Thursday, August 30, 2007

Teen's Death Ruled A Homicide

The body of a 19-year-old found in a wooded area near Clary's Forest earlier this week has been ruled a homicide. Police say the man, Wasel Ali, had been beaten. His family said he was last seen Aug. 22 leaving the mall. The Sun says he has been in trouble in the past but there is no word on what might have led to the can find details here.

The police department is offering (pdf) a $5,000 reward for information about the death. Tipsters can call 410-313-3200.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SAT Scores Down, Mirroring Nation

The local papers all have stories about a national decline in SAT scores, reflecting a downward trend in the two years since the college entrance test was revised and expanded. WaPo said Maryland's scores fell 13 points overall, and Virginia's dipped five points.

Howard scores dropped a total of six points.

“We are extremely proud of the performance of our students on the SAT,” Superintendent Sydney Cousin said in a statement. “Our average scores are consistently above the average state and national scores. That’s commendable.”

See what else school officials had to say here.

Critical Reading

2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
HCPSS 539 537 559 556 538 537
Maryland 503 500 509 502 499 496
Nation 503 502 518 515 497 494

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CA's Calendar Goes Online

CA and Columbia's villages are finally getting webby with it. They've launched a new online calendar to help residents find out what is going on when in their community. The site includes events sponsored by CA, the villages and other organizations in the area. You can even subscribe by RSS to individual village or subject area calendars.

Now if only they would help us finish our bike trails map.

EPA Orders Fort Meade Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Army to clean up 14 hazardous waste sites at Fort Meade and adjacent property that is part of the Patuxent Research Refuge.

The Sun reported that the sites include "former ammunition dumps, landfills, shooting ranges and buildings where hundreds of drums of fuel and other pollutants were buried on the Army post, prompting fines from Maryland's environmental agency."

"The contaminants - including heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives and arsenic - have been in the ground for decades, and some have seeped into underground water supplies, the EPA said."

A Fort Meade spokeswoman is quoted as saying the base is committed to "environmental stewardship." Others say the EPA's action is unusual, and follows nearly a decade of prodding by the agency.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer Specials At The Mall

We took a virtual trip over to the Mall in Columbia and found some deals on the center's Web site.

Along with discounts on haircuts and 30 percent off Border's books, here's a coupla our faves:

The girl's tweener emporium Club Libby Lu is giving away an autographed High School Musical 2 poster with the purchase of the soundtrack. OK, we're a sucker for that flick.

And coming in September: Free coffee at Chick-fil-a every Monday from 8 to 10:30a! Betcha Starbucks won't match that.

Is Howard Immune To Real Estate Slowdown?

The region's real estate industry, already pinched by a slowdown in residential construction, is bracing for further retrenchment after last week's meltdown in the mortgage market, according to this story in WaPo.

Projects are being shelved and people laid off. Some local governments are projecting that their tax revenues will fall some, too. So far, though, Howard is not one of them.

The Sun reports that "transfer tax collections from July 1 through the first half of August totaled $3.1 million, compared with a forecast of $1.8 million, but the budget year is so young that those figures could be deceptive.

" 'I think it's a little early to be making predictions, but it seems like homes are still selling. They're on the market longer, but they're still selling,' said Gale Benson, assistant Howard County budget administrator, told the newspaper.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Let Em Play

Sign of the times: They canceled a JV football scrimmage today at Oakland Mills because of the threat of "high temperatures" and did the same for a boys soccer game away at Liberty High School because of "wet grounds."

Once it was a rite of passage to slog through the dog days of August, a joy to play on a muddy field. No wonder kids are turning to computers....they can do that 24-7.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Excused Absences

HoCo schools super Sidney Cousins is proposing that students be allowed to leave class once a week to fulfill religious obligations. According to a story in the Flier, school officials have no idea how many kids would take advantage of such a policy. But they have studied the matter and have concluded that it would not have much affect on grades.

"Officials began reviewing the system's policy on religious observances in April 2006, at the same time they weighed a request from county Muslims to allow Muslin students to leave school early on Friday afternoons to attend required prayer, or Jummah, at a mosque," the story says.

The offer would be open to students of any faith who have a "documented religious obligations."

We guess that means attending services for the Church of the Lakefront Party-Hardy don't count.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Watch For Kids

We know, we know, you've heard this all before. School's about to start up again and the police will be out in force making sure people don't pass buses and race on the roads. We figured another reminder never hurts.

From the police department:

Howard County Police to Focus on Speed Enforcement in School Zones

As children prepare to return to school next week, Howard County Police are working to ensure that students, parents and teachers arrive safely. Through a continuing back-to-school program, officers will focus on enforcing speed, seat belt and child safety seat laws in school zones.

The H.A.S.T.E. program (Helping Arriving Students Through Enforcement) was implemented several years ago by the Howard County Police Department to raise awareness about traffic safety in school zones. Targeted patrols will be in place on roadways surrounding elementary, middle and high schools for the first two weeks of the school year.

