Howard Week

March 17, 2002

Columbia committee weighs alternate system of governance

The rules for running the town of Columbia are riddled with charming quirks and undemocratic affronts. One man, one vote is mostly a foreign concept. Taxation without representation is a familiar one. Two governing bodies with separate responsibilities preside, yet the same people serve on both. Even they get confused about which hat they need to wear for which function.

For the past 15 months, a committee of residents has tried to come up with a more consistent and understandable system for governing the unincorporated town of 88,000. If there's a quick fix, they haven't found it.

In a 46-page report and 100- plus-page appendix that was unveiled at a Columbia Association board of directors meeting Thursday, the governance structure committee proposes several models for remaking the system - some of them as complicated and undemocratic as the one they are trying to replace.

Police seek man suspected in credit-repair scheme

The smooth-talking man with a mustache convinced Sonia Wilson of Columbia that he was a lawyer who could repair her damaged credit to help her mortgage a dream home. All he needed was a $1,000 down payment, she said. Police believe Wilson is one of many who fell for the real estate scheme in recent months.

Robert Franklin Miller, 48, whom police have identified as the suspected scam artist, isn't a lawyer any more than he is a university dean, world karate champion, health professional or auto dealer - all of which he has claimed to be in years past.

Last month, Howard County police issued an arrest warrant for Miller. Now they are trying to identify those he might have duped in the latest scheme - one in which people are promised that their bad credit will be repaired so they can secure mortgages, police say.

Farmers hope to establish roots at school, library

After years of wandering from parking lot to parking lot, the Howard County Farmer's Market has found two new homes its leaders hope will set the stage for the market to flourish in coming years.

The farmers' market board voted Monday to enter into agreements with the east Columbia branch of the Howard County Library and Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church, each of which will provide a home for the market one day a week.

From mid-May through late November, the market will sell produce on parking lots at the church, on Cedar Fern Court off Cedar Lane, on Tuesdays and at the library Thursdays.

Supporters of senior center, HCC speak at budget hearing

Facing his most difficult budget year by far, Howard County Executive James N. Robey also faced Tuesday night perhaps the smallest group of constituents at any annual budget hearing.

The scene was in sharp contrast to last year's hearing, when public school boosters filled the County Council chambers in Ellicott City with children holding balloons and signs and lobbying for money for a 12th high school.

Roughly half the crowd of 85 people Tuesday night came to defend the $15 million Howard Community College budget request, and members of Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia hired a bus to bring them to press their case to fill two frozen jobs there. None of the 16 people who spoke addressed the $292 million school budget.

County executive vetoes bill to regulate development

With his first veto in 3 1/2 years in office, Howard County Executive James N. Robey rejected Wednesday a bill that would regulate development, saying one provision would have hurt development neophytes who seek churches, beauty parlors and other small or nonprofit projects.

The bill, which the County Council passed by a 3-2 vote last week, dealt with "conditional uses," everything from large, 24-hour convenience stores and 200-foot cell-phone towers to home day care businesses.

One part of the legislation would have required a 12-month wait before approved projects could be changed, unless the alteration requested was not "reasonably foreseeable" in the beginning. Council members want to keep developers from endlessly modifying their plans, obscuring the true scope of projects, but Robey said the requirement could have unintended adverse effects.

Man is accused of taping workers in school bathroom

A former maintenance technician at a special education school in North Laurel was accused Tuesday night of videotaping employees while they used the bathroom, Howard County police reported Wednesday.

Wade Carl Hoffarth, 37, of the 200 block of Beacon Mews Court in Westminster was charged with seven counts of video surveillance. Police believe he made tapes between April and November last year at the Phillips School on Whiskey Bottom Road.

Hoffarth is the second person in Howard County to be charged under a 2 1/2 -year-old Maryland law that prohibits visual surveillance in a private place. The law allows for the existence of a private place, such as a bathroom, in an otherwise public place, such as a school.

Hoffarth surrendered at the Southern District police station about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and was released on personal recognizance.

Parents back plan to move pupils from Pointers Run

The Howard County Board of Education meeting Thursday night was packed with parents from Clarksville's Pointers Run neighborhood who support the district's plan to move about 230 children out of Pointers Run Elementary School next year to free up space in the county's most crowded elementary school.

Parents were prepared to move their children out of Pointers Run, if necessary.

The school - with capacity for 666 and an enrollment of 1,152 - has more pupils than some county high schools.

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