Thursday, March 31, 2011

MLB OPENING DAY!! (Thursday Links)

(Anyone have anything positive or negative to say about Thompson Creek Windows?)

Today is Opening Day of baseball (for most teams -- not the O's), which is frickin' awesome.  Being an Orioles fan, I need to find the ancillary benefits of baseball, rather than focus too much on the product put on the field.  For me, that is the ready availability of baseball games for any kind of get together.  "Hey, you and I ought to grab a baseball game."  "We were coming down to Baltimore for the day and wanted to know if you all may want to see a game."  "Let's meet up for a baseball game and we can discuss [it] there."  Certainly, if you are not a baseball fan, this sounds like torture, but for those who are, it is an exciting time.

Personally, I love baseball season because it gives me an opportunity to catch some games with my Dad.  We're very busy people and don't often "make time" to get together.  That may be because between baseball and football, that time is made for us.

As for my O's prediction, I'm sticking with about 83 wins.  Before you run to Vegas, I still owe some beer bets for last year's .500 prediction.  All that said, there are some credible prognosticators that are on my side on this one.  Unfortunately, I think a semi-successful team that can't get to the playoffs will be just as frustrating for the fan base as sub-500, but there will be more people at the games, meaning more revenue for Prince Fielder...I mean a hard hitting first baseman in the prime of his career.

LINKS

Normandy Shopping Center is getting its chance to thrive with the approval of mixed use zoning.  Those concerned about the fate of "Village Centers" would do well to avert their eyes from Normandy.  In the age of "destination shopping," it seems that a shopping center like Normandy needs density.  Even the "anchor stores" are insufficient to sustain the type of foot traffic needed for a viable shopping center.  This is the right move by the Council and I hope the property owners can make it work.

For sports fans -- Jen Royale is suing Nestor Aparicio and WNST for defamation to the tune of $800,000.

Mayor SRB's budget cuts into some of the sacred calves of City government: Fire Stations, Rec Centers, and Pools.  She's also making cuts to the City payroll, which, between furloughs and pay raises, amounts to approximately $3.5 million in savings.  The hope is that cuts to community centers will be replaced by civic involvement and private funds.  Something similar happened last year when the budget was cut. 

Controversial State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick will be stepping down in June.

The General Assembly will be requiring MTA to raise its fares.  According to the piece, a costly settlement with the union and growing expenses, MTA did not meet its goal of raising 35% of their operating costs from fares.  This is an unfortunate but necessary move by the legislature.  The State can't, and should not, shoulder much more than 65% of mass transit expenses.  For those that would point out that this service is used by those that are least likely to be able to afford a pay increase, talk to the union.

"A handgun reported stolen from a politically connected Southeast Baltimore businessman is registered to a top Baltimore police commander, and police are investigating how the business owner came into possession of the weapon, The Baltimore Sun has learned."  Eek!

Columbia Patch notes that while Columbia Clean-Up Day is over, County Clean-Up Day is still to come.  In light of how much fun I had at Columbia Clean-Up, I am planning to be there.

Here is a very cool piece about the cartographical similarities between South Carolina and Howard County.  Definitely check this one out.

HowChow goes to Belvedere Square...which is...gasp...NOT IN HOWARD COUNTY!!

Sarah wants to teach you how to make ghormeh sabzi -- Iranian "herb stew" (not literal translation).

Dennis notes that yesterday was "Hug Your Doctor" Day.  I think everyone, unless you play professional sports or are a movie star, feels like their profession is underappreciated.  Whether or not you hugged your doctor yesterday, it may be an idea to let the people around you know that you appreciate what they do and how important they are to the functioning of your organization, business, and/or ability to buy lunch at an affordable price.  After that, suck it up.  At least you're not a lawyer! 

That's all for today.  This week has beaten me like I stole something.  Friday will be a welcome respite.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

All Part of the Plan (Wednesday Links)

I am a man of rituals.

When people ask me "How do you find time to do [that]?" (which normally is a subtle suggestion that they are much more busy than I am), the answer is normally "by ritual."  I get up at the same time.  Make (normally the same) breakfast.  Write my post by 7 am.  Get on the road by 7:10 am.  In the office by 7:45 am.  And my day is started -- with continuing rituals throughout the day (gym 11:40; lunch 1:15; coffee/tea 3:00).  Creepy, huh?

But I assure you that my rituals allow me to do more things in my day than if I just threw whatever it was I wanted to get done in a day on the wall and hoped something stuck.  Maybe I feel like 15 more minutes sleep?  No can do.  That will screw everything up.  Or, if I do want that sleep, I need to really really want it.

Today, my computer didn't work.  The track-pad on the Mac has completely quit on me.  I sat there with my ritualistically made breakfast at my ritually specific blogging time...without the ability to write a post.  Adjustments were made, but my whole schedule is thrown off.  Let's hope for the best.

LINKS

The Maryland Senate passed a $14.6 billion budget, along with a 3% surcharge on beer, wine, and liquor, which is expected to raise approximately $25 million.  The real shame about this alcohol surcharge has been the manner in which constituencies have been manipulated and "tricked."  The dime-a-drink tax was supposed to go to special education...then it was supposed to go to the Autism Waiver Registry (i.e., the Waiting List)...THEN it was changed to the alcohol surcharge, which would put money towards Baltimore City and Prince George's County schools.  Parents of children on the spectrum testified on behalf of an alcohol tax, which was then deemed palatable, but for a completely different purpose.  My favorite justification for why the proceeds of a state-wide tax should go to two municipalities?

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller noted that Baltimore and Prince George's County are two of the largest consumers of alcohol. The two jurisdictions accounted for a quarter of the sales of beer, spirits and wine sold in Maryland last year.


Why don't we also give the most transportation funds to those counties with the most traffic citations? 

The Senate also appears to have no problem with burning the candle at both ends:

The Senate budget would chop $5 million from a state grant intended to stabilize tuition costs at community colleges, putting financial pressure on the state's higher education program. Separately the body also asked the 16 community colleges to admit more illegal immigrants by directing them to charge in-state and in-county tuition.


Just for fun, I think the Senate should also require all Community Colleges to teach marine biology.  Why not give them one more plate to spin?

Mayor SRB is making serious cuts to City services in order to increase City spending by 1%.  That is not a typo.

I presume that mascots like "Kegasus" are the death throes of our "proud racing tradition."  The Sport of Kings...and "party manimals."  Ugh.

Baseball starts on Friday.  I am very excited and have been following the Orioles' Spring Training games religiously.  If you want a nice wrap-up of where things stand, look here.

The most recent article addressing ACLU's battle with the Mall over the banning of homeless individuals has some quotes from Mall manager Kate Essig.  As I noted earlier, this is not a case where customers were being bothered by those that were banned.  It seems like the conversation has finally returned to the central issue of "trespassing" and its flexible application.  However, it now looks like the pendulum has shifted too far.  From where I sit, the real issue is the bus.  The Mall is within its rights to ban whomever it wants to ban.  Those rights do not extent to a publicly funded government service.  The ACLU is working in the capacity of an attorney and, as such, must represent the wishes of its clients.  Anne and Steve want to use the Mall, with the bus now becoming an aside.  The Mall seems to have dug in its heels.  (Insert slow clap).

Larry Carson has a piece about the winery legislation and the Council's approach to changing affordable housing dollar limits.  As much as I would like to see wineries in Howard County, I tend to agree with Councilmember Fox that small parcel wineries should go through  a "conditional use" zoning process with public hearing.  I grew up out in Highland and those roads are easily clogged; sometimes for things as small as a T-ball tournament.  There needs to be permissive language for these businesses, but I don't think we need to compare ourselves with "competing jurisdictions."  There's a reason Wine in the Woods is the biggest wine festival in Maryland.  This is where it's at.  We can make our own rules, so long as they do not stunt the process of applying for a winery.
 
