Holly Hill, LLW foundation seek donations for damaged veterans memorial

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The stone slab in the outer circle directly left/north of the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens was toppled by the March 2 wind storm. A top corner of the slab broke off on impact, meaning the monument could not be repaired. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The massive regional wind storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic states nearly two months ago took down trees, damaged roofs and caused widespread power outages across a 10-state area. But another, less likely victim of the wild weather was unique to eastern Baltimore County.

The “bomb cyclone” that hit the area on March 2 and produced wind gusts up to 70 mph was somehow able to topple one of the nearly 2,400-pound stone monoliths that make up the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River. The weight of the stone even bent the one-inch steel rods inside it which held it stable.

The stone that fell, positioned directly to the left - or north - of the monument’s center, had the Star Spangled Banner engraved into it, along with a well-known quote from John F. Kennedy and the names of more than 140 eastern Baltimore County residents who have honorably served in the U.S. military.

Tony DeRuggerio, president of the monument’s governing foundation, said the base of that piece of the memorial is repairable, but the stone slab itself must be replaced.

“The base is okay, but what happened was the stone cracked on the top and it can’t be repaired,” he said.

DeRuggerio said he has ordered a replacement stone, but the cost for all the work needed on the monument amounts to nearly $13,000.

In addition to the replacement slab, the 144 names must be re-engraved, the cracked sidewalk where the stone hit must be repaired and the monument’s base must be re-leveled, all of which contribute to the cost, DeRuggerio said.

“The base did not get hurt, but it tilted it,” he said. “And apparently the base is not anchored to the concrete.”

He noted, though, that engraving the names will be the most costly aspect of the repair.

Unfortunately, the monument was not insured against “acts of God,” according to DeRuggerio.

“I was under the impression that Holly Hill had insurance on the stone, but not on the names,” he said. “It would always be us that would have to put the names back on if anything happened to the stones.

“But investigating it, we couldn’t find any proof of insurance with Holly Hill,” he said.

The foundation president explained that any insurance coverage provided to them through Holly Hill would only cover damage done by people. For instance, if a maintenance worker somehow hit and damaged the monument with a lawnmower, it would be covered, he said.

While the foundation must cover the cost of the new 2,360-pound granite slab on their own, they have started a GoFundMe page with the hope that the community will help to reimburse them. However, the effort which was started on April 3 had only garnered $330 toward its $20,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Holly Hill manager Dawn Quinlin had personally donated $100 to the effort, but DeRuggerio said Holly Hill had not yet agreed on any contribution.

The fundraising page can be found at gofundme.com by searching for “Veterans Monument Destroyed.” Checks or money orders can also be sent to Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans at 346 Oberle Ave., Essex, MD 21221. All donations are tax deductible.

The plan, according to DeRuggerio, is to have all the names from the fallen stone etched into one of the other stones in the memorial’s outer circle which do not currently have any names on them.

“And when the new stone gets in, we’ll just put it in and take the old one away,” he said.

The new engravings, he said, will be done before Memorial Day.

The Memorial Day service held at the monument is one of its most well-attended events.

However, DeRuggerio said the merchant from which he ordered the new stone may not have it ready for up to six months, meaning they may not have it until October.

In the meantime, the foundation and Holly Hill will return the damaged stone to its upright position and have it on display on Memorial Day.

“We’re hoping to have the whole thing ready before Veterans Day,” he said. read more

Scholars program puts Patapsco High student one step closer to Ivy league dream

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Yara Daraiseh. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

It seems all things really do happen for a reason.

Nearly three weeks ago, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior Yara Daraiseh was in the running to be named the student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education. One of two finalists for the honor, she lost the election held in a student leader forum April 6.

Last week, the aspiring lawyer found out she is one of 100 students selected nationally for the prestigious LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) Scholars program which kicks off with a seven-week residential mentoring session at Princeton University this summer.

“It’s almost a good thing I didn’t get elected because I would have missed the first couple of meetings,” Daraiseh told the East County Times. “And this program is going to be much more important to me in regard to my college plans.”

It has been a lifelong dream of Daraiseh’s to attend an Ivy League school. Natives of Jordan, her parents left lucrative professional careers in their homeland to move to the United States so their only child would have more opportunities for success - specifically, better education choices.

Once an agricultural engineer in Jordan, Omar Daraiseh now works two part-time jobs while attending Howard Community College, where he is studying radiology technology. Aisheh Toubat, Yara’s mother, was a high school principal in Jordan but is not certified to teach here.

“They made great sacrifices to come here, just to give me the chance to make something of myself, to do big things,” Yara said. “I have no intention of letting them down.”

Being named one of this year’s LEDA participants is a big step toward accomplishing the goals of being accepted at an Ivy league school and making her parents proud of her, she said. Her parents’ great personal sacrifices will not be wasted, if she has anything to do with it.

The LEDA Scholars program’s mission is to diversify the nation’s most selective colleges and universities by reaching out to bright, accomplished students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, according to the organization’s website.

The average family income of selected students is about $35,000, according to Cristina Morais, LEDA’s senior director of development and external relations.

“Socioeconomic status is the one main stated criteria but we look at students holisitically,” she told the Times. “We’re looking for leadership potential and experience, and most of our scholars are already in leadership positions at their schools.”

LEDA strives to encourage economically disadvantaged students to dream big about the colleges they apply to and gives them the mentoring support they need for the application process and beyond, according to Morais.

The program’s seven-week course, which runs from June 16 to Aug. 4 at Princeton University, will include training in leadership and public speaking techniques while giving the students the opportunity to participate in role playing, debates and other activities designed to grow confidence and leadership abilities. All classes and programs will be led by doctorate-level professors, according to Morais.

The students will get a head start on the college experience by living in dorms, eating meals together in main dining halls and socializing together.

Afterward, mentors - including former LEDA scholars and staff members - stay in communication with participants and follow them all through their college application process and undergraduate experience, Morais said. Particular mentoring attention is showered upon freshmen to ensure they make the transition from high school to college successfully.

Daraiseh is excited about being selected for the obvious reasons, but also for reasons far more private.

She is being raised in a traditional Muslim home and has been fighting some of the home-country traditions that she finds contradictory to the sacrifices her parents made to come to the U.S.

“My parents are traditional about some things and not traditional about others,” the star student said. “The biggest thing we’ve argued about is that my parents want me to live at home and go to a school that I can commute to because in the Muslim faith, a girl doesn’t move out of the family home until she gets married.”

Many arguments that “got ugly and didn’t end well” ensued over the topic of where to attend college, with Daraiseh pointing out to her parents the irony that they moved half-way around the world to give their daughter the best of opportunities and now want to limit those opportunities to schools within 45 minutes of home.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said. “What was the point of uprooting the family and giving up their careers if they are then going to put so many limitations on my choices?”

She now has her parents’ blessings to attend the Princeton program because they realize the doors that will open.

“Being accepted by LEDA has allowed me to reach a common ground with my parents,” she said. “This is making them come around to the idea of me moving away to go to college.”

Attending an Ivy League school has been a dream of Daraiseh’s since early elementary school, she said. Her life goal is to become a lawyer and Princeton, known for its top-notch law program, is her first choice, with Georgetown her second choice - at the moment.

While the straight-A student downplays her chances of being accepted at Princeton, Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s social studies department, begs to differ.

“She’s number one in her class right now,” Skordalas said. “And she’s taken as many advanced placement classes as possible - she carries a tough load of classes and she excels in them all.”

On the traditional scale, Daraiseh has a perfect 4.0 average. When weighted to take into account the rigor of advanced placement and gifted and talented courses, her cumulative grade-point average since ninth grade is 5.56 and her current, junior-year GPA is 5.63.

Acknowledging the school commitments she has made, she admitted to having a recent “meltdown” after all the stress got to her. “I’m taking five AP classes, I’m involved in after-school activities, I manage the lacrosse team, I was going through the student member of the board process and the LEDA process at the same time,” she said. “I had a meltdown but [teacher Andrew] Mininsky talked me through it.”

She refers to Skordalas and Mininsky as her “school parents” and said their mentoring has been invaluable throughout her high school years.

So thanks to the LEDA Scholars program, Daraiseh is one step closer to achieving the dream of attending an Ivy League school. The program particularly encourages participants to apply to elite schools, which tend to be less diversified and also have the bigger endowments, which translates to more resources available to students in financial need, according to Morais.

When Daraiseh comes home at the end of the summer program, she will be armed with a list of her dream schools and a network of mentors to help her through the application process.

And in addition to LEDA picking up the entire tab of the summer program, including housing, food, entertainment and transportation to and from Princeton, the organization also picks up college application fees, according to Skordalas.

“For many of these kids, the application fees alone keep them from applying to many top schools, and LEDA recognizes that,” she said. “That’s one more barrier removed for these kids who don’t have the resources at home.”

While Skordalas is confident about Daraiseh’s Ivy League chances, the student chooses to be more humble.

“I have high standards but low expectations,” she said with a broad smile. “That way, I don’t get disappointed.”

Skordalas does not believe there will be any disappointment in Daraiseh’s future.

“Remember her name,” the teacher advised. “You’re going to be hearing it a lot in the future.” read more

Spring/summer midge eradication treatments begin on Back River

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The BRRC volunteered the use of their “Trash Wagon” boat to push the larvacide treatment apparatus. The Bti slurry is injected on the bottom via the boom at the front. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources resumed Monday, April 23, their combined effort to control the amount of midges in and around Back River.

Midges are non-biting, mosquito-like insects present in numbers considered to be beyond nuisance-level on and around the river due to excess nutrients in the mud on which they feed. The nutrients are believed to be a result of the last century of operation of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order early last year allocating about $330,000 to a midge eradication pilot program because of the effect the swarms of midges have had on local residents and businesses.

In September 2017, MDA and DNR, with assistance from Back River Restoration Committee volunteers, carried out the first of five scheduled treatments under the program by applying a larvacide to the river which kills the larvae of midges and other nuisance insects like mosquitoes and black flies. The larvacide consists of a naturally-occurring bacteria, known as Bti, which is only harmful to those larvae and does not affect humans or other animals or fish.

Following the treatment that began Monday, the remaining three treatments will be carried out every three to four weeks through the end of June, according to Tom Parham, director of Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment for DNR. He said the treatments take about three days each.

Midges have for years presented a nuisance for residents and business owners around the river, particularly restaurants and marinas.

“The folks around here are having issues with the adult midges sticking to boats, affecting local businesses and things like that,” Parham said.

The 260-acre treatment area encompasses roughly the entire width of the river between Weaver’s Marina in Essex and the WWTP on the other side. Parham said the area was chosen following extensive sampling of midge larvae concentrations all over Back River.

“We chose an area that had generally high concentrations of these larvae. And since this seemed to be the area that we were having the most complaints, we set the [target] right outside [Weaver’s Marina],” he said. “We know there’s midge larvae all over this place, there’s no doubt about that.”

