Howard Week

February 22, 2004

CA representative accused of creating hostile environment

After writing blunt e-mails and making loud outbursts and what were characterized as questionable comments, a Columbia Association board member has been accused of verbally abusing employees of the homeowners association.

The conduct of Phil Marcus, who represents Kings Contrivance, was called into question at a board meeting Feb. 12, when he was accused of contributing to a hostile work environment.

In a quarter-inch-thick memo to the board, Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown outlined the case against Marcus, highlighting 10 instances of his behavior that she deemed in violation of the association's workplace violence-prevention policy, which she wrote has a "zero tolerance policy for any action, statement, or other behavior that is ... violent, threatening, intimidating or harassing."

Marcus told the board that nothing he ever said or wrote was intended to demean, harass or embarrass anyone. "I tend to speak my mind," he said. " ... Sometimes that does, in fact, come off as heated."

CA board opposes bill on altering covenants

The Columbia Association board of directors will not support proposed state legislation that would allow a majority of voting property owners to alter the homeowners association's covenants.

In a 5-4 vote, with one member abstaining, the board decided Feb. 12 to oppose the bill that Del. Shane E. Pendergrass submitted this month. The panel also decided it will pay a lobbyist to monitor the House bill's progress, but not to lobby on the association's behalf.

Pendergrass' HB 567 would allow the association's operating rules to be changed by a referendum brought by at least 10 percent of the property owners. A simple majority would have to participate to make the vote valid, and 33 percent of Columbia's property owners would then have to affirm the change.

Investors apply to start bank for small businesses

Howard County's wealthy population and business climate have enticed investors to launch a bank here.

The organizers of Howard Bank applied last month for a state charter, hoping to serve small businesses as well as their owners and employees.

More than $4 million of $13 million to $17 million worth of capital has been raised through a stock offering that closed Dec. 18, according to the application filed with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Jan. 8. The application stated a second offering opened last month.

Mental health agency deals with cutbacks

When state budget cuts slashed 30 percent of administrative funding from Howard County's Mental Health Authority last summer, Executive Director Donna Wells took steps to save money without affecting services.

She combined two positions, found cheaper office space and eliminated the complimentary sandwiches and sodas at the authority's advisory board meetings. Wells is not expecting the situation to improve soon.

In the meantime, the authority has also scaled back services and made staffing adjustments.

Howard County's Mental Health Authority was created in 1997 to bring more local control to the delivery of mental health services to county residents. Similar organizations serve residents throughout Maryland.

County Council awaits five planning studies

Members of the Howard County Council can expect more summer reading on their agenda, with the results of five community planning studies scheduled for release, starting in May.

The councilmen will address recommendations from the studies for parts of Ellicott City, Columbia and Highland - as well as the county's need for senior housing - as part of comprehensive rezoning legislation they intend to introduce in October. Meeting that time frame is "going to be pretty challenging," said North Laurel-Savage Democrat Guy Guzzone, the council chairman.

"Comp light," as county staff members refer to it, will address these matters and several map changes that were not resolved in time for inclusion in the larger rezoning bill, which council members approved Feb. 2.

Excise tax for construction of schools wins approval

After two years of wrangling, Howard County's state legislators approved an excise tax on new homes Wednesday to raise money for school construction.

The vote makes Howard the second Baltimore suburban county to win local legislative approval for tax increases as state school construction money dries up.

Despite a lopsided 8-2 vote, the tax of $1 per square foot on new homes represents a hard-fought compromise, and county officials were uncertain whether it will provide enough revenue to pay for the high school and three elementary buildings planned during the next four years.

Superintendent agrees to step down this month

Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke will accept a buyout totaling more than $100,000 and step down at the end of the month, ending an awkward stalemate in the state's top-ranked district.

The school board has hired Sydney L. Cousin, who was the No. 2 person in Howard education until his retirement eight months ago, to replace O'Rourke in a school system hit with grade-changing scandals and other controversy in recent months.

Last month, the school board voted not to renew O'Rourke's contract and asked him to leave before it expires June 30, which he has until now refused to do.

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