Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CA Board Operations Committee August 29, 2011

Start time: 7:04 pm
End time: 11:33 pm

Last night was a very constructive meeting of the Board Operations Committee.  There was a lot to cover, but amongst a rather packed agenda, we reviewed the current Board Committee Structure and whether it was being properly implemented.  It was my understanding that this was a concern of multiple Board members; however, once the subject was brought to the floor, and multiple Board members turned their heads in my direction, it was clear that I had been the squeaky wheel.  And proudly so.

It is hard to be the new guy pushing for change.  The presumption is that you don't know where the organization has been or how much "better" things are now.  As such, I heard a lot of "For your information" and "you should know."  That's fine, so long as we are not interminably wed to a system that may not be the best we can do.  I should also say up front that the CA Board has been without most of the horrors that were predicted for me back when I was considering an uncontested run back in April.  In fact, my frustrations have been primarily directed toward what has appeared to me to be the inefficient use of an intelligent, dedicated, and passionate Board.

From my perspective, meaningful Board reform can be broken down into two objectives: one functional, the other systemic.  First, using the system that is already in place, we need to empower our committees.  This was best explained by Andy Stack, who noted that the Board is not delegating any action items to our committees and, instead, retains items for Board approval that can justifiably be disposed of at the committee level.  Cindy Coyle further noted that when the committee meetings were first consolidated at the Board level (i.e., when we first started having committee meetings within Board meetings), the committee members would be given the floor and other Board members would be present in a "fish-bowl" capacity.  This is a critical point.  Committees are intended to serve as deliberative bodies for the Board from which those items were delegated.  As such, committees serve no relevant purpose if the entire Board is deliberating.  None.  Zip.  Zilch.

I came to this Board reform item with the idea that committees need to either meet independently or be dissolved (the latter being a recognition of what already exists in terms of Board function).  I still think there is a vast amount of room for committee delegation and independence, but I am comfortable with a middle ground of maintaining the facially redundant function of having committees of three meet in front of the remainder of the Board, so long as there are some additional restrictions on non-committee deliberation and objective goal-setting by the Board and/or Staff for what those committees are to accomplish.

That leads to the second, and most transformative, objective:  staff originated agendas.  At present, Board members are able to pull agenda items from the ether, without reference point in terms of staff operations or the facts on the ground.  The clearest example of this is Symphony Woods.  We have repeatedly had agenda items to discuss Symphony Woods without staff having anything to tell us or suggest anything for Board approval.  This shows a clear failure in collaboration and is a frank waste of Board time.  There are multiple ways in which staff oriented agendas may work, but here is a model that I've compiled from various resources on the High Impact Governing structure that already exists:
  1. The Board, via the Planning and Strategy Committee, creates President/Organizational Goals;
  2. The President and Staff calendar bench-marks for meeting those Goals and, in pursuit of those benchmarks, create Agenda items for approval by the Board;
  3. Agenda items are submitted to the Board Operations Committee, which serves a vetting function, contrasting agenda proposals against the Goals set by the Board and assuring correct placement within the committee structure;
  4. Agenda items make it through committees, as action items (not brain-storming deliberations), are reviewed and digested by the committee, and then recommended to the Board for vote.
Notably, once the PSC sets the Annual Goals, their focus switches back to the long term to begin planning goals for the following year.  At present, out PSC is far too contemporary in focus, often blurring lines with the Strategic Implementation Committee.

This all may be a little wonky for those of you who do not care about the Columbia Association, but it is very important to me.  I was genuinely happy with the disposition of things after our Board meeting last night.  Phil Nelson has been asked to draft proposals for a suggestion that committee meetings meet separately, although under the cognizance of the entire Board, and a proposal for how staff oriented agenda items may work.  These two proposals have the capability of actualizing a great deal of potential with this Board.  With structure, goal-setting, and disciplined deliberation, we could establish the platform for doing great things in Columbia.  But, as I keep saying, we're going to have to give up things like what trees are coming down and whether we know how many loads of towels are cleaned in our gyms on a monthly basis.  We can't have both macro and micro.  It is a choice.

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

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Poisoning the Well (Monday Links)

    Despite warnings to the contrary, I received both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun yesterday, which made my weekend just a little better than it would have been otherwise.

    The Washington Post had a particularly striking article about the creeping partisan disease that is plaguing the New England Town Hall meeting.  Being at a distance, the tendency is to romanticize these small deliberative sessions where the issues of the community are discussed, but I've always wanted a town hall meeting to go to.  Civic engagement is woven into the culture to make it as routine as picking up the mail.  Some may say that this type of decentralization was intended in the governance of Columbia and its villages, but I'm not sure we ever worked out the kinks.

    All the same, the Post reports that these Town Hall meetings have become the new battleground of partisan warfare.  Local issues have taken a back seat to "tax the rich" and "appeal Obamacare."  The poisoning of our political discussion seemed to be concisely noted here:

    Part of the problem is the altered political landscape; it’s not just that talk radio has made screaming popular. Legislators say that voters are now more interested in national issues — on which a single lawmaker has little power to effect change — than in local ones, for which the problem may be easier to resolve. Which means fewer people arrive at meetings with a reason to listen.

    Fewer people having a reason to listen seems to be it for me.  "Why should I listen to a [Democrat/Republican]? I'm a [Republican/Democrat/Bull-Moose]."  Local politics has been free from most of this trash due to the very real implication of its policies.  If you are affected adversely by a particular County/City initiative, you do not care what party identifier supports it.  You just want it gone and are willing to line up with your neighbors, no matter their bumper-stickers, to see that happen.

    While I have no data to support this, my inclination is to believe that as local coverage has atrophied, our politics have become more extreme.  We have less to hold us together and more to push us apart.  Maybe that's why there was such a push to hear whether Courtney Watson supported Governor O'Malley in last year's election.  I was a part of that noise.  It would have helped us put things back in the tidy boxes we expect of politics.  "Excuse me.  I hear what you're talking about with regard to economic redevelopment, schools, and safety, but could you please tell me whether I can put you in the blue box or the red box?"

    I don't mean to idealize the past, but I do think there are consequences to losing focus on local news...and they're more than not knowing what school lunch Jimmy will have on Tuesday.  There's a sense of community in local coverage that will only be replaced by the warm comfort of "like minded individuals" sold by party politics.  "Come be with us, no one will tell you you're wrong."  The former has an outlet.  The latter does not.

    LINKS

    A small majority of Baltimore City residents said they would not support Sheila Dixon's predicted attempt to re-enter the political arena in 2015.  The Sun seems to have a much different take-away from this poll than I do.  From my perspective, the fact that only 54% say they would not vote Ms. Dixon back in makes me think that in four years, 54% of Baltimore residents will be welcoming her back.  No more laughing at DC's Marion Berry, B-more.

    Popular Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O'Brien will be leaving the archdioceses for Rome.  According to the article, he will be leading a "Catholic order of knights."  I really don't see any possible way you turn that down (not that he had the option).

    The Sun notes that approximately 850,000 Marylanders lost power after Hurricane Irene came through.  Considering all of the predictions, this is probably a best case scenario, although my sincerest sympathy to all of those without electricity.

    Baltimore City officials say that the Grand Prix has been "one of the most complicated events ever held in Baltimore."  As a City commuter, I take consolation in the fact that there was at least one tourist who drove down the fence lined streets and thought "Geez, this City really is dangerous."

    Baltimore County will begin its comprehensive rezoning process, which seems to be a much bigger mess than anything Howard County will be facing.

    Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB reminds us all that we should never ever let your trees get too friendly with one another.

    If you get a chance, make sure to drop a tweet, Facebook post, or e-mail to your local elected official thanking them for working over the weekend to make sure the County ran smoothly through the storm.  If you really want to be nice, thank their staff for doing the more thankless work behind the scenes.  I was flipping through Facebook on Saturday when I came across a picture of one of our County Council members in the "War Room" with first responders.  Jane leaned over and said "Why are they there?"  Me: "They're helping."  Jane: "What about their family?"  I think that wraps up why a small thank you may be appropriate, even though the storm wasn't a big or as bad as we all thought.

    Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Remember that we are sprinting into a three day weekend!  That should give you an extra boost to make it through this leaf-strewn Monday morning.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011

    CA Board In a Nutshell

    Tomorrow night, the Columbia Association Board Operations Committee will be meeting to discuss the Board Agenda item of "Board Reform."  Since this is something that I've advocated heavily for, I've been spending this rained in weekend "in the books", pulling together research to look for new avenues of Board coherence and discipline.

    Among the items I've been studying is the "High Impact Governing Model" for Non-Profits, which was adopted in part by the CA Board in 2008 in response to the last push for Board Reform by Board members Josh Feldmark and Andy Stack.  As I've said repeatedly to a number of Board members, I am not interested in whether this is "better" than how things were before.  I am only interested in making sure we are operating "best."  I think that if you polled the entire Board, you would be hard pressed to find more than 30% saying that we were performing optimally.

    I wanted to share the following video in which Doug Eadie explains his "High Impact Governing Model".  What is most distressing to me is the fact that CA certainly seems to be following most of his suggestions to the letter.  The only digression, which may be the most important of all, is a well defined set of responsibilities for the Board in relation to the rest of the organization.



    I hope to share my suggestions for Board Reform in the next few days.  Tomorrow may involve a drawn out discussion, but it is just as likely to be little more than the acknowledgment of having a spot on the September 22 agenda.  Either way, I will be prepared.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011

    Saturday Morning Stuff (Irene Edition)

    Here's something I don't get about this hurricane/tropical storm/rain-cloud-with-a-girl's-name -- no one has explained to me how today's storm will shut down our State's ability to supply milk, bread, and toilet paper to its local supermarkets for more than two days (maximum).  That puzzler does not even begin to touch on the predicted disabling of all major water arteries, which have prompted the purchase of pallets upon pallets of environmentally unsound plastic water bottles.  My understand of "nesting" leads me to believe that if I had kids, I would be approaching this storm from a very different emotional perspective.

    You want to know what my precautions have been?  Charge a generator and get out my camping stove.  These efforts are slightly more "friendly" than my neighbor's storm precautions, which have been "clean my gun." (I think the implication is pretty clear there...well, just in case -- should it become necessary, he plans to take your bottled water).

    Governor O'Malley has used the opportunity to say something the nastiest things he's directed at anyone not named "Christie" or "McDonnell" since 2010: "Anybody who thinks that this is a normal hurricane and that they can just stick it out is being both selfish, stupid and also diverting essential public safety assets away from the task at hand, which is safeguarding lives and getting people out of the way," O'Malley said. "It is the height of selfishness for people not to evacuate."  I prefer what the Mayor of Asubury Park, NJ said on the Weather Channel last night: "If you're going to do something reckless, you're doing it by yourself.  No one will come get you."

    One of my new favorite State-wide blogs, Maryland Juice, reports that non-declared-Gubernatorial-candidate-erstwhile-Howard-County-Executive Ken Ulman spoke at the Washington County Democratic Central Committee meeting on Thursday.  For those who need a brush up on the Maryland geography, the Juice also notes how far Washington County is from dear old Howard.

    Ellicott City found itself in the national news after one of our youngsters was caught trying to raise money for Jihad Jane.  It may be worthy of note that Juan Williams would most likely not think twice if this particular jihadi sat next to him on a plane (well, he may think "Is that the woman from Rocky IV?  I think it is.  How do I break the ice?  Play it cool, Juan.  Play it cool.")

    And that's all I have for today.  Not much, but the Howard Section of the Sun is down to about four articles.  If you want my prognosis, I think we can expect the section to wind itself up within the next six months.

    Have a great Saturday!

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    CA Board Recap: August 25, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

    Start time: 7:37 pm
    End time: 10:43 pm (approximate)

    At the end of every meeting, we have "Talking Points" read to the Board, which includes every action we took during the meeting.  Last night there was one talking point.  One Board Member even said "Did we just spend three hours doing that?"

    Nonetheless, I think last night was a very good meeting.  The Board showed focus that I had not seen in my time on the Board, even if that focus served no other purpose than to say that we had no focus (more on that below).  Personally, I was not happy with my participation as a Board member.  I have two rules for myself going into every meeting: 1) Never speak more than twice on any agenda item (as required by our Special Rules of Procedure); and 2) Don't say anything unless it must be said.  I stayed true to the first, but slipped on the latter.

    Board Member Website

    The meeting started off with the introduction of a new interface that uses iGoogle to create "Board Websites", which are basically online dashboards that will include everything from a joint Google calendar to HoCoMoJo  Podcasts (really).  I think there are big possibilities here, especially in terms of making CA materials more accessible to residents.  The conversation took a sharp left turn at the discussion of the regular CA website (and it's near impossible navigability for the uninitiated), but that item was noted for further discussion at a later point.  Using iGoogle in a nearly cost-free way to make information more easily accessible is tremendous and I applaud the staff's ingenuity here.  I look forward to seeing this project develop into something that residents can use to stay involved.

    Strategic Planning Matrix

    This Matrix is a bit of a bugaboo for me.  As you may recall, this is a set of columns that takes strategic issues, as outlined (sort of) in the President's Goals, and then distributes tasks (of sorts) to the three committees in accordance with their individual mandates.  I think it can play a significant role in Board Reform, but right now the document's only apparent reference is when we are approving it.  As such, I don't think it is serving much of a purpose.

    Nevertheless, the discussion was whether the Matrix should be originated from the Planning and Strategy Committee or from the Board Operations Committee.  Cindy Coyle may a very convincing argument that it should come from the BOC, and I voted to approve her motion to refer the Matrix to that Committee.

    Dredging Update (And the Great Inquisition)

    The dredging update was not as sexy as all of you may have wanted and no real questions were answered in terms of when dredging will begin on certain lakes and when we can expect dredging to be completed on others.

    As is often the case, this agenda item did provide an opportunity for Board members to call staff on the carpet for perceived incongruities in the balance sheets for the various lakes.  These inquisitions make me very uncomfortable for a number of reasons.  First, if there is going to be a round robin of questions, the staff should be made aware ahead of time so that they can prepare their responses.  As much as we may like to think of CA staff as having encyclopedic knowledge of every decision that was made at every Board meeting, they don't, and are often made to account for a Board member's kinda-sorta recollection of what they think happened in 2009.  That's unfair.  Secondly, I've had multiple questions and concerns about how items are being executed by staff.  I send an e-mail to Phil and I normally have an answer within 6-7 hours (he really is fantastic at that).  Sometimes I wonder if Board meetings would benefit from having staff presence limited to Phil.  As it is, the Staff is made to take the part of an impromptu improv troupe, with each saying "Yes, and..."  From my perspective, the only individual that is accountable to the Board is Phil.   This goes along with the theme of narrowing our focus.

    Quarterly Watershed Update

    This was my first Watershed Update and I was impressed.  Anyone who wants to criticize CA has clearly not educated themselves on all of the great work that is being done by our Watershed Team.  They are building rain gardens, beautifying our neighborhoods, and testing soil for phosphorous.  The magnitude of this project is nearly as impressive as John McCoy's ability to execute it.

    This leads me to a request of all of my Columbia brothers and sisters: Get your soil tested.  This is a free-to-you service offered by CA that will not only help us plan our Watershed project, but also provide you with expert advice on how to make your lawn green without spending $50-$100 on fertilizer.  Also, CA is looking for Rain Garden Ambassadors.  John and his staff will plant and construct a rain garden off of the gutters attached to your house, at minimal to no cost to you, so long as you are willing to promote this effort to your neighbors.  John can show you a number of beautiful rain gardens that have already been built.  If I didn't live in a townhouse, I would absolutely be pursuing this CA offering to help beautify my house and help our lakes.