HowChow is concerned that Ceazar Market may be closed.
 
Duane encourages readers to donate to "Our House."
 
Sarah has another great post, this one about Howard County's aging population and public transit's need to evolve.
 
Someone has given WB a microphone and 10-15 minutes to make Dick jokes.  I tried to find the ATTT where Dennis made approximately 10 dick jokes in the first 5 minutes, but searching "And Then There's That Dick Story" does NOT get you podcast results.  In college, my fraternity buddies and I "roasted" our graduating seniors.  It was great fun...until someone broke the only rule we had: "No girlfriend jokes."  And so the Great Frater Roast went down in flames...and tears.  (I wish I could make it tonight, but after about three weeks of being out of the house every single evening for various meetings, conferences, trainings, and beer chats, Jane has put her foot down.  Tonight we are meeting someone about the installation of new windows.  Domestication is not just for dogs.)
 
For anyone considering a Village Board run (or, by this point, an application to the Board), please read Trevor's post about his own experiences on the Board.  By my count, there are two vacancies on the River Hill Board and one on the Dorsey's Search Board.  While I respect and appreciate those that have come before us, it is time for the younger generation to step up and take responsibility for our community.  Whatever your excuse is, Trevor has a response.
 
AND that's all for today folks.  Have a great Wednesday and (for those attending) enjoy the Roast!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mall Ban: ACLU Goes To The Mattresses

For the past month, various elected officials and their staff have been speaking with the Mall about the ban of homeless individuals and its effect on Howard Transit use.  By most indications, there has been very little compromise on behalf of the Mall.

Now it looks like the ACLU will be forcing this issue.  As someone who was interested in the fair resolution of this dispute, I am personally disappointed.  I think the ACLU brings a tremendous amount of political baggage and may be placing a bull in the china shop.  However, it's not my issue.  The two individuals that were banned chose to have the ACLU take up their fight, and now we're all spectators.

Blither and Blather (Tuesday Links)

I was having a beer with some new friends last night when someone mentioned that both Dennis and I had "taken off" last Thursday (I made a minor correction that I had a boxing match with death, but that is besides the point).  Someone else piped in:

"There's only so much you can blither and blather about."

It cracked me up.

Another interesting point of discussion is the 2014 County Executive Race.  It seems to be on the top of every hyper-local mind right now, with every potential candidate like a chess piece that has a number of different directions it can move.  From U.S. Congressman to taking a few years off, every one has an idea for how the various pieces will shift.  The biggest focus for right now seems to be Guy Guzzone.  I've heard some say that he is "99% sure to run for County Exec."  I've heard others say that Senator Robey is paving the road for Guy to take his seat.  It will be interesting to watch, especially since other politicos are dropping serious hints that they plan to make a run, regardless of primary opponent.

I'll tell you one thing: I am not looking forward to, nor am I interested in, making endorsements for that race.  Count me out.  (Buck Buck Buckaa)

LINKS

Call me jaded, but I am not particularly offended by the "drinking and gambling" during work hours that is alleged to have gone on with 13 Baltimore City employees.  Fire them?  Oh yes.  Spend a week writing articles about it?  No thank you.

(Neutered) Wine Shipping in Maryland is going to the Governor!  Everybody pop some Champag...um...sparkling Gobblywobbler.

Get ready for a new annoying voice added to the city din: "Pedestrians, bus is turning!"  Why not add the warning "Pedestrians, collisions with moving vehicles can be hazardous to your health and THIS one is turning!"

Good news?  You won't be getting the White Pages anymore.  Bad news?  You'll still be getting the Yellow Pages.

On my lunch break yesterday, I tried to lay out the various candidates for Village Boards and CA.  MUCH more difficult than I thought it would be.

Wilde Lake has seven candidates for five Village Board positions, with Phil Kirsch going unchallenged to retain his CA Board position.

According to this post, there were four open spots on the River Hill Village Board.

Other than that, I have not been able to find too much.  Your help would be greatly appreciated (but big props to Wilde Lake Village for already having their candidate statements on the website).

Columbia Compass recounts his life-long love affair with Columbia pools.

WB notes 10 million square feet of BRAC related demand over the next half-decade.

Sarah points out that some municipalities are shifting to gravel roads in less traveled areas to save money...and that may not be such a horrible idea in Maryland.

Mo is slightly disappointed with March, but is ready to turn the page into April.

HowChow hearts watermelon radishes.

Duane profiles Neighbor Ride.

That's all for today.  I had a number of great discussions with some wonderful folks yesterday.  This week's "taping" of I Can Fix That has been postponed, so I have an unexpected hole in my schedule...which is nice.  Speaking of wonderful folks, did you know that Grassroots has to raise $300,000 in individual contributions per year?  You know that friend, uncle, cousin, parent, small business owner that you've been meaning to forward The Project link to?  Like Nike says "Just Do It."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reactionary, Piece-meal, Out-of-Context..>Me

I highly recommend this very brief piece in defense of the New York Times pay-wall, which will start up later this week.  I partially recommend it due to the blunt criticism of the "Link Post", which provides the foundation of blogs such as this:

Dependable, in-depth, big-picture journalism -- as opposed to the reactionary, piecemeal, out-of-context "aggregation" practiced by way too many bloggers -- is an increasingly rare and precious commodity.

I think the writer, in his anger, is trying to fit a round peg in a square hole here.  Blogs aren't journalism.  They may be treated as such.  They may view themselves a such.  But...they ain't.  Blogs are commentary, with the additional benefit of providing automatic conversation about whatever it is the journalists are covering.  Sure, WB may break a story.  I may find some stuff that isn't being reported in the mainstream press.  But that doesn't make us journalists, and I don't think it is fair to criticize the manner in which we provide "journalism."

All the same, his criticism of article aggregation is legit, but it makes the presumption that people would otherwise have the time to read all those news stories that are being aggregated on their behalf.  In today's age of information overload, I just don't think they do.

Get Involved. Do Good. (Monday [Late] Links)

I hope everyone had a chance to recharge over the weekend.  I may have overbooked myself, but this week shouldn't be too bad.

I had the most interesting experience of being interviewed by Larry Carson yesterday.  Despite being blog-averse, he is a very nice guy and certainly good at what he does.  I had originally been a little tentative in calling, since I figured that sometime in my two year existence on the interwebs, he may have stumbled across this http address.  Nope.  "I just wanted to talk to you to find out who you are."  (By the way, humble pie goes very well with coffee.) 

Speaking of which, our Candidate Insert came out with this week's newsletter.  Exciting stuff.  Two uncontested elections and an extra vacancy to boot!!  Maybe instead of holding a Beer Summit to discuss (semi-sacred) Village Centers, we should hold a summit to look into why a community that is over-flowing with non-profit boards simultaneously has a difficult time getting folks interested in village elections and board membership.  I think around this time last year, Bill Santos suggested that in order to get people out to the Village polls, we may consider a grilled cheese contest (or something else food related).  I feel like we need to do something (but please don't consider this to be stepping on anyone's toes...it is too early in the week).

If you live in Dorsey's Search, I need you!  We have a wonderful Board, a hard-working village manager, and...an evaporating leadership structure.  In the next few weeks, we will be losing two people from our RAC (myself being one), and have to fill a Village Board position for the only Village that has not submitted a Master Plan.  There are so many young families in our neighborhood, and that demographic has a right to be represented on the Board.  In fact, whatever your demographic is, it is likely that you are being under-represented in our homeowner's association.  Get involved.  Do Good.

