Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unallotment (Wednesday Links)

We recorded another episode of I Can Fix That last night, which should be available sometime over the next few days.  One of the items we discussed was the less-than-Super-Committee and their failure to do anything.  As the conversation went on, I lamented over the lack of leadership in the White House to unilaterally cut spending.  In my view, the President should be able to go to all of his departments and say "Reduce your expenditures by 10%."  Jodi added that these reductions could be incentivized down the leadership chain to make sure this wasn't just "pound of flesh" slashing and burning. 

While I think the idea sounded good, I began to think there may be a separation of powers issue.  If the Executive is directed to spend money by Congress, declining to do so without their endorsement would certainly seem to make the purse strings less powerful.  Doing a little more research on the subject, I found that the "10% solution" may also be termed an "Unallotment."  A bill authorizing the Governor of Minnesota to curb spending in the face of budget shortfalls was passed in December of 2010 (PDF).  Notably, the constitutionality of such a law required vetting before the law could be passed.  The unfortunate story of the unallotment law could probably be predicted.  It was used as a weapon instead of a shield.

In light of my research, I would be interested to see unallotment laws passed in more state and local jurisdictions.  Safeguards could be invoked to give the legislative body the reigns (i.e., Legislature/Council must vote to acknowledge than an unallotment is necessary), but overall I think it is law that makes sense.  Ideally, it could even be used to reduce taxes if the two branches agreed that this was necessary.  Executives can be expected to expand their mission to meet the limits of their funding.  They should also be expected to find the necessary cuts when funding retracts.  Despite my pontificating last night, I'm not so sure our President has the ability to unilaterally cut spending.  I wonder how much different things would be if he did.

LINKS

The State of Maryland has nearly 300 environmental enforcement actions that are awaiting prosecution, allegedly due to a "shortage of lawyers."  (I don't get to see those words together often, so let me enjoy it.)

One of the problems of a comfortable political class is that citizen concerns lack resonance.  Greenmount Avenue merchants are locking their doors during business hours in the face of mounting crime and a string of shootings...yet wonder why crime wasn't a bigger issue in the last Baltimore City election.

After spending a week in Westminster for my trial earlier this month, I am very sad to see that the Ravens may not be returning to this sleepy hamlet and instead will choose to stay in Owings Mills.  This is a town that probably needed Training Camp, but lost it due to the fight between millionaires last summer.

The Hilltop Redevelopment in Ellicott City will begin next month with the demolition of the old Hilltop Housing complex.  Paired with this project is the construction of a 45,000 public recreation center for which the County is seeking $500,000 in state bond funding.  Seems like a lot of spinning plates to me.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers expresses concern over the lack of advocacy for the middle class.  He makes a compelling case, but more importantly offers his own ideas for solutions.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't Buy Stuff

I was taken aback by this Patagonia ad, which urges Holiday shoppers not to buy one of its jackets.  While debate has already started over whether this ad is "sanctimonious" (a ready accusation to deter anyone from asking more from their fellow citizens), but the sentiment strikes true.  We live in a world where electronics are made to be phased out.  Durability is not as important as marketability.  New is more important than good.

That's why I think I'm going to try something new for Christmas.  About a year ago, I committeed to buying friends and family "experiences" over "stuff."  This was based off of an article I read that said experiences produce more happiness than things, although our "hunter-gatherer" brains are made to think the opposite.  Since that time, I've purchase "Guns & Whiskey" for my Dad (shooting range and Scotch tasting), a yet-to-be-used Cooking Class for my Mom; a litany of vacations, excursions, and dinners for my wife; and money for my brother (he's getting married...in certain circumstances, money does buy happiness).  Notably, I've mixed in the occasional "stuff" gift for a family member, which I admit was due to laziness more than anything else (activity gifts take more thought).

All that said, I am committing myself to a Stuff-Free Christmas (you are free to replace "Christmas" with whatever gift-giving holiday you do or do not celebrate).  It will be harder to do, but probably more rewarding, both for me and whomever is lucky enough to receive my envelopes.  I would encourage you to do the same.  Whatever you buy your family (especially your Dad/Husband), with minor exceptions (i.e., e-reader) it is going to end up on a shelf by next March.  Instead, get them a memory.  I may never see the two bow-ties I bought my Dad for his birthday, but I will always remember the day we spent shootin' and...shootin'.  I would like to think that sentiment is shared.

So.  Don't buy that jacket.  Buy the opportunity to use it.

The Right to Be Left Alone (Tuesday Links)

The right to be left alone.  Most of us are taught that this was a founding principle of our government and a back-drop behind all of those rights enumerated in the Constitution.  When I think of this principle, I normally don't think of someone on the East Coast.  I tend to think of someone out West, who drives on federal roads, spends federal dollars, takes federally regulated drugs, eats federally regulated food, but otherwise does not have much reliance or interaction with Uncle Sam.  That's not to say those folks don't exist on the East Coast, but conceptually, I'm west of the Appalachians.

I think about what this person may think to themselves when they hear that we all need to "share the burden" of a government that has grown past its income and/or underwent a combination of wars and tax cuts that put it in a financially unsustainable position (attempting to present both characterizations).  I imagine they are rather ticked.

Whether you consider yourself politically attuned or not, I've observed that the closer you live to DC, the more detail you tend to pick up about the various weights and consistencies of mud that are thrown by politicians at one another.  The further out you take that "exposure radius", the more this "detail" comes across as static, with the occasional sound bite of "tax hikes"/"benefit cuts" making it through.  Those folks, similar to many of us, are wondering "just what, exactly, is it that I received, which I now have to pay for?"

If you're reading this, you have probably read the following words at least once "tax hikes for the top 1% will not pay for this."  It is unlikely that closing tax loopholes or shredding Social Security will pay for it either (there is also the untouched subject of what remaining federal and state burdens would exist if Social Security was shredded -- my guess is a lot).  "Passing the buck onto our children's generation" will probably stop in the near future and that generation very well may be us.  Politicians won't say it and most commentators don't think our political class has the intestinal fortitude to do it, but across the board tax raises seem likely and necessary.

If and when this happens, I presume that there will be people all over the Country wondering to themselves where this invoice came from, spending most of their time as citizens enjoying their right to be "left alone."  To the extent that even exists.

LINKS

Approximately 13,000 Baltimore City residents are "affected" by HIV/AIDS, according to this piece in the Baltimore Sun.  There are 505 new diagnoses a year.  I can't tell where these numbers are coming from (the Sun or the government), but they should be shocking amongst a population of a little less than 640,000 people.

A decision by the US Sentencing Committee to level the prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine is resulting in a number of Baltimore City prisoners being released.  One of the multitude of errors incorporated into the "War on Drugs" may have been resolved, but there are many miles to go.

