Thursday, June 30, 2011

Larry Shuts It Down

In his last column for the Baltimore Sun, Larry Carson leaves some inspiration on the table:

Howard turned out to be a delight to write about. It's a dynamic, interesting place with people not content to just sit back and let the other person do things. There's a feeling that each citizen can affect the county's future, as all the volunteers charting the county's new general plan, redrawing County Council district boundaries and revising the county charter can attest.

I couldn't have said it better myself.  In fact, I don't think anyone could.  So long Larry.

Free The Spear (Thursday Links)

I don't do this often, but I have a plea. It is directed towards Howard Hughes...

Please free the Spear Center. This community loves its non-profits. At present, there are a limited number of venues that are available for large scale non-profit fundraisers that don't also require a contracted caterer. The Spear Center met this need. Non-profits could not only put on an elegant event, but also feature local restaurateurs and chefs on their menu. I think this was particularly well featured by Soup 'r Sundae, which raised money for Grassroots this past Spring by offering soup from over 50 restaurants around the area.

I understand that the Spear Center is older and that it may need a face-lift. I also understand that the whole Rouse building may be in limbo. But as our community partner, I hope that you can see how important that one room is to what we do and how we congregate as citizens. If you're going to close it down, wait until the holidays or until the new Miller Branch Library is open with its own venue. It would be a gracious gesture and surely appreciated by the non-profit community.



UPDATECompletely unrelated to my own plea, Howard Hughes began informing non-profits yesterday that the Center would be available for rental throughout the remainder of the year.  I applaud Howard Hughes for their generosity and community awareness during this time of transition.  This is a significant burden for the Corporation to maintain, especially in light of the fact that they are not purposed for event management and room rentals.  This is a great relief and one that is greatly appreciated.

I was also informed that my post may have been read to impute bad intentions on Howard Hughes.  That was absolutely not my intention and not even anything that I would have thought to begin with.  I have been impressed with the quickness in which Howard Hughes, under Mr. DeWolf, has developed and put into action community partnerships to have events such as the Leinberger talk.  Unfortunately for me, I don't get to choose how my words are interpreted.  To the extent there was offense, I sincerely apologize. 


LINKS

If you were planning to go to a state park to get your fill on sandy beaches, a lot of other folks share your plan.


A Baltimore City Police Officer retires after 50 years.  I would love to have a chat with that guy.

A 31 year old climbing coach has been accused of sexually abusing a 14 year old girl.  The allegations relate to the Columbia Earth Treks gym.

The Superblock development group focused on West Downtown has been granted a second six month extension for a land disposition agreement.  I admit ignorance on what an agreement would include, but I do know that the progress of Superblock will have a big say in Mayor SRB's status with the business community.

Howard County schools performed very well on the recent MSA testing, with a few schools getting themselves off double-secret-probation.  (Additional coverage by Sarah Toth here).

Trevor compares quotations taken from Liz Bobo and Mary Kay Sigaty to contrast their leadership styles.

WB laments the way in which CB 30-2011 has reignited animosities between Columbia and "the rest of the County."  I agree.  I'll be happy when this bill is gone, no matter the outcome.

Sarah posts CSA Update #4, with a list of things she made.  CSA season is a great time to crack the Bittman book.

Blowing the suburbanite meter off the charts (and breaking it for the foreseeable future), HowChow makes gas stove smores.  Every time a gas-stove-smore is made, a Boy Scout loses his pocket-knife.

Late start today.  Jane won her sailing race last night, so I stayed up until she got home (barely), which was around midnight.  TONIGHT is Ignite Columbia, which I had incorrectly noted as last Monday.  So I look forward to seeing a number of you Village peeps at Kahler Hall this evening.  In the meantime, have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Equal Than Others

We have a saying in litigation: "Don't play on their field."  Said otherwise, don't let the other side set the parameters of the debate. 

There has been a significant paradigm shift in the pool tax credit debate.  It has changed from "If non-CA pools are getting a tax credit, CA wants one too" to "non-CA pools should receive the same tax scheme as CA."  I think CA, Columbia, and the word "liens" should stay out of this debate in its entirety.  This bill was conceived without concern for Columbia and, as such, it should be evaluated without comparison.  So long as anyone insists on such a comparison, everything comes out of the box.  Do they have subsidies for low income residents?  Do they have programs with Howard County schools that allow students to earn free memberships for them and their families?  When was the last time they had to raise their rates?  How much?  Are they limited by statute?  Does the Council even have the ability to impose these types of accessibility requirements on private non-profit pools?

So long as the bill will not be offering credits that surpass what is received by CA, it needs to be evaluated for what it is without comparison.  Do these non-profit swim clubs serve a public interest that the Council is interested in subsidizing that will not be met but for a tax credit? If not, bill fails.  If so, the Council has an obligation to pass the bill, not for the sake of equality, but because it was the right thing to do.

I have become very frustrated at the suggestion that Howard County subsidizes Columbia.  Despite many a chest pound, no one has been able to point to a single statistic that the per capita County expenses are greater in Columbia than they are in other parts of the County.  Moreover, the tax scheme that allows favorable rates for CA property isn't subsidizing the Columbia Association.  Rather, the County Code provides for the implementation of state statutes that allow differing tax bases for HOA and Open Space property.  If you want to tout Columbia/Ellicott City's Number 2 ranking, you better be willing to include the reference to "tons of parkland."  If you say "tons of parkland," you would do well to remember who maintains it.  There are public policy reasons for why the legislature has made these distinctions and it is disingenuous to just point to lower tax rates and say "CA's cookie is biggie than my cookie."

Similarly, Columbia did not "put Howard County on the map" and Howard County doesn't owe Columbia anything.  I think my friend Dennis did a pretty good job picking out the title for his blog: Tales of Two Cities.  We find value in the fabric, not the threads.  The legislature has passed legislation allowing tax credits for non-profit pools.  There are public policy reasons for such laws.  The Council's consideration as to whether or not to implement the state statute requires a separate inquiry that does not compare apples to oranges. 

Charlie Feaga was recently quoted as saying he "does all his shopping" in Columbia.  Well, Charlie, I do all my cherry picking in Lisbon.  The County is desirable as a whole.

Losing Larry (Tuesday Links)

The hyper-local scene has been abuzz with the news of Larry Carson's retirement for the past month.  As a sign of respect, we were holding our collective tongues until the decision was made final.  Looks like the Council (and WB) rang that bell this week.

There is no question that Larry will be missed.  In fact, I don't think it is too great a stretch to say that Howard County lost some prestige with Larry's exit.  In the age of a dying Sun, having an experienced, well-connected beat reporter that cares about his jurisdiction is a tremendous asset and says a lot about the "newsworthiness" of the County.  I have significant concerns that Larry's spot may not be wholly replaced.  We are certain to still have a beat reporter, especially with the merge of the Patuxent Publishing folks, but what about the Political Notebook?  On a more subjective scale, is Larry's replacement going to know where the news is being created on "down weeks"?  I've been told that in the interim, Harford County reporter Mary Gail Hare will be covering Larry's beat.  Similar to the substitute teacher that comes in halfway through the school year, Ms. Hare will have a short period of time to learn personalities, on-going projects, and current legislation.  That's certainly her job, but it seems like a large task.

Larry's formula defined the way in which we learned about Howard County issues:

1. Brief statement of the legislation/conflict
2.  Personal story of someone affected
3.  Quotes from elected officials
4.  Future handling/resolution

As such, you often knew if this was a Larry Carson piece without looking at the by-line.  In fact, one time I was reading a piece in the front page of The Sun and thought "this reads a lot like Larry Carson" and sure enough, it was his.  He was a player at the top of his game, which (unfortunately for all of us) is the best time to leave.  I had my own personal biffs with Larry: a faux distaste for blogs, having to explain to my in-laws why the CA article said I was single, imposing adjectives.  But overall, Larry was always fair, which is the best compliment you can give a reporter.  He didn't seem to care what anyone thought about his work.  He never seemed to hold grudges.  He kept his head down and did his job.

