Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Stuff

I'm still getting over my disappointment in the loss of the Political Notebook.  Mornings tend to be a time of groggy routine for yours truly, so I admit to opening the Howard Section still expecting a "Political Notebook," despite Larry Carson's one month absence.  Oh well. 

Nonetheless, it is Saturday, which is a great time to get in reading that you can't fit in during the work week.  Here are some suggestions:

TJ over at Elkridge Patch has a great piece about his decision to deploy and an attachment to a song that he may not otherwise endorse.  If you find yourself to be an emotionally sensitive person, you may want to grab a tissue. 

This isn't so much something to read as much as it is something "to do."  If you have not checked the Columbia Pools "Aquatic Commenting Tool" via Bill Santos's recommendation, please do it at mine.  This thing is plain neat, even if you don't live in Columbia or use Columbia pools (and so ends my commitment not to type the word "pool" for the next month.  Restart the clock).  It provides a very user friendly, visually attractive way to comment on your favorite pool.

Another "Thing To Do" is mark your calendar for Thursday, September 15, 2011 to take part in a "Pink Bag Lunch" to support Success in Style, which provides business attire and coaching to help adults in crisis find employment and improve their lives.  You never know where you'll find your passion to help folks.  Here's a chance to find out.

And that's all I have for you.  I know I promised "things to read" but...well...I'm as disappointed as you are.  There's not much.

Have a great Saturday.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Living In Recovery Takes Off (Thanks to YOU!)

I wanted to share an e-mail I received from my friend Joe Wilmott last night:

I am happy to announce that Living In Recovery has signed a lease for a three bedroom house that will accommodate four residents. ... It will open in late August.

The financial proposition is a little better than we predicted; your $3,000 will enable it to almost break even. Thanks very much for making this possible.

Of course, the $3,000 that Joe is referring to is the money we raised for Grassroots in order to help make this a sustainable effort.  Nonetheless, as you can tell from Joe's note, there is still work to do.  Donation channels have reopened on Crowdrise and I'll be directing all of my Marine Corps Marathon fundraising towards Howard County's homeless.  Also, as Council Member Calvin Ball notes on Facebook:

Living In Recovery has announced it will be opening a supportive sober house. To help them move forward, they're looking for donations of all kinds: bedroom, dining & dining room, and kitchen & appliances. If you can help, please email Joe Willmott at

Exciting stuff.  It is critically important that the public get behind efforts like this.  We can end homelessness in Howard County, especially with people like Joe guiding the ship.  But it can't be flash in the pan assistance.  We need long term commitment from the Howard County government and its citizens.  This is a tremendous start.
(Bonus plug to the Grassroots Crisis Center, which seems to be the focus point of so many fantastic new ways to solve our community's problems.)

Oft Touted Howard Bond Rating In the Balance

Howard County's AAA Bond Rating is often promoted as a sign of "strong leadership and financial management."

However, according to the Washington Post, it may have a lot more to do with things that are completely outside of our control:

Suburban governments across the Washington area could lose their sterling credit ratings if the federal government is downgraded, the Moody’s rating agency said Thursday.


The capital region faces a double-edged sword. If the federal government loses its AAA credit rating, local jurisdictions could suffer a domino effect. But if Congress and President Obama bolster the federal credit rating by cutting government spending, that, too, could damage the local economy and tax base. 
The Maryland list includes Baltimore County, Bowie, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Rockville and the Washington Suburban Sanitary District.

(I was not aware that the Washington Suburban Sanitary District was known for its stellar credit rating.)

Regardless of how this plays out, I think it is time we stop referring to the AAA bond rating as if it is a "Good Government" award.  There are numerous aspects of our County that can justifiably be pointed to as evidence of good leadership, but the bond rating is not one of them. 

Then again, we could take any downgrade as a judgment on County leadership.  It's brought us this far...

CA Board Recap: July 28 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start time: 7:42 pm
End time: 10:35 pm (Closed Meeting continued until 11:59 pm)

Late night.  As I've said before, I don't think I would mind as much if I felt that the Board could list four hours of accomplishments, but I'm not sure we measure up on that score.

A few positives to begin:
1) Mike Cornell, despite participating through Skype, really did a fantastic job reminding the committees of their time restrictions and where they were on the agenda.  This is an important improvement.

2) Huge thanks to Andy Stack for circumventing the stutter step process of CA business by invoking a procedural mechanism by which matters that have been referred to the Board can be voted on that night and not wait until the following meeting.  We had a slew of unanimous votes last night and there was no reason why those items could not make it to the Board for final approval.

And then the rest:

Going Green

If I have not mentioned it here before, this Board is focused (if not borderline obsessed) with "going green" and making CA as green as it can possibly be.  As such, the placement of recycling containers next to all trash cans is a very big thing.  Huge.  Raised voices and aggressive tones BIG.  From my perspective, this is an implementation concern and should not be a focus of Board meetings.  As will be noted in the next subject, we are asking for certain metrics to allow the Board to evaluate staff progress.  Those metrics serve no purpose if we are noting blue bins and whether or not we preference hybrid driving employees over those driving "less responsible" vehicles (the latter item being a presumed point of future discussion).

On this point is another overarching concern: Board members are not "super-executives."  There is one executive and his name is Phil Nelson.  Why?  Because none of us have the training or experience to be hired in Phil's role.  At one point a Board member said "I'm not seeing anything that shows me we are making an improvement in becoming more green," and Phil had to list all of the ways in which CA has reduced its energy usage, waste, and water consumption, all of which have been provided to the Board in our Quarterly Report.  Phil is better at his job than any of us because he sees all the data and knows that our success in reducing the organization's carbon footprint is not wrapped up in the aesthetic triggers of recycling bins.  Should we be more aggressive on this point?  Absolutely.  But it just may be that our executive has determined that there are less visible, however important, items that need to be taken care of first before we can focus on window dressing.

The Dashboard

As noted in previous posts, the Strategic Implementation Committee is working on a "dashboard" to display a list of metrics that the Board may find helpful in measuring CA's progress on a number of initiatives.  These items have been digested at length.  Nonetheless, we still don't know what the dang thing is going to look like or, more importantly, whether the Board will use it (notably, most of this information is already available, but is buried within the Quarterly Report).  Rather than continue to look at the stone and decide what our sculpture was going to look like, I suggested that we get out the chisel and see what we like about it after it's done.  SIC voted it through to the Board (with an "advisory vote" from yours truly) and it was later approved by the Board.

Symphony Woods

The Board was clearly concerned by the outcome of the Design Advisory Panel.  In order to better understand exactly what had occurred, Jan Clark and Jane Dembner came before the Board to explain what had happened and how CA's approach will change.  Bottom line: Our park has a vision, but we thought this Panel may be more interested in specifics, which are not particularly sexy.  In the organization's defense, we are the first to go through this process.  That also means this is the first run for DAP.  I have some concerns as to whether we are missing out on some legitimate criticisms from the DAP regarding the vision that they do see, but I also have a great deal of faith in our staff who are much more experienced in this than myself.  There will be a renewed presentation in the near future where Jan and Jane are confident they can communicate our design in a way that will be understandable to the Panel.

CA Outreach

The External Relations Committee, by way of Andy Stack, is working to forge stronger bonds with our community partners.  We are in the process of arranging dinners with community leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, Howard Hughes, and County and State governments.  I am very optimistic about this initiative and hope that some additional personal connections can develop between our Board members and other leaders in our community.  I am often concerned that there is a bubble of self-importance that prevents the give and take that will be necessary for true partnership to develop between this Board and any other organization.

Communications Policy

I had the old t-shirt saying run through my head last night of "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean everybody isn't out to get me."  There was an agenda item to discuss the manner in which Symphony Woods is communicated to the public and Board members' obligations to present CA and its efforts in a positive light.  I couldn't help but think that this was a targeted, however passive-aggressive, response to this post in which I expressed sincere concerns about CA's plan for Symphony Woods.  Nothing was passed last night, but I am clearly not interested in imposing any policy measures that would prohibit open deliberation on these matters.  Maybe that's wrong and maybe there is a party line that needs to be promoted, but I am concerned that this would do much more harm than good. 

