Friday, September 30, 2011

All Things in Moderation (FRIIIIIDAY Links)

I had a great meeting with a member of the Republican Central Committee last night.  We discussed where the party is and its strategy over the 2012 and 2014 elections.  Most interesting to me was the fact that there is a good segment of the local GOP that is interested in moderation.  Not "watered-down-democrat", which is the default response of the far right to any suggestion of moderation, but more message finesse and practical implementation.  If all the things I heard last night are put through, I think you will see a more organized, successful, and sustainable GOP as soon as 2014.

One of my most steadfast suggestions to the Republican Party, to the extent my opinion matters, has been to build their farm team.  In order to have a chance at success as a minority party, they are going to have to present candidates that have connections (and palatability) across party lines and in all levels of the community.  In fact, early candidates may have to transcend party in a County that has had a significant shift in voter registration since the last time the Republicans saw a chance at making waves. 

There are some true up-and-comers in this party that I am excited to see run at the next level.  Dave Myers and Kevin Rodkey serve on the Howard County Redistricting Panel.  Trevor Greene, known to most of you as "HoCo Politico", is well-liked and respected in his community after serving on the River Hill Village Board and working diligently on the River Hill Master Plan.  With the potential districting of the Board of Ed and expansion of the Council, there may be more seats to fill as soon as 2012, and I would hope to see these names on the ballot.

LINKS

The Rockburn Mountain Bike skills course will be opening on Sunday.  I know that mountain bike enthusiasts may be an insular community, but I can tell you that they are very excited about this.

Both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are consolidating their supporters as we get set for the 2012 session.  I think you will see more strong-arm politics this time around, with the freshmen delegates being threatened with primaries and being cut off from party funds.  While the MoCo churches may be able to mobilize on election day, I expect that they may not have the resources to successfully present and run a primary challenger against a party supported incumbent, but I'll admit ignorance to the party dynamics in that part of the state.

I don't think anyone really liked cantaloupe all that much to begin with.

Executive Ulman provides additional explanation for the Board of Ed Study Commission, but still does not explain the basis for appointing members.  I understand that these were the conclusions of the Commission (right), but he is being held accountable for their proposals.  As someone who has not made up my mind on the merit of this kind of proposal, I would really like to hear an argument for why districted election, with two at large pending expansion of the Council (were that to occur), has not been put on the table.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB writes that "School Board Change Is a Lock."  Our politicos are chess-players.  They don't move their queen unless they know the next five moves the other side is going to make.  School Board change was a lock before Dr. Grasmick's phone rang.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.  Jane has somehow been able to get me to agree to going to the Renaissance Festival on SUNDAY.  That's right, football day.  I am going to the Ravens game that evening and figure that Steak on a Stake may be a good distraction from the jitters that I tend to get in anticipation of a big game.  Ravens 31 Jets 17.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Freedom of Speech (Thursday Links)

Whether amateur blogger or paid columnist, the idea of "freedom of speech" ends up tripping off your tongue (or keyboard) sometime during your term of engagement.  You may cite it as a defense for creating inflammatory material or otherwise note that "everyone is entitled to their opinion."

But freedom isn't free, and I mean that not only in terms of the brave men and women that have fought to protect our society, but also in terms of the individual costs of use.  There are serious and significant consequences to being heard.  Judging someone by what they say is one of the few prejudicial considerations that our society finds acceptable.  "Why didn't you hire candidate A?"  "Did you see his Facebook wall?  He's a Steeler fan!"

I won't dig at the freshly healed wounds of Wilson-gate, but I will note that the situation had as much to do with the consequences of speech as it did political battleship.  I've faced significant hurdles of my own making due to this blog and the people who disagree with me and/or don't feel I can be trusted not to write about everything that crosses my five senses.  That is a known risk of writing everyday and one that I accept. 

I'm writing all this because I recently learned who was behind the Gestapo Ken website.  I have no interest in naming them here, but I will say that it is the same person behind the Tea Party MD Twitter feed.  This website has also been connected to a political consulting firm, which recently worked on the campaign for one of our current Board of Education members. 

The consequences of Nazi analogies are long-lasting.  We're not making fun of someone's bald head or suggesting that someone is sleeping at a Council meeting.  We're playing with an analogy that should have strong emotional connotations for anyone that has ever studied that period in history. 

The most successful Republicans in this County are known for being cordial, if not good friends, with Democrats.  I would be curious if any of them would be willing to be associated with this kind of speech, free as it may be.

LINKS

On that subject, please check out TJ Mayotte's column addressing the ridiculous and unfortunate nature of this type of political speech.

Apologies to Red Sox fans, but that just happened.  I heard someone say yesterday that the reason they wanted the Rays to win was because "no one calls Camden 'Tropicana North'".  That seems fair.  Now, if you don't mind, I am going to go back to pouting about baseball in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Sun confirms its allegiances with yet another op/ed supporting Ken Ulman.

Columbia Patch reports that there is a planned bus route to link Columbia and the Bethesda Metro.  I would be interested in trying this out (if I could convince Jane to ride the bus with me).

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers likes parts of Delegate Frank Turner's bill, but is not sold on the two appointed members.  I'm not really sure anyone is. 

That's all for today.  I am really starting to wonder how I am going to maintain these links once the pay-wall goes up.  There has been an uptick in Columbia Flier content that I hope continues.  Otherwise, we may be due for another reconfiguration of the daily post.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!  It may be rainy, wet, and muggy outside, but the weekend is only a day away....tooooomorrow...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aquatics Master Plan & You (Wednesday Links)

There has been a lot of talk about the recent decision to spend $120,000 to open Splashdown sometime in early 2012.  In both a recent episode of And Then There's That and in Doug Miller's Flier column, the suggestion is made that CA is not thinking of the long term and only approving a "quick fix."  That could not be further from the truth.  In fact, the "long term" would have been the only thing that would have stood in the way of fixing Splashdown over the next six months.

I understand that CA has the presumption of incompetence right now, but I think that is unfair.  As I've stated earlier, the organization has reached a stage when time has run out on a number of our amenities all at once, leading to across the board repair and maintenance.  CA has gone to great lengths to cycle these expenditures in order to ensure that CPRA assessments remain low and services continue despite the increased costs.  Unfortunately, the outward appearance is that everything is broken or otherwise in need of replacement.

Simultaneous to all of this, CA is evaluating the use of its pools.  An Aquatics Master Plan Task Force has been created to design a comprehensive plan that would strategically increase usage and diversify our offerings to improve our aquatics programs across the Board.  This includes Splashdown and the Columbia Swim Center.  With this report pending, a number of Board members, myself included, were hesitant to take any drastic action on Splashdown that may shatter the AMP into a thousand piecemeal parts.  In light of the community importance of Splashdown, the Board determined that $120,000 was a reasonable expense to maintain the facility until a more permanent proposal could be approved.  We anticipate the Master Plan to be available in January, approval later that year, and an immediate focus on the Swim Center soon thereafter.

Based on the discussion to this point, I get the feeling that people understand there is something "in the works", but they don't know exactly what it is.  After hearing the Task Force chair speak last Thursday, I am very excited about all of the work that has gone into the Aquatics Master Plan and feel as if this type of delegation is exactly the direction CA should be heading for future planning.  I also have great faith in Jane Dembner, who is leading the charge from the organizational side.

I don't expect everyone to see the nuance in everything that CA does, but I will be more than happy to offer clarification on these items when things are being misconstrued.  Thursday was a "quick fix" leading to a long-term, sustainable future.

LINKS

Check out this Letter to the Editor from 2000 written by Rouse Developer Robert Tennenbaum advocating for the dissolution of CA.

One of the most fascinating consequences of the proposed districting of Board of Education members would be the prospective face-off between Allen Dyer and Ellen Giles in District 5.  To pull one of Mr. Dyer's quotes from the piece "If that happens, I think that's dynamite."  You said it.

