Election season no time to be timid with ideas


July 19, 1998|By Harold Jackson

DRIVING HOME the other evening I spotted three deer -- a young buck and two does -- standing by the road about a half-mile from my house. Accustomed to the sound of car engines, they weren't startled.

As I approached, each briefly looked my way. Then they ambled lazily over a slight incline toward the little stream that flows below some of the back yards in my neighborhood.

The community is hardly rustic. The deer were sighted within a block of a busy gas station. But a considerable amount of wildlife still insists on also calling the area home, more than 30 years after its development.

Is it that these animals have decided Howard County isn't such a bad place to live, even if they have to share it with humans? Or is it that there's no other place for them to go? I didn't get a chance to ask the deer.

Were such a conversation possible, they would probably say the same thing as a lot of us two-legged critters.

No matter where you live, there's going to be some good and some bad. You want to stay where the former outweighs the latter. That's Howard County.

No complacency

Sometimes that doesn't seem to be the case. Especially in an election year, when candidates are pointing out all the wrong things in the county they would correct.

Both the criticism of political challengers and the responses of defensive incumbents have to be put in perspective.

Life here is good, but it could be better. If we are complacent, it won't improve.

That was the most important message in the school budget debate this past spring. It was difficult to get some people excited about putting more money in a department that already gets the bulk of county revenue.

Although the Howard school system is ranked among the best in Maryland, it has problems -- persistent reading difficulties among some students, poor discipline among others -- that will grow worse unless addressed.

That the problems within Howard schools aren't as visible as they are in nearby urban systems doesn't mean they don't exist. The same thing can be said for the county Police Department.

I never thought Howard County had trouble recruiting or keeping police officers. Any shortcoming in pay, I thought, would be offset by getting to work in an environment with few of the dangers of a big city.

But Howard officers say their jobs can be stressful without the same threat of violence.

They say they work harder by responding to calls that police in other jurisdictions might ignore, even complaints from parents arguing with an unruly teen-ager.

Then, too, they're working new 12-hour shifts, which have caused scheduling conflicts leading to a lot of overtime and problems taking vacations.

Of course, extra compensation is a powerful palliative for stress in any job, including mine (that's a hint, boss). Howard County police have been bargaining for a pay increase in exchange for a vacation policy change that would save the county money.

As someone who wants happy police officers who solve crimes, not disgruntled cops who ignore them, I certainly hope the matter can be resolved fairly.

This county deserves better than adequate law enforcement, but there are limits to what it can afford to pay police.

Deep pockets

Affordability is always a concern. But people comparing Howard's relative affluence with Baltimore, which was hit hard by the recession, sometimes forget that. They think the county's pockets are deeper than they are.

Just as bad are people who don't think the county has enough money when it is to pay for projects they don't agree with.

In a multimillion-dollar budget, county officials couldn't come up with a measly $50,000 to open a Legal Aid office this year.

They might have tried harder were they more receptive to the idea of the poor receiving free legal advice and representation.

It's the same with affordable housing. The county isn't going to appreciably increase the number of moderate and low-priced homes until it offers developers more incentives, probably tax breaks, to build them.

There won't be a groundswell of public support for that type of action. Too many people are afraid that having lesser-priced housing nearby will lower their property values. Others are afraid of who would become their neighbors in lower-priced homes.

It would take political courage for a public official in Howard County to propose stronger measures that would prompt more developers to build housing that is affordable to the poor.

I have heard little that indicates any of the incumbents or viable challengers running for office are willing to go that route.

Like the deer around here, they may not like things exactly the way they are, but for survival's sake, they're willing to accept the situation as it is.

But even the most timid deer can be vulnerable during hunting season. And that's exactly what an election is.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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