The rest of the meeting related to Budget parameters, which should also be entitled the "Board Member Auto-MBA Program," based on the way it was discussed.

Last night was a tough meeting for me.  I have high hopes for Board reform and have been assured that this will be put on the Agenda in the near future, but last night was not encouraging.  You can't change psychology.  Any Board that is going to get down into the weeds of whether or not there is a blue recycling bin next to a trash can at the River Hill gym is not going to be interested in creating walls that will not allow them to do that in the future.  Nonetheless, we can certainly try.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pool Saver

Proving that there is more than one way to approach a civic issue, Council member Courtney Watson has announced that she will be introducing an amendment to her Neighborhood Preservation bill (CB 50-2008) to offer additional assistance to private swim clubs...which does not include the words "tax" or "credit."  I've put the press release on Google Docs, which is accessible here.

It took me a few reads to figure out how this legislation would work, but overall I think it is well-directed problem solving.  The Preservation law allows one property owner to sell the "development rights" from their property to another property developer, who may then use those rights for another planned development.  The selling property owner then has an easement on their property to prevent any future development.  Pretty much Cap-and-trade, but for development and not pollution.

It seems unlikely that the Pool Tax Credit is going to pass this evening.  This is a solid attempt to give private pools an opportunity for additional funding via a County created commodity (say that three times fast).  I have not yet heard a legitimate reason for why these pools refuse to raise their rates ("our members wouldn't like it" is not legitimate), but should they continue to refuse, here is another option, however cumbersome and legalistic it may be.

For creative problem solving while treading water: Courtney Watson gets a salute.

Small Talk (Thursday Links)

I've always found it odd that it is "rude" to talk about politics.  I understand that you shouldn't bring the debt ceiling up in strange company or at your friend's dinner party, but even amongst friends it is often "taboo."  This social construct would seem to be rooted in the idea that it is rude to disagree with someone else, which is similarly baffling.  Our civilization has progressed based almost entirely on our ability to reason and communicate with one another, yet these capabilities are limited by our "rules of engagement."

I wonder how much our political apathy, and well-known ignorance about basic American history, would be influenced by lifting the treaty.  I know folks who can list every Ravens receiver from the past 13 years in order according to their "Yards After Catch", which is frankly a very valuable statistic to know in light of how much we talk about sports, yet could not say how the President of the United States is elected.  Politics is dry (and I would never expect our populace to become conversant in local politics), but so are sports statistics.   Whether we would admit it or not, most folks listen to sports radio and read the sports section to prepare for their next debate about "Super Bowl favorite" or "Best _____ of all time."  Politics is not the same.  Why?  Because if you ever get into a conversation about politics, the other person can, and often will, say "I don't want to talk about politics" and then move on to why soccer will never make it in the United States (which is tangentially political if you work on it).

I love sports.  I can talk about sports all day.  But it is pointless to do so.  Not so much politics.  Maybe, the next time someone says "Let's not talk about politics" in that hushed "I-can't-believe-I-have-to-remind-you-of-basic-manners" tone, you should say "I think we should.  It's important."


10% of all US Post Offices are closing in order to create a more streamlined operation that can compete with private delivery services.  Reviewing the list, it looks like the only HoCo-nearby closing will be the Laurel Mall.

A Baltimore City Councilman told residents to tell 911 operators that there is a gun involved, even when there isn't, in order to get faster response times.  In other news, Police respond by down-grading gun-involved response times.

Who would have thought that the first bill Congressman Andy Harris proposed in Congress would be an environmental initiative?  No surprise, it is not exactly what the environmentalists were looking for.  (PS Andy -- it is hard to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment when you are spending $18 million in pork...ahem...discretionary spending).

Ravens first round draft pick (and Howard County drunk driver) Sergio Kindle will hit the practice field.

The Flier profiles the Columbia Mall on its 40th birthday.

Trevor gives his 2011 Top Ten Places to Eat in Howard County.  If you can get over the fact that Victoria, Aida, and Iron Bridge all missed the cut, it is a very good list.

WB gives us the update on the cool new toys for the younger generation

53 Beers wonders if an advisory panel created to evaluate diversity on the School Board will be able to do much.  I tend to agree.

Duane reviews the Columbia Foundation's Listening Project.

That's all for today.  The pool tax credit bill hears its fate this evening, which is still very uncertain.  Amendments are being tossed about and votes are being tallied.  If anyone tells you that they "know" what is going to happen, they are wrong.  We also have a CA Board meeting this evening.  A number of you have suggested that you may come to Resident Speak Out to comment on the Cy Paumier proposal for Downtown Columbia.  Admittedly, the motion has passed, but it is always good to have resident feedback and I would encourage you to stop by (like I've said, Resident Speak-out is at the very beginning).

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Getcha Popcorn Ready! CA Board Audio ON THE WEB!

Thanks to the hard work of Columbia Association staff, audio recordings of CA Board meetings are now available on the internet.  Click on this link to find audio recording from our past three meetings, including the contentious May 12th meeting, which includes the Board Chair election.

Admittedly, this is still a work in progress and you may need to navigate through the meeting with the help of an Agenda or Board Minutes, but we're moving in a positive direction.

Diversity and You (Wednesday Links)

As a twenty(still)-something white male, I'm never comfortable in a conversation about "diversity."  It's not that I won't engage in one (as WB has said "I think everyone is entitled to my opinion"), but I feel like I am on unsteady ground.  Once the conversation becomes personal, I have very little to offer.

Nonetheless, I am always troubled when someone (normally a white male) says that we need to make something "more diverse."  As you may be aware, County Executive Ulman has stated that he will be creating an "advisory panel" to study the lack of diversity on the Howard County School Board.  This may sound like a common-place initiative in the 21st Century, but I don't think it is.  Basically, Executive Ulman seems to be interested in why our voters don't support diverse candidates (and yes, a simple revision of that sentence would make it quite inflammatory).  Diversity in other contexts seems to make more sense: Education, Workforce, Government Contracting.  You can certainly disagree with whether or not Affirmative Action programs should exist, but their mechanism has passed Constitutional muster (with the Supreme Court's only "sunset clause" opinion).  But studying the diversity of a duly elected body seems just...odd.  I appreciate the interest in increasing representative capacity by promoting diversity, but then we get back to the follow-up question of "How much diversity are we looking for?"  Socio-economic?  Disability?  Religion?  Sexuality?  Political party?

That's why I don't see diversity as the root motivator here.  Rather, I think this is about having an appointed Board.  Howard County's most expensive citizen, Allen Dyer, may have planted the seed that elected school board members may not be the best way of doing things.  This should be interesting to watch.


Speaking of school boards, Baltimore County schools have cut 200 teachers while hiring 35 administrative employees, 11 of which make more than $80,000 a year.  This would seem to be one of those stories that appears obscene in isolation, but makes sense in context.  Or at least I hope.

The Howard County Teacher's Union has committed to a tentative agreement that would provide approximately 1.5% increase for all teachers, not including cost-of-living increases.

The Sun profiles "car-less living."

Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the goal of Maryland having the lowest incidence of cancer in any state.  The article goes on to note that our state had recently (past ~20 years) gone from having the 3rd highest incidences of cancer to 21st.  I can certainly get behind this one.

I think Otis Rolley's plan for lowering property taxes only on those residential properties worth less than $200,000 shows a clear misunderstanding of why there are vacant commercial properties and row-houses.  I'm sure a pro-business platform would go over like a burp in church, but it's what the City needs.

53 Beers posts about the mess of Baltimore City slots.

Sarah has a really interesting post about the "community impact" of I-95 on the areas that it bifurcates.  Anyone who has ever had a conversation that included the words "other side of 95" should read this post.  (If blog posts received awards, this one would get a nomination from me).