Speaking of Howard County's most profligate plaintiff, Allen Dyer was in court to argue for the dismissal of the impeachment charges filed against him by his fellow Board members.  Finding himself in the Defendant's seat, Mr. Dyer appears to have determined that outside counsel was necessary, and hired another attorney to present his case.


Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah will be paying for The Sun's online content.  In light of her perspective, I wonder if having already paid for five years of subscriptions has tainted my view here.  I feel as if I've already stayed true to the idea of a regional newspaper, paying for a paper copy that I only read on weekends, only for them to come back and say "Have you heard about the Internet?  Well we're going to charge more for you to see the same stuff online."  In fact, I could see the additional charge for print subscribers to be a big old kick to the gut for a lot of those faithful paper purchasers.  Maybe Jay Hancock can stop talking about how awful BGE is to its customers and do some ombudsman work.


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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Game of Consequence (Tuesday Links)

I've described this year as a "back-breaker" for Oriole fans.  Our collective suffering has been repeatedly soothed with the promise of our young guns and minor league all-stars.  "The cavalry is coming."  They came.  Without their horses.

I said goodbye to the 2011 Orioles last night.  Standing in the stadium and watching the thousands of bugs float a few feet above the crowd, I began to wonder if that problem gets worse in October.  As a fan of a bad baseball team, the chasm between Regular and Playoff baseball never seems further than when your team is playing one that is going to the dance.

That's what made last night so exciting.  It was the first playoff series these Orioles have ever seen.  Admittedly, only one team had the opportunity to advance, but there was an intensity about this game that had not been available for the 13 or so games I had attended this year.  It was a game of consequence, and the Orioles were playing like it was a new season.

There is another component to this, which is that these Orioles were also playing for their right to be in the majors.  Similar to a pile of misfit toys set next to a furnace, these players are on the precipice of a complete reworking of the organization that most likely will see most of them shipped off to teams that would consider them more in the class of "minor league filler" than "starting second baseman." 

The Orioles won.  I won't say it felt "electric" (as is often described of real playoff games), but it certainly felt different.  This game had a significant effect on the entire league.  The Orioles are normally not in those games.

So for those that predicted yet another losing Oriole season, congratulations, you were correct.  For those that have buckled down for yet another season of disappointment, it is almost over.  For me, I think last night drew me in for at least one more year.  I can't help but feel like a little bit of what I felt last night was also felt by the players, and that they are also curious about the bug situation in October.

LINKS

The Howard County School Board Study Commission closed its term last night, and not without some excitement.  A few of the panel members sought to rescind the recommendation for appointed Board members, but ended up settling for a one-term restriction on those who are not elected.  The Panel also recommended an "internship" for prospective candidates so that they may find out more about the position and increase name recognition prior to running.  These recommendations will now go to the Howard County Delegation, which, if accepted, will offer these bills during the Special Session in Annapolis.

The Howard County Council has decided to table Greg Fox's proposed eminent domain amendment pending review by the Charter Review Commission.  Greg is quoted in the article as saying that he will move forward on this bill regardless of whether it is acted on by the Commission.

The Flier also has a piece about CA's recent decision on Symphony Woods.

Washington, DC has the worst traffic in the United States, with commuters spending an average of 74 hours a year in traffic.  And we wonder why things are so screwed up down there.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Wordbones sings the Baltimore Sun Blues and is a little nicer in his reaction than I was.  I read yesterday that unlike the NY Times pay-wall, articles linked on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook will count towards your 15 free previews a month.  I'm sure they have some very smart business folks doing the math on this, but I feel like this plan is doomed.  At best, the Sun becomes a sustainable paper of smaller influence and readership.  At worst, I'll be telling my kids about what it was like to have a local newspaper.

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Ed Switcheroo (Monday Links)

If you weren't paying attention, you may have missed the recent decision by the Obama administration to allow waivers for schools not making "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) in the face of a 2014 deadline that would require all students to be proficient in reading and math under No Child Left Behind.  Regardless of your political inclination, NCLB has simultaneously been a great success for and a pox on our educational system.  On the one hand, our schools were being held accountable for the progress of all children, including those with mental disabilities and English as a Second Language (ESL).  On the down side, the program ignored important subjects like science and effectively operated to privatize our state education systems.  You see, when a school does not make AYP for three years in a row, there are a bevy of options available to the Board of Education, one of which is to restructure and privatize.  In fact, many skeptics had presumed that NCLB was some grand scheme to destroy public education as we know it.

The 2014 deadline was unrealistic from the start.  Right now, in some of our best schools, students are still only coming in at 80% proficiency in reading and math.  In the worst schools it is closer to 40%.  If NCLB was left to play out, 2014 would have been a year of school busing (NCLB encourages choice for parents of failing schools) and chartered schools.  That may be a dream for some, but I think most would agree that it would be a logistical nightmare, especially for children whose education benefits from stability.

What is somewhat concerning about the Obama Administration's "waiver" is that is came with some rather imposing strings, one of which is a National Curriculum.  Seeing that most schools would not have passed muster under NCLB, this curriculum is most likely coming to a school near you.  Despite the mission creep of the Department of Education, the curriculum has always been a protected element of state sovereignty (ok, maybe not in Maryland, but still).  There could be plenty of benefits from a National Curriculum, developed by the very best education experts this Country has to offer, but it is a significant retreat of state rights at the end of gun (federal education funding).

This will be interesting to watch.  President Obama's Race to the Top Program seems to have been a rather successful way of using the least amount of federal dollars to get the most significant improvements.  This new step changes that.  I don't know if there is a visceral change in the way parents view the source of their child's education, but to the extent there is, expect to feel it in the next three years.

LINKS

Former Terp Torrey Smith goes nuts in St. Louis as the Ravens win 37-7.  I do not mean to be a Negative Nancy, but the end of that game did not look particularly pretty.  People are calling this a "complete game", but I don't know if I do.  Maybe I'm still smarting from Tennessee.

Please take some time to check out this tremendous website advocating for the Oakland Mills Bridge to connect Columbia across Rte 29.

As he goes to trial on corruption charges, Senator Currie's lawyers are expected to argue that his job with a grocery chain was an "ethical lapse" as opposed to an "illegal bribe."  Maryland citizens have come to learn that corruption charges normally don't go anywhere and I wouldn't expect any differently here.

The restoration of historic Oakland Manor, and subsequent rental of the same, must be considered as one of CA's more significant successes over the past few years.  The same was attempted with another historic house with much less success.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane checks out the Robinson Nature Center and gives a glowing review (with pictures, of course).

Bonus Featured Blog Post: Sarah puts out a great post (with charts!) outlining the various ways we Howard Countians get to work.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sun Death Throes

Starting October 10, the Baltimore Sun will be charging for online content.  Similar to the New York Times Pay Door, readers will get 15 free reads per month (NY Times offers 20, but has more content, so I guess it all works out).  I had presumed that my paper subscription would earn me access to the online content, but was quickly removed of that notion in the FAQ linked above, which states that paper subscribers will only have to pay $29.99 a year for online access.

Ignoring the indignation of Internet content not being free (as my generation has learned to expect), I'm just not sure it's worth it.  I also have a hard time viewing this as a prudent business decision when this same paper is double covering Howard County with Sun and Patuxent reporters, as it has for the past five years.  Unfortunately, the Sun has seen the rise of sites like Maryland Reporter, Investigative Voice, and Patch as an indication that they should assert their superiority rather than distinguish themselves with content.  In fact, I think The Sun is most likely pushing its readers into the arms of bloggers; that class of quasi-columnists who are paid with influence rather than economic reward.

