Readers react gently, smartly


January 16, 2000|By C. FRASER SMITH

From time to time, the infallibly insightful observer must stand aside for the views of those who are kind enough to read his periodic offerings in these pages.

In some cases, it turns out, he has been imprecise and incomplete. In others, insufferably glib. In still others off-base, wrong or fill in the blank.

Usually, of course, he has been surgically accurate and limpid, an observer of uncommon sagacity -- not to speak of humility.

He is, however, anxious to say that his ideas are presented in the hope that he might illuminate some important aspect of community life, adding dimension, insight, perspective -- even information otherwise unavailable.

Quite so, one might say. What you're there for. Please start.

The point, though, is this: Newspaper columns and editorials are written to inform and to provoke, not idly but to stimulate thought and conversation. When that broader conversation occurs, its participants should get a moment in our limited space.

Hence, here is the first in a periodic presentation of reader views.

First, a grievous omission:

In a recent editorial profile of Howard County's representatives in Annapolis, I omitted two important names: Senators Christopher McCabe, a Republican, and Edward Kasemeyer, a Democrat -- both estimable lawmakers whose contribution to the county's well being should in no way be diminished generally speaking. And certainly they should have been included in the profile.

Next we turn to the county's pending election for school committee.

"You were right," writes Jamie Kendrick (and have been) about many of the challenges facing Howard County Schools, but one of your questions for the voters to ask of the candidates this year was off-base:

"`Do they, or did they earlier, have students in the school system?'

"Having students in the school system is neither a legal imperative nor a qualitative one for those serving on the school board. It is not even a requirement for being in the PTA. In fact, some would argue that not having students in the school system is a good thing for board members. (They might have) limited knowledge of the system, painting with too broad a brush their observations of one school, one teacher or none negative incident."

Mr. Kendrick makes many good observations, raising points not covered in the column. But I did not mean to advance any single question as a litmus test. Some who may wish to serve have only now found time precisely because their children are out of school.

In the search for a balanced, representative board, however, some voters may think the perspective of a consumer -- student or parent -- might be good to have in the mix.

In this regard -- choosing the best candidates -- I am grateful to Courtney Watson for reminding me that candidates might post their bios and other material on the Howard Public Education electronic discussion list. The address is

Turning now to the ever challenging development scene, observations by this writer were addressed in a letter by Dr. Sheila Hume, whose house lies near a major proposed new mixed development community in Fulton. I reported that Dr. Hume dislikes the prospect of eight-story office buildings behind her house -- particularly because, she testified recently, the developer, Stewart Greenebaum, told her they would be four-story structures.

"Mr. Smith went on to state that I wouldn't have been much happier with four-story buildings than the ones that were being proposed. I would in turn ask him if he had to have commercial buildings behind his home, would he opt for a four- or eight-story building.

"But then where does he live - I'm sure not in Fulton."

Dr. Hume is right. I don't live in Fulton so, it is likely that I cannot fully appreciate her unhappiness. I don't think I have to live in any given location, though, to write about a school or a road or a controversy of some sort there. It seemed to me that the proposed development fits the demands of the county planners. Certainly, Dr. Hume and her allies should try to get it amended to more nearly suit their vision of Fulton's future.

(By the way, my backyard opens to a Baltimore elementary school's macadam playground. A bottling plant is right down the street. We've had our complaints, but co-exist fairly well. )

Finally, I suggested in a recent editorial that Councilmen Allan Kittleman and Christopher Merdon were, though Republicans, asking for more regulation of developers around middle schools -- a role reversal for conservatives.

Carol Arscott, pollster and former GOP leader in Howard, wrote via email: "Kittleman and Merdon are behaving as conservatives here -- they are working to `conserve' the lifestyle that we enjoy."

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials for The Sun from Howard County.

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