LINKS

There's an app for directing you to the nearest Girl Scout Cookie Sale.  Call me a "Debbie Downer," but I don't like this app...particularly if my daughter is in Girl Scouts. 

The cost of government continues to go up -- this time $70 million in toll increases.

Interesting twist in the Howard Transit Rechargeable Bus Plan -- apparently the Mall refused to host the recharging station, which was then rescued by Howard Community College.  It is an interesting symbolic statement about where the focus of our County may be shifting over the coming years.  The Mall folks may have won the first half century, but as Columbia's downtown shifts the focus, and the Community College continues to grow into one of the shining jewels of our State, our elected officials may stop treading so lightly when it comes to Mall business.  Either way, I really am excited about these buses.  I don't use mass transit very much around town, but I keep telling myself that I should.  Although the electric buses won't be ready, I want to give the bus system a try for Wine In The Woods.

Speaking of exciting innovations, University of Maryland Eastern Shore has installed a "solar farm", which will produce 15% of its energy.  The practical matter is that solar is a long way off from being a sustainable source for large scale energy consumption.  If you look at the picture with the article, that is a huge patch of land (17 acres) dedicated to solar panels.  Companies like Dow Chemical are developing "solar shingles", but even if they are successful, these innovations will most likely still require supplementation by other sources of energy.  That said, this area of our economy is moving at an accelerated pace.  If our federal government would just get off its rump and create a comprehensive Energy Policy, we may actually see more predictable progress.

WB heads out to Poplar Springs/Mt. Airy for a local meal with local wine.

Duane ponders how online learning may affect the traditional models of education.

Columbia 2.0 notes that the CA is holding two work sessions to develop long-term plans for the use and maintenance of Columbia pools.

Sarah's post about the Nintendo 3DS blew my frickin' mind

Mo eats at The King's Contrivance and notes that it is a sin to make a food post without pictures.  Well...I'd rather laugh with the sinners than take a picture of my food at a nice restaurant.

Off to a breakfast meeting to discuss new ideas to raise money to End Homelessness and then the office.  By the way Team Captains, my Dad is kicking your butt!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Columbia Clean-Up Was FUN!

When I was little, I loved dirt...much to the disappointment of my dear mother and multiple baby-sitters.  Hopping around in a creek bed or building a unsanctioned dam was my childhood wheelhouse.  That's why when I heard we were cleaning up "the creek" as part of Dorsey's Search Clean-Up, I got a little excited.

The problem was that I was slightly over-dressed.  Planning to go directly to the Day Center from Columbia Clean-Up, I was wearing my I-may-be-in-my-twenties-but-I-promise-I'm-a-lawyer clothes.  They got muddy.  With relish, my friends.

I had a blast.  First, it was awesome to see so many people out for this community event.  Admittedly, about half of the participants were high school kids in need of community service hours, but there were also a number of young parents looking to show their children some civic pride.

I also experienced an area right next to my house that I had never seen before.  There is a "swamp/wetlands" area with a beaver dam to boot!  Even better, the land is a little too muddy to attract...um...the whims of passion?

You also never know how much trash is out there until you start collecting it in bags.  In about an hour, I filled two extra large bags with mostly plastic bottles and candy wrappers.  Most disturbing find?  A boot.  Also, if your underager is coming home smelling of Coors Light and you live near Dorsey's Search, I can tell you his/her favorite hangout.

If you look very closely at this picture of a stream, you will see icicles.  A friendly reminder, along with the snow we are supposed to get this weekend, that winter has not left us just yet.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Maryland's Baffling Budget

When I was 16, I had a very important realization.  I am not good at math.  I can do simple equations in my head.  I can excell at certain aspects with repeated practice.  But math was not something that "came to me" in the way philosophy, history, and literature did.  More importantly, I was not going to be able to be an accountant.

So when I started to look at the budget that recently passed the House, I assumed that my inability to understand it had a lot to do with my mathematical incompetence.  I can't jive the fact that the Maryland Reporter says that the House passed a $34 billion budget, while the Baltimore Sun reports the passage of a $14.6 billion budget.  And neither of those numbers correspond with the fact that our Comptroller reported state revenue being $12.6 billion in 2010.

There are some conclusions I can reach:

1.  We are spending money we don't have.  This is where the tricky term "structural deficit" comes into play, which is one of the most misunderstood aspects of State governance.  In its most basic sense, the structural deficit is borrowing and "shifting" money on the bet that revenue will improve to meet projected costs.  Unfortunately, the State of Maryland has been on the bad side of these bets for the past three years.  (For a downright spooky prediction of what was projected to happen in 2011, read this 2009 post from Maryland Politics Watch).

Now, the normal response is that the structural deficit is "not real" and "only exists on paper."  It consists of projected costs, and not necessarily those that will exist.  But before you go buying that banana, you may want to think about how bumpy your daily commute is getting.  You may want to think about pension costs that surpass the State's ability to pay.  When we talk about "raiding funds", that's what is going on.  Legislators are shifting money from other funds, that need the money, and using it to pay the structural deficits, which then exacerbates the problem.  How?  Well the transportation fund that normally needs X amount of money now needs X+ amount of money.  Unfunded pension liabilities are entirely dependent on the whims of an aging workforce.  There are more parlor games than I can name, but one thing is certain -- musical chairs can only go so long before we run out of places to sit.

2.  The cost of government has increased.   I really have no sympathy for those that are going to have to pay twice as much to buy "2KWL4SKL" license plates.  However, I do feel bad for those that are already struggling who may now have to pay twice as much in title and land record fees.  The proposed alcohol tax may seem like an agreeable "sin tax," until you consider that there are people who make their livelihoods off of bars and restaurants that will have to choose between profit margin and raising prices.  Admittedly, these are small increases (numerically, not percentage), but blanket fee increases and sales tax hurt the smallest pocketbooks the most.

3.  Taxes are headed in one direction -- Up.  The legislature had an opportunity to "get real" about what our State government can and can't do this session.  Instead, they've extended government costs and found more ways to pull money from taxpayers who really aren't in a position to pay more.  There has been a universal understanding on both sides that our Country and our States need to find ways to lower the corporate tax rate.  With a budget like the one passed by our House of Delegates, we will be one of the last states that is able to do so.  Any dreams of being the "Silicon Valley of the East Coast" rise and fall with whether our State can attract those businesses, and there seems to be a developing consensus that income taxes are going to have to go up in the next five years, with high income taxpayers and corporations being an easy target.

I wish I had a better understanding of the budget, but I think the waters are purposefully muddied once we start talking about State spending.  I think there are legitimiate reasons for a number of government programs, but I feel like we missed an opportunity to correct our State's course.  These bills will eventually come due, and our leaders will most likely blame any number of "unpredictable" occurrences on the fiscal nightmare that we will have to face, but I'll tell you now that we could have planned for it.  We just missed our chance.

Recovery Day

You know that over-used interview question "What is your best characteristic?"

My answer would have to be "my immune system," which would probably disqualify me for whatever job it was that I sought employment. 