Although barely knowing the man, I am going to miss Larry Carson.  I think we all will.

(Brief) LINKS

The "dime a drink" tax may end up raising prices by a quarter, according to this piece in The Sun.  It relates back to a very practical matter of bartenders having to dish out seventy-five cents as opposed to ninety.  State legislation: "You mean we could have had a QUARTER?!?  Aw, maaaaan."

WB continues his desktop reporting on County Council business with this discussion of the pool tax credit.  Those resistant to installing Silverlight are probably being worn down, blue screen by blue screen.

HowChow wants Korean fast food to come to Howard County.  I felt sluggish just looking at the picture.

Sarah is providing some valuable resources for Howard County folks that are concerned about crime in their area.


Mo wants your guesses for "Where am I Wednesday?"

Duane has a guest post by someone who knows someone else they think you should know.

That's all for today.  I was not able to get into much news, but I wanted to make sure I gave Larry a full post.  If it wasn't for him, I would not have much to talk about in the first place.

Have a great day doing what you love. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Amorphous Pool Tax Credit Bill

According to this piece by Larry Carson, the pool tax credit bill is facing additional amendments.  While Council member Watson had originally proposed amending the bill to apply to CA pools, the amendment will now seek to lessen the credit to put the six non-CA pools on the same tax footing as CA (i.e., replicate the "open space" tax rate that CA currently enjoys for its pools).

According to Ms. Watson, this bill is hanging on by an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini:

Asked after the session if she and co-sponsor Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, had a promised third vote to achieve a majority for the bill on the five-member council, Watson countered with a question of her own. "Did it sound like it?'"


Unfortunately, this bill has engendered a significant amount of criticism for these pools that previously weren't bothering anybody: Why don't you charge more?  Why not challenge your assessment?  Why don't they have programs for lower income residents like CA does?

In effect, this bill seeks to subsidize non-profit entities by changing the manner in which revenue is received from those entities.  There is reason for scrutiny.  Nonetheless, I have been truly surprised in the way this bill has been treated. 

The way this Council has worked until now is "Amendment = passage."  "If you change (that), I think I can support the bill." or "I think (so and so) will vote for it."  I'm presuming that if Courtney can turn the equality argument around (i.e., lets put the pools on equal footing with CA), there is a good chance this bill will go through.  If not, I have to presume there is something else going on here.  Starts with 2 ends with 014.

Brand New CA (Tuesday Links)

Last night was an introduction to the new branding campaign that CA is undergoing with Redhead Companies in Ellicott City.  It was held at Redhead offices, which is a downright trippy place.  With chalkboard walls and an electric drum kit, It felt like Google-lite, where you presume everyone loves to go to work every morning.  Definitely a cool place to spend a few hours of my afternoon.

The premise was that CA may need to re-examine its entire relational structure (both internal and external) to create some uniformity regarding how we want our organization to understand itself and be portrayed by others.  Always being one step removed from self-reference, I immediately thought of this blog.  I often think about whether or not I am causing more harm than good by posting my thoughts.  But that discussion is for another post.

This brand meeting touches on an underlying theme that I've picked up: The Board's interest in renewal.  Despite what may sometimes seem like a meteor's apathetic spin through the universe, the Board cares a great deal about rebuilding bridges and repairing its image in the community.  No matter their culpability, all Board members are aware that we don't look so hot right now.  My concern is that this interest has become a paramount authority when determining what the Board should do.  "We need to lead."  "We need to get out in front."  These things scare me.  I feel like our pit crew is in the middle of changing three tires while the driver slams on the gas.

An organization cannot spend its time looking backward, but we can be cognizant of our current status.  I think Redhead is going to do great things for CA (and already love the "Phil" Campaign).  I just hope the Board does not misconstrue this as requiring the overly-forward action that it has otherwise been chomping at the bit for.  We need to stay "home," fix "home," and then find one or two things to branch out on.  More importantly, any organization that has four hour Board meetings has no right to start thinking about "leading" anyone or anything.

As always, there is a lot of promise.  I just don't see us there yet.

LINKS

Analysts are beginning to suggest that the biggest difference between gay marriage success in New York and failure in Maryland was the Governor.  No matter your feelings on the "Guv," I think you have to agree.  He spent most of the debate in other states and then down the stretch it was already too late.  Like many controversial issues, Governor O'Malley wanted someone else to test the water first, which is a smart tactic for someone who sees themselves as a potential Presidential candidate.  Also interesting about this article is the crowing of Republicans such as Don Dwyer, suggesting gay marriage defeat was a Republican victory and that New York Republicans are not as strong.  I don't really see it that way, not because I support same-sex marriage, but more because the way in which this entire vote went down had a lot more to do with churches in Montgomery and Prince George's County than it did with Republicans.  But, hey, take the wins where you can get 'em.

Howard County folks should be excited about the possibility of federal funding for the Red Line into Baltimore.  While this program has never been planned for Howard County access, it should allow Rte 40 commuters another option for getting into downtown and provide an outlet should Howard County/Columbia get in step with rail transit.

There may be more crabs available this year, but they're still way more expensive than the down-home "crabs & beer" mythos may allow.

Mayor SRB has launched her campaign for re-election.  This should be a very interesting one to watch.

I'm late to the game on this one, but Howard County will be purchasing the Belmont Estate.  An interesting story that has gone uncovered is the "function limbo" that most non-profits find themselves in now that the Howard Hughes Center has put a freeze on Spears Center rentals and places like the Belmont continue their non-use holds.  These organizations rely on Spring and Fall events to provide the majority of their operating revenue and without a place to hold them, things are a little scary.

Mo explicates the Wallace/Bachman flap.  I think anytime your Presidential candidacy starts out with a debate over whether it was appropriate for someone to ask you whether you are a flake, you are in trouble.

WB promotes the value of online webcasting and archiving of County meetings and even references my own efforts to bring these capabilities to CA.  Considering the process for merely changing the medium upon which audio recordings were available, it may be a while, but I appreciate the interest.  Ironically enough, the two objections to CA webcasting have been "People don't care" and "People care so much that there will be grandstanding at the meetings."

Sarah posits that Columbia may be able to survive a post-apocalyptic world so long as we get rail transit and our farms don't go away.  Hopefully our planners see those two items as co-existing and not counter-demanding.

And I'm out of time.  I'm going to the Oriole's game tonight, so hopefully they can beat up on a Pujols-less Cardinals team...hmm...I did not like the way that came out at all.  Have an awesome Tuesday!

Monday, June 27, 2011

From The Paths of Columbia to the Cherry Trees of Lisbon (Monday Links)

I covered a good amount of ground this weekend.  I spent Saturday in Conscious Corner and at the Clarksville Picnic.  On Sunday, I somehow got lost amongst the paths of Dorsey's Search and then came home to an impromptu trip to Larriland Farms.

Saturday was great.  For those that have not spent time at Roots, Sage, and Nest (among all of the other great stores in this shopping center), you need to get over there.  The samples at Roots will rival any trip to Costco and Sage offers the opportunity to try something "different" no matter how ordinary your order may be.  Jane and I also really enjoyed Nest, which has a number of "sustainable" options for ordinary living.  The Picnic was great as well, although we did not come away with any loot.  It was good to see old friends, especially Youth Minister Pat Sprankle, who played a big role in my formative years at St. Louis.

On Sunday I went for a long run around the Frederick Road area and when coming back down Gray Rock, I decided I would take a "path less traveled" and got myself horribly lost among the CA path-work in that area.  Despite being so horribly lost, I experienced that "overwhelming sense of well-being" while walking along tot lots, trees, and streams.  I hope more people will take the opportunity to "Get Lost."  It is an under-utilized amenity offered by CA and free to boot!

Finally, after wearing my legs down to the last few fibers, Jane reminded me that we had decided to go berry picking at Larriland Farms.  I had not been out to the Lisbon farm since I was a child, but it was yet another opportunity to rediscover a County jewel.  We had a blast.  I can't say I understand how blueberries are ever picked with any measure of efficiency, but we had a great time together amongst the acres of wonderful (cheap) berries, cherries, and beets (yeah, beets) that were available for Pick-Your-Own baskets.

