Mussina's not running, but we could use his aim


August 09, 1998|By HAROLD JACKSON

INTO THE TRASH it went. My ticket stub from Tuesday night's Orioles game.

Yeah, the one where Mike Mussina almost made history. He was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Twenty-three batters up, 23 batters down. No hits, no walks, no errors.

As is usually the case at Camden Yards, it was hard to tell if most people were paying attention. I had been on the edge of my seat since the fifth inning, when I began visualizing what was at stake. Not for Mussina, but me.

This was what baseball fans live for. I could already see myself, 20 years hence, letting some snot-nosed kid handle the laminated ticket stub I had saved from my witness of a perfect game.

But it was not to be. Some rookie just brought up from Triple-A, Frank Catalanotto, jumped on the same slider pitch that had baffled his Detroit Tigers mates and lined a double.

Mussina gave up a single in the ninth. He ended up with a respectable two-hit shutout, 4-0. But the possibility of so much more left me unsatisfied. Despite his calm demeanor, Mussina wouldn't be the fierce competitor that he is if he didn't feel the same way inside.

Good approach to life

It's a good approach to life. Always aim for perfection. Even when you don't achieve it -- which is going to be most of the time -- you can do a hell of a job trying.

As we get closer to next month's primary elections, voters are going to have to decide which candidates exhibit that type of character. Who among them has the ability to do a quality job even when they fall short of a goal?

You can also apply the Mussina analogy to Howard County itself.

A lot of people move here looking for perfection. They don't find it, of course. But they could easily be satisfied with what's here.

They shouldn't. The county has to keep striving to make itself better. There are plenty of areas where it needs to improve.

Too much debt

Despite the county's Triple-A bond rating, it can't be satisfied with having the highest per-capita debt in Maryland.

The investment companies in New York believe Howard County has the tax base to handle its $400 million in loans, but reducing that amount is the best insurance to weather another recession.

The huge debt is a result of the county not planning well enough for the growth that has occurred in the 1990s.

The county has had to play catch-up in providing infrastructure, borrowing to pay for items it truly needed. But with most of the large-scale development completed or in the pipeline, it's time to develop a more aggressive debt-reduction plan.

As good as schools are, Howard County can't afford to be satisfied with them. We know they aren't perfect. Some children in our high schools can't read. And not all of them are transfers from another system.

During the past year, a lot of talk has centered on holding local educators more accountable for their product. The school board was cross-examined in budget hearings by a County Council that wasn't satisfied that the county is getting the most bang for its buck.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker again raised the idea of the school board being given taxing authority. He's tired of the county executive and council having to play the heavy at budget time.

Reducing the school board's budget request is fraught with political risk. County Council members had to say "no" not just to board members and parents, but to little, wide-eyed school children who pleaded for just a little more.

Mr. Ecker would prefer to have the school board justify its expenditures directly to the public. If it needs more money, let it propose a tax increase and convince voters that it is doing an efficient job with what it already has.

It might not be necessary to go that far.

During budget hearings, it appeared that the council was unwilling to give the schools more money because the council wasn't sure of how it would be spent.

The elected school board wants to maintain its independence. But it would do well to forge a closer relationship with the %J council.

They should meet more regularly, several times before budget time, so that the council and county executive will know better what the schools need.

Police lured elsewhere

Howard County needs to intensify its efforts toward perfection in some other areas, too.

The Police Department has to resolve salary and benefits issues that have made neighboring counties more attractive places to work.

It's not enough for officers to feel comfortable in the knowledge that their lives aren't as vulnerable as they would be in nearby cities.

The cost of housing in the county prevents many officers from living here. Without the incentive of working where they live, they prefer to work where they will be better paid.

A plan to bring more affordable housing to the county is the pitch to look for from candidates for county executive and the council.

Without it, I don't see how any can come close to a perfect game.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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