    Symphony Woods

    I was tempted to title this the "Hypothetical Tree" discussion.  For about 15 minutes, we talked about hypothetical 80 year old trees that hypothetically may be cut down pursuant to our draft plan for Symphony Woods.  I will admit to all of you that the Symphony Woods discussions test my sanity.  Last night I heard a question that I never thought I would hear: "Are we locked into the current plan for Symphony Woods?"  Why, yes.  Yes we are.  The suggestion was that CA is rushing into this and that if a new plan could save a few more trees, yet delay the project by a few years, it would be worth it in the long run.  By my count, the majority of the Board is tired of counting trees.  This park will feature the natural components of Symphony Woods.  A plan that arbitrarily removes trees is a faulty plan.  However, the shady land that currently sits between Merriweather Post and the Columbia Mall has all of its trees...yet no people.

    Our next meeting is on September 22, at which time we will receive a proposed plan for Phase One, including the planned course of our pathways, as well as proposed designs for benches, lampposts, and structures.  I think the Board should be aware of the general sentiment of its Board members and not allow this agenda item to be filibustered into the wee hours of the morning due to minority interests.  We have a good plan that incorporates community input, and it is time to trust our Staff.

    Rapid Response & Communications Policy

    This was a weird one.  The Board found itself in the position of debating a staff proposal without any advocates from the staff supporting its passage.  Rapid Response was intended to provide a plan to address misinformation in the press/blogs/social media in a timely fashion to avoid PR brush-fires.  I'm not certain that CA does not already have that capability.  As Board members said on more than one occasion "What is the problem we are trying to solve?"  No one could answer.  The item was voted down.

    Most contentious was what is referred to as "Page 2 & 3" in the audio recording, which was a "Communications Policy" that could be read to stifle Board dissent.  More specifically, it would put these blog posts out of business.  I'm not so paranoid or self-important to think that this policy was drafted specifically for me, but Board discussion did send some shots across the bow.  The idea that all CA Board members should paint the organization in the most positive light possible, while sounding nice, is also a true inhibition to identifying problems and soliciting community input.  I may not agree with a Board member's decision to ask fifty people to send the Board e-mails about tree removal, but I respect his right to do so.  Any policy designed to limit a Board member's ability to communicate with Columbia lien-holders is a bad idea.  The end.

    Watershed Communications & Art in Downtown Columbia

    These two items are lumped together because they represented a pinnacle of frustration at the External Relations Committee Agenda.  Through no fault of our Chair or the Board Operations Committee, our Agenda was littered with "brain-storming issue identifications" with no action items.  As noted above, I fell off the wagon of discipline (which needs a new suspension), and started to offer my own pontifications on how we can get our Villages involved in Watershed Management or how we can bring art to downtown.  That's not my job.  My job, as a Board member, is to vote on policy and oversight.  I was tempted by the blank checks that appear like "round robin landmines" on our Agenda.

    In the midst of the Art discussion, one Board member noted that this was "why we have all of the Committees at the table" because previously the Committees would come up with random ideas that overlapped with other committees or had no place within their committee's mandate.  I disagree.  I think our problem is the Origination Point.  There is no order to where agenda items come from or what may be coming next.  We quite literally operate from brain-storm to brain-storm, based on the faulty presumption that ten volunteers from various walks of life know what is best for a multi-million dollar quasi-governmental organization.

    The Board needs to move to Staff Originated Agenda Items.  (Yes, I want it so bad that I used bold).  Here's how this would work:  The Planning and Strategy Committee sets the President's Goals.  The President then consults with staff and plans the execution of those goals.  The President will then propose a set of agenda items, referencing the Goal from which they originated, to be approved by the Board, which may then be distributed between the ERC and Strategic Implementation Committee.  What about the PSC?  Well they are already starting to plan the President's goals for the next year.

    This plan would move our Board's focus from the recent past and present to the long term and short term future.  The current committees can continue to exist, hopefully meeting individually, which (contrary to the concern noted above) they will be able to do, since they will not be coming up with whatever they would like to talk about, but rather, discussing agenda items that have been proposed to them by the President.  To the extent any Board member needs more information, those concerns will be directed to the President.  If there is a concern as to how agenda items are being created, those concerns can be directed to the Board Operations Committee.

    The biggest question here is whether the Board is willing to trade the "right now" for the future.  I'm more than happy to.  We would be abdicating governance in favor of oversight and long term strategy, which is much more lasting and the realm of "great things."  We would have to stop talking about trees and begin talking about what we want CA to be ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.  These are the items that ten volunteers from various walks of life are best suited to discuss.

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

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    8/25/11 CA Agenda (Thursday Links)

    Similar to our President's "three day" promise, I have found it difficult to post our CA Agendas too much in advance of our meetings.  Nonetheless, better late than never: here it is.  (Note: The Agendas are also available online, but our website is notoriously difficult to navigate).

    The big ticket items are mostly under the Strategic Implementation Committee's agenda.  I must admit that I am somewhat perplexed that Symphony Woods will be receiving a "Monthly Discussion", but look forward to discussing the merits of such an approach this evening.  There has been a good amount of misinformation about CA's Symphony Woods plan that has been floating around in an effort to put additional amenities into Phase One.  As you may be aware, Phase One currently consists of a pathway system and a restroom shelter.  The reason construction is planned in stages is to allow a layering of what will end up being a very "big" plan.  As we are now realizing, if any one part of our proposed Phase is denied or sent back to us for edit, the entire plan is held up.  What baffles me is that those who wish to include additional features in the earlier Phase are working off of the premise that we need to "get this project moving."  Well, partner, that dog won't hunt.

    We will also being introducing some important items under the External Relations Committee, most notably a discussion of Art in Downtown Columbia.

    The Board Reform item will not be discussed until possibly the next meeting, but please stay tuned.  While always optimistic, I think we will have another exhibit for why reform is necessary tonight.

    LINKS

    Very sad news -- ex-Oriole Mike Flanagan has died.

    Supposedly we had a 4.5 magnitude aftershock last night.  I did not feel it, but spent most of yesterday feeling phantom aftershocks every time a door closed a little too hard.

    Hurricane Irene is a'comin'.  What is it with the I Hurricanes?  I remember Hurricane Isabel, affectionately referred to as "Izzie" by my law school classmates, which canceled Friday classes in my first week of law school.  It twas a summer miracle.

    A Baltimore City Council Candidate was hit by a pellet-gun yesterday...and took it like a champ.  She used the spotlight to advocate for more programs for inner city youth.  She would get my vote. 

    Popular Columnist Laura Vozzella is leaving the Sun for the Washington Post

    Bravo to Lindsey McPherson and the Flier for investigating the disuse of Howard County's Revenue Authority Board of Directors, which governs the disposition of just about $250,000 in County funds: "After board members approved the July meeting minutes and were briefed on the status of the authority's annual financial report, the meeting was adjourned."  From my reading, it would seem that the County would benefit from broadening the Authority of this Board to seek out viable self-sustainable projects.  Notably, the Living In Recovery Houses are intended to be self-sustainable and would serve a tremendous public service by housing the homeless.

    Featured Blog Post of the Day: Mo wonders how social media can make emergency response communications more effective.  I, for one, was concerned by the fact that with all the technology we take for granted in today's age, I had no way of telling my wife that I was OK in the fifteen minutes after the earthquake-with-no-reported-injuries of August 23, 2011.

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

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    I'm Not From California And That Was Scary (Wednesday Links)

    I had a very busy day at work yesterday.  It was one of those mornings where every time I looked at the clock 30 minutes had gone by in what had felt like 10.  Type.  Phone.  Read.  Type.  Phone.  Read.  (If you have an aspiring lawyer in your family, make sure those three words sound appealing).

    Then it felt like my office was a trolley car going up a mountain.  I'm on the 20th floor and, as I was later told, tall buildings are meant to move (a lot) with an earthquake so as not to resist and break (crumble, etc.).

    First earthquake observation: People act as if they were just given a permission slip to curse like a sailor (although I presume most sailors are more modest than the sixty-seven year old secretary that is across the hall from my office).  The cursing was what had alerted me to the fact that something serious had happened (as opposed to non-serious office shaking).

    Second earthquake observation: Earthquakes make people bossy.  After understanding that this was an earthquake, I wanted to go back to my office.  As I noted earlier, I had a lot to do.  But in the span of five minutes, five to ten different people told me to get outside.  My confidence in the structural integrity of my building was quickly washed away...and then I was in the stairs.

