Workers at Huntingtown's Sleepy Hollow Early Learning Center transformed their annual Thanksgiving lunch last week into a forum for parents to speak out against a recent Calvert County commissioners' vote that limited expansion at the day-care center.

State Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) fielded questions, but none of the county commissioners attended, an absence that upset the 20 or more parents at the event. They said they are frustrated by the commissioners' recent 4 to 1 vote that limited the increase in the number of children cared for at day-care centers adjacent to schools--as Sleepy Hollow is.

Commissioners said such centers could expand from 40 children to 60. The county's planning and zoning staff had recommended a maximum of 85, but some commissioners cited neighbors' complaints and concerns that facilities could become too crowded as reasons they opposed that figure. Commissioner Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard) was the only board member to support an increase to 85 children.

"Day care is a good thing," Buehler said last week, adding that he didn't attend the Sleepy Hollow event because of work. "The problem with this board is that they didn't believe there are state agencies that oversee these facilities."

Several strongly worded letters to the commissioners and news reports about the issue were tacked on bulletin boards next to daily menus and construction-paper turkeys at Sleepy Hollow, which is connected by a short path to the Huntingtown Elementary School campus.

When the question-and-answer session ended, O'Donnell said he was glad to be out of the hot seat and vowed to write a letter to the board in support of a larger increase.

"I'll make sure the county commissioners know I took some of their heat this morning," O'Donnell joked.

Parents complained that without further expansion, Sleepy Hollow won't be able to accommodate their middle school children, many of whom could become "latchkey kids" in houses that sit several acres from their nearest neighbor. Some parents had crafted special statements to read to the commissioners and were upset when none of the board members showed.

"This is their job," said Brad Mahanes, who has a young son and daughter in Huntingtown schools. "If they are going to interject themselves into this decision-making process, then withhold themselves from dialogue--that's just bizarre."

Commissioner John Douglas Parran (At Large) said he never received an invitation from Sleepy Hollow and wasn't sure whether he would have attended.

"I don't know how welcome we would be anyway," Parran said. He said he made the motion to limit the expansion to 60 as a compromise, but that he might change his view if a need is demonstrated.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a commercial business in a residential area, and that's what we have zoning laws for," Parran said. "We have to do what's right for the community, not what's right for one person or business."