Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Housing First (Tuesday LINKS)

Dan Rodricks spent two hours discussing homelessness on his Midday Show yesterday.  I downloaded the podcasts and have been listening to them in my car.  I was happy to hear that despite the continually perplexing case of "solving homelessness" for each individual that finds themselves on the street, there are some common threads and consensus on a number of items.  One of those is "Housing First."

The premise of Housing First is that before any attempts at rehabilitation and reintegration are undertaken, the individual must be housed.  "Social Workers in the Woods" is an example of why Housing First is a bedrock argument for homeless advocates.  This may appear as common sense, but programs directed toward housing can often have moralistic conditions that can effectively remove their usefulness.

But we don't need to worry about those conditions in Howard County.  You see, in Howard County, we just straight up do not have sufficient housing. 

Grassroots operates the only general emergency shelter in Howard County at 6700 Freetown Road in Columbia, MD.  The program has 33 beds for families and single adult women experiencing a shelter crisis.

Even the most stoic and unmoved observer of the homeless condition would have to conclude that to the extent there are resources for our homeless population, those resources are insufficient.  

The real kicker is that Grassroots is remarkably successful.  The average period of homelessness is 6 months.  Grassroots positions itself perfectly to intervene during crisis and prevent chronic homelessness, which is the real bugaboo in this discussion.  The political resistance to addressing the homeless problem is people imagining the warehousing of homeless men and women who continue their standard of living under more permanent structure.  That's not what the Plan to End Homelessness imagines.  Rather, the Plan will establish points of intervention for all men and women that are at risk for homelessness to avoid chronic homelessness and effectively end homelessness as we know it.  There will undoubtedly still be those who choose to live in the woods and remain homeless.  That is a sad truth that has as much to do with mental health resources as it does homelessness.  But to suggest that all of those who live without shelter are doing it by "choice" represents an ignorant view made possible by a sheltered life.

Housing First is the intervention for both the chronically homeless and those in need of crisis intervention.  It is a small idea with big consequences.  It would be nice to see it tried effectively here.


It's going to be sixty frickin' degree outside today!  Am I allowed to be happy about this, or should I continue my subconscious terror at the shifting of seasons?

Maybe I've missed it, but I still don't think this Governor or his Administration have made a sufficient case to justify raising income, gas, and sewer taxes to make up for shortfalls in State revenue.  This isn't populist saber rattling.  The baseline understanding is that higher taxes are bad (especially regressive taxes like those on gas).  Republicans have been screaming about the structural deficit for decades with both Democratic leaders and The Baltimore Sun saying that everything was fine.  Now we need a slew of tax increases to keep the lights on?

The Congressional Budget Office released a report yesterday concluding that federal workers receive an average of 2% higher salaries and 48% better benefits than comparable workers in the private workforce.  There seems to be a faulty assumption worked into this analysis from the start.  I have not read the report, but I know that when I left the Gubment to work for a private law firm, my compensation went up significantly.  I no longer had the litany of government holidays and had to work longer hours, which oftentimes is the crux of studies such as those performed by the CBO.  I presume that is fair, but in my head it just doesn't jive.

300 Protesters came out to "Protect Marriage" and speak out against a bill that would recognize same-sex marriage.  I keep coming back to the simple fact that this law would change almost nothing about the way most of us live our lives.  Same-sex couples that are living together would continue to live together.  Those that don't will most likely not change their mind in response to the law.  The State of Maryland would not change its "Welcome" signs to say "We recognize same-sex marriage!"  It would just knock down phony legal barriers that treat some private compacts as different than others.  I don't mean to belittle the significance of this law for those who would be affected, but I do mean to suggest to those who are protesting it that they have much less at stake than they seem to present.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB takes some pictures in Old EC and Columbia to show us the remains of Isabelle and the future signage of the "New Downtown"...and not the kind you think.

That's all for today.  I attended the first hour and a half of last night's Board Operations Committee meeting, hoping to discuss "Agenda Reform."  No such luck.  While promoted, it was not on the BOC agenda.  Waaa waaa waa.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some Are More Equal Than Others (Monday LINKS)

I read a very interesting Op/Ed over the weekend entitled "Don't Blame the Rich."  You probably don't need to read the piece to understand where the author was going, but this sentence stuck with me:

We could reduce income inequality by trying to curtail the financial returns of education and the number of women in the workforce — but who would want to do that?