LPGA Futures will be holding an event in Frederick next year.  Remembering when the Senior PGA held their tournament at Hobbits Glen, this would seem to be a great opportunity for Country Tourism and CA to work together to bring another tournament back to Columbia.

While I can't help but have some empathy for former Anne Arundel Councilman Daryl Jones, I find it odd that his sentencing judge incorporated his "years of public service" to reduce his sentence.  I appreciate our elected officials, and would agree that their work is not commensurate with pay, but public service does not seem to be a mitigating factor for five years of tax evasion.

The Howard County Council has set a hearing for December 19 to receive testimony regarding the Redistricting Map proposed by the Commission.  Living in Dorsey's Search, I have been interested to hear all of the folks outside of Dorsey claiming to speak on our behalf without ever having requested our Board's thoughts on the subject.  I can tell you from personal experience that there is unlikely to be a unified position on the matter, which makes me wonder what other motivations are playing into the conversation.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Speaking of Redistricting, I don't know how I could give this daily hat tip to anyone other than Frank Hecker for concluding his series on the history of Howard County redistricting.  HoCo Loco geeks like myself have truly enjoyed these 22 23 posts and I am looking forward to a future book signing/meet the author session.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  Most of us are pushing through or coming down with a sickness, so make sure to wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Stuffing

After a prolonged drive home last night and a misguided decision to stay up and watch the end of the Kansas City/Pittsburgh game, you will have to accept a pass from me this morning.  I woke up at my normal posting time, but I just didn't have anything to say.  Funny enough, on my walk in to the office, I was listening to a podcast conversation amongst writers in which one of them said "You know when you've written something good when you look at it and think 'where the hell did that come from?'"  Well, I knew exactly where everything was going to come from this morning, which would have been nowhere good.  I find that when I force a post, it normally ends up being unnecessarily caustic or preachy.  ("Do you force every post, Tom?")  So you get this ramble instead.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  I normally find this mixing bowl of family to be a good way to gauge where I am on the political spectrum.  Both my family and my wife's family have sworn off the whole "it is impolite to talk about politics amongst family", which, if you are a long time reader, you know is fine by me.  Nonetheless, I avoided any disagreements and chose just to listen.  I was told that Republicans are just canibals looking to pull the chair out from President Obama to ensure a GOP Presidency in 2012.  I was told that "all of these Occupy folks" are people who "have never done anything."  I was told that we should "Occupy Hollywood" so that families can go to the movies for less than $100 (I know, a little weird).  Most interesting to me was the fact that everyone seemed to have an opinion about what is going on in the political world.  That is relatively rare.  You can normally always strike up a conversation about whether the Rolling Stones were better than the Beatles or whether George Lucas should be punished for issuing his three "prequels", but politics is normally hands up in the air, "Wait for me to leave the room" conversation fodder for most people.  I guess this is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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

Start Time: 8:04 pm (Preceded by Closed Meeting)
End Time: 10:57 pm

There was a great deal of deliberation at this meeting, but not too much to show for it.  After the meeting, at least one Board member noted that the committees had not properly vetted these agenda items prior to bringing them to the Board, but it was also observed that due to the manner in which committees meet, the distinction lacks substance.  I'll get into this more below, but the bigger problem appears to be the interminable nature of our debates.  There are no limitations.  No guidelines.  I used the term "filibuster" at a meeting earlier this year, which could seemingly apply to any one of our discussion topics.  If you feel the vote is going against you, there is absolutely no deterrent to talking until you can change some body's mind.  That's not a characteristic of a highly effective organization.

Women-Only Swim Hours

Not surprisingly, there were over fifty residents at the meeting to speak in favor of the new women-only swim hours, and no opponents.  My experience has been that those who wish to speak out against a particular minority group or "Sharia law" would much rather do so behind a keyboard than a podium.  This is partly due to the source of their misunderstanding -- they've never spoken with a Muslim about their faith.  Notably, there were a majority of non-Muslim residents speaking in favor of the new hours.

Employee Compensation

I was very happy that the Board made its final decision on employee compensation last night, deciding to provide a 3% increase to the salary budget line item, which will be allocated by human resources and the leadership team.  It was suggested that in order to reflect "tough economic times", the Board should either limit the increase to 2.5% or cap salary increases for anyone making over $80,000.  I'm just not in favor of arbitrarily punishing our staff for a bad economy.  As I said at the meeting, and will follow-up with throughout my time on the Board, if we are interested in reflecting tough economic times, we should be cutting programs in order to get more money back to our residents in lien payments.  Instead, we have Board members looking to expand CA's scope with great offense taken to any decrease in service hours, while taking unfounded cuts at the compensation our Staff (and residents!) can take home to their families.  That doesn't jive, turkey.  The Board asks a lot from Staff and they have done a very good job.  Our organization is not in the red and when excess revenue is identified, it is almost always viewed in terms of getting that value back to residents.  To the extent CA has problems, it is my personal opinion that those problems can be sourced back to the Board.  If we were getting paid, I might see the upside of cutting compensation.

Underutilized Pool Rate Cut

I was on the minority on this vote, but the Board voted to decrease daily rates for the five least utilized pools: $4 for adults, $2 for children.  I had some conceptual problems with this initiative, which should be identified as "Board-originated."  There is really no evidence or data to suggest that these five least utilized pools have poor attendance due to the cost of daily rates.  None.  We are applying amateur market economics to presume that lower costs, in a vacuum, will increase demand.  This ignores the under-utilization of our low income membership program and the density of pool availability in Columbia.  Apparently, this program was brought on at the request of Villages with under-utilized pools to prevent the "re-purposing" of their pools under the Aquatics Master Plan.  I see this as cosmetics more than anything else, which was why I voted against the rate change.  I also think it is important to be consistent in my personal interest of keeping the Board out of pricing our programs.  This is very dangerous territory and I would encourage residents to contact their Board representative to tell them that you do not want them to engage in rate manipulation for any locality, demographic, or program.  These kinds of tweaks could very likely end up forcing a future Board's hand when it comes to the only dependable source of income CA has -- the lien.

Senior Discount
No one will ever be able to say that CA did not give the Senior Discount a fair shake, but unfortunately we did not make it to a vote.  In fact, there was a bit of a coup at the end of the meeting, in which two motions to extend the meeting past 11:00 pm failed, and an impromptu motion to adjourn was passed.

The Senior Advisory Committee spoke during Resident Speak-Out, advocating for the passage of a 10% membership rate cut.  This motion was proposed by the Planning and Strategy Committee.  It was then immediately amended to instead present a 15% senior (65+) rate discount for all new members, and request the President and Staff look into a comprehensive senior policy.  The idea behind this was that if we are looking to encourage senior participation, one of the best avenues for doing so is through new memberships.