    Third earthquake observation:  If anyone was injured in that earthquake, it was most likely in the staircase.  I heard high heel shoes breaking.  I heard grunts of people being a little too aggressive to get outside.  I heard half-stumbles (caught only by the sheer mass of humanity in front of them).  I'm not sure why I didn't take the elevator, but (being an East Coaster) I presumed that this was just one big fire drill.  We don't use the elevator for fires, so there we were...going down 20 flights of stairs.

    Fourth earthquake observation:  We are very committed to our false emergency response presumptions.  For the next twenty minutes, I stood outside.  The whole time I thought to myself "This is not like a fire.  They can't give us the 'all clear.'  There is no 'all clear' for earthquakes.  We could be out here all day."  Secretaries were sobbing (while saying "I don't scare easy", which I thought was probably not true).  Partners and associates were commenting on how nice the weather was and that it would be a shame not to..."Gus and I are playing golf, anyone want to come?"  I was trying to figure out how to make my iPhone into a super-computer so that I could continue "Phone-type-read", but I could barely get it to just be a phone.

    Eventually, I just went back inside, grabbed my work computer, and left.  I was not all that interested in the hysterics that large groups of people bring.  I knew that the masses would soon see this as an opportunity to play hooky and was committed to beating them out of the City.  So I left.  Riding home, I couldn't decide what kind of event I would remember this as.  I know that for approximately five seconds I considered the idea that I may die.  Those five seconds were not filled with any profound thoughts.  They were mostly empty, with little more than the three words "Here we go."  (Note: It might have been "This is it" but I wasn't comfortable with the Michael Jackson reference).  Despite those thoughts, I didn't leave the experience any different.  And I don't mean to dramatize this minor earth boogie, but these were the types of things a lot of people thought, forcing them down 20 flights of stairs and out into the street.


    LINKS

    As a follow-up on those Baltimore City tax credits, it turns out that Baltimore City Mayoral Candidate, and rapper, Frank Conaway is receiving these undeserved credits.  When running for public office, isn't there a presumption that you will do a life audit to make sure you don't have any skeletons in your closet and/or unwarranted use of tax-payer dollars?  I guess in Mr. Conaway's case, he is almost always a candidate for Mayor, so there really would be no pause for such an audit.

    Hurricane Irene is puttering up the East Coast after an early predicting of strong storms this weekend for Marylanders.

    Baltimore City icon has Super Bowl Ring stolen in Hong Kong...it is found in Elkridge.

    The Baltimore Ravens are 400 lbs heavier with the signing of Tackle Bryant McKinnie.

    Featured (Non-Earthquake) Blog Post of the Day: HowChow offers a guest post (of sorts) from Sven who gives a run down of where employees will choose to eat when given the option of having take-out from anywhere in Howard County.

    That's all for today.  I'm hoping there are no aftershocks.  20 flights of stairs is not my idea of a good time.

    Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    The Silent 9% (Monday Links)

    I read two pieces over the weekend that, in conjunction, make me feel like we may see another social movement rise up between now and November 2012.  The first was an Op/Ed calling for the jobless to march on Washington, DC.  It seems curious to me that this has yet to occur.  Quite possibly this is due to the fact that those who tend to march on Washington are normally moved by some frustration boiling over into mass movement.  The unemployed, while frustrated with their position, may not have the same frustration with those that are helping to pay the bills.

    The second piece was in The Atlantic entitled "Can the Middle Class be Saved?"  It is an eye-opening piece noting the stratification of wealth in this Country and a good reminder of what "middle class" really means and not just someone's self-image of their financial position.

    One could argue that the unemployed and middle class have the most to lose in the election of 2012.  Some may even say that the battle is already lost and it is just time to starting counting the dead.  Without judging the correctness of such efforts, deregulation and lower taxes on high earners will increase economic inequality.  That is an acceptable consequence to many that would promote it, with the follow-up note that the government should not be in the practice of regulating wealth.  Nonetheless, those who will find themselves further and further from the median income (however distorted that number may be) should probably wake up and have themselves heard over the next 14 months.  They seem to have been silenced by the din.

    LINKS

    Baltimore City firefighters and police are fighting each other in cages for charity.

    The new MVA Driver's Ed Manual has a newly drafted section on bicyclists.  One can only hope that additional education will create a more conscious generation of drivers, but it seems that the most dangerous ones are well into their golden years.

    Congrats to the Iron Girls!  You all are awesome.
    Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks at transit options and commute times, wondering whether we are building our neighborhoods for cars or for people.  I've long since concluded that with my job, and having to travel to any number of remote locations at a moment's notice, I could never been a mass tran commuter.  I can't conceive of a circumstance in which that would change, but here's hoping.

    Have a great Monday doing what you love!

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Move Over B-more (FRIIIIIDAY Links)

    Anirban Basu gave Columbia a shout-out in his explanation of why Baltimore is hemorrhaging jobs: "In many ways, the city is its worst enemy," said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive officer of the Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic consulting firm. "As Towson and Columbia become more dense, they become much more relevant as urban competitors to Baltimore City. So the clock is ticking. The city needs to get this right soon."  That's probably the first time I've read anything that suggested Columbia may one day be a competitor to Baltimore City.  Most analyses reference the fact that Columbia is between DC and Baltimore, which puts it in a position to leech off of the commercial activity of those two power centers.

    If that were to ever happen, it would probably be a generation from now.  To the extent we were in the midst of a transition, you have to think that once past the "Tipping Point", this shift would come in a cascade of momentum.  Said otherwise, I think we would "feel" the growth.  I lived in Chinatown, DC in the midst of its renaissance and...well...it was not fun.  6 am construction beeps, dumps, and crashes.  Dust.  Everywhere.  Road closures.  A landscape that changed so often it was actually disorienting.  I'm not too proud to admit that I may have become lost approximately 200 yards from my apartment.  While I love Baltimore, I'm excited by the (throw-away) suggestion by Mr. Basu that Columbia may be a future competitor.   I'm just a little uneasy about how that would come to pass.

    LINKS

    Baltimore City's "padlock law" allows the police to not only put people in time-out (i.e., Jail), but also their establishments.  (The picture on this article cracks me up.  It is an image of a big black building that was subject to the "padlock law" and the sign out front says "The Black Hole.  Congratulations").  Laws such as these are right on the crease between law enforcement and personal freedoms. 

    A Montgomery County lawsuit challenging Montgomery College's ability to offer in-state tuition to students that could demonstrate "that he or she lives in Montgomery County or graduated from a public high school there within the past three years" was dismissed for lack of standing.

    The ACLU had organized a grassroots campaign in Baltimore City to advocate for new school facilities that bring City schools to the 21st Century.

    State Senate Catherine Pugh needs to give herself a good 5-10 minutes on Google before sending letters to City Hall demanding corrections to a sample ballot that was issued by a...State agency.

    Featured Post of the Day: I'm cheating again.  This is a column (not a blog post) by TJ Mayotte at Elkridge Patch about the "creation" of Ilchester, Maryland.  Taken in conjunction with WB's post about Long Reach's new addition, I think that we could have a really fun dork-fest talking about the weird "Communi-ography" of Howard County.  For instance, if someone asks me where I live, and I don't know their knowledge of Howard County, I will say "Ellicott City."  If they come back with "Oh, I only know Columbia."  I'll say "Oh yes, I live there too."  If someone from Columbia asks me where I live, I'll say I live in Dorsey's Search.  In the particularly unusual circumstance in which they say "Oh, my friend lives in Fairway Hills," I will let them know that their friend also lives in Dorsey's Search.  I think there's a reason that it is normally happenstance that you learn where people live.  We keep that conversation in the back pocket for a reason.

    That's all for today.  Have a great Friday (impossible not to) doing what you love.  GO RAVENS!!!

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Ken Gets Gov Chops

    Maryland Juice suggests that an upcoming event for Equality Maryland may also be termed a preview of the Gubernatorial Primary AND includes Howard County Executive Ken Ulman amongst the contenders.  WB even gets a shout out.

    HoCo from Blue to Purple?

