Friday, December 30, 2011

HoCo GOP to Decide Dyer's Fate?

Sara Toth has a great "new analysis"-type piece in the Flier about the apparent lackluster interest in challengers for the 2012 Board of Education race.  Sara notes that if we don't have at least seven candidates for the Board of Education by the filing deadling (January 11, 2012), there may not even be a primary.  According to the piece, we currently have at least five:

Ellen Giles
Janet Siddiqui
Allen Dyer (not filed, but expressed intent to run)
Leslie Kornreich
Ann DeLacy (not filed, but expressed intent to run)

Don Norris, with the University of Maryland, was quoted as saying that even if there is a primary, it may not draw enough interest for people to vote.

That had me thinking about who is voting in this primary: Republicans.  They may be a minority party in the County, but I think there is a very good chance that they are the majority party in an April Primary with the potential for a drawn out GOP Primary Battle.  A concentrated effort by the GOP to get "their guy/gal" onto the School Board and/or boot someone like Allen Dyer off could be effective to knock out an incumbent before we even get to November.

The question is whether the party has the organizational capacity or interest to pull something like this off.  It is not as sexy as the Taxpayer Protection Initiative, but it would be a significant strategic victory that many in the County would appreciate.

December 2012 (Friday Links)

December 2011 has been rather boring.  In fact, I think that the entire 2011 calendar has been mostly without political bombshells, other than the errant impeachment or pool tax credit.  I'm expecting a lot more from 2012 and thought I would lay out some predictions for what we'll be talking about a year from now:
  • Allen Dyer will not be removed from office prior to the primary election and the State Board of Education will defer their judgment until after the people have their say.  I predict that Mr. Dyer makes it through the primary, but loses in the General Election to a challenger that had been on a previous ballot.  I also anticipate a dearth of challengers in response to otherwise favorable incumbents (Giles, Siddiqui).
  • In December 2012, we will be talking about how the local Dems are lining up with Gubernatorial candidates.  Ken Ulman is expected to announce his candidacy sometime in January, which may place him as the first one of out of the box.  I don't know of any Anthony Brown or Doug Gansler allegiances in the County, but I would expect at least a few prominent politicos to not-so-silently support Peter Franchot. 
  • By December 2012, we will have a much better understanding of what kind of Dem Primary we will see for Howard County Executive.  While most are predicting a Watson/Guzzone contest, some think that with seniority cascading down on Guy in the House of Delegates, he may be tempted to return to Annapolis (which very well may be a windfall for Howard County in light of how effective Delegate Guzzone has already been for bond projects in the County).  Should this occur, I will lose my first beer bet of 2014.
  • Some time over the next twelve months, there will be a conflict between Howard Hughes and the County that tests enforceability of the Downtown Plan.  I don't anticipate there being any litigation, but lawyers will be drafting letters and a lot of them.  The real conflict will arise regarding whether the County acquiesced or held their ground, with familiar players taking familiar sides.
  • Wegman's will provide great joy, happiness, and...traffic.  HowChow starts a weekly post titled "Things Found at Wegman's."
  • Frisco Grille fans will resort to parking in the Wegman's parking lot and taking the new and improved "Frisco Shuttle" that will have three taps and a taco bar.
  • The checker-board of properties along Route 1 will finally sell due to a more realistic view of the real estate market.  Small, successful development projects will begin to appear with mixed commercial/residential buildings.  Ironically enough, the community comes together and finds its identity in opposing future development and/or intermodal.
  • Ken Ulman doesn't bet on losing horses (especially when he has inside information) -- No intermodal in Hanover.
Those are my predictions for the coming year.  Some are in jest, but for the most part, I would say there is a 40%-50% chance on most of them playing out, if not this year, the next.


Derek Thompson with The Atlantic looks at who makes up the 6 million people who left the workforce, causing the unemployment numbers to go down.  His conclusion is that they are mostly young women under the age of 25.

Laurel based SAIC received an $11 million contract to upgrade the security on five of Maryland's toll bridges.

Melvin Mora has retired.  I would say he is sad, but he only has one expression.  I wonder if that is true for every man that has quintuplet girls.

Verizon Wireless will now be charging you $2 and a smack in the face to pay your bill online.  (I added the second part).

Mayor SRB is going to give another try at the 2 cent bottle tax to repair city schools.  I can't wait for the commercials to start back up.

O'Malley's "war on rural Maryland" will see its first cannon-fire this Spring, with the Governor promising to propose legislation that would put limits on new septic tanks.  This legislation, whatever it may be, will have a significant effect on property values for those "off the grid", but probably not much here in Howard County.  Despite our rolling hills and spacious farmland, most of Howard County is connected to sewer lines.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Those no interested in locavore movement probably won't care, but for the rest of us, Sarah's post on meat available from Wagon Wheel Ranch is very helpful.  Without writing a book on the subject, locally and humanely raised meat is better for you, better for the environment, and supports the local farm industry.  That's a triple win in my book.  Thank you, Sarah.

After a deposition in DC this morning, I'll be putzing around HoCo for the afternoon.  Based on my Facebook feed, not too many folks are working today.  Anything fun happening around town?

Have a great Friday doing what you love...OR whatever you want!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolute (Thursday Links)

 A year ago today, I set out my New Year's Resolutions for this blog and myself.  To paraphrase, they were:
1) Post valuable content;
2) Start the podcast;
3) Be known as someone who "also blogs."

While I've almost always defined myself as a goals oriented person, I am coming up empty this year.  That is simultaneously depressing and satisfying; in both extremes.

Regardless of lacking a personal goal, I have a continuing goal for this blog and that is turning words to action.  Not by my direction or encouragement, but moreso by some item of connection that I may provide to you (the reader) by which you feel the community calling.  For some, that very well may mean writing.  Writing is an action all of its own, especially when you provide a reliable, informed voice that people can trust.  For others, that may be getting into the gears of the beast.  April will mean a lot for this blog.  I am expecting the recent history of uncontested Village elections with low resident turnout to change.  If it doesn't, we are all wasting opportunities.

2011 has been a great year.  The work is in trying to top it.

(I had one more thought to share from The Dictator's Handbook as it relates to redistricting, but Frank has already hashed this out quite comprehensively on his own blog.  HCR "Cliff" Notes: Districts with mixed interests produce better government.  The authors point to the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of Congress, while a similar majority approve of their individual congress-person.  They suggest that this is due to gerrymandering that aligns districts with interests, and limits the selectorate/coalition that a representative must appease to stay in power.  Very interesting in terms of Howard County, District 4, and those that "don't want to be in a district with Columbia."  I remember talking to someone from Laurel about the "Rte 1" district, suggesting that they may favor such a plan.  He shook his head and said "Why would we want that?  As it is right now, those of us that live in the corridor have three representatives considering our interests."  Well, I guess that sums it up quite nicely.)


It seems almost inevitable that the Baltimore Racing Development group will no longer be organizing next year's Grand Prix, as a deadline approaches with no solutions at hand.  It may be all for the best, but the rub is considering whether any company (especially one starting over for a failed operation) can manage this project successfully...and on time.

A project looking to house the formerly homeless in Southwest Baltimore is meeting some predictable NIMBY resistance.  Speaking of problems without solutions, it seems that every social good, no matter its merits, will always be endangered by the inconveniences of others.