As you are (hopefully) aware, this is yet another Board-originated rate cut.  It was recommended without any supporting data or an analysis of future census data to project what Columbia's population may be 5 to 10 years from now.  Staff estimated that the new rate cut would cost CA approximately $60,000 a year to start, with the counter being that this money would be made up in new memberships (no factual support for this).

Unfortunately, the amended program failed on a 5-5 vote (we need an eleventh village!).  I think this motion probably would have passed if it only focused on the comprehensive senior policy and did not include an introductory senior rate.  The argument was made that when Verizon/Comcast offer introductory rates, long-time customers are offended.  Fine and dandy, but I think it is fair to presume a sustainability component to why our dear cable companies do not offer across the Board rate cuts, but that is irrelevant to CA's interest in encouraging senior participation.

I do not look forward to the next Senior Rate Cut discussion.  It feels like the Board is shooting into a dark space with someone saying "I'm pretty sure there is a target in there."  I'm not going to spend CA money on trying to hit that target.

That's all for today.  I doubt I'll be getting another post up over the next four days, so have a fantastic Thanksgiving and do your best to take advantage of everything this holiday represents.  I am so thankful for all of you.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Presumption of Merit (Tuesday LINKS)

I read an Op/Ed over the weekend that talked about government entitlements, particularly in relation to seniors, and how it should have been presumed that no politician (or SUPER politician) would be willing to make the cuts necessary to begin the financial healing that this Country needs.  This argument was premised on the idea that most of those who receive such benefits believe they have "earned" them, through hard work, sacrifice, or some unidentified merit.

I see that also in our national discussion about jobs.  Here on the East Coast, we are happy to malign the "Fed Bubble", while those same folks criticize the jobless for being lazy, entitled, or "behind the times."  It takes very little self-reflection to realize just how lucky you are to be reading this post at a work.  Up until about 2009, you could differentiate yourself as having "worked hard in school" (you sure about that?) and graduated with a college degree.  Our graduating classes have lost that luxury, while retaining the debt.  You could also take pride in the blood, sweat, and tears that built your company up from nothing to something.  Never mind the legions of contractors that have worked up from apprentice to owner, who have had to close shop.

For the vast majority of us who have the great fortune of being employed, it is equal parts merit and luck.  If you don't consider that, and take great thanks in that, every day, then you are living an illusion (starring you!).  The idea that "hard work" distinguishes you from everyone whose life has crumbled beneath them is like saying a tire iron would have prevented a car accident.  The greatest, and scariest, realization I've come to after working with the clients at the Route One Day Center is that most folks are three disasters away from homelessness: Sickness, Employment, Transportation.  We tell ourselves that these things have been earned, and are ours to keep.

We are not so secure in the things that make us comfortable.  I would like to think that such considerations will ever so slightly change the way you view the economic situation in this Country.  There are most likely thousands of hard working Americans forced to collect unemployment after spending a lifetime protesting "Welfare Queens" and "the government dole."  Perspective is everything. 

LINKS

The Howard County Council received overwhelming testimony in favor of the gender identification discrimination bill.  In light of the four sponsors on the Council, I am glad that Greg Fox is taking a cautious approach.  Discrimination based on ignorance or hate is always a bad thing.  Writing laws to change the way people think, however, is treacherous territory.

The Howard County Board of Education hopes to name a new superintendent by late Spring 2012.  Barring a post-interview confession, we will never know if candidates for this position are deterred by the "full-time defendant" role that will be tacitly included in their job description.  Superintendent jobs for premiere suburban school systems do not come up every day, so I can't imagine such considerations to play too large a role, but with Baltimore County beckoning just up the way, I wouldn't be surprised to see it come up.

The Comptroller's office has placed a $600,000 lien on Baltimore Racing Development, Inc., the company responsible for the Baltimore Grand Prix, to collect unpaid taxes.  I imagine we will see tax collectors standing by the gate next Labor Day.

Union Mill in Hampden offers deep monthly discounts for teachers and their spouses.  This is a great idea to help draw teachers into Baltimore City.  Bravo.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB notes that the Enterprise Community Loan Fund in Columbia is one of the organizations set up to promote small business growth through Starbucks' Create Jobs for USA program.  I will say that after reading WB's previous post about the program, I went out to Starbucks and contributed to the program.  Big props to WB for promoting this effort.

We received our verdict yesterday.  It was in our favor.  I know I talk about "doing what you love" every day, but I can say that over the last week, I was undoubtedly "doing what I love."  It is a true blessing to be fortunate enough to have that opportunity.

Have a great Tuesday doing what YOU love!  CA Board meeting tonight!

Monday, November 21, 2011

This happpened where? (Monday Links)

I'm sure you've all seen this by now:


In the midst of a movement that everyone seems to be trying to define, we see something else that is probably more concerning: How we deal with dissent.  Any documentary regarding the civil rights movement is incomplete without shots of those water hoses beating down on protesters or police dogs attacking children.  We are comforted by the fact that the civil rights movement was successful and that "those things are in the past."

This clip made clear that the only thing we have passed is the existence of aggressive protest movements attempting to force change.  The manner in which such groups are dealt with has been preserved like some museum artifact, the only difference being the progress in technology, replacing water and dogs with chemical sprays.

It's a throw away line, but probably applicable: If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention.  This isn't a humanitarian disaster.  There will be no statues at UC Davis commemorating this atrocity.  But it is on our collective conscience.  We presume the right to dissent in this Country.  We even presume the right to get a little rowdy if people aren't listening.  Might that be a mirage?  These were college kids with backpacks and iPads, who were sitting on the ground.  Imagine if they had been adults with less benign accoutrement.

You don't have to agree with the Occupy group to be offended.  If you aren't offended, you may as well be scared.

LINKS

The Howard County Council will consider a bill to include "gender identification" amongst its anti-discrimination laws.  This law would "bar discrimination in housing, employment, law enforcement practices and public accommodations in the county."  We discussed this issue at length when it was being considered on the State level and I just can't seem to get past the "Receptionist Dilemma."  At the end of the day, this law may be a reminder that one person's uncomfortability is not a proper basis to tell someone else how to live their life.  Nonetheless, practically-minded business owners will be concerned about this bill, and most likely will be heard before any votes are cast.


The Sun reports that Tuesday is the new Wednesday for Thanksgiving traffic.  Whatever.  It's all going to be bad...or its not.  Jane and I have left at just about the same time every year to travel North.  Out of the last five years, two have been almost completely without traffic, one had a double commute time, and two added about an hour.  If you're staying home, have a glass of wine for me on Wednesday.


It is always nice to see well-respected and hard-working community advocates recognized for their work.  Bita Dayhoff and the Community Action Council received the first Human Rights Award of Howard County given to an organization.  Carol Beatty also received the award for her individual efforts as the executive direct of The ARC of Howard County.  Thank you both for all of your work.  It is sincerely appreciated.