A smarter business model may have been to reverse the table, actualize those who are writing for free as Sun columnists (a la the Washington Post Metro section), increase content, and THEN look at pricing.  I'm looking at the paper edition of this Sunday's Baltimore Sun, and it probably wouldn't stop a door from closing, yet you want me to pay more?

I'm probably not going to pay the online fee, which means I won't be linking to any more Sun articles after October 10.  Bloggers do this for a hobby and really aren't looking to take on any more overhead to promote another business.  There is enough "out there" that I don't have to.  The Sun is collapsing under its own weight, mostly due to its inability to adapt, or even consider the need to do so.  It's sad.

Friday, September 23, 2011

School Panel Proffer

I spent my lunch break catching up on the past week's worth of news.  I was heartened to see that I was in attendance for a good amount of the action on the local scene, and am not interested in Simon Cowell's new foray into replicating his prior successes.

I would normally say I "stumbled upon" this piece by TJ Mayotte about the Board of Ed Study Commission, but it would be more accurate to say I "sought out" his column, as I normally do, to see what's on TJ's mind this week.  Seeing all of the commentary-turned-name-calling about the Study Commission, you would think the Board of Education was a code word for "death panel" and that the Commission's recommendations were broadcast as executive mandates.  They aren't.  In fact, I would presume that the name-callers have not taken the time to consider how this recommendation was going to be turned into law or whether they may have a say in the political process.  It is much more exciting to make Nazi analogies.  "Ok, you can be FDR, but I want to be Churchill.  Aw, come on, you're always Churchill!"

I think TJ provides a reasoned argument for why this mud slinging is really besides the point.  We're talking about our County's most precious resource -- Howard County schools.  When hour long recesses are taken after Board members walk out of meetings, we are messing with fire.  Has anyone considered that this Commission may have been formed to assure candidates for Superintendent that their primary responsibilities will not be "Defendant" and "Chaperon"? 

All the same, I think "diversity" is a smoke-screen, and one that the detractors seem to have bought into hook-line-and-sinker.  This Commission is about opening up the back of the machine, fiddling around with its parts, and trying to make it work.  It is politically risky.  It is going to cause conflict.  But if it ends up making our Board a better functioning system, the goal has been met, and we are all better for it.

Put the outrage aside for a second and remind yourself of the police, judges, and military that hold much more individual power than Board of Education members, yet are "appointed" by other members of our government.  This is not some obscene power grab.  It's a suggestion.  One that you will have ample opportunity to oppose.  And hopefully, in doing so, you will also stay mindful of the fact that the right you enjoy was not available to those who faced the Nazi's.

CA Board Recap: September 22, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: [7:30 pm] -- I was late
End Time: 11:37 pm

I flew over the Columbia Lakefront about fifteen minutes before the meeting was to start.  It was a helpless feeling, but I couldn't help but enjoy the site of Columbia at dusk from above.  If I had not been expressly barred from using electronic devices, I certainly would have taken a picture.  It is one of those images where if you squint just right, you can see what the "City" of Columbia would look like.

We had a good amount of resident testimony last night, so I will just incorporate it into the subjects that were covered.

Splashdown

The Board voted 9-0-1 8-0-1 (one abstention; one absence) to allocate approximately $120,000 to the repairs necessary to bring Splashdown online this year.  Unfortunately, Staff has estimated the bidding process and eventual repairs will take approximately 120-180 days.  I would like to think that this was not an emotional vote, but you could definitely feel a deflation in the room when that estimate was offered.  I was also personally concerned that this expenditure may only keep Splashdown operational for one year, as opposed to the three to five that were bandied about during out discussions, but I attribute that to my profession, which normally requires that I think in worst-case-scenarios (Tell that to the aspiring lawyer in your family).  Nonetheless, I think this is a prudent response to a (somewhat) unexpected crisis.

Huge thanks to the three residents that came out to speak in support of Splashdown.  I was confident that the Board was going to allocate the money before I walked in today, but it became all the more important that we do so after hearing how important this community fixture is to Wilde Lake and the rest of Columbia.  Phil Kirsch also provided convincing advocacy for his Village.

It is clear that this is another band-aid amongst a legacy of at least two others.  Splashdown needs a permanent fix and I would be surprised if the Board approved anything in the Aquatics Master Plan (due this January) that would fundamentally change what is offered at this location.  There has been some talk of taking down the flumes and broadening the scope of the Swim Center "Water park", but I tend to think that this Board is better off "staying home" when it comes to the brave new world of Aquatic amenities.  Certainly there will be the opportunity for expansion and enhancement, but after hearing the residents speak tonight, we would be wise to honor what already exists.

Symphony Woods

There were times when I never thought I would type this, but -- We passed Phase One.

I will acknowledge my own trepidation about this plan.  We will be accountable for ensuring that our Plan connections with the surrounding property owners.  At present, the Plan may fall short.  However, if you'll note the green circle at the bottom of the cruciform, you will see that it would tend to line up perfectly for a potential entrance to Merriweather.  That spot is currently reserved for a cafe, and to the extent a link with MPP was incorporated, it is to the left of the image, where a zoomed in reading of the text will reveal a passive aggressive "Move MPP fence off CA property", which is not necessarily the first step to a linking partnership, but I am hopeful.

I also want to note the zealous advocacy of Alex Hekimian and Gregg Schwind from last night.  They were very concerned about the 43 trees slated for removal and fought hard to reject this Plan in favor of one that would do more to preserve the current status of the park.  I do not agree with their position on Symphony Woods, but I admire and respect their convictions and hard work to advocate for their position.  Nonetheless, there has been a bit of a misinformation campaign on this point that is due some clarification.  20% of the 43 trees were designated by arborists as being in need of removal due to the health of the tree.  Also, as Cy Paumier noted last night, we're "only" left with 300+ trees after these 43 are removed.  I think tree removal is a necessary consequence of trying to improve on this property to create a "nature place" that is actually used and appreciated by our residents.  Right now, it just is not that place.

CSS

CSS is dead.  Long live CSS.  (Just kidding).  After months of closed meetings, I can finally say that CA has engaged an "Off the Shelf" software provider to establish a customer service interface for our residents.  For those new to the game, this is huge.  Right now, the only way to reserve a round of golf or update your CA membership was via telephone call, snail mail, or carrier pigeon.  To the extent Columbia is referred to as a 1970's Living History museum, we were maintaining that legacy.  But now, we have Phoenix.  (Yes, that is its name).

I'm afraid I will have to cut this a little short so that I can run down to Montgomery County for a status conference ("No time to say hello, goodbye!"), but I think I hit all of the high points.  This was a good, however long, meeting and I was happy with what we accomplished.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!!  Go RAVENS!!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Link Hiatus & Splashdown

This week has been crazy.  Yesterday I was taking a train to Philly.  Today I am taking a plane to Pittsburgh.  For those who have been kind enough to incorporate this blog into your morning ritual, I apologize for the link hiatus, and assure the links will be back next week.  We have another CA Board meeting tonight, which is guaranteed to be a doo-hoo-hoozy.  The agenda may be found here.

I'm anticipating a good amount of time for Resident Speakout.  There is clear frustration over the temporary closure of Splashdown.  I only hope that members of the Board do not try to repurpose this testimony to criticize the staff.  While it may feel like the sky is falling with the varied issues that CA seems to be facing on a weekly basis, everyone should recall that many of the CA amenities were built around the same time...meaning their repairs have come due around the same time.  There is no doubt that CA should have acted on this sooner, but between Symphony Woods, the varied green initiatives initiated by the Board, CSS, lake dredging, and any other idea that may come to the Board through divine inspiration, this organization has found itself with too many spinning plates.  I think this is an organizational defect with Splashdown being more of a symptom than anything else.