Despite MD GOP efforts to spotlight the issue, there was been very little coverage of the "Richard Stewart Affair" regarding the political heights reached by a man who had failed to pay nearly $4 million in Social Security and payroll taxes from 2003 to 2008.  Democratic lawmakers are treating Stewart's political donations like hot potatoes, with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown being the latest to throw $5,750 back into the pot.  Giggly "gotchas" aside, I can't say there is much here.  These lawmakers had no reason to know their political buddy was keeping money from Uncle Sam.  But all the same, this would have received a higher profile if it had been a Republican buddy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers wonders why there are speed cameras in "school zones" during Winter Break.  His post reminded me of this piece from the Maryland Reporter that questioned whether the cameras are as good for local jurisdictions as our elected officials may suggestion.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love...or have a nice day off.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Disenchanted Disenfranchised (Wednesday Links)

Through indirect recommendation from Frank Hecker, I picked up The Dictator's Handbook to read over my Christmas vacation (in New Jersey).  As Frank described in his post, the basic theory of the authors is that the actions of leaders can be linked fairly successfully to an almost formulaic correlation to the size of their "selectorate" (which breaks down further among those who have the appearance of control and those who decide whether the leader will continue to lead).  About once a year, I read a book that changes the way I think.  Thankfully, I fit this one in right before the bell rang.

The base idea (explained in further detail by Frank) was that the smaller the selectorate (authoritarians have the smallest), the less likely the leader will promote public goods over private goods.  Said otherwise, if my five goons put me in power and protect me from removal, I will ensure my five goons get their mansions before anyone else gets rice.  This extends to democracies, where coalitions of "essentials" fill the roles of goons.  Interestingly enough, the authors posit that all political parties raise government revenue through some means, as this is the way goons/coalitions are fed.

I couldn't help but think of the theories of this book in terms of local elected bodies and our discussion last week regarding the critic v. the actor.  I'll admit that I was probably a little harsh on the dear critic, which may have had some relation to where my mind was with Symphony Woods and the like.  However, in the context of the selectorate theory, I wonder how this fits into the "power" of an essential.  In local elections, it is not very difficult to be "important."  In some cases, it may even be by happenstance.  I hope I am not bursting any bubbles, but I think that is part of the reason why so many of us look to be involved.

But then look at a body like the Board of Directors for the Columbia Association.  Residents have, through apathy or ignorance, chosen to let Board elections go uncontested with low resident turn-out.  (I'm not interested in getting into the ways we can increase Village election turn-out here, but I can't stop you from posting a comment about it below).  Contrary to popular belief, this does not make the Board less relevant or otherwise diminish our decision-making ability.  In fact, under the selectorate theory, it further empowers them to do whatever it is the Board members wish to do.  Accountability creeps towards zero, where some would say it has been for some time.  That doesn't necessarily mean that a protective coalition has not been formed.  Certainly there are groups that have had their voice heard in the absence of others.  CA has previously been used as an amplifier for minority views, often to the bafflement of those on the other side (i.e., Columbia redevelopment).  While this may have appeared to be the voice of a poisoned well, the logic of it all seems sound.  The Board was representing the views of its selectorate.

I've said many times, this is a good Board with trust-worthy people.  But I'm not sure it has to be.  They are interested in representing the wishes of Columbia residents.  The question becomes: which ones?


The Housing Market has fallen 17% over the last three years, but there are signs that values are stabilizing.  Please tell that to the Zillow account that keeps sending me nasty e-mails.

The fine folks in Woodbine don't speak up much, but when they put out an American flag, they expect you to leave it be.

Governor O'Malley is putting the State of Maryland out in front on the Health Care Access and Affordability Act, with recommendations for our state's insurance exchange commission being released Tuesday.  With a Supreme Court decision pending, one can only hope that this is not a tremendous waste of state funds.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB releases his annual Dookies, which even goes so far as to criticize the blog without reproach: HowChow!  I appreciate my own Dookie and will put it somewhere so the cat can't eat it (yes, we still have Baltimore -- whose name has been changed to Bella).

In case you didn't notice, I skipped town and unplugged last week.  I hated having to miss the CA Board meeting on Thursday, but of all the sacrifices I've asked Jane to make in connection with that service, I can't ask her to miss time with her family.  Also, despite the concern, I have not reached (and do not intend to reach) burn-out, but last week got a little "hot."  Work was long.  Meetings were longer.  It was time to read a book.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Recommended Changes to the Howard County Charter

The Howard County Charter Review Commission has submitted its report to the Howard County Council, which I have put into Google Docs for your review.

Participating with this group has been one of the high-lights of my year.  From top to bottom, this was a group of dedicated citizens who chose deliberation over conflict time and time again.  It was a tremendous honor to be on the Commission, but even moreso to get to work with these great people.

Coming Attractions (Thursday Links)

One of the more common criticisms that is being repeated regarding the current Symphony Woods plan is that it "lacks a draw."  The assumption is that without a black monolith, the park will remain stagnant and empty.

That normally merits the follow-up question from me: What should that attraction be?

Responses have neatly fit into two camps:
1) They say "I'm so glad you asked", kick me in the shins, and run away.  (Or the semantic equivalent -- "That's not for me to say").
2) They say "I'm so glad you asked", and go into a meticulous monologue about some item of nostalgia from their past that they would like to see reenacted here in Columbia (i.e., ice rink, petting zoo, carousel, kiddie train, etc.).

(If I had the ability to insert a footnote, I would put one here, stating that I have heard a tremendous idea of working with MPP to create a museum acknowledging MPP's significant history and relevance to American rock 'n roll.  THAT would be cool).

But if you look at other successful parks, they are not defined by a what.  They are defined by a where. Symphony Woods's attraction is going to be Columbia.  In the context of this Plan, the attraction will be Merriweather Post Pavillion, the Library, the Crescent Neighborhood, and the Mall; each drawing people into and out of the park.  There will never EVER be a fountain (no matter how interactive) that sustains this park.  Parks are defined by respite.  Not laser beams, geysers, and painted horses.

We can debate the reason that the current plan failed all day (and I assure you that they are much more complex than "It lacked pizazz").  But if we are to aim for success, the new Plan will feature an attraction than will be 30 years in the making -- the new City of Columbia.


Dan Rodricks profiles Terry Reed, a man that you have undoubtedly seen if you have spent any time in Baltimore.  He was often a reminder that this Country's safety net is not as secure as everyone seems to believe.

Baltimore seems to churn through female sports commentators like $1 Natty Bohs.  I hope that it is true that Jen Royle did not leave due to intimidation or harassment, but I just don't think that's true.  It's a shame.

The Maryland Board of Public Works voted to approve what is essentially a $168 million subsidy-lease for 4,719 slot machines at Maryland Live! Casino in Arundel Mills.  Comptroller Peter Franchot dissented.  This is a hot mess that our State is waltzing its way into. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane promotes the Connecting Columbia open house events that will promote inter-connectivity of Columbia's paths for bikers, runners, and walkers.  These events will provide a great opportunity for those curious about Columbia's paths to learn where they go and that sometimes, just sometimes, you actually can get "there from here" in our confusing culde-scape.

I'm meeting a friend for breakfast, so I will be cutting things a little short today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Arena (Wednesday Links)

With the January 11, 2012 filing deadline just around the corner (thank you everyone), there are a few among us who are considering a run for public office.  Both in the family room and the subsequent ballot box, thousands of strangers will be asking the same question "Why should I/you be elected?"  That is a heavy consideration. 

For not-so-uncertain reasons, we have surrounded public office with private scorn.  "So and so thinks he/she should be on the County Council!  Ha!"  A lot of this has to do with insecurity and cowardice, but a lot also has to do with the very nature of a democracy.  It would seem to be an evolutionary skill to resent those who seek or have attained power.  Similar to artists, we only lionize those who have died.  The living elected are rarely praised and often ridiculed.  But that's not on them.  That's on us.

