Never mind that there are more than 400 days until the primary election for Charles County's Board of Commissioners. A half-dozen Democratic hopefuls made their pitch Monday night to one of the county's most active clubs.

Commissioners President Wayne Cooper, who is up for reelection, called the 4th and 5th District Democratic Club a litmus test for running countywide.

"If they accept you, you've got it made," he said as about 60 members dined on fried chicken and chocolate pudding at Shymansky's Restaurant on Cobb Island.

One likely reason for the early start: Two of the board's five members were appointed to fill vacancies last year. A third seat might be open if longtime commissioner Robert J. Fuller (D-St. Charles) decides to retire.

In Charles County, four of the five commissioners must live in the district from which they run. The candidates for commissioners president may live anywhere in the county. Voting for all five commissioners is countywide.

The candidates seemed to be taking a page from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who embarked on a "listening tour" before running successfully for her New York seat.

Robert A. Hall, who declared himself a candidate in the 3rd District, said the commissioners "need to stop micromanaging." He promised to "listen twice as much" as he talks.

Hall, a La Plata real estate agent and instructor, ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board in the 1980s.

Reuben B. Collins, a lawyer who grew up in western Charles, said he plans to run in the district now represented by Republican Allan R. Smith.

Instead of asking for votes, Collins distributed questionnaires, asking club members to list one pressing political issue. Collins is seeking a sampling of 1,300 voters to help shape his platform.

Virginia Lee Benedict, chairman of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee, announced her candidacy for the 1st District seat at the dinner. If elected, Benedict said she would promote the arts and public libraries as tools for attracting businesses to the county.

Benedict lost a bid for commissioner four years ago to W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata), who was chosen by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to fill a vacancy last year in the House of Delegates.

Only two candidates have officially filed for the contest. Candice Quinn Kelly (R-La Plata), who was appointed to the board to replace Mayer in the 1st District, is seeking election. Kelly officially began her campaign Friday at the home of George and Elaine Lancaster in Rock Point.

The other early filer is Democrat Kathy Kazimer, a Hughesville bed-and-breakfast owner who has the backing of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

Kazimer, also of the 1st District, said she wants to "hear what the people want in this county."

A Shorts Story

Off-duty deputies of the St. Mary's Sheriff's Office can now relax a little more when they drive their official vehicles around, thanks to a change in the department's dress code.

Sheriff David D. Zylak (D) announced that off-duty deputies may wear shorts in their vehicles -- a departmental fashion faux pas until now.

The shorts may be no shorter than a seven-inch inseam. They must not have any frays and be otherwise in good condition.

At the monthly Citizen Advisory Board meeting Monday night, Zylak read an e-mail from one of his sergeants thanking him for this change in policy -- among others -- and saying it was one example of how the department was "moving in the right direction" under Zylak's leadership.

Although shorts are now allowed off-duty, Zylak reiterated that flip-flops and sandals are not acceptable because they would impede the deputies' ability to move. Tank tops, hot pants and shirts with offensive writing are also still prohibited, Zylak said.

Congestion Ahead

The closing of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge this weekend may cause major delays in Charles County as traffic is diverted from Interstate 95 onto Route 301.

Kristen Adkins, spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, said this weekend could be a "traffic nightmare."

All but one lane of northbound I-95 will be closed from 8 p.m. tomorrow to 5 a.m. Monday.

Local law enforcement agencies are putting extra officers on the street to expedite the flow of traffic, but they are also asking motorists to be patient.

Arguing for Golf

Most people who deal with Emanuel Demedis at the courthouse in Prince Frederick know him as Calvert's no-nonsense county attorney.

But a news release from the county's Department of Economic Development focused on one of Demedis's other titles: golfer.

In a Monday statement promoting renovations at the Chesapeake Hills Golf Club, Demedis urged golf aficionados to try out the course.

"I am very pleased with what's happening at Chesapeake Hills," said Demedis, who was identified as an avid golfer and course regular. "I would encourage anyone who has not played here in a while to come and see the improvements firsthand. I think they will be pleasantly surprised."

The release, posted on several golf Internet sites, bragged about the course's "lush, high-quality Bermuda grass" and upcoming improvements -- including an expansion of tees and greens, clubhouse enhancements, new golf carts and parking lot resurfacing -- that will cost a total of $1.5 million.

One number omitted from the county's promotional statement: the $640,000 in county taxpayer funds loaned to the golf course in 2004.

Fun Day at Myrtle Point Park

The Friends of Myrtle Point Park will host the annual Fun Day at Myrtle Point Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Earlier, at 7 and 9 a.m., there will be bird walks.

Activities and displays will include seining in the Patuxent River; black bear and whitetail deer artifacts and information; a scavenger hunt for children; and information on ticks, poison ivy and mosquitoes as well as amphibians, reptiles and plants of Southern Maryland.

Water will be provided. Visitors should bring a lunch. For more information, call 301-373-2551 or 301-472-4091. The event is co-sponsored by the Sierra Club Southern Maryland Group.

NAACP Honors Students

For the first time, the NAACP of Charles County has honored students at Matthew Henson Middle School for achievement in mathematics and science.

Vice Principal Nina Huff, who suggested the award, said she hoped the recognition would encourage minority students to pursue careers in those fields.

"We want to make sure that the message is out there: If you do well, you will be recognized,'' Huff said. "We want them to learn that at ground zero."

The recipients of the award, which was given out last month, were eighth-graders Marquis A. Lewis and Jordan Stephenson; seventh-graders Deion Baker and Kayla Bentley; and sixth-graders Cherokee Carroll and Neil Verley.

New Dean at Leonardtown

The College of Southern Maryland named Frederico J. Talley to be the new dean of the college's Leonardtown campus. He took over the post July 5.

Talley has held a variety of higher education administrative jobs. He was the founding dean for McMaster School for Advancing Humanity and dean for enrollment management at Defiance College in Ohio.

He served as president of Olivet College in Michigan and as associate provost for academic and student services at Rowan University in New Jersey. And he served as vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

"I am impressed by the College of Southern Maryland's commitment to academic excellence and its focus on providing high quality and responsive services to its students and the community," Talley said in a statement.

In his role as dean, Talley will oversee operations at the Leonardtown campus.

Talley has a PhD in student personnel and higher education administration from Ohio University, an MA in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University and a BA in English from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Ellen P. Servetnick, plan to live in St. Mary's County with their children, Mark, 10, and Rosa, 7.

Properties Preserved

State Del. Sue Kullen (D-Calvert) announced last week the preservation of three properties, totaling almost 300 acres, through their inclusion in Maryland's Rural Legacy Program.

The state Board of Public Works voted last month to allocate more than $1.5 million to preserve Calvert County forests and farmland.

The funding was backed by Kullen and the American Chestnut Land Trust.

The land to be preserved includes a privately owned farm of 116 acres on St. Leonard Creek, a tributary of the Patuxent River. The other two properties, totaling 185 forested acres, are in the Parkers Creek watershed.

"With more than 60 percent of its watershed permanently protected, Parkers Creek is one of the most pristine watersheds on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay," Kullen said.

The three parcels will help maintain the wilderness character of the Parkers Creek Nature Preserve, Kullen said. They will become a part of the 15-mile trail system within 3,000 acres of land managed by the American Chestnut Land Trust.

Staff writer Amit R. Paley contributed to this report.

The College of Southern Maryland named Frederico J. Talley as the dean of its Leonardtown campus.