WB observes that our County is appointing our police officers to more and more "posts" and wonders if we are taking them out of their normal patrols.  I would love to see the "County Council Protection Unit's" face when they are going over police budgets in the next budget cycle.

HowChow notes a new edition to the Mexican delicacies available along Rte 1.

Duane discusses Howard County's Homeless population, which gives me an opportunity to make a friendly plug for the re-start of The Project to raise another $3,000 for individuals looking to get back on their feet.  (Come on Duane, link a brother up!)

That's all for today.  I'm scheduled to have a long night at the office, which allowed me to sleep in a little (with everything, there is balance).  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Impossibility of Party Free Politics (Tuesday Links)

Maybe it is a lack of imagination or the effect of a lifetime under two party rule, but as much as I may raise a fist at the way in which our Country governs itself, I really don't see how it can change.  Party politics has crept into every aspect of government, from the committees one serves to the bars that you go to after work.  More importantly, party stalwarts are the worker bees of the election cycle.  Sure, independents/unaffiliated folks certainly volunteer, but the true "feats of strength" that you hear during the campaign season, like someone staying up through the night to construct a 4th of July float or phone banks working 12 hours a day, those things operate under the auspices of a political party.

There's a few reasons for this.  One, political parties don't allow for waffling.  "This is our candidate and you support them...What's that?  You asked about their position on education funding?  Who do you think you are?  Pick up that phone and call people.  If they ask you a hard question, tell them to go to the website!"  I would say that amongst voters that did their research and really put some thought into who they were going to vote for, there were at least two to three offices that they may have gone back and forth on before making their final vote.  This is not someone who will "get their hands dirty" during the election season.

Second, political parties provide for constancy in a field of change.  This is also one of the deepest criticisms of the party system.  Nonetheless, political parties have history that individual candidates do not.  This creates brand loyalty.  One could argue that it also creates "brand disgust," but all that does is push you deeper into the arms of what is equally disgusting to the other side.

Finally, all those who rally around the idea of taking power away from political parties are those who are otherwise invested in political debate and policy.  These are not your average Americans.  Sure, independents make up the largest percentage of the voting population, but as described in greater detail elsewhere, these folks have significant party leanings.  That's because it's easier that way.  Electing someone without the coloring of political party would put a significant burden on the individual voter; one that they may not be willing to take on.

So while I am interested in the idea of giving the center room to express itself, I don't really feel like it has the motivation to do so.  The radical margins may not have smarts, but they sure to have energy.  The center has the burden of re-energizing a disaffected base and then revving them up to the same level of passion as those who fear their Country is being taken over by malevolent forces.  That is a hard narrative to counter, especially if the centrists were to stay true to their calling.


Ravens fans had a weird day yesterday.  First, the lockout ended (woo hoo!).  Then the Ravens dropped some of the most beloved players from the past five years (Camman, dude!).  Not to be a pessimist, but Ozzie has shown himself much more proficient in the draft than in the free agency market.  Let's hope this turns into a no-brainer move and that a number of these players are resigned in Baltimore.

Read this slowly: The Baltimore City Internal Affairs Commander resigned after he was found to have ties to another officer involved in a drug conspiracy.  Who watches the Watchmen?  (And yes, I've been waiting to be able to use that line).

With all the news that I read, I don't normally have an emotional reaction to much of anything.  I only made it halfway through this piece about the Obama/Boehner speeches before I felt my blood pressure rise.  If you aren't infuriated, you aren't paying attention.  I can agree with our President about one thing:  This is no way to run the greatest Country on Earth.  It is no longer about political compromises.  Now it is about personal compromises.  Take a political bullet and save the Country.  No one's re-election is more important than this Country's economic well-being. 

WB notes the slow pace by which historic preservation construction progresses.

HowChow posts that people are so excited about the new Wegmans that they are even sharing news about who the new General Manager is going to be.  Easy folks.  It's a grocery store.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Democratizing Democracy (Monday Links)

Independents, Unaffiliated, and "Weak Partisans" rejoice!  Your time is nigh!  Tom Friedman has predicted that Americans Elect will do to politics "What Amazon did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what did to pharmacies."  For the most part, Tom Friedman, and his tendency to speak in exaggerated terms, annoys me.  He has predicted the end of  US dominance since I was in high school.  His foreign policy pieces, while read to be revelatory on how the world will be in the future, can be boiled down to muffled amazement that third world companies have computer processor plants.

Nonetheless, I hope he's right on this one.  For at least the past two decades, folks have been fed up with both parties.  That frustration and anger seems to be crystallized by the current debt debate.  But unlike having a bad experience at a restaurant, we can't make the decision not to use their product anymore.  It's what we've got and the alternatives normally end up displaying some of the insanity that must be necessary to challenge the two party duopoly that governs our Country.

Essentially, this is picking our president via American Idol.  There are clear pitfalls in such an approach, but those pitfalls are inherent in democracy itself.  We don't want the products of democracy.  We want our choices to win.  But if the political parties that frustrate us are ever going to be challenged, Americans Elect would seem to be the avenue for doing so.  As Albert Einstein said "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."  The system itself needs to be challenged, and the internet seems like it has a solution.


The Court of Appeals has raised the bar concerning what proof will be necessary to collect credit card debts.  While consumer advocates may cheer this ruling on the front end, credit opportunities will most likely be curtailed going forward.  This may not be a sum positive,  but probably is "good" in a more general sense by limiting credit for those who shouldn't have it.

After Friday's outrage, BGE will be re-evaluating their PeakRewards program.

Fearing that Baltimore City voters were snoozing on this year's Mayoral Race, one candidate has teamed up with a "Blue Man" to get his name out.  It's a man.  Dressed in Blue spandex.  

Five years after Correctional Officer David McGuinn was murdered in a Jessup prison, the two men accused of killing the officer have not gone to trial.

When I talk about how local politics can be boring and needs some TLC to bring it up to the cognizance of the average individual, I normally bring up "cell phone towers."  Well, as this piece demonstrates, there is just nothing sexy about the subject, but when it affects you or your neighbors, it's all you can think about.

WB was less than impressed with the Native American Pow Wow at the Howard County Fairgrounds this past weekend.

53 Beers wants to hear your thoughts about the DREAM Act's spot on next year's ballot.

Sarah considers the benefits and flaws of a teen curfew.  In light of the general tone our government seems to set, I'm actually surprised that some curfew wasn't implemented here first.  "HoCo Knows Best!"

Duane is boycotting Major League Baseball in favor of the Minor League variety.

HowChow recommends grabbing some Harvest Fried Chicken before picking fruit at Larriland farms.  For some reason, this post made me think of the Godfather's heart attack.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Monday doing what you love.  The Pool Tax Credit bill (CB 30) hears its fate this Thursday.  Interestingly, I don't think anyone has predicted which way this one will go.  It seems to be turning on the decision of Council member Terrasa.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Columbian's Campaign for Two Year Terms

I normally don't post on Sundays.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see local writer Jason Booms in today's Washington Post and wanted to share his piece about shortening Maryland House of Delegate terms to two years.  Jason has successfully had his proposal published in multiple newspapers and hopefully it has begun to garner attention with the populace.  Nonetheless, like many other government reform measures, those with the keys in their hand are the ones that are least likely to drive this campaign to fruition.

Congrats Jason!  Keep fighting the good fight.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Stuff

Without the Political Notebook, and much of anything by way of the Howard Section, I figured I would just offer up some things that were on my mind and may be worthy of discussion on this muggy Saturday.

I'm happy to see that Governor O'Malley has decided to support marriage equality after his previous position of "I support civil unions and think I may be able to consider approving of same-sex marriage...depending on what mood I'm in" from the last legislative session.  Governor O'Malley received a significant amount of scrutiny after Maryland's bill failed and was noted as an "also ran" compared to Governor Cuomo in New York, which may have taken some of the wind out of O'Malley's Presidential sails.