(Before anyone sets this blog on fire, please be aware that the argument leading up to this line was that households with two incomes tend to find themselves in the higher income ranges than those with only one wage-earner).

The argument gets a little muddled after that, questioning the purpose of higher tax rates on the most wealthy and suggesting that these revenues would be used for social programs, which I think is a faulty premise, but overall, the refutation of the repeated suggestion that income inequality is something the government can and should solve is a good one.  Many, myself included, would argue that a greater objective would be to stop subsidizing the wealth gap with favorable taxation schemes and government funds, but that is for another post.

He closes with a promotion of "social impact bonds" as a means for reducing poverty "rather than inequality":  

Under this approach, private investors, including foundations, put up money to pay for a program or initiative to help low-income people get jobs, stay out of prison or remain in school, for example. A government agency evaluates the results. If the program is succeeding, the agency reimburses the investors; if not, they get no government money.

I really like this idea.  Especially in Howard County.  One could argue that our County's greatest "natural resource" is wealth.  A particular line is finding its way in a number of speeches throughout the County this year "We are the richest county, in the richest state, in the richest Country in the World."  A true leader, political or otherwise, will find a way to translate this wealth into social good.  I may have to concede that Statler and Waldorf are going to go apoplectic on this post, but private return on investment is a "social good."  

 The government displaces the risk of a failing program onto private investors.  Investors evaluate the merits of a program designed to meet the needs of the community (i.e., employment for recently released ex-offenders).  It is funded by private investors.  If the program is successful, the investors get their money back with an additional return on investment.  If not, the investors lose their money in a venture that may nudge future innovation, but tax-payers lose nothing.

I can't imagine the complexities that are required to build such a platform, but it is much easier to think of all the good things that may come of it.


The Sun continues to play tax auditor in Baltimore City.  No resident is safe.

Bob Ehrlich pens his first Op/Ed for the Sun.  He couldn't help but use his first opportunity to zing his old adversary (i.e., the paper upon which his words are printed), but notes that the present editorial staff has a more "balanced and professional approach to its content."  That is the sound of a thousand con-serva-teeves crumpling their Sunday paper.

The Maryland Board of Public Works has given final approval to $4 million for turf fields..."a roofing project and renovations to an art and music suite."  I can't help but feel that the addition of these miscellaneous capital projects is significant, but also presume that this would be a facile way to look at a complex dispute.  I would also prefer to walk slowly away from the turf field dispute, lest there be any additional stomping of feet or accusations of yellow journalism.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers likes the look of the fountain proposals for Symphony Woods and encouraged the Board to move forward with Stage 2.  I appreciate this feedback and hope more Columbians (and Howard Countians) take the opportunity to look at the proposals and give their yay or nay. 

That's all for today.  I've received a few e-mails over the weekend seeking (or suggesting) correction of various posts from over the past week.  First, Bob Tennenbaum has not been engaged to work on Symphony Woods.  However, he has been a part of the team that has been submitting proposals for the Columbia Lakefront, so my concern still remains regarding the "Neighbor A" example.  Second, the CA Dashboard has actually been on the table for six years and not one, as suggested by my CA Board Recap on Saturday.  That is embarrassing.  Oh no, not for me...

Before leaving the subject of corrections, I do want to note that there is a comment section that is mostly unregulated.  If you think I am wrong, particularly if it is a peripheral matter as opposed to a large-scale mistruth, please include a comment.  I normally don't have time to include a "corrections" section and am almost regretting including one here.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brokaw Bash

I have not commented too much on the Republican Primary, but this is probably the most effective and devastating political ad I have ever seen:

CA Board Recap: January 26, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 11:05 pm

As we concluded this meeting, someone who had been in attendance for the full 3.5 hours turned to me and said "I dare you to write something positive about this meeting."  It was another instance of a lot of talk with very little action.  While I would concede that there are times for prolonged deliberation, this meeting had at least two occasions where we discussed the prospect of future discussion.

