When is a sign a sign?

The town of La Plata caused a stir this spring when it started cracking down on gaudy, oversized signs and threatening business owners with fines of up to $100 a day.

So when the Port Tobacco Players troupe recently fastened the faces of theater, art and music luminaries to its newly renovated theater, one had to wonder: Do the signs violate the town's rules? And just who are those people?

Not to worry, said the group's board president, Richard Reckeweg. The Port Tobacco Players checked with the town in advance. Because there are no words on the signs, the faces are considered logos or building decorations -- not signs, Reckeweg was told.

The theater had wanted to include the letters PTP, but then the drawings would have been considered signs.

"We did clear it with them first," Reckeweg said. "That's how we got away."

As for who they are, he said the faces represent muses or patrons of the arts. On the front of the building, there is Shakespeare for romantic poetry; da Vinci, who designed the first revolving stage; and the masks Melpomene of tragedy and Thalia of comedy. At the rear of the theater, there is Beethoven for music, Josephine Baker for dancing and Sophocles for epic poetry.

Tommy Daniels, the part-time inspector charged with enforcing La Plata's ordinance, confirmed that the theater met the town's standards.

He said he has yet to issue a fine because business owners are heeding his warnings.

"People have been cooperative in acknowledging that the ordinance is valid," Daniels said.

Baltimore Schools

John Cox, a former football coach who rose through the ranks of the Charles County school system, has been named to a state committee charged with improving Baltimore's troubled special education program.

Cox, the assistant superintendent for instruction in Charles, will join an eight-member team appointed as part of a federal court order aimed at resolving a 21-year-old lawsuit against the city.

He called the opportunity a "perfect fit."

"The school system has lots of issues, and I like a challenge," said Cox, who grew up in Charles County and has worked for the schools for 30 years.

Cox will work with principals and teachers to improve test scores and overall achievement. Baltimore schools serve 87,000 students, compared with 26,000 in Charles. About 15 percent are enrolled in the special education program.

It is unclear whether Cox, who is 58, will return to the county after his appointment, which could last from one to five years.

Superintendent James E. Richmond has named Judy Estep, director of elementary education, to serve in Cox's place for the rest of the school year. Estep first worked in the county in 1970 and has held positions as principal in Fairfax County and assistant superintendent in Prince George's County.

Openings for Top Jobs

The Charles Board of County Commissioners met behind closed doors Tuesday morning to discuss how it would begin replacing Eugene Lauer, the county administrator for the past 10 years. Lauer announced his plans last week to retire at the end of the month after 32 years of local government work.

At the same time, the commissioners have narrowed a list of candidates for director of the Economic Development Department to six people. The finalists, who will be interviewed by the commissioners at the end of the month, include candidates from the Washington region and beyond.

The commissioners' choice will replace Aubrey Edwards, who retired in December as head of the Economic Development Commission. Since then, the nonprofit commission has become part of the county government in an effort to attract higher-paying jobs to the county.

Marketing director Marcia Keeth said she hoped the new director would be in place in time for the county's economic summit in late October.

No Laughing Matter

It's probably best not to laugh when Gerald W. Clark is speaking.

The Calvert County commissioner was already frustrated Tuesday as he demanded answers from county staff members about the imbroglio that has surrounded the design and site plan for the Lusby town center.

"I am fed up to the top of my head," said an exasperated Clark (R-Lusby).

But then, while he was speaking, came the sound of snickering from Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown). Clark did not look happy.

"You can laugh if you want, Susan," he said. "But you're part of the problem."

Shaw wasn't too happy with that swipe. "I take exception!" she said.

In the end, though, they were able to agree on one thing: The development of the Lusby town center is proving to be a big mess. And they directed Greg Bowen, the county's director of planning, to prepare a written summary of how that came to be.

"The complete story," Shaw said, "is not going to be pretty."

Telecommuting Upgrade

Southern Maryland's telecommuting centers have received authority from the federal General Services Administration to offer increased telework services for free to U.S. government agencies.

"We are committed to promoting and expanding federal telework in this region," Tammey Ussery, center director, said in a statement announcing the program. "Federal employees who have yet to try telework from a center can do so until Dec. 31 at no charge to their agencies."

In addition, teleworkers can increase their number of telework days at no additional charge to their agencies.

"In light of current gas pricing," Ussery said, "it is time for Southern Maryland residents to consider telework as a commute option."

The average commuter in the Washington metropolitan area spends 69 hours sitting in traffic each year, consuming 54 gallons of fuel and spending $600 in congestion costs because of travel delays and excess fuel consumption, according to a study cited by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Telecommuting centers operated by the Southern Maryland program -- located in Waldorf, Prince Frederick and Laurel -- offer computers, high-speed Internet connections, telephones, private voice-mail and meeting rooms as well as high-end copy, printing and fax machines.

Area residents interested in the telework centers may attend open houses from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow, Oct. 12 and Nov. 18 at all locations.

The centers are managed by staff members of the College of Southern Maryland's Corporate and Community Training Institute.

For information on the free offer and how to start using the centers, call 800-695-6105 or visit www.telecommutesomd.org.

Help for Families

The Rural Maryland Council, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, announced last week that more than $100,000 in grants will be available to assist disadvantaged rural families and children.

The Strengthening the Well-Being of Rural Maryland Families Grant Program will fund a range of nonprofit community-based organizations that work directly in state-designated rural areas outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The funds will help improve access to services for rural families.

The Healthy Families program at the La Plata-based Center for Children was awarded $20,000 to expand services through an infant mental health program to prevent child abuse and child mental health problems in Charles County.

Healthy Families is a free home visiting program for teenage and first-time parents who are either pregnant or have delivered within the last three months.

The Center for Children provides counseling, advocacy, family support services, crisis intervention and mentoring to children, adults and families. The center serves clients across Southern Maryland at offices in La Plata, Prince Frederick and Leonardtown.

Steele to Address NAACP

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) will be the featured speaker at the annual fall banquet of the St. Mary's County branch of the NAACP.

The banquet is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8, at Chancellor's Run Regional Park. Tickets, which cost $35, must be purchased in advance. For tickets, call 301-994-2656 or 301-994-0978.

Steele's planned talk is entitled "Empowering the Working Class in a High-Tech Community."

In January 2003, Steele became the first African American to hold a statewide office in Maryland.

School Appointments

Michael J. Martirano, St. Mary's County superintendent of schools, announced two administrative appointments that were confirmed by the Board of Education at its Aug. 31 meeting.

Theo L. Cramer was named director of academic support. He replaces Deanna Nored, who retired in June.

In his new post, Cramer will direct system-wide instructional support activities related to closing the achievement gap between white and minority students and accelerating learning for all students through assessments, the gifted and talented program, Title I services and extended day or school year programs. He most recently served as the principal of Laurel High School in Prince George's County.

Lori Wyman was named programmer analyst in the St. Mary's schools Information Technology Department. Wyman will be responsible for providing support to all users of the student and finance management system software applications. She also will analyze and develop software to meet needs within the school system. Before this appointment, she served as a media clerk at Esperanza Middle School. Her experience also includes serving eight years as a computer programmer with the Unisys Corp.