Five Howard County employees have filed worker's compensation forms with the state requesting that they be reimbursed for time they had to take off work after being overwhelmed by paint fumes in the Carroll building.

It seems the oil-based paint and varnish that was applied on doors and door frames in several offices late last month combined to form a noxious odor that stung the employees' eyes and throats and nauseated their stomachs. At one point, four of the five people working in the Office of Human Rights were out sick, and two were told that they would have to replace contact lenses that were exposed to the fumes.

According to the employees, the official county response didn't help matters. They said they were offended when Daniel Bennett, a public works official who oversees work on county-owned buildings, called them "wimps" after learning of their ailments. Asked to comment, Bennett said he hadn't meant any harm and was still investigating why the paints, which have been used before without incident, seemed to affect some workers and not others.

The new town of Columbia, which its many admirers boast is on its way to becoming a hub of economic activity, may be adding two jobs to its base, both in the legal profession.

Included in the Columbia Association's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in May are $10,000 to hire a law firm to advise the Columbia Council on planning and zoning issues and $50,000 for the salary of the association's first general counsel.

According to council chairman Lanny J. Morrison, the decision to retain the Rockville-based law firm of Chen, Walsh and Tecler stems from the council's desire to increase opportunities for citizen contributions on land use decisions affecting Columbia residents.

Until recently, most Columbians have had little say into how their environment developed because it was all ordained by the grand plan that The Rouse Co. created 20 years ago, Morrison said. But as the town has grown, so has some residents' dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the plan. Last year, for example, a group of Wilde Lake homeowners banded together to fight a proposed midrise condominium project but were told that their angst was for naught by Rouse officials and the county planning board, which has final say over projects in Columbia.

The addition of Jeanette Pfotenhauer, a 40-year-old lawyer from Seattle, to the staff of the Columbia Association has more to do with the desire to avert trouble than it does with creating trouble. Association President Padraic Kennedy said that while the public service corporation has typically farmed out its contracts, income tax work and lawsuits to several firms, the amount of business it generates has grown to the extent that it makes more sense to have an attorney always on call.

Just three months ago, there were whispers among employees of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections that William Davey Jr.'s career was headed quickly downhill.

An administrative review board formed in late summer to make sense out of and place blame for embarrassing events at the county's new jail said that Davey "was remiss in not fulfilling his responsibility" for failing to purchase for the jail's perimeter additional fencing and razor wire that might have prevented an August escape in which inmates used an almost identical route that inmates had used in May.

Davey survived the scolding from the review board. While others in the corrections agency were forced to retire or urged to transfer for their involvement in a series of bungles, Davey received only a written letter of reprimand.

But the corrections department was not through with him. Several days ago, Davey got more. An award. And not just any award. Davey, the man the review board had strongly suggested was primarily responsible for inadvertently allowing an escape from the correctional center, received an award for "outstanding performance" by a member of the department's Bureau of Support Services.

Grapevine items were written by staff writers Jo-Ann Armao, Keith Harriston, Lisa Leff, Eugene L. Meyer, Richard Tapscott and The Associated Press.