Overall, an exhausting weekend (with work mixed in), but one that was filled with time well-spent.

LINKS

Scary story about a UMBC senior who was reported missing after last telling his parents he was at the Columbia Mall.

I presume that any development around Pimlico is a good thing, but all those who have done any driving around this area can give a pretty good account of what gambling does to a neighborhood.  I don't mean to come across as a Puritan, but these slot parlors certainly seem like poison pills to me.

Government employees will be bearing the most immediate burden from unsustainable federal debt.  Second?  The State of Maryland.  (Government contractors are somewhere along this line...followed again by "The State of Maryland.")

Maryland's neutered wine-shipping bill has only drawn applications from 10 wineries to ship directly to Maryland homes.  It is no surprise to this writer that a half-way measure, such as the one passed by the General Assembly, does not draw much interest from those involved in the direct shipping business.

In my Sunday Post, I read this article about a disaffected D.C. Principal and the troubles of the DC school system.  Interestingly enough, the D.C. Principal is leaving education to set up a bakery ("Cooks 'n Cakes") here in Howard County.

WB spends some time in Elkridge, seeing the sights...avoiding being seen.

53 Beers is tired of the hand-wringing over the Belmont Estate and would not be opposing to razing the building and starting from scratch.

Sarah has a great post about involving newcomers in community business and activities.  I think this is a very important discussion to have, especially in light of the apparent complaints about this year's Wine in the Woods (which, for the most part, I think have been way over-blown).  Sure, WITW relates mostly to out-of-towners, but how often do we in Howard County admit to "living in a bubble."  A lot of that has to do with a constructive exclusion of outsides AND maybe even newcomers.  Our discussions often turn on "Well you weren't here when...happened" (especially in the CA context) and, for reasons unknown, we respect the point of view that things should stay the same (nothing ever does).

I look forward to seeing a number some of you at the ignite Columbia CA World Tour event tonight at Kahler Hall.  I know about as much as all of you!

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Morning Reporting on Sun Reporting

I woke up this morning, walked outside to get my newspaper, looked over to the road and it looked like one of those sketches we get about how Columbia streets are going to look in 10 years.  There were cars parked on the street, pedestrians walking with their kids, and couples riding by on bicycles...all at the same time!  Now this so happens to be because I live next to one of the more popular pools in the CA system, but it was a little jarring to see so much "inter-modal"traffic (see what I did there?)  at 8 am.  And quite pleasant, I might add.

Today is also the 133rd St. Louis Clarksville Picnic.  This has to be one of the longest standing traditions in Howard County.  Up until about ten years ago, this was primarily attended by Western County folks, but it seems like more and more Columbians have seen the "character" that this type of event provides, which may not otherwise be found in wooded binges and lakefront shenanigans.  Jane and I are going today.  This is two parts nostalgia and eight parts "Jane really likes yard sales."  All joking aside, this is a County jewel and if you have time today, please get over to St. Louis Church and take part in our County's history.  (AND, while you're over there, wish Charm City Run a happy One Year Anniversary and get some new running shoes!)

A lot of good stuff in today's Howard Section.

First, Larry Carson was at this week's Charter Review Commission meeting to hear Council-member Courtney Watson speak regarding Council apportionment.  The article does a good job representing Courtney's ambiguity regarding her position on adding new Council-members.  She expressly said that she was not advocating for any action, but merely bringing the role of the citizen-legislator to our attention.  As the discussion progressed, it seemed apparent that Courtney may have been promoting a change.  What was not clear in the article was some passive-antagonism from Charlie Feaga as to whether this was an attempt to further dilute the Republican vote.

This is a very "fun" issue and I want to make sure it gets proper digestion.  The suggestion at issue is to add two council-members (to maintain an odd number of votes).  There is further dispute (and the real heart of the debate) as to whether these will be at-large members (a la Board of Education) or districted members (in accordance with what we already have).  Charlie makes a very good argument that at-large members would implicitly be elected "from Columbia" and be Democrats.  Ed Cochran makes an equally cogent response that Republicans in Democratic districts would have greater say if there were at-large members that were accountable to their interests (Which goes directly to the question of whether you think a Council-member from a "blue district" needs to come to center to run for County Executive).  Concerns regarding the additional of at-large members go directly to the heart of a majority-won democracy.

At the time of last November's election, there were 86,705 registered Democrats in this County; 55,332 Republicans -- out of 179,400 total voters.  48% Dem; 31% GOP.  To the extent Republicans would complain regarding districting schemes, an at-large council-member would seem to be a response to those concerns.  For the sake of argument, if we introduce the (faulty) presumption that all registered Republicans vote Republican, they are grossly under-represented on the Council.

There are other considerations regarding at-large members, especially with respect to them being "kingpins" as Charlie suggested, but I don't know if the presumption that they would be Democrats would necessarily be correct.  The theory behind "Bullet Bob's" candidacy for Board of Education was correct.  If there are multiple Democrats splitting the Dem vote, with one Republican going for the at-large seat, I think that Republican stands a very good chance of getting elected.

Personally, I don't think party considerations should play too prominent a role in the Commissions recommendations and I applaud Courtney for attempting to keep political party out of her comments.  I also don't know where I stand on the issue.  I think adding members to the Council diminished the Council's power on the whole.  I also hope there is good testimony from the public about this issue, as I think it can end up being the whole enchilada on majority/minority interests.

Also in this article is our discussion of Referendum petitions.  As written, the charter requires a petition to have the lesser of 5% of registered voters or 5,000 signatures.  Five percent is about 9,000 signatures, so the provision has basically become a 5,000 signature standard, which seems to be contrary to the intention of the limitation in the first place.  The members of the commission understand this is a contentious issue, but regardless of our decision and the decision of the Council, our suggested changes will eventually go back to the voters.  (TPI needed 10,000 votes because they sought to amend the Charter.  Notably, we have not received any submissions from either of the Central Committees recommending changes to the charter).

There was plenty more to get to, but I have many a chore (plus work) to get done before we get to the Picnic.  Have a great Saturday.  I hope to see a number of you enjoying fried chicken and dunk tanks this afternoon!

Friday, June 24, 2011

CA Board Recap: June 23, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start time: 7:35 pm
End time: 11:45 pm*
*Including a closed meeting after the open session

This was a long one folks.  You may say "How are you going to be able to recap a four hours and fifteen minute meeting?" but, frankly, the Board didn't accomplish all that much.  This Board is hampered by both systemic and functional problems.  At the systemic level, we are still having committee meetings at the Board meetings.  I appear to have misunderstood the new operational policy to have done away with this practice.  For the uninitiated, the Board meetings can turn into a game of "Who's on First" once we start having different people run the show, who sometimes forget that it is their responsibility to call on the "ooh me" hands of the other Board members.  This is a huge problem and allows committee business to be done at the Board level whenever the committee has something that they "want to take to the Board."  It is my personal contention that committee items should be brought to the Board in "vote ready" status, with the opportunity for amendment.  There is no reason why a committee member should have questions/comments/concerns about an item that came from their own committee.  Also, this nonsense of passing the "gavel" around the room is ridiculous.  We have a Chair who clearly knows how to run a meeting.  The Board would absolutely benefit from having one conductor.

Second, I hope the committee chairs would consider their time limitations as real and not "suggestive."  This may limit debate, but as noted below, not every word must be said on every issue.  At one point last night I had my hand raised and the committee chair said "Does anyone have anything else to say first?"  This was a little puzzling to me as it was the second time I had said anything the entire evening, but I was hoping that there was some informal policy to limit debate of which I had somehow breached.  By the end of the meeting, it was clear that there was no such policy in place.  There absolutely should be, even if that is just "I only have 15 minutes to talk about this issue, if there is still debate on this we will take it back to committee at which time any Board member who wants to be heard may submit their comments/concerns/criticisms via e-mail or live testimony."  Is it less efficient? Certainly.  Does it ensure that all items of import get proper time before the Board? Certainly.  Should that be the objective of any full Board meeting?  Certainly.

