Howard Week

August 01, 2004

Grade-change policies, procedures being reviewed, clarified

In the wake of two separate investigations into allegations of grade-tampering at Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools, Howard County school officials are reviewing and clarifying policies and procedures that govern grade changes, student plagiarism and academic eligibility for sports activities.

Central office administrators are also developing guidelines and training material to improve communication between parents and teachers, in particular, for conferences involving parents who are public officials or school employees.

These administrative issues were highlighted in the past year by two high-profile investigations into grade-tampering and other appeals that were unknown to the public because of privacy laws, school board members say.

Leghold trap ban OK'd, but its legality questioned

The Howard County Council began its annual summer recess after approving one bill deemed illegal by county and state lawyers, and another that fails to achieve its sponsor's stated goal.

The council, which met last Friday before its monthlong break, also approved a bill placing new zoning restrictions on adult entertainment businesses.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said his purpose in proposing to move a sensitive planning boundary south, from Columbia to the Middle Patuxent River, was to help the Pentecostal Church of God sell its 28-acre property for development.

Moving the line will give landowners in the affected areas access to housing allocations available in Columbia, allowing them to move forward faster with building projects.

But the amended bill approved by the council moves the line to Route 32 - not far enough to affect the church but just far enough to help a 30-acre project of 140 townhouses and a two-story office building proposed by developers Dale Thompson and Donald R. Reuwer off Cedar Lane at Route 32.

The measure alleged to be illegal is a ban on animal leghold traps. It was inserted into a comprehensive rewriting of animal control laws.

Western county Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman tried to amend the ban on leghold traps out of the county law, presenting a letter from Assistant County Attorney Ruth Fahrmeier, which said: "We have concluded that regulation of trapping is pre-empted by state law."

The council's Democrats killed the amendment, 3-2.

Robey wants consultations on social services choice

An angry Howard County Executive James N. Robey said he is tired of being slighted by Ehrlich administration officials and will demand that he be included in deliberations over a new county social services director at a meeting this week with Christopher J. McCabe, state secretary of human resources.

Robey stopped short of demanding the withdrawal of McCabe's unilateral choice of Doris Mason as interim social services director.

Robey, a Democrat, is upset at his treatment in general by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Republican administration.

He said McCabe's failure to consult him in choosing Mason, an assistant director in Howard for the past year, was the last straw - especially because his choice for interim director was ignored by McCabe.

Expansion by 50% sought for Maple Lawn Farms

The developer of Maple Lawn Farms, an already large housing and commercial project in southern Howard County that won approval four years ago after a long battle, is seeking to expand the project by about 50 percent.

The density of homes at Maple Lawn Farms was a highly contentious issue in 2000, when the Zoning Board approved the current plan after 32 long, often late-night hearings.

The proposed changes, which include about 500 additional homes and 685,000 square feet of commercial development, could revive the philosophical dispute over land use - whether a concentration of homes, stores and offices helps or hurts congestion in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Open-meetings board to clarify complaint process

The state Open Meetings Compliance Board will clarify how it handles residents' complaints, including offering a 30-day window to clarify allegations of violations that are vague or incomplete, under an agreement reached with an Ellicott City parent.

The consent order, effective last week, comes nearly a year after Melody Higgins filed a lawsuit against the Howard County Board of Education and the state compliance board after it refused to consider claims she made alleging violations by the school panel.

Although the agreement settles claims against the compliance board, the lawsuit against the school board remains open.

With rival on horizon, CA to improve sports facilities

For the past 37 years, the Columbia Association has dominated the planned community's sport and fitness industry with little competition.

But now it is facing a significant rival in the mega Life Time Fitness and is responding by pouring $823,500 into its sport facilities, which are the cornerstone - and most profitable - of the homeowners association's amenities.

Critics are questioning whether the nonprofit organization should enter the competitive business arena in an attempt to fend off Life Time Fitness, which is to move into Columbia's Gateway Commerce Center next year or in early 2006.

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