Symphony Woods Fountain
You know how when you get a tickle in your throat and you think "Darn, I'm getting sick", but there is little you can do to stop it?  That's a good way to describe how I feel about the SW fountain.  I foresee nothing good coming of this.

First, the designs.  I find myself in the camp that is not particularly wow'ed by the current proposals.  I thought Westco Fountain put on a great presentation within the parameters that were presented in the RFP.  Maybe it is a failure in imagination, but I can't see a circumstance in which either of these fountains draws people to the park.  I understand that many of you disagree on this point, but density will be what defines this park.  There is nothing spectacular about Centennial Lake, but it is in a good location to draw people for walking, running, fishing, etc.  In that context, creating a fountain that "draws people" to the park is probably a bad idea and has the danger to become an eye-sore.  Rather, I think we need a fountain that is complimentary to the Park, but is also innovative and symbolic of what the new Columbia aspires to be.  That's a heavy load, but if we are going to spend up to half a million dollars (currently budgeted for much less) of CA funds and grants, it really should be spectacular, regardless of what $1 million (or more) would have provided.

That brings me to my potentially conflicting second point: the CA Board should not be the "Aesthetic Council" for deciding what this fountain should look like.  Period.  Exclamation Point.  Highlight cursor.  As noted in David Greisman's article, at least two members of the Board expressed their personal disappointment in the proposals and suggested holding a work session to develop additional ideas.  One of those Board members recommended that each Board member find pictures of fountains that they liked and bring them to the work session for Westco to incorporate.  In a project with permanence, I would rather defer to expertise than personal favorites.  I expect a proposal that is a little outside of my comfort zone with the appearance of being lasting.  With a fountain that has this many components, I am quite certain the temptation will be for each Board member to have their "mark" on the final product.  "See that sideways jet of water coming out of the vertical feature?  That's mine.  And actually the vertical feature was [insert Board member's name]'s idea.  The color scheme was offered by..." (You get the idea).  If that doesn't sound like a horrific process for building a lasting monument to Columbia...you probably are on the Board.

So where does that leave us?  I have no idea.  I am interested in seeing what happens at the work session, which will be at least three months off.  This would have been a lot easier for me if I had fallen in love with one of the two proposals.  Right now, I feel that my only alternative will be to join one of the camps in favor of what's on the table.  I need to decide if that is "settling", which I will not do for a project of this magnitude.  If that turns out to be the case, I would rather look to solicit additional proposals...from experts.

Transfer Dredging Funds

This agenda item was delegated 10 minutes, but ended up taking 30.  As I've noted before, the Board has repeatedly shown that it does not have the discipline necessary to follow a timed agenda.  While the agenda item was to discuss the allocation of excess funds from one dredging project to another, we devolved into a discussion of dredging as a whole, when these projects would be finished, and whether we need to reevaluate the dredging process as a whole.  When this gyre begins to spin, there is very little that can be done to slow it down or put it in reverse. 

We eventually voted to transfer the funds.  Unanimously.  After 30 minutes discussion.

Dashboard Metrics

For those new to the show, the Dashboard Metric discussion celebrated its one year anniversary!  The Board is considering which metrics of achievement and sustainability it would like displayed in graph form for easy reference by future Boards.  The most controversial example is "Market Share", which shows what percentage of Columbia Residents have "memberships."  I put that last word in quotes because it is the source of great frustration and gnashing of teeth.  Some Board members want a footnote defining what "memberships" means (Package plan?  Pool?  Golf?).  Others (me) feel that the Board can't see the forest for the trees with these types of complaints.

As I noted at the meeting, I think we need to narrow down what metrics we are including in our "Dashboard" (which is beginning to resemble that of a helicopter).  The current Dashboard is approximately 8 pages of graphs of varying importance.  The Board is now looking into whether we should add additional metrics regarding "Resident Satisfaction" and...well...I can't tell you exactly what else.  The suggestion was made that our metrics should be more forward looking with an example of "Not just whether you liked what you got for Christmas last year but what do you want for Christmas next year?"  That is probably a good way to conceptualize what the Board is looking for, but I don't know how you graph that and, more importantly, I don't know what the Board would do with that information.