The third issue is functional.  By my estimate, one member personally added about 1.5 hours to that meeting.  That is a sign of dysfunction.  Each Board member has an obligation to the rest of the Board, and the staff, to be judicious with our collective time.  There will always be something that can be said about any issue that may come before our Board.  You would not believe me if I told you how many times there was a comment about how a particular sentence in a particular policy "seemed" or "came across."  This is not how business is accomplished. 

As to the actual business of the Board, here are some highlights:

Cy Paumier gave a proposal to the Board about drafting sketches and schematics of Columbia's "public spaces" to make them more attractive and a better representation of the current time.  He asked for the payment of expenses so that he and his team could create a proposal to take to the community this Fall.  While I assume Cy is no fan of mine after last night, I was really excited that he was there.  I'm still reading "Better Places, Better Lives" and having the opportunity to hear someone speak who was involved in Columbia during the early years is not something to take for granted.  Nonetheless, I have significant problems with rushing forward on this.  One of my favorite law school professors had a useful quip about litigation planning: "Begin with the end in mind."  At the end of this process, CA will want the best possible proposal, developed via the competition of ideas and community input, to develop our land.  Unilaterally funding the means by which Mr. Paumier's group will create a proposal seems to create some presumptions once that proposal is made.  The Board was anxious to find an exception to our RFP procedures and/or bring this expenditure below $10,000 so that the RFP requirement would not attach.  That is worrisome to me.  Those policies are in place for a reason and I see no reason for an exception.

Also, we are going to want to partner with Howard Hughes and the County to ensure congruence amongst what land is CA's and what land belongs to our community partners.  Right now, Mr. Paumier has intimated that he will be able to get some funding from other sources, but I don't think CA should be footing the bill for a proposal that may not be acceptable to those that own land that is incorporated into this large scale project. 

Next, the Board, via the Strategic Implementation Committee, discussed Dashboard Metrics.  At the end of every quarter, the Board receives the President's Quarterly Report, which includes a tremendous amount of data regarding the performance of the organization.  The SIC has sought to create a dashboard of critical metrics that the Board will be able to easily refer to, without having to go through the entire Report to mine the individual pieces of data.  This is a great idea, but the discussion lends itself to "weed-whacking."  As an example: Do we want to measure recycled products in weight or some other measurement?  Do we want to count natural forestry as reforestation?  This discussion took the majority of the meeting, which was very frustrating for me personally.  I don't feel like it was properly hashed out at the committee level.  In fact, I suggested that the Board may only be interested in adding those metrics that we felt were being overlooked, and was swiftly rebuffed by the committee chair who said he was looking for any metric that we thought may be helpful.  I was also embarrassed for the Board when Board members would repeatedly say "I would like to see (such and such) metric" and a Staff member would respond "That metric is already provided to you in the Quarterly Report."  In my job, I draft a lot of status updates.  I can only imagine the frustration of Staff members who spend a tremendous amount of time collecting data and drafting reports, only for it to be suggested at some later meeting that the Board "would really love to see that data."

Finally, Board meeting audio recordings are one step closer to being available on the Web!  This has been a personal interest of mine and one day Mr. Bill is going to become a law.  We have moved the Motion out of committee and it should be voted on at the next Board meeting.  Due to the late hour, our committee rightfully decided that a Board vote could wait.  Now, you may say "I don't need to listen to four hours of Board meetings," but I am hoping that once this measure is approved, the Staff may be able to time mark the meetings to allow for easy reference points for matters such as the Paumier presentation, or any future discussions of items such as Aquatics, Tot Lots, or the ever plaguing discussions of our Customer Service program and Lake Dredging.

There were things I was not able to get to today, but I believe I hit all the high notes.  Despite my concerns, I really am enjoying my time on the Board.  You read that correctly.  Being involved in the public's business is an exciting opportunity that I do not take for granted.  I am disappointed only insofar as what I see as the capabilities of this Board and this organization.

Now, I'm going to go see if any 7-11's sell IV caffeine drips.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Commuting Stinks (Thursday Links)

Anyone who works in Baltimore is having the limits of their patience tested this summer.  First, it was the Grand Prix road construction.  It started out with a few lane closures that would add about 5-10 minutes to the early bird commute (mine) and I'm guessing about 30-40 minutes to the rush hour commute.  Then came the conventions.  I don't know what it is about conventions, but they tend to attract pedestrians who have no understanding of the consequences that may result should a car come into contact with their person while they are jaywalking.  Then, in response to the Grand Prix road construction (which has progressed to as much as two lanes at a time, presumably because they have run behind schedule) and the convention jaywalkers...we now have Baltimore City Traffic Police.  I will tread lightly here, because I generally respect and appreciate the police.  However, I've never been happy to see a police officer directing traffic.  I wish I knew the guidelines they follow, because there never seems to be rhyme or reason to their methods other than possibly which arm gets tired first.

That is why, while I love my job, I would love the day that my commute is to Columbia or Ellicott City.  I would ride my bike.  Maybe take the bus.  Maybe even walk.  It would be glorious.  And for those of you who already work locally, please be appreciative of your commute this morning.  Right about now a Baltimore City commuter is cursing a Midwesterner with a backpack who mistimed the walking signal at a traffic light.

LINKS

This is cool.  New technology scans license plates while police officers are driving in their cars to alert them to stolen vehicles.  There is a special place in all of our hearts for car thieves.  Most would probably like to see sentencing put on par with those for violent criminals.

Ugh.  "The disclosure marks the second time in little more than a year that city school officials have had to acknowledge cheating at schools recognized nationally as models of successful urban education, including one visited by the first lady and the other by the U.S. secretary of education."  There's no defending the people involved here, but I think this is one more ill of "teaching to the test."  Our teachers should not be so obsessed with standardized results that they spend more time thinking of how to game the system than actually teaching their kids.

One of the books I read on vacation was "A Rope and a Prayer," which is about a NY Times journalism who was kidnapped by the Taliban for seven months.  Interspersed with his own story are segments of the book he was meant to write about the current state of the war in Afghanistan.  He often remarked how the locals were adamantly opposed to a July 2011 exit by US troops.  In light of our Country's economic position, I feel that we have no other choice.  Americans have not had to consider whether we can "afford a war" for quite some time.  It seems apparent that we can't, regardless of the consequences.

The DREAM Act petition effort is 8,500 signatures away from putting it on the ballot according to the Board of Elections.

Thoughts and prayers go out to Howard County Police Officer Christopher Calcaterra who was injured in a collision yesterday evening when a teen driver ran a red light and crashed into his police cruiser.  The article states that Officer Calcaterra is recovering with no serious injuries.

Trevor wants you to stop grinding your teeth (and also receives some downright nasty comments about his post regarding tuition for illegal immigrants.  That's one way to fit a stereotype.).

Dennis was on the radio about CSX inter-modal.  "Scribe of the smokestack" AND "Mouthpiece of the locomotive"! 

Sarah's CSA drop was so much bigger than my own.  I have definite CSA-envy.  Depending on the next drop, I may be switching next year.

Taking a page out of WB's book, Duane would like to introduce you to someone he thinks you should know.

HowChow gives El Patio high marks for their samosas, mostly due to the important inclusion of cheese.

I have a Charter Review Committee this morning, which allowed me to sleep in a little.  Columbia Association Board of Directors meeting tonight.  Please feel free to attend.  At the beginning of every meeting we have what is called "Resident Speak Out," which provides an opportunity for you to tell us what concerns you.  You don't even have to stay for the rest of the meeting!

Have a great day doing what you love!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Us v. Them (Wednesday Links)

There are some folks that need someone to fight in order to find the words to speak.  Many of them become lawyers.  Others become talk-show hosts, community rabble-rousers, or WWF superstars.  Through this prism, conversation is not worth having unless someone is "winning."  I've seen myself stuck in this mind-set many a time, more often than not at work, but also in my community dealings.