What do I mean by "insecurity and cowardice"?  Well, if you really had a problem with what they were doing, you probably would be in there doing something about it.  I'm always interested in hearing concerns about the Columbia Association and what it can be doing better, but whenever I hear the truly angry, frustrated rant of a concerned resident, I ask them what Village they are from.  And then I tell them when the next Village elections will be.

There is no other job in the world that provides as many opportunities for criticism and as few opportunities for praise.  Those of you considering the journey have my sincere encouragement and thanks.  If you have a bad idea, I will probably talk about it.  If you have a good idea, I may overlook it.  You can expect the same from anyone who writes about politics.  It is not intentional, but it is the function of this self-correcting beast.  But as John Harbaugh...ahem...Theodore Roosevelt noted:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." 


As Baltimore City double checks its ledger sheets, the Treasury does not seem to think twice about issuing property tax bills in excess of $20,000This can't be helping the 10,000 Family Pledge.

While the nation's jobless rate may have gone down due to people quitting the workforce, Maryland's work-force has actually increased over the last three months, driven by (gasp) the private sector. 

Seeing as Columbia may be viewed as a museum of sorts for Homeowners Associations, we may need to open a new exhibit.  The Federal Hill Neighborhood Association appears to be imploding over the alleged mishandling of Grand Prix funds, with all but one member removed by ballot last night. Veterans at the Flier have to read that piece and say "You think that's bad?"

Jailed former County Executive Jack Jackson will continue to collect a $50,000 pension despite his conviction due to a loophole in Maryland law.  How many convicts on the State pension rolls will it take before someone does something about this?  (The article notes that Delegate Ron George is working on a bill to close the loophole).

After a vote of approval by the Board of Education, it looks like Atholton and Hammond will be getting turf fields after all.  The vote broke down as follows: Meshkin, Dyer, and Vaillancourt agin it.  French, Aquino, Siddiqui, and Giles say "play ball."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah scrutinizes the proposed Lakefront Plans and wonders what will be different to draw people to the lake.  I've been interested to see the focus on "attractions" as CA determines what to do with its open space.  That seems to be a good focus for a future post.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

District Without a Delegate -- 9A

Lindsey McPherson has a great write-up of what our law-makers are saying about the proposed legislative redistricting map.  Oddly enough, no one seems to have any qualms with it.  Delegates Miller and Bates get some cushion and shake off the "moderate voters in Ellicott City", while Delagate Bobo rejects the suggestion that her newly drawn district is an invitation for retirement.  What I love from the quotes in this piece is the apparent reference to some omnipotent source that imposed the map from on high.  No one seems willing to admit slight or benefit, with Delegate Guzzone noting that "Quite frankly, the way things are done is pretty top-down," he said. "They look at what they think will be best for the state and (their political) party."

Most interesting about this new map is District 9A, which is turning out to be a district without a delegate.  Early prognosticators were suggesting that this district was custom made for Courtney Watson to foreclose a run at County Executive, but Council-member Watson is quoted in the Flier piece as saying that she is "definitely" not considering a run for State office, and that her "interest and focus has always been at the local level."

That leaves a swing district up for grabs; potentially giving Old Ellicott City a level of relevance in Annapolis that it has not seen for some time. 

Oh Jon-ny boy, the district lines are calling you.

Dear Applicants (Tuesday Links)

(This morning's post is dedicated to the San Francisco 49er's and the fine Harbaugh family).

I have to say that I am a little disappointed in the website for the Howard County Board of Elections.  While I admit that my internet skills may be dulled by the early hour, I found it nearly impossible to find any information about running for Board of Education.  It was my understanding that the deadline for filing as a candidate for the primary was sometime in January 2012 (hence the reason for the post), but the website does not indicate when the filing deadline is for the April primary, and frankly gives a intimidatingly sparse "Candidates" page for those considering the journey.

Having spent so much time looking for the deadline, I have no choice but to turn to the...


Maryland's "Voice of Reason" Ron Smith has died.  No matter your political views, Ron Smith provided valuable local radio that will not, and can not, be replicated.  He worked his way in to be the only conservative (word used loosely...I do understand that it is a "religion of purity" for some) columnist for the Baltimore Sun.  He was a contrarian in a time that everyone feels compelled to agree or spend time with those who will.  Ron Smith's interest in taking a commonly held belief and skewering it beyond all recognition was an inspiration for me.  He will truly be missed.

Governor O'Malley's controversial PlanMaryland has officially gone into effect.  This framework is decried as usurping local control over planning, to which the administration responds that "the plan will not dictate local land-use policies but will guide state spending, steering money away from projects that promote sprawling development."  That sounds fine in the absence of context, but isn't it the legislature's job to dispense State funds?  I appreciate the interest of PlanMaryland and think it probably is a good idea in theory, but at the end of the day it is a matter of "Who knows better?"  Justice Sandra Day O'Conner once said that most Supreme Court decisions are not about a policy choice but rather "who decides."  Overreaches by both Democrats and Republicans, whether it is in the Board Room or the Bed Room, always come back to the assumption that "Government knows best."

Shame on the Baltimore County Council for the amendments made to the proposed new Ethics Legislation, significantly cutting back rules relating to gifts and attempts at influence.  I understand that these law-makers are worried about those in the gray area becoming the target of political marksmen.  Well, here's my tip: Stay out of the gray area.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow reports back on a roadside BBQ truck in Savage that he highly recommends.  While not covered in the post, I do want to give our resident food blogger some delayed kudos.  Two to three years ago, he wrote a post about "gas station tacos" that ended up being a signature reference when promoting the value of food blogs.  The next thing you know, R&R Taqueria is featured in the Wall Street Journal.  About a year later, Guy Fieri is filming a "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" in Howard County.  I can't say that HowChow "made" this happen, but I can say that it probably would not have happened without him.  That's big stuff.  (Long story short: Get to the Savage BBQ truck before it goes big).

That's all for today.  I am so happy the Steelers lost.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Art Therapy (Monday Links)

The normally missing "Late night Ravens loss" post does not apply today.  I went to bed after the fourth quarter (after some pouting and stomping of feet).  Plus, I've had a post in my head all weekend.

Jane and I watched The Help this weekend.  It is certainly a good movie and one I would recommend, especially in the context of this post, but I understand why the book and movie took some heavy social criticism.

The movie focuses on African American nanny-maids (i.e., "The Help") in 1960's America.  This institution was mostly phased out in Maryland at least a generation ago, but the book and movie were praised for shining a light on a sometimes ugly, but similarly cherished "way of life."

But as with all movies that get into the muck regarding America's racial history (and past misdeeds), there is a white protagonist.  In The Help, it is a benevolent "Miss Manners" columnist who decides to write a book to tell the story of "The Help."  In other contexts, the character construct is almost always someone who leaves the lap of luxury to self-lessly involve themselves with the civil rights movement and, but for their involvement, creates significant social change that the silently suffering would not have been able to achieve.

I watch these movies and wonder whether the creative subconscious of Hollywood movie-makers is interested in absolving 1960's America of the majority view by inserting these memorable white caricatures who "save the day."  Whatever the motivation, it is unfortunate that our Country's past is being manipulated and misrepresented to allow for this type of art therapy.  Generations of modern day adults want to remember their past as one of hop-scotch and bottled Coca-Cola, as opposed to "whites only" and fire hoses.  They will watch The Help, put themselves in the role of protagonist, and think "Things were bad then, but there were some of us who knew what was right."  Do these movies exist to allow that type of calm?  Where are our American Revolution movies with British protagonists?

But I'm not worried about those who should know better, and lived the genuine article.  I'm worried about the next generation, who will watch a slew of movies just like The Help, and think that things weren't so bad after all.


