Howard Week

May 02, 2004

Police drop charges against 3 teen-agers accused in rape case

Authorities formally dropped all charges Tuesday against three teen-agers they say were falsely accused of raping a 15-year-old girl in a bathroom at Mount Hebron High School.

The dropping of the charges ended a 12-day ordeal for the three Ellicott City teens, who spent six days in jail before being released April 21. Two of them are juveniles, but all were charged as adults because of the seriousness of the accusations.

The teens, their parents and lawyers expressed relief that the legal cloud over the youths has been lifted. But some remained angry about their treatment, suggesting that race had played a role in how quickly authorities filed charges. The girl is white, as are most Mount Hebron students, and the three youths she accused are black.

Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone and Police Chief Wayne Livesay defended their handling of the case, maintaining that the race of those involved did not affect the investigation.

The rape allegations initially sowed widespread concern about student safety at the Ellicott City school, before prosecutors announced that the girl had recanted and that they planned to drop all charges.

Two of the boys were notified they would serve, at a minimum, a 10-day suspension. A lawyer for the third boy would not discuss the details of his punishment, but said it was consistent with the other two. It remained unclear what punishment the 15-year-old girl would face.

Schools superintendent offers possible budget cuts

Howard County's interim schools superintendent outlined a list of 77 potential cuts to the school board's proposed operating budget Thursday night in response to the county executive's announcement that he would not provide all of the $345.6 million requested in local funds.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin offered cuts that would slice $12 million from the budget request, which covers the fiscal year beginning in July - $11 million that the county executive is denying and $1 million to account for a state shortfall.

Cousin said he and his staff tried to choose from areas that would have the "least impact on the classroom," but instruction was still hit hard. Nearly 20 teaching positions would be eliminated, along with $2 million worth of textbook replacements, which Cousin suggested deferring for a year.

The move would put the book substitution schedule on a 10-year-cycle, rather than the preferred eight. Staff development would also be trimmed across the board, along with various supplies and hoped-for repair projects.

New Colony homeowners denied ability to sell

After more than a year of bureaucratic wrangling, the Howard County hearing examiner has ruled that more than 100 homes in New Colony Village in Jessup cannot be legally subdivided, despite county legislation passed last year to address their predicament.

The ruling, released Monday, effectively prevents homeowners from gaining ownership of the land on which their houses sit.

Councilman David A. Rakes, a Democrat who sponsored a bill to ease the problem, is planning new legislation. The developers of the nearly 27-acre property are considering filing a motion for reconsideration or appealing the decision.

New Colony was designed as a "traditional residential neighborhood" consisting of more than 200 homes, many with second stories and basements, and other trappings of conventional houses. The community is technically a mobile home park, however. Owners pay monthly rent for the property on which their dwellings were built.

Without title to the land under their homes, owners have been trapped in a legal and financial nightmare, unable to sell their property because few financiers are willing to lend money to new buyers or to refinance loans.

Columbia Council elections may lead to a power shift

When the Columbia Council begins a new one-year term this week, it could signal a shift toward more openness in the governance of the state's largest unincorporated community. But whether the changed balance of power on the 10-member council will lead to cutbacks in recreational or social programs, as some council members fear, remains to be seen.

Before last weekend's election, the council had been roughly evenly split, with five members supporting state legislation to limit the revenue that the Columbia Association can collect from skyrocketing real estate values. The group also had clashed with the association's senior staff members, and four of the five had pushed for more open meetings of the council.

The new majority may mean the council will ask for more accountability from the staff, said Councilwoman Barbara Russell, who represents Oakland Mills.

The former outsiders will get their first chance to flex their muscles Thursday, when the new council - whose members also make up the Columbia Association board - meets for the first time and elects a chair and vice chair. Miles Coffman from Hickory Ridge, who has been chairman the past two years, has said he plans to step aside.

Food vendor fills need, stomachs at courthouse

The sandwiches and salads and hot dogs are a hot commodity. So are the meatball subs and, for that matter, just about anything else at Rich Waxler's Blue Rooster Cafe.

No matter that Waxler's joint is as far from a traditional restaurant as you can get, or that his more aptly described food stand is jammed into a corner of a crowded building - Howard County's old circuit courthouse.

Seven months after he set up shop, business is booming, and county and court officials, who struggled for years to find a vendor who could make a go of the tricky courthouse site, are cheering his good luck.

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