A recent weekend for Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone was packed with political and government events, followed by an urgent call about his elderly and frail father.

Even as his father's momentary health crisis eased, Guzzone, the only child of parents in their eighties, knew his political future had taken a turn.

"My sense of being a good son meant that I needed to be with them, plus I wanted to spend time with them," said Guzzone, 41.

His announcement this week that he would not run as a Democratic candidate for county executive in 2006 and instead campaign for what he said was a less demanding seat in the Maryland House of Delegates drew a sympathetic reaction from party members.

"I understand it totally," said Wendy Fiedler, chairman of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee. "I have an ailing parent myself."

Guzzone's decision to temper political ambitions with family needs is resonating with others who may enter the race to succeed James N. Robey, who cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

Courtney Watson, chairman of the Board of Education, was in middle and high school when her father Edward Cochran served a term as county executive in the 1970s.

"I know what the impact is on kids," said Watson, the mother of three. "There are negatives and positives for children of county executives."

Ken Ulman, a West Columbia Democrat on the County Council, said that he and his wife are expecting their second child in several weeks and that family considerations will weigh in his decision.

"We've made it work so far," he said.

Slow-Growth Slowdown

These days, officials with the Howard Department of Planning and Zoning prefer small steps to slow development in the county's rural west and save more land for farming.

Officials have shelved their original proposal to reduce density on land zoned rural conservation from one home per 4.25 acres to one per 10 acres. And they are proposing to reduce the total number of housing units built in the west over the next 20 years by about 500, rather than 1,400 as they suggested during the summer. Marsha S. McLaughlin, department director, urged a citizens' advisory group this week to adopt the same approach.

"I'd rather have the committee come to consensus on modest improvements," she said. The most important change for McLaughlin is limiting the practice of transferring building densities from other properties to rural conservation land.

McLaughlin wants to steer clear of more sweeping changes that she fears will be politically volatile as the county heads next year into elections for the county executive and County Council.

Some on the committee suggested big changes are what is needed in a county that is running out of buildable land.

Land use lawyer David Carney said the County Council could require developers to purchase density from the west if they want to build densely in Columbia or along major highways in the county's eastern region.

"Let's find a way to help the county save some of the large farms," he said.

The advisory committee is scheduled to meet next week to finalize its recommendations.

Leading With Their Hands

Leadership Howard County thinks the best way for its graduates to celebrate 20 years of community involvement is to get their hands dirty.

That's what they will be doing on Saturday when a group of 50 to 75 people gather at Stevens Forest Elementary School in Columbia for an outdoor makeover.

The group of Leadership Howard County graduates and members of the school community will plant trees, shrubbery and flowers along the front and sides of the school.

"We're excited about having our school look good," said Principal John Birus.

Steve Girard, a retired businessman who participated in Leadership Howard County's program in 1996, said the service project will be followed by an evening gala Oct. 15 at the Kossiakoff Center on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

'A Teachable Moment'

In 2001, Michelle McKenna completed 13 years of perfect attendance with her graduation from Atholton High School.

Four years later, she's back in Howard schools as a teacher at Elkridge Elementary.

McKenna, who graduated from the University of Maryland in May, hasn't told her fourth-grade class about her stellar record.

"It would be a good teachable moment," she said. "You're missing a link when one of them is not there in class."

Naturally, she plans to have perfect attendance as a teacher.