Monday, October 31, 2011

The "Loyal Minority" (Monday Links)

I was having a conversation this past weekend relating to politics when someone said the following line "Well he/she is just being the loyal minority."  I took a second to think about what that meant and then responded that there may be a difference between loyal minority and obstinacy.

A democracy (or even a democratic republic for that matter [bone thrown]) expects and incorporates disagreement.  Despite a preliminary majority on any given issue, our system has incorporated numerous safeguards to protect the mechanism of debate that presumes some ability by the minority to affect that preliminary vote.  You level of cynicism dictates how much you believe that may be possible, but the existence and right of debate cannot be so easily dismissed.  I could name at least three instances on the County level where the preliminary vote would have gone one way, but for debate and/or public testimony that pushed it in the other direction.

However, once a vote is cast, the rights of the minority to use the deliberative body as a means for being heard have been foreclosed.  This is when the opportunity for "loyal minority" emerges, wherein the losing side accepts the majority's opinion, but more importantly, respects the process and the manner in which that vote was created.

I think there is great honor in being a loyal minority.  This is one of the reasons why people like Mr. Dyer frustrate me.  It isn't because I don't appreciate the interest in "not going along with the crowd" or expressing minority view points.  It is entirely because of the fact that elected officials like Mr. Dyer misunderstand their position in the elected body for which they serve. 

The idea of loyal minority in politics appears to be slipping away.  One is never a losing minority so long as the context is the political party and not the legislative body on the whole.  Admittedly, history may show that the loyal opposition was never a respected practice, but I would request that the Civil War not be used for comparison in light of the dramatic exception that I think can be drawn for late 19th Century politics.

And it isn't just divisiveness that abhors respect for the majority.  It is also the fear of being a minority vote.  I've often heard local politicians talk about being on the losing side of a vote as "embarrassing."  I don't get that (obviously).  What is embarrassing would be holding a position that you never represent because you know it won't win the day.  State your case, sing it proud, and go down with the ship.  Just make sure you get back up, dust yourself off, and support the group's ability to make those decisions as you move to the next item on the agenda.

LINKS

Being a Ravens fan is not very fun right now.  If I can sugar-coat it a bit, Joe Flacco seemed to have some sort of revelation in the second half.  As I described it to my brother, "Joe spent the first two quarters thinking about how much he liked Fall.  Then at halftime he realized there was a game going on."

This is somewhat old news, but the County Council is considering a bill to allow a car to be towed after one unpaid ticket.  I'm sure people will stomp their feet about this, but I think everyone has had at least one parking ticket in their life that "slipped their mind."  Also, with all the red curb parking I see around Columbia and Ellicott City, some of you have it coming.  For serious.

Two-term incumbent City Council-woman Belinda Conaway is running a write-in campaign after losing in the Democratic primary.  She is running on a remarkably anti-incumbent message: "The mayor, governor and other powers-that-be don't want any independent voices on the city council."

An Op/Ed in yesterday's Baltimore Sun really bothered me.  Discussing the Transportation Trust Fund, the Sun described the raiding of the fund as a "common misconception."  To back this up, the authors wrote that "A recent analysis performed by the Department of Legislative Services found that since 1984, $574.1 million has been taken out of the Transportation Trust Fund and used for general fund purposes. During that time, the state has paid back $279.4 million and adopted legislation that will transfer another $336.9 million from the general fund to the transportation fund in the coming years, for a total of $616.3 million."  Since when are we counting IOU's in state bank accounts? 

I also want to strongly recommend this piece in the Washington Post about how Social Security went "cash negative" much earlier than expected and our politicians are paralyzed to do anything about it.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks at a recent assessment of what neighborhood paths add to home values.  I often think of Columbia's paths as an under-utilized amenity, but for those who do use them, they can't imagine not having those paths accessible.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Halloween and remember that eating too  much candy will give you nightmares. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

CA Board Recap: October 27, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:30 pm (After a Planning and Strategy Committee Meeting from 6:30 pm - 7:25 pm)
End Time: 10:57 pm

This was a good meeting filled with numerous important presentations.  I think our time was well spent and that no one sought to monopolize the time of the members.

PSC Budget Work Session
Prior to the official Board meeting, we held an open PSC meeting to complete our review of the Budget Work Session binder.  On deck were a number of Village Requests for upgrades and additions that Staff had either recommended approval or denial based on their preliminary review.  Among those was a request from my Village, Dorsey's Search, for an extension of The Meeting Room next to the Dorsey's Search pool.

I'm not going to go into the merits of the proposal, of which I believe there are many, but rather address a particular need I see for the Villages on the whole.  Most of our Village facilities were built twenty to thirty years ago.  The structures are still sound, but their purpose may not be the same as was intended when they were built.  Similarly, the clock may have run on the interior of these facilities, making them unsightly or otherwise un-rentable.  I don't think anyone involved in Village management would disagree.  Maintaining this status quo is an unfortunate tug of war amongst Villages, and their representatives, to make sure that no one else gets anything until "my" project is fixed.  For the most part this has only been successful in ensuring that nothing gets fixed.  I would suggest to all of you on Village Boards (or even my fellow CA Board members) that we need to stop fighting one another.  This is undoubtedly self-serving, considering the fact that DS is the one with a proposal on the table now, but my logic is sound.  This isn't some unwarranted extravagant expense.  It is keeping our organization current and making our amenities rentable for further income by the individual Villages.  If it is opposed, fine.  But you may as well vote to foreclose improvements on all ten Villages.  The beat goes on.

Resident Speak Out

Unexpectedly, or at least to me, there were a number of residents there to speak out against the approximately $120,000 in repairs that had been approved for Splashdown.  The Board was accused of making an emotional vote rather than considering the facts regarding participation and use of the facility.

An important item to note at the beginning of this discussion is that CA is not charged with operating at a profit.  This organization is tasked with maintaining a sustainable organization that meets the needs of our residents and also addressing additional societal and community goals that were set out at its founding.  So as much as we do pay attention to balance sheets (and we do), there are softer considerations that need to come into account.

The fact that a number of residents feel the pool is unusable after a weekend of water cooling through the winter air is certainly legitimate and concerning.  I would expect that this issue will be revisited in January when we evaluate the Aquatics Master Plan.  For now, I think the proposed reopening of Splashdown, without having offered anything else in its place, was the right thing to do.

Sister Cities Program: Tema, Ghana

For those that were unaware, the Columbia Association is part of the Sister Cities programs with two sister cities in France and Spain.  Through this partnership, we offer programming to Columbia young adults who may travel to these sister cities as Columbia "ambassadors."  This is run at very little expense to CA and provides a tremendous opportunity for the children of our lien-payers.

Last night we heard a presentation regarding a new proposed sister city in Tema, Ghana.  By the time the presentation was over, I was ready to buy a plane ticket.  Even more impressive were the esteemed members of the committee who are working on this, including former CA President Pat Kennedy.  The Board voted to authorize the committee to move forward in partnering with businesses and taking the next steps to add this third sister city.

Aquatics Master Plan Update
The Board received an update on the progress of the Aquatics Master Plan.  While there has been a lot of talk about the "closing of pools", I think a more accurate description is "repurposing of under utilized pools."  In the Top it Off proposal, three pools would be repurposed, one into an indoor pool for year round swimming, and the other two into spray parks (which can be expected to be a big hit with kids).  I would hope that this slight change in rhetoric may be used by those talking about the master plan so as to avoid the panic among those who don't want to "lose" anything, despite not necessarily using what they had.

Some Board members clearly had problems with the methodology used by the Task Force Staff, particularly some of the survey questions that were used.  While I admit some recoiling in reference to "high costs" for the maintenance of certain facilities, I don't think we can (or should) expect Jane Dembner and the resident committee to phrase all of their questions with the approval of the Board in mind.  The objective is finding data, and if the Board later wants to discount a survey result because of the manner in which it was derived, that is their prerogative.  But to hack and slash at the data on the front end serves literally no purpose.