The Orioles have signed left-handed utility outfielder Endy Chavez.  Remember December 18, 2012.  It was the day that things starting turning around.  (Ugh).

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has died.

Delegate Samuel Rosenberg will be crafting legislation to tie Baltimore City property tax bills to resident income, which would have a subsequent effect of raising more money for City coffers (i.e., a tax hike).  With SRB's 10,000 family pledge, I think the last thing this City needs to do is make Baltimore less attractive for wealthy home-owners.

Maryland is fighting to pull in even more federal jobs by persuading the FBI to build their new headquarters in Prince George's County.

The newly proposed Redistricting Map for State Representatives was released on Friday and there are some big implications for Howard County, which are discussed by Lindsey McPherson in her Political Notebook.  Although I have not studied the map too much, my understanding is that I have been shifted out of District 9A and into 9B.  Here's a good image of the new districting scheme.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Between the opening of the new Miller Branch Library and the new redistricting map, there were an unusual amount of blog posts this weekend.  However, if you stay up until 1:14 am on a Friday night to give your spin on the effect of political lines on the surrounding geography, you win my pick for Post of the Week.  Welcome back, Trevor.

That's all for today.  I have the great fortune of driving down to Richmond this morning for a deposition.  Plenty of time in my car...avoiding sports radio.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Public Intellect (FRIIIIDAY Links)

Although I've recommended it before, I want to again promote the "Start Your Week" Podcast on BBC Radio.  I was listening to this discussion of the "public intellectual" last night and thought it would make an interesting post.  Although unfortunate, it seems appropriate that this post is paired up with the death of Christopher Hitchens, one of the most controversial "public intellectuals" of our time.

The SYW podcast is set up with a group of four to five authors, philosophers, musicians, or artists who are asked to discuss a given topic.  On the podcast linked above, they were asked to discuss the "role of the public intellectual."  Fear not, dear reader, I do not intend to cast myself in the starring role, but I did think their discussion was very interesting in the context of social media.

The ability to write, and share our ideas, has created a compulsion.  "I've had a bad day.  I must post this on Facebook or no one will know and my suffering would have been for naught."  We've seen revolutions across the world spurred on by the transmission of ideas and passion via Twitter and Facebook, but besides the occasional news story post with 27 comments, those tools are under utilized in 21st Century America, despite a crumbling economy and a widening gap between poverty and wealth (most common trigger for policy change in the world).

In the context of the podcast -- our public intellectuals have no incentive to be public officials, and vice versa.  We resent writers who do and doers who write. 

"You, over there, observe.  You, yes you, you do the stuff.  Observer, tell everyone what he is doing wrong, but don't help.  Person doing stuff, persevere through the criticism, but do not say anything."

It makes you wonder why that is.  An individual's votes are as lasting as their reasoning for doing so, but why is the latter shielded from view?

With regard to Christopher Hitchens, why did so many people hate him?  Because he made them uncomfortable?  Is that the greatest danger of the public intellectual?  I disagreed with him more often than not (although would never represent the same if we shared a room), but I always enjoyed reading his work.  He made this experience richer.  He added depth.  Most important, he challenged me, both in thought and action. 

Those would be admirable characteristics in an elected official and, should I agree, ones I would follow to the ends of the earth. 


Brian Billick would like to coach the Dolphins.  It would be fun to see him coaching again.  I've appreciated his commentary, but it just doesn't seem like "him."  Knowing I have at least two "Fin Fans" out there, I thought this would be something to bring up.

Yesterday marked the end of the Iraq War.  Thank you to all who served.  There was a point not too long ago that I made an effort to read the names of every solider who died as they were published in the newspaper.  I feel as if the newspapers understood that they had this responsibility, but never quite figured out the appropriate way to get it done.  I hope that one day we as a Country can show the appropriate recognition for those soldiers; to reflect our appreciation and solemnity for their loss.

Because of my job, I try not to comment on litigation, but this story about a $1.3 million "bullying" lawsuit in Baltimore City caught my eye.  Everyone remembers being bullied.  Very few will openly recognize that they did some of the bullying.  I don't think the castigation of our school system is going to change anything.  The only way to stop bullying is to kick all the kids out of the school.

Reading the list of qualities that the Howard County School Board will be looking for in its next Superintendent reminded me of a scene from a movie involving a woman who flew around with an umbrella.  "Rosy cheeks, no warts."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at some changing "noise buffer zones" around BWI and how some of the previous zones from 1998 may have put their thumb on Howard County development.

I had three instances of "it's only Thursday" yesterday, which makes me feel like I'm in need of some rest and relaxation.  So much going on, so much less sunlight.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sim City (Thursday Links)

I received word last night that the County has rejected CA's most recent proposal for Phase 1 development of Symphony Woods.  While I have not seen the report, my presumption is that this decision is premised on the failure to properly incorporate Merriweather Post Pavilion.  We can point to the "cafe" at the bottom of our schematics and say that this will be a "grand entrance" to MPP, but without specifically noting that intent in the preliminary plans, CA is leaving too much ammo for those that would fight to have Symphony Woods exist on an island.

I am starting to doubt the process.  CA took a risk by being out in front of Downtown Development and has acted like a guinea pig of sorts.  Seeing as any proposal from CA will be required to meet the whims of an elected Board and cannot be flexible to the feedback of the County, we may have been setting ourselves up for failure.  But at the end of the day, I was happy with CA's Phase 1 proposal and voted for it to be submitted to DPZ, with the understanding that this plan would be integrated with MPP.

But that's the jig.  The interest in integration is premised on cooperation for surrounding property owners.  If those property owners, such as Howard Hughes, are not interested in focusing their energies on peripheral properties to those CA wishes to develop, the process is stalled.  Do not pass Go.  Do no collect $200.  We are left staring at a wall, wondering what it will take to get over.

If the County is going to effectuate this New Town Zoning, it is going to have to find a way to make these gears work.  Otherwise, obstinacy will set in.  "I'm not going to work with you on [Plan A] until you work with me on [Plan Z]."  The entire system will break down in a spectacular gridlock.  The County will be forced to choose favorites...all in the interest of "integration."

I don't disagree with the necessity of fluid connectivity between properties.  I just don't know how it is going to work.


More information is coming out regarding the dire straits of Baltimore Racing Development in the two months leading up to the race.  According to this article, BRD required a $1 million loan two months prior to the event in order to keep the project afloat, the terms of which were so onerous that the racing company could not pay City taxes.  To paraphrase Goodfellas: "[So what?] Pay me."

For those not paying attention, the Maryland Terrapin Football team is falling apart.

In a bit of news that makes no bit of sense, due to what most expect to be a prolonged primary battle, the Maryland GOP is expected to have an important role in picking the GOP nominee for President of the United States.

Governor O'Malley has garnered some concessions from Exelon Corp. in their efforts to buyout Constellation.  Prominent on that list is the promise to continue operations in Maryland, particularly with respect to alternative energy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Frank Hecker looks at the prospect of taking politics out of redistricting.  Kinda like taking chicken out of chicken noodle soup.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Columbia's Identity (Wednesday Links)

Yesterday, I was speaking with a member of the press about something having to do with Columbia when I came hurtling towards a word that I could not apply.  "Columbia is a _____."  Town?  City?  Zip Code? Confederacy of HOA's?  I ended up stuttering around the term, even using the phase "this geography", before settling on "aspiring City."

In my short time on the CA Board, I have heard Columbia's identity represented with great confidence by those with alternative, and sometimes conflicting views.  There is also the question of whether our idea of what Columbia "is" should be (or is) derivative of what Jim Rouse thought Columbia "should be."  In fact, I would say that is one of the most prominent identity crises facing our sleepy hamlet.