    At least that is what is predicted by prominent Baltimore County Republican Chris Cavey in his recent column in the Tentacle.  After observing the enthusiasm at the HoCo GOP Fair Booth, contrasted against an allegedly dour presidential avoidance by the HoCo Dems, Chris predicts:

    Perhaps Howard County politics is fading from the light blue of the past election, moving back to the mixed-opinion, purple colors of before. By the end of the week in the GOP booth there was a huge stack of applications for newly registered voters and change of party affiliation requests. Is this a sign of change? Should the Howard GOP have a renewed hope? You betcha!


    While I'm not sure I would characterize the 2010 Gubernatorial Election in Howard County light blue, it will certainly be interesting to see if this Presidential election does any tide turning.  It may also be worth considering that the folks who attend the Howard County Fair are most likely not the bread-basket of the Democratic Party.  Nonetheless, a registration added is a registration earned.

    Village Patriots (Thursday Links)

    Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to sit in on a number of Village Board meetings in Columbia.  The External Relations Committee has been giving presentations on the CA Allocation Model to these Boards in order to receive input about any changes that may be necessary.  (While I give my readership all the credit in the world, I will save you the details of the Allocation Model.)

    While attending the King's Contrivance meeting last night, I was struck by the fact that for all of the Village meetings I have attending (4/6 scheduled), I have encountered smart, selfless folks that genuinely care about the good of their residents.  For the most part, these are not people with future political aspirations.  No one gets paid.  There are normally cookies or some sort of baked good to help pass the time (Hickory Ridge may take the prize in this regard).  Outside of one or two "Appreciation Dinners", there is nothing in the way of recognition.  It is what it is.  You go to the meeting, you handle the business of your community, and you go home.

    We've often talked about the lack of competitiveness in Village elections and that a number of these seats went uncontested.  Nonetheless, by my observation, this has not effected the quality of our Village Boards.  In fact, one could even suggest that in light of the fact that a number of folks wait for news of an uncontested open seat before applying, the lack of competition may be benefiting our Boards.

    While I hope no one would interpret the following to be unnecessarily grandiose, there is something undeniably patriotic in the work of these Village Board members.  It is the precise spot where the "rubber meets the road" in terms of our government's interaction with individual citizens.  Village Boards are not governmental organizations, but they serve a sincerely important need of issue spotting and representation.  They are already living the post-partisan ideal that many Americans desire.  Crosswalks, crime, and bus stops do not have party affiliation.  These are the brass tacks of what needs to be addressed, and a Village Board's comment on those items is the most genuine of all.  It makes you happy to know that there is still a place for Village Boards in our world of Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging.  Our Board members are touching on patriotism in a way that is mostly unimagined by those who carry placards and chant their complaints.  It is a yeoman's job, but one that matters a great deal. 

    Thank you.

    LINKS

    A Baltimore City jury has found John Wagner guilty in the murder of Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn. 

    The Sun uses the term "medical pot" in their headline for a piece about medical marijuana.  I don't know about you all, but that makes it seem a little less "scientific."  The piece goes on to note that a renewed effort to legalize prescription of the drug may use academic centers as a way to monitor use and effectiveness.  Long time readers know that my primary objection to last year's bill was the idea that we are going to have sick people interacting with drug dealers in order to obtain the drug.  I would hope that via the "academic center" model, those sick folks would be provided their medication in a clinical setting or otherwise through a pharmacy.  It's the only way that makes sense.

    The Baltimore City slots boondoggle continues to baffle as the Slots Commission seeks to further sweeten the pot for any prospective investors by removing requirements that had previously been in place to ensure adequate public facilities and land use.  Scary stuff for anyone who lives near this location...oh wait, that's probably the poor folks.

    Crime is down across the State and across the Country.  Maybe now that everyone is saving their money we don't have enough cool stuff for people to steal.

    Sara Toth covers last week's CA Board meeting and our discussion of a possible carousel in Symphony Woods.

    Former County Council Member Angie Beltram advocates for an At-Large County Council member to address the alleged super-representation of Columbia.  That seems odd considering the major criticism of an at-large member is that they would be elected by Columbia.  With 1/3 of the population, Columbians would at the very least need to be assured that any at-large member had their interest at heart.  One of the most stead-fast opponents of such a configuration is Charlie Feaga, who "likes to shop in Columbia" but doesn't necessarily want them running his County.

    Featured Blog Post of the Day: I'm going to cheat and use a post from yesterday.  Duane has a very interesting discussion of Columbia street names that you all should check out.  Unless you're a green-plater.  Then you can just go about your business.

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

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Lack of Movement (Wednesday Links)

    It's funny.  For the past year or so, even before the Debt Crisis, moderate and centrist commentators were suggesting that a post-partisan movement was at hand.  Every thing's in its right place.  Approval ratings were reaching record lows.  Government had proven itself ineffective at the things it was supposed to do (not just those things we wanted it to do like "fix the economy").  More of the electorate was describing itself as independent or "unaffiliated" than ever before in history.  It was time.

    While it may be premature to say this, where's the beef?  For any successful "post-partisan"/independent movement to have an effect on the 2012 election, it probably needs to have significant sprouts in 2011.  More likely, the American people are still in a vinegar tasting contest, going from one booth to the other, trying to decide which one makes them feel less sick.  I know that's where I am personally.  The guy I thought I disliked the least pretty much threatened to tar and feather the Federal Reserve Chairman should he ever cross the border into Texas (I no longer prefer that brand of vinegar).  The other guy (you know, the President) is taking a brief campaign tour in the midst of an economic crisis (on top of the one that already existed) to tell the American people "I told you that I would change the World.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do that because the other guys in Washington, DC are mean.  Things are still totally screwed up, but it's because of the last guy in office...you all still don't like him, right?" 

    The political season, with all of its faults, has one unimpeachable value: Patriotic Hope.  The idea that your candidate can bring your County, State, or Country into greatness.  It's what gets people out to vote.  Not because they actually think their vote matters, but because they get to say "I'm with this guy/gal."  I know that for many of you, that ballot's message is slightly different: "I am very afraid that if the other guy/gal gets the nuke codes, we are all in a big mess."  Either way, can anyone really say that they feel "Patriotic Hope" about this next election?  It is early, but maybe a passionless election is what gets this post-partisan thing going.  Imagine the entire Country asking "Was that really worth it?"

    This outcome is oft predicted, but rarely seen.  For now we'll just have to hope for change...um...

    LINKS

    I never saw this on any of the local coverage, but a group of teenagers in Germantown "flash mobbed" themselves into some free stuff.  Thankfully, a number of those kids have since been arrested, but the ingenuity of the criminal mind can sometimes been scary.  Especially when you think of all the things that mind could otherwise be put towards.

    Mayor SRB has nearly ten times the campaign cash on hand as her closest challenger.  For whatever reason, I had thought this primary would be a close one (expecting Otis Rolley to give her a good race), but if money and general sentiment are any predictor, we can expect the incumbent to win her first Mayoral election.

    You know that guy that makes you tear up every time you watch a documentary about the Ravens' trip to the Super Bowl?  He was arrested for a hit and run.

    Baltimore City CEO Andres Alonso read some sobering statistics to city principals yesterday.  I have all the respect in the world for those folks.

    Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day:  I have two today.  The first is Part 12 of Frank Hecker's series on Howard County Council's redistricting.  I actually had a chance to read the whole thing last night.  I was particularly drawn to the note regarding the Republican strategy not to run anyone against Vernon Gray in 1990 in order to keep the Columbia vote depressed.  This resulted in significant electoral success, including the County Executive race. 

    The next featured post is WB's profile of a new store in Ellicott City called "The Man Cave."  I am a true blue comic book geek, so you can expect to see me down there sometime in the near future.

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

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    The Argument For Spending (Tuesday Links)

    It has been estimated that the disrepair of our roads and crumbling infrastructure costs the average American family $1,060 a year.  I think you would be hard pressed to say that instead of repairing our roads, we should just give each American family a $1,000 tax credit.  It is a clear objective of our federal government and one that has been negligently ignored.

    The thing about these repairs is that they become exponentially more expensive as time goes on.  By that, I mean that our roads are like that crack in your windshield.  You can repair it now with little or no cost...or you can get a new windshield.