Transparency Policy

The External Relations Committee approved CA's Transparency Policy, which addresses many of the concerns I have heard from all of you regarding accessibility of information on CA's website.  One of the things I most respect about this Board is their abiding interest in being as open and transparent as possible, often in excess of what is actually required by law.  In conjunction with the website overhaul that we may see over the next two to three years, this policy will allow residents access to greater information, in a more accessible format, than ever before.

Watershed Management

I continue to be impressed with all of the work John McCoy is doing for CA residents and the County as a whole regarding watershed management.  This is a true jewel of the organization and one that residents should be proud of.  I would encourage all residents to visit the Watershed Management website and find out what we are doing and how you can get involved.

Service Reductions Protocol

Every CA Board meeting has at least one agenda item that makes me sit a little straighter in my chair.  This was the shining star of last night's meeting.  One of the Board members proposed a new policy whereby any reduction in service hours would be brought to the CA Board in advance prior to implementation.  The proposal went on to exclude de minimis reductions, but did not define what would be outside the scope of the proposal.

This proposal was very concerning to me.  It moves the Board further into operations and away from policy oversight.  I have an all too easy time imagining the nightmare of having an agenda item for every meeting regarding a change in schedule for one of CA's innumerable programs.  As I said last night, I think this proposal is dangerous for the organization and would put the opinion of amateurs over that of paid staff for the running of a multi-million dollar organization.  Since the proposing Board member was not present, this item was tabled, but I think the Board was mostly on the same page here.

As always, there were a number of smaller items that I was not able to fit in this summary.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!  GO RAVENS!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Expecting Excellence (Thursday Links)

At last night's Columbia Foundation dinner, Board Chair Earl Armiger mentioned something from a previous speech he had heard that seems to wrap Howard County up in two words: "Expecting Excellence."  To paraphrase, being the wealthiest county in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest Country means that our citizens "expect excellence" out of our schools, government services, and (most importantly) our community.

We expect excellence out of one another.  Howard County is not a lazy community.  In fact, while I don't have any proof, I would posit that our 7-9 pm traffic is due in great part to all of the meetings, events, and social gatherings that our community requires of itself.  We work hard and get paid for half.  That is what is expected.

The award that I received last night was designated for non-profit board members between twenty-five and forty-five years old.  I've spent a lot of time over the last two weeks thinking about our age group and what is required of us.  The one word that kept repeating in my head was "more."  As government funds retreat and discretionary income waivers, our generation will be responsible for the direction and survival of the non-profit sector.  Will it grow to meet a growing need? Or retreat in the face of adversity?

President John F. Kennedy once said:
"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

"Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."  I love that.  It makes you want to get up and do something.  Not something easy, mind you.  Something more difficult than you have ever previously attempted.  Something that will test you.

Our generation will have that opportunity ten times over before we are through.  That is nothing to be afraid of.  In fact, if you tilt your head just right, you may even get the view that this is something to be excited over.  Because THAT goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.

LINKS

On a similar note, I highly recommend TJ Mayotte's piece about the Occupy (__) movement in relation to wealthy Howard County.

Mayor SRB has found herself in a pair of Chinese handcuffs.  The more she tries to resolve the Occupy Baltimore...um...occupation amicably, the more the rhetoric on the other side escalates.  You get the feeling that this is what the Occupy folks wanted all along.  Someone to fight.

I can't help but find a sad contrast between the Occupy folks and those twenty miles east who asked police to attend the vigil of a murdered young man.

Those who think poor people should just "eat healthier food" should read this article.  (Also, I don't have kids, but I think the kid in the pea outfit has a similar word to say to the closest chaperone).

Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day: Sarah analyzes some data from the Maryland Department of Planning regarding population growth and development.  On a related note, you really should check out Bill Santos's work with the census data, which reviews the generational changes in Howard County.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Thursday doing what you love (bumped it up a notch this morning).

REMEMBER: Vintage is Friday November 4.  A number of you have been in touch with me about buying tickets, but time is running short.  Feel free to buy online or e-mail me.  It will be a blast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Its a Gas Tax Tax (Wednesday Links)

I was speaking with an local elected official not to long ago about taxes when they told me that an internal poll had been done about five years ago gauging Howard County views on taxes.  Despite having some of the highest taxes in the state, most (~65%) said they were taxed "just enough."  About 30% said they were taxed too much.  The remaining 5% said they were not taxed enough.  Admittedly, these are approximations based on my recollection, but I do recall that last number being significant enough to frame our conversation.  It is no wonder that Republicans have had difficulty getting traction in this County.

With that as a background, it also seems inevitable that there will be a fifteen cent raise in the State gas tax.  I know that this tax is still just a sparkle in Annapolis's eye, but all signs are pointing towards passage.

Most commentators on energy policy favor a gas tax, regardless of whether the municipality has spent its transportation savings on miscellaneous state projects or not.  The idea is that it will encourage fuel conservation, local travel, and mass transit, while discouraging gas-guzzling suburban tanks.  I have not seen much, if any, commentary on the regressive nature of this tax or how it will affect the poorest Marylanders who do not have access to mass transit.  In effect, this tax is moving us closer to a new normal where independent transportation is for the wealthy. 

"Well that's quite a leap, Tom.  I think I left my raincoat back at 'fifteen cent gas tax.' Mind swinging back around?"

But seriously, I think it is hard not to think long term on this.  Gasoline is not going to get cheaper.  Building roads is not going to get cheaper.  As governments build mass transit, they can be expected to encourage its use, if not partially demand it (in the most "soft power" of ways). 

I also would be curious to see how taxes are viewed in relation to economic status.  Do those making six figures have a different attitude towards taxes than those making half that much?  If so, is the acquiescence of the well-off indirectly harming those just trying to get by?

I really don't like anything about this tax.  I don't like how we got here.  I don't like what this will do to poor people.  Before you scoff at $3 a fill-up, think about the last time you donated $3 or more to a charity.  This is money that will be felt by those who can afford it least.  The rest of us will just laugh at the State's broken piggy bank and say "What are ya gonna do?"

LINKS

I highly recommend this piece in the New Yorker about take-away's from the financial crisis, and the lack of any new economic theory. (Warning: The conclusion is that Keynes was saying this stuff all along).

Unfortunately for Occupy Baltimore (and those looking for cheap over-night stays in the Inner Harbor), City Hall has declared overnight camping in public spaces to be illegal.  This is heading for a messy confrontation.

The ACLU claims that Baltimore City discriminates against homeless women by providing three times more shelter beds for men.  With all the problems Baltimore City has had keeping these shelters open, I am scared to see what kind of result this dispute will cause.

David Greisman covers the CA Budget Work Session.  It is important to note that we are only conducting straw votes right now and that nothing has been approved.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane addresses the all-too-controversial issue of transgender youth.  My experience with this subject is that a good segment of our community would rather talk, laugh, or yell so that they don't have to listen about life experiences different than their own.

That's all for today.  Tonight is the Columbia Foundation Awards Dinner and I look forward to seeing a number of friends there. 

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hold Please

For those new to the blog, late night Ravens collapses normally result in missing morning posts.

I'll try to get something together later today. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Out of the Economy" (Monday LINKS)

I watched Ron Paul on Meet the Press yesterday.  What was most enjoyable about this piece was the apparent change in Dr. Paul's demeanor and the phoniness of the same.  One of his advisers must have told him to smile more, which does not pair well with his dour predictions of catastrophic collapse.

I admit that outside of the GOP debates, I have not spent much time trying to get to know Ron Paul.  Ever since he suggested in a debate that each state should install its own FDA, I have known that his proposals "concern" me.  During the interview with sub-par David Gregory (how long does he get to try his hand at this thing?), Dr. Paul repeatedly referred to government spending as taking money "out of the economy."  Ron Paul is a very smart man and I'm sure that if he had been presented with a follow-up question (had Mr. Gregory the capacity to do so) he would have had an explanation for what he meant, but the whole idea is laughable by itself.