I think it is important for our community to get a handle on Columbia's identity before it starts to change.  By this, I don't mean that we need to determine that we would like to be hipster yuppies like Seattle or young-professionals-who-know-how-to-have-fun like Chicago.  In a much more basic sense, I would hope we could just figure out what we are.  What values did Columbia have when it was founded?  Which ones are we taking forward?  How are they going to be represented?

About two years ago, I attended a fundraiser for the Festival of the Arts at Toby's Dinner Theatre.  A prominent local politician spoke (who I will not name here), and began his remarks by saying "I think we've all quoted Jim Rouse enough and I'm not going to do it tonight."  That was a lasting comment for me, because it begs the question of whether Columbia uses Jim Rouse as a crutch to define what "it" is.  So long as we have a world-renowned developed (who was on the cover of TIME Magazine!) that thought we were the bees knees, we really don't have to do much in the way of defining our identity. We can just refer to his books.


The Occupy Movement's eviction may serve as the removal of training wheels for an undefined movement that is almost certain to have continued relevance in State and National politics.  It is quite clear that those who encountered the McKeldin Square encampment overwhelming viewed it with resentment, which is no way to create political traction.  Nonetheless, that resentment was also tinged with curiosity.  "What are they doing in there?  What is so important that they would be outside in this cold weather?"  Now is the time to answer those questions.

A new coalition of businesses, non-profits, and government agencies has formed to make the Inner Harbor "swimmable" by 2020.  While I think this is a great goal, it would seem to require Watershed management of the entire City, which is intimidating in thought alone.

Downtown eatery Werner's will be reopening under new management next year.  I know many an old lawyer who will be happy to hear about this.

Frank Hecker is featured in both the Howard Section of the Baltimore Sun and Lindsey McPherson's Political Notebook, covering his new e-book about Howard County redistricting.  I think the cold war between print and electronic media is officially over.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB has a great post about his friend's experience ringing the Salvation Army Bell during the Holiday Season. 

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vision for the Columbia Lakefront (Tuesday Links)

The design drawings of Cy Paumier's Plan for the Columbia Lakefront can be found here.  As I noted before, it is very impressive and you can't help but be enthusiastic about the project.  My interest is in soliciting two to three alternative proposals to compare against this one and possibly derive additional features to be incorporated into the chosen plan.  Despite hearing repeatedly from Cy's team that "we've already waited long enough" and "the time is now", I don't see the hurry for a Lakefront that we will expect to become a community focal point over the next twenty to thirty years.

While the majority of the Board was interested in soliciting Mr. Paumier's original schematics, I do not believe the majority of the Board is interested in moving on with these proposals without soliciting alternative bids.  To do otherwise would most likely constitute a significant breach in our contracting procedures, unless we were to (again) limit the cost of the project to avoid the progress (ugh).

I will be sure to keep you all informed about opportunities to let the Board know your perspective on this, even if it is different from mine.  These plans really are spectacular and if you want to move forward now, that is certainly your prerogative.  We only have one Downtown.  Let's do this right.


The ten-week Occupy Baltimore movement is over.  Baltimore City police cleared McKeldin Square last night.  I have the feeling that as long as our economy is struggling, people are frustrated, and licenses are available, we will be seeing many more camp-outs in Downtown Baltimore.

The Baltimore City School District and Teacher's Union have reached the one year mark on last year's ground-breaking contract that set higher teacher salaries with new pay-for-performance metrics implemented for evaluation.  As can be expected, there have been some complaints about "unrealistic" expectations, but the contract still stands.  Even more concerning is that the school district still appears to be working out the details related to "criteria for how teachers can advance and a credit system intended to provide incentives and reward teachers for doing more outside the classroom."  These matters were to have been implemented by this past June.

The Plan Maryland dispute is bubbling over, with a focus on whether this is "new law" that could work to take zoning power away from local governments.  The follow up question is this -- How piece-meal do we want our zoning?  There is a significant amount of merit to delegating this power entirely to localities, but there are also important infrastructure and environmental concerns at the State level that would seemingly have no where to go, but for a comprehensive state-wide overlapping plan.  This is a very important issue that we should all be following closely, especially with Howard County's central location in relation to the rest of the State.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Frank Hecker suggests that the Howard County GOP may have painted itself into a corner through a succession of strategic miscalculations that led to a districted Council that draws its own lines (as opposed to an at-large Council).  I will say from my experience on the Charter Review Commission that there is still a great deal of dispute as to what effect an at-large Council would have on local politics.  Does your average Republican have a greater say in what happens, or will Columbia's "power" be augmented?

That's all for today.  A little shorter than normal as I have left a very important binder in my office that I will need to pick up before getting to an 8:00 am meeting.  Engrossing stuff, huh?

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Political Speech on Trial (Monday Links)

The Sun published this Op/Ed over the weekend relating to the conviction of Bob Ehrlich's campaign manager and the limits placed on "political speech."  The subheading of the piece suggests the author's argument relates to political sniper games, but I think the take-away is much more interesting and lasting than that:

A professor friend of mine, Paul Oehlke, says it simply and clearly: "Philosophically, political discourse requires the freest of speech, unencumbered by legal sanction."

 Long-time readers know that I normally balk when people interpret the freedom of speech to allow them to say whatever they want without consequences.  I see it as the exact opposite.  We are allowed to speak freely without criminal sanction because the social/political sanctions are severe enough.  Similarly, your freedom of speech does not require me, or anyone else, to sponsor it.  If your comment bothers me or has the potential to unnecessarily offend readers without adding anything to the conversation, I will remove it.  Your freedom of speech has not been diminished, it merely came into conflict with my own.

But when we put criminal punishment on speech, that is an encumbrance meant to be foreclosed by the First Amendment.

What Paul Schurick did was certainly despicable, and probably put Maryland Republicans back another decade in their efforts to woo minority voters, it was a political tactic.  The objective of any campaign is to get your voters out and keep the other side's voters home.  We can get the guitars out by the campfire and say that all campaigns want as many people to vote as possible and let "the best person win", but that just isn't true.  I think we would all prefer that campaigns avoid any overt acts to "keep the other side's voters home", but every attack ad you see is a step towards this goal.  Attack ads don't make anyone say "Oh, well this person is quite disturbing, I will have to inquire into the alternative."  Rather, they work to depress the support base of the opponent.  We accept these ads as "part of politics" no matter how unsightly (or hilarious) they may be.

Schurick's criminal behavior is derived from the attachment of demographics and the appearance of authority.  If he had not targeted African American voters and pretended to be "on the other side", there would have been no sanction.

The counter is that our campaign laws need teeth and that this was a clear violation...of an ambiguous rule.  "Fraud" in political speech?  "Dare you, sir, mislead the public amidst the very exercise of our democracy?" Poppycock.  If this case related to the failure to include the language "I'm Bob Ehrlich and I approve this message", we all should be very careful about what we say come 2012.


The Sun also had a great piece about how Mayor SRB's efforts to bring 10,000 more families to Baltimore City is achievable with just a small change in the plus/minus categories.  Have no doubt that this is a big goal and one that could significantly change this City.

Gov. O'Malley is playing Odd Couple with Gov. McDonnell (VA) as they work together to address regional issues.  Which one is Oscar?

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lost track of 761 firearms that were "lent" to volunteers in hunter education programs: "According to the report by the federal agency's inspector general released last month, 761 firearms were not properly accounted for out of more than 900 guns the state issued to 90 private citizens — more than 10 per volunteer. In one case, according to the audit, a volunteer admitted to lending one of the firearms to an acquaintance, who allowed a minor to use it 'for personal purposes.'"  "Ok, everybody, pay attention.  We have a new policy.  If you give someone a gun, make sure you get it back.  I know, I know.  Radical change can be hard to accept."

