapolis

The writer represents Howard County in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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