Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Working with Watchdogs (Wednesday LINKS)

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." -- Abraham Maslow

Between the final days of Allen Dyer's term on the Board of Education and the recent discussion of changing the Columbia Association's classification under state law, I've been thinking a lot about the purpose and effectiveness of the political "watchdog".  I believe many of those on the periphery of government or public organizations (such as CA) would like to consider themselves "watchdogs".  It is a valiant term.  Keeping the crooked honest.  Finding the secret buried in the back room.  Making sure the public's trust is not breached and punishing those who do.  I like that idea.

These watchdogs knowingly flirt with resentment, both by those they watch over and the public they supposedly represent.  After all, we have a nasty tendency to develop deep affections for those we put in charge with the public treasury, which can (and often does) lead to bad thing.

But how do the watched interact with the watchers?  And to use a evolvingly trite phrase: Who watches the Watchmen?

Allen Dyer certainly considers himself a watchdog of the Board of Education.  Once he joined the Board, was exposed to matters discussed in closed meetings, and, most importantly, had to conduct the business of the Board, his advocacy came into conflict with his responsibilities as a Board member.  He isn't a bad person.  I may even push back a bit at the idea that he is only interested in self-promotion.  At the base level, Mr. Dyer had an idea of who he was in the public square, and that self-conceptualization could not change with the circumstances he found himself in.

Those involved with or knowledgeable about the Columbia Association are aware of the group "Alliance for a Better Columbia" (ABC).  ABC, quite admirably, seeks full transparency in all things.  (Sound familiar?)  Since long before I came onto the CA Board, ABC has been seeking salary information for executive level positions of CA.  There has been an ongoing disagreement between CA and ABC as to what information must be disclosed, as the organization seeks to protect the privacy interests of its employees.

Simultaneous with all of this, CA has proposed legislation to reclassify the organization under state law.  The merits of this proposal have been discussed previously, but ABC has interpreted this move as an attempt to circumvent rulings from the Attorney General's office that they interpret to require full disclosure.  Again, I will leave the merits of that argument for another post.

What drives me to this point is something small that happened at last month's Board meeting.  One of the members of ABC spoke at the beginning of our meeting in opposition to the new legislation, stating further that it would absolve CA of important transparency provisions required for HOA's under state law.  Notably, we were planning to discuss the manner in which this legislation would be brought to the public for commentary and amendment.  In that light, I asked this representative whether he would agree with and support the legislation if all of the provisions he cited were incorporated into the final bill.  He said he would.

So now we're back to the original question -- Can the watched work with the watchers?  Can we put down the hammer and look at the schematics?  There was a letter in this week's Flier that makes me wonder if that is ever possible.  As you'll see, the idea of compromise and collaboration is ignored in favor of accusations and complaints.  Everything is a nail.


Your understand as to whether the Oriole's found themselves in the Win Column last night depends on your tolerance for pain.  After going down 7-2, the O's came back and won in extra innings against Seattle.

Governor O'Malley revealed his proposed legislation for expanded gambling less than 48 hours before the Special Session of the General Assembly was set to start (tomorrow).  Some have argued that O'Malley held this legislation to blunt and circumvent early criticism, but one also has to wonder if this was a matter of keeping the lobbyists at bay.  Remember, while the General Assembly debates this incredibly lucrative set of bills, there will be no prohibition on campaign contributions.  Still waiting on that "Good Government" campaign plank to show up in someone's run for Delegate.  First priority: Complete prohibition on fund-raising during regular, special, or double-secret super special session.

The Sparrow's Point mill was auctioned off yesterday as several thousand mill workers wait to hear who will be taking the place of their former employer.  We should all hope it is an industry that can put them back to work...and fast.

Council member Calvin Ball has raised his statewide profile with a new Maryland minority caucus of county elected officials.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Matt Wilson looks at walkability in and around Columbia.  This is a great subject to look at, especially when you compare the manner in which Columbia is situated as opposed to the urban environs we aspire to.  I've recently been told that Columbia "cannot support the density" required for a truly walkable community, but that we should be able to anticipate greater opportunities for alternative transportation.  It is also important to note CA's efforts towards better utilization of our path system, which may one day provide a more apparent means of getting around.

Thank you all for the well wishes yesterday.  After some medicine and a magical bowl of soup from Jane, I feel near 100%.  Please mark you calendars for our Homeless Ending Happy Hour NEXT WEDNESDAY at the Rumor Mill, starting at 5:30 pm.  I have been swamped recently, but hope to get together an EventBrite page soon.   It appears that I will have a Columbia Foundation Board meeting that evening, so we will have to reschedule.  Stay tuned!  This will happen!
Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!