So, while I appreciate the concern and overall frustration, I will continue to look back at a litany of uncontested elections where you had the chance to fix things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Columbia Is Not a Ghetto

I was debating whether to post about tonight's Redistricting Hearing (I am very tired).  But then I saw Sarah's post about "modern racism" and the wheels started turning.  I don't view the term "racism" lightly, but I think Sarah's comments on the subject are very thoughtful and something to consider in our discourse about things like diversity, representation, and Columbia.

I signed up to testify at the Redistricting Hearing tonight.  Not due to any political implications or party politics, but because I wanted to see my community left whole in the Council maps.  Map 200, known to be the map most favored by Democrats, splits Dorsey's Search into two pieces.  That doesn't make sense and, to the extent there are political motivations there, it just isn't right.

Unexpectedly, I ended up starting my testimony with the words "Columbia is not a ghetto."  You see, the gentleman that testified immediately before me had sent an e-mail to the Redistricting Commission letting them know that he did not want to be in the same Councilmanic district as "the ghetto that Columbia has become."  When he was asked about this e-mail by a member of the panel, he confirmed that belief and said that while he used to go to the Village Centers with his family, these businesses are now "boarded up" and no longer safe.  A woman that testified before him had suggested that illegal immigrants are "living in chimneys" in order to attend Columbia schools (yes, that is what she said).  Another gentleman couldn't stop himself from offering shouts of support for the fact that Columbia is, in fact, a ghetto.

Funny thing is, there were also a number of people there from Columbia.  They managed to offer their testimony without tearing down their County neighbors.  All they wanted was for their communities to stay whole.  Even after hearing these remarks, they refrained from impugning Laurel, Elkridge, Ellicott City, or any other zip code that may allow for the attachment of derogatory slurs. 

It's an old debate and I don't expect it to stop any time soon.  I just wonder about the substance.  What are we really talking about? What makes it an interminable debate?  Is this really about blue street signs, or is there something more?

It was certainly disappointing to hear a community that many of us love called a "ghetto", with figments of boarded up businesses and chimney-dwelling school children.  It was all the more enlightening to see the response.

Flip-a-delphia & Charter Review

No morning post today.  I had to take a 6 am train up to Philadelphia for a deposition and then ride back down this afternoon.  Tomorrow I fly to Pittsburgh, which will most likely wipe out tomorrow's morning post.

We had another public hearing for the Charter Review Commission last night.  Aside from our examination of the referendum provisions, the biggest issue appears to be the expansion of the County Council.  It has certainly been interesting to hear the various positions on whether or not two Council-members should be added and, if so, whether they should be at-large or districted.  The one thing that has become clear is that our Council positions may be over-burdened as part-time positions.  If we allow this to continue, the position will self-select members of our community that have jobs with such a uniquely flexible character as to make "part-time" a qualification as opposed to a description.

That's a dilly of a pickle and I look forward to hearing additional input from the community as to whether the solution is full-time Council positions or more people doing the same work.  I have significant concerns about how the governance of our County would change if the Council were expanded.  This Council has placed an emphasis on unanimous votes, which would seem to be outside the realm of possibility for a larger group.  Seven members increase the likelihood ruling cliques and minority extremes.  That dynamic gets even more tricky when you think of having at-large members serving in the same capacity as districted members.  I have not made up my mind on this subject, nor will "my mind" be all that important once it is time to vote, but this is something that I hope you all will give due consideration.  It will have a significant impact on our County and how you are represented.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Downtown Partnership (Tuesday Links)

As the development of Downtown Columbia progresses, I am sure our priorities will morph from one focus to another.  However, at this early stage, there is one focus that trumps all others: Partnership.  For Downtown to "work", the various property owners and lease-holders will need to develop strong bonds of partnership with established lines of communication.  These things are more important than any building or planning schematic.  In fact, I would suggest that those projects not built out of the bonds of partnership are going to be tripped up and called back to the starting line.

There is reason to be concerned that this may be the fate of Symphony Woods.  One of the primary criticisms by the Design Advisory Panel was that the current plan does not "connect" with the surrounding properties.  I've previously noted that this would not seem to be a fair criticism in light of the fact that the surrounding properties have yet to submit plans for redevelopment, but the underlying truth seems to be that their actions or inaction are immaterial.  It is a necessary function of any proposal to have incorporated the input, desires, and criticisms of surrounding property owners as if they were sitting on the Design Panel or whispering in DPZ's ear.  The County is not interested in fostering 30 year feuds by treating each property owner as an island.  The merit of each proposal will rest squarely on its ability to showcase, promote, and, well, appease its neighbors.  Not the fancy drawings for how nice the future looks.

The CA Board has spent a significant amount of time talking about what will go inside Symphony Woods.  We will almost certainly be doing so again on Thursday.  It is beginning to look like these conversations may not be as important as the ones we should be having with Merriweather and Howard Hughes.  All of the interactive fountains and carousels in the world may not be as important as the entrance to Merriweather when Jimmy Buffett is playing.  That's not diminishing Symphony Woods.  It's augmenting Columbia.

LINKS

The Howard County School Board Study Commission has reached its verdict: Five members elected by County Council District with two members appointed by (To be decided).  You can expect the appointment of members to draw some fire, as this effectively takes the vote out of the hands of the people for about 1/3 of the Board.  I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this.  I like the idea of Councilmanic Board elections, as I think this will give citizens an opportunity to better educate themselves before voting (should they choose to do so is another question).  My instinct is to be uncomfortable with the appointment of members that had previously been elected, but I think there is potential benefit here as well, where we may have members who find themselves on the Board more out of merit than the ability to out-hustle their opponents.  Either way, for someone who pays entirely too much attention to local politics, this is exciting stuff.

Baltimore City schools are refocusing on school attendance and recruiting volunteers to help.  Any time you can actualize a volunteer base for a public good, you are doing something amazing.  I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Governor O'Malley opposes the Constellation-Exelon merger as something that could be harmful for BGE customers...unless they commit to substantial renewable energy projects in the State.  "I am totally against you planting that tree in your front yard unless you agree to mow my lawn for the next two summers."

There is a saying in politics that the only thing you get from moving to the center is more attacks from both sides.  President Obama's debt plan is being attacked by the Federal Employee Unions and government contractors for changing provisions applicable to federal retirement accounts.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB has a less than pleasurable experience at a local food truck, but happily welcomes Jason's Deli to the Columbia food scene.  As my wife has repeatedly pointed out, Jason's Deli is known for giving away free soft-serve ice cream.  That's worth a visit all by itself.

That's all for today.  I am in a much better mood to start off Tuesday, which is important since I will be logging approximately seven hours of travel over the next three days.  Tomorrow I go to Philadelphia and Thursday I will be heading to Pittsburgh.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ugh (Monday Links)

Well Ravens Fans, the quest for an unbeaten season ended in Tennessee. 

LINKS

There has been a series of shootings in Baltimore over the past 12 hours.  As Baltimore is celebrating a historically low crime rate, it makes you wonder if this has resulted from government action or just straight up chance.

800 people ran or walked through the Ft. McHenry Tunnel to raise money for the Special Olympics.  I've always wondered if this race is made more difficult by the car exhaust that must permanently hang in the air.

If you are a juror in a high verdict case, the lawyers may be checking out your Facebook status.

President Obama has found himself in a messy scandal at just the wrong time.  I think the Solyndra debacle should be fresh in everyone's mind as we discuss Invest Maryland.  It is never a good idea for the government to pick winners in the private sector.  Water gets muddied. 

A mile and a half stretch of main street Ellicott City was covered in liquid manure on Sunday.  It is described in the article as "Disgustingly Epic."  Something about this incident made the Baltimore Sun say "We need Dan Rodricks to cover this."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow starts of "Veg Week" with Sushi Sono's vegetarian roll.  I have to presume that if you go to Sushi Sono and order the Vegetarian Roll, you are at that restaurant under duress.

If it wasn't apparent from the post, I'm not in a very good mood.  Stupid sports.

Have a great Monday doing what you love.  I will be doing my best!