Even with Governor O'Malley's support, I think same-sex marriage is destined for another petition drive, especially after the emboldening of the GOP by way of the in-state tuition petition.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Maryland Republicans use as a weapon of minority for the foreseeable future.  While an inefficient and dangerous way of making policy, I think it is good to introduce some balance to what has become a streamlined blue state.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, our system of government requires tension to prevent overreach and encourage deliberation.  Admittedly, that balance can cripple the government in certain circumstances, but as long as lawmakers act responsibly, and in the best interest of the people (not ideology), balance is a good thing.  Then again, maybe I presume too much.

Jane and I were part of the BGE Peak Rewards customers who saw their AC shut off between 11 am and 8 pm last night.  It cracks me up that so many people were calling BGE to get out of the program and have their compressor units turned back on.  Jane was none too pleased, but I realized that this was part of the deal.  Nothing for nothing.  In order to save electricity (and lower our bill), we agreed to some measure of discomfort.  The only problem I had with this "cycling" was the uncertainty of when it would be turned back on.  I attribute this to the "endurance sport" mentality.  I can take the heat, just let me know when it is going to end.

A few notes on the Debt Ceiling Crisis that seems to be going nowhere good.  I've read and been told that even if Congress kicks the can and puts the onus on President Obama, the markets will see that as a sign of weakness and our economy will endure a kick to the face similar to what we would have received had we defaulted.  The faith in our dollar is premised on the idea that our government knows what it is doing.  The past month has been a Three Stooges nightmare.  If the United States was a company, and the Board of Directors/CEO acted like our government, it would have no place in your retirement portfolio.  Here are the things I can't accept/understand:
  • Why is a Balanced Budget Amendment such a nonstarter?  Every state other than Vermont has some form of a Balanced Budget clause in their Constitution.  Oregon even has a "kicker" that gives surpluses over 2% back to the taxpayer.  The Horror!!  
  • I have absolutely no problem with taxing the earnings of Mutual Fund managers and others who receive the bulk of their income through capital gains at the same rate as the rest of Americans.
  • For the past eight years, we've engaged in two wars for which there was no amount that was too much to spend.  We've also chased down "Star Wars" programs that have been successful only in their ability to spend money.  Yes, we need additional revenue, and it is not just because of "entitlements."
  • The Cut, Cap, and Balance legislation does not name the programs that it would cut & cap.  Instead it would impose a "Sequester", which represents an across the board proportional spending cut.  Said otherwise, this is just sloppy law.
  • Where is the President's proposal?  All I've heard him say is how he is compromising and he doesn't like the proposals that he is supporting, but this is what needs to be done.  That's nonsense. 
 If you are as frustrated as I am, here is something to cheer you up:

Friday, July 22, 2011

CA July 28, 2011 Agenda Posted

Although these agendas are already available online, I thought it would be worthwhile to make them accessible to all of you through Google Docs.  We have recently received the agenda for the July 28, 2011 meeting, which may be found here.

Some items of note:
  • Dredging Update (Note: Part of this may be moved to a closed session due to pending litigation)
  • Symphony Woods Park Update, including a discussion of the Design Panel Review
  • Enhancements to CA Board Room to Improve Communication -- I plan to suggest the incorporation of streaming video equipment.
As always, there is an opportunity for all residents to speak at the beginning of every meeting and I would encourage all of you to take advantage of that opportunity.  This Board does not operate in a vacuum and your input is critical.

With Great Comfort Comes Great Responsibility

Extreme weather conditions normally provide an opportunity to appreciate the climate controlled environs of modern day living and merit a raised glass to the memory of Willis Carrier, the man who invented air conditioning.  It is also an opportunity to consider the fact that in Howard County, home of extraneous rankings and awards, there are people living in tents.  I don't know about you, but that seems unacceptable to me.

The Project is re-opened, with a goal of raising another $3,000 for Grassroots before the end of November.  I'm going to have to be more creative this time around, but I have faith in all of you.  For those new to the blog, I've asked all readers to donate $15 (or more).  I would like to think that your enjoyment of my little hobby is at least on par with your average magazine subscription to Good Housekeeping.  Hmm...that's a high bar...maybe your average Highlights subscription?

No Link Friday

I tried to figure out a way to blame this on the heat, but I cannot tell a lie -- I straight up slept in.  Since it is Friday, I will hope to get a post up later today.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elkridge SPEAKS...through Patch

Long time readers know that I've been a bit skeptical of the Patch model.  I think it is perfect for the New England town hall-esque way of life or in more defined political localities (i.e., small town mayors), but when it comes to having multiple "Patches" across a county like ours, it seems a little disjointed.  Nonetheless, I respect the idea and will continue to click through five Patches just to make sure I'm not missing anything.

Despite this skepticism, a very cool thing I've noticed is that Elkridge has found its voice through Patch.  If you click over to the Elkridge Patch site your will see posts like "Pazani: Elkridge's Answer to Little Italy" or my friend TJ's review of the microcosm within the microcosm "Lower Elkridge."  While not a scientific conclusion, it seems like the comment section for this Patch is the most actively used out of all the Patches in Howard County.

There is a scrappiness to it.  A little bit of the "we don't need you all to care about us, we certainly don't care about you, but Don't Mess with Elkridge."  I love it.  Keep on keepin' on, Patch...and Elkridge!

Doing What You Love (Thursday Links)

You may have noticed that I end all of my morning posts the same way.  "Have a great _____ doing what you love."  When I first typed those words, a part of me recoiled.  "Oh yuck.  That is so corny.  Please take that off the post."  But another side of me said "But that's what I want to write."  The "that's-what-I-want-to-write" side of my brain tends to govern what I do around here, so it stayed.  And multiplied.  And I'm glad it has become a part of this blog.

Why?  Well, in an ideal world, what I write here may inspire you to do something or encourage you to keep doing what you're already engaged in.  Not because I have a particular flair for writing or otherwise have control over what you do, but because I've done my best to show you the things that are going on in our community, which more often than not provide some avenue to get involved.  Whether that is writing a nasty anonymous comment telling me that I'm an idiot (but in doing so, considering an important public concern) or donating $25 to end homelessness, you've acted when you may not otherwise have.

In order to be effective in getting your friends and family to follow suit, you need to be passionate.  We all have the opportunity to do what we love, but that doesn't mean we have a right to love our job.  It is called "work" for a reason.  It is going to be hard.  You are always going to enjoy Fridays (sometimes even when you'll be working on Saturday).  But you have the option of looking at your day-to-day, finding what you love about it, and amplifying that passion so that it colors your entire day.  This meditation (of sorts) makes you a passionate person and my experience is that all of the successful people in this world have found a way to create passion where it did not otherwise exist.  It will spread to what you do outside of work and those that interact with you on a daily basis.  You will become known as someone who "does things" and not just someone that "exists."  That way, when you say "Hey, the animal shelter needs some folks to play with their dogs for an hour, want to come with me?" People won't be skeptical of your motives ("Is this person trying to get me to adopt a dog?"), but rather they will know that this is just what you do.  You're passionate about things that need to be done.

I was reminded of this by one of the speeches from last night's 39 Finest event for Cystic Fibrosis.  Bill Toomey, President of the Board of Directors for the CF Foundation, discussed the qualities that make up a leader.  "Passion" is often thrown around, but I think he did a good job of describing why it is important.  It is not so much what we do with it, but what it does to the people around us.

So when I "suggest" that you "Have a great day doing what you love," it's not about you.  It's about the person next to you.


Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld is pushing through some tough times as his department is hit with the serious of scandals that are finely summarized by Justin Fenton in the piece: In January, the agency was rocked when a plainclothes officer was fatally shot by fellow officers outside a nightclub. More than 50 officers have been implicated in a kickback scheme with a towing company, and this week, a veteran officer was indicted on charges that he led a heroin trafficking organization, including allegations that he dealt drugs while on duty — and on Police Department property. Murders and shootings are also up, albeit slightly.  Yowch.  If I were in his shoes, and had the money, I would do a top to bottom external audit and rip that band aid off all at one time.  I think the Baltimore City leadership has been terrified of what it may uncover, but I think they have an obligation to the people of Baltimore to get the criminals out of their police force.

