County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants some company with his Danishand coffee.
Ecker said this week he will begin having biweekly breakfast meetings with randomly selected employees next month in an attempt to end the "isolation" he feels in his third-floor office.
"People told me they were tired of finding out what was happening(in county government) by reading the newspapers," Ecker said. "Thisis an attempt to cure that situation. These will be no-holds-barred sessions in which employees can tell me anything or ask me anything they want."
Ecker said he has asked the personnel department to randomly select 12 of the county's 1,600 employees every two weeks and invite them to have "coffee and buns" with him in his office.
The idea is that selected employees would discuss concerns with people in their department prior to the European-style breakfasts and report back afterward, Ecker said.
Although the invitation was for 8 a.m., Ecker said the county would not be paying overtime or giving compensatory leave to employees attending the hour-long breakfasts.
"We'llchange the time to 8:30" -- the time most employees report for work,Ecker said.
DON'T DISTURB THE WEEVILS
The little plot along Route32 near West Friendship flashes by in a blur to morning commuters hellbent for I-70 or Clarksville. At most, the eye might catch the cluster of yellow plastic flags.
You have to slow down to see the sign: "Biological Control of Thistles. Do Not Disturb, Spray or Mow. Maryland State Department of Agriculture."
What's going on there, and at sites near Hagerstown, Keedysville, Cheltenham and Wye Island, is that specially selected insects are munching out on thistles.
Thistle is classified by the State Department of Agriculture as a noxiousweed, which means landowners have to do something to keep it from going to seed and spreading -- mow, apply pesticides or feed it to something that regards thistle as ambrosia on the tongue.
The Agriculture Department is trying to help. "We're trying to offer alternativesto pesticides and mowing," says Stephen C. Malan, an entomologist who supervises the department's integrated pest management program.
Two weevils whose larvae love thistle and an Italian fly whose maggots eat the weed are being tested on the plots around the state. Which raises the question, what if the insects polish off an appetizer of thistle and move onto adjacent croplands for an entree of corn or alfalfa?
They won't, Malan says. "If you put them in a lab with only corn and soybeans, they would starve. These are very specific eaters. They will die rather than switch hosts."
Well, what if the adult flies leave the thistle patch in search of humans or horses?
Again,Malan says they won't. "It's a flower fly. It's not a housefly or a manure fly. It's just a little guy that buzzes around like a bee and feeds on a little nectar."
Once the insects have proven themselveson the state-owned thistles, the Agriculture Department provides theweed eaters free to crop growers who apply through county extension service agents. The state plots are also used as nurseries to get colonies established and thriving.
So far, a weevil that feeds on thehead of the knotting thistle has been most successful, Malan says. Colonies of these weevils are living and dining happily throughout thestate. The fly is in its second year of trial, but the state's pest management specialists like to see at least three years of data before they decide whether a selected insect is eating enough to keep the weeds from spreading.
The plot along Route 32 is a good spot, Malan says. Plenty of thistle grows among the crown vetch. The land is state-owned, so the experimenters don't have to worry about a property owner mowing off the food source. And the flies and weevils don't seem to mind the swish of passing cars.