Yesterday was rough.  I tried to work but could not string words together.  I tried to sleep, but was too sick to sleep.  I tried to read, but my eyes kept watering.  Just an all around butt-whupping of a sickness.  But Jane had all sorts of medicine for me to take, which I normally am resistant to (I really am stuck-up about my immune system, seriously), but in this case I took with quick obedience.  There comes a point in every "first-day-of-sickness" where the diseased person thinks "How long does this bug feel like it will last?"  At about 3 pm yesterday my answer was "Til Death."  However, around 6 pm my sore throat was gone.  Around 7 pm, I could periodically breathe through my nose.  When I woke up this morning, I had a slight grogginess that I would otherwise have attributed to any Saturday morning in college, but was otherwise "better."

But what made me REALLY feel better was a $250 donation from Calvin Ball towards ending homelessness followed closely by a $50 from "Jim R."  Thank you both!  (Nor should I forget to mention the generous donation by former County Executive Ed Cochran as well!)

I appreciate all the well-wishes yesterday and hope to get back in the swing of things tomorrow.  I have a lot to say about the $14.6 billion operating  budget that recently passed the House...and it ain't good folks.  I would certainly be interested in hearing what you all have to say, but am not willing to put my thoughts down until I feel clear-headed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sick Day

No links this morning.  I don't normally get sick, but when I do, it is normally the Spartan bugs that take you down hard.  So rather than take you down my Nyquil fueled ramblings, I'm just going to stop here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Project's First Business Sponsor: Piney Orchard Dental

Big Thanks to Trevor and Piney Orchard Dental for being the first business to help fund our Project to End Homelessness.  Piney Orchard donated $100 towards the project, which will buy them rent space on these pages for one month.

Here's a quick description of the practice from Dr. Greene:

[M]y practice is about a 15-25 minute drive from most locations in Columbia.  We are about 10 minutes from NSA, and 5 minutes from Fort Meade, so anyone working in those locations can get here really easily.  I am a general dentist, and see everyone ages 3-103.  For patient comfort we have TVs mounted on the ceiling, coffee and an x-box in our reception area, and a fantastic, kind, thoughtful staff.  We participate with most PPO dental insurances.  The office number is 443-40-MOUTH (or 443-406-6884).  The web-page is pineyorcharddental.com . We have evening appointments available on Tuesdays.

For Whom The Tab Closes (Wednesday Links)

Yesterday afternoon, I read this piece in the Daily Record (a mighty fine publication, if you ask me) regarding the closure of Michael's Pub.  In particular, the following line regarding what this closing means:

"It’s also a symbol of developer Jim Rouse's original vision for Columbia, his landmark planned community, one that seems harder and harder to maintain in a global economy."

Around these parts, questioning Jim Rouse's vision is like saying "bomb" in an airport.  But...is the village center concept D-E-D Dead?  If it is, are we deluding ourselves into ignoring a very serious problem with our favorite planned community?

Right now my village center consists of three places to get your hair cut, Giant, a cleaners, a coffee shop, a liquor store, two Asian restaurants, two places to get a sandwich, and Blockbuster's ever-present corpse.  For at least three of those places, I have almost been forced to assume that there is some illicit commerce that subsidizes the rent.  I doubt your village center is much different.  These places are hanging on by a thread, and if a place like Michael's can close, we need to re-examine this concept.  We can't change it.  The buildings are there for good.  But we can certainly try to look into what works.

That's why I think we need another Beer Summit.  Around this time last year, I seem to remember 25.45 getting folks together to talk about diversity in Columbia.  A worthy subject no doubt, but not one that can be easily acted upon.  I think we need another Beer Summit to look at the businesses that thrive in village centers (i.e., the Trattatoria chain) and refocus efforts to see what can be done to encourage small businesses to fill the void that we've expected to be filled by "chain grocery stores" or...Blockbuster.  Kimco may be interested in what we have to say, but it is not critical that they attend.  They have enough brain-storming to deal with.  Nor should this meeting be about what we "want."  That is approaching the subject from the wrong direction.  We need to look at best practices to see what works, and bring that to the attention of Kimco and those responsible for fostering a positive business environment.

What I need:
A village meeting room.
A one day liquor license.
A dry erase board.
General interest in attendance.

Let me know what you think.

NOTE: As Trevor points out in the comments below, the Village Boards have already been working to tackle this issue.  The Beer Summit suggestion was not meant as a criticism or replacement of those efforts.

LINKS

Columbia Patch does a tremendous write-up about The Project to End Homelessness that hopefully will draw more people to the cause.  1,000 thanks to David Greisman for this piece.

The ivy at Camden Yards has died.  Bummer.

After reading this story about Baltimore City Councilmember Rochelle Spector billing $1,155 to the City for a trip to Washington, DC, I began to think of the Domestic Violence Center.  Maybe this City is so poorly managed that we should cut off State funding for everything but education.  I don't want my tax dollars going to Ms. Spector's hotel bill.  (I'm too angry to type much more on this subject.)

Northrup Grumman is warning of big layoffs in Elkridge, simultaneous to a report in The Sun that employers do not plan to do much hiring in 2011.

Jay Hancock writes a very interesting column regarding unlicensed surety companies and the Korean Seventh-Day Adventist Church that was to have been built in Columbia.  Sans MBA, you may need to take a couple trips to the Google bar (as I did).

The Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Center "will likely" be replaced, says County Executive Ken Ulman.  Likely?!?  SHE CAN'T HANDLE FEDERAL MONEY!  She had AmeriCorps volunteers picking up her laundry!  Likely?!?  (I know this was just politi-speech, but it cracked me up).

Sarah wants everyone to keep an eye out for bikes.  Share the road!

Frank Hecker gives a run down of "Bleeding Heart Libertarians."

WB made an appearance at Monday night's Council hearing...but didn't stay til the end.

HowChow posts about the "hidden gem" Fuji Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Ellicott City. 

And I am over my time limit.  Have a great Wednesday.  Thank you to all who have contributed towards the Project to End Homelessness.  Please keep in mind the awesome projects like Sarah's Anonymous Donor effort.  Let's not leave any of Sarah's money on the table, people!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big Step for Direct Shipping

Julie Bykowicz with The Sun is reporting that the direct-to-consumer wine shipping bill has made it out of committee in the House and the Senate, which means it will be sent to the full legislature for a vote.  All indications are that this legislation will easily pass.

Still no Wine.Woot, but I'll take Black Ankle.

Soft on Victims; Hard on Traffickers -- In the General Assembly

There are two bills in the General Assembly that deserve your attention.  Under Maryland law, a drug trafficker is forced to forfeit all of his/her assets that can be connected to their illicit business.  The same is not true for those who traffick in people.  HB 418, which is currently pending in the House Judiciary Committee, would allow Maryland to seize the profits from human traffickers and use that money to aid law enforcement and victim service providers, thus removing the financial burden of fighting human trafficking from Maryland taxpayers.

In the twisted world of sex crime laws, a trafficked woman that has been convicted for prostitution in relation to a trafficking operation cannot have the conviction expunged from her record after being found to be a victim of human trafficking.  SB 327 would allow the courts to order traffickers to pay their victims restitution and reverse commercial sex convictions for all human trafficking victims. 

You can find out more about the human trafficking laws before the General Assembly here.

Yesterday Was Spectacular (Tuesday Links)

Every once in a while you have a day that is just so great that you want to make sure and bookmark it in your head for when things are...not so great.  Yesterday was one of those for me.  We had no idea the article was going to be the front page of the "Maryland Lawyer" section, so that was a nice surprise to start the day.  Jane took me out for dinner when I got home, which was a perfect capstone to end the day.

Meanwhile, we passed our first fundraising milestone and are well on our way to raising $3,000 for Grassroots by June.  I did not expect to keep the pace from this past weekend, but we're not too far off.  So far we've raised $1,585 from 37 donors.  For me, the 37 donors is the part we should be the most proud about.