Elkridge residents feel squeezed as the Hanover intermodal site gains more momentum.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks into the future viability of malls, in general, and ours in particular.  There is something about our Mall that has kept it successful while others have faltered.  We are nearly that special time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, during which I swear off any visits to our commercial hot-spot.  Now that I think of it, I have not been to the Mall in about four months.  Hmm. 


That's all for today.  I'm on verdict watch this afternoon, which should be a treat.  Have a great Monday doing what you love.  Ravens won and you probably only have a three day work-week, so that should be a little easier than normal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sharia in a Speedo

I go away for trial.  Two days later, Sharia law plants its flag at the Columbia Association.  Surely it is no logically leap, gap, or crevasse to suggest that women only swimming hours, on Tuesday and Thursdays, between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm, is the imposition of religious law on all Columbia residents.  Surely this "appeasement" represents an aggressive move by a religious group, despite their political minority, to change the very life we lead in this small corner of America.

I go away for trial.  And the world as I know it comes to an end.

Then again, it could just be that women only swim hours is something attractive to all women.  It could be that there have been women only gyms in Columbia and across the United States for just about as long as I've been alive.  It COULD be that latent prejudices have allowed reasonable folks to look beyond the utility, and demand, for women-only swim hours, and see only religious preference.

CA could have said "no."  None of you would have been the wiser.  There would have been no grand promotion of the American Way, which is clearly "Like it, or else."  Right?

But that isn't the American Way.  More importantly, it does not represent CA.  We serve our residents.  Our residents have requested a new trial program, which is, at its base level, blind to all religions.  I had no part in the decision (thank goodness), but I support it.  This has as much to do with providing those with religious obligations an opportunity to use our pools as it does my recollection of what it was like to be an awkward teen.

Snap out of it folks.  No one wants you to wear a burqa.  Replace all your anger and stone-walled stubbornness with simple curiosity.  That's what builds community.  More question marks.  Less exclamation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bold Ken Makes Big Splash

When you are perceived to be a second tier candidate for Governor, the most important thing to do is keep your name in every conversation having to do with the oncoming campaign.  By way of "Invite-gate" from last week, in which Ken Ulman was "accidentally" announced as a Gubernatorial candidate three years before the election, our County Executive has put his name out there, finding himself in the second paragraph of this article about candidate fundraising.

It's still a long way off and the GOP hopefuls are exhibits A-Z on why you don't want to be talked about too much too early, but at the very least, Ken's campaign is getting respect.  We'll see if it draws other candidates into more forward positions as they feel the "Big Flirt" losing its appeal.

Friday, November 11, 2011

CA Legislation Explained

Please refer to the linked memorandum prepared by CA's General Counsel regarding the legislation that had be proposed to reclassify the Columbia Association under State law.  This explains a good number of misconceptions about the law, although the base concern about the enforceability and malleability of our By-Laws is not one that will be going away anytime soon.

CA Board Recap: November 10, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:39 pm
End Time: 11:08 pm

This meeting spent a lot of time tinkering in the machinery of CA operations.  It has become starkly clear that despite protestations otherwise, there are numerous Board members that will not, and can not, trust the Staff to run the organization.  Nonetheless, I think this meeting went much better than I had anticipated.   There has been some significant disagreement brought about by the CA reclassification legislation, but with that taken off the table, those Board members deferred the conflict for another day.

Senior Discount
A Senior Discount was proposed, offering CA residents 65 and older a 10% rate cut in appreciation for continuing to live in our community.  The CA Senior Task Force came out in support of this cut, citing rate cuts for teen sports programs as an indication that the organization has already shown preference for some age groups.  CA staff noted that if we were to implement this rate cut, we would have to make up approximately 550 memberships to break even.

I am just not sold on this.  CA does not offer a military rate cut.  It does not offer discounted rates for teachers to show appreciation for their choice to live in Columbia.  Charging less for the same service just does not communicate "appreciation" to me.  It suggests "appeasement."  CA already offers a significant number of memberships to low income residents at up to 50% off.  That makes sense.  But to arbitrarily cut rates based on age alone in one of the richest counties in the Country, while having nothing in this regard for our military or teachers, just does not make sense to me.

I am in favor of targeted programs, with integrated discounts, to bring more seniors to our facilities and increase senior memberships.  I think this is important and something that CA would be successful in accomplishing.  But if we're going to reflect "tough economic times" in our finances, lets look to cut lien-payments, not gym memberships.

Miscellaneous Rate Cuts
The most frustrating part of the evening involved a page of various membership rate cuts prepared by a Board member without the consultation or input of staff.  Example: A loyalty rate cut, under-utilized pool rate cut, senior rate cut (see above).  These proposals were within the Planning and Strategy Committee, so I did not have a vote, but I will say up front that, barring Staff endorsement, I have no intention of supporting any of them.  The management and implementation of membership rates is 100% operational.  These items have absolutely no business being on a Board agenda.  Why?  Because it is stabbing in the dark with the likely possibility that the Board could do some real damage to the financial integrity of our organization.

One Board member noted that these proposals represented a boiled over frustration due to repeated attempts by the Board to have these types of cuts considered without any response.  I think that is a fair complaint, but one that was quickly responded to with the idea that we (the Board) are not meant to be down at this level).  Ed Coleman suggested that if these are proposals we wish to see, we should incorporate them into the President's goals.  It was like he turned on all the lights in a pitch dark room.  If we want these items badly enough, there is a process to follow.  Piecemeal tinkering with CA finances is wrong in more ways than I can account for here.  Allowing the President to implement these requests strategically and within the larger framework of CA operations, is the way to go.

Employee Compensation
In the past, the CA Board has approved a Salaries and Incentives budget line item increase, which the Staff then uses to budget salary increases and bonuses for CA employees.  This year's proposal included that measure, plus an additional cap on individual salary increases (noted as 3% but subject to Board adjustment).  The suggestion was made that CA should "make a statement" by limiting Staff salary increases to reflect the bad economy, despite the fact that our organization has performed well and is meeting most of the goals the Board has set.

Similar to Ed's suggestion above, I think our ability to reflect economic sensitivities is one step removed from here -- the Budget Line Item.  I am cognizant that we are not all experiencing this economy the same way, but I am not willing to make our Staff the whipping boy whereby the Board can feel better about income inequality.  I would be in favor of taking a responsible look at the Salaries and Incentives line of the budget and deciding what we can afford.  Arbitrarily limiting the income of what our best workers can take home to their families is nothing that interests me.  I trust our HR department to make those decisions without any input from the Board.