Howard County's new Miller Branch Library opens this Saturday.  I am very excited about the new building, as it is less than two miles from my house.  As noted throughout the articles that discuss our library system, Howard County has a unique library usage rate compared to other jurisdictions, which makes new and improved libraries an obvious "quality of life" improvement to our County.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow gives a run down of all the group-think comments, suggestions, and closings around the County.  These posts are normally the best for finding a new place to eat.  "Must Read" stuff.

That's all for today.  I had a great weekend at home recharging my batteries and hope you had the same.  Mondays don't feel as harsh during the Holiday season, although I can't explain why that is.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Morning Stuff

It's been a while since I posted on Saturday morning, but I had a few things I wanted to post on this crisp am.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Congressman John Sarbanes.  After explaining how the constant treadmill of fund-raising is ruining politics and preventing legislators from doing much more than vote and chase additional funds, he presented the Grassroots Donor project.  In essence, Con. Sarbanes is imposing the public financing model on himself to show it works and focus more on grassroots campaigning.  Here is the explanation: "I've always believed in the power of the grassroots donor, but now I'm putting skin in the game. With the support of traditional donors who want to model the promise of public financing, I've established a $500,000 Challenge Fund inside my campaign that can only be unlocked when I have recruited 1,000 grassroots donors."  Essentially, John is cutting himself off from his own funds, raised in the normal course of fund-raising, which will only be available once he has over 1,000 donors of $100 or less.

My dear cynics probably jumped down to the comment section before reading this paragraph, but I'm not really concerned as to whether this is a gimmick or a ploy.  I think it is a good idea and one that could change one of the most significant poisons in politics -- money.  We blame partisanship, but as Con. Sarbanes notes, the motivation for working together and reaching across the aisle is directly countered by the need to raise more money, most of which is only available in large amounts at the extremes.  Con. Sarbanes has accepted money from a PAC on only one occasion, and that was due to the fact that the "donor" dissolved before the money could be returned.  If you don't agree with his voting record, there is certainly no reason to donate, but if you do, and you were looking for a congressional campaign to support, I think this is where real change is happening.

Despite rosy descriptions of our State's financial picture earlier this summer, revenue projections have now been cut by $120 million.  "Maryland's general fund revenue for next year is expected to be $14.4 billion. Spending is expected to total about $15.6 billion, leaving a gap that will have to be addressed in the legislative session that begins in January."  I have no insight on this other than to offer something as simple as it is true: You all make me so mad!

TJ Mayotte recaps GECA's most recent efforts to challenge the CSX Intermodal plans for Hanover.  He also notes that County Executive Ken Ulman has officially come out against the Intermodal site, which was the first time I had read about this position (not that it wasn't expressed earlier).

I've been debating whether to post this all morning, but it looks like I am.  Christopher Hitchens has a seriously depressing and jarring description of his chemotherapy treatments, questioning the proposition that "Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger."  I hesitate to post because it is so depressing and not a way I would recommend starting your Saturday, unless you had something life affirming (i.e., long run, child's birthday party, pie-eating contest) scheduled for shortly thereafter.  I decided to share it because it is a darn good essay and will make you think, which generally is a good way to start just about any other day, with or without a scheduled pie-eating contest.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Saturday doing whatever you want!  If you're like me, that may be work, and if so...have a great Saturday doing what you love!

Friday, December 9, 2011

CA Board Recap: December 9, 2011 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 10:56 pm

From time to time, the Board will receive presentations on various matters that will eventually come for a vote.  While I may lament the prolonged deliberation of this body, these presentations, despite their length, are always informative and important to the work of the Board.  Last night we had two.

Resident Speak Out (Lake Dredging)

I wanted to make special mention of one of the resident's concerns due to the scope of impact.  This resident lives on Lake Elkhorn and had noted that in a recent contractor proposal for dredging, the contractor had proposed dredging hours from 7 am to 11 pm.  While this appears (and is) obscene, CA and the contractor were looking to shorten the time in which this dredging could be performed in light of the near consensus amongst Owen Brown (and surrounding) residents that this lake should receive top priority, which it will.  I can say confidently that there is no possible way these hours would be acceptable to CA staff or the Board, but I appreciate one resident taking the time to come and let us know that this issue was coming down the pike.

Cy Paumier: Creating a Vibrant Downtown Center

After voting to contract with Cy Paumier and his team this past summer, it was anticipated that we would receive reports on his progress every three months.  Due to various hiccups and disputes that I do not know enough about to comment on, that presentation was delayed until the December meeting.

Overall, I was impressed.  Cy's team focused on Lake Kittimaqundi, in general, and the fountain lakefront in particular.  I have a set of drawings, but they are too big to scan.  Basically, this proposal would fill in approximately 2 acres of the lake to extend the lakefront out into the water.  Two-thirds of the lakefront would remain the same.  One of the primary focuses of the proposal would be to remove obstructions to lake views by taking down the elevated patio/hut that sits between Clyde's and the water, replacing it with a gentle slope made of seat walls.  The center of the new lakefront would be a new, larger amphitheater.  Cy's team also emphasized flat plains leading out to the water without obstacles/barriers between the people and the water.  Finally, Cy's proposal would incorporate the peninsula built in lake dredging to build a bridge across the lake, completing "the loop" (for which funding has already been allocated).

When Cy was first engaged by the Board, I expressed concern that we had not put out a Request for Proposals and that we were setting ourselves up to lock in a contractor without following our contract procedures.  In addition, we were prematurely foreclosing the opportunity for new ideas from other design firms, which would then provide additional choice for residents.  At that earlier meeting, I had asked Cy whether he would be offended if we sought outside proposals and he said he would "welcome competition."  I reminded him of this last night and asked whether he still welcomed competition.  While I won't quote Mr. Paumier, he said that he still welcomes "new ideas", but that he thinks it would be a bad idea to consider competing proposals.  He wants a "collaborative process" not a "competitive one."  He further suggested that people offer new ideas based on the plan he has presented as opposed to soliciting competing plans.

Well, here we are.  It's up for the Board to decide whether we are locked in.  I think this proposal is spectacular and would be proud of any lakefront project that ended up looking like what Cy has proposed.  But I'm no design architect.  I'm supposed to be wow'ed.  The Board needs to be cautious here and I expect Columbia residents to protect their interest in this process by staying informed (and vocal).

Senior Discount

This is becoming a running feature of our Board meetings.  Before discussion was underway, a Board member moved for this item to be tabled until the next meeting, when we will be considering additional senior programs and other offerings.  The idea was that we should view CA's efforts towards seniors in toto and not piecemeal.  Quite frankly, I don't think this Board (or any other deliberative body) is made to pass comprehensive strategic plans.  Boards are made to create policy (ex. "increase senior participation by 10% per year"; "offer a senior discount [rate to be decided by Staff after weighing financial impact]").  This idea that we can get our hands in the machinery, change one crank, then put the cover back on the box and expect everything to work is just ludicrous and infuriating. 

I wanted to vote on this proposal now.  I will also say that I wanted to vote against this proposal now.  We are wading into operations, which will have a serious effect on the way in which CA performs, and I don't think it will be a good one.

Policy Statement: Resident Memberships and Fees

I came to this agenda item with great joy.  It was a general set of proposals on how Staff was to address resident memberships as opposed to non-resident memberships.  The focus of the proposal was that residents would have membership rates available that were "significantly less" than non-residents, to reflect the annual assessment.  Things took a dangerous turn when it was proposed that we introduce a "metric" (i.e., a percentage) that would govern the manner in which Staff calculated rates.  Had this passed (it did not even make it to a motion), we could expect a perversion of CA rates where non-resident rates were inflated to make resident rates (at whatever percentage arbitrarily dictated by the Board) affordable to the organization.  The policy passed without the percentage sign making an appearance.