The larvacide is injected into the water as a slurry, deposited just above the bottom where the midge larvae live, Parham explained. The larvae eat the material and become infected with the Bti bacteria.

Parham and Brian Prendergast, the mosquito control program manager for MDA, said the Bti only lasts in the water for one to two days.

“What happens is [the midge larvae] are going to feed on it pretty quickly,” Parham said. “And then, because the tide is moving it around, it may be that the material is moved down-tide.”

He noted that midge larvae only live in low-salinity water, so they would not be found closer to the mouth of the river and the Bti would have less effect there.

“The hope is, we spray this stuff and kill all of the larvae that are in the river right now,” Prendergast added, referring to the target area. “And then two or three days from now there will be more eggs that will start to hatch - those ones will survive.”

The project also includes sampling of larvae in a control area, which is not being treated, to compare and gauge the effectiveness of the treatments, Parham said. And since it is the adult midges that create the nuisance, DNR and MDA will also take samples of those present around the shorelines to figure out just how dense they are and the areas where they are impacting people most.

“Because that’s what it’s all about, really, minimizing the impact on people,” he said.

“Sometimes within the river system itself there could be a big decline,” Parham said referencing the control area. “We want to make sure we can attribute any decline to the Bti.”

In order for midges to be considered at nuisance levels under state regulations, there must be at least 500 midge larvae per square meter of the river bottom. But sampling of Back River showed many areas to have more than double that amount.

“So if there are 500 to 1,000 in that little area, you can imagine over 260 acres the concentrations we’re looking at,” Parham said.

He noted that the midge “hot spots” on the river are not all within the treatment area, and there are some areas, such as in some of the creeks, that are too shallow for the boat and treatment apparatus to get to.

But Prendergast emphasized that this is a pilot project.

“So we’re treating the 260 acres, and if it works then that’s kind of on the [state] legislature as to whether they want to do a larger area or not,” he said regarding the funding for additional future treatments. “But we’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s going to work.”

Parham added, “We’re not trying to control midges in the whole river. We’re just trying to show how well this works.”

Parham said there have not yet been a lot of complaints about midges this season, but there is a lot of evidence that they are beginning to be more active.

“This is usually the time when we would hear about it, right around April,” he said.

The larval “husks” could be seen Monday floating on the water’s surface after the adult midges had left the water. And stains were present on boats and the light-colored surfaces of buildings and other objects where the midges have landed.

“This is what bothers the people,” Parham said. “As they dry [on these surfaces] they stain it. Lots of times when the midges come off, they need some place to dry their wings. So you’ll see them along the shorelines.”

He shook some bushes along the shoreline at Weaver’s to stir up midges and demonstrate that they are out.

Midges are a natural part of the ecosystem in the area, acting as a food source for larger creatures like fish and birds. But the shear numbers seen around Back River create a nuisance with restaurants and business owners posting photos or videos online showing buildings that appear black because they are covered with midges.

Parham said as the weather gets warmer there will be more midges and they will grow faster. DNR will also be studying the water temperature to find out what is optimal for the bugs.

“Hopefully we’re out here before they are,” Prendergast said. “If there were already midges flying around then that would mean we’re too late.” read more

‘Accidental activist’ Rowe seeks seat on Board of Education

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(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Greater Hillendale resident Lily Rowe became an advocate for school issues in her community gradually and accidentally.

Now she has stepped up her advocacy game by quite deliberately filing to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing the Sixth Councilmanic District.

“I first got involved by advocating for magnet programs,” Rowe recalled of her early days of activism. “Then I got involved when they wanted to build a salt dome near Halstead Academy, which would have caused environmental issues, and then I got involved in the air-conditioning debacle.”

The accidental activist with a “three-for-three” record accepted a three-year appointment to the Central Area Education Advisory Committee, a group that serves and advises the Board of Education on more hyper-local issues, concerns and projects.

Rowe has no shortage of ideas for how to improve the school system, with suggestions ranging from strengthening the budgetary powers of the Baltimore County Council to holding the system responsible for the physical condition of neglected and poorly maintained school buildings.

With regard to the decision-making process for new school construction and major renovations, Rowe would like to see implementation of a countywide equity plan, with a priority list established after all school buildings are rated and evaluated based upon the same list of standards and criteria.

“The schools should all be evaluated against the same checklist and then the priority list should be established,” she said. “That way, everyone would know exactly where their school stands and they could watch them move up the list as others were taken care of.”

Rowe believes the County Council should have the ability to restore budget cuts made by the county executive.

“The politics that’s involved in these decisions need to be taken out of the process,” she said. “Decisions shouldn’t be made based on favors promised or votes being chased.”

The western New York native has a degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has lived in Greater Hillendale for 12 years and has three children in Baltimore County Public Schools. Her youngest two attend Cromwell Valley Elementary Magnet School and her oldest is in middle school at Loch Raven Technical Academy.

She first got involved in school concerns because of issues in her neighborhood, but now she wants to work on bigger-picture items that affect the entire county.

She finds it “totally unacceptable” that school officials are not legally held responsible for the physical condition of school buildings.

“There is no sort of code enforcement for our schools,” she said. “Schools have mold, roaches, leaking roofs and water that no one can drink and there is no government entity charged with ensuring these problems are taken care of.”

Citing Baltimore County’s Code Enforcement division that holds residents and business owners responsible for their properties, Rowe said she would like to see a code enforcement division that could have legal recourse regarding school building issues.

“We hold businesses, renters, homeowners, day care centers and property owners accountable for code violations but not schools,” she said. “Why is that? How is that possible?”

She has witnessed “pregnant teachers passing out and students puking in buckets” because of excessive heat in schools without air conditioning. She is embarrassed by the recent, highly publicized corruption cases of former Superintendent Dallas Dance and Robert J. Barrett, a former executive officer in the school system’s community and government relations office. Dance was sentenced last week to six months in jail for perjury and Barrett, as a result of a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of filing a false tax return resulting from him allegedly taking bribes from contractors.

“I’m really tired of seeing the lack of ethics and transparency that has become the norm for this board and school system,” Rowe said. “For the past five or six years, the Board of Education has whittled down a lot of its responsibilities by making policies as minimal as possible and turning over most of the responsibility to the superintendent - and that’s just unacceptable.”

Rowe uses the phrase “It’s a hot mess” often in describing the condition of the school system. Early last week, before the school board voted to appoint interim superintendent Verletta White as the permanent successor to Dance, Rowe was not happy with the search process - or lack thereof.

In one night, the board voted to both hire a consulting firm to conduct the search for a permanent superintendent, and tabled a last minute motion to appoint White as the permanent replacement.

“This current board has had 13 months to carry out this search and they waited until  11 weeks out, when they don’t have the time to carry out perhaps the most important decision they will ever make.”

Rowe said she has nothing against White, but believes the decision should not have been simply “Verletta White or not Verletta White."

“We should allow people to apply for this job and then choose the best person for the job,” she said. “Maybe that would  have been White, but maybe not.”

Rowe was also concerned the search process was put off so long that all of this year’s top candidates would have already been offered positions. And, she believes, the high-profile corruption, coupled with a new board being seated in December, might have discouraged top candidates from applying in the first place.

When the board voted to appoint White as the permanent top administrator, Rowe believes that gives the perception of yet another no-bid contract being awarded.

“I feel that, just like any contract, it should have been competitive,” she said of the process. “I don’t think it’s fair to have a position of this caliber and not open it up to everyone who was interested in the job.”

Even if it was too late to do a national search and board members preferred to promote someone from in-house, all qualified employees should have had the chance to apply, Rowe believes.

“The board shirked its responsibility by just handing the job to White,” Rowe said. “Maybe she would have been the person hired after a search, but the process needed to be carried out and candidates needed to be vetted and compared to each other and that didn’t happen.”

Rowe, who said she is a “very part-time travel agent,” said she already devotes 20-30 hours a week advocating for the school system, and has been maintaining that schedule for four or five years.

She has been spending the bulk of that time “working to get bad ideas killed” and looks forward to sitting on the board and being able to advocate for good ideas and positive change.

“There is plenty of room for improvement across a broad spectrum to make our schools better for our children and more comfortable and safe for our children,” she said. “And I want to be part of that process.” read more

Former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance sentenced to six months for perjury

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(Updated 4/20/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Former Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas Dance will serve six months at Baltimore County Detention Center, Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Cox ruled on Friday morning, April 20.

Dance was sentenced to five years with all but six months suspended, as well as 700 hours of community service and two years probation. He pleaded guilty on March 8 to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose income for consulting work he did with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Chicago-based company that trained school administrators.

In his first public statement about the charges, Dance told the court that he was “embarrassed” and “truly remorseful.”

“I’m ashamed of myself,” said Dance. “That’s the remorse I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Dance was not sentenced to the 18 months in jail Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt sought, but the six-month jail sentence pleased the prosecution.

“We are gratified there was a period of incarceration,” said Davitt. “That sends a message to the community. When you are in a position of trust, abuse of that trust is harmful and very serious.”

Defense attorney Andrew Graham argued that jail time for Dance would be unnecessary, saying the disgraced former superintendent had already been punished enough. Graham also noted that by pleading guilty, Dance had accepted responsibility for his actions.

In the lead up to her sentencing decision, Cox said that aside from acting as punishment and future deterrent for an individual, the court also had a duty to send a statement to public officials at large.

“There’s a public nature to what we do,” said Cox.

She also contended that Dance had numerous opportunities to come clean. Graham tried to frame Dance’s guilty plea as the move of an honest man while asserting that a man as busy as Dance simply made a mistake on a few forms. But Cox shot down that argument, saying that if Dance had his mea-culpa moment before a lengthy investigation had been launched, “we might not be here today.”

That sentiment was echoed earlier in Friday’s sentencing hearing when Davitt gave his opening remarks. Davitt argued that Dance had multiple ethics hearings and addendums made to forms he filed during his time as superintendent, and the statement of facts laid out by prosecutors showed not a forgetful person but someone who was actively trying to conceal what he was doing.

“This was a continuing course of conduct of deliberate deceit,” said Davitt. “If the course of conduct stopped anywhere along the way, we wouldn’t be here. This case is not about a lapse of judgment.”

Davitt contended that Dance had done “immeasurable harm” to BCPS on different levels, but emphasized the harm it did to children who had previously looked up to Dance as a role model.

“Teachers inherit that disillusionment,” said Davitt. “This was such an egregious betrayal of trust... the state feels it merits a strong response.”

During his response, Graham stated that if Dance were to serve jail time, it would be unduly punishing Dance’s 8-year-old son and his ailing, elderly parents. He added that Dance having to appear in court on his 37th birthday added to the “tragedy.”

Graham said prosecutors were also being inconsistent, citing current BCPS superintendent Verletta White’s failure to disclose payment.

White began serving as interim superintendent after Dance’s resignation in summer 2017 and was voted to a full term on Tuesday evening, April 17 by the board of education.

“She did exactly the same thing,” said Graham. “How can the state take totally inconsistent positions?”