Another delayed deadline for slot bids = another tepid response from potential bidders.  Slots is an ugly beast that everyone expected to lay golden eggs.  It's laying something, but definitely not gold.

A recent study shows that the housing prices in the Baltimore region have out-paced our working class.

A hearty welcome to the new Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club of Howard County, which has been created to "represent the political values and expand involvement of black Democratic party members."  I hope that as a part of its mission, this Club seeks to recruit and encourage involvement in Village Boards, nonprofits, and the Columbia Association.  No matter your political beliefs or concerns about racial divisiveness, ANY club that encourages community involvement is a good thing.

Sarah provides another CSA update.  Big props to her for these posts, which bring attention to a very important (and fun) initiative to help support our farmers.  If you hate farm subsidies, but like food, you would do well to find a CSA to join.

53 Beers offers a very interesting perspective on next year's crop of Board of Education candidates.  While many would suppose that Allen Dyer's candidacy would encourage others to get off their duff, he sees it differently: "With this nonsense taking the air out of the election I can't understand why anyone even remotely competent or capable would want to run for the position."  I'll tell you this much, if we don't have a good set of candidates, I will be starting one of the following: "DRAFT Walker"; "DRAFT Gertler"; or "DRAFT Proudfoot."

WB has been distracted by professional obligations.

Duane praises Howard County Rec & Park.

HowChow reminds us that next week begins Howard County Restaurant Week(s) (why not just make it a month?  "Weeks" sounds weird).  Jane and I normally book a few reservations leading into Restaurant Week, but I will say that if you are looking to "save money", Restaurant Week is not for you.  It is mostly an opportunity to get more food for less money, but still the same amount that you may have otherwise spent.  I could go on and on about the high quality restaurants in our County compared to the surrounding area, but I think that so long as you've lived in the area for more than a year, you probably already know that.  Then again, I know how you folks with young children tend to go into social hibernation.  "See this?  It's a Craft Beer.  That's right.  Craaf-T Beer."

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.  I mean it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bulk Trash Pick-Up Comes (Back) to Howard County

Like most Howard Countians, you were probably most excited by one item in this year's Budget: Bulk Trash Pick-up.  Well starting in August, that dream will be realized.

Not to rain on anyone's bulk trash parade, but my guess is that this new feature to County living will be recognized mostly for its prohibitions. 

Items Not Accepted: Ammunition; Asbestos; Ashes; Carpet; Compressed gas tanks; Computer monitors; Construction & demolition debris; Dead animals; Drum containers/fuel & oil tanks; Explosives Firearms; Household hazardous waste; poisons, acids, caustics; Liquids including paint, oil, etc; Medical Waste; Mirrors/plate glass; Sawdust; Stumps and logs; Tires; TVs.

Jane and I have a big carpet pulling project on the horizon and I am very disappointed that this will not be covered by the bulk trash pick-up.  Nonetheless, I appreciate the availability of the new service and look forward to finding something big to recycle.

Ideology Police (Wednesday Links)

I am always interested by those in the political conversation that seek to identify and banish all those who are perceived to disagree.  "You're a right-winger, I can't talk to you about this."  "RINO!"  "If you don't agree with me on [insert litmus test issue] you are a Nazi."

I blame this on two things: 1) Intellectual insecurity; 2) the eternal search for identity in a world of complex beings.

As for the former, the most dangerous thing that can happen to someone with deeply held convictions is to have them challenged in reasoned conversation.  If I can change the game into one of name-calling, we never have to get to the foundation of my beliefs.  I am safe and you are dehumanized into some idiotic construct that was provided to me by my favorite "news" show.

The second is a bit messier, but falls within the same bounds.  "I am a reasonable human being.  I think [this].  All those who do not think [this] are not reasonable."  When you operate with this logical theorem in your head, any challenge to your beliefs is simultaneously a challenge to who you are as a person.  These folks are most easily identified as calling themselves an ideology as a prefix to whatever conversation you are trying to have with them:  "I am a progressive, so I think..."  "I am a conservative, and we believe..."  Why not just say what you think?  Despite what many would have you believe, your membership card does not independently lend credence to your ideas.

Anyway, that's just what's on my mind. 


I have to imagine that those who live in the more dangerous parts of Baltimore are infuriated by lists such as "100 reasons we love Baltimore," which primarily focus on the type of things Jenna Bush likes to do.

The Baltimore Crime beat writers are a twitter over the bust of a police officer charged in a heroin conspiracy and the expectation that there may be some bigger fish yet to fry.

Mayor SRB would like to use slots revenue to offset a 9% decrease in Baltimore's outrageous property taxes.  Her opponents are all running on tax cut platforms, so this was somewhat expected.  It would seem to have a built-in escape hatch: If slots revenue doesn't come in, no tax cuts.

Maryland Comptroller and Expected Gubernatorial Candidate Peter Franchot opposes the $1.5 billion State Center project and says it would threaten the State's fiscal health.  There are some serious problems with this proposal, especially the attempt to artificially raise property rates via State payment of inflated rents.  It just seems to be a little late in the game to go on the warpath.

As earlier noted by Trevor, Howard County has terminated the Clarksville Commons deal after an impasse with the Kendalls over purchasing access to the property.  Interesting quotes from our County Executive in there, who is clearly disappointed.

WB gets the scoop on Columbia's favorite Starbucks moving across the street...with a drive-thru.

53 Beers applauds CA's new ad campaign featuring Phil Nelson as "Joe Columbia, fitness dude."

Duane wonders if Borders foretells the fate of libraries.  The more I read and hear about the Borders bankruptcy, the more I come to think that it was just a badly run company.  They doubled down on DVDs and CDs right when the market was going digital.  They outsourced their online purchasing to a competitor (Amazon) and never really pushed their e-reader (two kiosks a store vs. B&N's quarter of shopping space).  I think libraries will always exist in some form, even if they no longer hold physical books, but even that plateau can be expected to be a number of decades out.

HowChow promotes a benefit at Great Sage on July 24th for Compassion over Killing.

That's it for today.  A big congratulations to all of my fellow 39 Finest Under 39, who raised a significant amount of money (~$100K) for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation over the past two months.  Our capstone event is tonight at Turf Valley.  If you think you might like to attend, let me know.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dyer Gets Front Page Treatment

If you still subscribe to the paper edition of The Sun, you saw Alen Dyer's mug below the fold in today's front page: "Member's ways anger* Howard school board." 

*(Is it really "anger" anymore?  I think it is more like "maddens Howard school board."  "Have-yourself-a-good-cry-in-the-car-before-the-meeting" type fury.).

Honestly, I think this man has had enough of our attention.  And that's really what this is about.  In the piece, Mr. Dyer tells a story about how he "published an unsanctioned newsletter objecting to the way his school was governed" when he was in high school.  This isn't the story of some brave youth.  It is the background of a man who demands attention.  Whether it is more "Pizza Fridays" or retaining superfluous e-mails, Mr. Dyer wants to you pay attention to him.  The worst possible outcome for him is to see issues resolved.  The spotlight goes out and he must go digging yet again.  That's what makes all of the decisions against him so funny.  When the Court (or the Board of Ed) rules that Mr. Dyer has no standing, they are essentially saying "This is not about you, Mr. Dyer.  Please sit down."

There is a very instructive quote in this piece that I hope Mr. Dyer's supporters will read carefully.  Referring to the attorney that had him reinstated after being transferred from the high school that he apparently objected to:  "Dyer said that the attorney did what he as an average citizen could not, and he sees himself as someone who must similarly speak out for citizens."  That is romantic in quick reading, but starkly offensive in consideration.  Our system of government, and democracy in general, rejects the supremacy of the individual.  It is an operation of the people, with respect for minority interests and individual rights.  As finely displayed in Mr. Burris's article, Mr. Dyer rejects the Board that we have elected and the processes that we have put in place to allow them to operate.  Why?  Because he thinks that he is superior.  He is more than an average citizen.  He is Allen Dyer, Esquire.  THAT, my friends, is what is wrong with politics.  The individual putting themself above the people.

