The debate over a Republican plan to have Howard County voters decide whether it should be more difficult to raise taxes could get a bit nasty.

County Council members Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) and Allan H. Kittleman (R-West County) are asking the Democratic-controlled council to approve a measure for the November ballot, a charter amendment requiring four of the five council members to agree to future tax increases.

In an interview with The Washington Post last week, County Executive James N. Robey (D) suggested the two council members were just tired of being in the minority.

"When extremists decide through hook or crook they are going to eliminate the will of the majority, it's a problem," Robey said.

If the council rejects the measure, as expected, Merdon and Kittleman have vowed to work with the Howard County Taxpayers Association and the county Republican Party to gather the 10,000 signatures needed to force the issue onto the ballot anyway.

The Republicans say they're pushing the issue because Robey is too quick to raise taxes.

"When you don't have an argument on an issue, you start name-calling, and if that is the way he wants to debate the issue, there is nothing I can do about it," Kittleman said this week of Robey's comments. He also said the executive is trying to scare voters into opposing the measure by telling them that services could be cut.

Besides seeing it as bad public policy, Robey believes the referendum would be an attack on his management skills. He said he had no choice but to raise the income tax this year because the county would not have been able to pay its annual debt payments for bonds or its increased employee health insurance premiums.

Robey also accused Merdon and Kittleman of trying to use the referendum to bolster their political careers. Both council members are eyeing the county executive's job in 2006, when Robey can't run again because of term limits.

"I don't think for a second this is not geared toward the 2006 elections," Robey said.

But Merdon denied that, saying: "I think the Democrats' raising taxes five times in six years is a valid enough issue to run on."

Both council members, however, can expect a continued drubbing from the county executive should the measure make it onto the ballot. "I believe the people of Howard County are too smart to follow someone who leads by misleading," Robey said.

All in the Family

When husband and wife Craig and Jeannette Lussi wait for the start of the 21st Columbia Triathlon on Sunday at Centennial Park, they'll be joined by their 10-year-old son, Hunter, who also will swim, bike and run in what is not his first, but so far his biggest, triathlon.

"Where else do I get to spend four solid hours with my son, where I can do [the events] with him?" said Lussi, 42, a Montgomery County resident who with his wife is competing in their fifth Columbia Triathlon.

Intense athletic competition is a Lussi family tradition. Craig's grandfather, Gustav Lussi, was a renowned coach of Olympic figure skating champions in Lake Placid, N.Y. His father, Craig M. Lussi, competed in ski jumping in the 1960 Olympics.

"I skated literally before I could walk," Lussi said.

During the triathlon, the Lussis' 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son are spending the day with their grandmother, Nancy Lussi, who two years ago learned to water ski at age 65.

Nursing a Tradition

When Bernadene Hallinan-Smith arrived at Howard Community College in 1971 to lead a brand-new nursing program, she knew graduates would need a special event to mark their entry into nursing. In 1974, the first graduates received a pin with the college's emblem during a ceremony organized by the students.

Through 30 years, the pinning ceremony has been an annual rite of passage for 1,917 graduates of the college's two-year nursing program.

Tomorrow, Hallinan-Smith will attend the latest pinning ceremony to congratulate 39 new graduates and urge them to improve the health care system.

Hallinan-Smith, 79, was director of the program for 10 years until her retirement in 1981.

Name Recognition -- Finally

Harriet Tubman High School was built as an all-black school in the days before integration, but the name was never placed upon the building.

That has always felt like a racist snub to the school's proud students and faculty.

"It always has been a sore point," said alumnus Howard Lyles.

Now 40 years after the school closed, Tubman will finally get its due.

County school system officials say they will officially unveil new lettering on the building, spelling out the school's name at a ceremony at 9 a.m. next Thursday.

"When I first heard the news, I said, 'Hallelujah, thank God!' " Lyles said.

The old school building, adjacent to Atholton High School on Freetown Road, is being used for Head Start classes and storage.

But it is also seen as a cultural shrine by members of the Harriet Tubman Foundation, including Lyles, the group's president.

The foundation, which had lobbied long for the name, is hoping that someday the county will turn over the building so it can be transformed into an African American cultural center.

Hispanic Students Honored

A dozen of Howard County's outstanding Hispanic high school seniors were scheduled to be honored Tuesday evening at Oakland Mills High School at the third annual Conexiones Convocation.

Conexiones, a Columbia-based volunteer organization, is dedicated to promoting scholastic excellence among local Hispanic students through mentoring, tutoring, field trips and cultural events.

It has a fledgling scholarship fund that provided those being honored this year with checks of about $100 each to help them continue their educations.

The students being honored are Jessica Pagan of Atholton High School; Daniel Felipe Gonzalez of Centennial High School; M. Ryan Corces-Zimmerman of Glenelg High School; Sophia Berruz of Hammond High School; Janelle Henry and Florencia Cecilia Vasta of Howard High School; Laura Figueroa, Patricia Figueroa and Pablo Morales of Long Reach High School; Jeffrey Morales of Mount Hebron High School; Erika Siles of Oakland Mills High School; and Jason Barrero of River Hill High School.

Staff writer Mary Otto also contributed to this report.