The school board’s ethics panel found White to be in violation of the ethics code earlier this year for failure to disclose consulting fees. The panel added, however, that the form was “confusing and unclear,” and opted to close the case as long as White amended her disclosure form and ceased working with a consulting firm from which she had accepted funds, as well as not engage in any consulting activities while serving as interim superintendent.

Six witnesses testified on Dance’s behalf, and Cox had been presented with 69 letters from supporters calling for leniency. Graham also highlighted the myriad accolades and accomplishments throughout Dance’s career, as well as the number of lives he touched, especially students.

But Cox remained unmoved, telling Graham that “it’s not whether the good outweighs the bad.”

Davitt brought up current board member and former Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden as well as former superintendent Dr. Robert Dubel to express why Dance should serve time in jail.

Dubel lamented that the “squeaky clean record” of the school system was tarnished, while Hayden remarked that “the kids are the bottom line,” and an example needed to be set.

“The example we set goes directly to the kids,” said Hayden. “This trust was taken as an issue that wasn’t important to Dallas Dance.” read more

After denial, Nawrocki admits existence of past protective orders

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Photo courtesy of MDOT YouTube.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Following repeated denials that he had ever had a legal protective order against him, Ryan Nawrocki, a Rebublican candidate for Baltimore County Council in the Sixth District, took to his campaign website to explain that the situation stemmed from a child custody dispute.

His statement notes that he and his wife are high school sweethearts and “hit a bump in the road” when they were young, leading them to split up. He and the child’s mother - now his wife - both then filed for custody of the child.

“In the custody agreement process, under the mutual advice of our lawyers, we had a consent agreement drafted that detailed custody arrangements and support,” Nawrocki wrote. “We were also both legally advised at the time by our attorneys to file reciprocal protective orders to gain a leg up in our custody process.”

The candidate maintained in his statement that there was never any domestic violence which led to the orders.

However, a form contained within the county circuit court’s file on the custody dispute titled Master’s Settlement Conference Checklist, dated Aug. 29, 2008, lists several questions to gather pertinent details of the case.

The first question on the form asks, “Is there a current or recent D.V. [domestic violence] Protective Order,” for which the “yes” area is checked with a note above it that reads “07.”

An image posted on the internet, which purports to show case information regarding the incident, shows Nov. 16, 2007, as the court filing date for an incident and initial court order listing a series of orders as a result of the case. It lists the case type as “Domestic Violence.”

Prior to releasing his statement, Nawrocki called the image a fake and said he did not know why “yes” was checked on the form.

As of press time he had not responded to requests for additional comment following his statement.

Documents from the child custody case, on file with the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, make at least five references to the relevant protective orders and their associated case numbers from the county’s district court.

For instance, a complaint for custody filed with the court by Lauren Ellison - now Lauren Nawrocki - on March 31, 2008, mentions that “On November 20, 2007, the parties [Nawrocki and Ellison] appeared in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County in Case Numbers SP1854-07 and SP1956-07 for a reciprocal Protective Order hearing.”

Although abbreviated in the document, the latter case number appears to be the same as the one that appears on the aforementioned internet image posted online. The case number on the image is 0804-SP01956-2007.

District Court officials have confirmed the existence of the case file under that case number, that it is a domestic violence case, and that the name Ryan Nawrocki is attached to it. However, the record is shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Nawrocki, in his statement, blamed the domestic violence allegations on “dirty campaign tricks” from Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent councilwoman whom he would face if he makes it through the Republican primary.

Bevins has denied any involvement in the matter.  read more

Excitement for new northeast-area school grows as principal holds information sessions

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Charlene Behnke, principal of the new elementary school in the northeast area, hosted the first of four meet-and-greets for parents, students and staff on Monday night at Perry Hall Elementary School. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Dozens of parents showed up to Perry Hall Elementary on Monday night for the first installment in a series of meet-and-greets with the principal of the new Northeast-area elementary school, Charlene Behnke. The new school is slated to open in September.

The excitement was palpable from the outset of the meeting, with Behnke explaining the importance of parents meeting with the incoming staff over a cup of coffee.

“I believe it is important that the people that are teaching your children are people you would be comfortable to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. These are good people that I’ve hired,” said Behnke.

She quipped that she had already met with the staff over coffee, doing most of her hiring at Dunkin Donuts in Perry Hall. But with a new school opening, Behnke felt that parents should be afforded the same opportunity, and sooner rather than later.

Of the 20 or so future staffers present, almost all come from area schools like Joppa View, Vincent Farm and Seneca elementary schools. Quite a few have a history with Behnke while others will be working with her for the first time. But whether a familiar face or a new one, there were a few common threads that ran through the hiring process - wanting to take part in a new endeavor as well as wanting to push the limits of instruction.

“[Monday] night for the first time we got a chance to see some of the teachers at the new school, and I like the idea that these teachers are coming from the area,” said Ben Boehl, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 8 and a parent to three children eligible to attend the new elementary school. He added that two of his children will have current teachers moving with them, which could help make the transition to a new school easier.

“The one thing that makes it easier is it’s a new school for everybody,” said Boehl. “This is pretty cool though because we’re creating a new school. Of course there’s a little concern but there’s definitely more excitement.”

Behnke, who has worked in Baltimore County Public Schools for 27 years this July, made sure she had tenured staffers for some of the more delicate elementary school positions, including school nurse, counselor and speech pathology. She has also taken a rather unique step in seeking two physical education teachers, citing the importance of physical activity.

While parents were afforded the opportunity to meet new instructors, not every teacher has officially been approved by human resources, and those who have been approved have not been assigned to a class yet. Quite a few teachers in attendance Monday will have to wait until the school officially finds out what their enrollment will be. But to Behnke, those teachers showing up to interact with parents spoke volumes.

“This is the level of commitment and excitement these teachers have,” said Behnke.

There are still other issues to be ironed out, according to Behnke. Start and end times have not been decided yet, and the furniture will not be moved into the new school until late August, leaving little time for teachers to get acclimated. As of press time, the school’s name had also not yet been approved, though a stakeholder vote decided on the name Honeygo Elementary. The name needs to be approved by the school board, which met on Tuesday night.

For now, Behnke wants to hear ideas from the community.

“We want to be very clear at the get go before anyone walks in the doors, what is it the community wants from this new school,” asked Behnke. “What will make you proud?”

One area of concern was what clubs would be available at the new school. Some parents expressed concern that what is offered in their children’s current school would not be offered at the new school. And considering some children have to wait until they’re old enough for certain clubs, parents want to make sure they have the opportunity to partake in things like LEGO club or Speed Stacking.

Behnke recited a lengthy list of clubs that her staff members had suggested, but noted that implementing all of them in the first year might be a challenge.

“Some of the clubs that exist at Perry Hall Elementary seem like they’ll exist at Honeygo, which is certainly a good thing,” said Boehl.

Of course, the school will also need an official mascot. While the decision will be left up to the students, the choices will be between an eagle, a fox or a bear. Behnke said she approached people with knowledge of the land the school was built on and asked what animals were often seen. She was told eagles and foxes. But considering the name of the school has “honey” at the forefront, the addition of a bear as an option just made sense.

And for those who voted for “Honeygo Run” to be the name of the school, Behnke added that she would like to see the school’s slogan become something along the lines of “Honeygo on the run,” as a play on both the energy of the school and the fact that it sits on Honeygo Run.

Two other input sessions will be held, with one taking place on April 24 at Joppa View Elementary School, and one on April 26 at Gunpowder Elementary School. Both sessions will start at 6:30 p.m.  read more

Volunteers help to restore shorelines in east-side county parks; more needed

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About 85 people helped to plant the restored shoreline around Inverness Park, and more volunteers are needed to do the same work for Cox's Point Park. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Roughly 70 volunteers joined with environmental workers Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, to help restore the shoreline of Dundalk’s Inverness Park by capping off construction work with the planting of native vegetation.

But still more volunteers are needed for another planting project next month.

A total of about 85 people installed about 14,000 plants over the two days. But between planning, permitting, design and construction, Watershed Restoration Program Director David Riter said it had taken nearly three years to get to that point.

The project encompassed 1,700 linear feet of shoreline in the park, according to Riter, and construction took place between November 2017 and March 15 this year. The $1.1 million cost of the project was funded through the county’s now-repealed Stormwater Remediation Fee, also known as the Rain Tax.

Riter explained at a Back River Restoration Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 10, that, as part of the Watershed Restoration Program, shoreline restoration projects aim to stabilize eroding shorelines.

“This helps to reduce nutrients and sediments getting into the waterways and improve habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals,” he said.

Baltimore County uses a hybrid living shoreline approach, he said, which involves both structural and non-structural techniques.

Examples of structural techniques include using rocks and boulders to create breakwaters, jetties, groins or sills. Non-structural features include sand and plants installed on the shoreline.

Part of the construction at Inverness Park involved the construction of sills, which allow the low shoreline areas to become inundated with water at high tide while making sure the land does not erode away when the tide recedes, according to Riter.

“We had erosion problems here and we had large stands of invasive species,” he said, such as phragmites. “That stuff is not ideal for habitat.

“The plants that we have selected are specific to the types of elevation that we’ve designed for,” he said.

The crowd planted low-marsh grasses that like to get wet in the areas closest to the water, followed by a thin strip of high-marsh area that will get wet more irregularly, Riter explained. He added that a contractor was slated to come back Monday to plant another 225 trees and shrubs in the upland buffer area outside the sand fence.

The county partnered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore for the planting, and the aquarium’s role was mostly to help organize volunteers, according to aquarium conservation aide Sean Myers.

“We wanted to do a community outreach component so you get the buy-in,” Riter told the East County Times. “There were a lot of people that wanted to participate somehow with the project and planting is a great way to do it. I went to the aquarium because they’re the experts at coordinating this kind of stuff.”

The county also recently completed construction for a similar project at Cox’s Point Park in Essex and will begin construction for yet another at Watersedge Park in Dundalk this fall.

The 11-acre Cox’s Point Park, Riter said, is a popular park characterized as having “significant” erosion of its shoreline behind some undersized stone breakwaters.

He said there has also been some “hardening” of the shoreline from slag deposits, along with invasive species like phragmites and Japanese knotweed.

The Cox’s Point project consisted of 2,200 linear feet of shoreline, along which about two feet of soil was removed to get rid of as much of the invasive species’ root material as possible, along with any slag at the surface.

The county then installed enlarged and reconfigured breakwaters, designed to handle a 25-year storm, before placing 5,000 cubic yards of sand along the shoreline. Again with the help of volunteers, they will plant the shoreline with around 26,000 plants across four days in May. The planting will create about 1.7 acres of marsh area, Riter said.

A sand fence has already been installed around the shoreline at Cox’s Point which will function to keep people from walking through and trampling the area after it has been planted. But there are access points to the water included, plus a new ADA-compliant pier for people to use.

The construction cost of the Essex project stands at about $1.26 million, Riter said.