You know that feeling when you almost get into an accident?

Village Assessment Share

In light of the fact that this was an open meeting, with members of the press in attendance, I feel comfortable sharing this PowerPoint presentation offered by the External Relations Committee regarding the Allocation Model.  I do this with the caveat that it is preliminary and still subject to both Board and Village input, criticism, and edit.  I've opened permissions on the document to allow anyone to edit the presentation and/or include comments. (Please see Jessie's comments below).

That's all for today.  As a final note, I just want to thank all of you again for your "Best of Howard County" votes.  I've had a rough week at work with not much sleep, so this was a really nice pick-me-up, especially with a long CA meeting on the horizon.  I'm really not one to "rank" blogs.  I think we all offer something different and are not easily compared, much like it is impossible to rank your friends, family, or pets (although many of you are doing that in your head right now).  But I'll also say that oftentimes these morning missives are notes in a bottle, without comment or response.  The award tells me that you're out there and that this blog thing works.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Have a great FRIDAY doing what you love!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best of Howard County

Well don't I feel like a horse's patoot. 

Last night, I won the Blog category for "Best of Howard County 2011," but wasn't there to receive the award.  I couldn't attend due to my obligation for Leadership U, but honestly...I didn't expect to win.

Thank you to everyone who voted and thank you to Howard Magazine for the honor.  I hope it comes with more hours in the day.

"How Do You Face Up to These Opportunities" (Thursday Links)

After reading yesterday's post, my good friend Barbara Kellner with the Columbia Archives sent me this speech that Jim Rouse gave to the 1984 graduating class of Garrison Forest:

How do you face up to these opportunities . . .

First, see the world as one of opportunity.  Look for the opportunities.  Believe in them.  Don’t accept pessimism from disbelievers.  Pessimism creates nothing, builds nothing, supports nothing.  It’s the optimist in life who sees new possibilities, believes problems can be solved.  Optimism stimulates energy, spirit, hope and action.

When you face a problem, don’t fight it – look beyond it.  Figure out what would the situation be if everything worked.  What would it be like if this problem didn’t exist?  Find the solutionThen figure out how to get there.  In all kinds of situations, even in human relationships, one can look at the best that could be, and then figure out how to get there, rather than wallow in the distress and frustration of the situation trying to fight one’s way out.

Give yourself to purposes beyond self.  Fulfillment, happiness and success are almost never found in self service and self concern.  Watch for the truly joyous people, and observe their habitual reaching beyond self.  Nothing can be more important than people.  Don’t let money become a measure of success.  We all struggle with this.  Money and possessions are important.  It’s just that they should not command your life.  And there is a suction.  There’s a suction around you and me, around all of us, which pulls us toward automatic values – values that rise up out of our associations and the life around us without stopping to think whether this is really what we want to live for.  Living beyond yourself out there in the world, with concern for others, and for mankind, is where you will find that joyous, jubilant sense of self-fulfillment – the truly good life.

I highlighted the portion that I incorporated into last night's talk.  The projects and presentations put together by those graduates over five months are still running through my head.   I was so impressed and so inspired that it is almost difficult to put it into words ("WHAT?!?" -- I know!).  But my base take-away was that sometime between 16 and 26, we get the strange idea that the problems of the world are no longer ours to solve.  Either we surrender those solutions to government or presume the effort is hopeless.  For all I know, it could be the introduction of personal responsibilities that distract us, but it seems clear that just about all of us are pulled away from the simple idea that at one point we thought we could do anything. 

I look back at Jim Rouse's quote and think of his audience.  He was not talking to business leaders or government officials.  He was talking to graduating high school seniors.  Mr. Rouse had the idea that not only should we presume the ability to solve the world's problems, but that this effort was the key to a good life.  "Living beyond yourself out there in the world, with concern for others, and for mankind, is where you will find that joyous, jubilant sense of self-fulfillment – the truly good life."


A group of veterans have taken on the mission of rehabilitating a Baltimore City neighborhood.  These types of private efforts, with or without the prospect for private gain, will be the most likely avenue for Baltimore City's rejuvenation.

Baltimore Racing Development Inc., has $100,000 on hand...and owes $12 million, including $5 million in outstanding taxes.  I've been picking on Baltimore City a lot recently, but it seems difficult for me to imagine how the City-side organizers of this event would not have looked into the solvency of BRD, as well as its business plan for the event, before agreeing to take on this venture. 

Speaking of audits, the State of Maryland may have made $2.5 million in Medicaid payments for those who did not need them -- namely, the deceased.  This was "largely because of a lag in the time between when someone died and when the state was informed and stopped payments on premiums."  While infuriating, the article does a good job of explaining how this may occur in the managed care context, where payments are billed monthly and not necessarily in response to a particular ailment.  All the same, encouragements and deterrents could certainly be in place to make an errant payment into a hot potato that will trigger any recipient to send that money right back.

They found the son-of-a-gun that promised Ravens player visits to local schools and ran off with the money.  I'm sure some of the Ravens have an idea for the proper punishment...

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Frank Hecker is a published author!  He has recently released his redistricting series as an e-book with all proceeds going to Voices for Children. 

Addendum FBPD: I am sad to see that Columbia Flier editor/columnist/techno-phobe Doug Miller will be leaving the local scene.  One of the qualities I value most in people is curiosity.  While Doug could have dismissed the local blogs as basement-dwelling mud-slingers, he decided to take us up for a glass of wine.  I would like to think he has as good of a time as Sarah, Dennis, and I did, talking about local "schtuff" and how things "used to be."  I was a regular reader of his column and blog, which will be missed.  Bon Voyage, Doug.  I'll catch you by smoke signal.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Next Gen Up (Wednesday Links)

I have been asked to speak at the "graduation dinner" for this year's Leadership U class.  For those unfamiliar with the program, Leadership U is a four month summer program for high school sophomores focused on developing leadership skills and promoting community involvement.  This is a tremendous honor and certainly not one I have taken lightly.  In fact, ever since I was asked to speak (about a month and a half ago) I have been thinking about what I was going to say.

It is amazing (and somewhat embarrassing) to think of all that we are asking from the next generation.  Oftentimes challenger politicians will use this line when asked why they are running for office: "I looked into my child's eyes and thought to myself 'What am I going to tell them when they asked me what I did when the world was falling to pieces?'"  It is corny.  It is trite.  But it is true.

We lament the failures of Congress, but subconsciously presume that this financial crisis will be fixed by someone.  Otherwise, your life savings would be in gold bullion under your bed.  We wonder whether climate change is real, but are stalled by our own mortality ("That sounds very scary, but I don't plan to live to 2111").  Even worse, the very platforms of growth that previous generations have relied on (quality education, starter jobs, starter homes) are no longer available in the same quantity as they were less than ten years ago.

So what are you doing about it?  We have enough Chicken Little's.  I am walking up to the podium tonight presuming that this group has already heard countless speeches about "hard times" and will receive countless more telling them that "they are our only hope."  As much faith as I have in the next generation, that's not true...yet.  Have we given up?  We have a depressed electorate.  "Bowling Alone" has become the new normal.  Anyone who dares get angry and does something about it is mocked.

I'm excited to speak to these young leaders tonight.  But after putting myself in their shoes and seeing the world from their seat, I think we all have an obligation to make that platform better.  After all, we expect a lot from them.