Mr. Dyer may disagree with policies and procedures passed by the Board, but that is an unfortunate consequence of being a minority vote.  What is more important, and the bedrock of a democracy, is that he respect the process and not put himself above that process.  Mr. Dyer cares about your concerns only insofar as it will give him an opportunity for the spotlight.  He learned about the thrills of attention in high school.  It appears that this was at the expense of a basic course in civics.

Blogger Ruins Blogger's Morning (No Links)

Blogger ate my post about two minutes before I was going to post it.  I assure it you was great.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Explore Howard Covers Downtown Designs

Lindsey McPherson has an even-handed piece about CA's pending arrangement with Cy Paumier for the design of Columbia's Downtown Open Spaces.  It is important to hear the positions of those who supported the proposal and why they did not want to limit the design sketches to the Columbia Lakefront. 

I can only hope that the Design Panel's strong critique of the Symphony Woods Plan will lend additional credence to the need for additional proposals at the end of this contract.  Nonetheless, as I stated at the meeting, I feel that the current arrangement with Mr. Paumier's group will discourage outside vendors from submitting bids after CA essentially funded a competitor's proposal.

Open Deliberation (Monday Links)

My bachelor weekend turned out being very domesticated.  I cleaned, vacuumed, and did laundry, with the occasional baseball game mixed in.

I had the chance to meet up with TJ and chat over local (and not so local) stuff.  One of the items we discussed was whether the open sharing of deliberative politics "works."  Said otherwise, would the public respond positively to seeing how the sausage was made.  We began down this road in response to my post about why I was against the proposal to have Cy Paumier design Columbia's Downtown Open Spaces.  It should be acknowledged that posting such thoughts welcomes posturing and more of the empty rhetoric that we hear during the silly season, but I would like to think that I was fairly open with all of you and would hope that in our imagined world where elected officials share their thoughts on legislation that the public would be able to see through the fake.

Another counter to this idea is that it would paralyze negotiation.  If an elected official says why they are strongly against something and then vote for it, they would have to explain their reasoning and it most likely would have to be more than "I have another bill coming down the pike that I need to see passed and, on the whole, the greater good was served."  While many folks told me that this blog would prevent other Board members from speaking privately with me about issues on our agenda, that has not been the case.  Nonetheless, if there was a notion that a politically unpopular motive was driving an agenda item, it would seem likely that our "Open Deliberation Politician" would be left out of the back-room talk and just presumed to be a wild-card vote.

Anyway, that's what's on my mind this morning.  I'm not sure I fully fleshed out the idea, but there are time constraints to consider.


Japan beat the U.S. Women in the World Cup.  While this is a disappointment for many a new-found women's soccer fan, the fact that so many Americans were glued to their televisions on Sunday says a lot for what these players accomplished before the ball was ever placed on the grass.  Plus, is it all that bad to see Japan really happy about something?  They've had a tough go recently.

The Sun covers Maryland's precarious position in the debt limit talks.  Boiled down: Live by the federal dollar, die by the federal dollar.  I think your average Marylander will be unaffected, but our State government is going to have to re-evaluate how it balances its books.  I don't think our reliance on federal grants is sustainable or even all that dependable anymore.  Not so long ago the question was "Do we turn down available money?"  If projects are left unfinished or jobs are lost on closed initiatives, I think we could answer that question in the affirmative.

The story of the Senator's former owner is a sad one.  Most recently, a temporary restraining order was entered prohibiting him from going near the theater.  This comes shortly after Mr. Kiefaber refused to yield the floor after testifying at a City Council meeting.  Barring some intervention, it does not seem like this bizarre spectacle will end well.

Trevor is excited about a new (American)-Chinese Restaurant opening in Hickory Ridge and sort-of excited about the opportunity for new ideas in River Hill with the breakdown of the Greenstone Ventures project.

Frank has a very interesting piece comparing Grover Norquist to the Devil (sort of).  This was another topic covered by TJ and I during our chat.  Did you know that Grover Norquist keeps his "pledges" in a secret vault?  That implies that should something happen to the pledge, the legislator is free from its terms.  How self-important must you be to take your legally irrelevant document that seriously?  Then again, if it wasn't for the pledge and a muppet-esque first name, who would care about Mr. Norquist?

WB laments the "Dream Team Nightmare" that CA appears to be stuck in after the near simultaneous panning of Cy Paumier's plans for Symphony Woods and the double-down of having the same group plan Columbia's Downtown Open Spaces.

Sarah is back from a whirlwind of work and is set to contemplate the purpose of her blog.  That's a dangerous proposition.  I think "a variety of random musings from an awesome girl" is just about as narrow a purpose as one would want to have for a local blog.

That is all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Maryland Bond Rating In the Balance

The New York Times reports that Governor O'Malley was informed by Moody's Investor Services that they would be re-evaluating our state's credit rating "in light of the uncertainty in Washington, which could saddle them with higher borrowing costs."  According to the piece, Maryland was one of about a dozen states subject to this review.

We also have a warning from our County Executive, noting in a piece by Lindsey McPherson that:
"This stalemate poses real risks to residents of Howard County and Maryland who are employed by the federal government or who rely on Social Security and other benefits for survival." 

Said otherwise, to the extent that we may have been living in a recession proof bubble for the last five years, that bubble may pop. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Symphony Woods Plan Panned

According to this piece by Sarah Toth with Patuxent Publishing, the Howard County Design Panel, "comprised of architects and designers" assessed CA's plan for Symphony Woods to "lack vision."

To digest all of the comments into one: "Your plan is kinda 'blah.'"

Those who have been following this issue know that the plans for Symphony Woods started with GGP, but then were challenged with a competing plan from Cy Paumier, which was accepted and subject to additional community input.  Based on this understanding, I just don't think there were enough brains at work here.  Community input is critical, and I don't think anyone can say that this plan was lacking in that department, but in terms of conceptual design, that takes experience and training.  Where were the competing proposals?

We keep talking about how Symphony Woods has the opportunity to define our new Downtown, but we appear to be simultaneously placing arbitrary limits on ourselves in genuflection to false ideas of "how things are supposed to be" and who should be doing them.  There's only one shot at this.  Nothing should be off the table.

CA Board Recap: July 14, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm (After 1 hour closed session)
End Time: 10:35 pm

Web Audio of Board Meetings

My little bill has become a law...ahem...policy decision!  I am happy to report that in the very near future you will be able to listen to CA Board meetings online via the CA Board website.  I know I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in driving up interest in attending meetings, but hopefully your interest in what goes on is somewhat piqued and you find the time to listen to the disposition of your lien dollars.

From my perspective, this is a basic measure of transparency and inclusion.  Driving home from the meeting last night, I thought to myself "There's no way that someone with young children could do this."  My wife leaves for a two day sailing race this evening.  That means the last time I would have been able to spend any quality time with her was Wednesday.  Admittedly, if we had a young child, no one gets to pretend they're John Kerry, but the idea of coming home at 10:30 (or, more likely, 11:30) from a volunteer position is untenable.

SO, for those of you who do have children at home, or otherwise have something more fun happening on Thursday nights, the audio recording is your opportunity to be engaged and know what is happening.  We have a significant number of young families in this community and we need to make sure they are considered and heard with regard to CA business.  Hopefully, this is one step closer.

Cy Paumier's Proposal for Downtown Open Space

The proposal to contract with Cy Paumier for the design of Columbia's Downtown public spaces at approximately $2,500/month for the next four months passed 6-2 (Andy Stack & I against).  As I have written, I had significant concerns that CA was not requesting proposals from outside vendors and that Cy's proposal was not limited to the Columbia Lakefront and Plaza.  Unfortunately, going into that meeting, those two concerns had very different strategies to see them through.  Overall, I opposed the plan in its entirety, so that was the tact I took.  Reflectively, I am almost certain that an amendment to limit the proposal to the Lakefront and Plaza properties would have passed, which would have escorted the gorilla out of the room with regard to the more substantive problems that remain.