Anyone is free to argue against taxes.  You can suggest that they slow growth and impede ambition.  But you really can't argue that government spending is "outside of the economy."  There isn't a separate universe where government spends its money, coming back only to take more of "your" dollars and install freshly made "Bridges to Nowhere" (manufactured in the other universe, of course).  Taxes paired with government expenditures redirect funds. They don't make them disappear.

It seems all the more hard for any of us to have a conversation about where this Country is going if we play these types of rhetorical games that then need to be corrected before real discourse is possible.

LINKS

Ravens are on Monday Night Football tonight!  Are you ready for some...I mean...hooray football!  Ravens 34 Jaguars 3.

Catonsville residents aren't waiting for their County government to work on walkable communities.  They're leading and the Council is following.

The model of using a Community College to better situate students for four-year universities is tried and true.  It also saves money.

High school seniors slept outside at Our Daily Bread to replicate the experience of being homeless.  Based on the quotes in the piece, these students seemed to have been moved by the experience.  Homelessness is a problem that draws you in with its simpleness and then pins you with the prospect for change.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane takes social conservatives to task for their arguments against same-sex marriage and promotes the local chapter of PFLAG.  I hope you have time to keep your eye on the comment box today, Duane.

Before I close, a BIG Happy Birthday to my Dad! 

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  If the work day gets you down, just remember that the Ravens are on tonight.  Unless you root for another team.  Then you are probably just going to have to suck it up.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

OWS: Through the Fog

About two years ago, I read an excellent book that essentially predicted the Arab Spring (down to the Country) called A Path Out of the Desert by Kenneth Pollack.  As with most books on foreign affairs, it has since become out-dated, but one of the central principles of the author's argument was that as the stratification of rich and poor increases, with a diminishing middle, the prospect of revolution becomes greater.  The "spark" normally comes in the form of growing unemployment that eventually reaches a frustrated class of educated workers with no opportunities.

I was reminded of this book when reading this piece in the Washington Post describing the melding of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.  Particularly catching was this line describing the warnings offered to OWS by a former Tea Party activist: "She warned that news coverage would 'focus on the movement’s most repulsive elements.'"

Much scarier than the idea that the "media" is controlled by the left or the right is the more practical consideration that they are controlled by the companies that run ads between segments or along their columns.  While the eventual uniting of OWS and the Tea Party may never occur, I think we can all agree that both efforts have received remarkably similar coverage by the main stream media. 

When I started this blog, I tasked myself with looking beyond the story as presented by the press and trying to find some greater truth that is only available through analysis.  I feel like I may have missed the boat on this one.  I can't say I agree with OWS and I know that I don't appreciate their signs or the way in which they have trashed a segment of the Inner Harbor, but there's something that all of us worker bees should be paying attention to here.

If there is going to be change in the United States, I'm not sure it will be via website, ballot box, or political donation.  Those components may play a role, but most likely it will be peripheral.  People, masses and masses of people, are the essential base element of change.  Our Country has seen dual movements rise up on either end of the political spectrum that represent boiled over frustration.  The stratification of wealth is undeniable, with the only remaining question being whether a government of the people should be tasked with not only protecting, but perpetuating that wealth through subsidy, taxation, and blind-eye regulation.

The Tea Partiers are not fascists.  The Occupy Wall Streeters are not communists.  They're frustrated.  Just like you.  Maybe they've never voted, but they certainly have never seen a vote create the type of change that they are demanding.  Political parties are soma.  This is something else.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Who's Home at Howard Hughes? (Friday Links)

One of the stories that you will hear from a number of people involved in passing the Plan for Downtown Columbia is a description of Greg Hamm, then General Manager of Columbia, telling folks that they should pass the Plan so that "whatever happens to us", Howard County will have legal backing for the hard fought promises that were set forth as a threshold for development.

Greg is gone.  The Plan remains.

I have received word from numerous sources that the Columbia office of Howard Hughes has been going through a consolidation of sorts that has involved the shedding of personnel.  This includes the reclassification of some of the most liked and respected HHC personnel as "contractors."  Even more concerning is the suggestion that yesterday's article in The Sun about the new development of 817 residential units and 70,000 square feet of retail space was a "mistake", which makes sense in light of the fact that HHC has scheduled a Pre-Submission Community Meeting for next Thursday at 6:30 pm.  This account goes on to state that in the midst of re-shuffling, a well-timed call by a local reporter slipped past the gate-keepers to an engineer, who was more than happy to talk about the exciting new work Howard Hughes was planning.

I'm not looking any further than that.  There have been additional thoughts as to what this means in terms of HHC's commitment to community leadership and whether they will be forgoing a community presence altogether in the coming months.  Those are reasonable questions, but not ones that I think we can expect to have answered by a corporation that is not accountable to "us."

After last night's CA Budget Work-session, I walked past the Howard Hughes building to my car.  No building in Columbia holds more promise.  I want to think that and I will continue to think that until I hear otherwise.  But I also know that no building in Columbia holds more fear.

LINKS

Baltimore City's efforts to rescind improper tax credits presents an interesting quandary.  They have thousands of vacant homes that have become an ideal environment for crime and decay.  In addition, the City has thousands of homes in its own inventory, for which it receives no taxes.  Buried in the midst of this article is the following thought: "How much of the additional taxes the city will be able to collect is an open question. If owners don't — or can't — pay the tab, the city could ultimately end up with more homes in its already large inventory of publicly owned vacants."  This is why government is so much more difficult than "right or wrong" answers. 

A bit of a proxy war seems to be going on between Maryland's two Democratic strongholds, Baltimore and South-eastern Maryland, as the debate rages on whether University of Baltimore should be subsumed within the University of Maryland system.  If you've been reading between the lines, there has been a lot of that recently.  PG Dems seemed to view the recently passed redistricting map unfavorably, although many voted for it all the same.  These divisions will most likely become more stark as the Gubernatorial Primary heats up over the next year.

Lindsey McPherson reports that the Howard County Board of Ed will be deferring on whether to use $2 million derived from the alcohol tax on turf fields.  "In deciding to defer a vote, the board plans to get a new list of prioritized capital projects from school system staff sometime in the next month so it can hold a public hearing in December."  The article also puts out the flames regarding whether schools in Republican districts would not receive turf fields.  Executive Ulman is quoted to say that all Howard County schools would be receiving turf fields at a pace of three a year.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  Well & Wise gives a run down of local happenings this weekend.  Make sure to get out there and take advantage of all the free programming that this community provides.

As I noted above, there was a Budget Work Session yesterday, but I didn't feel like there was anything worth reporting back on.  These sessions contain a litany of straw votes wherein everything in the proposed budget is approved and set on for further debate in January.  Personally, I don't think it is a great use of Board time, but that's not for me to decide.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!! (If you can't tell from the late links, this week has been brutal)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You Win, Baltimore Sun (Thursday Links)

My father always taught me to support local businesses.  Even if you could get the same product somewhere else for less money, you had a moral obligation to spend that extra money to make sure that local business would always be an option.  If you could afford it and your business was appreciated, that was the right thing to do.

Yesterday, I sat on the Association of Community Services' Panel for "Meet the New Media."  (I should have posted this yesterday, but I have not been on the top of my game this week).  Also on that panel was Andy Rosen, the content editor for the Baltimore Sun Howard Bureau.  When it was Andy's turn to speak, he said something that really stuck with me.  To paraphrase, "When you put up an article about an important community issue, and the page views go flying up, that is really neat and its one of the best things about what we do."  I was struck by how this base feeling of contributing to the community conversation is universal across platforms of media, especially at the hyper-local level.

It also struck me that in forgoing the pay-wall and cutting off most references to the Baltimore Sun, I was not supporting one of the local businesses that means the most to me.  After hearing Andy say that, this corporate gaff (IMO) was humanized.  This editor and the writers for the Sun aren't in this for the money (if that wasn't obvious).  They write, edit, and publish on the basis of promoting ideals of community news that very few people can put their finger on, despite many efforts on this blog in particular.

