The year 2009 opened on a sad note in Harford County with residents still mourning the death of prominent, longtime school superintendent Jacqueline Haas. Before the year was over, Harford County would lose two other wellknown female leaders – former delegate Joanne Parrott and Harford County Councilwoman Veronica Chenowith.
It was also a year of contradiction. Even as President-Elect Barack Obama slowed his inaugural train ride through Edgewood in January to wave and thank a thousand or so supporters, there were a thousand or so more Harford County residents who fought tooth-and-nail in September to prevent President Obama’s live address to be shown to their children during the school day.
Bel Air High School was demolished and Fallston Library was spared from closure. Art Helton survived another political scandal in Aberdeen while Harford County’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly played a furious and humiliating game of musical chairs in Annapolis.
Citizens were outraged that Del. Pat McDonough couldn’t carry his questionable campaign signs during the Bel Air Independence Day Parade, yet couldn’t muster the same reaction when it was exposed that the Board of Education may have seriously bungled the bidding process for the new Red Pump Elementary School.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 stories of 2009, as chosen by The Dagger staff:
While his ride never came to a stop, President-Elect Barack Obama, with Joe Biden by his side, smiled, waved and even interacted with a few people, which was good enough for the thousand or so gathered at the Edgewood train station who had waited hours in the stinging cold of mid-January to catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be president aboard the train that would eventually take him to Washington D.C. for his inauguration.
The White House issued an advisory that President Barack Obama would be speaking live to the nation’s school children at noon on September 8th in an address that could be streamed directly into the schools. The President’s speech about the importance of education was reportedly planned for weeks, but a national backlash erupted that included a call to boycott the schools that decide to air the speech by keeping students home on the day of the broadcast.
Harford County Public Schools sent a mass Alert Now phone call out to parents with a message saying the speech would not be broadcast live in school, but leaving open the possibility that the speech might be used in the classroom at a later date.
They say these things happen in 3’s, so we included Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Haas in our triumvirate of dearly departed, even though she passed away just a few days shy of 2009. Haas died after apparently suffering an asthma attack and then going into cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
In early March, Joanne S. Parrott, a former state delegate and Harford County Council President, was found dead in her home at the age of 68.
Just a few weeks later, longtime Harford County Councilwoman Veronica “Roni” Chenowith, who had represented Fallston and Emmorton since 1994, died after battling cancer for several years.
Dissension in the ranks led to all out mutiny among members of the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, who, within two weeks, re-elected and then booted the chair and vice chair of the county delegation.
Dels. Susan McComas and Rick Impallaria were removed in early February as chair and vice chair in a controversial vote which both challenged. Dels. J.B. Jennings and Wayne Norman were installed in the place of McComas and Impallaria, who had just recently being reelected to their leadership positions. Then, in a letter dated April 20, Dels. McComas, Impallaria and Pat McDonough have formally requested that Jennings and Norman step down from their largely ceremonial positions as chair and vice-chair of the delegation.
The Bel Air High School building rose from the earth sixty years ago and it was demolished in fall of 2009. In August, as the wreckage had already begun with the glorious new replacement building standing by, ready to welcome students at the start of the new school year, The Dagger took a final tour of the old BAHS and the memories of those who taught and learned there.
An Independence Day incident, during which Del. Pat McDonough was apparently asked to observe long-standing July 4th parade rules forbidding the use and display of campaign signs, turned into a full-fledged fiasco that played out on airwaves and email in the first week of July.
McDonough cried “censorship!” and the rest is history. McDonough and his “angry mob that wasn’t” later went on to attack anything within reach, including The Dagger.
The Fallston Branch of the Harford County Public Library was set to close by the end of June in a cost-saving manuever deemed necessary after the County Executive and County Council mandated an additional 5% cut from each departmental budget.
Facing confusion and concern regarding the proposal, the Harford County Council issued a resolution urging all library branches to remain open and requesting the County Executive David Craig transfer money in the budget to save the Fallston branch.
A police report filed in early summer against former State Senator and Harford County Councilman Art Helton became the most talked about topic during Aberdeen’s municipal election season this fall. According to the report, Helton was not charged earlier in the year after a 32-year-old woman who rented one of his properties accused him of harassment.
Much more interesting than the non-charges against Helton was the timing of the release of the police report bearing her accusations. The authorities canned their brief investigation months ago, but in an Aberdeen election, nothing stays buried.
When the Harford County Board of Education cancelled plans to build Red Pump Elementary School last December, the school board was just days away from approving nearly $23 million in construction contracts that would have put shovels in the ground. The decision sparked a public debate over the fate of the school.
The Dagger learned in August that contractors who bid on Red Pump before it was cancelled filed an unusual number of protests over the bid process, raising the potential for legal action against Harford County Public Schools in the weeks leading up to the decision to scrap the school.
Was the specter of legal action the real reason Red Pump was ditched? And if it was not a factor, why wouldn’t the possibility of a court battle have been among the board’s considerations? More importantly, were the allegations of impropriety surrounding the bid process true? And if so, were they the result of one-time errors, or ongoing, systemic problems within HCPS?
In early March, a few of us sat down with Baltimore Sun Today Editor Andrew Ratner for about an hour-and-a-half. A Harford County resident himself, Ratner had been following The Dagger for some time and was interested in writing a story about us.
If you haven’t read the now-epic story, you missed former Aberdeen mayor Fred Simmons trying to expose our embedded sources and opining on tattoos he thought I had; School Board member Mark Wolkow dissing our name; State Senator Barry Glassman sticking up for us; and Ratner himself commenting on my apparent apathy toward our website.
Ratner, a good journalist and a great guy, would leave The Sun within weeks of the story’s publication during one of many staff purgings at the paper in 2009.
Those were our hand-picked favorite stories of the year, but statistically speaking, the most popular, most read, most commented stories of the last year on The Dagger, even if they weren’t written in 2009, were: