Council OKs school board replacement

Housing office change, pay for reservists on staff also approved

Unanimous decisions

$500,000 to complete Head Start building in Columbia gets nod

January 08, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In a flurry of significant, but noncontroversial unanimous decisions last night, the Howard County Council approved a new member of the school board, creation of a Housing and Community Development Department and compensatory pay for county employee-reservists called to active military duty.

Another unanimous vote approved $500,000 to complete a seven-classroom Head Start building scheduled to open in September in Columbia's Owen Brown village.

James P. O'Donnell, 65, a retired business executive, was confirmed to become the only appointed member of the five-person school board. He is to complete the three years remaining on the unexpired term of Laura Waters, who resigned in October. Since his confirmation was by resolution, rather than by bill, O'Donnell's appointment becomes effective immediately.

O'Donnell said he had met individually with each council member. "From that side, I feel very good about it," he said before the vote.

He has been learning about school issues by attending board meetings and getting assistance from individual members and school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke.

"I've been working very hard," O'Donnell said of familiarizing himself with complex education issues. "I'm getting up to speed very quickly."

Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, said she and Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, met for more than an hour with O'Donnell. "It was extremely helpful," she said.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, said O'Donnell's "experience, expertise and knowledge" should serve him well.

His confirmation comes at a critical time for the board, as members prepare to make decisions about high school redistricting and a budget request for next fiscal year as the county struggles with an estimated $18 million deficit in the current year, which ends June 30.

Another bill calls for elevating the county's housing office to the status of a full department, which means Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing administrator, would report directly to the county executive rather than to Raquel Sanudo, the chief administrative officer.

Gray, the principal sponsor of the measure, has said he wanted to raise housing's profile in the county as rising new-home prices make it harder for low- and moderate-income people to live in Howard. Last night, Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, praised Gray's initiative on the issue.

The council also approved a bill to pay county workers who are reservists called to active military duty the difference between their military and civilian pay. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties also have taken steps to compensate affected reservists.

Other legislation was introduced last night that would increase the pay of the county executive and council members who are elected in November. The measure calls for an executive's salary starting at $125,000, up from the $98,500 incumbent James N. Robey reaceives. County Council salaries would start at $35,000, a $1,200 increase, though both executive and council pay would rise slightly each year, based on the Consumer Price Index. The council can lower the proposed pay levels, but it cannot raise them.

The bill represents the recommendations of a seven-member Compensation Review Commission, which noted that nearly 20 appointed Howard County officials earn more than the executive, topped by O'Rourke's $191,000 salary.

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