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Dog Ate My Blog Post

While that may be impossible, he definitely ate something and that something did not agree with his stomach.  Jane and I were up all night, including numerous "Can you clean that up while I get him outside?" and one twenty-minute 3 am steam-cleaning of the downstairs carpet.

Needless to say, the blog posting time was sacrificed in favor of having four hours of sleep to start the work day.

It's Friday.  So I got that going for me. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Public Testimony and Deliberative Politics (Thursday Links)

Yesterday was a whirlwind, but also a lot of fun.  Some people say that Facebook has devalued the "Happy Birthday."  I disagree.  Each and every one of the little one liners I received made my day a little better.  Same goes for the blog comments.  Thank you, everybody.  It was a great birthday (despite nearly everything at work fighting for the opposite).

I was able to finish my day at a Public Hearing for the Charter Review Commission.  It was great to see so many passionate citizens take time out of their day to comment on the work of the Commission, and very fulfilling to know that our work over the past three months has traction with the public.

It will be interesting to see how the testimony affects the work of the group.  As I noted in the CA context, public testimony has a genuineness and persuasive power that may not otherwise exist within the deliberative body itself.  "This is my idea.  I care so much about this idea that I have come out here to spend my free time advocating for it."  With an unpaid volunteer Board/Commission, the argument can certainly cut both ways, but I'm not sure it does in practice.  That's not to say that the testimony is accepted as "truth", but it certainly is less easily dismissed.

As such, I would strongly recommend all of you to use this element of engagement when the opportunity arises.  For many, that will be the Redistricting Hearing next week.  For others, it may be the next County Council meeting.  Your positions may not always be accepted, but there's an odd chance that you may turn a heart or two.  That's powerful stuff.

LINKS

I missed this yesterday, but there was a surprise upset in the Baltimore City Council Primary, with Belinda Conaway losing to challenger Nick Mosby, an electrical engineer.  With such a low turnout (~27%), upsets were bound to happen, but I'm not sure anyone would have predicted someone with the name "Conaway" to lose.  They are Baltimore City political royalty and while I can't comment on their aptitude for public service, it is good to see the political establishment get upset from time to time.

The Sun investigates police escorts for sports and entertainment personalities, after the crash of two Baltimore City motorcycle police.  Long time readers know that I've never been a big fan of police being used in this fashion, but when I saw that the Baltimore Raven cheerleaders had requested escorts, I almost spit out my Edible Arrangement turned breakfast.

The Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is looking into ways to raise transportation funds.  You will not be surprised to hear that "you" are being considered as a funding source.

Both of the HoCo homicides from this past week have suspects in custody.  A correction from yesterday -- there were 5 homicides in Howard County in 2010, not 4.  (Credit to David Greisman for the correction).

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ gets out his foil hat, dons it appropriately, and expresses his concern about signs popping up around Elkridge and some proposed construction that would fit quite well with an (Facility that shalt not be named).

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.  I'm going back to the unbirthdays for a bit.  Hopefully they are less hectic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thirty (Wednesday Links)

Today is my thirtieth birthday.

I've typed and deleted so many lines to start off this post.  I feel as if I should write something profound about this milestone, while also self-effacing and including the acknowledgment that many of you thought I was older (sorry).  My twenties have been an awkward time for me, stuck between wringing the nectar out of "childish things" while taking on significant responsibilities that have asked more and more of my time. 

I'm very thankful for a rewarding career, good friends, a supportive and loving family, and an amazing wife.  I'm also thankful for all of you.  This website and the ability to interact with such amazing strangers (some less so than others) has been a true joy.  I sometimes wonder if I define the blog or the blog defines me.  That consideration has changed as time has gone on, which seems to be an aspect of writing that crosses all mediums.

Thank you all for your support.  What would really make my 30th Birthday a success would be to put more money in the hands of those looking to live a better life.  Please consider donating towards the Project, which can be found on the right hand side of this screen.  There is still a lot of work to do.

LINKS

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake won her first Mayoral Primary with 52% of the vote.  Bernard "Jack" Young retained his seat as City Council Chair, despite possibly not living in the city.  To the extent I've been able to talk with Baltimore City primary voters, they are very practical and not inclined towards change.  Outsiders, such as we are, can't understand their approach to City governance, which is that many of their problems are unsolvable and the closest you can get to status quo, the better off you will be as an elected official.  That's sad, but it makes a lot more sense than handing a very delicate and volatile City over to revolutionary ideas.

I was surprised to see that the teenage girl that pled guilty to the assault of a transgender woman in Rosedale last April was sentenced to five years in prison.  That is a hefty sentence for a crime that may otherwise incur a weekend in jail or a $1,000 fine.  It just goes to show that when committing a crime, you would do well not to commit a politically sensitive crime.

A few hours after Howard County Police reported that the women found shot in Long Reach had died, another homicide found itself on the Howard County rolls, as a man was found stabbed on Harper's Farm Road.  As the article notes, we have it the homicide total for 2010, which was four.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB provides a run down of the various Dem Gubernatorial Candidates, including one that goes to work in Ellicott City.  This has been one of my favorite conversations recently. 

I would be remiss if I did not note that there will be a Public Hearing for the Charter Review Commission TONIGHT at 7 pm in the North Laurel Community Center.  I will be late, since my Village Board also meets at 7 pm.  Happy Birthday to me!!

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

HoCo Redistricting Maps Released

First off, huge thank you and congratulations to the Howard County Redistricting Commission for all their work so far.  This is very important and it is appreciated.

Second, here are the maps:

Map 100 -- Sure to be the most discussed map out of the three.  This districting scheme would create Jess-elk-umbia District 3, composed primarily of those communities along Route 1.  It seems apparent both from the shape of the district, and the quotes in Lindsey McPherson's piece in the Flier, that this was a district advocated for by the Republican members of the commission.  Honestly, their logic is sound and I think the fine people of Elkridge would do well to come out in support of this map.  It won't pass, but I agree with the various quotes from the GOP members that this is a subject worthy of discussion -- Does Route 1 get the attention it deserves.

Map 200 -- This seems to be the map that the Blue Team prefers and one that will most likely draw some testimony from yours truly.  Dorsey's Search should remain in District 4 with the rest of Columbia.  I understand that the Dems wouldn't mind seeing District 1 a little more blue, but not only would you be putting this area of CA lien-holder property on an island in D1, but you would also be splitting the Dorsey's Search community, which includes Fairway Hills on the other side of 108, into two pieces.

Map 300 -- Let's call this the Goldilocks map.  It's just right.  A little shift here, a little shift there, and just about all the Districts have nearly equal populations, with a little more for District 5.  Map 300 seems perfect for the passing.

CNN GOP Tea Party Debate Recap (Tuesday Links)

"I'm going upstairs because neither of the things you are watching is fun." -- Jane, September 12, 2011

I spent most of last night switching between Monday Night Football and the CNN Tea Party debate.  Before any of you worry about the equity of the HCR Household television distribution, I assure you that I am up to date on the Beekman Boys, Real Housewives, and various other "wife favorites" (which thankfully does not including anything with "Dancing" in the title).

A few thoughts:
1.  Rick Perry seemed to have won that debate.  There was a five minute period where it felt like every single candidate took a swing at Perry like a $5 pinata over his vaccination law, but he seemed to handle it with composure, almost as if this was something he expected to have to endure in order to make it through the night.  Please don't take this as any sort of endorsement of the man, but every time he locked horns with Mitt, his one liners zinged more than Romney's.  Nonetheless, it became clear tonight that the two front-runners for the GOP nomination have significant contradictions in their positions on government programs that they have criticized in the past.  Someone must have reminded Rick Perry that older Americans are pretty consistent voters and may not be thrilled to hear that Social Security is in his cross-hairs.

