Howard Week

January 18, 2004

Most on CA board support 10% ceiling on assessments

A majority of Columbia Association board members supports Del. Shane E. Pendergrass' efforts to impose a 10 percent ceiling on rising property assessments, preventing homeowners from paying sharply increased annual charges to the homeowners association.

But the board also said at a meeting with Pendergrass on Jan. 11 that it is opposed to making the proposed legislation retroactive to address last year's east Columbia annual charges - many of which increased after property assessments jumped an average of 33.4 percent - because members worried about financial implications.

The board also asked Pendergrass to delay submitting until next year another bill that would allow a majority of voting property owners to change the association's covenants. The requirement now calls for unanimous approval from property owners.

Howard High team wins a spot in national contest

After eight hours of matching wits with teams from across the region Jan. 11, Howard High School's squad earned fourth place and a guaranteed spot in a national scholastic competition this June during an academic showdown at Hammond High School in Columbia.

A Rockville team from Richard Montgomery High School took the top spot, followed by Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and Quince Orchard from Gaithersburg.

No CA budget surplus, official tells public forum

As the Columbia Association board works toward approving budgets for 2005 and 2006, the staff is attempting to dispel the belief that the homeowners association is operating with a budget surplus.

Despite the association being left with $4.5 million after income and expenses for 2005, Rafia Siddiqui, vice president for administrative services, told residents Jan. 8 at a public forum on the proposed budgets that the association still has to borrow money.

"This is not a surplus, this is not a cash flow," Siddiqui told more than 40 residents at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Center.

County schools to launch an eligibility inquiry

Howard County school officials announced Monday that they will launch a sweeping examination of the academic eligibility of high school athletes after an investigation into improper grade-changing at Columbia's Oakland Mills High School uncovered 16 ineligible students participating in activities ranging from varsity football to cheerleading.

The teams with unqualified members will have to forfeit all season wins, and the school's athletic director, Ken Hovet, has been "relieved of his responsibilities," schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said. Disciplinary action against other school staff members is pending Board of Education approval, he added.

Rather than each school policing its athletic programs, school officials said they will review eligibility records at every high school for winter sports and perform random spot checks thereafter. Finances will also be scrutinized.

Ex-schools official accuses O'Rourke of being a bully

Depicting himself as a martyr who lost his job because he stood up to a tyrannical boss, former Howard County school system chief business officer Bruce M. Venter accused Superintendent John R. O'Rourke on Tuesday of being a bully and a badger and trying to thwart Venter's attempts to appeal his September termination.

"As far as I can tell, the superintendent does not want to deal with this thing," Venter said. "What is he afraid of?"

Venter called a news conference at the Bagel Bin in Clarksville because a Board of Education hearing scheduled for last week to determine whether his dismissal is legal was postponed until Feb. 4.

Advocacy group recruiting Spanish-speaking therapists

Concerned that cases of mental illness in Howard County's Hispanic population frequently go untreated because of language barriers, an advocacy group has recruited Spanish-speaking therapists to treat this under served immigrant population.

Members of Alianza de la Communidad - a group dedicated to improving lives in the Hispanic community - won a $10,000 grant from the county's Mental Health Authority to pay for treatment and transportation services, and will begin the program this month.

Since being awarded the grant nearly a year ago, Alianza members searched the county for mental health professionals who speak Spanish. They have recruited six who are interested in working with Alianza, approved three to provide services and will schedule meetings with the others.

Church-based shelter is opening today

After years of sending homeless people elsewhere, Howard County is responding to this month's bitter cold with a cooperatively funded, church-based, 20-bed, cold-weather shelter scheduled to open today in Ellicott City.

"I felt called to be part of the solution," said the Rev. Mary Dennis, pastor of caring and mission at Glen Mar United Methodist Church, where a shelter will be established. Dennis rallied church members to volunteer food, make preparations and provide transportation until Feb. 1, when officials expect another church to take over.

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