I bring this up because it seems that the "antagonist method" is imposing a Columbia/Howard County dichotomy once again.  This is nothing new.  It can be assumed that since the day a bunch of farmers sold their land and received a thank you letter with Jim Rouse's signature on it, there has been consternation regarding Columbia's place in "Howard County."

But Columbia's place in Howard County is not up for dispute.  For the past 40 years, it has been as significant a feature to Howard County as Baltimore or the Chesapeake Bay has been to the State of Maryland.  It's not going anywhere unless the people within Columbia's borders decide that they want to incorporate. 

It cuts both ways.  At the pool tax credit debate on Monday, one of the opponents to the bill suggested that "the rest of Howard County" does not appreciate the amenities Columbia offers, which are primarily subsidized by Columbia lien-holders, yet available to all comers at reduced prices.  This is the same argument that is heard around the Baltimore City Council chamber regarding whether they should introduce a "commuter tax" (which makes me mad every time I hear it).

We're in this together.  That's not some kumbaya nonsense.  It is a legal fact.  The mix of rural, suburban, and semi-urban plays an unmistakable role in what makes Howard County such a desirable place to live.  If you don't agree, vote with your feet.  The sale of your Howard County home will allow you a much bigger home in other places.  This finger pointing does nothing and the conversation itself is worthless.  A more valuable conversation to have is "What can we do to make our parts work better together?  What transportation options can we introduce to better integrate Columbia and Elkridge?  What can CA do to make its amenities more desirable to those in Laurel?  What kind of support does the County already provide to Columbia and what else may be useful?"  These are constructive conversations.  They don't sound like two lawyers talking about a land boundary.

LINKS

We appear to be witnessing one of the more successful petition efforts that this state has seen in quite some time.  The fight against the DREAM Act (i.e., in-state tuition for illegal immigrants) is in a cul de sac near you.

Baltimore is one step closer to having a slots casino next to M&T Bank Stadium.  Boy doesn't that sound like a dangerous combination.

Baltimore County redistricting is seeking to reunite communities that were split up in the last redistricting process, but will keep all of the Council-members in their current districts.

Howard County schools will also be redistricting, which is sure to be one of the more contentious local issues for the next few months.  In Howard County, when we move, we look at the schools.  If those schools, in turn, then move out of our reach, we turn into suburban commandos.

53 Beers has some ideas for how the Howard County Council districts should be redrawn.

WB suggests that in our effort to end the stink bug scourge, we take our fight to...the underside of your petunia leaves.

Sarah recommends the Columbia Foundation's report on its "listening project" and notes that transportation is high on the list of "wants/needs" of Howard County residents.

Duane posts about Howard County networks.

HowChow's Samosa week continues with a review of Bangkok Garden's offerings

That is all I have for you today.  Long days at the office this week, but I am just about all caught up, which will allow me to go back to the relative serenity that is my life.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Catching Up (Tuesday Links)

I don't have too much to post about this morning.  I'm still trying to catch up on what I missed. 
LINKS

Seven of Maryland's school districts will be evaluating teachers, in part, on how well their students learned the material.  For those of us outside the educational system, this may seem intuitive, but such methods are receiving significant resistance from teachers.  Students aren't sprockets.  You can't just press a few buttons and "ta da -- a smart student."  I understand the motive behind such a program, but I would think it would require innumerable safeguards to ensure that teachers were not being unfairly held to standards that have no relevancy with their student population.  The previous system, whereby a teacher's methods were evaluated (rather than the outcome), seems to be more fair, but possibly less effective.  Unfortunately, no matter how you slice this one, politics have become firmly enmeshed in our classroom.

Baltimore City has approved a $1.3 billion budget, which includes another round of significant cuts.  It will be interesting to see how the City electorate responds to the cuts that Mayor SRB has had to make.  Outside of "which pound of flesh," there doesn't seem to have been much of a choice in whether cuts were necessary.  Her opponents have a very convenient platform of "I would not have cut your favorite after-school program," without having to say "but I would have cut your fire station."  Such is the nature of politics.  My question is whether the voters will see through the magic tricks.

I don't have much to say on this, but if you want to see an interesting clip of a Baltimore City Council meeting being taken over by an angry constituent, check this out.  Evidently the former owner of the Senator wanted to be heard on the current plan for the Senator Theater and was not interested in time limits.

Baltimore City Council-woman sues Baltimore City Blogger.  Things do no go well for the Council-woman.

A world record was set at Centennial Park on Saturday...at least we think.  This one was an attempt at the "largest circle training session."  The article states that the number to surpass was 250 and approximately 323 were counted.  As someone who has set a world record, however temporarily, I can tell you that submitting record material to Guinness is comparable to an audit from hell, but it is well worth it when you get your spot in the sun.  That story is for another day, my friends.

WB has another episode of And Then There's That for you to download. 

Sarah posts a Whole Foods music video...which could have been written about the Columbia Mall parking lot.

Columbia 2.0 is a proud supporter of a local artist...who is going international.

Samosa week is like Shark week, except the Samosas are scared of us.  HowChow continues his survey of local Samosas with Maiwand Kabob.

Duane posts about the Pinnacle Empowerment Center.

A lot going on locally tonight.  There is a County Council hearing to hear testimony on, among other things, the pool tax credit.  (That was last night).  There is also a Hobbits Glen Master Plan Presentation at Fairway Hills tonight at 7 pm.  If you have opinions on either of these items, make sure to make yourself heard.  You only have a right to complain if you made yourself a part of the process.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Home Again, Home Again (Monday Links)

Vacation was great.  Glad to be home.  Jane and I are not picture taking types, so unfortunately there will not be too much picture-sharing.  Take my word for it that Anguilla is beautiful and that I had a smile in every "picture."

When I came home last night, I did what most other self-respecting twenty-somethings would do on a Sunday night, I watched the Howard County Board of Education meeting from last week.  More particularly, I watched the impeachment discussions (By the way, the manner in which those meetings are webcasted is a good model for what I think CA should attempt to put forth.  You can click on a particular agenda item and it brings you right to the discussion).

The thing that struck me as most significant was the supreme level of delusion that must be necessary for Mr. Dyer to be so strongly admonished by seven of his fellow Board members, yet still find some righteousness in his position that he feels is unrecognized by the other seven members of the Board.  What kind of bad motives must he see in his other Board members to presume that his actions are correct and the remainder of the Board is wrong?  It was surreal to see Mr. Dyer in action and my empathy goes out to the remainder of the Board, who appear to have a genuine interest in doing the business of the Howard County school system without drama or fanfare.

My opinion on the impeachment doesn't change, but that's all it is, my opinion.  In the short time I've been on the CA Board, one thing has become clear: Public votes are hard.  Most people that have not had their tally counted in front of members of the press may not appreciate the kind of pressure that creates.  The Board took a very serious approach to a very serious problem.  I don't think it was taken lightly or without proper deliberation.  I won't go so far as to call it "drastic," the "nuclear option," or "capital punishment" as Mr. Dyer's impeachment was referred to in the Board meeting.  Frankly, it seems like an appropriate response among many.  It just is not one that I would have chosen and one that makes me very uncomfortable.  For right or wrong, Mr. Dyer was elected.  There is a very good chance that he may not be removed from office until his term of office is through.  There is also a very good chance that his position in office will have no effect on his repeated filings in Circuit Court.  It will be a true shame if the voters lose the opportunity to take his office from him and, instead, this entire affair becomes a decade long battle in the courts.

LINKS

There will be a mass burial for unclaimed bodies that had been donated to science in Sykesville this morning.  This is of particular interest to me after an incident at the Day Center, which had the body of a client in legal limbo.  It was a tortuous affair and I will never forget the desperation felt by all involved as one man tried to reclaim the remains of his de facto wife while battling his own substance abuse problems that were inflamed by her death. We were unsuccessful.  Her body was "donated" to medical research.  It was one of the more disheartening encounters I've had in all my time volunteering.  Still makes me sad to think about it.

The Maryland Broadband project is moving along swiftly.  I think this is the kind of progress that advocates for Columbia redevelopment would have liked to have seen locally.