2.  Jon Huntsman is in Pawlenty mode: Attack everything you see.  I can't see him staying in this race for more than another month or so.  His campaign is not large enough or entrenched enough to give him any real prospects of making up ground in the primaries.  Last night just seemed like a sad ending for a smart man.

3.  Dear Michele Bachmann, Last night will be the last time you feel like a legitimate candidate for President.  I hope you enjoyed it.  By the way, what is it with Ms. Bachmann and looking in the right direction?  There were at least three moments last night where all of the candidates were turned left or right and she was looking straight on or in the opposite direction.  This is obviously a small thing that has nothing to do with one's qualification for the office, but it has a lot to do with giving people the impression that "something is wrong" and that they should not vote for you.

4.  I have a fever and the only prescription is the 9-9-9 plan.  Listen, I agree wholeheartedly that our tax code could use some simplification.  However, Hermann Cain makes me feel like he is selling me a car.  I actually think Mr. Cain is one of the smarter people running for office, but unfortunately I'm coming to believe that he thinks the rest of us are stupid.

5.  Tom Brady is made of something much different that the rest of us mortals.  That said, I think he is trying to bring a reverse rat-tail haircut into fashion.  He will probably succeed.  It will be called "The Brady" (similar to "The Rachel" from the '90's) and will be most popular with yuppie males in their 30's.  Gentlemen, start your bang growth.

6.  Ron Paul supporters -- wait for his son.  This man cannot be elected President.  Whatever the merit of his ideas, he seems unable to communicate them in a way that does not seem absolutely insane.  I can think of many horrible things that would happen if we let air traffic control, drug regulation, and monetary policy become decentralized.  I cannot think of one good thing.

7.  Anyone else notice that Rick Santorum appears to have moderated his views in order to run for the Republican nomination for President?  I remember him being much further to the right.

QUICK LINKS

Jodi and I finished our 13th Episode of I Can Fix That, this time talking about jobs.  We hashed out one of the primary background issues to getting America back to work -- "Is it still a job if it pays you a significant amount less?"  I tried to push the buck a little bit to stir up conversation, which will assuredly draw the ire of those who will presume I am blaming the jobless.  In order to have a real discussion about this, we need to stop worrying about blame and hurt feelings.

Anyone interested in new ways to solve old problems should read this article about DC's attempt to cut back on welfare programs while rehabbing District owned apartments.  Great idea for getting the homeless into jobs and off the streets.

A woman was found shot in Long Reach.  My sympathies go out to this community, which is still reeling from the July stabbing of a Columbia teenager.

The Sun reports the closest thing to an "announcement" Ken Ulman has offered regarding his intentions to run for Governor: “I’m keeping my options open as long as I feel I have more to give to public service,” he said. “We consistently continue to raise money. It’s flattering that folks offer to have events for us.”

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow features a new coffee shop that has opened near my house called Anna's Coffee Roastery.  It is right behind Bangkok Delight in the Palace Shopping Center.  After stopping in (twice) for bagels and lox, I've been meaning to post about it, but I surely would not have had the tremendous bulgogi taco pictures that HowChow provides.  If you can look at those pictures and not put Anna's on your "to eat" list, you are a stronger person than I.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  A big "Hello" to all my fellow alums from Lycoming College who may have been directed here after the blog was mentioned in this month's alumni magazine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sun In the Sky, You Know How I Feel (No Link Monday)

I am in a pretty fantastic mood, folks.  The Ravens had a statement game to start the season against their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Although I'm not normally a fan, Ed Norris seemed to have wrapped it up nicely this morning when he noted that this is a team that has terrorized the Baltimore fan base for years, which made this game feel like a huge victory, despite only being in Week 1.

For anyone that was at the game -- Whooaaa uh oh uh ohhhhh ohhhh.  Whooooaa uh oh uh ohhhh ohhh.

Have a fantastic Monday.  I know I will.

Friday, September 9, 2011

CA Board Recap: September 8, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 10:45 pm (Approximate)

This was a good meeting.  There is a new mantra trickling its way through Board deliberations: What is the problem we are trying to solve?  Aimless deliberations still occur, but when this question is posed, the Board will tend to herd the various cats back into one pen and create action points from there.  We still aren't asking the question of "How involved should ten volunteers from various walks of life be in the operations of a multi-million dollar corporation?", but I am happy to leave that for (a little) later.

Budget Requests

I truly appreciated the opportunity to hear residents speak about requested programs or amenities for their Villages.  It goes to the heart of CA's capacity (and ongoing efforts) to do great things for our residents and our community.  Hearing these requests directly from the people affected by the Board's decisions is much more instructive than hearing the postulations of a Board member who proffers that they are representing a community interest.  It has nothing to do with trusting the Board member and much more to do with the genuineness of the need.

Amongst these requests was a plea from a long-time resident of Columbia who was "aging in place."  He requested that CA look into more programs for seniors, including a senior discount.  This has been a hot subject amongst Board members recently, but with respect to that written above, I thought it was more the interest of a Board member seeking to represent a particular demographic than an actual need of our community.

I am hesitant to start crafting CA discounts for any segment of Columbia's population that is not needs-based.  This organization has a substantial record of providing discounted and no-cost services to low-income residents in order to enrich the lives of all Columbians and not just those who can afford our facilities.  However, these discounts, to my knowledge, do not attach to increase lower income resident participation in our gym plans or other higher end amenities, which is why I hesitate to extend discounts for those programs to seniors.  This is a growing population that very well may constitute near 40% of Columbia's population in the not-so-distant future.  At such, this would seem to be a heavy burden to put on those residents who would not qualify for the discount.  While the numbers have yet to be crunched, "nothin' for nothin'" is a good guess.  Any proposed discount would cost money and it would be at the expense of additional participation elsewhere.

I have no doubt that this Board is interested in increasing senior participation and making CA more focused on this demographic.  I also have no doubt that there will be some financial metrics involved to incentivize participation of seniors.  As to whether a CA-wide senior discount is necessary, I'm not sure we should ask Columbia residents to take that on just yet.

Employee Compensation

In past years, the CA Board has set a "Maximum Salary Increase" for all employees, which is then used during year end evaluations for pay increases and bonuses.  Last night we were tasked with looking at a new way of determining pay increases to allow additional flexibility for our leadership staff.  My view on this item is that Staff should have the steering wheel, but the Board should get the gas pedal.  I have very little experience in personnel management or the various areas of expertise that this organization takes on.  I see no role for myself in determining what employees have earned.  However, I am comfortable with the Board's remaining budgetary role of determining what CA can afford (with the advice and guidance of Staff).

I was particularly proud of how the Board handled this item.  There were multiple attempts to bring the Board into the nitty gritty of salary and bonus structure, but the Board deferred to Phil Nelson, who had offered a list of guiding principles that would be used to determine salary and bonus structure.  The Board chose to edit Phil's proposal, which seemed to me to have more to do with semantics than substance, and ask that this proposal be resubmitted for approval.

This is exactly the type of Staff Originated action that I am interested in pursuing.  Receive input from the professionals, review/edit, pass or deny.

Columbia Association/County Services

One question that Board members hear a lot is "What is it that CA does as opposed to the County and vice versa?"  It is a muddy area, especially when it comes to recreational space.  Board Member Alex Hekimian created a fantastic table noting the various services offered by each and potential for overlap.  The Board has since requested (informally) that this table be reviewed by Staff for a possible future document clarifying the various roles of each for our residents.

Nonetheless, the conversation seemed to be looking toward whether CA should be asking more from the County, which made me uncomfortable.  The organization is focused on strengthening partnerships with the County Government and local stake-holders.  It is very difficult to go into these efforts with  objectives for reciprocation.  The Board did not take action here, but my hope is that the unstated goal will be to allow the External Relations Committee to continue its efforts in building partnerships with the understanding that those partnerships will be two-way streets.  CA will be asked for cooperation on certain items and the County will be asked for the same on others.  It is all a matter of finesse, and I am quite certain that this Board gets that.

