Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 29, 2009

Howard's healthful outlook a good start

As a dietitian, I think it's great that Howard County schools are getting students involved in efforts to offer healthier foods ["Students craft their own cafeteria offerings," March 22]. Introducing healthful foods in schools can be challenging, but support from the federal government could help.

Congress is revising the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which could help schools afford healthful foods. Under current legislation, the USDA subsidizes unhealthful foods, like high-fat meat and cheese.

We need to ask Congress to increase commodities of fruits and vegetables and help schools offer more low-fat, low-cholesterol vegetarian foods. These positive changes would promote the health and well-being of all students.

Kathryn Strong

The writer is staff dietitian for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is based in Washington.

Columbia board vote needs full attention

On March 19, the county Planning Board heard the last of the testimony on a zoning regulation amendment concerning the redevelopment of Columbia's Town Center, and a vote was to be taken on whether to recommend approval of another amendment about village center redevelopment. However, the vote was deferred as the hour was late and only three of the five board members were present.

Board members and the planning and zoning director (who serves as secretary to the board) discussed rescheduling the vote, preferably at a time when all five members could be present. An alternative was for the absent members to take part via conference call. However, the legality needed to be checked with the county's Office of Law.

It seems that votes of this magnitude - indeed all votes taken in a public setting by this or any board - require a full complement of the membership to be present. Voice and printed transcriptions of a proceeding are no substitute for on-site observation by the board. It is the obligation of the full board to be present if its members take their positions seriously.

Adequate public notice of meetings is essential, not three days' notice. Shortcuts for expediency often come back to haunt.

Joel H. Broida, Columbia

Turf Valley issue is more than signatures

After hearing both sides in a public hearing, the County Council voted unanimously to support the rezoning to have a larger grocery store in Turf Valley (CB58). This decision was a no-brainer for Turf Valley and the county as it provided a much-needed town center and mitigated traffic outflow from Turf Valley onto already congested U.S. 40.

Those who oppose the developer of Turf Valley gathered signatures for a referendum on CB58 to bring the issue to the people directly on a ballot in 2010.

While I believe in the right of referendum, that is, to call into question a decision made by the elected government by putting that issue up for direct vote by the public, it should be done ethically. So this letter is meant to show how badly this referendum process was conducted and to offer a solution.

Signature gathering began in December 2008, and the first 3,000 signatures were acquired. The signed petition documents showed that 23 of the 26 petition gatherers were members of Union 27 based in Towson, who oppose nonunion grocery stores, but never told petition signers this. They handed out a document misrepresenting the situation, saying, for example, that the zoning change was for the "sole benefit of the developers of Turf Valley," when Turf Valley residents had already testified that this zoning change was to their benefit. Further, many were told that the referendum was about "big-box stores" like Wal-Mart or Wegmans, which is patently untrue. CB58 allows a store the same size as every other supermarket in Howard County.

Two-thirds of signers were not even in the Turf Valley ZIP code (21042). Does a random shopper in Elkridge know enough about what the size of a grocery store in Turf Valley should be to vote against a unanimous decision by county government? No, they were voting against putting in another Wal-Mart.

The Howard County Board of Elections approved enough signatures for the referendum to move forward. However, in late 2008, the Maryland Appeals Court clarified the existing law about petition signature verification that rendered the CB58 petitions invalid. Many of the referendum proponents are upset to the point where multiple lawsuits have been filed (mostly in federal court) and the state legislature has been called on to change the referendum rules retroactively so the CB58 referendum petitions are reinstated. All of this nonsense is being generated on a signature verification issue when the petitions will be thrown out anyway because of the aforementioned misrepresentations made by petition-seekers, both written and oral.

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