LINKS

This "line-item veto" dispute in Anne Arundel County is fascinating.  Evidently, the Council passed a measure giving them final authority on labor arbitrations, as opposed to a "neutral arbiter."  The Council included amendments, which incorporate the rulings of a neutral third party that would be binding on the Council.  Executive Leopold used his line-item veto power to wipe out the amendments, which Council members say were necessary for passage of the bill.  The Council attempted to overrule the veto, to no avail, and now the public safety unions are planning to sue.  What a fantastically interesting mess!

Apparently finding nothing else to do, the General Assembly is looking to place greater regulations on for-profit institutions of higher education, such as Kaplan and the University of Phoenix.  Bad news for us: those infomercials are just going to get longer, with more fine print.

I think there is one area of gun control in which there is universal agreement: Heavier prosecution for the gun laws that already exist.  I love T.I., but I also understand why he has to go to prison.  (I'm serious, by the way.  Listen to T.I. everyday.  Best running music ever.)  So when Commissioner Bealefeld says he wants "tighter gun laws", that should not be interpreted to mean he wants grandpa to have to wait an additional 15 days before he can get his hunting rifle.  He is saying that if you have been to prison, are found to have a firearm, you will go back to prison for even longer because you clearly are up to no good.  And I'm in full agreement.

Maryland is losing citizens to Pennsylvania.  York, Pennsylvania.

James Beard has an award for best TV Chef Personality?  When they say "Beard Award" on Top Chef it sounds so fancy.

Our own Howard County Times won nine awards in the Suburban Newspapers of America contest, which was more than any other U.S. weekly.  I can't say I'm surprised.  For as much grief as they get from the commenters at the "silly place", we have some really good local journalists, which may be a big reason why they so often get scooped up by other papers.  Congratulations and great job!

Duane posts about the Route One Resource Center.

Sarah has a fantastic run down of the Joint Village Center Planning Workshop.  If you live in Columbia (or its annexed territories), and care about your community, I strongly recommend clicking over to read this post.

WB picks another fight over "density" with a couple folks that were more than happy to join.  He also pulls in a celebrity commenter with Steve Moore setting the record straight about Stavrou Associates.

Mo does a run down of comings and goings...apparently trying to put me out of business.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday and please continue to spread the word about Ending Homelessness in Howard County.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Domestic Violence Center Board Steps Down

Larry Carson is reporting that the entire executive board of the Domestic Violence Center is stepping down in the face of pressure from the County Executive.  This is the best possible outcome for a very bad situation and I think you have to give a heck of lot of credit to Ken Ulman and his staff on this.  Convincing a group of volunteer leaders that they need to step down is nothing to dismiss.

As with most things, there are certainly members of this Board that were not at fault and will do well on other boards.  However, the oft stated consensus regarding the DVC was "One bad hire, shame on you.  Two bad hires, shame on us," and that this Board had to go.  This was an interesting case study in the role of nonprofit boards in Howard County and I think the final conclusion has to be that non-profits are quasi-governmental organizations.  There is a tremendous amount of independence, but so long as more than 40% of your income is coming from Federal, State, and Local sources, you are not a "private" organization.  Frankly, unless you donate more than $1,000 a year to non-profits, you (we) are not in a position to argue that it should be any other way.

Here We Go

"All you need is one vote and you are officially elected on April 30."

That was the message I received from my village manager this afternoon.  No one else filed a petition for CA Board in Dorsey's Search.  The news was simultaneously elating and concerning.  Despite many warnings, I am genuinely excited about serving on the Board.  However, I understand that there is good reason for why I am the only one.

Either way, I welcome the arrival of another, however brief, election season.  Any word on contested elections across Columbia and its annexed territories?

In the news...

Here's that red tie I was talking about:

HoCoMoJo Hits $1,500

Thanks to a generous donation from our friends at HoCoMoJo, we have hit our first goal of $1,500!

Please check out the list of donors on the Project page.  I would hate to leave anyone out.

Hilltop (Monday Links)

I'm ready for this workweek.  I had a fantastic weekend with good friends, a nice encouraging long-run in preparation for my marathon in May, and dozens of amazing interactions with all of you that have donated towards our cause of ending homelessness in Howard County.  Overall, a great way to recharge my batteries.

I had originally planned on testifying at the County Council Hearing tonight regarding the Hilltop Development, but looking at my schedule it appears that I will be out of the house every other night this week.  Sometimes it is good to remind Jane that I still live there...

With regard to Hilltop, I live somewhat nearby (with an Ellicott City zip code) and am excited about what this type of development could mean for Old Ellicott City.  This is a very large project that will include a recreation center and some revolutionary "green" apartment complexes (139 affordable housing, 139 market rate).

One of the objections to his new development has related to the old boogaboo "density."  The project will take down 98 units and put 278 in its place.  Honestly, I think this is a legitimate concern, but I also believe that this is why we have a County Council.  We need to re-energize Old EC to make it a viable commercial center and not just a tourist attraction.  It can be both.  We should not have any empty store fronts in Howard County's oldest commercial center.  This is an opportunity to give our City the opportunity to succeed and I am excited to see it happen.

LINKS

Speaking of our history, Patch confirms that Michael's in Wilde Lake King's Contrivance is closing.  This was the place that my grandmother always took my brother and me for lunch when she would visit.  I have to admit that I don't know why.  It wasn't really there for "food" purposes, but that was the spot she liked to go (and normally referred to it as "The Pub").  I remember when there used to be some sort of candy shop in that same strip and we would go grab candy after lunch.  Now its all gone.  You have to wonder whether it is the model that's broken, or if other things are at play.

Remember that "incredibly important interview" from last week?  Here it is. (Subscription required, but you can get the first paragraph for free!).

In a related story, Maryland lawmakers would like to prohibit private employers from running credit checks on prospective employees...a practice that the federal government has employed as a bedrock of determining fitness for a security clearance.  I don't think anyone should be denied a job because they need money.  That is counter-intuitive and unfair.  However, my opinion is irrelevant to the private choices of small business men and women who are entrusting another individual with the life blood of their dream -- cash.  My mother-in-law is a book-keeper.  She's done this for about five years.  In that short period, she has seen at least two instances where someone was draining his/her employer of money, eventually causing near fatal wounds to the business and the business owner.  With those types of risks, I don't think it is fair for the government to get involved.

Baltimore County citizens are outraged after it was revealed that the deputy Superintendent was making $214,000 in the midst of deep school cuts.

It is pretty scary to consider that 25% of those who attempted to vote after registering at the MVA were turned away.

Duane posts about homelessness in Howard County.

When riding around with Jane yesterday, I said "It has been forever since I had some good buffalo wings."  Jane responded, "Well don't go to (business-name-deleted).  I took Mom there after you said they were good and it was horrible."  Me: "You have impugned my recommendation integrity without giving me the opportunity to correct myself.  I said they were good 'When I was a kid.'"  Needless to say, I don't really know where to get wings now.  HowChow says the Old Bay Wings at Second Chance are "substantial and delicious."

Looks like WB will not be able to give Frisky's the emperor's treatment after all.

I know I already posted about this yesterday, but when you think of an awesome/fun idea for raising money to end homelessness in Howard County, you get linked twice.

Since Friday is a low traffic day, I figured I would also re-link to the most recent episode of I Can Fix That.

And that's all for today.  Exciting busy week ahead.  Have a great Monday!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Three Days -- $1,175 from 30 donors

Since Friday, 30 Howard County citizens have made the statement that homelessness is not acceptable in Howard County.  They've made this statement to the tune of $1,175.  Care to join?