Following the planting, workers will install a goose fence to keep water fowl from pulling up the plugs, and a contractor will plant trees and shrubs in the upland areas. The areas will also be monitored by the county to see how the plants are coming along and if the shoreline is improving. They will also complete invasive species suppression as needed until the native species take hold.

The plantings at Cox’s Point Park will take place over the course of May 11, 12, 18 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Anyone wishing to help with the effort is encouraged to pre-register through the National Aquarium by calling 410-576-1014, emailing conserve@aqua.org or visiting www.aqua.org/care/conservation-events. read more

Eastside administrators up for Principal of Year award

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Kandice Taylor (left) and Drue Whitney. Courtesy photos.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Marge Neal -

In her eight years as a secondary school principal, Kandice Taylor has become known as a team-oriented leader who specializes in building up people and improving achievement data.

As a result of her hard work, the Deer Park Magnet Middle School principal is one of six finalists for Baltimore County’s Principal of the Year honors. The Middle River resident is joined by three other school leaders with east-side roots: Red House Run Elementary’s Drue Whitney, Eastern Technical High’s C. Michelle Anderson and Cathy Thomas, a former Logan Elementary School assistant principal who now occupies the big desk at Cromwell Valley Elementary Regional Magnet School. The remaining finalists are Deborah Magness, in her 10th year as principal at Cockeysville Middle, and Renee Jenkins, principal at Deer Park Elementary.

In addition to naming a Teacher of the Year, Baltimore County Public Schools also honors its top elementary and secondary school principals. While the teacher honor has existed for many years, this is just the sixth year for the principal awards and only the third year that top administrators are honored in each of the two education levels, according to a statement from the school system.

Taylor is familiar to many east-side faculty, students and parents, having previously served as principal at Kenwood High (2014-16) and Golden Ring Middle (2010-14) schools.

The competition was advertised internally throughout the school system, according to Taylor.

“It was advertised and my staff took it upon themselves to nominate me,” Taylor told the East County Times. “They didn’t tell me they were doing it; I would have tried to talk them out of it if they had.”

The nomination process is a multi-tiered effort, according to online application instructions. The initial phase involves recommendations from students, teachers, parents, colleagues and/or community members in support of a particular principal.

After the Principal of the Year Selection Committee reviews all nominations, to make sure they are complete, nominated principals are notified of their candidacy and are invited to submit a principal’s application for the award.

The finalists were notified last week of their competition status, and winners will be announced April 25 during an event at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

While saying she was “clueless” about her staff and school community coordinating the nomination, Taylor said she is humbled that her school would think enough of her leadership to pursue such an effort.

“This is actually pretty awesome,” she said of being a finalist. “I don’t like the attention but it is humbling and it does feel good to know that people believe I’m doing a good job.”

Throughout her eight-year tenure as a principal, Taylor said it has always been her goal to build up people and community; to build capacity, competence and confidence, as opposed to just creating initiatives for the sake of creating initiatives.

At Golden Ring Middle, Taylor was the one to lead the school through a state-mandated restructuring that resulted from too many consecutive years of sub-standard student achievement as measured by standardized testing.

“We worked hard, our data and achievement improved and we worked our way out of the restructuring,” Taylor said.

At Kenwood, Taylor was at the helm during efforts to improve college-related standardized test scores, as well as to improve the school’s culture of equity with regard to race, student expectations and achievement and discipline, she said.

“And we worked on acknowledging our biases and working to eliminate those biases,” Taylor said. “You can never totally make biases go away, but acknowledging them, talking about them and working on them is a start.”

Now in her second year at Deer Park in Randallstown, Taylor said she has concentrated on working on the school’s culture climate, working to instill confidence in both staff and students.

“I want to show our students we have a vision for them, and to equip them with the tools needed to achieve those visions,” Taylor said. “We are not perfect by any shape or form, but we strive to be a little better today than we were yesterday.”

Red House Run’s Whitney is excited for the honor but more excited for her school community.

“Being nominated was a total surprise to me and it feels good to be nominated by staff, parents and students,” Whitney said. “But it isn’t just me; we have this really wonderful school community that will do anything for the sake of student achievement.”

Whitney believes what sets Red House Run apart is the intensive web of trusting and meaningful relationships between different community populations: among faculty and staff; teachers and students; teachers and parents; and staff and the principal.

“Those relationships are the coolest thing about our school and what makes everything else possible,” she said. “And I give my teachers the power to be leaders because they are all so talented in their own right - it’s the right thing to do and the students benefit.”

Reading Specialist Christine Leppert said Whitney  encourages and supports teacher-led initiatives and is a “big proponent” of professional development, which arms the educators with the latest research and best practices to ensure student achievement.

“She keeps us competitive and current with the latest research,” Leppert said of Whitney. “She’s definitely a ‘teaching first’ leader.”

While Whitney strives to ensure students develop to the best of their ability, she also follows that path with regard to her staff, according to Leppert.

“Drue has groomed a lot of leaders here,” she said. “Lots of teachers have become assistant principals and assistant principals have become principals. And many teachers have become better teachers, developing to their capacity under her leadership.”

Alison Brown, the mother of a Red House Run fourth grader, had no shortage of compliments in describing the enthusiastic administrator.

“She embodies leading with heart,” Brown said of Whitney. “We tend to throw that phrase around a lot, but I see it every day with every child. She is patient with everyone, her leadership is visionary and she just gets it.”

Whitney is “awesome,” “very empathetic” and in tune with all of the students’ needs and abilities, according to Brown.

“I really hope she wins because she really deserves it,” Brown said. “I’m sure everyone says that about their favorite principal but she really does deserve it.”

Both administrators interviewed were humble about the role of their contributions to their school communities and instead chose to shine the light on creative, dedicated, talented staffs.

But Leppert, in her ninth year at Red House Run, said she contemplated transferring to a new school that will open within walking distance of her Perry Hall home.

“But then I decided I am perfectly happy where I am and this is where I am needed,” she said of the Rosedale school. “It’s a pleasure to work here and Drue is the major reason for that.” read more

BRRC disposes of abandoned boats, returns to Grays Road for second cleanup

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An abandoned boat, found in the water off of Chesaco Road in Rosedale, was broken up and disposed of on March 14. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Back River Restoration Committee continued its crusade against trash Saturday, April 14, in order to clean up the Back River watershed.

Saturday’s event was the BRRC’s second official cleanup of Grays Road in Dundalk, which runs alongside Sparrows Point Country Club but is a mostly industrial area. Key Brewing Company, located at the end of Grays Road, sponsored the cleanup just as they did last year, providing food and drinks - the hydrating kind - to all who volunteered their time to come clean the area.

Although the organization’s last cleanup on Grays Road was nearly a year ago, the trash load was much lighter, so the lower turnout was not such a big deal. Still, some 80-plus volunteers dotted the road’s entire stretch, from its genesis at Wise Avenue to its terminus near Key Brewing.

BRRC President Sam Weaver said the amount of trash seen during Saturday’s cleanup was “nothing like” it was last year.

In 2017, the group and its volunteers collected six 30-yard dumpsters full of trash and more than 150 tires from the area, which they had never cleaned before, according to Weaver.

BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn said this year they hauled in a total of about eight tons of garbage in just two dumpsters, along with 41 tires and a dump truck full of scrap metal.

The difference, Weaver said, was largely due to last year being the first time they had cleaned the area.

“Last year there was all kinds of mattresses, TVs, all that,” he said. He added that BRRC has also been back several times in the interim to pick up such bulk items so that they would not accumulate.

The Back River watershed covers approximately 55 square miles, stretching as far away as Towson, which makes it appropriate that even Parkville resident and scout leader Anibal Gonzalez brought the members of Scout Troop 740 out to help with the Dundalk cleanup.

Gonzalez, who noted his connection to the event through one of the owners of Key Brewing, said the items they find and amount of material collected during such cleanups is amazing. But he appreciated the opportunity to get the scouts out helping the community.

“It’s good for them to get out and do this stuff,” he said.

“This is important,” Gonzalez said, remarking about what they were also doing for the environment. “Anything that doesn’t get into the water is a good thing.”

Speaking of things getting into the water, especially those that stay for years and years, BRRC has made it a point to try to pull abandoned boats from waterways whenever possible.

Back on March 14, Weaver arranged for a total of five abandoned boats, dragged from their resting places in the Back River mud, to be broken up and disposed of properly.

Barry Devore, owner of Benjer Dumpsters, donated the use of his equipment that day, operated by his son Josh, to yank the boats from the water, break them up and put them into dumpsters for disposal rather than slowly breaking apart and polluting the river.

The boats amounted to a total of 29,000 pounds of material, according to Weaver.

“Those boats were all sunken for years way up above the [I-695] bridge, and some others are downstream,” he said. He added that the gas tanks and any other fluid containers from the boats were pumped out, and the major heavy metal components - such as motors - were taken for recycling.

The BRRC has removed more than 3 million pounds of trash and about 6,000 tires from the river and its watershed since 2011.

The bulk of that comes from the 900-foot, county-funded trash boom on the river. The previous average of 45,000 pounds of trash per month collected at the boom has decreased in recent years, Weaver said, due to increased cleanup efforts upstream.  read more

Commentary: No need to correct the record - let’s just set it straight

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Charles "Buzz" Beeler (left) and Ryan Nawrocki (right) have teamed up to take down this reporter's credibility.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The events of the past week have led me to the conclusion that I made a mistake - one that a journalist should never make and for which I have to come clean.

The mistake I made was allowing a certain candidate for public office, along with an internet blogger, to shift the focus from the candidate’s past to my own.

In the course of my research and coverage of the candidates running for County Council in the Sixth District, I uncovered and reported on a potential dark spot in Ryan Nawrocki’s past: what appears to be a domestic violence incident between him and his now-wife.

After repeated denials that a protective order ever existed between the two, Nawrocki admitted in a post to his campaign’s website that they did have a reciprocal protective order between them 10 years ago before they were married. In his explanation, though, he maintained that it was not the result of domestic violence.

I’m glad he finally came clean, although I still question his account of the situation.

But in retaliation for the first article I wrote on Nawrocki, which was published on March 8 and showed that he misused his state-issued credit card while working at MTA, he dug up what at first glance looks to be a blemish on my journalistic ethics and credibility. He has quietly told people since then that I am in the pocket of Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent county councilwoman who will face Nawrocki in the general election should he win the Republican primary.

Following my article last week, which ran on the front page of the East County Times, Nawrocki contacted former Patch.com community blogger Charles “Buzz” Beeler, who now runs his own blog site, to write his own hatchet piece on the situation. Beeler’s blog attempts to fully discredit me while tearing apart my article.

But Beeler only further proved his own propensity for getting things wrong and twisting the facts.

After trying to make me look incompetent and saying the information in my article was unsubstantiated, he twisted my own statements and said I published the article before I had the necessary documentation.

To be clear, everything in my April 12 article was confirmed and substantiated before going to press. What Beeler mixed up was that I came across more documentation on Wednesday - after going to press - for a new article, which I published on our website Thursday afternoon. I spoke to Nawrocki for both articles.

Beeler also focused on the damning evidence against me which Nawrocki came across: a search in the Maryland State Board of Elections’ database of campaign contributions which shows I gave $40 to Bevins’ campaign in 2016. The two have since cited the ethics standards of the New York Times and the Society of Professional Journalists to highlight my “serious breach” in ethics. Nawrocki and his wife have also contacted ECT’s management numerous times calling for me to be sacked as a result.

Now, unlike Nawrocki, I will not try to claim that the screenshot Beeler published of the MSBE search result is a fake (Nawrocki claims an image posted online showing a Maryland Judiciary Case Search bearing his name from a 2007 domestic violence incident is a forgery). The search is real, and the state’s documents do say that. They are simply incorrect.

I have never contributed any money to Cathy Bevins’ campaign. And as of this writing I have in my possession a statement from Bevins’ campaign organization explaining the error.

I attended a campaign fundraiser for Bevins on Nov. 3, 2016, in preparation for an article published about six weeks later (I had to wait for the release of local voting statistics from the 2016 election to add to the article). I attended that event, as I’ve attended countless other events for local politicians, as a guest and was not charged the ticket price.

From the statement: “Mr. Crum received a complimentary ticket as he was a member of the press… Mr. Crum was not required to pay the $40 ticket fee to enter the event, nor did he pay the $40 fee.”

The statement notes that volunteers at the front desk mistakenly filed my ticket with those which were paid for in cash, and the campaign treasurer recorded it as such. But Bevins and her treasurer have informed the Times and me of their intent to file an addendum to that campaign finance report to correct the error.

I am actually grateful to Nawrocki for pointing it out so it can be fixed. This is proof that something wrong will stay wrong until someone brings it to light.

The MSBE search also turns up a second result - a $40 contribution to Republican Delegate Robin Grammer’s campaign in 2014 - which Nawrocki and Beeler have tried to use to establish a pattern for my actions.

Full disclosure, Grammer had a raffle going during his campaign that year and I was interested in the prize, so I bought a ticket. It may not be the smartest thing I’ve ever done as a journalist, but it certainly has no bearing on the work I do.

That contribution was in the previous election cycle, and I have not reported on Grammer’s or his challengers’ campaigns. Plus, any mathematician will tell you that one point on a graph does not establish a pattern.

It appears to me the true irony here is that Nawrocki and Beeler have teamed up to do exactly what they have accused me of doing: working together to discredit and defeat the candidate’s opponent.

He may not agree, but I’ve given Nawrocki a fair shake all along. He gave me tips about things to look into on Bevins as well; it just happened to be that none of them bore fruit. Nevertheless, I printed Nawrocki’s claims with an explanation of why they were unfounded.

Beeler reported on Nawrocki’s claims too, but instead of recognizing that there was nothing there (a domestic violence claim against Bevins from 2011 was dismissed by the courts due to lack of evidence), he sensationalized it as he is known to do.

I also suspect, as Nawrocki has suggested, that Bevins arranged for those protesters to show up at his campaign event on April 5. Bevins has at least a small connection to the protesters through different groups and they all - the councilwoman included - admitted as much. But Bevins denied organizing it and I can’t prove that she did, so I didn’t print it.

What I can prove is that a sealed case file with the same case number as the one published in the online image exists in the county district court in Towson. Court clerks have confirmed the name on that case file is Nawrocki’s and that it is a domestic violence case.

But Nawrocki has refused to answer questions about that case file.

Additionally, case files do not get sealed by the courts unless the parties involved request it. So what is in that file and why was it sealed?

Nawrocki may find my pursuit of the truth too “aggressive,” but that’s what good journalists do. And I will continue to ask tough questions of all candidates  as needed because voters deserve to know the answers.

This is not the first time I’ve been attacked for writing something that someone did not like. As I continue my career in this field, I’m sure it won’t be the last. But the factual nature of my entire body of work during my career stands on its own.

The reputations of those attacking me, on the other hand... well, they stand on their own too.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the East County Times. read more

Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence

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Susan Fredericks (left), Janice Vincent, Cheryl Poletynski and Dawn DeBaugh greeted guests of Nawrocki’s campaign event with signs questioning his past at the Maryland Transit Administration and an alleged domestic violence incident. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/11/18)

Nawrocki and wife deny incident ever happened

- By Devin Crum -

Four women drew up signs and picketed outside a campaign fundraiser for Ryan Nawrocki in Middle River last Thursday, April 5, in an attempt to raise awareness of what they called his record of past domestic violence.

Nawrocki, a Republican vying to challenge Democrat Cathy Bevins for the Sixth District seat on the Baltimore County Council, called the demonstration “shameful” and blamed Bevins for propagating “baseless, nonsense claims.”

The signs the women carried bore messages related to the alleged domestic violence case, including an image which appeared to be taken from a public case file on Maryland Judiciary Case Search detailing a protective order imposed on Nawrocki in 2007 following the incident. The order shown required the defendant to temporarily vacate the home, stay away from the plaintiff’s place of employment and refrain from contacting the plaintiff.

“I don’t think anyone that has a history of domestic violence should be in office,” said Dawn DeBaugh, one of the protesters. “We just think it’s important that any woman that’s attending this event be aware of this.”

The protesters pointed out that the event was hosted by several women - listed as Nawrocki’s wife, Lauren; former state delegate and gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey; Nicole Beus Harris, wife of Congressman Andy Harris; and Dorothy Hinnant, a leader in the White Marsh community - and the keynote speaker was Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

“That’s why this event, I think, is important, because obviously they’re bringing women in” to speak on his behalf, DeBaugh said.

However, Nawrocki and his wife, in a joint phone call to the East County Times, both vehemently denied that any domestic violence incident ever occurred between them.

“There was no conviction and there was absolutely no abuse between Ryan and myself,” Lauren said. “These claims are just ridiculous.”

The candidate’s wife said that Bevins is worried about facing him in the general election and organized the protest to try to eliminate him as a candidate.

Nawrocki echoed that sentiment, stating that the councilwoman does not want to run on her own record since the district has experienced “high crime, failed schools and overdevelopment” during her time on the council.

Bevins admitted that she knew about the protest but denied any involvement in organizing it. And the women themselves stated that they belong to various women’s organizations and were simply a group of concerned citizens.

Janice Vincent, another protester, said she belongs to a group called Together We Will, a national women’s organization. Susan Fredericks said she and DeBaugh are members of Rise Up Maryland, an affiliate of the national Pantsuit Nation. However, they said they were not officially representing those organizations at the event.

A search for Nawrocki on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website does not return any files related to domestic violence. But a Google search can have different results, turning up the image which the protesters displayed allegedly showing his domestic violence case file.

The women said there is nothing in his official case file because he had the records expunged to shield them from public view. Fredericks criticized Nawrocki specifically for talking about transparency on the campaign trail while hiding his own record from the public.

But the candidate and his wife chalked up the existence of the case search image as simple forgery.

“It’s very easy to create any type of document,” Lauren said. “You can put whatever you like on the internet.”

“I can go post to gossip sites all day long, I can send anonymous emails all day long,” Nawrocki added. “I can do all those sorts of things. But I’m not, because I’m focused on the issues in this race.”

Responding to the protesters’ statements that he may not have left his position at the Maryland Transit Administration willfully, Nawrocki called those claims “absolutely ridiculous.”

Officially, Nawrocki resigned from his position as director of marketing and communications at MTA in July 2017.

“I was not fired from the MTA,” he said. “I decided to start my own business because I’ve always wanted to be a small business owner, and I think that [those claims are] just absolute nonsense.”

He held that he has never been accused of domestic violence and has never had any such records expunged.

A clerk for the district court in Towson, where the image shows the case was heard, confirmed to the Times that a file matching the case number on the image does exist and the name on it is Ryan Nawrocki. But it has been shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Although the court clerk could not confirm it, Bevins has alleged that the record was sealed in August 2017, which is consistent with the date of a request by the Nawrockis to seal the records of their child custody case. That request was denied and those records, which date back to 2008, are available for public viewing.

Despite this, Nawrocki continued to deny any domestic violence in his past. Instead, he fired back at Bevins, noting that she is the only candidate in the District 6 council race who has domestic violence listed on their record.

A domestic violence listing does appear on Bevins’ record, a complaint which she admitted was filed by her estranged daughter-in-law in 2011. However, that case was dismissed for lack of any evidence and no ruling was issued against Bevins.

For her part, Bevins charged that Nawrocki’s domestic violence record was open and visible when she last ran against him in 2010. She pointed to one social media post in particular, from just before the election that year as evidence that the information was available.

Jeanann Carroll Ferguson posted to Facebook on Nov. 1, 2010, a letter she sent to the Baltimore Sun expressing her disappointment that the newspaper endorsed Nawrocki for County Council that year. She criticized the Sun at the time for either not doing their research or simply ignoring the information.

“The Sun has, by leaving this information out, insulted every woman who has ever been abused,” Ferguson wrote.

Nawrocki, however, said that information in 2010 was propagated by Joseph Steffen, a political operative for the Ehrlich administration known as “the Prince of Darkness,” who “produced a lot of internet myths.”

He said Steffen, after he was fired by Ehrlich for spreading lies about then-Governor Martin O’Malley, began spreading lies about Nawrocki and other members of the Ehrlich camp.

Steffen died last year and could not answer to Nawrocki’s claims against him.

The women ended their protest Thursday night shortly after the event began, packing in their signs and leaving by about 7:20 p.m. But the candidate and his wife claimed the picketers returned to the Oliver Beach community hall later that night and confronted their 11-year-old daughter in the parking lot to “accost and verbally assault” her with comments about him and his campaign.

Cheryl Poletynski, the fourth protester, called those accusations “absolutely not true” and said they did not go back later after leaving the event. She said she, Vincent and Fredericks all went for coffee at Kelly’s Kitchen just outside the Oliver Beach neighborhood. Vincent separately affirmed that story.

“We were in a public place with public witnesses,” Poletynski said. “He knows what he said wasn’t true. If someone confronted his daughter,… it certainly wasn’t us.”

DeBaugh said she went straight home following the protest to prepare for a business meeting the following day.

“I would not, by any means, ever do anything to upset or harm a child,” she stressed.

DeBaugh provided the Times with an automated driving log in her car that she uses for tax purposes that recorded her leaving Middle River at just before 7:30 p.m. and arriving at her Sparrows Point home at about 8 p.m. She also produced date- and time-stamped photos of the project she was working on, sent to a client from her home at just after 9 p.m.

Nawrocki stood by his claims, though neither he nor Lauren could point to any witnesses to corroborate their story despite being “sure there were other people around,” according to Lauren. Nawrocki also did not offer any further evidence to back it up.

