Honoring John Hansen HOWARD COUNTY

November 02, 1993

It seems somewhat heartless for the Columbia Council to reject the idea of sponsoring a permanent memorial to the council's former chairman, John M. Hansen, who committed suicide two months ago.

Its biggest mistake, however, may have been in not explaining this recent decision publicly. Rather, the council members somewhat crudely rejected the idea without discussion or a public vote. This, in turn, led to the heart-wrenching spectacle that ensued, with Laura Waters, a friend and neighbor of Mr. Hansen, rushing from the council chambers in tears.

The fact is, the council had not acted as callously as Ms. Waters' reaction suggested.

Shortly after Mr. Hansen's death, the council sponsored a memorial service, attended by nearly 100 people at a Columbia lake. In addition, the village board in Harper's Choice, where Mr. Hansen lived, has set up a fund and dedicated a tree in his memory. The $500 fund is to be divided evenly between the Family Life Center, to establish a men's support group, and to the social service group Grassroots, which offers suicide-prevention counseling.

It is commendable that Ms. Waters took the initiative to request ++ that the council do more, but it would be wrong to say nothing has been done.

It was foolish, however, for Hope Sachwald, the Harper's Choice village representative to the council, to say she "disliked the idea of the council and the Democratic Club working together" on this matter because the council is theoretically non-partisan. That was so much smoke. The old bugaboo about council members being of no particular party is more window dressing than reality.

No less a political body than the County Council boasts two members -- Democrats Paul Farragut and C. Vernon Gray -- who were formerly of the Columbia Council and a village board. Moreover, Mr. Hansen himself was vice president of the Columbia Democratic Club while he sat on the Columbia Council.

Traditionally, though, the Columbia Council has left the business of honoring past members to the village from which they hailed. As tragic as was Mr. Hansen's death, the council should not be viewed in an overly harsh light for holding to past practice.

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