The Year's Ends, And Beginnings

COMMENT

January 09, 1994|By MIKE BURNS

"What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

"The end is where we start from."

That Janus-like view of the New Year and the human compulsion to mark time, to establish finite boundaries for our seamless doings, is from a poem by T. S. Eliot, a writer best remembered today as the inspiration for the Broadway musical "Cats." Which is itself a reflection on the conjoined beginnings and endings of human endeavor.

The year 1993 in Harford was a confirmation of that continuum, a time span ended and yet begun anew.

The blizzard of '93 last March, which dumped 16 inches of snow and immobilized us for days, has been supplanted in memory by this latest series of snowstorms over the past two weeks that threatens to overshadow it in terms of human impact. Could that mean that the Susquehanna River will once again reach flood stage at Conowingo Dam in the spring, with the release of an even greater snowpack? Last April, the river was at its highest level in 15 years and we thought that would not be repeated for some time. It's a another reminder of human fallibility in forecasting the cycle of nature.

There were some temporal ends in Harford last year, people who made a difference in our lives who are no longer with us in 1994. Billy James, Charles Nealy, R. Madison Mitchell, Curtis Kroh, to name a few. Their contributions and personalities were distinct: an honored political power of statewide achievement; a civil rights leader who integrated the county school system and the school board; a woodcarver who elevated waterfowl decoys to an art form, and a nurseryman who made an urbanizing county a little prettier and greener.

Each of us has a longer, more personal list with which to remember 1993 and to inspire us to better beginnings in 1994.

New monuments in 1993 marked ends and beginnings. Havre de Grace opened a new city hall, with more space and less taste than the decidedly outmoded old one, whose new beginning is still to be decided. Kilgore Falls at Falling Branch was preserved for public use by a determined group of high school kids who raised the money for the state to complete the purchase of this glorious natural monument. Upper Chesapeake Health Systems, operator of the county's two general hospitals, announced plans for a new facility near Bel Air, but the location and the timetable remain uncertain.

Environmental programs marked milestones, even as they advanced with new beginnings. The first year of countywide recycling proved successful, with blue bags blossoming along the curbs. The first farms for protection under the county agricultural land preservation law were selected, easements purchased with a real estate transfer tax that went into effect in July. Aberdeen Proving Ground's depository of toxics and explosives from seven decades of military testing was detailed for closer public scrutiny. The state fined APG $5,000 for violations under a new law removing federal facility immunity; it foreshadowed heavier state and federal fines imposed last week.

Harford's library system installed a computerized checkout system, but it cut hours at various branches, which showed up in markedly reduced usage by residents. The library administration was blocked by county government in two objectives: to close the rural Highlands branch and to get county OK to plan and build a new central library outside Bel Air.

The school board tried something new, opening before Labor Day for the first time in memory. But parents and 4-H Club participants in the State Fair complained, and 800 Fallston Middle School students sat out the first two weeks anyhow because their new school wasn't finished on time.

They were better off than youngsters slated to attend the new Church Creek Elementary School, whose contractor got a year's deadline extension and then went belly up anyway. The board promised to revamp its school construction planning protocol, as enrollment climbed near record levels.

Crime was also on the rise (although no murders occurred in 1993) and the sheriff announced plans to double the size of the county detention center. But the county executive decided that her office should take over the jail, and the county police functions, from the sheriff. The jail remains in the sheriff's hands, but voters will decide this November on which office will control the county police force. Meantime, the mysterious death of a detention center inmate nearly two years ago, which prompted the jail takeover move, remains unresolved.

Conduct of the police agency was also the focus of debate in Aberdeen, the latest point of contention between the mayor and city council for control of municipal government. A state prosecutor found misconduct by the police chief with money and parking tickets, but no charges were filed and he remains in office because of the mayor-council stalemate. Things got so bad that the city considered eliminating the department, and turning law enforcement over to the Harford sheriff's office. With a charter review commission, Aberdeen hopes to put an end to the embarrassing deadlock by adopting essentially a new charter this year.

Beginning or end, the start of 1994 gives us fresh promise of change. As the poet Horace counseled 2,000 years ago, "Not to hope for things to last forever, that is what the year teaches."

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

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