Milling­ton coun­cil weighs in on school bus woes

Kent County News - - OPINION - By DORIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

— Coun­cil mem­bers here ex­pressed their dis­sat­is­fac­tion and frus­tra­tion with the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and on­go­ing is­sues with school trans­porta­tion dur­ing a meet­ing Tues­day.

Since classes be­gan last week, there have been nu­mer­ous com­plaints from par­ents about buses — con­tracted through Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion of Bal­ti­more — be­ing late, tak­ing the wrong route, driv­ers be­ing dis­re­spect­ful and un­safe be­hav­ior.

The is­sues were dis­cussed at a school board meet­ing Mon­day, which fea­tured a po­lice pres­ence and peo­ple air­ing their griev­ances to of­fi­cials.

“I still have a headache from it” Coun­cil­man Wayne Starkey, who at­tended the school board meet­ing, told the coun­cil. “The cit­i­zens of not only our com­mu­nity, but the en­tire county pulled to­gether last night and I’m proud of that.”

He said the school board mem­bers, Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch or Re­li­able Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Ti­mothy Dixon — who Star- key re­ferred to as “the col­ored gen­tle­man” — did not seem to an­swer any of the pub­lic’s ques­tions.

“The school board said ... to stay pos­i­tive, what­ever that means,” Starkey said. “I don’t be­lieve them on a per­sonal level.”

Coun­cil­man Kevin Hem­stock said he watched the meet­ing via live stream. He said to him, the school board seemed “de­fen­sive” and at times “ar­ro­gant,” es­pe­cially Couch.

“This is a safety is­sue,” Hem­stock said. “This is a safety is­sue for chil­dren and I’m not sure they are tak­ing this se­ri­ously. ... I’m con­cerned there’ll be an ac­ci­dent.”

Starkey, who has a fiveyear-old son at­tend­ing Galena El­e­men­tary School, said he has been fol­low­ing the school bus on its route.

He said has video records of in­ci­dents — like speed­ing and fail­ure to use the buses’ red and yel­low safety lights — and that his son has been dropped off at his stop later than sched­uled sev­eral times.

“I’ve missed about four and a half days of work. ... On the se­cond day of school, my fiveyear-old begged and cried not to be on that bus,” Starkey said. “The only rea­son he stopped cry­ing was be­cause I told him I’d fol­low him to school.”

He said he has heard sim­i­lar con­cerns from other par­ents and that he would like to see the coun­cil help the cit­i­zens if pos­si­ble. He said he has no­ticed tem­po­rary school bus-shaped signs on tele­phone poles around town, to sig­nify stops.

He and Hem­stock dis­cussed pos­si­ble op­tions, such as alert­ing the Kent County Sher­rif’s Office when needed.

“One thing I found out was that we are stuck with Re­li­able for the next four years,” Starkey said. “So un­for­tu­nately, we’ll have to see how this plays out. But we came full­force as a county to the ta­ble.”

Hem­stock said he blames Couch and the school board mem­bers for “rub­ber-stamp­ing” the con­tract with Re­li­able. He ques­tioned the need for it to “take the same time as con­sol­i­da­tion” and that they did not need to ap­prove Re­li­able’s con­tract.

“Ev­ery one of those mem­bers voted for this con­tract,” Hem­stock said. “The bot­tom line is, our chil­dren need to be safe. I’ve heard com­plaints about peo­ple bad-mouthing bus driv­ers and com­plaints about the chat­ter last night. You know what, they de­serve it.” A for­mer edi­tor of the

Hem­stock said he has never seen this “in­sen­si­tiv­ity of a gov­ern­ment agency when it comes to kids” in his ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist.

“Peo­ple are very con­cerned,” he said. “This is a very cal­lous op­er­a­tion.”

Coun­cil mem­bers Michelle Hol­land and Eli Man­ning did not con­trib­ute to the con­ver­sa­tion. Mayor C.J. Mo­rales did not at­tend the meet­ing.

Also at the meet­ing, plan- ning com­mis­sion can­di­dates Patty San­ti­ago and Rahul Dutta, owner of Tail­gate Mar­ket, ap­peared be­fore the com­mis­sion. Since Starkey was elected to the town coun­cil, his seat on the com­mis­sion is va­cant.

After a brief de­bate, the coun­cil chose to write down their votes on a piece of pa­per — while still in an open ses­sion — and hand them to Man­ning to re­view. The re­sults ended in a 2-2 tie.

The coun­cil de­cided to wait un­til Mo­rales could at­tend and will revote at the Oc­to­ber meet­ing.

The coun­cil con­tin­ued a work ses­sion on up­dat­ing the town char­ter. They de­cided to make sev­eral re­vi­sions and amend lan­guage in Ar­ti­cle 5, which in­volves town elec­tions.

Sev­eral changes in­clud­ing hav­ing a sen­tence state a town coun­cil mem­ber can­not hold an­other “pub­lic gov­ern­ment office” and re­vis­ing the ti­tle of town clerk/trea­surer to just town clerk.

Mem­bers of the Milling­ton town coun­cil dis­cuss their frus­tra­tion re­gard­ing re­cent is­sues with school buses dur­ing a meet­ing Tues­day. From left are Coun­cil­man Kevin Hem­stock, Coun­cil­woman Michelle Hol­land, Coun­cil­man Wayne Starkey and Coun­cil­man Eli Man­ning. PHOTO BY DORIAN MITCHELL

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