Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 11, 2021

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 11, 2021

It’s looking more and more like students returning to school in the fall may not be required to wear masks. Some local private schools, like Worcester Prep, for example, adopted the “restaurant concept” last month following CDC guidance where masks are worn in common areas like hallways but removed when students are seated at desks spaced apart. A grassroots movement in some Maryland public school systems looks to take it even further.

For example, members of the Carroll County Board of Education and state legislators in the region wrote letters to the state education department this week requesting the in-school mandate be lifted. School board officials want the state to make masks optional immediately.

On the local front, Worcester County Public Schools on May 7 lifted the outdoor mask requirement for teachers and students. Many parents have been vocal on social media about their hopes masks will not be required when students return in the fall. Local elected officials are encouraging citizens they hear from to write the state superintendent of schools to voice their opinion. However, most seem to agree it’s unclear whether the decision rests with the state education department or the governor’s office. If it rests with the governor, schools should be allowed to be mask free now since the statewide mandate was lifted May 15.

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Local artist Patrick Henry created quite a stir on his Facebook page this week when he vaguely referenced the Berlin Council’s recent decision to remove from the budget a $27,500 feasibility study for a new community center on Flower Street. Henry attended elementary school in the building in the 1960s and the building’s future is important to him. He wrote, “In 2001 I was asked to attend a meeting with former Delegate Bennett Bozman, former Berlin Councilman John D. Smack Jr. and former County Commissioner James Purnell, to pour over plans with replacing the aging building with a new larger one. Recently, I was notified that next week the Berlin Council will decide on plans to replace the building with one that could greater serve the needs of our community. Unfortunately, I was also told that some of ‘the powers to be’ may not consider it financially expedient for the spending of taxpayers money on such a project. So sad.”

Henry’s post resulted in dozens of comments and shares, including some statements from the town’s elected officials.

On his Facebook page, Mayor Zack Tyndall thanked Henry for discussing the issue, saying, “… The cost of this study and planning would be taken out of a reserve fund that currently holds over $400,000 to be used solely for the community center. As many of you are aware, the Multipurpose Building on Flower Street has fallen in disrepair. For over 20 years, a new community center has been discussed and promised to the Berlin community. Year after year, the discussions begin and end with the mantra ‘it can wait until next year.’ I ask that you please reach out to your respective Councilmembers and let them know how vital this funding is for the future of our community.”

Town council members called foul on Henry’s post, saying the facts were not represented. A common concern among the council members was removing the feasibility study should not be taken as not supporting a new community center for the area. They say a feasibility study is not needed because the likelihood is the new community center will not even be located at the site of the current building in question.

Councilman Troy Purnell was the bluntest, saying, “Patrick, Total BS. Whatever you heard and whoever you heard this from is a liar. From this Councilperson you can be assured that the community center is a priority but the Mayor did not propose in his budget 1 dime for this to be built. We do not need to spend any money on a “feasibility” study as we know it is feasible. We need to put some more money in the budget to get grants to FUND building it.

Councilman Jay Knerr added, “Patrick, I can tell you the entire council is committed to building a new and improved Community Center. The three new council members when running for election, all recognized the immediate need for a new building. … Jack Orris is going to propose at the council meeting that the town form a Community Center Committee in order to get some solid ideas down on paper so we can start moving this forward. That is a positive step in the right direction. In order to construct a new center we will certainly need a lot more money than the current reserve amount, but we can leverage the funds we do have to apply for grants. Part of the new committee’s mandate will be to explore those options. Sometimes the rumor mill goes astray. …”

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols, who lives on Flower Street, said,  “We, all 5 of the Council members of the town of Berlin fully support and are ready to work towards building/establishing a Community Center on Flower Street. The only thing that we don’t agree with is spending part of our $420k that has been allotted for said Community Center on a Feasibility Study costing $27.5k, which would be deducted from the current $420k, when this study is not required in order to receive all possible grant funding. … With all do respect, please folks before jumping to conclusions reach out to us. My counterparts and I are more than willing to explain exactly what’s going on. I have been waiting, like you Mr. Henry since the days of Bennett Bozeman for this Community Center and plan to see it happen.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.