I'm frustrated by the pay-wall.  Not because the $30 extra on my print subscription reminds me of a contractor that misquoted on a project, but because I feel like news should not be something that we "afford."  I would never expect a journalist or an editor to work for free, but I would expect the Sun brass to try more creative options before closing the gates and charging admission.  This is an issue of principle, which tend to be the ones that get washed away once the balance sheets get red.

But I can afford it.  And my business will be appreciated.

LINKS

Occupy Baltimore has officially, and incontrovertibly, gone off the reservation.  In their efforts towards self-governance, this small patch of Baltimore has issued pamphlets regarding how victims of sexual assault should report the "incident" to the "Security Committee."  First, how is sexual assault already a problem?  This group has been around for about two weeks and "occupies" about a football field of space.  Second, do the "messages" of this movement really require self-governance?  I hesitate using the word "cult", but it is difficult to read that article (or watch this video) without thinking "Oh, yeah.  That's a cult."  I feel like I've been beaten over the head with "don't dismiss this 'movement'", but this is too far.

O'Malley's proposed Congressional Map has passed the House and will be signed into law as early as today.  Still undecided on how I feel a non-partisan redistricting committee would do with this type of task, but I think you could add that plank to the "good government" platform (abolish legislative immunity, close campaign finance loopholes, stiffer corruption penalties, no pensions) that I advocated for last Fall.  For those disturbed by this map, House Speak Busch can explain the delicate political considerations that went into this process: "It is an emotional process. ... If you were to say it is a gerrymandered map, you started with a gerrymandered map. There is not a perfect process."

Howard Hughes has issued its first proposal under the new plan for Downtown Columbia.  They definitely follow the sports quip "Go big or go home."  This proposal is for 817 residential units and 70,000 square feet of retail space.  By comparison, the "new" wing of the Columbia Mall added in 1999 was approximately 60,000 square feet.  What I find most interesting about this proposal is that it is exactly what proponents had hoped for and exactly what opponents feared. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Providing the best of what local blogs can offer, WB looks into the pesky road block on the 175 exit along 29. For those that don't know Dennis, he is a very nice guy, but you won't like him when he's angry.

That's all for today.  There will be a CA budget work session tonight, but I imagine that the HoCo Loco crew will have their eyes on the Board of Education meeting that "may" touch on something having to do with fake grass and the propriety of providing the same.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Opposite" (Wednesday Links)

I didn't get home until after the GOP Debate on CNN was over, but I thought I would watch the after-debate coverage to see the highlights.  It ended up playing out more like shots from a boxing match than a Presidential Debate (and I think I have lost my taste for fruit). 

After hashing out who "won the debate" (which more and more is seeming like a ridiculous and pointless topic of discussion), John King noted that a good segment of the Republicans watching this debate "are going to think the opposite of whatever we say."  The (presumptuous) suggestion was that there were some Republicans watching, looking to hear what the "lame-stream media", as Sarah Palin so daftly puts it, will have to say about "their" candidates, only to use it as a basis for believing the opposite.

For long road trips, I will normally end up on some talk radio station after all of my regular stations static out.  Last night, after a marathon deposition, I ended up listening to Sean Hannity.  One of the things that fascinates me about Mr. Hannity is that I think he is a truly brilliant person.  So brilliant that he knows exactly what to say and how to build loyalty.  Not just listeners, but loyal listeners.  I've mentioned previously that talk radio has an "emergency-broadcast-system" nature to it, which requires listeners to tune back in to receive further warnings about the decline of the United States and what they need to do to prevent injury in the oncoming collapse.  Sean Hannity nails that.  Yesterday, he was talking about what American's "must" do to save the Country from Barack Obama.  That's some intense stuff!  Sometime during the 30 minutes that I was listening, a young woman called in to say that Hannity "must" say who he supports in the GOP Primary so that "less informed" listeners will know who they should support, and further pleading with him to say "Herman Cain."

Viewed in conjunction, John King and Sean Hannity make the same point.  These debates are immaterial.  The real determinate of who wins the Presidential Primary is the conservative media.  I'm not saying that in a foil-hat way.  I'm saying that because whether or not Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan "saves" taxpayer money will not be based on the handy calculator he may have on his website.  It will be determined by pundits who have been building listener and viewer bases since before Mr. Cain raised his first dollar.  Whether or not Mitt Romney will be able to overcome being the only GOP candidate that has sponsored his own health-care plan will depend on whether Sean Hannity forgives him (as he did in 2008).  The general election may be the space for reasonable folks, but we're not there yet.  After an election in which Republicans felt they went soft and that caused them to lose an election, you're going to see a lot of the Opposite.

LINKS


Grover Norquist was in Annapolis yesterday to help fight against any tax increases during the General Assembly's special session.  Senate President Mike Miller is quoted to suggest that a gas tax is inevitable.  The only question is "how much."

Speaking of the Special Session, the Senate approved Gov. O'Malley's proposed Congressional map 33-13, with one Democrat dissenter.  Are they selling clothespins in Annapolis?

Columbia Patch has a photo of one of Howard County's new speed cameras...along with some suggestions of questionable responsibility regarding how to avoid getting a ticket.  Um, Patch?  Really?

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I meant to link to this before, but TJ continues the argument of whether or not the proposed restructure of the Board of Education was "good" for Howard County students.  Looking back, it is interesting to note how the benefit of the students was an after-thought in the face of potential "disenfranchisement." 

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Turf War Part II

Here is a letter sent by Ken Ulman to the Board of Education on October 14:

Dear Members of the Howard County Board of Education,

In 2010, the Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee of the Board of Education appointed a committee to study the possibility of converting Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) high school stadium fields from natural grass to synthetic turf. The committee found that there are numerous benefits to synthetic fields when compared to natural grass, including dramatically increased playing time, decreased risk of injuries, and lower maintenance costs. In June of 2010, this Board of Education committee recommended working with the County’s Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) – which has converted many of its grass fields to synthetic turf – to discuss options for conversion of the high school stadium fields.

Accordingly, representatives from DRP and HCPSS have for the last several months been working on a partnership to implement this committee’s recommendations and install synthetic turf fields at all 12 high school stadiums.

Nearly all of the jurisdictions surrounding Howard County have synthetic turf high school fields, and many have partnerships that provide for both school and community use of these amenities. The proposal developed by staff, which would need approval before being implemented, is modeled after the very successful county-school system partnership in Anne Arundel County, and it would help address multiple ongoing concerns: namely, a lack of adequate practice fields at several schools, a lack of field space for community leagues and camps, and frequent rain outs and cancellations caused by poor weather.

Over the years, DRP has accommodated schools’ field needs for practices and for alternate locations due to rain outs. Indeed, just this past September after a week of heavy rains, HCPSS had to postpone its Friday varsity football games, but DRP was able to accommodate all make up games with only a few days notice. Because of this existing relationship, the discussions between School System and County staff were easy, amicable, and productive.

As the idea developed during discussions, a few things became clear. The County would fund field replacements through its Recreation and Parks budget in order to ensure that the School System budget could direct more funding to classrooms. Furthermore, the plan called for the County to phase in the replacement of these fields over a matter of a few years, starting first with the schools that had the least amount of available fields on-site. And finally, the schools would get the priority field times for their games and practices, and the community would get access to the fields when not in use by the schools. In short, the plan is a win-win for both schools and the community at large. To be sure, there are still a few details of the partnership that must be worked out, but there is agreement between staff from both entities on these broad concepts and principles.

Things further fell into place after the General Assembly approved additional capital funding for schools. Members of the Howard County delegation lobbied hard in Annapolis to ensure that we got our full share of this additional funding and then worked with HCPSS officials to include funding for improvements at Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake High Schools, as well as the replacement of the grass fields at Atholton and Hammond High Schools, both of which have to send teams off-site to practice, raising safety and other concerns. Last week, the state Board of Public Works officially approved this funding.

Howard County Recreation and Parks already has numerous turf fields, but we also have many grass fields that can be upgraded. If the Board does not wish to pursue this partnership further, DRP will continue to find other ways to expand field capacity in Howard County. However, our preference is to find a solution that works for schools and the community, and we believe this partnership is that solution.