Symphony Woods Master Plan
I am getting to the point where I just hope the words "Symphony Woods" do not create some Pavlovian response that prevents me from ever enjoying "Columbia's Central Park."  Last night's discussion was focused on creating a long term "vision statement" for the Park and what it will represent.  You may say "But I thought there already was a vision statement" or "Haven't you already approved Stage 1?" to which I would reply "Your guess is as good as mine."

There are a number of Board members who have been very concerned that we are moving forward on this Park without a Master Plan.  Unfortunately, these concerns often take on the complexion of those wanted to re-write votes that have not gone their way.  My personal opinion is that this Master Plan is Board busy work to foreclose some of the architectural tinkering that has undoubtedly been a source of Staff frustration.  That would be fine by me.

That's all for today.  A special huge thanks to our active and retired military.  My father came home from Vietnam without a parade and without much in the way of anyone thanking him for his service.  I would like to think that we've spent the last four decades understanding how wrong that was.  You don't have to support a war to appreciate sacrifice.  Thank you.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  Programming note -- I will be in trial next week and most likely will not be posting very much.  Guest posts are welcome and may be e-mailed to me.  I would be particularly interested in receiving posts from any of our local elected officials who may be interested in promoting/explaining a particular piece of legislation.  We've got a good group of invested citizens here who would love to hear from you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Can Fix That Episode 16:Moral Code (LINKS)

Jodi and I recorded our most recent episode of I Can Fix That on the Wednesday before the Penn State tragedy hit the sports-waves.  Among the issues we discussed was the basic responsibility we have as citizens and neighbors to report suspected crime, especially violent crime.  Our discussion focused on the Lulumon murder, but Penn State would be a logical extension.

I have no interest in going into the abuses conducted by a monster under the blanket of a college powerhouse.  If you have yet to purchase a car with an iPod port (like myself) you have heard nothing but this garbage for the past four days.  What I will note is the apparent psychological need our society has to establish a crime for every wrong and a punishment for every instance of guilt.  Our intellectual ancestors would be rolling in their graves...had they not returned to dust.

We are supposed to debate right and wrong.  It is in the nature of our existence as a society to do so.  However, it has become a lazy reference point to presume, or otherwise require, that there will be something in the criminal code to back up our instincts.  Even more concerning, and my eventual point, is that when those offenses are not codified, the presumption is that the individual did nothing wrong.  (Note: This post may be intellectually inconsistent with yesterday's post on Senator Currie, but its early and I have no intention of reconciling them at this time).

"Look out for one another."  So basic, yet also distant from how society actually performs.  You can see how those whose moral code is guided by the parameters of the criminal code may not see anything wrong with ignoring this maxim.  Our law does not place affirmative duties (with minor exceptions).  But this obligation stands all the same.  You can surely violate it without criminal sanction, but there are those a little under 200 miles north of here who are finding this obligation to be binding in other ways.

LINKS

Ken Ulman was interviewed by The Lexington Park Leader and discussed some of his plans to consider the opportunity of evaluating the prospect for putting his hat in the ring for higher office.  "It's very flattering to be asked that question." -- Sounds good to me.

Rick Perry would like a do-over on last's night's debate.  When asked the three agencies he would cut as President, he got two-thirds of the way to budget slashing nirvana, but then forgot the third agency.  When listening to this debate, I became a little tired of the chest-puffing "slash and burn" talk that seem to be the bread and butter of the conservative platform.  The CNBC panelists were apoplectic when just about every candidate said that they would do nothing in the face of Italy's potential economic collapse.  However, I am certain that if they were asked about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, these same candidates would have a nice quip about turning that Country into a parking lot.  I don't advocate from a trans-Atlantic bailout, but I certainly believe that if the United States wants to remain one of the most powerful countries in the world, we can't forgo our leadership role when it comes to basic matters of diplomacy and world finance.  China would be more than happy to set new terms with Europe.

Political watch-group Common Cause is calling for Senator Currie to be censured.

TJ has a great post about the sustainability of suburbia.  When reading this post, I couldn't help but think of Sarah's earlier post about the acres of free parking in downtown Columbia.  These are "places" for which we have no sustainable value.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane discusses the Code of Silence that fails our children.  This whole episode is just so sad.  It makes you feel sick to your stomach, but also question your own character and what you would do in similar circumstances.  These aren't sweaty mouth-breathers with Rainbow Brite t-shirts.  These are respected members of the community who have created opportunities for themselves due to their refined ability to manipulate adults, not children.

That's all for today.  The Baltimore Sun website is slow as molasses, which led to additional blog/Post links.  We have a Columbia Association Board of Directors meeting tonight (Agenda here) that you are all invited to attend.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CA Withdraws Reclassification Bill

Lindsey McPherson reports that CA has withdrawn its request of Delegate Guy Guzzone to submit legislation that would reclassify the Columbia Association under State law.

Well, that was fun.

Despite being in favor of the bill, I think this is the right move.  We need to make sure the public understands the objective of this legislation and, more importantly, that no one is attempting to skirt otherwise applicable transparency provisions.  In fact, I am quite certain that if CA were to hold itself to the HOA transparency provisions under State law, as opposed to those written into our Charter and By-Laws, we would be less transparent.  A lot of noise has been produced suggesting that "CA By-Laws can change."  Well, so can State law. The only difference is that under our By-Laws, CA is accountable to our residents.  Under State law, we are accountable to a limited set of "propery owners", and only insofar as we are spending money.  CA Transparency policies are much more broad.

But, obviously, this wasn't about that.

We've seen in many other circumstances that the word "transparency" brings out certain emotions that can not be dealt with rationally.  No matter what you may say to someone waving the banner of transparency, there is no avenue for conversation.  That's why I'm so disappointed that things had to go this way.  The bill never had a chance. 

A Bra Full of Cash (Wednesday Links)

Senator Ulysses Currie was found not guilty of federal extortion and bribery charges related to $250,000 in payments Senator Currie received that were alleged to have been connected to legislative action.

Two quotes from the article stuck out for me:

"Prosecutors should never complain about the outcome of a fair trial." -- Rod Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney

There was no "bra full of cash" in the Currie case. -- Richard Finci, criminal defense attorney consulted for article.

That's essentially where our public trust jurisprudence stands in Maryland.  Without a confession, guilty plea, or a "bra full of cash", bribery, extortion, and all other abuses of office are beyond the reach of criminal prosecution.  If you read the article, you will see repeated mention of the fact that jurors believe this was an "ethical lapse", but not a crime.  That is the result of a successful narrative pushed by the defense attorneys suggesting that these actions are to be decided in another realm.  Notably, one decided on by Senator Currie's peers. 

While I hesitate to question the decision of a jury, this is a case in which there were $250,000 in payments from Shoppers paired with a list, drafted by Senator Currie, titled "Accomplishments on Behalf of Shoppers."  Obviously, Senator Currie thought this was all on the up-and-up because he reported this income on his Financial Disclosure form.  Oh wait, no he didn't.