The Board also reviewed the tax filings for CA, which is one of our primary responsibilities as a Board.  Outside of a very informative presentation by CFO Susan Krabbe, there was not much in the way of Board discussion.

That's all for today.  In light of the meeting, I did not have an opportunity to watch President Obama's job's speech, but would encourage those of you who did to continue your conversation in the comments below.  I also hear that the School Board had quite a meeting and am hoping that another blogger takes that on.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It's impossible not to.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

MSNBC GOP Debate Recap (Thursday Notes)

I'm not sure what else was on TV last night, but I always get excited over a good candidates debate.  While saying nothing about the quality of the candidates, I certainly think last night was a "good debate."

The biggest winner is probably Mitt Romney.  I think he reminded a lot of folks why he was the front-runner before Rick Perry came into the race.  Romney took some heavy punches early on over "Romney-care," but after Newt's "Admonition Heard Round the World" (more on that in a second), he was able to go back into his flow of "I can do this."

The second biggest winner would have to be Newt Gingrich.  Admittedly, I forgot the man was running, but when he thundered down from the podium at the moderators that they should stop "trying to get us to go after one another," it seemed like he took control of the debate.  That may be a big reason why the moderators did not go back to him for many answers.  Nonetheless, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney both seemed to get the point and stopped picking out each others' eyes after spending the first seven minutes or so in a full on candidate cock fight.

I won't say Rick Perry was a loser, but the man is not all that great at speaking off the top of his head.  You could tell that his advisers told him before the debate that no matter what question he's asked, he should make it about the economy.  That was good advice, but there is a boundary, outside of which you just look ridiculous.  To the extent anyone is interested in a straight-talking candidate, I don't think Perry is their man.  Brian Williams posed some very important questions about whether the Texas job growth that Perry promotes, which consisted in great part of jobs paying below the poverty level, would be what he would look to create as President.  I think that's something the entire Country needs to consider, but Perry seemed comfortable letting that question hit the bunting behind him, rather than give any real answer. 

Biggest losers go to Michele Bachmann and Jon Hunstman.  I thought Bachmann looked out of her league with answers that oftentimes did not make sense.  As one Twitter post noted last night, Jon Huntsman won the debate for everyone that is not voting in the Republican primary.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Huntsman in the VP seat for a Republican Candidate looking to moderate his image after swinging far right in the primary.

Ron Paul gets honorable mention in the biggest loser category.  Honorable because he really has nothing to lose.  His supporters will follow him no matter what he says.  Last night he gave viewers the heebie jeebies after suggesting that drugs, air control, and airport security should be regulated by the free market and/or independent states.  No thank you.

QUICK HITS

Here is a link for tonight's CA Board of Directors meeting agenda.  Understanding that tonight is the first night of NFL football and for the remainder of folks who may be so politically wonky that they would otherwise attend a CA Board meeting, there is a Presidential address on jobs (probably the most important of his Presidency), I will not expect to see too many of you there.  However, tonight the Board will be hearing presentations regarding budget requests of the various villages and departments of CA.  It should be very interesting.

As originally shared by TJ on Twitter, Thomas Friedman takes George W. Bush to task for "one of the greatest lost opportunities of any presidency — ever."  I normally don't like Friedman, and am tired of him predicting the demise of the United States, but he makes a very good argument, and puts tonight's Jobs Speech in great context.

Speaking of context, for anyone that was in on the Jobs Plan discussion in the comments yesterday, check out this position paper on job growth and what stimulative programs may cost (it just occurred to me that "stimulus" has lost all semantic value in political speech -- where is George Orwell?).  I assure you that it will make you sound so much smarter the next time you are in a political debate.

That's all for today.  I hope that your homes and businesses are unaffected by the flooding.  This is surreal.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ellicott City Rapids

Credit to Mo for sharing this video on Facebook:


This is going to cost some money to clean up.

Setting the Table (Wednesday Links)

By the end of this week, everyone will be talking about "jobs."  The Republican Challengers will be debating their job plans tonight and President Obama will present his strategy tomorrow (so long as he is not bullied out of his TV spot by Alex Trebek).

Leading up to these presentations, I found David Brooks's piece in the NY Times about the "Green Jobs Initiative" to be instructive.  He notes that the attempt to artificially create a "Green Economy" through direct federal investment has been less than successful, and that those start-ups that received such funds have either fled to more favorable corporate environments or collapsed:


Many of the most celebrated green tech companies are foundering despite lavish public support. Evergreen Solar, the recipient of tens of millions of dollars in state support, moved its manufacturing facility to China before filing for bankruptcy protection. 

The U.S. Department of Energy poured $535 million in loans into Solyndra, a solar panel maker backed by George Kaiser, a major Democratic donor. 

...


Late last month, Solyndra announced that it was ceasing operations, laying off its 1,100 employees. The Department of Energy placed the wrong bet, potentially losing the taxpayers half-a-billion dollars. 

Brooks concludes that for the government to encourage entrepreneurial activity, it needs to get out of the way in terms of direct investment, and focus more on "setting the table."  Citing John Lerner of Harvard Business School, he writes "Setting the table means building an underlying context for innovation: funding academic research, establishing clear laws, improving immigration policies, building infrastructure and keeping capital gains tax rates low."

While there is a lot of "um duh" in there, I think the biggest thing to remember, as noted in the op/ed, is that by setting the table, the government loses control.  It can't make a "Green Economy" and instead has to settle for just "the Economy."  With 9% of our workforce unemployed and looking for work, I'll take that.

LINKS

The Sun reports that there are millions of US dollar coins sitting in a Baltimore City vault.

It is yet to be seen whether Baltimore City took in the projected $70 million in income from the Grand Prix that City officials anticipated.  It seems fair to assume that there were some businesses that saw their bottom line boom and others who may have gone through the weekend with a loss due to the congestion and positioning of barriers.  Either way, we're locked in for another four years.

Jessica Anderson of The Sun provides a nice run down of the challenges facing any attempt at Route 1 redevelopment.  As noted here before, the patchwork of small plots, with varying estimates of value by the owners, have effectively prevented much in the way of comprehensive redevelopment.  That is one reason why, despite its detractors, we were truly fortunate that so much of Columbia is owned by one entity.

In a County that tends to be a destination for "school movers", you can be assured that a meeting on school redistricting will be well attended.  The Flier's Sara Toth notes that last night's meeting was attended by over 50 parents.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah discusses "job sprawl" and the projected move of the Social Security Administration to Frederick out of Woodlawn, which had been a projected stop for Baltimore's planned Red Line.  I agree with most of what Sarah says here, but I think the press should stop referring to the "planned Red Line" and instead refer to "an area that has a sign suggesting that at some point in the future, Baltimore City will consider placing a rail line of some kind."

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Laborers (Tuesday Links)

I had a great weekend out of town with a number of my college friends.  As I state often on these pages, I don't get to spend as much time with those friends as I would like, and certainly not as much time as I was able to spend with them as recently as two years ago, so it is normally bitter-sweet to catch-up on all that I've missed.  The "balanced life" is probably a myth or a goal in aspiration only.  But enough about that.

It seems as if the Grand Prix was a success.  I never had a chance to watch it on TV, but estimates seem to place attendance around 150,000 people for the weekend.  No matter what kinds of projections come out regarding how much the City took in over how much it spent, those calculations will not take into account the time lost by Baltimore City commuters while sitting in their cars.  I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer about this, but as I said last week -- one Grand Prix is an annoyance, successive Grand Prix's are an unattractive feature of downtown.