As you discuss this potential partnership at your meeting on October 20, please know that we have a productive, collaborative relationship which includes multiple cost savings to HCPSS. I am including a copy of a white paper which outlines some of these cost savings through this partnership.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for all you do on behalf of our students.

Sincerely,


Ken Ulman
County Executive
3430 Courthouse Drive
Ellicott City, Maryland 21043
Voice: 410.313.2011
Fax: 410.313.3051
kulman@howardcountymd.gov

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ides of March Review (Monday LINKS)

I'm not someone who normally considers cinema to be "art."  This is probably because I am not willing to put myself through the mostly boring/disturbing/strange parts of "artsy" movies that would be necessary to find a diamond in the rough. (Or are those parts the diamonds?  See, not my type of thing).

In light of the above, most of the movies I see rarely get below the surface.  Fun, entertaining, forgettable.  I don't think I will be forgetting Ides of March for quite a while.

I think it was good.  By that I mean that I was/am so distracted by the message that I can't remember whether I actually enjoyed watching it.  I know I am laying some heavy compulsion for all of you to see this movie, so I won't ruin anything, but the film was definitely sent with a message.  It follows a young political adviser who has quickly sky-rocketed up the Democratic ranks to find himself second in command for the top Democratic nominee for President of the United States.  It starts in Ohio, where a decisive primary is two weeks away.  George Clooney is somewhat heavy handed with his partisan sub-themes (i.e., the only thing Republicans are afraid of is an ultra-left candidate who would pay for everyone's college education in exchange for a mandatory two years of service in education/military/etc.).  However, the manner in which he does this makes you feel like the candidate character is George Clooney.  Not an actor playing a candidate, but the candidate running for office.

I'll cut things off there, but the truly amazing part of this movie is how real it seems.  Anyone who has peered over the fence to see how "the sausage is made" will recognize the over-reactions and spiraling messes that are shown in the latter half of the movie (the first half is a bit slow). 

I've described this movie as the political version of Requiem for a Dream.  I didn't see that movie in the theaters, but I imagine it was deathly quiet when the credits ran.  Just like it was for this one.

LINKS

Ravens have another unconvincing win.  The score doesn't show the game here.  Maybe I'm too hard on this team, but the Steelers game set a high bar.  I would really like to see them get back to that level of play.

The Sun reports that the Miller Branch library is almost complete.  I normally run by the construction site and it has been fun to see them progress from an empty plot to what it is now.  It will be a very impressive building and I look forward to getting inside.

Speaking of The Sun: "You have viewed 5 of your 15 free pages this month. We're glad you enjoy baltimoresun.com. For full access to the site, please purchase a digital subscription. For a limited time, we're offering a rate of 99 cents for the first four weeks. After that, it's as little as 75 cents a week if you're a Baltimore Sun home delivery customer."  Only 5!  Nice job, me.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah reviews a report issued by the Blue Ribbon on Transportation Funding.  It is a little disappointing that the Commission seemed to come up with only income producing measures, but depending on the scope of their inquiry, that may have been the only choice.  State spenders have found a convenient political parlor game whereby they can spend on items that may not be entirely popular with the electorate by taking money out of the trust fund, and then go back to the citizens with their broken piggy bank and say "Well, we have to pay for roads, no matter what you think I did with the trust fund money."

Suggested Discussion Point:  Those that were sad to see the Board of Ed bill die in Delegate Turner's pocket have concerns about the representative capacity of our Board of Education.  Are those concerns legitimate?  More interestingly, if so, how is it even possible to address "diversity" in terms of elected government? 

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Political Notebook Is Back!

If you have not had a chance to listen to the most recent episode of And Then There's That, you may not be aware that the Columbia Flier is introducing a new Political Notebook column by Lindsey McPherson.  The promises are slight -- won't be like Larry Carson's Notebook, may not be every week, won't cover everything that Larry covered.  But the prospects are exciting.

I was looking for the Notebook in the online edition of the Flier all week, but the only item I found was this piece about adding a Congressional District, which is titled a "Political Notebook", but seems more like a "Political Sticky Note."  Finally getting around to the print edition this morning, I saw the real deal on page 13, which includes a great news analysis chock full of quotes regarding the School Board bill (RIP).  (I was struck by the presumed inevitability that we all seemed to have about this bill only five days ago, as apparent from the piece).  Lindsey has put too much work into making this happen for me to digest this for you, so please seek out a copy of the Flier and enjoy.  (No promises for subsequent weeks).

I see "news analysis" as a responsibility of our print journalism that seems to be going to the way side as we have more and more freelance writers and less beat reporters.  Admittedly, when first getting into this blogging thing, I would be frustrated by the adjectives entered by Larry Carson regarding local events, until I realized that subjective analysis was not a flaw.  It was a benefit.  You are free to disagree, but you don't have that opportunity to know what you may disagree with unless it is put out there in the first place.  For instance, the pool tax credit bill had some truly fascinating political components that were breezed over by "just the facts" reporting.  If you think about it, these components were represented in the amount of coverage, but not necessary the depth of coverage.

At the end of the day, local coverage only makes sense in context.  Otherwise, we are talking about snapshots of zoning, feasibility studies, and partitions of property.  Only in the aggregate does the average citizen feel an effect and by the time they are aware of what is happening, it is normally too late for them to do anything about it.  The seasoned beat reporter is a precious resource, not because of their experience, but because of their depth of knowledge and ability to create context.  Without that, newspapers are empty calories.

Keep it up, Lindsey.  What you are doing is very important.

Friday, October 14, 2011

KU Responds

Elkridge Patch pulled in some great comments from County Executive Ulman and his office after the demise of the School Board bill.  In a quote that surely did not come out how it was intended, Executive Ulman (finally) explains why there was an inclusion of two appointed members, seeming to drop the apparent ruse that this suggestion was originated by the Study Commission:

“There were a lot of questions about why a county executive would get any appointments,” Ulman said Wednesday. “Sixty-two percent of my budget goes to the board of education …. I think it’s completely acceptable, legitimate and important, frankly, for a county executive and the [county] council to have a direct voice in the process.”

"[M]y budget" would appear to be a softball T-ball pitch for Republican critics.

Even more surprising is the Ulman Administration's decision to respond to GOP Club President Jeff Robinson's letter accusing the Executive of seeking "shameful power" by way of a "barbarians' assault on the public’s right to vote" and "other autocratic shenanigans."  With all due respect to my friend Jeff, the letter certainly appeared to be directed more towards Ken Ulman as a person than a critique of his policies.  But that's Jeff's job.  Stir up the faithful.  Rally the troops.  Rattle the cage. 

This made it all the more unusual that the Executive's office chose to respond, however briefly, to those critiques:

“The executive is focused and engaged on Howard County,” said Kevin Enright, spokesman for the county executive’s office. “He has not made any decisions on what might happen in three years.”

UPDATE:  Evidently they have installed a "Jeff Robinson Fire Alarm" in the George Howard Building.  Even Healthy Howard has deemed it necessary to respond, sending their own letter to the editor to Patch.

CA Board Recap: October 13, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start: 7:41 pm
End: 10:35 pm

Last night was a very good meeting, notwithstanding the normal frustrations of having 10 people work through a 170 page budget notebook.  We certainly accomplished a number of things and, overall, it was time well spent.

Symphony Woods Vision Statement

The Vision Statement has probably been more controversial than it has needed to be.  This document is intended to be our cohesive vision of the impressions we expect our park to have on visitors, especially the residents of Columbia.  I think you can read a lot into the fact that this over-arching mission statement was left to the Board and not paid professionals.

Our discussion was mostly a battle of adjectives, but amongst that was a very important aspect of downtown planning.  The statement that was passed includes the words "breathtaking gateway to Merriweather Post Pavilion."  From my perspective, that is one of the most important components.  Another Board member said that they were bothered by this language and that our park should "stand on its own" without any reliance (or reference) to Merriweather.  That line of thinking will put our plans for SW in "time out" for not playing well with others.  I would suggest that our plans for Downtown should first think of how the property connects with the surrounding landowners and only then determine the individual nature of what we are trying to create.  The Merriweather language was retained, although moved to the second sentence as a compromise (yes, paragraph structure is the subject of compromise).