The deciding factor leading to passage on this one appeared to be the size and measured scope of what was being offered.  "These are only sketches."  "We aren't committing to anything."  That's completely reasonable.  My concern, and that better represented by Andy Stack at the meeting, was "Well then what's the harm in putting out an RFP.  Worst case scenario, we stay with Cy and he has additional ideas to work with from the start."

As so often happens, the Board began to hear what they wanted to hear and not so much of what was being said.  On two occasions the Staff commented that they wanted the proposal to be narrowly tailored to the Lakefront and the Plaza.  On both occasions those comments were heard to be in support of a motion that did not have such limits.

I don't think CA is the one driving this train and, unfortunately, I think we are only a matter of months from finding out what little control we're actually going to have over how our $10,000 is spent.  Nonetheless, I will be a loyal minority and respect this decision.

Miscellaneous Matters

The Board also passed the President's Goals for this year last night.  These Goals have been a point of contention amongst the Board members and I am glad to see them passed.  These guidelines lay out what the Board would like to see the President accomplish in the next year, from Symphony Woods construction to Lake (and pond) dredging.

Other than that, the Board didn't "pass" much last night.  The meeting (d)evolved into committee meetings, which is addressed in further detail below.  

Procedural Issues

So long as we still have committee meetings at the Board level, this organization will be stymied in just about everything it does.  By continually going into bottomless deliberation, the Board loses the opportunity to act upon our goals and "do great things."  We miss the opportunity to have presentations at the Board level regarding the innumerable things that the organization is doing on a day to day basis.  We spend hours talking about the placement of sentences and otherwise unanimous votes.

I honestly believe that this Board is a different Board than the one that saw fit to consolidate committee meetings.  I would like to think that we trust each other enough to allow independent committee meetings without the entire Board feeling compelled to attend (and be heard at) every meeting.  You've heard it here before, but this committee structure is a farce.  A successful organization would have committees meet independent of Board meetings, prepare their agenda items in accordance with time allotted, deliberate until a motion that is perceived to be "passable" is drawn, and present it to the Board for final action.  I got excited just typing those words.  All the other pieces of deliberation fall into place from there: each member has two opportunities to speak (3 minutes each), Board comments are allocated for or against, should their be no opposition (or support) a vote is called and the motion is disposed of.  The simplicity is infuriatingly unreachable.

That's all I have for you today.  It's Friday and that is very good.  Have a great day doing what you love.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

End of My Nose (Thursday Links)

My favorite high school history teacher had a saying about personal liberties that has stuck with me throughout my life:  "Your rights end at the tip of your fist.  My rights begin at the tip of my nose."  Ignoring some of the more metaphysical relations of rights and protections (i.e., the freedom of speech and slander), this seems to be a good way of dissolving complex legal thought into a single phrase.  I can do whatever I want, so long as I don't bother you.

"Oh no, here Tom goes talking about the smoking ban again."

Not really.  I'm more interested in a discussion as to whether that maxim is still one we respect.  In terms of the smoking ban, do my rights end at the tip of the invisible "clean air" field that surrounds all park patrons?  Do my rights end once I enter a park?  In my personal life, do my rights ends at whatever your god tells you is correct?  Are my rights conscripted by an unwritten set of social mores?  A written set of social mores?

These are important to consider, mostly because, to the extent our rights will ever be actively infringed by the government, they will affect the "least favorable" or "smallest minority" first.  The oppression of the minority is a fact of democracy; one that, in my humble opinion, was never was fully worked out by the Founders.  Every time a new law is passed, we engage a new baseline of what is acceptable for our government to permit and prohibit.  That baseline is rarely, if ever, made to retreat and normally only after a Supreme Court decision (for which we have 10-15 a year).  Kind of makes you scared that there are so many people in this Country whose only job is to write law.


Howard County middle schools may see "School Resource Officers" in the near future.  (If I wanted to be alarmist I could have said "Armed Police To be Stationed in Middle Schools!!!").  The current plan is for four SRO's at a budgeted cost of $400,000.  I don't know enough about the effect of SRO's on student populations to offer any valuable insight, but I presume that this issue will be divisive.  Anytime you bring a gun into a school, no matter who is carrying it, there is danger.  The counter to that is, if you have one person that you know has a weapon, it may be less likely that someone you don't know decides to bring one in.

Neighborhood revitalization efforts fascinate me.  I am a strong believer that the aesthetics of our environment have a tremendous affect on our behavior.  It is great to see campaigns like this one started in Baltimore City.

Legislative immunity lets another Baltimore law-maker off the hook.  The dismissal of bribery charges against Council-woman Holton was confirmed on appeal.  This is a bad law and needs to be revisited by...the very people that benefit from it.

Someone tried to bring 13 knives onto a plane at BWI.  Whenever I fly, I rack my brain trying to think of anything in my carry-on that may have a sharp edge that could be interpreted to be a weapon.  This dude had 13 knives.  We need to let a little more Darwin into our lives, people.

It looks like Phillips Seafood may be moving into the space vacating by ESPN Zone.  It surely will be "less fun."

You know that special session of the Maryland legislature that was supposed to be limited to redistricting and not at all related to raising taxes?  Well...what-ha-happen was...  You should be concerned.  As we learned last time around, fund-raising rules prohibiting contributions during regular session do not apply.  That means our legislature is passing taxes with one hand and accepting "free speech" from all those who wish to remain untaxed.  It happened last time.  It will happen again.  More on that later.

WB has an interesting post about the progression of Blandair Park from private property to public park.  He also links to a WBAL clip about the smoking ban.  It seems that Dr. Beilenson sees the ban as an opportunity to declare park use "for healthy people only."  There's a good number of picnic areas in those parks, Dr. B.  That's a whole lot of food labels for you to inspect.

Noting some graffiti on a public pathway, Duane wonders if we have a gang problem in Columbia.

Although she is out of the office, I would like to wish a happy birthday to fellow blogger Sarah!

For those interested in the future of Downtown Columbia, tonight's CA Board meeting may be one you will want to attend.  One of the items on the agenda is a discussion of Cy Paumier's proposal to redesign all of the downtown public spaces "at cost", meaning he will only charge the cost of having the sketches produced, which was estimated at about $250/ $2,500/month for the next four months.  If you attended the last CA meeting (I know you didn't, it's ok), you know that I have significant reservations about this plan and would like to see the proposal more narrowly tailored to CA properties.  Moreover, I would like to see additional opportunities for competing vendors who would like a similar opportunity to have their proposals funded by a potential client.  I anticipate being on the losing end of this one, but I think it is an important vote and one you should be aware of.

That's all for now.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Enforce Civility & The Smoking Ban

I've joked a few times on our podcast that the Howard County motto should be "Enforce Civility" as opposed to "Choose Civility."  While tongue in cheek, the idea behind this is that you can't always rely on expecting people to act with civility.  Sometimes you have to remind them.  Howard County doesn't have the market on these community standards.  It has been around ever since groups of people started to share limited amounts of space.  "Excuse me, but what you are doing disturbs me.  I would like to discuss it with you to see if we may find a new peace."  Ta da, Civility.  Reached by the end of a conversation or the end of a big stick.

I think this is one of the things that bothers me about County Executive Ulman's new smoking ban in public parks.  At the end of the day, it is an imposition of civility.  Smokers, while not always considerate of their own health, are not some separate brand of humans that don't care for other people.  They understand that their choice to smoke is not your choice to smoke.  My experience is that it often takes little more than a small suggestion that you're being bothered by their "exhaust" and they will try to adjust (i.e., stand down-wind, move away from the group, put their cigarette out). 