I'm clearly disappointed by this, but I'm not sure why I thought it would be different this time.  Sheila Dixon is still receiving her pension.  Senator Currie will go back to work next year.  Shoppers can add accomplishments to the list.

LINKS

Baltimore City elections had 23% turnout in the primary and 13% turnout in the general.  I'm not going to stomp my feet about a "two-party system" in Baltimore City, but I will note that it is sad to see such an apathetic electorate in the midst of such dysfunction.  While your vote for President of the United States may be a marble in the ocean, voting actually does matter in local elections.  Nonetheless, I hesitant to attribute low turnout to laziness.  This is a population that has come to believe that government is some entity immune from change.  It hangs over like some ominous cloud, blinking blue, and screaming sirens.  Who would ever want to vote for that?

The next location to have unfilled bids for a casino appears to be Rocky Gap.

Ground rent holders look to be the least sympathetic litigants in the history of Maryland jurisprudence.  The State provided an avenue to recoup investment, but the ground rent owners want to continue receiving payments on their antiquated and inequitable scheme. 

Lindsey McPherson writes a GOP-only Political Notebook, looking into the steadfast support for Herman Cain and the HoCo GOP Club's straw poll.

She also writes about legislation to be considered by the Howard delegation prior to next year's legislative session, including the bill to redefine CA under State law.  My favorite bill is one offered at the request of local golf courses to be able to serve alcohol as early as 6:00 am.  This bill should be titled the "It's Five O'clock Somewhere" Act.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Frank Hecker looks at the turnout for the 2010 General Election and finds that GOP only represented 34% of the vote, with the Dems garnering 50%. 

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CA Legislation (Tuesday Links)

As some of you may already be aware, CA is considering whether to request legislation that would carve out a separate category of non-profit that would better fit the scope and purpose of the Columbia Association.  As of yet, CA has been "under" the Homeowners Association Act, which has required the repeated engagement of lobbyists to exclude CA from HOA laws that would not make practical sense to put us under.  This new bill would hold CA to its by-laws, but take it out from under the gambit of HOA's in general.

When this bill was originally brought to the Board, a handful of members requested that it be redrafted to include all of the transparency provisions from the HOAA.  Personally, I thought this was misguided due to my every day experience of dealing with laws that are drafted based on principle instead of purpose.  CA is defined by its Charter and By-Laws.  Contrasting those documents against the transparency provisions in State law makes clear that the transparency requirements of our guiding law is much more stringent than anything under State law. 

Furthermore, the State law provisions simply do not contemplate an organization like CA, covering residences over tens of thousands of acres.  This is precisely why our organization is required to define its own policies rather than just refer to State law.  An example is to contrast the records and papers provision in State law, which states that these documents must be available to all "lot owners", to CA's By-laws, which state that these papers must be available to "any resident of Columbia."  These small differences make a world of difference once you are talking about law as opposed to the feel-good generalities of "transparency."

I don't think anyone could ever say I am against transparency in relation to CA.  If I was, then I've wasted a lot of time selling you all some serious propaganda.  With all of that as my foundation, I am in favor of this law.  It will save CA lien-payers money.  It makes legal sense.  Most importantly, it provides our residents the self-governance that an organization like CA mandates. 

Nonetheless, I think this bill is DOA.  While I appreciate Delegate Guzzone's willingness to work with us to get this bill through, recent actions by our Board have shown that we are not mature enough as a leadership team to work as partners.  We cannot have individual Board members going to the press or community listserv's maligning legislation before a decision has been made at the Board level.  Once that happens, the bill is poison.

This was an opportunity that our organization squandered.  At the end of the day, despite all the transparency that CA employs, it was squandered because not enough people are paying attention.

LINKS

TV Chef Gordon Ramsey has done what legions of Baltimore hipsters could not -- he got Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting to drop her trademark on "Hon."

It is estimated that the turnout for today's Baltimore City elections will be 10-12%.  That makes sense considering how well everything is going over there...

The Grand Prix may be done in Baltimore, after the City has threatened to cancel its contract due to $1.5 million in unpaid bills.  I think this project had exactly one day in which it was not a disaster.

The Howard County Council tabled both the Board of Appeals and Towing Bills to allow for additional deliberation and amendment.  Maybe these bills were controversial in ways that I have not heard, but I would imagine that both pieces of legislation pass sometime in the near term.

There is a budding controversy over the landfill-turned-methane-generator project in Marriotsville.  While I think all of us can applaud the County for its innovative thinking in this regard, I think we can also empathize with the surrounding residents who heard about this project and said "Wait, wait, you're going to do what?"

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow loves on Trattoria in Kings Contrivance, a Columbia staple for anyone who played T-ball, soccer, or any other field sport over the last three decades.  Personally, my favorite offering at this pizza spot is the garlic powder shaker.  Most Marylanders know that we are impostures when it comes to pizza, but the availability of this common staple from places like New Jersey and New York makes you feel like you may be coming as close as you can get to the genuine article.

That's all for today.  No post yesterday due to the amazing win by the Ravens over the evil Steelers.  The first five hours of my day had to fight for brain space with Torrey Smith's bucket catch over Ike Taylor's shoulder.  Torrey will be a star in this league and it couldn't happen to a nicer player.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Community Pools Back In the News

Just as pools across the County are checking their last skimmer for the season, the Howard County public pool debate is getting back in gear.

Jessica Anderson with the Baltimore Sun reports that Council-member Courtney Watson has submitted legislation to the Planning Board to allow community pools to sell their development rights to "offset property taxes."  From the article:

"The development rights that pools would sell could be purchased from the county by developers, and would permit them to increase the number of housing units [for] a new development in a different location by 10 percent."

As indicated by the article, it seems inevitable that this discussion will yet again contrast community pools with the Columbia Association.  I cannot say this enough -- these comparisons are bad for our County, bad for our community, and, worst of all, involve bad logic. 

Getting that out of the way, I think this is an innovative way to help these pools and hope the legislation gets approval from the Planning Board and moves on to the Council.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dancing for Dimes (FRIIIIIIDAY LINKS)

Vintage is this evening.  As I've said repeatedly, this is probably my favorite event of the year, and not just because I sit on the Board.  We normally have around 300 people every year and, somehow, it just ends up being the "right people."

Nonetheless, I can't help but lament the fact that our nonprofits, whatever their individual merit, are constantly tasked not only with their social good, but also a sustained fund-raising effort that can often require 20-30% of the organization's focus.  That shouldn't be.