Big thanks and credit goes to Alex Hekimian and Cindy Coyle for drafting and editing (respectively) this document.  It was clear they put a lot of time into it and I think our discussions benefited tremendously from their work.

Pre-Budget Binder Work Session

After a little over seven months on the Board, I have begun to dread documents longer than fifty pages.  This dread comes with the understanding that we, as the Board, will more than likely be doing a line by line edit review of the document, no matter the import or use of the eventual product.

Yesterday, the Board began its review of the 170 page Pre-Budget Binder.  These materials include things as broad as CA's Sustainability Goals and as narrow as whether the organization will scan documents for retention purposes.  We made it to about page 88.

My biggest concern here, as expressed at the meeting, was that the Board comments took on the character of an audit.  "$200,000?  This shouldn't cost that much!"  Well, why do you say that?  Have you prepared an estimate?  No?  This is just based on your experience and the price of milk at the grocery store?  I suggested that rather than take the approach of a Dad who just received his child's credit card statement, we should note those items that we would like a more specific break-down of estimated costs, and move on for those items that we do not question.  This suggestion was dismissed...shortly before examining the mileage on every car that the Staff claimed needed to be replaced.

For those as new as me to this stuff, there is a clear distrust between the Board and members of the Staff.  This ugly component of our organization shows its head whenever the Board has an opportunity to question the propriety of a Staff decision, which is approximately every two weeks (excluding holidays).  These suspicions are often confirmed, but only under the intense scrutiny that is sure to uncover a flaw.  The substance of the flaw is overshadowed by the narrative of "Look, another mistake."  That's not fair and it is not a habit of a highly effective organization.  Scrutiny is important.  I spend my work day scrutinizing the small stuff...of my opponent.  We're not opponents here.  Typo's do not need to be announced in open meetings.  That's unprofessional.  If you doubt the validity of a request, there are avenues to communicate that concern without challenging the aptitude of Staff Leadership.  I am concerned that the Board is undercutting its effectiveness by way of its obsession with correcting Staff.  Nothing good will come of it.

Open Space Mowing

An interesting topic brought up last night was what to do with large swaths of land that CA mows for no other purpose than to have mowed grass.  Rob Goldman informed us that the Staff is working on a proposal to re-purpose a number of those properties for other pubic uses, such as CSA's, dog parks, etc.  I thought this was an exciting idea and wanted to share.

Completion of the Loop

Amidst the Budget work session was the inclusion of funds to complete the loop around Lake Kittimaqundi with the construction of a bridge.  This has been one of the repeated concerns/complaints/suggestions that I have received from a number of you and I was very happy to see Staff moving forward on this.  Unfortunately, the projected construction date may not be until FY2014.  As you may imagine, lake dredging has delayed this project.

And that was just about it.  As I noted above, despite the concerns expressed here, it was a good meeting.  We will have a continuation of our Budget Work Session next Thursday, which you all are invited to attend.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!!  Ravens 31 Texans 20

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Referenda, Referanda

Great Charter Review Commission meeting this morning.  As Lindsey McPherson notes, we dropped consideration of whether the Council should expand to seven members.  Budding politicians will have to wait another ten years before there are additional seats on the dias.  For those interested, I was in the minority of those interested in suggesting to the Council that they create a Study Commission to look into the potential expansion of the Council during the next Charter Review.  (Seems like those commissions have a recent legacy that may be too hard to shake in the short term).

We also spent a significant amount of time discussing the referendum provision in the Charter under 211(a), which currently states that "The referendum petition against any such law shall be sufficient if signed by five per centum of the registered voters of the County, but in any case not less than 1,500 nor more than 5,000 signatures shall be required."

The Commission is considering the removal of everything after "County", with the added provision that it will be 5% of voters in the last Gubernatorial Election.  I am torn on this.  It is a fascinating debate to get into, as we surely did this morning.  Do we look at the intent of the drafters?  If so, do we look at the intent of the provision (i.e., clear and unambiguous language imposing a 5,000 ceiling), or the overall intent of the right of referenda?  What was the purpose of the 5,000 number?  Was it to create a significant burden for those looking to bring a piece of legislation to the ballot, or was it intended to have some representative capacity?

The issue has a significant subjective component to it no matter how you answer those questions.  Your personal view may be colored by your opinion of the most recent referenda efforts, faith in/distrust of the Council, and the fundamental nature of a representative democracy.

I just don't know where I come out on this.

Overreach (Thursday Links)

In just about every 1980's move set in a high school, there is a scene where the school bully turns to his friends and says "watch this" before knocking down the main character (who is normally carrying an obscene amount of books -- get a caddy, brother.  Don't you know there are bullies in these hallways?).  As well entrenched as our hero arch is that of the bully.  Popular/Happy --> Challenged/Angry --> Embarrassed/Sad.

I'm not going to call our County Executive a bully, but I know the term has been used in reference to Ken Ulman in plenty of other contexts.  What I will say is that the paired overreaches of the Board of Education bill and the Greenstone Ventures projects are setting him up on the 1980's Bully arch.  Hubris is without political allegiance and does not obey overwhelming partisan majorities.  You know it when you see it, even if the underlying facts and issues are unclear.  As someone commented on this blog yesterday, the "silent majority" of people sitting at home during the Howard delegation hearing were not people who "didn't care" or otherwise agreed with the bill.  For the most part, they were probably just people that had not been told, with the presumption that if they had, they would have been there.

As I said early on, this particular bill did not get my goat or otherwise cause me any outrage.  I thought it was a bad political decision, but one that was made on sound grounds (i.e., fix a Board that may otherwise be unable to attract a top-class superintendent).  To the extent anyone was pounding the table about the Board "setting education policy", they should truly be offended that the Superintendent of schools is not elected, which would be a mess I would not like to imagine.  That narrative continues and we will "get the Board of Education we deserve" over the next 12 months.

On that point, I can only hope that this bill draws more interest to the upcoming Board of Education election, which will hereby be known on this blog as the Referendum on Dysfunction.  There will be three incumbents running for re-election: Janet Siddiqui, Ellen Flynn Giles, and Allen Dyer. 

You fought for your right to vote.  You spent long hours in the George Howard building protecting your right to dictate the future of this Board.  This is a critical vote...don't mess it up.

LINKS

Lisa Rossi with Columbia Patch is chasing down a story on the 3-year-old toddler that was found asphyxiated in his Columbia home six months ago. 

Jeff Robinson, President of the Howard County Republican Club, predicts the demise of Ken Ulman's political career.  So long as we are both talking about "overreaches", I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that.  I think Ken Ulman's star took a flicker over the last few days, but it is still bright.  The rejection of the Board of Ed bill may be a good indicator for where Ken is in relation to Annapolis, which is still pretty far.  That doesn't mean Lt. Gov or AG are removed as available stepping stones and it certainly doesn't suggest that Ken would give up the big seat in light of something that happened almost three years before any potential primary.  Let's not overreact to the death of a bad bill.  If ICBN blows up, then we can talk about demise.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB counts the dead and wounded after the death of the school board bill.  I didn't see Guy Guzzone as taking that much of a hit on this one.  He was smart to stay back and let Frank "Carry Water For No Man" Turner carry...um...the water.  What WB leaves out is that there may have been another winner.  One that Allan would most likely not be excited to share the stage with:  Brian Meshkin.

That's all for today.  Columbia Association Board of Directors meeting TONIGHT.  Exciting stuff!  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Turner Withdraws School Bill

Please see the following Press Release issued by Delegate Frank Turner's office:

PRESS RELEASE

I want to personally thank each and every citizen of Howard County for sending me e-mails, telephoning and other communication concerning the proposed school board legislation.