“For the record, if it was a Democrat running that had a history [of domestic violence] we’d still be doing this,” DeBaugh said during the protest to the agreement of the other women. “It’s for everyone’s information; maybe he’ll address it. That’s all we want.” read more

Delegates oppose push to confirm Verletta White as superintendent

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(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the last Baltimore County Board of Education meeting on April 4, board member Stephen Verch (Sixth District) floated the idea of voting to make Verletta White the permanent superintendent of Baltimore County Schools.

The vote would have required a second closed executive session during the meeting which would have put the board in violation of open meeting laws, therefore, a vote was never held.

Chairman Edward Gilliss, however, noted that the issue could be brought forth in the board’s next closed executive session on April 17.

While it is unknown whether a vote will take place, the thought of a lame-duck board taking a vote on a permanent appointment has rattled multiple members of the Maryland House of Delegates representing the county.

A letter signed by Delegates Kathy Szeliga (R-7), Robin Grammer (R-6), Bob Long (R-6) and Chris West (R-42B) was sent to the school board expressing their frustration with what they perceive as a lack of transparency.

“Based on our interactions with Ms. White over the past eight weeks, there has been a lack of response to our concerns and questions about issues in BCPS,” they wrote. “It is disappointing that the Interim Superintendent has neglected to maintain an open channel of communication. As the superintendent, we expect timely responses to any questions and concerns that we, or our constituents, may have about BCPS schools.”

Grammer added that the communications that have been obtained by the Baltimore County House Delegation have been heavily redacted.

“With the timeliness and severity of our school safety issues, to even think that redacting information about guns in schools is infuriating,” Grammer said. “We cannot continue to allow Baltimore County Public Schools leadership to sweep our problems under the rug. Unfortunately, Ms. White has shown a propensity to do just that in her tenure. The Baltimore County Board of Education would do our people a massive disservice by nominating Ms. White to be our next superintendent.”

Those delegates were later joined by Delegates Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Pat McDonough (R-7). In a letter sent out on April 5, Impallaria echoed the same concerns put forth by Szeliga and the others, but went a bit further in his criticism.

“This is not the appropriate time to appoint a permanent superintendent. Members of our first elected School Board will be officially taking office in November of this year. Moreover, a new county executive and County Council will be assuming office at the same time,” Impallaria said. “These are the public officials who will be required to work with the permanent superintendent in the years ahead and moving forward. It would be a mistake for a lame-duck school board to choose a permanent superintendent. Also, there is no urgency considering the new school year does not being until September.”

The push to have a vote on White has ruffled the feathers of multiple school board members as well, sending out mixed signals. The same night that Verch pushed for a vote, the board had voted to approve a $75,000 contract to bring back the same firm that had brought former superintendent Dallas Dance to Baltimore County in 2012. Dance resigned from his position a year ago and has since pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury. His sentencing is scheduled for April 20.

Kathleen Causey (Third District) characterized Verch’s suggestion to hold a vote for White four hours into the April 3 meeting as “shocking” and added that a fresh start was needed.

Despite the opposition, there has been plenty of vocal support for White, who has been working in Baltimore County Public Schools for more than two decades. Perhaps White’s biggest supporter is Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones, who ran somewhat afoul of White’s detractors earlier this year when, days before a community input hearing on what the board should be looking for in a superintendent, he sent out an email encouraging supporters to flood the meeting with calls for White’s permanent installation as superintendent.

Julie Henn, an at-large member of the the board, took to Facebook to express her frustration with Jones’ campaigning.

“I am angered and insulted by such blatant attempts to sway, undermine and ridicule the process. All opinions matter and we should encourage participation, regardless of views” she said. “This isn’t a PR campaign; it is a superintendent search. It is one of the most important roles of the board. I take it seriously; I would urge our elected leaders to do the same.” read more

With College Promise likely to be approved, Kurtinitis already eyes expansion

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, flanked by BCPS Interim Superintendent Verletta White (left) and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis (right), touted the College Promise proposal on March 19 as a game changer both educationally and economically. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On March 19, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, announced that they were seeking funding to implement the Baltimore County College Promise program, a need-based community college scholarship program that makes community college free for those who meet the criteria.

Just three weeks later, Kurtinitis made known that her goal is ultimately to expand the program.

“No sector of higher education can do what we do to address the cost of college and the size of student debt,” she said. “Imagine, the College Promise comes into place and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

CCBC hosted College Promise Campaign Executive Director and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter on Monday, April 9, for a roundtable discussion on the challenges that lie ahead and the goals that Kurtinitis and CCBC stakeholders have for the program.

When it came to goals, Kurtinitis did not hold back. She pointed to Tennessee as a model for what she hopes will someday be a reality in Baltimore County. In 2014, Tennessee launched a College Promise program similar to the one proposed three weeks ago by Kamenetz and Kurtinitis. Three years later, that program expanded its eligibility requirements from including only recent high school graduates to allowing anyone of any age.

“Our goal is ultimately to match Tennessee. When we can reach a point where every student who comes here, whether they’re 45 or 18, can have access to a College Promise opportunity, we will really be able to do what we need to do for our students.

“In the meantime, we’re just so, so grateful. This is one of the most important things that could happen for us to help the people,” said Kurtinitis.

Funding for the College Promise program will be part of Kamenetz’s newest, and last, budget proposal, and it is expected to be approved by the Baltimore County Council.

The program is expected to cost just under $1 million in its first year, rising to $2.3 million in year three. When Tennessee expanded their program, it cost the state about $10 million to implement. During its first few years, the program will be open to Baltimore County residents with a household income of $69,000 or less who graduated from a public, parochial or home school within the past two years while holding at least a 2.5 GPA.

Kanter, Kurtinitis and Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones stressed that while there may be a cost, the benefits to implementing the College Promise program and expanding it will provide major educational and economic benefits.

“I see this as a direct investment in people. This will change people’s lives,” said Jones.

He also suggested that opening the doors of higher education is likely to cut down on crime. Jones stated that kids who “are at a crossroads” will suddenly have another opportunity available to them. He added that cutting back on jail and court costs would be just one way Baltimore County would benefit from the program.

“This is just a natural, better bargain on your dollar,” said Jones. read more

Marshy Point festival aims to pry spring loose from winter’s firm grip

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A giant tortoise owned by a volunteer will again be making the rounds at the festival. Photo courtesy of Ben Porter.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Mother Nature might not be willing to announce that it’s springtime, but Marshy Point Nature Center leaders are rolling out the red - or green - carpet to welcome the season of rebirth.

Marshy Point will hold its 16th annual Spring Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the center, 7130 Marshy Point Road in Middle River.

The annual gathering serves to showcase the waterfront gem nestled on Dundee and Saltpeter creeks, according to Senior Naturalist Ben Porter. The center, owned and operated by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, offers a variety of activities, classes, demonstrations and exhibits throughout the year.

“The purpose of the festival is to showcase the wonderful backyard of the nature center, right here on the Chesapeake Bay,” Porter said. “We emphasize the outdoors and the natural resources here and introduce people to all of the programs and activities we offer.”

The event will offer a jam-packed schedule of activities and entertainment, according to Porter. Visitors will be invited to canoe the Dundee Creek, take water tours on the center’s work boat and observe demonstrations with wild animals, plant life, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and search and rescue dogs.

“We’ll have live music throughout the day, woodcarvers, beekeepers and re-enactors will portray life as it was in the 1700s,” Porter said. “They will include a segment on duck hunting - people have been making a living on the resources of the Chesapeake Bay for a long time.”

The Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Company is also scheduled to have one of its engines on display, Porter said.

There is no cost for parking or admission to the festival, but some activities, such as some of the children’s craft offerings, will have small fees to cover the cost of materials. All proceeds from the sale of food, Marshy Point merchandise, spring flowers and raffles will benefit the Marshy Point Nature Center Council, a volunteer group that supports the center.

“All the money raised will support building maintenance, program development, our resident animals, educational and training opportunities and displays and exhibits,” Porter said.

About 1,400 people traditionally attend the event throughout the day, which keeps things “pretty busy,” according to Porter, but staff members relish the opportunity to show off the unique waterfront facility.

“The festival is a family-friendly day with lots to see and do,” Porter said. “And we love the opportunity to show off our center and introduce people to the natural resources here in our community.” read more

Chesapeake’s McMillion seeks BOE seat to be voice for students, school staff, parents

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Rod McMillion at an event at Chesapeake High School. Photo courtesy of Rod McMillion.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

If Rod McMillion is successful in his quest to be elected to public office, he will find himself moving from the classroom - or in his case, the weight room - to the board room.

The 35-year Baltimore County Public Schools educator has filed to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing Councilmanic District 7.

McMillion grew up in Essex, where he still lives, and attended Essex Elementary and Stemmers Run Junior High schools before graduating from Kenwood High in 1971. He received an associate’s degree from then-Essex Community College in 1973 and worked at Bethlehem Steel for 18 months before continuing his education at Towson State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1976. McMillion also has a master’s degree in physical education from Morgan State University and a second master’s in counseling and psychology from what is now Loyola University of Maryland.

Certified to teach K-12, McMillion taught in elementary school for 10 years before moving to Chesapeake High in 1993, where he is now the athletic director and a physical education teacher.

Quite content with his teaching career, McMillion said students are his motivation for running for a school board seat.

“I’ve said for a long time that this school board wasn’t accountable to anyone because it was politically appointed,” McMillion said. “I was very happy when the law was changed to include elected members and I decided to step up and do my part.”

Because of his extensive teaching and coaching experience, McMillion believes he has a working knowledge of many of the school system’s moving parts that will serve him well as a board member.

He said he is not a fan of giving every student a smart device and believes money could be better spent elsewhere.

“We brag about increasing our graduation rates; we might be graduating more kids but they’re graduating with less knowledge,” McMillion said. “These kids need devices to do basic math.”

The county-provided devices are being misused, in the educator’s opinion.

“They’re treated almost like toys,” he said. “The kids all download music and games to them, even though they’re not supposed to; it’s a joke.”

With school safety a national hot-button topic, McMillion said he is against arming teachers.

“I don’t want anything to do with a gun,” he said. “And I haven’t talked to a single teacher who wants a gun - that’s not what we’re here for.”

School safety belongs in the hands of academy-trained police officers, he believes, and pointed at Chesapeake’s school resource officers as an example of that model’s success.

Chesapeake, with a student enrollment of about 1,000 students, has two school officers assigned to it, according to McMillion. He singled one out in particular - Officer Hunter - who coaches three sports and is “actively engaged with the students” both on and off the job.

“He just recently got his 100th win as coach of the girls basketball team,” McMillion said. “The kids love him and respect him.”

McMillion also pointed to bullying as a topic that needs to be addressed once and for all. He is concerned that the intervention and anti-bullying education needs to be emphasized at the elementary school level.

“We need to be actively teaching our kids to respect life, and if that isn’t happening at the elementary level and the bullying behavior has no consequences, it moves on to the middle school level,” McMillion said. “Middle-schoolers have so much going on in their lives, and the bullying behavior is rampant in middle schools.”