LINKS

The Terps started off the season with a W and some tricked out new uniforms.  When I first turned on the game, I found the new helmets and shoulder-pads in the crest patterns of the Maryland flag to be...well...jarring.  As I watched more, I noticed it less.  I'm certain that Maryland and Under Armour will be panned for this bold new get-up, but it is nice to see something exciting come out of Maryland football, even if it is just about laundry.

Federal education standards, which legally may not be imposed on the states, have found traction in federal grants.  The Sun reports that the new standards promulgated by the Obama administration will now be finding their way into the suburban curriculum, despite the fact that those districts will receive a smaller share of federal funds.  We are in dangerous "if-it-ain't-broke" territory here.

BGE says that all Irene-related power outages should have been restored.

Marylanders who lost trees in the storm are encouraged to get "tree coupons" from the State to replace them

Jay Hancock writes that Maryland has a job gap of 237,000, which is the 15th worst in the nation.  According to the piece, our ability to bridge that gap depends on our State's ability to create "the next Under Armour."  Yikes.  This seems to be a pitch piece for Invest Maryland, which remains a program that I am very uncomfortable with. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  HowChow notes that Korean Fried Chicken has arrived in Howard County.  He also cites a reader who uses "powder" and "fresh" in the same sentence.  It seems like Korean restaurants along Route 40 are popping up faster than I have time to try them -- a very good problem to have.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  It is nice to start the work-week with Monday already having been disposed of.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rankings and Resentment (FRIIIIIDAY LINKS)

Don't look now (ok, you can look), but Columbia just received another accolade, being ranked the 10th best "Perfect Suburb" by CNBC (the merit in ranking levels of "perfect" will be left for another blog).

My wife is from a beach town.  When the Travel Channel was about to list its Top Ten Best US Beaches, it was kind of a big deal in her hometown.  In fact, my brother-in-law left my house early so that he could get home to watch the show with his friends.  I don't really know how it all turned out, but I do know that they took this ranking much more serious than I did. 

What I've come to notice is that these rankings do more harm than good.  I don't get an e-mail from Zillow every time a ranking comes out saying "Congratulations!  Your property value has gone up 1%."  That's not to say these rankings don't make Columbia more attractive, but on a more practical, facts-on-the-ground level, have we seen much in the way of a positive effect other than chest pounding and "We're Number Two" parties? 

Columbia is not incorporated.  We are part of a whole.  Our tax money is Howard County's tax money.  I don't think the rest of the County cares too much about Columbia's refrigerator postings, but to the extent they do, it is resentment.  I've posted many times on this blog that one of the best parts of living in Columbia/Ellicott City is the ability to drive ten minutes and find yourself amongst farmland.  The hundreds of cyclists you'll see on a given weekend is further support of the fact that Columbia does not keep its greatness within its amorphous borders (how do they limit these things, anyway?  Does River Hill get to put this link on their web page?).  There is no hierarchy among our towns, or at least there shouldn't be...but tell that to Forbes, CNBC, and MSNBC.

I understand that whomever in the Tourism Department has been tasked with applying and lobbying for these awards cannot realistically fight for "Howard County" with any chance for success, but I wouldn't mind seeing a little hiatus on the Columbia promotion.  At least until its time to go toe to toe with Eden Prairie again.  Then it's on.

LINKS

The Baltimore Sun offers tips on how to get around the Grand Prix.  I don't even have to read it to tell you that it is a myth.  I know most of the back roads between downtown and Ellicott City.  It took me an hour and thirty minutes to get home yesterday.

Grand Prix racers are concerned with a number of flaws in the course and that the road will be overly bumpy due to train tracks.  (I know it makes you angry to read that, but this is therapeutic for all of us).


Maryland reports a $1 billion surplus.  While I want to welcome this news with open arms, I have never been on to trust government math.  In fact, I would question the use of the term "surplus" when our state government has acknowledged that the Transportation Trust Fund is nearly empty and that transportation projects have been delayed until additional funding can be located.  That would seem to be similar to me saying "I have all this extra money, but I'm probably going to have to put it all towards my mortgage." 

The cynic in me wants to say that Governor O'Malley is playing politics with Virginia's Governor McDonnell, who crowed about his similarly suspect $544 million surplus as a contrast to what was then projected to be a $1 billion short-fall in Maryland.  What a difference a week makes, huh?

Howard Magazine features local businesses that are promoting social causes, including my favorite small business in Howard County: The Wine Bin.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: The Well & Wise Blog gives a run down of local events in the beginning of September.  There are a lot of sites that do this, but I think W&W does it best.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Getting to Why (Thursday Links)

I was listening to a podcast on the way to work yesterday and they were discussing a recently published Leadership/Self-help book called "Start with Why."  The premise of the book is that successful leaders and organizations all have one thing in common -- they can explain "why" they do what they do.

This little nugget is so simple and so obvious, yet when you look at our news and our politics, you get very little "why" (unless you want to include the implied ulterior motives and conspiracies of political commentators).  There is a lot of "what."  What happened?  What will it affect?  What does so-and-so have to say about it?  There is also a splash of "how," in terms of "How did this happen?" (which can be considered a close relative of "what").

But very little why.  That may be because why is personal.  Why may be too nuanced.  I would even imagine that in a lot of circumstances, the leader or organization moving forward on an item can't even recall what the "why" was, which the author of "Start with Why" says is what plagues most failing businesses that had previously seen success.

In politics, I see something a little more Draper-ish.  "If I don't provide the 'why', then everyone can bring their own interpretation to the table and presume that I am acting on their personal belief."  Tax the rich -- why?  Well because that's fair.  No no no, it's not because it's fair, it's because they are in the best position to afford a tax increase without dramatically decreasing their participation in the market.  No, you're wrong, we aren't taxing the rich on purpose, we're just removing loop-holes that tend to benefit the rich; this is all technical.  Wait a second, I just thought we were taxing the rich because it is the populist thing to do?

Smaller federal government -- why?  Well because the government can't do anything right.  I'm sorry, but I disagree with you there.  It is to enable to the laboratory of democracy that was intended by our Founding Fathers for independent states.  Ugh, no that's not right, it's because the federal government does not have the same representative capacity as localities and therefore an overly centralized government effectively takes power out of the hands of the people.  Um...I just like blaming all my problems on Washington, DC...is that ok too?

I wonder if our politicians have been made to explain why more or less in the age of the 24 hour news cycle.  Counter-intuitively, I would suggest that it is less.  The talking heads are all too eager to impute the why without any factual basis for their conclusions.  It's why they exist (there's a "why" for ya).  It's also a good explanation for the overwhelming cynicism across this Country.  None of us really know the "why," and sadly, we are starting to not care.

LINKS

I am so angry at the Baltimore Grand Prix that my blood pressure rises every time I see a word end in X.  If Baltimore leaders find themselves in a position of agreeing to a succession of city wide events that effectively cripple the traffic patterns for months on end, Columbia may end up being a true competitor for businesses who just want to make sure their employees can get to work.

Early voting starts today for the Baltimore City Mayoral...ahem...Primary Election.

There has been an interesting development between challenger Otis Rolley and City Hall wherein his wife is being charged $26,000 for what is claimed to be improper use of paid leave as a city employee.  Here is the "appearance of impropriety" that Baltimore City leaders never seem to be able to get their heads around.  Regardless of when this matter was discovered, it probably should have waited until after the election.  The implied motives would still exist, but having this come up right before the primary is just slimy.

Scientists are calling for a ban on all commercial harvesting of oysters in Maryland.  Sad face.  I'm tempted to say "Oyster depletion is just a theory!" and then ignore the problem until it goes away.  Seems to be working for some people.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ gives a run down of all the scary movies that terrorized his brother when they were kids.  I remember when Large Marge went Large the first time I watched Pee Wee's Big Adventure.  I remember feeling betrayed by a movie that was supposed to be fun and kid-friendly.  I was six.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.  (Although if you work in Baltimore, you probably love it a little less today).