To at-large, or not to at-large -- the County has grown, the Council has not.  This means that our County Council members have increased power in the minority.  Said otherwise, if 90% of the County population feels strongly about a particular issue, it is still likely that this view would only be represented by 80% of the Council (4/5 votes).  There are significant, and well-founded, concerns that at-large Council members would concentrate additional power in Columbia, but this concern flows from the very fact that Columbia presents a significant portion of the population.  Should be exciting to see how this plays out at the public hearings for the Charter Review Commission.

WB takes a trip out to Black Ankle.  If you live in the area, love (or even "kinda-sorta like" wine), you need to pack yourself a picnic and get out to Black Ankle for a night in their tasting room.  I've recommended this spot to at least five different friends.  All come back happy (with purple teeth).

HowChow puts out an APB to figure out the future of Mango Grove.  I still want to know what happened to the folks who ran Wok 175.  If anyone knows if their recipe for Sesame Chicken is alive and well somewhere in the area, please let me know.

Sarah ponders public transportation for Howard County's elderly.

Duane posts about the Centennial Fun Run.

That's all for today.  Glad to be back.  We'll see what happens to that acceptance once I return to my work desk.  Have a great Monday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Checking In

Those who put your money on "four days", please take your vouchers to the cashier.

Honestly, I'm surprised with myself.  It has been four days since Allen Dyer was impeached and I have resisted the urge to post.  This was a subject that even piqued Jane's interest, for crying out loud.  "Impeached!  Cool, give me the scoop!"

First things first, Anguilla is amazing.  I am quite certain I've found my happy place.  That said, I'm a person that likes to refresh and then get back to things.  I was refreshed on day two.  This vacation was much needed, but I'm ready to come back.  Nevertheless, I will somehow find a way to enjoy the last three days we have on this beautiful beautiful island.

Now, about the impeachment.  Wow.  Despite my personal disagreement with Mr. Dyer and his methods, I can't say I'm 100% behind his impeachment.  Whether they will admit it or not, all signs indicate that the ethics complaint came from those same folks that later moved for impeachment.  They swung and missed.  Was the release of the minutes from the ethics hearing yet another offense?  You bet.  But just because you tire of the inefficient and uncontrollable outcomes of ethics panels doesn't mean you skip the process.  The Board has the right to impeach its members.  It did.  The Board, and Howard County, is all the better for it.  It just isn't anything I'm comfortable with.  Put differently, if all things were the same, and we introduced party affiliation, with Allen being the sole member of some outlandish, take-no-prisoners, political party, there would be some justifiable outrage at his ouster, no matter his antics.

I thought the vote was very interesting.  I expected Cindy Vaillancourt to vote against impeachment, not because she is a lap dog of Dyer's (as expressed elsewhere), but more because she supports the general sentiment that Allen has expressed, which is that "all is not well in Denmark."  This is a view that I do not necessarily agree with, but one that can be respected for what it is without ascribing some ignorant allegiance to Mr. Dyer.  Brian Meshkin's vote did surprise me.  I've met many politicians over my lifetime.  Brian is without a doubt the most skilled political mind that I have ever met.  We met for coffee about two months ago to discuss my previous posts about his past.  I can't say that my concerns were resolved, but we both agreed on a clean slate.  One thing was clear to me: Brian Meshkin, for good or bad, is a name that we can expect to see in Howard County politics for years and years to come.  The Dyer impeachment would appear to be a slam dunk vote with the general electorate, but then again, without an actual election, we don't really know where your average joe stands with regard to these repeatedly lawsuits and "habitual line-stepping."  Nonetheless, aggressive advocacy for Mr. Dyer would seem to be a lose-lose.  You are either in the shadow of a jerk-martyr or on the losing end of a jerk-martyrdom.  Either way, a lot of folks have been saying that this should have been expected, but if you look at the votes I think you will see that Brian has distanced himself from Mr. Dyer after the first few votes.

Finally, with regard to replacement, WB is suggesting that the successor has already been picked: Larry Walker.  I like Larry.  A lot.  But it is interesting to me that the Council and Executive would put their own judgment over the easy pick of the next highest vote getter, David Proudfoot.  I know, I know.  I'm a Foot-head.  But honestly, for those folks that were reading back before November, I was also a strong advocate for Mr. Walker.  In fact, I just presumed Larry was going to get one of the two non-incumbent spots.  I have no idea what happened down the stretch (Alphabet conspiracy theorists notwithstanding).  I do know that David Proudfoot was a Division III football team away from winning the fourth spot.  Either way, it will be a short term for whomever gets it. 

I think I've dispensed with all of my pent up blogging.  I miss you guys (and gals).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Packing It In (Thursday Links)

Tomorrow, I go on vacation.  The number one piece of advice that everyone is giving me is "unplug -- don't touch your computer."  I acknowledge that this could also be a deftly placed criticism, but overall I understand the sentiment.  We'll see if I can do it.  Jane and I will be bringing at least one of our computers in order to assist our travel plans once on the island (we have none).  When we were in the Dominican, my computer was clutch when figuring out what was a good price and when certain events took place.

But, I'm taking a week off blogging.  It is just plain goofy to comment on Howard County happenings from Anguilla.  I may tweet some updates from our trip, but I will be leaving HoCo in HoCo.

LINKS

Explore Howard has a piece by Sara Toth about Phil Nelson's new position as the face of CA.  This campaign has drawn some jeers in light of the use of the word "bear" in the gay community.  Columbia always has been forward thinking...

Good news: Ethics complaint dismissed.  Bad new: Very unfortunate picture in the newspaper.  What I most enjoyed about the ethics panel decision was their finding that since Mr. Dyer was alleged to have promised something that he could never have bestowed, he was not using the prestige of office for personal gain.  This would not have been the first time that Mr. Dyer has misinterpreted his powers as a Board member.

There has been some continued jockeying regarding the Rte 108 funeral home, including the most recent decision to table zoning changes to exclude funeral homes from residential areas until the comprehensive rezoning process.  The bill to increase the parking requirements from 10 spaces per viewing room to 1 space per 50 square feet of public space is still on the table.  It seems to me that the parking bill makes a lot of sense (and the Planning Board agrees [PDF]).  I've probably been to more than my fair share of viewings and can say that in at least half of them, people were parking across the street to get to the funeral home.  While I am admittedly concerned that this legislation unfairly targets Donaldson, I don't think that a funeral home with five three viewing areas, a chapel, and a hearse museum will have adequate parking at its current allotment.  Moreover, our County's legislation is out of date compared to the surrounding jurisdictions, which have tossed the "spaces per viewing room" in favor of the "spaces per square foot of public space" standard.  I understand that there are friends of the Council on both sides of this debate, but I hope they choose the option that makes sense.

Attorney General Doug Gansler may be in some hot water after one of his "lawyer buddies" appears to have affected the decision to stop destruction of lead paint records.  This doesn't seem to be like much of a story, especially since the lab probably shouldn't have been destroying those records in the first place, but it does give an indication of the types of things that may be flying in the face of AG Gansler's gubernatorial aspirations.

WB is in the Business Monthly lamenting what he has heard about this past year's Wine in the Woods.  Ok, Howard County, not to offend, but let's be real about this.  Howard County does not get to put up walls and keep out all of the unfavorable elements of our society.  Viewed from a different perspective, Wine in the Woods had one of its more successful years in terms of attendance.  There are certainly areas to improve, but I know that I had a fantastic time.  It was unfortunate to see those who could not handle their liquor, but they were as easily avoidable as any other night in Federal Hill or Canton. 

MM is "meh" about the Asbury Courts development in Laurel.

Sarah gets her first CSA drop...and therefore provides her first CSA report.

HowChow recommends goat milk lollipops.  Of course HowChow recommends goat milk lollipops.

Duane discusses the Enterprise Foundation.

