Trust lost in 1996 Innocence and credibility became victims again this year.

December 31, 1996

EVERY REVOLUTION around the sun seems to peel away another layer of innocence. Ideals shatter, expectations vanish into a black hole. Trust and credibility took a beating last year.

Not until 1996 could Columbia residents have imagined that a 15-year-old girl could be raped outside a local library branch while waiting with her younger sister for their parents to pick them up. If there was one place viewed as a safe haven, it was the library. What parent in this suburban town can have the same sense of security in 1997?

Until this year, judges were revered as honored administrators of justice. That high ideal disintegrated with the bitter race for two Circuit Court seats that saw challengers to name-calling and pettiness. This did not change after the campaign ended. When one of the election victors, Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, prepared to take her oath -- the day after Thanksgiving -- she tried to keep secret what should have been a most public ceremony. One circuit judge reported that no one told him about the investiture until it was over.

Politicians always seem to face issues of trust, and this year was no different. County Council members Charles C. Feaga and C. Vernon Gray came under question for appearances of conflict of interest. Even County Executive Charles I. Ecker's credibility suffered when some residents insisted that he slowly backed out of a promise to build an overpass to relieve congestion at a busy intersection.

The police had their problems: Officers allowed massage parlor workers to illegally touch them in a controversial investigation, and a former "police officer of the year" was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in his cruiser.

The most reviling alleged deception came when a North Laurel woman was charged with trashing her own apartment and writing racial epithets on her walls to collect insurance money. Claiming she was a hate-crime victim, the woman received emotional and material support from the public before she was unmasked.

Fortunately, there are times when a neighbor, a teacher, a friend or a stranger performs a heroic act to replace the trust we've lost. In this regard, we are sure to come full circle again next year as we make our next journey around the sun.

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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