Officers will use radar and other methods to identify drivers who are speeding in those areas. The police department also will use a speed camera to issue warnings with photos to speeders in school zones.

“We hope that police presence around the schools will send a message to drivers to slow down,” said Police Chief William McMahon. “Students throughout the region will be walking and driving to and from school and we want to make sure every one of them arrives safely.”

The speed camera, which will be rotated among county schools, will be used to issue non-punitive warnings, with no fines or points attached. The effort is intended to educate motorists and raise awareness about traveling at high speeds.

In addition to keeping pedestrians from harm, police will work to keep those in vehicles safe as well. As parents and high-school students drive to school, officers will check for seat belt and child safety seat use to ensure that all children, teenagers and adults are properly restrained.

Police also are reminding drivers that they are required to stop for school buses with red lights flashing. Officers in covert vehicles will follow school buses to watch for drivers who fail to stop. The fine for this violation is $570.

Officers will focus not only on the roads around the schools, but will be working inside the schools as well. Police are again conducting mandatory traffic safety seminars for students applying for school parking permits, and their parents. The police department will continue to conduct traffic safety education and enforcement efforts throughout the school year.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A First For The Police

Here's one of those pieces of news that you'd thought would have happened by now...The Sun reports that the county police chief has promoted the first African-American to the post of major, the department's second-highest rank.

"Maj. Kevin Burnett, 47, formerly the commander of the county's Southern District, will oversee administration, which includes human resources, budget, training and forensic departments, among others," the newspaper said.

Burnett, of Randallstown, has been an assistant football coach at Long Reach High School for 11 years.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Filene's Basement Coming In September

We first noticed the sign off Thunder Hill Road near Route 175...the folks at Filene's Basement are taking applications for new hires. A quick trip over to the retailer's Web site told us what we wanted to know: the discounter is opening a store Sept. 19 at 9031 Snowden Square Drive, over by the BJs.

Here's an excerpt from the company's history:

"Filene's Basement was founded in Boston in 1908 by Edward A. Filene as a way to sell off excess merchandise from his father's department store upstairs. Before long, other retailers and manufacturers were bringing their unsold goods to him to sell, and the concept of the "off price" store was born.

"Filene developed a revolutionary way to price merchandise called the “Automatic Mark Down System.” The price tag on each item was marked with the date it hit the selling floor. The longer an item remained unsold, the more the price would automatically be reduced, first 25%, then 50% and finally 75%. What was not sold was given to charity.

"Anecdotes abound describing the lengths to which a Basement shopper will go to snag a bargain: tug-of-war contests over coveted items, women changing in the aisles (even after fitting rooms were installed), shoppers trying to hide an item under other merchandise, hoping it will still be there when it hits its next markdown date (by the way, that never works).

Monday, August 20, 2007

200 Get Relief From Property Tax Bills

More may qualify for the tax relief grants, which are set aside for senior citizens, according to the Sun. The program replaces a more generous tax break program the county once had in place. The new one is likely to cost the county much less than the $1.5 million first thought, the newspaper said.

The lower cost might have something to do with the fact that backers say the new process for applying for the breaks is too complicated.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Smile! You've Been Caught Speeding

Former HoCo exec and police chief Jim Robey is leading the charge to bring more cameras into our lives. The now state senator wants to give the county authority to install cameras on roads to catch speeders.

According to the Sun, the move follows several horrific accidents in the county.

Current county exec Ulman supports the idea.

The story quotes delegate Guy Guzzone saying everyone speeds and that raises some interesting public safety the only issue here? Is this an easy revenue grab? How would the county define speeding, 1 mph too fast, 10?

Send us your thoughts.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sneakin' Water

Howard County has cited 828 people for violating the ban on weekend water use, according to a story in the Examiner. None of them have been fined but one resident, who was caught four times using a sprinkler, was close to having his water shut off.

"He saw the light," Jeff Mozal, operations manager in the Bureau of Utilities told the newspaper.

The county imposed to ban to ease the pressure on the water system as it repairs a big water main. The restrictions are supposed to end soon.

No doubt just in time for the start of hurricane season and the end of our drought.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nine Schools Miss Reading, Math Goals

Nine Howard County middle and elementary schools failed to meet federal targets for reading and math, and two -- Oakland Mills and Murray Hill middles--- came up short for the second year in a row, triggering new remedial efforts.

WaPo offers a quick primer on the consequences for missing the mark (schools that fall short two years running require intervention that could ultimately lead to replacing school staff, changing curriculum and even extending the school day or year).

Overall, more than one in seven elementary and middle schools in Maryland are on the list of school deemed in need of improvement, "despite steadily rising proficiency on the Maryland School Assessment, the test used by the state to measure academic progress," the newspaper said.

"One reason, educators said, is that schools must score a bit higher each year to make 'adequate progress' and stay off the remedial list."

Oakland Mills principal Cindy Dillon told the Examiner her school fell short last year in math, but this year missed different goals for individual groups of students---blacks in reading and scores for special ed students and those who qualify for free and reduced price lunches.

