The Baltimore Sun

Fire board stipends were money well spent

Annie Linskey's report on the elimination of the stipend long paid to the members of our Board of Fire Commissioners causes me to wonder if this controversy is not a classic example of skewing legislative intent ("Fire board ineligible for stipend," Dec. 22).

Before the 1996 charter amendment that relegated the board to an advisory role, the fire commissioners had what amounted to control over the operations of the Fire Department. But it is difficult for me to believe that if it had really been the intent of the charter amendment to eliminate the stipend, the payment would have continued for another month, let alone 12 years.

For my entire career, the members of the Board of Fire Commissioners have been an integral part of the Fire Department, and I have no reason to believe that it was any different before I was hired in 1974.

And indeed, even after the considerable diminution of their direct authority in 1996, our fire commissioners remain very actively involved in the nearly daily activities of the Fire Department and are a valued source of counsel and support.

We fully appreciate the atmosphere of tight budgets and limited resources in city government. During my career, the Baltimore Fire Department has contracted by more than one-third in both equipment and personnel, and "doing more with less" is the mantra by which we operate.

But the stipend extended to our fire commissioners has been less than a rounding error in the overall Fire Department budget, and as the bargaining agent for the officers of our department, I assure you it has always been money well spent.

Stephan G. Fugate, Baltimore

The writer is president of International Association of Firefighters Local No. 964, the union that represents Baltimore's firefighters.

Police and citizens failed slain woman

The article outlining the final days of Veronica Williams was both touching and heart-wrenching ("No Safe Place," Dec. 14). But what is even more gut-wrenching is the number of individuals who dropped the ball in this case and allowed this woman's life to come to a tragic conclusion.

The problem starts with an inept Baltimore Police Department, whose bumbling led to a murderer being given a free pass, and also involves many of the good denizens of Baltimore, who witnessed a crime but just didn't want to get involved.

I believe each person who failed Ms. Williams during this tragic saga will face countless sleepless nights.

Charles Chambers, Middle River

Tough times require extraordinary kindness

Last month, Veronica Williams, a mother of three small children, was stabbed to death by her husband, only yards away from the courthouse where she had just been granted an order for protection ("No Safe Place," Dec. 14).

The Baltimore Sun has also recently reported an increase in cases of domestic abuse around the region ("Hard times mean more abuse," Dec. 14). And the Family Tree, an organization focused on stopping child abuse in Maryland, has also noticed a sharp increase in families seeking support services.

This is not surprising as there is considerable overlap between domestic violence and child abuse. Most studies show that in 40 percent to 60 percent of families where domestic violence is prevalent, the physical abuse of children also occurs.

Children who witness family violence suffer lasting and profound trauma that affects their ongoing school and social functioning.

As our economy plummets, more jobs are lost and lives unravel, the challenge before all of us will be a tall one. Increasingly, the provider community recognizes the importance of collaborating to best meet the complex needs of families with children. And we are working around the clock with our partners to protect children by strengthening their families.

Yet as their cries for help come in at exponential rates, like-minded service providers, faith institutions and public agencies are struggling to stay on top of the needs in the face of budget cuts and shrinking community resources.

That is why it is more critical than ever for each of us as individuals, organizations and communities to carry this load together, because extraordinary times like these call for extraordinary acts of kindness.

Patricia K. Cronin, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Family Tree.

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