Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 3, 2021

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 3, 2021

Despite the Maryland State Department of Education voting to require them, two Maryland school systems – Somerset and Carroll counties – decided this week to not mandate masks on students. The move is likely temporary and seemingly symbolic opposition to the statewide decision. Somerset students were in school this week with masks, while Carroll students return next week.

The comments from Carroll County Board member Tara Battaglia seemed to represent the sentiment of many rural school boards. “No matter how someone may feel regarding masks or vaccines, local authority should be making their own decisions,” Battaglia told The Baltimore Sun. “Carroll County is not Baltimore city. Carroll County is not Prince George’s County. Our numbers can be different from other counties. … Unfortunately, I think this sets a precedent that any local government could be losing their authority to do what is best for their residents,”

The Carroll board has decided to wait until the Sept. 14 meeting of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review before changing its mask optional policy. It sounds like the board will wait until the committee approves (seemingly a certainty) before complying with the state requirement. Officials have said a legal challenge is not out of the question.

In Worcester County, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor quickly reacted to the state mandate with an announcement Friday confirming the school system would require masks effective immediately. The school system announced last week it was going the mask optional route, while highly recommending them for all personnel. The state’s decision essentially negated that call, taking away local control. Nonetheless, Taylor acknowledged the divisiveness of the issue in his video message. “ … now I am asking for your partnership. Please make sure that your child comes to school properly wearing a well-fitted face covering,” Taylor said. “I also ask for your patience and understanding. We know that the wearing of masks is a polarizing issue in our community; we have seen it the passionate letters, emails, social media comments, and more that we have received over these past months. I also know that we are all hoping to see a decline in the transmission levels in our community soon, so we can revisit this decision, but in the meantime, we need to protect every student’s ability to attend school in-person, and it will take all of us working together to make that happen.”

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With Ocean City entering September, the focus is turning to the dreaded end of the month event – the pop-up car rally. Though numerous changes have been by law enforcement agencies as well as the legislature to bring the event under control over the years, the sentiment all along has been Ocean City would not be able to arrest its way out of the pop-up rally problems.

During a discussion by the vehicle task force in Ocean City last week, a review of last year’s four-day event was discussed. In total, there were 277 arrests made during the pop-up rally including 127 on Saturday alone. Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser reported prosecuting 500 cases with about 400 adjudicated at this point. “Many are still working through the system,” she said. “Roughly 80% have been resolved and we have around a 90% conviction rate. We’re grateful to law enforcement for bringing us cases for which we can get convictions.”

One of the unofficial approaches with this event has been to oddly enough make Ocean City an unappealing place to visit for the types who gather for this non-event. Charging them with a crime is one thing, but there must be the harsh hammer on the legal side in court. A 90% conviction rate represents significant improvement on that front and might help keep the trouble makers away.

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The confusion from the Ocean City Mayor and Council over a new $12.7 million fire station was understandable. The original thought was the project would cost about $5.5 million in the spring.

Why the Ocean City Fire Department would bring a $12.7 million project to the council is perplexing. The case was not made for the grandiose structure at this week’s meeting. The council needs to stand its ground here and insist the project be brought closer to the $6 million figure, even it means starting over.

Ocean City Council President Matt James was right when he said, “We discussed a $5.5 million project in April. Now, we’re at $12.7. That’s my concern.” Councilman Peter Buas was also on the money when he said, “It’s two-and-a-half times larger than the Montego Bay station. If 15th Street is the headquarters, why don’t we just duplicate the Montego Bay station design and size?” Councilman Mark Paddack added, “I was led to believe it would $5.5 million. I understand wants and needs. The town spent a lot of money on 15th Street and a lot of that is providing service for West Ocean City. Now, I’m told this is what we need. It’s two-and-a-half times larger than the existing Station 3.”

After this sound dialogue, the council at the same meeting approved a $28.6 million bond sale this week that includes $11.2 million for the new fire station. Any reductions in cost made by changes to the structure from the fire department would then be redirected to the Baltimore Avenue project. It seems silly to question something reasonably and then approve its inclusion at the high price tag in a bond.

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.