Howard Week

July 11, 2004

No tax revenue would be used to buy Merriweather

Howard County would finance a proposed purchase of Merriweather Post Pavilion with ticket sales and concessions, not tax revenue, county officials said.

Responding to critics who say the proposal would drain county coffers, County Executive James N. Robey said the government could run the amphitheater as it does Timbers at Troy, a county-owned golf course in Elkridge where course revenues are used to pay off revenue bonds.

"This has nothing to do with our current capital budget, or with our operating budget," said Robey, a Democrat. "The taxpayers aren't going to pay for Merriweather. It will be paid for by users, through fees."

The Rouse Co., which owns Merriweather, has not put a price on the pavilion, whose future has been put in doubt because of the company's plans to develop adjacent land. The state's most recent assessment for tax purposes put Merriweather's value at $4.6 million.

Officials consider giving Columbia a main street

Despite efforts to remake Columbia's Town Center into a bustling downtown, it remains a vehicle-driven suburban center that is not particularly convenient for pedestrians.

But Howard County is considering giving Columbia a key component of most downtowns: a main street.

County officials are floating an idea to transform Little Patuxent Parkway and give it a main street atmosphere. The parkway, which loops around The Mall in Columbia and acts as a barrier to attractions on the other side of the thoroughfare, could be converted with on-street parking and pedestrian walkways to link the commercial and residential areas.

Teenage girl wounded in handgun accident

An 18-year-old playing with a handgun he grabbed out of his father's safe accidentally shot and seriously wounded a teenage girl Tuesday afternoon in his Woodbine home.

The girl, Katie L. Weyer, 17, of the 14000 block of Howard Road in Dayton, was in a first-floor bathroom when she was hit in the chest by a bullet from the small-caliber gun fired accidentally by Benjamin M. Allen, said Pfc. Richard Malcolm, a Howard police spokesman.

Allen had taken out the gun to show to the girl and three 18-year-old friends, Malcolm said.

Police were dispatched to the house in the 800 block of Iron Rail Court about 4:30 p.m. in response to a 911 call reporting the shooting, the spokesman said.

Police said Allen appeared to have accidentally discharged the gun while standing in the home's office, where the safe was. The bathroom where the girl was standing is across the hall from the office, police said.

2 GOP council members vote to kill tax amendment

The Howard County Council's two Republicans voted Tuesday to kill their tax-limiting charter amendment after the three majority Democrats amended it with what one GOP member called a "poison pill."

"I'm really frustrated to work so long on something and have it amended so I can't vote for it," western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman said. Proposals to change the county charter require support from four of the five council members to be placed on the November election ballot.

The charter amendment sponsored by Kittleman and fellow Republican Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City would require that a super-majority of four of the five council members pre-approve any request for an income or property tax increase from the county executive, an idea Democrats have opposed.

County Republicans are also backing a petition drive by the Howard County Taxpayers Association that would put the Kittleman-Merdon charter amendment on the ballot if the group can gather 10,000 signatures by mid-August.

Citizenship issue called no reason to void verdict

The post-trial discovery that one of the jurors who convicted a 33-year-old Columbia man of murder last month was not a U.S. citizen should not invalidate the verdict because there is no evidence that the juror's presence denied the defendant a "fair and impartial" trial, a Howard County prosecutor said in court papers.

The juror, a resident alien from Nigeria, has said he never intended to deceive anyone and just "missed" references to citizenship on a juror questionnaire. And some courts across the country have ruled that, barring proof of prejudice, a defendant cannot challenge a juror's qualification to serve after a verdict has been returned, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy wrote in court papers filed last Friday.

Under Maryland law, a juror must be "constitutionally qualified to vote," and citizenship is a requirement of voter registration.

"The Supreme Court has long recognized that there are no perfect trials," Murphy wrote. The defense contends that Marcus D. Owens should be granted a new trial because he was convicted by an illegal jury.

Cross incident spurs hate-crime investigation

Howard County police are investigating a possible hate crime after the shape of a cross was formed into the front lawn of a top education official who was recently cleared of allegations that she abused her power by seeking preferential treatment for her daughter.

At a news conference at police headquarters Thursday, Howard police and the county chapter of the NAACP denounced the vandalism at the Ellicott City home of Kimberly Statham. Police offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment.

Statham's husband, Michael V. Statham, discovered the vandalism Wednesday afternoon and called police.

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