    Many economists and other political commentators are suggesting that the United States should use its historically cheap borrowing power to fund wide-spread transportation projects that will put Americans back to work and pay off a de facto debt that will otherwise be much more expensive in a few year's time.  The more politically minded will go on to argue that our Country is not in a "Debt Crisis", but rather a "Jobs Crisis."  People aren't spending money.  Either they don't have jobs or they know someone who doesn't have a job, and that makes them want to squirrel away everything they have.  Certainly President Obama's first stimulus relied a great deal on infrastructure improvements, and I don't think you can point to any data to say that this stimulus was successful (depending on your parameters), but I also don't think you can't point to data to suggest that things would not have been worse without putting those projects into action.

    This suggestion says nothing to the size and scope of government.  As much as this crisis has been hard to watch, I honestly believe it provides a valuable opportunity for our law-makers to evaluate what we can afford as a Country.  Sadly, there will always been pain and suffering and we can't evaluate the merits of a government expense on that basis alone.  I think a good amount of us would rather be giving more to whatever charity we support, but that doesn't mean we can afford to.  Understanding that this is a very simplistic way to look at a very complex government, "Sustainability" is not just for "green" projects.  It is also for ledger sheets.

    So while I think we should take a hard look at government programs that have not been successful or otherwise don't merit continuation, I sincerely believe that our Country should rededicate itself to its infrastructure.  Not just roads.  Light rail, bus, bicycle accessibility, canoe.  Whatever gets us from here to there.  We're fond of calling costs "taxes" in this Country.  Well $1,060 is a tax of ignorance.  Worse yet, it is dangerous.  In this time of government retraction, I hope our elected officials still see the opportunity to put people to work.

    LINKS

    Oh no he didn't!  Otis Rolley has questioned the benefits of the Baltimore City Grand Prix, effectively making it a campaign issue for the Baltimore City Mayoral Race.  This is probably a cheap shot, since the benefits of the Grand Prix are far in the future, while the pain of enduring this monstrosity (that is starting to make Baltimore look like one big prison) is very current.

    Baltimore City Council members want to have input on which School Board members are appointed by the Governor in their City.  I don't think anyone has said "The Baltimore City Council doesn't have enough responsibility" recently, so we'll see how this goes.

    If you are like my Dad, you are probably excited about the opening of Gino's Burgers & Chicken on La Salle Road.  Heck, I don't eat fast food and I'm a little excited.  Don't screw this up, Gino!

    Orioles win and sign their first round pick.  It is a brief shining moment in an otherwise dreary land of orange and black.

    Feature Blog Post of the Day: Well & Wise gives you some ideas for what to do with all those extra squash you will no doubt be receiving over the next few months.  I am excited for zucchini bread and squash fritters!

    Slow news day today.  Despite my comments the other day about the Republican field (and conversation in the comments with Ox), I think Rick Perry stands a pretty good chance.  While I understand that social issues are mostly background noise for most voters, I think they play enough of a role to sway 5-10% of the vote.  That is a completely "out-my-very-back-pocket" number and I have no basis for saying as much.  Nonetheless, Perry's more nuanced position on gay marriage (and overall promotion of state's rights) may be the spoonful of sugar that centrist Republicans and independents may be looking for to pair up with the radical right that has taken the steering wheel of the Republican platform.  Should be interesting to watch.

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

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    I Imagine My Tax Dollars in a Tuxedo T-Shirt (Monday Links)

    One of the fun things about talking about "taxes" is that you get to pretend you are much more wealthy than you really are.  "I don't want my tax dollars going towards a bridge to nowhere."  "Welfare queens are using my tax dollars to buy cigarettes."  "The Founding Fathers never anticipated our tax dollars going to pay for life-saving treatment for someone who wasn't fortunate enough to have a job with health insurance!"

    If we were honest with ourselves, we would realize that our tax dollars most likely serve a much more limited and less relevant purpose.  "My tax dollars fueled an Air Force jet on a single training run sometime in April of this year."  "My tax dollars put new flooring in the Old Executive Office Building to replace some of the marble that had chipped.  Looks nice too."  "My tax dollars paid two months salary for a middle aged bureaucrat who doesn't hate his job, but feels like he could have done more with his life."

    For some reason, that reminded me of the "Grace" scene in Talladega Nights.  For fear of offending the religious sensitivities of this audience, I will merely link to the clip and encourage you to send any outrage to Will Ferrel.

    Now, what made me think of Walker and Texas Ranger?  Considering that we don't know the exact destination of our tax dollars, we have the option of presuming that our tax dollars went to whatever purpose we like best.  Maybe I want my tax dollars to go towards social workers that are helping people get jobs or working for abused children that need a better life.  Maybe you want your tax dollars to go to the next bomb that blows a terrorist to smithereens (spell check gave me the ok on that word).  Sure, we're never going to like being taxed, but the next time someone expresses outrage on where "our tax dollars" are going, I will correct them, and say that my tax dollars are going to help pay for grants to cure cancer.  And wear a tuxedo t-shirt.

    LINKS

    Speaking of taxes, it is tax free week in Maryland!  The 6% sales tax is waived on select items, with a focus on helping families buy back-to-school items (especially clothes).  If I can make a recommendation, do not go to Arundel Mills.  Jane and I tried last year.  If people were cattle, Arundel Mills would be a dude ranch.

    You may have noticed that when you drive on 95 below Baltimore City, you spend most of your time on bridges.  Well, not to scare you, but they are due for repair.  Thankfully, those tolls that everyone (writer included) lamented earlier this year will help fund their replacement.

    Baltimore International College intends to merge with Virginia's Statford University.  This is very good news for a school that has become a point of aspiration for a number of Baltimore City youth.

    Michelle Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll.  5,000 purchased votes have never been so newsworthy.  Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has left the race, which will remove a lot of awkward insults from the campaign trail.

    Speaking of Michelle Bachmann, if you have about an hour to spare, I highly recommend this New Yorker piece about the candidate (Thanks TJ).  UPDATE: Please also see this piece responding to Ryan Lizza's profile of Michelle Bachman.

    Many of you probably heard the story this weekend about an elderly Columbia resident who was rescued after driving down an embankment into her own pool.  Without intending to make light of a very scary situation, if you read the description, it sounds a lot like the car-port from Ferris Bueller's Day Off...if the pool was located behind the car-port.

    Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah notes the spread of rail to suburban centers in other states and wonders whether our community will be receptive to such opportunities should they ever present themselves.  As I've said before (which was probably just echoing Sarah), lets make bus transit work first, and then drop millions of dollars into rail.  As experienced in Fairfax, VA, it is expensive no matter what subsidies you get.

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

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Gov. Chris Christie: "This Sharia Law Business is Crap"

    Ok, so maybe he took a helicopter to his son's baseball game, but you can't help but nod in satisfaction at this little quip in response to questions about his nomination of a Muslim American to a New Jersey Circuit Court:

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Saturday Morning Stuff

    I set a sad new record today.  I read through the entire Baltimore Sun (all sections but Travel, 75% of articles) in 35 minutes.  Imagine if your favorite television show was canceled character by character instead of all at once.  One day you notice that George is no longer at the diner table with Jerry and Elaine.  Next thing you know, it's been a while since you've seen Elaine and you're getting a little tired of Kramer.  Don't worry, Kramer stops popping through the door soon enough and its just Jerry, sitting on the couch, watching TV.  That's what I feel like is happening to my newspaper...and I feel helpless to do anything about it.

    Items of Note:

    Juan Williams sums up my perspective on the Republican candidates for President.  Sure, the economic numbers don't line up well for President Obama and he looked incredibly weak in the debt ceiling debate (I'm glad he wasn't sitting across the table from Vladimir Putin, tell ya that right now), but these folks look like an acting troupe from a Shakespeare play.  Neither Rick Perry nor Sarah Palin will be able to change that.  The most likely candidate is Mitt Romney, and he lacks the "authenticity" that drives voters to the polls.  You can argue with me, and tell me I'm a liberal airbag all you want, but this slate of candidates is not winning in 2012.