The best possible Dashboard will provide relevant accessible data for the Board to act.  The last three words of that sentence are the most important.  If these metrics will encourage inappropriate overreach by the Board, I am against them.  If these metrics can refocus the Board on the items of greatest importance for Board oversight (i.e., finance and sustainability), I am for them.

Overall, I just want to stop talking about them.  These discussions remind me of that time when Mr. Rogers displayed a TV monitor with an image inside of another image that went on for eternity (if that did not make sense, just bear with my dabble into nostalgia...and then check out this horribly awful statue of Mr. Rogers in Pittsburgh).  We are discussing what data we will need for future discussions without any context.  What I would really like, that I think has been requested in various ways throughout the year long discussion, is just a Dashboard.  What doesn't work will be tweaked.  What is unnecessary will be removed.  But unlike the helicopter, we can fiddle with this thing while we are driving.  These discussions are absolutely pointless and get into all of the philosophical mumbo jumbo that frustrates the dickens out of me.  I am frankly quite tired of hearing Board members pontificate about what CA "aspires to be."  My favorite suggestion of the night was from Ed Coleman who proposed that we have a "Board Efficiency Metric" that would measure how long we talk about this Dashboard.  The Board laughed.  I was ready to second his motion.

CA's New Logo

The biggest story in Columbia that isn't being covered is that CA does not own the People Tree and has been "encouraged" to find another logo.  Hu-whhhhaaaaaaaat?  In the shattering of the Rouse Company that resulted in CA, GGP, and Howard Hughes, the People Tree appears to have gone to Howard Hughes.

In response, CA has engaged Redhead Companies to design a new logo.  I've been impressed with all of my interactions with Redhead and look forward to their proposal, but as a former employee who wore the People Tree on my polo shirt for two years, I am a little reticent to concede.

The new logo will be unveiled this Spring.

So that was the meeting.  We really only passed one vote (reallocation of Dredging Funds).  I found the Fountain discussion to be important, but probably about 30 minutes too long.  There will be a discussion of agendas at the next Board Operations meeting, which I will plan to attend (work permitting).  Maybe the death of Board Reform has been greatly exaggerated.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No Post Friday

The CA Board Meeting went until about 11:05 pm last night and I had to be up at 5 am for a flight to New Hampshire (from which I write this blog post).  I am used to writing posts tired, but not deliriously tired, so I figured it was best to just pocket this one.  I anticipate having time tomorrow to update you all on last night's meeting, including the fountain presentation that I fear will tumble into a "Board Knows Best" Asthetic Battle Royale.

I appreciate your patience. 

In related news, does anyone know of a not-too-crowded place to go for Friday Happy Hour?  Around 4 pm-ish?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

CA From a Distance (Thursday LINKS)

Last night was the CA Budget Public Hearing.  I mistakenly told my wife that I would be back in an hour and a half.  It was more like three.

But time well spent.  When people ask me whether I am "enjoying" my time on the Board (normally with a smirk), I think my most common answer is "yes."  Sure, I have some concerns and disappointments, but I think there is real "good" that is available through Board service.  One of the most tangible areas is Budget review.  If you want to know some one's (or some thing's) priorities, look at their budget.  Having the opportunity to hear dedicated Village Board volunteers and Village Managers testify about what is important to their residents is an opportunity to get into the belly of "What is CA?"

There are a number of under-utilized programs that should be crown jewels of the organization.  More specifically, the Watershed Management Program.  Columbia's geographic location is not only important insofar as its juxtaposition between Baltimore and DC.  It is also along an important vein the the Chesapeake Watershed.  CA has executed long range planning and numerous successful projects to address significant water pollution coming from this area.  For those unfamiliar with what this all means, think of the last big rain storm.  Ok, not that one.  Something a little less.  You probably saw streams develop across your parking lots and along roads.  All of those streams have picked up lawn fertilizers, petroleum products, animal waste, trash, and silt, which is then deposited into our rivers...and voila, we have Bay pollution.  However, if water is slowed by rain gardens or other structures to prevent direct deposit into the river, pollutants may either evaporate or be filtered by the soil and plants that are made to "eat" harmful nitrates.  Hence the CA Watershed Plan.  I would encourage all of you in Columbia to find out how you can volunteer.  You may end up with a free rain garden!