I had a weird form of idealism in my early 20's.  My belief was that the government should get out of everything that can otherwise be handled by a non-profit and that these "private actors" would do a better job (with their very survival at stake) in addressing their mission AND raising funds.  The government would be required to pay some sort of stipend, but otherwise the value of this social good would be represented in its financial support from the public.  Said otherwise, the citizens would have a "choice" in what social projects our community engaged by voting with their dollars.

I'm afraid that was foolish.  In fact, after four years of serving on a non-profit Board, I know that was foolish.  It has a number of great talking points.  Heck, I even think it sounds good.  But the reality is that even with all of the foundations, endowments, and private donations, our nonprofits cannot be sustained by the private sector alone.  They depend on substantial grants from state and local governments that oftentimes are 50%+ of their operating budget.

We are not meeting our responsibility as a community.  If you think government salary freezes are bad, ask an Executive Director of a nonprofit about the last time they received a cost of living increase, much less a raise.  If you think the line at the DMV is bad, ask organizations dedicated to homeless services how many people they have had to turn away.  The last vestige of my idealistic plan noted above is that the private sector's responsibility should not be replaced by government funds.  This is our serve.  But we need to find a way to make that commitment more dependable and a greater part of our financial responsibilities as citizens.

The end truth is that in most cases, someone saving for a car (like myself) or a TV set will favor that purchase, no matter its extravagance, over philanthropy.  Nonprofit dollars are often viewed as the last budget entry under "Discretionary Spending."  Is that what we want?  It is often said that by looking at someone's budget, you can tell what their priorities are.  What are your priorities?

LINKS

While I would normally save it for the bottom of the post, WB gets top billing for his report that Whole Foods may be moving to Columbia Town Center.  Let the "I love Whole Foods" dance commence!

IndyCar and Baltimore City are calling for the restructuring of Baltimore Racing Development, which ran the Grand Prix this past summer.  Why do I get the feeling that this is but a thread on a very nasty sweater that is about to come undone?

An independent commission tasked with looking into the shooting of a plain-clothes police officer by other police has concluded that the shooting was due to a lack of training and supervision.  The rumblings may not have reached Howard County, but there is an ongoing concern about the Baltimore City police and their tendency towards violence.  I respect the police and understand the difficulty of their position, but I will say that this report will not satisfy civil leaders who wanted something more to come of this.

A pairing of Maryland Senators, one Republican, one Democrat, are attempting to spin-off BGE from the Exelon-Constellation merger to re-create "your father's BGE" -- namely re-regulate the state's electricity market.  Exelon suggested that this would be a deal-breaker. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane notes that the Occupy Wall Street movement is looking to "have some fun" with our already fragile economy.  You tell em!  And then after that, you'll probably have like 100,000 more unemployed people to join your party!  (Note: Howard Bank may want to extend its hours tomorrow)

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Ideal Board (Thursday Links)

"So what is it, exactly, that you think is so wrong here?  What about the Board do you think needs reform?"

That question was posed to me on Tuesday by another member of the Board Operations Committee.  We were discussing some proposals for CA Board Reform and this member had responded that they did not quite see the need for changing anything.  Notably, this question was posed after about fifteen minutes of discussion regarding how some of these reforms would be implemented.

I will admit that the question knocked me off my spot.  And the truth is, the real "issues" that I see with the Board will most likely not be fixed in any great measure by this round of Reform.  The primary focus of the present proposal is to streamline our deliberations and (somehow) stop the practice of having the Board making important decisions at 11 pm.  Rather than have multiple committee meetings at every Board meeting, we would have one.  Committees would meet once every two months, with the Board meeting twice a month (Planning and Strategy, Strategic Implementation, External Relations, Board of Directors).  The other proposed reformed is Staff Originated Agendas, meaning that Staff would prepare the Board's agenda items for action, as opposed to having individual Board members use CA like Sim City (is that an out-dated reference?).

An ideal Board would be 50% Planning and Strategy, 30% External Relations, and 20% Strategic Implementation.  It's primary focus would be strategic planning for the future and representation of the organization in public.  The Board's oversight capacity would be limited to those items brought to the Board by the Staff for correction, review, or removal from the strategic plan.  We're not there yet, and I'm not sure we ever will be.

Someone recently told me that CA's governance structure has defects in its core that will never be fixed.  That suggestion has stuck in my head.  There are a number of Board members that are looking to shore up this boat.  Let's see if its possible.  If we fail or reject the opportunity, I would expect all of you to hold us responsible in the Spring.

LINKS

Occupy Baltimore is under siege!  Baltimore City has cut off the "camp site's" power.  As I drove by the square yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder where they go to the bathroom. 

Grand Prix Party Poopers are seeing some redemption, as the true financial picture of this "windfall" comes into view.  Organizers have missed a loan payment to the state and face $1.6 million in unpaid bills that have brought on lawsuits.  But boy were those cars fast...

Exelon's COO says that approximately 600 corporate level jobs at Constellation will be eliminated in the merger.  That is very bad news for Maryland.

An artificial reef has been constructed in the Chesapeake to harvest oysters.  That's an environmental project I can get behind for sure.

FEMA's second look at Howard County's damages subsequent to Tropical Storm Lee went in Executive Ulman's favor.  As a result, our County will receive reimbursement for 75% "eligible Lee-related costs."  "You see...there was a turf football field right around here."  Joking aside, I know the Ulman folks worked hard on this and they deserve a thumbs up and congratulations.  Nice job!

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB issues a rallying call to get back to Columbia's roots and enforce the covenants on commercial property.  No more pink flamingos!

Baltimore the Cat Update: Her eye infection is clearing up and she is terrorizing our big dog (which can only be a good sign).  We've received a number of inquiries regarding adoption and I send my sincere thanks to all of you who forwarded yesterday's post.  We will NOT be taking Baltimore to a shelter.  She will go from our hands to a permanent home. 

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cat in the House (Wednesday Links)

When we were dating, one of the things I found most endearing about my wife was her affection for animals.  I've had pets all my life, so this was important to me and became a bonding point as we adopted two shelter dogs once she moved down to Maryland.

I should have known that it was all leading to this.  Meet Baltimore the Cat.  As Jane was driving home from her first day at a new job in Baltimore City, she saw Baltimore darting across the street.  She stopped her car, pulled over (somewhere on Rte 40), and grabbed her.  (It's a she).

When she called me, I thought to myself "Oh good.  The local shelter will appreciate Jane's upstanding citizen response, and send her on her way...sans cat."  Well, that's not how it works.  Poor Baltimore has a small eye infection and the shelters do not take sick or injured animals.  Even worse, our local vet does not have a "Free Medical Treatment for Rescued Cats" Policy.

A hour later, Jane came through the door with our new addition.  This is somewhat complicated by the fact that Jane is allergic to cats and my eyes started itching as soon as the cat came through the door.  Even worse, the daggone thing is pulling on our heart strings.  I've always been a dog guy, but this cat is buttering me up.  Despite numerous treatments with eye drops (cats don't like that), poor Baltimore has not tried to bite or scratch either of us.  After its over, she walks right back over to be pet.