And that's all for today...and possible all I'll write for some time.  I hope you have a great week and that it cools off a little.  I'm out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Can Fix That, Episode Nine: "You can't say that on Social Media"

Here's another episode of I Can Fix That for your enjoyment, consternation, or cocktail party background banter.  We ended up talking about something that you can't really "fix," and that is self-governance.  When we say "Don't put pictures of your private parts on the internet," that sounds like common sense.  But it happens.  A lot.  We then seemlessly transitioned into a discussion of how the way we communicate political issues is almost entirely dispositive on how those issues are determined.  Finally, we get into the tenor of public debate.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

After Howard

The hyper-local conversation has seen a significant shift over the past week or so.  You see, the "silly place" as I had previously referenced the comment section at ExploreHoward, has effectively died. 

No more longreachdavid and his repeat posts.

No more citizentaxpayerjane and her manipulation of other user names to make insults.

No more Columbia User, referred to affectionately by citizentaxpayerjane as "Columbia Loser."

No more Independent.

No more purpledrankisgood or the other racist malcontents that spent their time on community newspaper comment boards.

I won't miss them.  I really can't say why I was drawn to their conversations in the first place.  There was normally one good idea followed by a litany of insults, capped off with one more good idea, and then more nasty jabber.  I didn't appreciate the continued bashing of our community journalists, who really didn't deserve that kind of abuse.  The permissive soapbox for our local racist element always bothered me.  Funny enough, those comments were normally left without retort.

But today, friends, I feel bad for "The Lost Commenters."  If you think about how much time they must have spent on those boards, just to have it all taken away, you can't help but feel some empathy.  Sure, you can still comment, but there was an underlying paranoia about registering for The Sun comments amongst that crew, which seems to have carried over to the new Explore Howard digs.  Interestingly, I've seen an uptick in some of the nasty/snarky tweets and comments on the hyper-local scene, so maybe those spirits have found new digital homes.  We can only hope.

No Link Wednesday

For some reason, Wednesday normally ends up being the day that I end up being rushed for time.  Today it was just a straight up accidental sleep-in.  I will look to get something up later today and have a few things that I wanted to chat about.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Leinberger Talk on HoCoMoJo

Those of you who attended the Chris Leinberger talk may have seen Dave Bittner in the back working the soundboards.  Here is the final product:


If I may be somewhat gratuitous with praise, I think this provides yet another opportunity to appreciate what Ilana and Dave Bittner have done for their community with HoCoMoJo.  The Leinberger talk was very important to those of us who live and breathe the hyper-local.  Those with kids or with late night jobs or whatever else may keep someone from a 85 degree room with 300 fellow Howard Countians probably feel like they missed something.  Well, now you're caught up.

Thank you Bittners!  You are awesome.

Men's Health Fair (Tuesday Links)

Saturday morning I woke up, read the paper, and gave my work computer a wary eye.  It was sitting there.  Waiting.  Watching.  Expecting me to forfeit my day.  But then I was asked to help out at the Men's Health Fair put on by Council-member Calvin Ball and the Howard County Health Department.  Originally this was only supposed to be for fifteen minutes, but I settled into the front desk and was having so much fun greeting people that I decided to stay for an hour...and then an hour and a half...and then right before it was looking to be two hours, I reminded myself of anniversary present shopping, window installation (they ended up missing this appointment, so that didn't matter)...and the work computer.

However, I did want to note this program and look forward to volunteering at future fairs.  It was started by Calvin in response to the simple fact that men just don't like doctors.  In full disclosure, I have a routine lab tests order that has gone unfilled for the past four-five months.  Jane is bugging me about it.  I just have not had time.  But the Men's Health Fair was the kick in the butt I needed to schedule those tests.  I saw so many men, on their own accord, come into the Fair with a specific diagnostic test they were looking for, sometimes with the acknowledging shrug that they should have had that test long before Saturday.  Taking care of yourself is not some club or nonprofit that you dedicate the first Thursday of every month to.  It is a fundamental duty to yourself and the people you care about to make sure everything is still working like it is supposed to.  A program like the Men's Health Fair is a success even if only fifty people attend.  Those are fifty families that can sleep better at night.

(NOTE: As an aside, big props to the County Executive Ken Ulman for making it out for the event.  There has been a running sentiment that he will no longer attend Howard County events now that he is on his four year campaign for Guv, but this past Saturday he attended at least three, probably more, HoCo centric events, for which there was not much fanfare or state-wide press.)

LINKS

If opponents of the in-state tuition bill are unable to get it to referendum, they would do well to forgo the courts.  The US Supreme Court refused to take up a challenge to a similar law in California, seeming to indicate that it did not rise to the level of a federal question.  There was a time when the Supreme Court would avoid overly politicized matters of law, but with this Court, I have to presume that did not come into consideration.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of anonymous juries in cases in which the jurors may be threatened or otherwise are found to be in danger as a result of their service.  It will be very interesting to see how the ruling is implemented.  My guess is that if anonymous juries are found to be more likely to convict, the defendant would have a significant interest in appealing their verdict...and probably winning on appeal.

Baltimore County has a nightmare of a development issue with the pausing...and restarting of the approval process for an apartment complex in next-door Catonsville.  Evidently, last month the Council revoked approval to build the complex and then reinstated those permits this week.  That can't be good for business.

Herman Cain spoke at the Howard County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.  For what its worth, I think the local GOP should be applauded for pulling the Fox News media darling dark horse that is Mr. Cain.  That said, I watched his LDD speech online and I've seen him speak on television.  He seems to be 90% hot air and 10% showman.  He doesn't talk policy.  Admittedly, he appears to be following a very particular model, but the GOP is not doing itself any favors by fawning over a crime-themed pizza magnate.

HowChow points out some other sources for food related blog posts.

Duane is offering up a guest blogging opportunity for anyone who wants it.

Trevor gets a sneak preview of some of the offerings at Pita & Rye.

WB admits that he has never learned to be an efficient typist (which immediately made me think of how much time he must put into his posts), but has hope in a new system of auto-correct typing.  The iPhone already has this (Link may be NSFW for bad language, but is hilarious).

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  New recording of I Can Fix That tonight.  Any thoughts on what you would like to hear us talk about?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Only Constant Is Change (Monday Links)

If you're a twenty/thirty-something, you hear a lot of pessimistic news about your future nowadays.  The home you just bought may never appreciate the way homes did before 2008.  Your job will never pay you the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that previous generations enjoyed.  Learn Chinese.  Peak Oil. Etc. Etc.

More recently, we've even heard that the ideal of "a little piece of suburbia" is all wrong...and not even practical.  One of the steady values of our lifetimes, education, is also being questioned.

I have to assume that every generation has had these "up is down; black is white" waves in time of turmoil, but it feels as if they are piling up.  The interest in having hope has made zealous advocates out of indifferent observers.  Driving through Baltimore on Friday, I thought to myself "there's no guarantee walkable urbanism is walkable."  My wife noted yesterday that she appreciates natural green space, and not just the manufactured green spaces that seem to come along with planned environments.  This isn't to say that I have lost Lein-fever, but it is always helpful in the midst of pushes for change to sit back and say "What do I really like about how things are right now?"

LINKS

If you have some time, Justin Fenton has a gripping piece from Sunday's Sun about the "eye for an eye" methods of the Baltimore street.  The unstated commentary is that if the race and socio-economic position of the kids being stabbed and shot on the streets of Baltimore were different, we may be having a more serious discussion about solving (big C) Crime in Baltimore City.

Michael Dresser has a piece that all Baltimore City commuters may find therapeutic, wondering whether the Grand Prix is really worth all this traffic.  For those who "live, work, and play" outside of the City limits, Baltimore is a mess.  Just about all of the major arteries are getting reworked...and it is taking a long time.

As job listings pick up, the recession-stuck workforce will be looking to transition to more desirable positions (and open themselves up to last-in, first-out layoffs).

WB notes that parking garages may become a part of the shopping experiences at the local Wegmans.

Sarah notes that there will be a pre-submission meeting for the new Symphony Woods proposal on June 16th.  Unfortunately, I will be out of town on that date and will not be able to attend, but I think it will be a great opportunity to get in on what may be the first new project of Columbia's downtown.

Duane posts about the Justin Fenton article.

HowChow posts about Gorman Farm strawberries.