Lindsey McPherson's Political Notebook looks into the two Council-members who have yet to serve as Council Chair -- Jen Terrasa and Greg Fox.  Due to party minority, it seems obvious why Greg has not served as Chair, but not so much Jen.  The Council has made this narrative for itself and I think Jen Terrasa's supporters have reason to ask "what's up with that?"

The search for the next Superintendent of Howard County schools has incorporated a great deal of public input to create a "job description" of sorts for the next set of candidates.

Former Governor Ehrlich's campaign manager was found guilty on four counts of election fraud yesterday.  This is a pretty big deal, but I'm not willing to put it on level with the slew of corruption cases that have flown through Maryland dockets without conviction.  The Sun seems to be portraying this admittedly horrible and misguided campaign crime as equal to those cases against lawmakers like Currie, Dixon, and Johnson, who were accused of using their office to create private gain.  They're not.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah promotes the Columbia Association's new efforts to look into the feasibility of a bike sharing project in Columbia.  Her concerns regarding density/infrastructure are shared by those of us interested in pursuing this avenue, but the idea is to create a pilot program, partnering with a local hotel and some other commercial properties, to take advantage of the path system in Columbia (the most under-utilized CA amenity in town).  Remember that ad showing a guy walking to work...well, that was the idea...except with a bike.

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hot Diggity, Council Chair is Sigaty (Tuesday Links)

My social media feeds tell me that Mary Kay Sigaty was elected Chair of the Howard County Council last night.  This is actually a very substantive role on the Council and one that does a lot to decide the tenor of Council business.  Sponsors of bills who "can't count to three/four" will have to depend on the Chair to either allow them time to amend via tabling or see their shiny beam of light extinguished on first hearing.

Former Chair, Calvin Ball placed an emphasis on unanimous votes.  This does not mean that a bill required 100% support before it was passed.  Instead, Dr. Ball would look to see if there were avenues for unanimous passage by talking with the minority interest and attempting to incorporate those concerns.  This has evidenced itself in the repeated tabling of tenuous bills that, more often than not, were eventually passed (see Veteran's Commission).

As we take another step toward 2014 (when I think this Council will get very interesting), Council-person Sigaty has some significant challenges before her.  This Council works well together and seem to genuinely like one another.  While adversity in government is part of the process, this group does not seem to let past conflict interfere with future compromise.  They very rarely irretrievably wed themselves to an idea before it is heard in public hearing and are almost always interested in outside input.  Nonetheless, there are many eyes on the prize(s) that could be waiting in the next local election.  We may see the occasional proxy war between the Guzzone and Watson camps in the legislative session.  Legislation may even be proffered for political points over substance. 

I think Mary Kay is well suited for this role.  She does not put up with much bull and her first instinct appears to be skepticism (especially in matters involving politics).  Most important from my perspective, she has a good working relationship with Greg Fox.  We can expect that despite his significant minority, his legislation will receive a fair hearing and attempts at compromise.  I do not believe we will see as many unanimous votes, but "majority rules" isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Best of luck to the entire Council, but especially Council-person Sigaty.  It should be an interesting year.


The Council was otherwise very busy last night.  They passed green tax credit legislation, transgender discrimination protection, and towing for illegally parked commercial vehicles with outstanding parking tickets.  From my perspective, this tax credit bill is one of the more responsibly drafted green bills we've seen in a while.  As technology moves forward, we will see more "green" homes, which could end up having a significant affect on the tax base.  As written, the law that was passed last night will offer diminishing credits over time and sunset after five years.  This is a good boost for local businesses that install/build green home improvements, but does not mire the County down in a tax scheme that will be difficult to extract itself from.

I am still unclear about how the gender identification bill will play out with public accommodations, but that is more due to a lack of effort on my part than any failing on the part of the Council. 

During Mayor SRB's inauguration, the first-time-elected Mayor said that her goal is to bring 10,000 new families to Baltimore, reversing an urban flight that has persisted over the past fifty years.  The most interesting thing about this goal is that it essentially acts to reform the entire City.  Rather than focusing on crime, education, or infrastructure, 10,000 new families requires that all those aspects of the City be once...over the next four years.  I really like Mayor SRB and think she is one of the smartest people we've seen in that office, but she may have bitten off more than she can imprison, tax, and repair.

Regarding the Constellation/Exelon merger: "State officials and consumer advocates want to ensure the deal would preserve local control of BGE, produce more clean energy and put more money in consumers' pockets."  I would trade most of that for a headquarters and primary business activities in Maryland.  Energy credits can be fleeting and clean energy is normally marginal.  Having a local presence keeps political pressure high and protects future consumers.  Plus, you know...JOBS.

Featured Blog Post of (Yester)Day: HowChow gives a great run down of future food spots in Howard County.  I've never thought to myself "I love Indian food.  I love pizza.  Why can't they combine into one type of food?", but I will be sure to try it before knocking it.

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Destroying the Category (Monday Links)

On my way home from New Jersey this weekend, I listened to Bob Schieffer's commentary to close this week's "Face the Nation."  The basic premise was that the constant campaign with the ever-present mud-slinging is destroying our political system.  He began with a great metaphor of why Burger King does not run ads attacking McDonald's: "First rule of advertising: Never destroy the category. It's not worth destroying the hamburger industry just to take down your most successful competitor." 

I think your perception on the "destruction of the category" depends on your generation.  I think the generation just before mine can harken back to Clinton and Reagan as representatives of the best their political party can offer.  They are emboldened by these constructs and see the political ankle-biting as part of a righteous path to utopia.

Although I am hesitant to define a generation (or attribute characteristics), my experience with those around my age (28-33) is that the political parties are static.  President Bush didn't win any hearts and the most common advocacy you will hear is "the press made him out to be much worse than he was."  President Obama's book has not yet been fully written, but he is not creating party warriors in the same way Clinton might have for those about ten years older.

The industry/brand is without value.  We can talk about who wins the Republican Nomination, but I get the feeling that this Presidential Election matters less than any previous election that I can remember.  Before you start writing comments in Caps, hear me out.  All Presidential Elections are important, but the disillusionment of the electorate is removing influence from politics.  Politicians do great things because they can move the people to act.  Not because they sit at the top of the Cabinet table.  Another President will be elected, possibly the same one, but America won't be any different.  This may appear to be a very cynical depressing post from someone who normally errs on the side of optimism, but that's not my intention.  I'm just going back to what I've tried to say on numerous other occasions: We're on our own.  We can't depend on this political party system to fix this Country.  The industry is dead.  Long live the industry.


Ravens win.  It was a boring win, but one that showed a lot of strengths.  I never thought I would be yelling at the TV for Cam to call a passing play.

I found it strangely off-putting that the Baltimore Sun thought Robert De Niro's lunch in Baltimore was "news."

Baltimore City built a shiny new homeless shelter...with 100 fewer beds than the one it replaced.  #CommonSenseFail

Another plank that any competitive Baltimore City mayoral campaign may have presented would have been a comprehensive plan to address the City's vacant row-house problem.  It seems hard to believe that there are not incentives available to create a public-private partnership that would work from the City Center out to rejuvenate these dead spots on the City grid.

As Howard County property tax income remains flat, income tax receipts gain 11%.

Jodi and I recorded another episode of I Can Fix That last week, and I think it is one of our best.  We discuss the failure of Congress to get anything done, the 10% solution (that ended up being pie in the sky thinking), and what's on deck for Maryland's General Assembly.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Dennis and Paul record another episode of And Then There's That with Pam Klahr, of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.  Jane and I listened to this on our way up to New Jersey (ok, Jane slept, but I listened).  With all due respect to my good friend WB, I'm not so sure the Diane Wilson matter is "old news", but it is not the character of this show to play "gotcha."

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