At the Public Hearing and through your communication with me and other members of the delegation, we had a very spirited debate on some of the issues that are important to many citizens of Howard County. This debate points to some of the frustration that many individuals experience on a daily basis. Achievement gap, possible loss of voters’ rights, geographic under representation, economic disparity, recruitment of candidates, district vs. at-large seats and appointed seats were thoroughly discussed and I believe that the citizens are more aware of these complex issues as we move forward as a county.

Our continuing understanding of educational landscape and concerns of all citizens will help us maintain our prestigious reputation as the number one school system in the state. Without discourse, debate, and direction, we often lose sight of all the various interests that challenge us on a daily basis. The work now continues to make sure no one is left out or left behind.

After listening to a host of your comments, suggestions and recommendations, I have decided in the best interest of all citizens to withdraw this legislation.

Thank you for your views and participation.

My sincerest Congratulations to all who testified.  Well done.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The "Big" Announcement

I had a great time chatting with a number of you at last night's event.  I understand that I may have over-sold a "Big Announcement" that ended up never being announced.  Well, here it is...

The HoCoMoJo Blogger Network will be selling ad space on Tales of Two Cities, HowChow, and...about three inches to the right.  Ads may also be purchased on And Then There's That and I Can Fix That.  This is an idea that has been thrown around for some time now in order to offer local businesses the opportunity to target the hyper-local market.  Any business that may be interested in purchasing ad space should click on the HoCoMoJo banner for more information.

We're very excited about this project and what it can do for the blogging community over the long term.  I think all of us were a little tentative to taking our "labors of love" and turning them into "labors of ad space", but I think it's time for something like this.  While preliminarily this is total self-aggrandizement, we all are interested in using the Ad Network to bring more people to the blogging community.

No links today.  I had a breakfast meeting with a good friend that overlapped with "blogging time."  I'll be back tomorrow.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fiery Dissent

I was pleased to see the Board of Education Study Commission's Report and Dissenting Report posted to the web this afternoon (apologies if this was posted earlier)(hat tip to Ellicott City Patch).

While I think it is important for anyone interested to read the Commission's Report, I would first recommend the Dissent.  Boy is it fiery.  Authored by Chaun Hightower (PTA), Paul Lemle (HCEA), and Feli Sola-Carter (Conexiones), the report describes the majority's recommendations as causing "disenfranchised" voters, as well as "two members dependent on and beholden to their appointer."  There was no reading behind the lines on this one:  "The 'hybrid' is a step toward identity politics, toward gerrymandering, and away from democracy."Even more concerning is that throughout the report, there is a less-than-subtle suggestion that the majority (six of nine) came to the table with a preconceived plan on what the Commission's conclusions would be at the end of their term:

"No member of the commission's majority voiced principled support for such a model prior to voting, and afterward, none could articulate any plan for who would make the appointments. Indeed, only one of the authors of this report made any tangible suggestions during six weeks of public meetings."

I did not serve on the Commission and was unable to make it to any of the public sessions, so I am in no position to cast aspersions on these members or the work of the Commission.  However, I think it is clear that three of the nine members are very upset and are making some very serious suggestions as to the mechanism of this Commission.  Notably, all nine of these Commission members were appointed by the Executive, adding further credence to a dissent that may otherwise be dismissed for those Boards and Commissions that are partly created by the Council or the Central Committees.

Howard County Delegation -- if you thought the Board of Education was dysfunctional before, I think you should consider how it will be when you have the HCEA and PTA actively opposing the new construction of the Board.  The literature is replete with educational systems that take a turn for the worse when parents and teachers feel like they do not have a voice.  Thankfully, they still do, and they are saying "Stop."

Plugged In (Monday Links)

It is a pretty big week for bloggers.  As noted in this piece by Columbia Patch, there will be a number of events focused on "new media" over the next few days, including tonight's "Milestones and More" event at Stanford Grille.

There is still lot of trepidation towards "blogs", "podcasts", and Twitter feeds.  I won't even say it is entirely generational.  It is more of a mindset.  I would like to think, and the numbers tend to show, that once people find out about the local blog scene, about 10-20% of them "stick around."  For the rest (at least in terms of those who know the blogs exist), blogs become a reference similar to the Weather Channel.  Something big happen locally?  Go to The Sun, go to The Flier, then go to the blogs.

It seems both horribly corny and quaint to say this, but Columbus Day would seem to be an appropriate time to celebrate "the new."  It also seems to make some sense that today is the first day of the Baltimore Sun pay-wall.  (Make sure to click with caution -- you only get 15 free page views a month!)  What better time than now to shake off the insecurities and step confidently onto the stage as credible sources for local news and conversation?

I know I sound like a broken record on this point, but it is truly rewarding to have the opportunity to interact with all of you.  Even the detractors. I will admit that when I started this blog, I had a need-bordering-on-obsession to respond to every slight, no matter the source, just to prove to myself that I was right.  Now I'm much more comfortable letting those comments speak for themselves. 

I look forward to seeing a number of you tonight!  It should be a blast.

LINKS

Howard County was not deemed to have experienced a "major disaster" during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee.  I presume there was no way to include the "liquid manure" spill of 2011 in our application?  County officials will be appealing, probably with a few YouTube links.

The folks with Columbia magazine dabble in Korean dining along Route 40.  The one thing the non-initiated don't seem to understanding is that there is nothing "weird" about Korean food.  Ok, so maybe you don't want to order the seafood pancake on your first trip out (although if you are with me, you will be), but for the most part, Korean food is grilled meats with pickled vegetables.  That is a potentially offensive simplification of an entire Country's cuisine, but to the extent it may encourage the wary to leave their comfort zone, I will take the demerits.

With the implicit suggestion that he will not be looking to retake his Congressional seat in District 1, Frank Kratovil has applied for a judgeship in Queen Anne's County.

The DC Metro Purple Line has been approved for more detailed engineering, providing a big step towards additional mass transit opportunities in Southern MD.  Map here.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB takes some shots of the "Occupy Main Street" effort in Old Ellicott City.  The photos are as comical as they are (oddly) admirable.

First day of The Sun paywall was exhausting.  The Flier has been on a tear recently, so I hope they keep up the pace.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Borderlands (FRIIIIIDAY Links)

In the most recent episode of I Can Fix That (came out earlier this week), Jodi and I discussed, among (many) other things, the redistricting process and the innate heebie jeebies (technical term) that we all get from the process.  It was a fun show and I hope you all will check it out (we even get to Gestapo Ken).

The new County Council District Map was approved by the Redistricting Commission on Wednesday 4-3.  Despite e-mails to a good number of my favorite people, I have not been able to get my hands on the new map to share with all of you, but I can say definitively that all districts are shifting, and my neighborhood, Dorsey's Search, will be going into District 1.

UPDATE:  Here is a link to the new map.  (Thanks MK!)

I spoke with Lindsey McPherson yesterday about the new map.  Before I go into my impressions on the map, I should say up front that if the new scheme is passed, I will really miss having Mary Kay Sigaty as my Council representative.  There is one sentence that you will hear from most people in this County in reference to Mary Kay "I don't agree with her on everything, but I respect her a great deal."  Frankly, that would be a great starting point for all conversations about public policy, but Mary Kay seems to have a corner on that market.  The few times I contacted her about any Council issue, she had arranged for us to speak over the phone by the end of the day (if not the very next day).  That's really all you can ask for out of your public officials and it was always appreciated.

About the map -- we asked for our community to be kept together and it was...in District 1.  Did I feel like I was the person on the stage at the end of a magic trick? Yup.  Do I think members of my Village Board feel the same way?  Yup.  Will this map be the subject of hair pulling and gnashing of teeth?  Oh yes.  But I'm happy with it.  We have to stop worrying and learn to love the crayons.  It is a political process.  If you try to stand in way of those politics, you will not succeed.  There are more important wars to be waged about housing the homeless, public safety, County development, and the practical matters of governance that shape our day-to-day.  Imaginary lines matter.  The consolidation of power by the ruling party matters.  But the question is, when you are responding to those elements, what is your motivation?  Is it politics?  Because if it is, you are feeding the beast; not fighting it.