Students need to learn there are consequences for bad behavior, and McMillion said educators and administrators need the authority and support to discipline bad behavior.

Pointing to the recent conviction of former BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and federal charges being placed against Bob Barrett, who served as an executive officer for the system’s community and government relations division before retiring March 1, McMillion said a big task facing the new school board will be to restore public trust in the system.

“The school system has a budget of $1.6 billion,” McMillion said. “There’s all this talk about an audit - I think there needs to be a complete, comprehensive audit back to when Dance started in 2012. I firmly believe in the philosophy of ‘follow the money.’”

McMillion said he would also like to see the system’s Code of Conduct carry more weight.

“It needs to be evaluated. And if it is deemed adequate, then it needs to be enforced. If it needs to be changed, then it should be changed and then enforced.”

He believes school administrators, particularly principals, become more concerned about protecting their jobs than with running a tight ship. Bad behavior is ignored and swept under the rug to keep the number of reported incidents down, he said, which allows the bad behavior to continue.

“We need to give the administrators the authority they need to discipline,” McMillion said. “There has to be consequences for bad behavior; no consequences, the behavior won’t change.”

The candidate also believes an administrator’s job should not hang in the balance because of a school’s rate of suspensions, bullying incidents and other behavioral issues.

McMillion is concerned the system loses a lot of young teachers early in their careers, and he would like to see more support systems put in place to mentor and encourage new and young educators. He would like to see more qualified teachers hired to lower class size and is concerned about the perception of poor quality public education spurring more parents to either homeschool their children or send them to private schools.

Should McMillion win the seat, he will have to give up his teaching position. Conflict of interest rules prevent current BCPS employees from sitting on the board.

McMillion said he will not have to retire until after the general election in November. If he wins, he will need to retire before the swearing-in ceremony in December.

“I absolutely think I’m at an advantage, having worked 35 years in the system,” he said. “I think the kids of Essex, Dundalk and Rosedale need and deserve someone to fight for them and I believe I’m that guy.”

Because the Board of Education race is a non-partisan election, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots. McMillion will face Will Feuer and Eric Washington in the June 26 primary election, with the top two finishers advancing to November’s general election. read more

County Council passes bills regarding Franklin Square, DPW, east-side manufacturing

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Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall, third from left) speaks to the other council members about his bill to alter the scope and mission of the county’s Department of Public Works to look at how to accommodate not just highway users, but bicyclists, pedestrians and transit. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Council members approved bills Monday night, April 2, that they believe will benefit either their districts on the east side specifically or the county as a whole. Each of the bills passed unanimously.

Eastern Family Resource Center
In bill 11-18, county Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale said the administration was requesting supplemental appropriation of $500,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Strategic Demolition Fund. The grant, she said, will be provided to MedStar Franklin Square hospital to subsidize the cost of demolishing the former Eastern Family Resource Center which was on the hospital’s grounds.

“The new Eastern Family Resource Center was relocated nearby in an expanded 80,000-square-foot facility to serve a broader range of people experiencing homelessness,” VanArsdale said.

The new facility officially opened in October 2017, and the hospital plans to build a new, 75,000-square-foot surgical center in place of the old facility.

Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, noted that the hospital is the largest employer in her district, and the Eastern Family Resource Center is important to her district and constituents.

“It turned out to be a wonderful facility that is very much needed,” she said.

Councilman Todd Crandell said the center also serves his constituents in the Seventh District and “does very well.”

New mission for DPW
Fifth District Councilman David Marks was the sponsor of another bill, 19-18, which seeks to amend the county’s charter to broaden the scope of the Department of Public Works and its responsibilities.

“This legislation would expand the mission of the Department of Public Works to more explicitly address the needs of all transportation users, including bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said before the vote. “It takes the Department of Public Works, which was created in the 1950s, and requires the agency to look more broadly at 21st-century needs.”

Marks said language in the county charter with respect to DPW is very highway-focused. But the new language makes the department responsible for mobility, traffic safety and engineering using “a variety of transportation options, including highways, bike lanes, pedestrian improvements and transit where appropriate,” according to the bill.

“This is one of the most important steps we have taken toward improving mobility and safety for our residents,” said Marks, who formerly served in senior transportation-related positions in the state and federal governments before being elected to the County Council.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, also praised the legislation for creating a “bigger vision” for DPW when it comes to transportation rather than simply adding more and more highway lanes.

Although approved by the council, as a charter amendment the bill must also be approved directly by the voters via a ballot referendum in November.

New use allowed in ML-IM zones
Also passed by the council Monday was a bill sponsored by Bevins that adds language to the county’s zoning regulations to allow cold rolling mills in light manufacturing zones if they are located within an Industrial Major district.

Bevins said the stipulation essentially limits the mills to industrial parks.

A cold rolling mill, as defined in the bill, is a metal manufacturing and processing facility where metals or metal alloys are heated to produce a product in finished coil form. The heating facilities and furnaces used are capable of producing temperatures no greater than 500 degrees Celsius.

Bevins noted that the zoning code did not permit or even define cold rolling mills prior to her bill.

“This bill will allow 150 manufacturing jobs to come to Middle River at the former Worthington Steel site at Kelso Drive and Martin Boulevard,” she said.

The East County Times reported last month that Empire Resources, Inc. plans to convert their facility at the site from its current primary use as a warehouse to a cold rolling mill facility.

Bevins also stressed that the jobs created would be high-quality manufacturing jobs and not simply minimum-wage jobs. She added that the venture, which was supported by both the Essex-Middle River Civic Council and the Aero Acres community, will be well within government regulations for emission and noise, and all operations will occur indoors.

Essex Sustainable Community designation
Crandell said Monday was “an exciting night for Essex,” not just because of the bills, but also referring to the Council resolution he introduced to designate a delineated portion of the area as a “Sustainable Community” with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

The designation, which has been sought in recent months by the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce and its Eastern Baltimore County Task Force, will allow more access to state funding for certain revitalization efforts in and around the Essex commercial core.

The task force, a sub-committee of the chamber of commerce, over the past year has taken on the task of sprucing up Essex to make it a more desirable place to live and work, but funding sources for more sizable projects has been a question.

The Sustainable Community designation will enable the task force to apply for grants for things like streetscapes, beautification efforts or Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative grants, according to Crandell.

He expressed back in February that Essex is primed for reinvestment to take advantage of its geographical position between between the large-scale economic development and redevelopment occurring along MD Route 43 in Middle River and at the Tradepoint Atlantic property in Sparrows Point. He said at the time they were hoping to meet an April 6 deadline for the designation application.

The resolution will likely be discussed at the County Council’s work session on Tuesday, April 10, and voted on at the next legislative session on Monday, April 16.

Marks pulls bill restricting Chapel Road access
Councilman Marks had previously introduced a bill that would block access to Chapel Road in Perry Hall for new residential developments. He said a residential development is proposed for a property along Chapel Road north of Cross Road which includes an entrance on Chapel Road.

But Marks expressed a desire to preserve Chapel Road’s character as a “unique, hilly, country road.”

“While I don’t want all these entrances onto Chapel Road, for that development, there’s no other development they could link into,” he said.

That created concern that the bill would essentially be “governmental taking,” making it impossible for anything to be built there because of lack of access.

Marks said he withdrew the bill prior to last Tuesday’s Council work session, when it would have been discussed by the council members, because of the issues it presented. read more

Patapsco High student hopes to be voice of equity on county school board

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Yara Daraiseh. Photo courtesy of BCPS.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Yara Daraiseh is not an American by birth. The Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior has become a U.S. citizen, but was born in Jordan and moved with her family to this country in pursuit of a better education and more opportunities.

“I’m an immigrant, I’m from Jordan and I’m a Muslim,” she told the East County Times. “I know what it’s like to be part of a marginalized group and I hope to help others without a voice.”

And in that nutshell, Daraiseh explained why she hopes to be selected as the next student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education.

She and Milford Mill Academy junior Haleemat Adekaya are the two finalists left standing after an arduous process to name the student who will serve on the school board for the 2018-19 school year.

Each candidate had to secure five specific recommendations, including from a school counselor, English teacher and principal; write an essay about why they were pursuing the appointment; and submit a list of extracurricular and community involvement, according to Daraiseh.

After a review of all candidates, about five were selected for interviews and Daraiseh and Adekaya were selected as finalists following that step in the process.

Next up for the two finalists is a forum set for Friday, April 6, at Pikesville High School. Each candidate will have five minutes to address several hundred student leaders from across the county before they cast the deciding votes to determine the name that will be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the board.

“I plan to advocate for school safety and equity,” Daraiseh said. “And I would like to start fundraising for [Advanced Placement] tests to help students from economically disadvantaged situations have the opportunity to take the tests.”

As an immigrant and a Muslim, Daraiseh said she knows first-hand the unequal and mean treatment that can be aimed at people from different or disadvantaged backgrounds.

She recalled an experience that happened in sixth grade with a boy she considered a friend. While having a conversation about the Middle East, the boy turned on her and called her a terrorist.

“It was quite traumatic for me and I had somewhat of a meltdown,” she recalled. “I went home and talked to my parents about it, and they helped me through it - they helped it become a learning experience and prevented me from looking at myself as a victim.”

But that experience has helped shape her life’s philosophy and make her more aware of the marginalization of certain groups of people.

“I’m going to fight for transparency and equal treatment,” she said. “You cannot give just a specific group a voice and then undermine the rest; everyone deserves a voice and everyone deserves to be heard.”

At Patapsco, Daraiseh is involved in the school’s steering committee, National Honor Society and serves as president of the school’s chapter of the National English Honor Society. She has been a member of the mock trial and debate teams as well as several athletic teams, according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools. In the community, she volunteers to provide Thanksgiving dinner and holiday gifts to the elderly and families in need.

Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s Social Studies Department, had nothing but praise for the star student.

“Yara is a very poised, mature individual,” Skordalas said. “Coming from a marginalized group, she has a passion for equity - she recognizes the need for everyone to have an equitable chance to be successful.”

Skordalas also serves as the coach of the mock trial team, which Daraiseh has been a member of since her freshman year.

“I’ve watched her grow since ninth grade and she’s one of the most poised students I’ve ever known,” the educator said. “She truly lives her beliefs - she really just lives and breathes this stuff.”

Daraiseh said she is grateful for her parents - mother Aisheh Toubat and father Omar Daraiseh - making the decision to come to the U.S. simply to make sure their only child had the best chance possible to become a success.

“My parents came to this country so I could do big things,” she said. “And I don’t plan to let them down. I hope to study law and work with people who need a voice, who need representation.”

She believes a seat on the Board of Education will be a good early step toward that end.

But she is also already a savvy diplomat: “Either way, however the students vote, they get a great representative.” read more

Some bills progressing, many others languishing as General Assembly session nears end

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The State House in Annapolis. File photo.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

As the Maryland General Assembly quickly approaches its finish line on Monday, April 9, many state legislators, including those representing eastern Baltimore County, are scrambling to make one final push to get their bills over the line.