The converse was hearing where CA is not doing such a good job.  Our facilities and amenities are coming apart under the stress of time.  Our Village Offices are not as safe as they should be.  Some of our buildings just plain aren't marketable.  These are concerns rarely represented by the Board, but were well heard last night by those who deal with those concerns on a day to day basis.

Simultaneous to all of this, I have been talking to a writer for the Business Monthly who is doing a story on the CA Board.  He asked me why more people don't run for a seat on the Columbia Council.  Besides the obvious notion that more people like spending time with their family, I noted that the press coverage just isn't sufficient for people to know what they are getting into.  Last night was a pretty important night for residents to learn more about what CA is and what it aspires to be.  There was no one there from any of the local media outlets.  (CORRECTION: It appears that Jessica Anderson from the Baltimore Sun was present.  My apologies to her and The Sun).  Nor was there anyone at our previous meeting.  This isn't the responsibility of one reporter or one editor.  It is a general consideration that I think the press as a whole may want to consider prioritizing.  It may not get "hits" or advertisements, but this is a $63 million organization, run in significant part off of lien payments from Columbia residents.

I just hope the Flier doesn't run their semi-annual editorial about the paucity of Village candidates.  They have no right to.


Harford and Baltimore counties are conducting a census of their homeless population.  I believe there is also an ongoing census in Howard County, but cannot say for certain.  The Route One Day Center is conducting a survey of the clients served and if you would like to volunteer towards that effort over the weekend, you can find more information here.  (If work permits, you'll see me there).

The Howard delegation has given preliminary approval to the "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" bill that would allow golf courses to serve alcohol as early as 6 a.m.  But don't worry, it's being done in the name of "charity."  You don't have a drinking problem so long as you have a golf club in your hand?  (The jokes write themselves on this one).

Here's a test for whether someone actually reads the local news: Ask them about "ground rents."  This peccadillo of Maryland law just won't leave us and now legislators are considering a bill that would effectively treat them like pets.  You can have one, but you have to register it.  And if it bites another ground rent, you have to put it down.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB reviews the fountain proposals considered for Symphony Woods.  Admittedly, the schematics look like the cover of a self-published science-fiction novel, but hopefully we will have these ideas flushed out at tonight's meeting.  As for whether it is premature to consider drawings for a park plan that has not yet been approved, no.  This fountain proposal is about to go through a whirlwind of public input that will probably turn it into a zip line water park by the time its done.

That's all for today.  If you would like to hear more about the fountain proposals, and be heard on the drawings that have been submitted, please come out for tonight's CA Board meeting at 7:30 pm.  It would be great to have you.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All's Fair (Wednesday LINKS)

I don't have much to comment on from yesterday's State of the Union.  I listened to the first half driving home from work and the second half fading off in bed (yes, I'm one of those "bed-hits-pillow" people, and it it glorious).  President Obama said a great deal of things I liked regarding the corporate tax rate, education reform, and immigration reform (i.e., keep the most educated/talented immigrants in the United States).  He had a great deal of fluff that is expected from these types of speeches.  And best of all, he had about five minutes of "Hey, you guys remember when I killed Bin Laden?  That was awesome."  (Footnote: Newt supporters have to be hot under the collar after GOP Response Speaker started off his bit by saying that he respected President Obama for showing strong dedication to his family...yikes!).

I was concerned by the President's theme of "fairness."  It could easily be dismissed as a fluff word to make people nod their heads in their living rooms, but all the same, our laws and our government have no requirement of fairness.  "Equal Justice Under the Law" stands engraved over the entrance of the Supreme Court.  I find those five words to be the best representation of the ideals of the United States.  That sentence is stronger than any clause of the Constitution or demand by the Declaration of Independence.  (Although, I was recently referred a fantastic piece in the New Yorker about how U.S. civil rights are overly focused on procedure over fairness, which could very well be used to put this post on its head).

But back to the original concern -- what is fairness?  Do we correct life's injustices?  Past mistakes?  Inequality of skills?  I am hoping that the President was using fairness as a synonym for equality, but I don't think he was.  I think he was speaking to the same principle (primitive instinct) that Mitt Romney so eloquently referred to as "envy."