LINKS

Last night there was at least one Red Sox fan, somewhere, sitting on their couch in their pink Red Sox Snuggie, saying aloud "If there is any justice in this world, please let A-Rod strike out."  And thus it shall be

Baltimore's nearly 100 year mounting vacancy rate appears to be stabilizing.  At its peak in 1950, Baltimore's population was 949,708.  It's current population is around 620,961.

Howard County's search for a new superintendent of schools just got a little more crowded with the announcement that Baltimore County's superintendent, Joe Hairston, will not be seeking another term.  Hey!  Maybe our Board has been sending love notes and Mr. Hairston thought he may be interested in coming to good old Howard...nope.

Three days before the Baltimore Sun pay-wall and they are still double covering local events.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah reviews the planned transportation projects for Howard County over the next five years and what transit may look like in 2035.

Now, dear dear readers, a brief advertisement.  For the past four years, I have served on the Board of Directors for Voices for Children, a local nonprofit that recruits and trains Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA's) for abused or neglected children.  It is an amazing organization that runs on a shoestring budget.  Participating with this board has been one of the most fulfilling (and fun) items on my calendar.  On November 4th, we will be holding Vintage, our annual wine-tasting fundraiser.  I attend a LOT of County events, but this one is certainly my favorite.  We will have great food from Rumor Mill, great wine from all over the Country, and for VIP tickets ($125) we will have Scotch tasting (for the first time ever).  Regular admission tickets are $75 and I will personally guarantee that you will get your money's worth (which really shouldn't be a goal for a charity event, but all the same, my promise is good).  Please e-mail me if you would like to purchase tickets from me (and get a very nice thank you e-mail) or you can purchase tickets online.  I understand that $75 is not cheap, but you deserve it.

That's all for this crisp Friday morning.  Have a great day doing what you love!  Bonus Prediction for this weekend: Titans 24; Steelers 13.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Behind the Digital Curtain (Thursday Links)

After giving it a good amount of thought, I've decided I am going to forever and permanently break one of my blog's few rules:  I am going to use my real name.

The HCR moniker has been fun and I don't intend to give it up entirely, but all of my frustration with anonymous cowardice almost requires that I give up my flimsy mask.  It serves no purpose.  Now, the technological implications of this have not yet been realized (i.e., can I change my ID's without losing my web history), which is why it may be a few days before "Tom Coale" starts appearing in my signature line.

I say this as a lead up to next week's big event: The COLUMBUS DAY BLOGGER PARTY.  Ok, so that's not the title, and it may also be AND THEN THERE'S THAT's 50th SHOW and WORDBONE'S FIVE YEAR BLOG-AVERSARY, but at the end of the day, this is an event where people like "us" get together and celebrate the democratization of public discourse.  Heavy stuff, right?

If you have not made it out for previous parties, make it out for this one.  There will be a big announcement that you are not going to be able to hear anywhere other than the Stanford Grill (and boy do those folks treat us well).  If you've ever commented on, read, or recommended a post on this blog, please come.  I want to thank you.  And finally get around to introducing myself.

LINKS

As most of you are almost certainly aware, Apple Founder Steve Jobs has died.  Based on my Facebook feed, this death has had a profound affect on a lot of people.  For some reason, I thought of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I am no where near awake enough to present a cogent explanation of my thoughts in this direction without being wailed upon by those that support the movement, but I will say that those men and women with dollar bills taped across their face (yuck) are also protesting people like Steve Jobs.  You don't get to take the most successful company of the 21st Century out of your purview when you are protesting corporate greed.  That says nothing of the merit of the movement, but I did laugh when I saw the same folks on Facebook who proudly linked a YouTube video of a young man telling off an unfortunate middle-class television news reporter, also posted profound quotes from Steve Jobs.  Either way, when people say they want to leave their mark on the world, they can do no better than lining their path up with Steve Job's star.

The Board of Public Works has approved $18 million for school construction, tapping funds raised from the increased alcohol tax.  As the article notes, $50 million of these funds were specifically allocated for school construction in the first year, with all of the revenue going to the General Fund in subsequent years.  Speaking of schools, maybe we should develop a curriculum for "Annapolis Math: How to Develop Advocates for Tax Increases Without Even Trying."

The average rent in Columbia, MD is 209% of SSI disability income.  For all of the chest pounding and ice cream socials, we are creating the second best place to live...that is completely inaccessible to large segments of the population.  Maybe that's what "we" want, but it should at least be acknowledged.  (The article goes on to note that a "modest, one bedroom apartment" is approximately $1,400 a month.  Those darn apartment dwellers...keep talking on their blue-tooths when I'm trying to sleep!)

TJ's column regarding redistricting in Elkridge is up.  (I have not had a chance to read it, but know it is worth passing on).

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah has a great post (how often do I type those words?) on the Occupy Wall Street "movement":  "How mad can we possibly get at how our government functions or the influence of the corporations or whatever when less than half of voters are participating in the most basic and fundamental function of a democracy-- voting?"

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

-- Tom Coale

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

These Bullets Would Discriminate (Wednesday Links)

I'm reading Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, which is a distopian novel about the not-so-distant future, where all of our communications are through Facebook and China owns everything.  Funny enough, the United States is controlled by the oppressive "Bipartisan Party", giving a raspberry to all those advocating for a post-partisan Country.  The book is good, not great, but it does come out with some great lines.  There was one passage regarding the suppression of a riot, during which there was a massacre of "low net worth individuals" (LNWI), that has stuck with me:

"Finally, the fear and empathy were replaced with a different knowledge.  The knowledge that it wouldn't happen to us.  That what we were witnessing was not terrorism.  That we were of good stock.  That these bullets would discriminate."

In a few sentences, it seemed like the author was able to explain the emotional component of why terrorism overseas is more concerning than a shooting on the streets of Baltimore for your average Marylander.  The very existence of random non-discriminating distant violence is more threatening than compartmentalized local violence.  Sure, innocents are killed, but we "stay out of those areas."

One thing I love about my wife is that she has a very hard time watching the news.  Anyone's death brings a gasp, a tisk, or an "aww."  I guess it is unfortunate that I have become desensitized to routine violence, but I've always found Jane's empathy to be endearing.  In my head, I'm thinking "Don't worry, dear, these people are strangers."  I might as well add "We are of good stock."

LINKS

Republicans were predictably unhappy with the proposed Congressional redistricting map.  I've had a chance to talk this map (and the entire process) over with a few people and the uniform response is "If the coloring book was on the other side of the table, do you think they would have been more fair?"  Probably not.  And I guess the whole idea of a non-partisan redistricting committee is probably worse.  There is some transparency in having the party in power take all it can get in the full view of the entire State.  It is unsightly, but the fact of the matter is that this type of bullying is an essential component to politics itself.  We may appease ourselves with the idea of statesmen (and women) banging their chests and playing logical chess over principles burned deep in the character of our nature, but really its more like a game of Go Fish against your older cousin.  You give him what he wants or you get a bruised shoulder.  All pretense removed, I guess I will take this paintball mess of a map for what it is: Politics.

Cindy Vaillancourt has an elegant quote in the Flier this week regarding the School Board Commission's Proposal: "This narrative that they (commission members) are developing, that this has been a thorough and deliberate process is a crock."  Nonetheless, it looks like the Board of Education is all on the same side on this one, which shouldn't be surprising.  At least two of them will find themselves without chairs at the end of the music.

The Board of Ed also approved a document retention policy 7-1.  I will give you one guess on the dissenter.  So much for the "Dyer block."

Our area is expected to a have a "near-normal" winter this year.  My question is: What is the new normal?

Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day:  WB gives you a run down of the political fund-raising calendar, which is sure to be a little more expensive this year.  Our HoCo politicians appear to be shifting upward, which means more money, which means higher ticket prices for even the lowest of contributor titles ("Boy Scout", "Friend", "Eagle Hatchling", "Herbie Hancock").

Meanwhile, Frank Hecker continues his redistricting Opus, getting us to 1996.

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