Today is my two year anniversary with Jane.  We've been together for almost eight NINE (whoops) years, so the anniversary number normally seems like an understatement on our relationship.  To celebrate, we are going to Anguilla next week (I'm getting a house-sitter, you blog lurking burglars...so don't try it).  I am very excited for the time off and catching up with my wife, who ends up bearing a lot of the burden of me being out and about.  I hope to come back recharged, refocused, and refreshed.

In the meantime, it's Monday.  Have a great one doing what you love.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Retro-fitting the Suburbs

Since last Wednesday, I've been playing the Leinberger themes in my head over and over again.  That has supplemented by fitting in brief spurts of reading "The Option of Urbanism."  For those that could not attend the talk, here is a very similar TED talk by Ellen Dunham-Jones:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Morning Reporting on Sun Reporting

Unfortunately, I did not make it out to the Howard County Library's 5K.  Our window saga continues and Jane had made an appointment for this morning.  I also really needed to catch up on some sleep, which had run down to dangerous levels.  (Anyone who saw me this week could probably [politely] agree).

Very interesting piece in today's Howard Section about a piece of legislation proposed by Council-members Courtney Watson and Greg Fox that would give six private nonprofit swim clubs a property tax credit that would cost the County approximately $52,828.  Interestingly, the Columbia Association's 23 pools are excluded from such a credit.  As noted in the piece, "Watson said the Columbia Association has other ways to raise money, meaning its property tax-like fees on residents."  There isn't much else there with regard to the rationale for excluding CA, but the language of the bill (PDF) states that this tax credit is only available to nonprofit entities that operate exclusively as a swim club.

As someone who is personally interested in strengthening ties between the CA and the County Council, this measure is concerning.  With two similarly situated public offerings, one is being favored over the other.  CA may have liens that run with the land, but that money goes to fund very specific services that CA provides its residents, such as path and open space maintenance as well as publicly available playgrounds and parks, that are enjoyed outside of the extra membership costs that are necessary for use of the pools.  The Council will also recall that during the Big Kahuna, CA was called upon to lend its equipment, free of charge, to the County to help clear roads and pathways; a public service that was borne at private cost.

With regard to whether CA offers the same public service that Council-member Watson attributes to the swim-club-only pools, I think that's clear.  CA's 23 pools clearly serve more Howard County residents than the six pools that would benefit from this bill.  While I'm not interested in taking a $50,000 cost and ballooning it to a $150,000 tax loss, I think that the Council could make the credit something less than 100% and extend this benefit to all County pools.  As Council-member Watson was noted as saying in the article, "'They're providing a service to county residents' that might otherwise be borne by taxpayers for public pools."

That same article then goes on to note that the "Church and the Funeral Home" debate is far from over.  Council-members Sigaty and Fox are proposing a bill that will "require one parking space per 50 square feet of public space in a funeral home building."  As I've noted before, I think we need to tread lightly whenever we are approaching a politically unpopular entity such as a funeral home.  This bill seems fair to me and I hope it passes.

That's all I have for now.  Hi ho hi ho and all that jazz.  Have a great Saturday.

Friday, June 3, 2011

CA Board Recap: June 2, 2011 Board Operations Committee

On Friday mornings, I will be posting about the previous night's CA Board meeting, providing my observations and my perspective on the goings on of the Columbia Association Board.  These posts will only relate to open meetings and documents that were made available to the public.

Last night was the Board Operations Committee meeting.  It started at 7:30 pm (on the dot) and ended at 9:02 pm.  This committee is comprised of all of the Committee Chairs, the Board Chair, the Vice Chair, and Senior CA Staff.  I am not a member of this committee, but as a new member I thought it would be important to attend in order to get a better feel for how the Board works.

This was the meeting to see and appreciate the inefficiencies of an organization dedicated to the mechanics of transparency.  I say "mechanics" because I don't necessarily think the means are at all related to the ends, other than by reference.  It is CA policy to have three readings of any proposed "significant" policy change or an expenditure of more than $25,000.  There was a five minute conversation last night as to whether a particular item, or set of items, was subject to the three reading rule.  This provision may be a significant reason for why CA meetings are running an average of 3.5 hours, yet these meetings are so lightly attended by the public that the number of readings has almost no significance whatsoever with regard to public input...or even public cognizance.  

Another potential reason for Board "muckery" was also addressed last night.  CA President Phil Nelson had offered a document at the Board's request regarding the limited role of the Board with regard to "oversight" and what that means.  This was a brave move on his part for a subject that many Board members bristle over.  Nonetheless, this is also something that I can tell is a continual leech on the morale of CA Staff.  The problem is that the organization has perpetually placed additional policy guidelines and rules on itself, from many different angles and in many different governing documents, to make it almost impossible to introduce something as simple as "Guidelines for Board Oversight."  This very important document, which goes to the heart of the limitations of a governing Board of Directors, will most likely be read, "appreciated," and filed away.

It has become apparent, almost from day one, that the CA Board's problems do not have as much to do with the CA Board as people would think.  There is this overhanging cloud of "Procedure" that I think is hurting the Board and what it can do.  CA is not government, but it is quasi-governmental.  I once heard a very smart man say "Government is never supposed to be efficient."  The idea behind that is: In order to be transparent and have sufficient public input, you need to move slowly and hear a lot of bad ideas.  Nonetheless, in CA's case, I think we could do a lot to simplify our process, narrow our focus, and stop this broken record approach to agenda items.

Outside of that, this is hard work and I hope those of you out there that care about CA understand that.  I've heard plenty of folks offer ideas for what CA should do, and I hope those ideas continue, but it is a very slow, tiresome process.  At the External Relations Committee meeting, we discussed taking the audio recordings that are already placed on CD and making them available online.  All this does is change the platform of availability.  That proposal will not be heard until the June 23rd meeting, a motion will need to be drafted, and under the three-reading-rule, it probably will not be voted upon until the end of July.  Meanwhile, an ambitious citizen could go to the CA Archives, ask for a copy of the CA Board Audio Recording CD, download it to their computer, and make it available on their website today.  The "slow moving" inefficiencies serve no purpose here, but they are still used as a matter of course.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday and plan something good for the weekend.  There is a lot going on, between the Columbia Home Tour and the HoCo Library 5K, you all should stay busy.  I have to catch up on work, but I may try to make it out for the run.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blogger Activism

"Teenager in their mom's basement."
"Sideline stone-thrower."
"Snarkapatamus" (There's still an outstanding beer for whomever owns up for that one)

There are a number of stereotypes regarding bloggers.  There are some minor exceptions to the stereotype.  If you are a columnist and a blogger, you are called a columnist.  In fact, you get to avoid the blogger pejoratives all together so long as you have your picture somewhere in proximity to the text of the post.  I've always been one to squirm at the title "Blogger," but that's my own problem.  The title is appropriate.  Someone who blogs is ipso facto a blogger.

But I just don't think the stereotypes work.  I don't see how a teenager that rarely leaves their mom's basement would have all that much to blog about that people would want to read.  The "sideline stone thrower" will also lose credibility for just being a nattering naybob of negatively.  The Snarkapatamus, on the other hand...well he may end up making it in the sports world, but no one would want to talk to him/her about politics.

I thought about some of the higher profile "basement dwellers" in Howard County.  There's Sarah, who currently serves on the Howard County General Plan Task Force; Dennis, a well-respected and well-connected real estate developer; Trevor, a former Village Board member and long-term community activist; and Bill Santos, a current Village Board member, and someone that most people would think of as an authority on Village Board comings and goings and the management of Columbia.  That's not to mention the fact that Frank Hecker's blog has been referred to at committee and commission meetings alike as a reference point for items such as redistricting and the County charter.  I would hate to offend anyone else by omission, but you would be hard pressed to find any Howard County blogger that is not otherwise highly visible and active in their community.

The quips about bloggers come with the territory, and as a lawyer, I am very used to titles being used as the premise for jokes.  Nonetheless, I think it is an interesting, while silent, commentary on Web 2.0 that so many bloggers have become "Blogger Activists."  You can laugh...so long as you come clicking through tomorrow morning.