County Council ends its disagreement over older-schools meetings

All five of the members are to join in sponsoring next session for public

October 26, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Partisan squabbling among County Council Democrats and Republicans over who should be involved in solving problems in older Howard County schools appears to be over.

Republicans Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the western county, and Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City will join the three Democrats in sponsoring the next meeting on schools, at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 in the council chambers.

"I feel like this is the way it should be," Kittleman said yesterday, adding that all council members agree the agenda at the next meeting will address older Columbia schools experiencing image problems. "We may schedule future meetings about other schools."

Said Merdon: "I'm happy to be involved. We need to take a countywide approach to solving problems."

Earlier this month, Merdon had accused the Democrats of "trying to get political mileage out of this." Yesterday, he said he harbors no grudges.

The settlement was reached after several conversations between Kittleman and Democratic Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, who represents Laurel, Savage and parts of east Columbia.

Guzzone and Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray sponsored the first meeting on schools Oct. 18. West Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung and County Executive James N. Robey also participated in the 90-minute session.

Merdon and Kittleman sat in the audience, but they did not speak.

The dispute was "a big misunderstanding" that ballooned out of control, Guzzone said. What began as an idea for a small meeting to discuss problems in older Columbia area schools escalated after publicity that Columbia parents were allowed to transfer their children from Wilde Lake Middle School to new Lime Kiln Middle in Fulton and pay for their busing.

The political bickering became a distraction.

"We talked through all this," Guzzone said. "They asked to participate."

As a result, a letter advising the public about the next meeting will go out signed by all five council members, he said.

Gray and Lorsung agreed that including all council members is the way to go.

"I welcome their participation," Gray said.

"I think it's fine," Lorsung said.

The two Republicans complained bitterly Oct. 4 that council Democrats had forged ahead with plans to discuss school problems with the public without telling them. The criticism became even stronger at the meeting Oct. 18, when 10 speakers were invited to describe problems at schools. The Republicans accused the Democrats of inviting only those who would say what they wanted to hear.

Next time, Guzzone said, anyone who wishes to may speak, however long it takes. A third meeting on schools is tentatively scheduled Nov. 29.

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