    "Residents of Transit-Oriented Development Say 'No' to Transit."  With due respect to my readers and fellow bloggers, most of the excitement over the prospect of rail transit in Howard County has been from yuppies who are otherwise invested in "the future."  (If you reject the title "yuppie" please replace the same with "suburban activist", "community organizer", or whatever romantic self-image pleases you best).  I have to presume that if our leaders ever became serious about rail transit, as opposed to serious about seeming serious about rail transit, the opposition would be deafening.  You see, rail does not only connect us to urban centers...it also connects urban centers to us.  All of the urban problems that "New Columbia" folks seem to insist will not seep up in our burgeoning Camelot will be little more than a $1.25 ticket from stepping out onto our sidewalk.  While many of us reading (and typing) this would welcome the "new", I can assure you that the "olds" will most likely win the day.  Take the challenges presented to Columbia development, remove the economic advantages of a larger tax base and pretty pictures of people congregating at the Lakefront, and tell me how rail transit will be sold to a auto-focused, parking-lot accustomed voter base.  Nagannahappin.


    If you thought the Newsweek cover was bad... (Thanks Dave)

    The Commission charged with evaluating the manner in which our Board of Education is compiled has a second, much more difficult, task: convince the public that the outcome of an appointed Board is not preordained.  If I were to plan out the line of attack, I would proceed as follows:

    1) Have the Commission conclude that the current at-large system is not effective at representing minority interests.  Certainly, the more apparent problem is that the current system is too effective at electing minority interests, as so eloquently explained by Board Member Allen Dyer during his appearance on And Then There's That.  Nonetheless, the problems with that model are much too nuanced to be sold to the public (especially if they are to be effectively disenfranchised).  If minority interests (both racial and socio-economic) are the objective, the very righteousness of the cause will override objections to the means of obtaining it.

    2) In their pursuit of alternatives, the Commission must then conclude that districted Board seats are untenable.  You can't elect from Council districts, because they cross school district lines.  You can't elect by school district, because they can change within election cycles.

    3) Note the "barriers to entry" for qualified candidates who would do "what's best for our children."  I think you'll see a lot of that kind of talk in Jessica Anderson's piece.  "These good-hearted souls should not be put through the rigors of an election in order to put their exquisite brains to use for the benefit of our future."

    It is my understanding that whatever conclusions this Commission reaches, they will go to the General Assembly, not the voters.  This is not a Charter issue.  Our County's powers are delegated to it from the General Assembly.  We do not have independent sovereignty.  As such, there is a very low threshold of "selling this to the public."  If the three bells noted above are rung in tune, we are on our way to (at least) a partially appointed Board of Education.

    That's all for today.  Have a great Saturday!  Weather is looking iffy for tomorrow, so get your yard work done today.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Greisman Back on the Beat

    I was pleased to hear last night that Patuxent Publishing has hired a new reporter to the Howard County beat: David Greisman.  Our favorite Patch-head will now have a Patux preffix.

    From what I was told, David will be covering the crime log and...Columbia Association Board meetings!  I have appreciated all of the work Sara Toth has done in this regard and look forward to seeing David at our meetings.

    I Can Fix That Episode 12: Gender Issues Revisited

    We had such a great response in the comments regarding our discussion of gender issues that Jodi and I decided to revisit the topic and incorporate some criticisms of our earlier discussion.  We've recently revamped how we prepare for the show (i.e., stopped preparing for the show), which has made it much more of a free-flowing conversation (that occassionally touches on...hold up, wrong podcast).

    Anyway, thank you for the feedback and please keep it coming.  Especially if you are going to tell me I'm wrong.

    CA Board Recap: August 11, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

    Start Time: 7:37 pm
    End Time: 10:15 pm (Approximate)

    This was a significantly shorter meeting than what we have become accustomed to.  Nonetheless, I think it would be very difficult for anyone to say we did two hours and forty-five minutes of work.

    Antique Carousel in Symphony Woods

    The owners of the Inner Harbor Carousel are looking to move.  Fortunate for us, they are looking to move the Carousel to Columbia and have it included in the new plans for Symphony Woods.  While I don't think this feature will become the "draw" that Symphony Woods so dearly needs, I am excited that business owners are interested in participating in this new project, with all of the risks that it entails.  Last night was a preliminary presentation and hard numbers were not yet discussed, but it is a good item to have on the horizon.

    ABC Requests Open Space Catalogue

    The Alliance for a Better Columbia may be termed a "Watchdog Group" for the Columbia Association, and is often asking CA to act on certain items to increase transparency or resident "rights."  Last night they submitted testimony requesting that all CA Open Space be cataloged and made available to the public, including specification of whatever easements may be on the property to restrict its use.  Without yet knowing the burden that this may place on the staff, I think this is a great idea.  CA Open Space is probably the most under-utilized amenity out of everything CA offers.  We have acres upon acres of land owned by our residents, which do not receive steady use or enjoyment.  Anything we can do to make the average CA lien-holder more aware of what is available to them should be a paramount objective of this Board.

    Lake Connectivity

    Former Board Member Russ Swatek has become a one man watchdog group as well and I have truly appreciated the times he came to speak to the Board about items that he felt needed additional attention.  In particular, he noted how important it is to construct the bridge that would complete the loop around Lake Kittamaqundi.  I could not agree more.  The path around this Lake, featured prominently in our downtown, is a constant reminder of the Vonnegutian absurdity (yes, I may be the first to use "Vonnegutian") of some CA projects.  As Russ pointed out, the ability to walk around the lake, as opposed to "Would you like to walk the perimeter of the lake twice?", while seemingly insignificant, could be a draw for residents that have previously chosen Centennial for their late afternoon exercise.  Moreover, the frustration from residents on this issue is palpable.  I plan to strongly advocate for CA to direct funds towards the completion of the bridge so that residents can "Complete the Loop" (if this were a political campaign, the bumper stickers and t-shirts would be so easy).

    Symphony Woods
    Here's where things got a little dicey.  Alex Hekimian, as chair of the Planning and Strategy Committee, sought to use the Board meeting as a "Work Session" to address everything we may want to include in the final plans for Symphony Woods.  Jan Clark and Jane Dembner, who have been working diligently on shepherding our plan through the various County boards, panels, and departments that will be necessary before a shovel ever meets the dirt, were present to answer any questions about the process.  Mine was very simple "What do you need from us so as to avoid tying your hands or creating any unintended consequences?"  You see, our plan has multiple phases of development.  All that is truly required of us is to have the plans for the first phase ready, which most would suggest includes the pathways around the park and nothing more.  Nonetheless, the Board emphasized the need to have a bathroom in Phase One.  Bathrooms require buildings.  Buildings require coherence with the surrounding developments (i.e., Merriweather).  Coherence requires a plan to compare against.  There are no such design plans available for us to base our bathroom hut.  "There was only one catch, and it was Catch-22."

    In short, the staff needed guidance for what to include in Phase One and, since it was already included in the plan submitted to the County, the general appearance/theme for our buildings in Symphony Woods.  Despite nearly an hour and a half of discussion, this request went unanswered.  We did, however, discuss whether the pathways would be made of a permeable substance and whether a service truck driving to the yet-to-be constructed cafe would be able to drive on said permeable substance.  (Ugh)

    Andy Stack made a fantastic suggestion that we don't need to think of our "draw" for Symphony Woods in Phase One if we can plan in advance to include events that will get residents accustomed to being in the Park.  It is foolhardy to suggest that this Park will be Central Park on day one or even year one.  There are multiple phases of development that we must respect and incorporate into our vision for how this is going to play out.  Nonetheless, the Board is (somewhat rightfully) obsessed with the question of what is going to bring people to this Park.  My view is that this question is left for another day and that it is important to first get our paths down and allow the project to build momentum.

    At the end of this discussion, I recommended that for all future Symphony Woods agenda items, we limit ourselves to a very clear recommendation that can be discussed in both the affirmative and negative.  We can't write ourselves blank checks to discuss anything neat we may want to see in Symphony Woods.  That discussion is being had all over Columbia and our views are not given any additional import by way of the fancy name-tags we wear.  This is a matter of over-sight and procedural guidance.  I have the utmost confidence in Jan and Jane to bring any trouble spots to the Board's attention, including the need to figure out what is going to get people to our Park.  We're just not there yet.  This has been further complicated by the DAP's review, which, upon greater reflection, just wasn't fair.  We're being asked to provide a plan with "coherence" when the other properties have yet to share so much as a schematic.  I hope the County will be more realistic of what they are asking for in these Design Panels, or they are going to have a quagmire of unapproved designs waiting at the gates of the New Columbia.