While a few bills sponsored by east-side representatives have either already passed or are making good progress, many more have either failed or are looking like they will die in committee.

One example of a bill making good progress is House Bill (HB) 736, which restricts pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, from keeping pharmacists from telling customers if there is a cheaper option for their prescription drugs.

“Essentially it just says that a pharmacist can tell you the cheapest cost of a drug,” said Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) who sponsored the bill.

Although industry advocates have said the practice is rare among their members in Maryland, some PBMs have contracts with pharmacies that prevent them from telling customers if the cash price of their prescription drugs is actually less than their insurance deductible. The bill outlaws that practice.

Bromwell’s bill was cross-filed with state Senator Katherine Klausmeier’s Senate Bill (SB) 576, and while the senate version had not yet made it through both chambers of the legislature, Bromwell believed it would by the end of Tuesday. The House bill had already cleared that hurdle.

Conversely, two bills sponsored by Del. Joe Cluster, a Perry Hall Republican, appear have been dead on arrival early in the legislative session.

The first bill, which would have reduced the state’s sales and use tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, was given an unfavorable vote in committee back on Feb. 26. The second, an attempt to reduce the sales tax on alcohol, was heard in committee on Jan. 15 but never received a vote, leaving it in legislative limbo.

Such is the fate of countless bills year after year, causing frustration for the sponsors of those bills, and this year is no different.

For instance, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk) sponsored a bill to establish minimum standards for school buildings in the state. That measure was heard in committee on Feb. 21, but has since sit idle without a committee vote.

The same is true for another of Salling’s bills that would eliminate what is known as the Broening Highway toll - the practice of making vehicles exiting from I-695 to Broening Highway pay the Key Bridge toll even though they do not cross the bridge - by creating a dedicated lane for that traffic. Salling admitted after a March 14 committee hearing on the bill he was not optimistic about the its passage, having seen it meet a similar fate in years past.

Three bills sponsored by Del. Christian Miele (R-Perry Hall) have also made no progress after all being heard in the same committee on the same day, March 9. One would heighten penalties for falsifying one’s address in order to attend a different public school in Baltimore County, another would allow individual schools to sell the naming rights on their fields and courts for fundraising purposes, and the third would repeal the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing program in Maryland schools and replace it with the California Achievement Test.

“It’s always disappointing when your bills are languishing in commitee,” Miele told the East County Times. “One of the most frustrating things for me is when bills don’t get an up or down vote, because I think it makes it really difficult to represent your constituency and your communities when a committee doesn’t give you any indication of its sense of whether or not your bill is good policy.”

The delegate said a vote one way or the other is good for accountability because it lets the public know how their legislators are voting on specific policy proposals. But they are also good for lawmakers themselves so they can get a feel for when a committee is opposed to something and what they may be able to do to rectify it.

One bright spot for Miele has been his bill (HB1600) to create an anti-bullying task force for Baltimore County Public Schools, which passed the House of Delegates with no opposition and was working its way through the Senate. As of Tuesday morning, the bill had been referred to the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee. A hearing on the bill there was scheduled for Wednesday, April 4.

“This thing needs to pass,” Miele said. “I mean, [with a vote of] 139 - 0 in the House, there’s no reason why anybody would oppose a bill that costs taxpayers nothing and that seeks to address the bullying epidemic in our public school system.

“Any result other than the full passage of this bill would be for nefarious political reasons,” he asserted.

Miele and Bromwell both praised the passage of a bond bill to provide up to $390,000 in state funds to the Maryland Natural History Society in Overlea to allow them to remodel and upgrade their current facility.

“They’ve never had the ability to have their own showcase,” Bromwell said. “We don’t have a museum of this type in Maryland.”

He added that the funds will allow the society to host more children and other visitors to see their showcases and participate in their programs. “It’s things like birds, insects, fossils - a really impressive variety of different items that they’re going to be able to showcase.”

Other bills from east-side delegates Pat McDonough, Ric Metzgar and Robin Grammer, all Republicans, had either stalled or died in committee as of Tuesday as well, such as McDonough’s plan to study creating a “Supertrack” event facility or Metzgar’s plan to create a flat-rate annual commuter plan for people using the Key Bridge. Both were given unfavorable reports in their respective committees.

Del. Grammer has had a particularly unsuccessful session, with bills having to do with regulating methadone clinics, conducting a legislative audit of BCPS, state acquisition of Fort Howard, and addressing dilapidated buildings and neighborhood blight all receiving unfavorable votes in committee. Two others, allowing medical cannabis patients to retain their Second Amendment rights and prohibiting dredging of Man-O-War Shoal for oyster shell, have not received votes in committee.

Grammer acknowledged that there were issues with some of his bills, such as questions of constitutionality with the methadone clinics or the possibility of increasing state spending by acquiring Fort Howard. But ultimately he felt the issues could have been worked out.

Instead, he attributed a lot of his bills’ lack of progress to election-year politics. Although Republicans are the majority in eastern Baltimore County, they are sorely outnumbered in the state.

A bill he sponsored, which would remove the sunset provision passed with his Java Act to allow special needs students at Patapsco High School to operate a coffee shop at the school, is technically still viable, but was also viable at this point last year.

“The status of that bill is a pretty good indicator of what’s happening here,” Grammer said. “It’s an election year and that’s a Baltimore County bill, and lawmakers from [Prince George’s and] Montgomery [counties] and Baltimore city keep sticking their hands in it,” which typically does not happen with bills that are specific to a jurisdiction.

“It’s still alive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they pulled some kind of trick play to kill it with time,” he said.

The delegate sponsored a bond bill as well to provide up to $175,000 for the Aquila Randall monument in Dundalk, but he said that was similarly doomed because of his party affiliation.

Grammer said the appropriation of state dollars in this year’s General Assembly has been “completely political,” noting that of the seven funding measures that passed from Baltimore County, six of them were introduced by members of the majority party.  read more

Repaired Todd’s Inheritance fence is ready for its open house close-up

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Much of the wooden fence had fallen down following heavy winds on March 2, but volunteers determined the fence posts were likely rotted below the ground. Courtesy photo.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The fence at Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site in Edgemere can’t seem to catch a break.

Or, perhaps more correctly, it catches too many breaks.

The wooden fence that surrounds the property of the historic Edgemere homestead is often the victim of car crashes and seems to have a knack for getting hit again shortly after repairs are made.

But the most recent perpetrator of damage to the fence was the tremendous windstorm that swept through the Baltimore region on March 2. The gusting winds knocked down two huge sections of fence, including most of the barrier that lined the North Point Road side of the property.

Just in time for the museum’s first open house of the year, though, the fence has been restored thanks to a crew of volunteers who did the heavy work and benefactors who donated the materials needed for the repairs.

“We lost almost 200 feet of fence,” said Fran Taylor, vice president of the group’s Board of Directors. “It looked like a lot of the posts were rotted at ground level and we think the wind was enough to just take down the posts.”

There were no witnesses to the destruction, according to Taylor. But judging from the quantity of fencing knocked down, with the sections largely in tact and the rotted shards of posts sticking up from the ground, volunteers think the damage was caused by an act of nature and not one of vandalism, he said.

“We’re just thankful it wasn’t the roof,” Taylor said. “We could handle fixing the fence.”

In any case, North Point State Park Ranger Bob Iman, local volunteer Andrew Tomczewski and Taylor toiled over the course of two weeks to assess the damage, order materials, create a plan and physically repair the fence that is now ready to greet visitors the weekend of April 21, when the house opens for the season.

Volunteers have been busy during the winter working on the house and its exhibits in preparation for the historic site’s second season, according to group President Carolyn Mroz.

While working to refresh the first-floor experience for visitors, volunteers are also busy working on the second floor of the house, which is closed off to visitors until more work is completed.

“We are working very hard to allow limited access upstairs,” volunteers wrote in a post on the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page. “One fireplace is cleaned and ready to go.”

Local Boy Scouts have undertaken the repair of the house’s waterfront porch as the community service project of an Eagle Scout candidate but they are still far away from their fundraising goal of $1,500 for the job, according to Mroz.

“They have to raise the money needed and I’ve encouraged them to contact local businesses along North Point Road for their support,” Mroz said. “Even if they were able to get $100 from each, that would be a big help.”

To kick off the 2018 season, the house at 9000 North Point Road will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22. The event will serve as a grand reopening, according to Taylor, and will include updated exhibits that feature the Todd family history, Native American artifacts and North Point Peninsula history. War of 1812 re-enactors will be on hand both days.

Local historian and author Scott S. Sheads will offer a talk titled, “What is Past is Prologue: The Lower Patapsco Neck in the War of 1812,” at 1 p.m. both days.

In borrowing part of his lecture title from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Sheads will convey his theory “that all that happened before has led us to the opportunities we have in the present and in the future,” according to an online description of the event.

Sheads served as a historian at Fort McHenry for many years and is the author of several books about the War of 1812. He is hard at work on a book about the Battle of Patapsco Neck and the defense of Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park), including an illustrated history of the Aquila Randall Monument and other North Point-area historical markers and monuments.

Each monthly open house weekend for the remainder of the year will focus on a particular theme, according to Mroz. May will celebrate Armed Forces Month, June will pay homage to Flag Day and July will emphasize parks and trails, in partnership with North Point State Park.

Daily admission to the house is $10 for adults 16 and older and $7 for senior citizens 60 and older. Children 15 and younger are admitted free of charge, and annual family memberships that allow unlimited visits cost $30.

For more information or to make a donation to the Eagle Scout porch project, visit the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page or contact Mroz at 443-803-0517 or cmmroz@hytekltd.com. read more

Fighting breaks out at Dundalk carnival

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(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A series of fights broke out on Sunday night at the Jolly Shows Spring carnival on the Eastpoint Mall grounds, resulting in the carnival shutting down for the night.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on April 1., a series of scuffles broke out at the carnival.

“A bunch of little fights were breaking out here and there, and one got out of hand,” said Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach.

According to Peach, two off-duty officers were working secondary employment as security for the carnival. One of the officers used pepper spray to try to break up a fight, but it seemed to have the adverse effect.

“Once the OC [pepper] spray was sprayed, the kids started running and that caused additional fighting,” said Peach.

The off-duty officers called for backup and received help from the Essex, White Marsh and Dundalk precincts, as well as Baltimore City Police and Maryland Transit Administration Police. The additional help assisted in dispersing the crowd, as well as road closure and breaking up fights around the immediate vicinity.

One juvenile was arrested and there were no injuries reported. Baltimore County Police estimated that about 2,000 teenagers were dispersed from the property, but Peter Joseph, president of Jolly Shows, told The Baltimore Sun that their estimate was high.

“You had a lot of teenagers,” Joseph said. “Just some mischievous stuff.”

The East County Times left a message for Joseph for additional comment, but that call had not been returned by press time. read more