One pet peeve about market: live turtles at seafood counter

This Just In...

April 14, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

I WENT TO Han Ah Reum, the Asian supermarket in Catonsville, Saturday evening - frozen leek dumplings, $2.99 a package, very good - and it was the usual joyous madhouse of shoppers smothered in unusual produce. I like the place a lot, for content as well as atmosphere. It's always an adventure, a shopping cart-glide across the cultural divide. But if I were running the place - you know, vice president for in-store marketing - I might have skipped the live turtles waiting for selection in the glass tank under the seafood counter. They looked like pets, not dinner. (Somehow, I've never felt the same about lobsters.) ... The seafood section also featured a large tub of live baby eels. It reminded me of something out of Fear Factor, as if you could win a prize if you stuck your head in the tub.

Put in his place

A vigilant reader writes: "Dan, you of all people - it's Mount Vernon Place, not Mount Vernon Square. If you don't believe me, walk up there and look at the street signs." Indeed, the street signs always have referred to it as Mount Vernon Place. "Square" seems to have come into usage with the hotel on nearby Cathedral Street, the former Peabody Court, which calls itself the Clarion Hotel at Mount Vernon Square and features a restaurant called George's on Mount Vernon Square. How very New Yorkish.

"Please," our civic-minded reader writes, "don't continue to promulgate that error."

Indeed, and regrettably, this columnist made recent reference to "Mount Vernon Square" in regard to the upcoming Flower Mart.

We looked to see how this had been handled by The Sun over the years. Our archives list 107 articles containing "Mount Vernon Square," but 762 with "Mount Vernon Place.`" Confusingly, the bylines of some staff members appeared over both entries. A quick check of some of the standard references in the Sun library shows a similar preference for "Place" over "Square." And, of course, the grand church sitting at the northeast corner is called Mount Vernon Place United Methodist.

It may be square, but it's a Place, and this columnist has learned his lesson.

Legal separation

If you write or call the city labor commissioner to ask a question - such as: "Why does the city pay a Washington law firm $265,000 to negotiate contracts with city employees when we already have you?" - here's what happens: The city labor commissioner does not respond. Instead, the mayor's press secretary does, and she offers to answer the question for the labor commissioner because, she says, it would be "inappropriate" for the labor commissioner to do so. And then one of the mayor's top aides gets in the act, and he provides all kinds of justification for hiring an outside law firm, then tells you he doesn't want to be quoted by name.

I guess, as a taxpayer in Believeburg, I should appreciate such responsiveness, however indirect. (Used to be you could call a department head in this town and speak to said head.)

For the record, here's the answer to the $265,000 question: The labor commissioner is busy with all sorts of personnel-related stuff, so the city hired the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw to represent the O'Malley administration in complex contract talks with city unions. There are other reasons, too - labor negotiations demand highly specialized counsel; the unions are hiring "big guns" to represent them, and other cities, like Philly, are hiring outside counsel, so why shouldn't Baltimore?

In December, the Board of Estimates approved a $265,000 expenditure for Seyfarth Shaw, buying the argument - more like an admission - that the city just doesn't have the expertise or experience needed to negotiate labor agreements.

Call me old-school, I don't care. I thought we had enough players in place to handle the job.

We have a well-paid labor commissioner and the labor commissioner has a staff, and we have a Law Department and a well-paid city solicitor, and close to 60 lawyers employed by the city.

And yet we have to go to Washington to find help, for cryin' out loud.

You'd think we could at least find a Baltimore lawyer to do the labor commissioner's job.

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