I think a progressive income tax is hung on the banner of fairness, but I don't disagree with it.  We are not all equal under those laws.  Those that make more pay more...because we think that is fair.  My caution is that laws based on fairness over equality lack objective review.  Fairness is amorphous.  It is the subject of philosophy.  Equality, very often, is the subject of math.

A lot of the frustration you hear from the "man on the street" is rooted in a different interpretation of what is fair.  This frustration turns to anger when they feel that they their "fairness" is no longer applicable to the world in which they live.  That is a scary, helpless, dizzying feeling that no one should dismiss.  You may say "But they are wrong" to which the only reply is "who says?"

Equality can be engraved in stone.  Fairness is written on paper.


The County Council is having difficulty deciding on a final redistricting map with a March 15 deadline looming.  As I've been saying from early on, I think the Council should pass the commission map.  Council-member Calvin Ball is quoted in the article as saying "there's a reason why we appointed a commission."  There's actual a number of reasons.  As someone who recently served on the Charter Review Commission, I can say that I would be very concerned if the Council scrapped five months of work due to political considerations that were duly considered at the Commission level.  In addition, this Commission listened to hours of public testimony from those who took time away from their families to come out to the Howard Building.  Was all of that a show trial?  Finally, redistricting has shown itself to be an ugly beast.  Moving the lines to satisfy one angry contingent leaves no promises that another angry contingent won't be the sleeping beast.  There is no longer time to incorporate additional public testimony, leaving no option but "redistricting by ambush."  Each Council member has a constituency they are fighting for with only one final outcome -- someone will be upset.

Lindsey McPherson also looks at the fundraising dollars for the rest of our County officials.

A depressed young electorate would seem to present an opportunity for the GOP in this year's election.  That is an unfortunate conclusion, but one that Republicans have never shown interest in responding to.

Baltimore City School Superintendent wants to borrow $1.2 billion to pay for an overhaul of the City's crumbling school buildings.  And now I am dizzy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah notes Google's attempt to draw borders for Columbia, which just so happens to look almost exactly like the lateral view of a human brain.

A little rushed through the links today.  I may have been a little caught up in the "fairness" discussion.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.  I hope to see a number of you tonight at the Public Hearing for the Columbia Association Budget.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Columbia Entitlement (Tuesday LINKS)

Here in Columbia, we have been conditioned to believe that we not only have a right to know what our neighbor is doing with their property, but also a general say in whether it will be done.  For all of the peace, love, and harmony that we preach, our Resident Architectural Committees are rarely the recipient of an "I love Columbia."  Rather, they hear "This is ridiculous," "If I had known this when I bought my house...", or the most prevalent "But my neighbor..."

In the last few months I served on the Dorsey's Search RAC, we had a situation that would be familiar to most Village volunteers.  Neighbor A called our Covenant Advisor to note that Neighbor B had grown a significant garden without proper fencing or RAC approval.  Neighbor B received a letter, came before the RAC, and made the necessary adjustments under the covenants.  Two weeks later, we received a complaint from Neighbor B that Neighbor A's basketball hoop was too far away from their house.  It was.  By approximately five feet.  Despite my interest in letting the hoop stay, the rest of the Committee saw fit to make Neighbor A remove the hoop (moving it closer to the home was impractical because of the incline on the driveway).  Neighbor A and B both enjoyed their property a little less, but justice was done.

I thought of that story when I saw Bob Tennenbaum's Letter to the Editor, proposing how GGP's presentation on the Mall "should" have gone.  Despite his confident tone, I'm not so sure that these three paragraphs would suffice.  In fact, I would bet good money that they wouldn't.  GGP probably has developed the political sense to realize that when you offer a staircase, residents will often want to know what the railing will be made out of.  Whenever there is uncertainty brought on by the need for flexibility, something malicious is underway.  When a certain group of citizens show up to "party", nothing you do will stop them from grabbing the microphone.