    Strategic Planning Matrix

    It is never a good thing when three out of eight Board members say, in various terms of phrase, "I don't see why we are discussing this."  The Strategic Planning Matrix is a document that outlines the objectives of CA and each committee's responsibility in oversight, guidance, and community input.  As explained to me, "This document is used by Board Operations Committee to design agendas."

    I used this opportunity to suggest to the Board that documents like this were the kind of nonsense that we should be doing away with.  I clearly upset Board Chair Mike Cornell by referring to our committees as "fake."  He responded that to use such a term was an offense to everyone that works on a committee.  While I certainly did not intend offense, I think the true insult to our committee structure is the ridiculous side-show that our Board meetings have become, wherein a committee of three will conduct the discussion of ten Board members, followed by a vote of three.

    Despite the offense, Mike noted that the Board Operations Committee had put Board Reform on their agenda and it should be brought to the Board in the near future.  I will keep you all apprised of this development and would request that you come out to testify in favor of Board reform once that item is brought to the floor.  I assure you that nothing has a greater effect on the efficient use of your lien dollars than the manner in which we do business.  Moreover, the very dysfunctional nature of this Board is what has kept a number of you from being willing to dedicate your time and energy to elected office on the Board.  There is a general notion that since the current structure is "better" than what we had before, it should be maintained.  I would proffer that the "better" version has not yet done the scaling back that would be necessary, and only took the "stuff" that the Board already considered part of its mandate and put it into different bags.

    That was pretty much it for the night.  There were some additional matters regarding the Friends of Columbia, but that topic will be left for another day.

    I truly appreciate your interest in CA and willingness to read these long recaps.  This is an important organization that plays a pivotal role in the future of Columbia.

    Have a great Friday doing what you love!

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Evidence of Anger (Thursday Links)

    One of the most fascinating aspects of the London riots is its inexplicable nature.  Most of the people interviewed about these riots throw their hands up and say "this originally looked like a response to a police-related death, but now its just young kids breaking things and taking stuff."  Amongst the rioting, a heroine has emerged in an older black woman who expresses her frustration at the purposelessness of this violence (warning: language):


    Simultaneous to all of this, I am reading a biography of Clarence Darrow.  Along with being portrayed as a Bad A-- attorney in Inherit the Wind, he also was a man of a thousand political causes.  As such, he interacted with numerous radicals who tried to convince him that voting served no other purpose than to satiate an angry public.  While Darrow never pursued more violent means of confronting the government, his work as a lawyer was pursuant to this greater idea that causes must be pursued aggressively and no just in the ballot box.

    I say all this because it is quite clear that the American public is angry with its government and has been for quite some time.  If we do go into a second recession and it is deemed to be partly the fault of the elected government (rightly or wrongly), will this be a boiling point?  While the London riots may have no purpose, they do have some reason to them.  A frustrated underclass decided that they were more powerful than the law enforcement that was in between them and what they wanted.  It is a construct that has made multiple appearances throughout history.  That's one of the reasons why it is fair to tax the rich more than the poor.  They have the most to gain from government.  Its structure, its very existence, allows them luxury.  Certainly, their "hard work" put them in a position to be wealthy, but that wealth is transient without law and order.

    I hear about what is happening in London, and I don't see things as so different here.  I don't think we as a people are so different that the same thing would be unthinkable in the United States.  The bigger question is whether our riots will have a purpose.

    LINKS

    The United States census indicated that there are 16,987 same-sex couples in Maryland, which is a 50% increase from 2000.

    Video from the shooting of a plain-clothes police officer at Select Lounge has been released.  It makes you realize just how difficult it is to be a police officer and have to make split second decisions that may result in life or death.

    The largest artificial reef off the East Coast was placed yesterday nearby Ocean City.

    Justin Fenton reports that the Edward Arthur jewelry robbery is connected to a larger crime ring and the death of a witness.  Spooky.


    Ellicott City cyclist Nathan Krasnopoler has died after being in a coma since February.  You will recall that his death was caused by a traffic accident in which he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle near Johns Hopkins.  While we all may joke about the driving habits of our elderly relatives, Mr. Krasnopoler's death is a clear example of why this is no joke.  Next time it could be your loved one.

    Feature Blog Post of the Day: WB gets some behind the scenes shots of the new Subway in Ellicott City, and it looks quite sharp.  I know change is terrifying, but I am excited to see new businesses looking to move into Old Ellicott City, even if it is a corporate brand.

    That's all for today.  I will see a number of you at the Blog roll party tonight, but will need to leave early for a CA Board of Directors meeting (Agenda found here).  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    GUEST POST: The James Webb Space Telescope

    Here is a guest post from one of my favorite Columbians, Jason Booms:

    In President John Quincy Adams’ first annual message to Congress, delivered on December 6, 1825, he contended that: “Among the first, perhaps the very first, instrument for the improvement of the condition of men is knowledge, and to the acquisition of much of the knowledge adapted to the wants, the comforts, and enjoyments of human life public institutions and seminaries of learning are essential.” In this historic message, he was the first American President to make the case for the federal government to play a leading role in advancing knowledge in the sciences including, as he termed it, “astronomical science.”

    Almost two full centuries later, America, with our advancements in telescope technology, stands poised to peer further back into the depths of space and beginnings of time than has ever been done before.

    The James Webb Space Telescope, also known as the JWST, would provide NASA scientists with the opportunity to examine, with greater clarity than even the much-lauded Hubble Space Telescope, the farthest objects in our universe. This project, already well underway and currently slated for deployment in 2018, is designed to increase our understanding of the formation of our universe as well as the creation of galaxies, stars and solar systems. The JWST will have the ability to investigate many solar systems (including our own) for the elements that, under the right conditions, can lead to the creation and/or sustainment of life itself.

    Of course, all of that is in jeopardy since the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science and Related Agencies voted to cut funding for the JWST on July 7, 2011.

    I stand in full support of Senator Barbara Mikulski, Congressman Steny Hoyer and others in their efforts to save the JWST. Understanding that we live in times that call for belt-tightening, surely our federal government can find the resources to expand human knowledge.

    The Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST’s predecessor, helped educate a generation of students about our planet, our solar system, our galaxy and our universe. With advanced math and science abilities becoming increasingly important in our global and technology-driven economy, the JWST is the ideal means of inspiring a new generation to study these disciples so they can be equipped to make the greatest discoveries of the 21st century.

    As expressed in Congressman Hoyer’s letter to the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, beyond the scientific progress promised by the JWST, the funding for this endeavor actually creates and sustains jobs (2,000 nationwide). Given our precarious national economic standing, it is alarming to the point of being unconscionable that Congress would axe a program that supports both public and private sector employment as the JWST does.

    This is a particularly important issue for Maryland families, as the JWST program is being managed by the NASA Goddard Flight Center, located in Greenbelt just outside of Washington, D.C. As Rep. Hoyer notes, this next-generation scientific effort supports 500 Maryland jobs.

    Having already allocated $3 billion dollars for the JWST, Congress should not abandon the Hubble’s successor at this critical point. It would be akin to Congress cutting off funding while the Apollo 11 spacecraft was only half-built.

    It is my hope that every educator, student, employee of a company in the high-tech sector, astronomer (professional or amateur), Star Wars and Star Trek fan, or anyone who has ever gazed into the heavens and wondered “what is out there, and what is our place in the universe?” urges Congress to save the JWST. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a predicament similar to the one described by President Adams in the aforementioned address, where he feared that America would be “cutting ourselves off from the means of returning light for light while we have neither observatory nor observer upon our half of the globe and the earth revolves in perpetual darkness to our unsearching eyes.”

    Jason Booms is a pollster and strategic communications consultant in Columbia.  He can be reached at jbooms@boomsresearch.com