"We're trying to hit a moving target," she told the paper.

The Sun reported that more than 85 percent of Asian-American and white students at Oakland Mills passed the tests, but only 55 percent of African-American students passed, too few to meet the standard.

The other seven school put on notice include:

Bollman Bridge Elementary
Phelps Luck Elementary
Rockburn Elementary
Bonnie Branch Middle
Dunloggin Middle
Harpers Choice Middle
Wilde Lake Middle.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pigs Don't Sweat....

.....but humans do, and organizers at this year's HoCo fair are blaming the blistering heat for a drop in attendance this year, according to the Sun.

"The eight-day event, which ended Saturday, drew 10,000 to 20,000 fewer visitors than last year's estimated attendance of 100,000," organizers told the newspaper.

Was it the heat, or were we just fair-ed out this year after all the Columbia celebrating?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

County Exec Expects To Pay Small IRS Fine

Ulman tells Sun he failed to report paying his 62-year-old housekeeper $4,600 in 2006. The revelation comes to light after a reporter questioned whether the housekeeper was in this country legally; she was not and Ulman said he has dismissed her.

The county exec said he was unaware of her status. She apparently had been in the country for 15 years or so, according to the newspaper. Ulman said he even attended a graduation for her daughter.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Planning Updates Sent Automatically

We received several e-mails while we were away alerting us to the service (you'll need an RSS reader):

"Effective immediately, residents or anyone with access to the web can subscribe to the service and receive updates on Howard County planning issues and events.

"To subscribe, users simply sign up at the Department of Planning & Zoning’s web page at and click on the RSS icon to view or subscribe to the news feed. Once subscribed, customers will receive automatic updates through their web browser when information or news is uploaded to the DPZ web site. Customers can then click on any headline in the RSS feed to be instantly linked to full content of DPZ news."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Construction Boom For New And Old

From the Sun, we learn that a Florida developer has begun work on the controversial 23-story condo in downtown Columbia. When completed, the story says, the Plaza Residences will be the tallest building in Howard County at 275 feet.

Meanwhile, renovation work is proceeding along at the old Blandair Mansion in east Columbia. The $1.6 million restoration project is "the first phase of a $14 million project to convert the overgrown farm into a park."

Larry Carson writes that the county plans to hire a consultant by Labor Day to lead "another round of public meetings this fall to complete plans for the parkland. Although some people want the entire 300 acres preserved in a natural state, plans include athletic fields on the land south of Route 175, with paths and facilities on the north side."

The county's park and rec director hopes to eventually see a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the state roadway.

The park's development could be done by 2012 if funding is provided.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Health Violations Close Asian Market

The popular Lotte Plaza supermarket on Route 40 has been shut down until it can correct numerous health code violations, including cleaning up a rodent infestation and fixing broken freezers.

"I personally inspected it today. It's not good," Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county health commissioner, told WaPo. "It is one of two or three of the poorest examples of supermarket hygiene I've seen in 15 years." Beilenson is a former Baltimore health commissioner.

The Sun says the shut down surprised customers, some of whom called the county executive's office asking when the store would reopen.

Trudy Hyde, Howard's food protection program manager, told WaPo she had been in contact with Lotte's president, Sung Kil Lee, since April about correcting problems discovered as a result of consumer complaints and inspections. Hyde said she worked with Korean interpreters and Lotte's vice president, Daniel Kim, recently to make sure store officials understood the code issues.

A woman who answered the telephone at Kim's office told the paper he was traveling and unavailable for comment.

The Sun said the county fined the store $150 in May for violations and again in June.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hail The Mosquitofish

We don't know about you, but suddenly our walks with the dog leave us scratching our ankles and wishing we had dosed ourselves with some insect repellent. The mosquitoes are back! Today comes word from WaPo that some jurisdictions are fighting the scourge with mosquitofish. Gambusia affinis holbrooki are native to our area, though many of the local streams struggle to sustain the population, according to this 2001 survey (pdf). Here's a link to a state fact sheet.

Warning: The invasive species can have a "negative affect" on other smaller fish (we think that means they eat them).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

FIRN Gets New Exec Director

Former River Hill village board member Jennifer L. Blake takes over tomorrow as the new executive director of FIRN Inc., the Columbia-based nonprofit devoted to helping the foreign born, according to the Sun.

Blake, 53, is a self-employed community development consultant.

"The change comes as the number of foreign-born residents in Howard County is growing," the paper reports. "During the first half of the decade, the county's Hispanic population rose 33 percent and its Asian population rose 42 percent."

FIRN aims to serve the foreign born by providing interpreters, running an immigration clinic, an employment program and providing literacy tutoring. The group also makes office space available to Hispanic and Korean groups, to try to bring different ethnic groups closer together.

Blake told the paper she is learning Spanish, and speaks limited French and Urdu, the language of Pakistan, her husband Mohammad Saleem's native tongue.