Baltimore is an 8 week old tortoise shell calico.  According to Wikipedia, "cats of this coloration are believed to bring good luck" and are sometimes referred to as "money cats."  So I got that going for me.

Nevertheless, the allergy issue is not going away, so I am writing all of you to see if there may be another upstanding citizen looking to welcome a lucky, cute, friendly cat into your house.  If so, please e-mail me.

LINKS

Orioles Markakis and Wieters both win Gold Gloves!  Mark Reynolds won a gold bag of sunflower seeds.

It seems to run like clockwork.  Around this time every year, the Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore City faces a significant budget shortfall.  In March, the mayor will release her budget and the Council will give stump speeches about "draconian cuts."  With a few politically delicate projects being saved (i.e., pools, youth centers, fire & safety), the budget will be passed in the Spring, with most costs being kicked down the road.  What is most promising about this budget cycle is that the Mayor is recommending a Task Force to create a 10 year financial plan for the city.  Unfortunately, this report will not be due until June, so it can be presumed not to incorporate next year's spending.

Governor O'Malley's proposal for new taxes welcomes two views:  The first is deep frustration at the manner in which our State's finances have been handled, where a structural deficit is used as an excuse to raise taxes when that money would have been available had it not been "reallocated."  The second is an acknowledgment that public works transportation projects are 1) necessary, and 2) good for the economy.  When it comes to transportation funds, the citizens pay no matter what.  It is either through car repair/traffic mileage or taxes.  In a twisted way, I could even see this reasoning being presented in back rooms when deciding whether it is politically palatable to take money from the Transportation Trust Fund.  "Well...you know...I mean...we do have these folks over a barrel."  I guess my view is a mix of the two.  I am frustrated that our legislators allowed this to occur in front of their faces and hope we hold them accountable for that breach.  But I also understand the need and benefits of the transportation projects that have come due.

Lindsey McPherson has put out another edition of the Political Notebook, this time looking into Council-member Greg Fox's proposal for a new redistricting scheme as an alternative to that proposed by the Redistricting Commission.  In any other year, I thin Greg's plan would be a political statement, but I wouldn't be surprised to see his proposal get support from some of the Democrats on the Council who are less than thrilled to see parts of the County that they have come to know moved out of their district.  Nonetheless, the Fox Plan has a long road to hoe and may be DOA.

Lindsey also follows up on WB's post suggesting that Courtney Watson had "made it clear that she will be running for county executive in 2014."  Council-member Watson clarified "We have to start thinking about the future," she said. "And looking forward to seeing Ken Ulman move forward at the state level, I am giving consideration to it."  One-two-three one-two-three, the dance goes on.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Speaking of WB, he notes that the Laurel Mall will be coming down by the end of this year.  It will be interesting to see what it is replaced with.  Our "also ran" may become destination shopping.

That's all for today.  Between meetings, work, and random new pets, this week has been murderous.  There was a great discussion yesterday and I wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate your comments (for or against).  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Confessions of a Renter (Tuesday Links)

I have a confession for all of you, dear readers.  Less than four years ago, I was a renter in Columbia.  My wife and I moved into the Village of Owings Mills without the $15,000 and good credit that is normally required upon admission.  We paid...gulp...rent.  The housing market didn't scare us and no one from Zillow was sending us e-mails. 

We even had to ask permission for internal home improvements.

And before that, I was a renter in Baltimore City.  Before that, a renter in Washington, DC.  Before that, a renter in Williamsport, PA.  I am a serial renter!

Now, I imagine it is only a matter of time before this confession makes it to law enforcement, so I will make this post brief.  I never meant to hurt anyone.  I just wanted to live in a nice area with good people. I mowed my lawn and my wife planted flowers.  I shoveled my neighbor's sidewalk when it snowed.  In fact, I did everything I do now, with the only difference being where I sent my check.

For those that are a little confused, you may want to check out Columbia Compass's response to some concerning comments made at the Pre-Submission hearing.  Considering all of the places I have lived, the attitudes sometimes expressed toward renters by Columbians is often stunning.  New York, one of the greatest cities in the world, is filled with renters.  Washington, DC, a bastion of wealth and influence, is fueled by renters.  Columbia, a sub-urban idea still living up to its potential?  Well, we don't need renters.  We want all the other stuff, but can we do it without the renters?

If I stay on this topic too much longer, I am quite certain I will get into the code-word nature of "renters", which is probably worth saving for another day.  In the meantime, stop it.  There is nothing on a police citation that checks the equity a suspect may have in their homestead.  Just because you watched a COPS marathon last New Years, that does not make you a sociologist.  I would presume that there are more renters in Columbia and Ellicott City than any of us think.  Your assumptions and cocksure attitudes on the subject are only worthwhile for their ability to identify ignorance.

You're talking about my people.

LINKS

Council Chair Calvin Ball is introducing legislation, co-sponsored by Courtney Watson, to offer "green" tax credits for new residential buildings that reach at least a silver LEED rating.  One thing this bill has that I wish we saw more often was a sunset clause.  It allows the Council, and in many cases new Councils, to re-evaluate the cost-benefit of the legislation, which is especially effective when it relates to emerging technologies, such as green buildings.

The Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board lives to count another tombstone.  I look forward to seeing this Board re-purposed to meet the needs of the County and preserve its heritage.  Volunteer Boards can do a tremendous amount for our County at little to no cost and I'm glad this one was given another shot.

New tolls go into effect today.  Load up that EZ Pass.

PlanMaryland has created a really interesting dynamic in the statewide political climate, wherein rural jurisdictions feel as if they are being forced to cede control to centralized planning.  Should this go through, it is a very important change in the relationship between the counties and the State.  However, as romantic as local government may be, it is important to note that its powers are not sovereign, but rather are granted to it by the State.  As such, when this conflict turns from a PR one to that of a courtroom, the counties are destined to lose.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  C2.0 discusses some of the environmental impacts, or lack thereof, that would come along with an intermodal facility in Howard County.

I've noticed that voting for the Mobbies is underway.  I appreciate those of you who took the time to nominate me, but I will tell you that you won't see much tap-dancing for votes here.  I appreciate that the Baltimore Sun has taken on this effort to promote the blogs and I do not disparage anyone who would like to lobby for the prized advertising banner that says "Winner", but it's just not me.

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

Please remember that Vintage tickets are still on sale.  I know that many of you have said to yourself "Let me see what I have going on that weekend."  Well by now you should know that you are free...and that you probably wouldn't mind spending your evening drinking some wine with yours truly (Ok, so you don't have to drink wine with me).  Come on out!