The problem is that in this over-polite society, we are more comfortable abdicating our "excuse me's" to the government.  That's troublesome and a much "dirtier, nastier habit" than smoking.  Proponents of this ban will raise the banner of public health, but at the end of the day it will just mean that less smokers use County parks.  Maybe that's what we want.  Less undesirables.  More fit and firm runners, cyclists, and kayakers.  If so, that's a pity.  Public spaces have great potential and the more limits we put on them, the more we exclude.  By most of the estimates I've seen in the press, smokers only make up 9-10% of the population.  While this may mean the ban only truly affects a small number of people, it also means that it does a limited public good while having a significant burden on those few who find themselves in the minority (especially the park going 9-10%).

We all know that smoking is a bad habit.  That doesn't make it a crime.

Voting With Your Feet (Wednesday Links)

The tax burden in Howard County is no secret.  We have the highest income tax allowed by law and our property tax rate puts us in the top third of the municipalities in Maryland.  Many would say that we get our money's worth.  We have some of the best schools in the Country, low crime, well-maintained public spaces, sound roads, reliable trash and recycling pick-up, above-par public health, and a nationally recognized community college.  Pre-tay, pre-tay, pre-tay good.  However, for those that don't see those benefits for the tax dollar, or (more likely) don't want to see those benefits, the tax burden is not justified.

The question becomes: Is it fair to expect people to vote with their feet when they feel they are over-taxed?  The winter flight of retirees to Florida is not only due to the weather, but also the draw of "no individual income tax."  As shown by the link above, we have numerous different tax schemes amongst the counties in Maryland, many of which are lower than Howard.  In fact, home prices are much lower in many of those places, which would allow a Howard resident to "move on up" to a bigger piece of the pie in our surrounding counties.  I don't mean to suggest that "If you don't like it, move."  This is a genuine question: "IF you don't like it, WHY don't you move?"

The conservative philosophy relies a great deal on "market forces."  In fact, my own political philosophy is that states should be given the freedom to be laboratories for democracy so long as they operate within the bounds of the Constitution.  Municipalities are no different.  Howard County taxes are not going down anytime soon.  In fact, I would presume that should there ever be a teacher pension shift, taxes are almost certainly going up.  If that were to happen, would you move?


Disgraced former mayor Sheila Dixon is assisting those looking to unseat incumbent Mayor SRB.  It is a shame that someone like Dixon still has a say in Baltimore City politics.  She embarrassed the City and continues to receive a pension funded by tax-payers who can ill afford to pay salary to a criminal.  Anyone endorsed by this woman should lose...badly.

Baltimore City's only preschool for the homeless may be losing its lease.  As we have been discussing, child-care is a significant issue for the working poor and often is a hurdle to self-sufficiency.  This is a very sad story, but hopefully it will have a bright ending.

I'm always interested in stories that "cover the coverage."  Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik writes that local newcasts are scaling back their sports coverage in acknowledgment of the 24 hour sports coverage offered elsewhere.  Seems like it would be about time that these shows made the adjustment.

The Baltimore Sun has an Op/Ed supporting County Executive Ken Ulman's smoking ban.  It is becoming almost "call and answer" at this point.  (Nonetheless, HoCo resident Jay Hancock is not pleased.)

This past Monday, the Howard County Zoning Board, which is also the Howard County Council, voted 3-2 to allow the River Hill Garden Center to be rezoned from residential to business.  The two dissenters, Courtney Watson and Greg Fox, seemed to have preferred leaving this matter for comprehensive rezoning, which seems to be a go-to reservation for all zoning applications between now and the time the plan is passed.  If you're like me, you were surprised to hear that the garden complex was zoned residential to begin with.

WB notes that Howard's new beat reporter for The Sun is Jessica Anderson.  Unfortunately, she will not be offering political analysis pieces for the foreseeable future.  While I welcome Ms. Anderson, I am a little surprised that The Sun did not go with one of the PatuxPub folks who are already steeped in Howard County politics.  That's not to say that one of our younger journo's would be comfortable with a political analysis piece, but they may be more likely to know "the next person to call" on a given County issue.  Nonetheless, I am sure our local team will be welcoming to the new addition and look forward to following her coverage from here on out.

Duane praises women athletes in honor of today's World Cup match.

HowChow goes goo-goo over Sushi Sono's new salmon roll and confirms its spot amongst the "absolute top level of sushi places in DC and Baltimore."

That's all I have for you today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Breakfast with Patch (Tuesday Links)

I had a very nice breakfast yesterday with Lisa Rossi from Columbia Patch.  Lisa is really the "guest editor" and has additional responsibilities with twelve other Patch sites, which makes her work on Columbia's site all the more impressive.

I always enjoy the opportunity to "tell our story" the way I see it (hence the http address that you have found yourself clicking through this morning).  So often we get things in "blips", especially in relation to our community, but the context of those "blips" is what is really important.  I expressed to Lisa how pieces like Larry Carson's Political Notebook fit that purpose and how much I will miss the Notebook if it is not replaced.  The facts only get you so far.  You need analysis.  Admittedly, opinion will slip in (sometimes intentionally), but you have the opportunity to disagree with an idea that you may never have been aware of in the first place.

An example of this is the pool tax credit bill.  I've suggested that this bill has relevance in the 2014 County Executive election and that's why this $53,000 tax loss has been made to be such a huge controversy that found its way into the Op/Ed section of The Sun's front page.  You are free to disagree, but hopefully will look at the next article about the pool tax credit bill a little differently.  A little more critically.

Unfortunately, that is not the Patch model (or at least not yet).  Patch wants to offer short, informative pieces that will have you coming back to the page multiple times through the day.  There is nothing wrong with that, especially when they mix in columns from folks like TJ and blog posts from people like Julia.  And sooner or later, I will stop pining after the Howard Political Notebook.  But it probably will be much later.


Speaking of Patch, you can read seven questions with yours truly regarding my evolution as a blogger and why we aren't all egomaniacs.

Howard County will ban smoking in all 57 park properties.  Ken Ulman refers to the practice as a "dirty, filthy habit."  Your sympathy for smokers can cut two ways here: 1) This will help make smoking an even greater inconvenience and make them quit, leading to a longer healthier life; or 2) Is there no refuge for the modern day smoker?  As a runner, I am selfishly pleased with this initiative.  There is not much worse that running around Centennial and hitting a cloud of fisherman cigarette smoke.  Nonetheless, as a citizen, I have problems whenever the government curtails previously permissible behavior.  Smoking is dangerous.  So is running.  So is cycling.  We need to be careful when we seek to exclude activities that we don't engage in, especially when it is motivated by the idea that "we" are looking out for "you."

A second Columbia Earth Treks rock-climbing coach has been arrested in relation to allegations of improper sexual contact with a minor.  This gives the uncomfortable suggestion that rather than an isolated incident, there was a culture of law-breaking and perversion.  We are presumed innocent in a court of law, but not in the court of public opinion.

If you don't have any reason to be outside today, stay in.  Temperatures are supposed to reach 100 degrees.  Thankfully, a cold front should be coming through tonight or tomorrow morning.

The U.S. Department of Interior has halved the area eligible for wind farm development off the cost of Ocean City, begging the question of what would have happened had Governor O'Malley been successful in his wind farm efforts this past legislative session.  There are dangers that come with being on the cutting edge of anything.  It probably would have been too soon for there to have been any construction starts, but Maryland may have saved itself the opportunity to lose some money by holding off on innovation.

53 Beers notes some sad truths about the oldest profession.

Trevor offers his own 10 Things that Howard County needs.

WB posits that since four of the five Council-members have private swim clubs in their district, the pool tax credit bill should pass on July 28.  I don't know if the "if then" formula is all that sound, considering all four Council-members had pools in their districts two weeks ago, but I believe it will pass as well...for slightly different reasons.

HowChow notes all the places you can find ice cream in Howard County to cool off on these muggy nights.  With the closure of Artie's, I am interested to see what may fill the market hole.

That's all for today.  I really appreciate all of the great discussion that you all have been providing in the comments.  Although I wish I could participate more, I think you all are having way too much fun without me.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.