Now $1,500 can effectively end homelessness for one person, BUT...I'm doubling down.  We're $325 away from our three month goal, and with the addition of efforts such as Team Anonymous, I think we will be making short work of the remainder.  I know, I know.  "Tom, it is incredibly unfair for you to set a goal and move it right before we cross the finish line."  And I promise you, $3,000 is the max (for Stage 1 of our 4 Stage effort).  But, Grassroots is the bedrock of solving homelessness in our County and...I would just hate to turn away donors!

In the coming weeks, we are going to be getting creative with ways to raise money and spread awareness about The Project (like that better than "The Rising", which was corny and self-referential).  I want to get local businesses involved.  I want to let you all know more about where your money is going and why it is so important.  For every donor, I want you to have ownership in The Project and its goals.

We're ending homelessness.  It's just a matter of when.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day One: $825 from 21 Donors (Saturday Links)

We done good, folks!  I appear to have significantly under-estimated you all.  A special thanks to all of you that have sent me e-mails with ideas on how to raise more money.  I think that is the real catalyst here for turning a good start into a long term effort.  As I noted yesterday, this is Stage 1 of a four Stage effort.  The 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness has many facets and areas in need of attention.  You aren't just donating towards a static objective, but an on-going effort to take a problem and actually solve it.  I think that is what is so exciting about the 10 Year Plan and why you should be excited to be a part of it.

Special thanks to Courtney Watson, who posted about The Rising (that's what we'll call it for now) on her Facebook page.  These are exactly the type of small effort, big impact "tipping points" that will move us towards our goals.

Additional Blog Posts about Ending Homelessness in Howard County:
Brian Dunn -- Columbia 2.0
Frank Hecker
Bill Woodcock -- 53 Beers On Tap
Wendi -- Life's Little Comedies

I also appreciate all the tweets, Facebook posts, and anything else I may be missing.  I can't tell if we "made something out of nothing" yesterday, or just proved that "something" was there.  Whatever it is, it is spectacular.

LINKS

The newest episode of I Can Fix That is on the interwebs!  Jodi and I give the post-mortem on same-sex marriage, ponder the role and responsibility of non-profits in the community, and "agree to disagree" on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see how the House Democratic caucus votes on the tuition issue after their leadership offered a budget that cuts $8 million from the university system.  That budget also made your average State fee about twice as expensive, bumping title costs from $50 to $100; vanity license plates from $25 to $50; and land record registration from $20 to $40.  The problem with these fees/taxes/tolls/whatever you want to call them, is that they are regressive, meaning they place a greater economic burden on lower income citizens than those who make more.  $50 may be an inconvenience for you or I, but it may be four hours of after tax income for someone with an hourly wage.  I don't think increasing the cost of government is the answer.

Also in that piece is a quote from our County Executive (on behalf of the Maryland Association of Counties) saying that he "appreciates" efforts like the $13 million road repair grant that will go to counties as "survival money", but that he is concerned about the adjunctive proposal to shift $17 million in teacher pension costs to County budgets.  The more this issue comes up, the more inevitable it seems.

Things are not looking good for Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold.  When key witnesses start making deals, the hammer is primed for the swinging.

Despite my earlier objections to mechanized law enforcement, my gut reaction to cameras on school buses was agreement.  I really can't harmonize this to my opposition of speed cameras in school zones, except maybe to note that blowing past a stopped school bus violates the very first rule I learned in Driver's Ed.  Maybe this too is inevitable and I should just prepare myself for the day when obeying the law is less civic duty and more financial responsibility.  I guess we will probably have to get around to fixing that whole "Confrontation Clause" thing too.

Larry Carson appears to be on vacation, so there was no Political Notebook to digest.  Oddly disturbing that I pay enough attention to know when our beat reporter is out of town.

I may have had two "Big Announcements" yesterday, but I didn't want to distract from the fund-raising effort with personal matters.  I have decided to run for CA Board.  Long time readers know that I've been frustrated with a lot of the news that has been coming out of our municipal-homeowners-association.  However, I've also been excited by people like Phil Nelson and want to see what I can do to help "make it work" and enable those who have been hired by the Association to do the job that they were hired to do.  When considering the position, I sought out a lot of advice.  My favorite response: "As a friend, I advise against it.  As a concerned citizen, I encourage you to do it."

So...here we go. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

You All Rock

I have a confession to make.  Yesterday night, I almost folded on the big announcement.  I was having a horrible day and doubt was hanging heavy in my head.

"What makes you think people will donate?"
"Is this some form of self-glorification that you are masking behind the word 'homelessness'?  Get over yourself."
"$1,500 is a lot of money."
"How do I communicate that this is a 'community effort' and not 'my effort'?"

The biggest one: "This just isn't going to work."

I've had the CrowdRise site since last weekend and I've been in touch with Joe Wilmott all week (who has been a tremendous help in figuring out how to direct the money).  But last night I was ready to shut it all down...then, inspiration came back:

"Making an ass out of yourself has never stopped you before."
"People will get it."
"$1,500 is just stage one...and it will work."
"Who are you to say 'no' to this?" (See, my concern of being overly self-important works both ways.  It is a constant concern.)

So I went ahead with the project.  And I have to say you all have blown me away.  As of this typing, we have raised $645 (!!!) from 15 donors (!!!), which is almost 50% of our three month goal.  Your generousity and dedication towards ending this horrible condition is truly inspiring and I promise you that I will be working hard to make sure we continue to meet our goals.  In the coming days, weeks, and months, I will be telling you about the people you will be helping and why we can end homelessness in Howard County.  You all have already shown that the motivation is there.  I am so proud to be a part of it.

Here are some of the blog posts about the Project:
TJ: The Rocket Powered Butterlfy
John: Tell Your Neighbors
WB: Tales of Two Cities
Lisa: Lisa B, Mrs. S

Breaking Through

The blog is two years old today.  For the past year, I've been posting at least once a day, with the occasional vacation or Sunday thrown in as the rare exception.  Said otherwise, I've put a lot into this website.  But at the end of the day, it isn't about an "http" address.  I've been spending all this time because I've wanted to reach and interact with you.  Whomever you are, wherever you are sitting, "you" are the person that I get up at 5:40 am to chat with.  In some cases, we've been able to share a beer, but in the vast majority of cases, this interface is all we have.  Happy Two Years, buddy!

Most bloggers have the same response when someone asks them "What got you into this?" (Which I have previously described as the "How did you end up stepping in that mud?" question).  For me, I didn't feel like anyone was talking "on my wave-length," about the things I wanted to talk about, in the way I thought public matters should be discussed.  Good debate is very important to me, but I would find that there were too many people who would get into discussions only to regurgitate what some talking head or charismatic politician told them rather than apply any manner of critical thought to the facts that they were supporting.  That is a somewhat conceited way to think, but frequent readers know that I am not above such talk.

This blog has shown me that there are a "silent minority" of folks that care about local politics, can talk intelligently about complex issues, and would rather converse their way into a position, than stand on their opinion and bang their chest.  That has been a very significant realization for me, and I truly appreciate your open minds and sharp wits!

Now, the Big Announcement:  You and I are going to End Homelessness in Howard County.

Before I lose you, it takes approximately $1,500 to subsidize the rent for one individual who is looking to get off the street and into a "Sober House."  These Sober Houses are a proven vehicle for taking people out of the cycle of homelessness and into recovery and a new productive life.  Said otherwise, for every $1,500 raised, we can effectively end homelessness for one person.

How Are We Going To Do This?

