Amended veterans bill is approved

But some decry revisions made by Balto. Co. Council to new panel's makeup

October 21, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council reversed course last night and unanimously approved the creation of a county veterans commission in a compromise that veterans decried as an "eviscerated" version of the original bill.

As late as Friday, the idea appeared likely to fail amid criticism by four council members who questioned what purpose the commission would serve since the county has no role in shaping veterans policy.

The 11 amendments passed along with the bill eliminated provisions that had generated opposition, such as a requirement that the council appoint one member each from every major veterans organization in the county and exclude those who don't belong to one.

But the five veterans who signed up to speak after the vote all decried the council's action, saying that allowing commission members who do not belong to veterans organizations will weaken the commission's authority to speak on veterans' behalf. They also said the elimination of a requirement that the commission make an annual report shows the council does not take the body seriously.

"I do not believe the bill you passed will satisfy a majority of veterans in Baltimore County," said Orville Hughes, a veteran who initially petitioned for the commission's creation. "The message from the council is, `Do what you want to do, but we're not really interested.'"

Supporters had hoped the commission would advise the county government, educate residents and students, and serve as a clearinghouse for information for current and former armed forces members.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat and the council's only veteran, said he still believes that the commission will duplicate the efforts of federal and state veterans groups. However, he said the amendment allowing veterans who are not a member of an organization such as the American Legion to serve helped persuade him to vote for the bill.

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat who also opposed the bill before it was amended, said he is not sure what creating a commission will accomplish. If veterans want a greater role in educating children, they should talk to the school board, he said. If they want an umbrella group, they can form one without the county's sanction.

The commission is being created in the middle of the fiscal year, so it has no funding or staff support, he noted. Though the veterans say they are happy to volunteer, Moxley said, they will still need a staff member to handle administrative tasks.

"But the veterans feel it's important to have an organization," Moxley said. "This gives them a beginning. Unfortunately, they don't appear satisfied with a start."

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