Google Analytics tells me that this website gets approximately 200 unique page-views a day.  I am asking all of you to donate $15 towards ending homelessness in Howard County.  Some can donate more, others can donate less, but $15 will provide a significant step towards meeting our goal of raising $1,500 by June 24, 2011 (approximately three months from now).

Our first deposit will be towards the Grassroots Crisis Center, with the designation that these funds are to go towards housing.  I've partnered with CrowdRise.com, which will allow you to make secure donations towards ending homelessness, and will provide a forum to work towards our goal.

What Else Can I Do?

If you are a local business, I am accepting ad space.  For $100 donated towards Ending Homelessness, I will prominently feature your company's linked ad on this page for one month.  For $50, I will prominently post your ad for one week.  As a personal goal, for every dollar donated by a local business towards Ending Homelessness, I will spend 50 cents at your place of business (limit of $50 -- I'm not made of money you know).

If you are a local blog, I need your help.  For the past two years, I have been linking to your posts and doing my best to contribute to a vibrant blogging community.  I need you to join me as team captains.  Please share the CrowdRise link on your blog, Twitter, and Facebook feeds.  If you have ideas for how to raise money, post below or e-mail me directly.  We don't do anything "by ourselves" in the blogging community.  We are all pieces of the same quilt.

If you are a local politician, you've been here before.  You've looked up the face of a daunting social need and said "I'm going to climb that."  Ending Homelessness is hindered as much by its incomprehensible solution as it is by its complexity.  I am hoping to partner with all of you so that the State and Local coffers are not the sole drivers of change.  You are valuable for more than your vote.  As an elected leader, you have vast networks of people with resources and an interest in social needs.  Please tap those networks, share this project, and lead.

What's Next?

This Project is broken into three month installments.  At the end of the three months, I plan to organize a wrap-up party where we will survey our accomplishment, and set out towards the next goal.  Stay tuned and Thank You.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Put On The Spot

Blogging is a weird hobby.  I have to admit that in certain settings, I am a little embarrassed by it.  I'm not embarrased that I "blog," but I don't really enjoy "talking about it."  Maybe because I feel I put a lot of personal impressions out here.  Maybe because I feel disadvantaged when someone knows my daily thoughts for the past two years and I barely know their name.  I can't quite explain it, but it's there.

Today was one of those days.  I was attending a Board meeting for a start-up non-profit and Chris McCabe, former State Senator, former Secretary of Human Resources for the State of Maryland, turns to me and says "I hear you're a blogger."  There I am, in my suit (and green tie), trying to "act important," ready to get down to business...and it completely threw me off my mark. I told him it was a "fun hobby" and that I've been doing it for almost two years.  Chris is an incredibly nice guy, but I could tell that might have been thinking "why the heck would anyone do that?"  He asked me to send him a link and that he looked forward to checking it out.

What really got me was a question he asked about an hour later.  Dwayne, of "HoCo Connect" fame, is also on said Board with me.  Chris turned to us and said "What can the blogs do for a program like this?  What kinds of ideas do you have for how to use the blogs to help our mission?"

That's a question I have been trying to answer for the past three months.  I wanted to tell him that I spend my hours on long runs thinking of various ways to translate blog traffic into community action.  I wanted to tell him that everytime I read about a social business or new non-profit, I think of this blog and how it could jump start something like that.  I wanted to bang on the table and say "I" (BANG) "CAN'T" (BANG) "FIGURE" (BANG) "THAT" (BANG) "OUT!"  It certainly wasn't Chris's fault that he tapped into this well of frustration, but the simple nature of his questions seemed to yet again challenge me to "actualize" this darn thing.  And I haven't figured out how.

Instead, I told him what I always say "If we need to get the word out about anything, we could post about it.  It's good for letting people know about things.  I sold like four tickets to Vintage through the blog."

But that's not the real answer.  At least I hope not.  There's value here.  There's social capital here.  The problem is that it is passive value.  The question at the heart of all these inquiries is: Can this social capital be cultivated and directed towards positive action in the community? 

My attempt at answering that question is coming tomorrow, and you are going to have a big say in whether the answer is "yes" or "no."

Happy St. Patty's Day! (Thursday Links)

Not so many years ago, St. Patrick's Day was a day that was marked and circled on my calendar...and it wasn't because I like green.  There will be scores of early to mid twenty-year olds stumbling down the streets of Maryland today in faux celebration of a particular country of origin.  With our Country's collective dedication to "being offended" it is a wonder that a stink has not been made about the association that is made between the Irish and drinking.  In fact, the Irish seem to be the only cultural heritage that it is still "PC" to disparage as a group.

Being a "good part" Irish, I think it may have to do with the overall disposition of my people.  Say what  you want, but if you ever hurt my friends, family, or my dog, we're going to fight.

"The Irish do not want anyone to wish them well; they want everyone to wish their enemies ill." -- Harold Nicolson

LINKS

I haven't talked much about the State budget debate because, frankly, I've barely had time to tie my shoes this week, and this issue is to complicated for a cursory review.  Nonetheless, I did want to note that the House Republicans have offered an alternative to Governor O'Malley's $14 billion budget, which would cut $621 million, while also cutting the sales and corporate tax.  Due to their minority, Republicans have the luxury of avoiding compromise.  Offering a budget that cuts taxes in an austerity year seems to indicate that the GOP will be taking advantage of this luxury, and putting appearances over practicality.

Friendly reminder that the State has $19 billion in unfunded pension liability.  Republican Delegate Andrew Serafini has some real alternatives to the current system, which will no doubt bring scores of union protesters to the Capital...yet again...while the rest of us are at work.

I find it unfortunate that the Archdiocese has decided to stop leasing vacant buildings to charter schools.  These efforts are some of the shining stars in the Baltimore City education system and to undercut their progress under the principles of market capitalism would seem contrary to what the Church is all about.

Speaking of which, KIPP has reached a 10 year deal with the Baltimore City Teacher's Union...by cutting the school day by a half-hour...and lowering KIPP teacher pay.  Congratulations Teacher's Union, another victory for "education" on the backs of those that are trying to teach!

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold is under investigation (again) in response to the allegation that he used security personnel to collect campaign contributions.

I don't envy Ken Ulman's position as scores of non-profits and County programs ask if they may "Please have s'more."  As the brief article mentions, this County is ever-changing and the social needs of yesterday are not the same as today.  The follow up question is whether that is because a social service is no longer needed, or whether it is funded "just enough" to fulfill its mission.

The CA says that the Lake Kittimaqundi dredging is still on schedule and that the Lake Elkhorn dredging will be completed...by the contractor that did not high-tail it back to Pennsylvania.

In another good sign for our oft-maligned homeowners association, the CA has hired a project manager for the Customer Service System (also known as the "Columbia Quagmire").

Sarah posts about the nerdiness of our County...which resulted in a Nerd-Stuff Anonymous group session in the comments.

Dwayne posts about the changing face of Howard County and its impact on social needs/services.

Frank has a very funny post about his weight loss plan with the surprising admission that he dislikes Newt Gingrich more than he dislikes Sarah Palin!!  (My tip for losing weight: Sign up for a 5K two months from know -- race addiction will take care of the rest).

Mo got sparked.  I let you find out what that means.

TJ has a very cool post about an e-mail he sent out to his family before heading out to the Persian Gulf.

That's all for today.  I need to go change.  Since sitting down to post, I've realized that I have no green on.  If my grandmother were here, she would have pinched me...and she doesn't mess around with her pinches.  I also need to think about what a green tie means...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not For Profit (Wednesday Links)

We recorded another episode of I Can Fix That last night.  One of the big topics of discussion was the role of non-profits in the community and their obligations to tax-payers and their service base.  It is a very tricky issue, and as I think you'll be able to pick up in the podcast, the subject is so large that it is hard to cover everything in one go.  Howard County has a very healthy non-profit community, and I think that has a lot to do with two things:

1) We have an educated, wealthy, and hard working professional class that is interested in serving on volunteer boards;

2) Our County government is dedicated to funding non-profits and partnering with them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The latter is what gets people fired up.  "Those are my taxpayer dollars." etc.  The concern is that if the process of dispersing County funds becomes over-politicized, it will discourage funding overall.  I have no data to back this up, but based on my experience on the Boards that I have had the privilege to serve on, I would imagine that nonprofits get more "bang-for-the-buck" than comparable government programs.  That's not meant to be a dig on the government, just an observation based on the notion that nonprofit dollars are normally a few less than they really need.  There no one saying "In the private sphere, someone at this level would be paid (this)."  The folks that run these organizations are often driven by a passion to help people, and will take whatever amount of money as will allow them to earn a living.

Bottom line: Non-profits are incredibly important to our community and provide a catalyst for public and private dollars to go towards social needs.  I think it is an obligation of our elected officials and the public to avoid ejecting politics into this community, to the extent it can be avoided.  That doesn't mean nonprofits are above scrutiny (which was discussed at length in the podcast), but rather that this scrutiny may be better focused on the efficiency of the organization rather than the purpose.

LINKS

Speaking of nonprofits, Ken Ulman has frozen funding for the Domestic Violence Center, citing a lack of stable leadership.  This is a smart move by the Ulman administration and will force the issue to resolution.  From all appearances, this organization needs a new Board.  They're hiring leadership personnel with questionable backgrounds.  They aren't cooperating with the County (one of their largest benefactors).  And there is no apparent realization of the need for change.  Nice job, Ken.

The Japanese nuclear crisis is nothing short of terrifying.  Not only is there the direct concern for the Japanese people, but also the indirect long term effects that this will have on our Country's ability to talk rationally about nuclear power.  When you think about the delicate glue that holds our society together, you have to include "affordable energy" as one of the strongest binding agents.  When that goes, and it will, we may start wearing spiky clothes and feel the need to chase Mel Gibson through the desert.

Interesting story by my favorite crime writer about how they found the West Friendship burglars.  Whenever I hear about a "bad guy" turning over all of his identifying information to a pawn shop, I laugh.

The de juris repeal of the death penalty in Maryland will not be going through this year.  The de facto repeal is still in effect.  Here's an interview with Kirk Bloodsworth, an Eastern Shore man who spent two years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

Local blogger gives dog an amazing life.  Thoughts and prayers are with you, buddy.

HowChow recommends Soretti's Ethiopian cuisine.  Jane and I went there a few months back.  Definitely an interesting dining experience, but be prepared for spicy food.  Jane had to tap out of three of the five meats we had on our plate, which meant I had to eat them (raised in a house where we don't waste food).  By the end of the meal, I looked like I had just watched the end of Rudy, followed by the end of ET, followed by the end of Brian's Song.

Dwayne posts about the Winter Growth program for the elderly.

Mo is taking on the A to Z blogging challenge.

Sarah says sidewalks in serious state.

That's all for today.  Two more days until the big announcement.  If you can't tell from the lack of posts, things have been busy.  But busy is good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tie Wars (Tuesday Links)

I put an incredible amount of thought into the ties I wear.  For all I know this may be an over-correction for wearing "Looney Tune" ties in high school (which still embarrasses me), but what I do know is that my tie selection has almost reached the point of neurosis.

Deposition/Motions Hearing/Trial -- just about always a red tie, unless I am deposing a family member or a sympathetic witness, then blue or yellow depending on their sex, age, and relation to my client.

Public speaking engagement -- gold, yellow, light blue unless there will be someone there who does not like me or otherwise intimidates me.  Then I will go back into category one.

Party, family gathering -- I have a white tie that I've been favoring in these circumstances recently, but have also leaned towards pink in the past (although pink seems to be going out of fashion recently).

Meet & Greet, Networking functions -- Orange or Gold.  I've found that these colors lend themselves to approachability.

I have an incredibly important interview with the Daily Record today...with a photographer.  I chose red.  This was one of the first times that I didn't really have to think about it.  The tie insisted upon itself.

LINKS

There's an app for...breaking the law without getting caught.

In-state tuition for illegal immigrants cleared the Senate on a 27 to 20 vote.  I am baffled.  In an age of tightening belts, I would have more understood if the Senate had voted to abolish in-state tuition altogether...not extend it.  In a few days/weeks, when we are talking about "painful cuts," I sincerely hope everyone remembers this bill (although it still must pass the House, which we recently learned is not as easy as it may seem).

Union organizers estimate that they were able to bring approximately 15,000 protesters to Annapolis, choking off some of the streets around the Capital.  I hope the young protesters know what happens when benefits are maintained while funds diminish.  Here's a hint: Donald Trump trademarked it.

Duff Goldman is making ice cream!  I hope he makes a CMP flavor, based on the Woodberry Kitchen creation that he said was the "best thing he ever ate."  I'm in full agreement.

If you're a Verizon customer, live in Howard County, and tried to call 911 last night...you probably aren't reading this blog post right now.

Baltimore County is taking marked steps towards decreasing their homeless population, proving yet again that this is a problem that can be solved.

HowChow reports that there will be Indian food served at the Moonlight Cafe over by the JH Physics lab.

Dwayne posts about the makingCHANGE program here in Howard County.

WB notes that the WaPo has dumped their blogger links!  Just when I started to subscribe too!

Sarah follows-up on questions about the Bag Tax, noting that (like most of Maryland's target taxes) advocates will have to pay attention to make sure the revenue goes towards the goals that the legislators are selling on the front end.

You think Daylight Saving Monday messed with your head, talk to TJ.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday.  Maybe it is Spring, or maybe it is just life, but I have been in the midst of many exciting opportunities recently.  I hope to share some of this with you shortly (especially the exciting announcement on March 18th), but for now just know that "life is good."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Don't Ban The Bus

You all may remember the "little tiff" between the Columbia Mall and Howard County Homeless, wherein the Mall was accused of targeting those "appearing homeless" for ejection/banning and the Mall responded that it was only removing individuals that violated its "Code of Conduct."  Unfortunately, it's not done.

It has to do with the bus.

As you will see from this map, the Howard Transit system uses the Columbia Mall as a "transit hub."  As far as our bus system is concerned, the Mall is Grand Central station.  In fact, as discussed in the Washington Post article, the Mall's relation to the bus system was one of the reasons why the Mall had "problems" with the homeless to begin with.  Those without shelter are also often without automobile, which causes a heavy reliance on mass transportation for everything from doctor's visits, pharmacy needs, job searches, court appearances, and just about all matters of "getting by."

The alleged targeting of homeless people is a concern all its own, but even more concerning is that a ban from the Columbia Mall, according to the citations issued by Management, includes everything within Ring Road and the gravel parking lot over by Cheesecake Factory.  More importantly, it includes the bus stop...the Grand Central Station of Howard Transit.  This could make a simple ban quite a life changing experience for your average homeless person...especially one imposed under the vague terms of "trespassing."

This is unacceptable.  The Mall needs to carve out an exception to their ban for use of the bus stop OR the Council needs to consider an easement.  The bus is a public service subsidized by taxpayer dollars.  The Mall does not have a right to effectively extinguish that service for those who need it most.