But what concerns me more about Mr. Tennenbaum's letter is that he is part of the self-named "Dream Team" that has been contracted to design Symphony Woods and would like to also be engaged to design the Columbia Lakefront.  He is hoisting the mantle of Neighbor A onto the Columbia Association.  I would not presume that GGP has the time, inclination, or absence of maturity to be Neighbor B, but that would tend to be how this story plays out.  The only difference is that GGP is an actual stake-holder neighbor with a valuable interest in what CA does with its land.  The County would have to consider their input and apply it to CA's proposals.

Someone recently asked me if I went to the Community Meeting last week regarding the proposed plans for the Mall.  They noted that I had not written anything about it and wondered whether I thought it was "important."  I don't.  I'm excited to see our Mall stay with the times and maximize its marketability.  But what GGP does with its property is really none of my business.  None of yours either.


Governor O'Malley has introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland.  In other news, citizens in other parts of the State are working hard to prevent Maryland from instituting a ban on first cousin marriages in Maryland.  That's right.  It's legal.

In response to embarrassingly low voter turnout, the State is considering whether to move Baltimore City elections to coincide with Presidential or Gubernatorial elections.  Members of the City Government have been advocating for the former so that they have the ability to post unsuccessful bids for State office and return to the safe comfort of their City seat.

Yet another reminder that if you don't think your parent or grandparent is safe behind the wheel, you should talk to them about it before they hurt themselves or others -- an 83 year old man drove onto Light Rail tracks and was pulled from the car before it was struck by an oncoming train.

Former Governor Bob Ehrlich used $168,000 from his campaign account to help pay for his campaign manager's defense to charges of voter fraud.  Remember that warm and fuzzy feeling you had when you donated $50 to Ehrlich's campaign...

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  53 Beers looks at fundraising numbers in the Gubernatorial primary race and notes that it is unusual for the Dems to have a closely contested primary.  Seems like this year the party has a number of young guns all coming up at the same time.  Tis a blessing and a curse.

A final note on yesterday's post regarding homeless school children: You are entitled to have an opinion, whether it based on facts or theories existing in the absence of facts.  I would only ask for you to consider that on an issue such as homeless prevention, an uninformed opinion has the potential to create a concrete harm.  Howard County folks have done a very good job at minimizing the homeless population in their heads.  We don't see them on the street and see that they are removed from our Malls and libraries.  "Ahh, much better.  I was almost shamed by my heated leather seats.  Close one."  But I can tell you from first person experience that there are people living in the woods as you are reading this.  Maybe not 600.  Probably closer to 200.  They don't define themselves by County borders or care about the difference in property costs between zip codes.  It is a plain farse to say that our homeless population would be resolved by offering housing in cheaper localities.  Unfortunately, this problem cannot be so easily dismissed. 

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Homeless Students in Howard County (Monday LINKS)

Over the weekend, The Sun ran a front page story about homeless students in Maryland schools.  To my great surprise and disappointment, the story featured Howard County students living in the woods.

I understand that this does not mean Howard County's homeless student population is more significant than in other localities.  Maryland news coverage tends to have an "even-in-Howard-County" flare that pops up from time to time.  This is a great example.  But all the same, are 202 homeless students, constituting a 150% increase from 2005, acceptable in this community?

All of the projects we brag about, the quality of education our schools provide, does it really matter when kids are living in the woods?  Doesn't it make our Nature Center a pillar of irony? 

I've heard some say that the increase in the homeless student population is due to a reclassification of what makes a student "homeless" and that is fine.  I would even say that other than political salience, the fact that these are homeless youth does little to describe the true problem.  So long as there are homeless adults with children, there will be homeless youth.  The problem cannot be solved piece-meal by age.

Over the next Budget Cycle, the County Executive and the County Council will have a number of initiatives before them that are components of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.  I think we need to compare every other item in that Budget against the basic necessity of shelter and homeless prevention.

I wrote an e-mail to the County Council on Saturday.  I hope you will consider doing the same.  Let them know that you support the Plan and that you expect them to take a proactive role in ending homelessness in Howard County.


Democratic leaders in Annapolis appear to be concerned that the Governor will be absent during this year's legislative session due to his involvement with the Democratic Governor's Association. 

Stepped up enforcement and $500,000 in federal grants led to 2,200 arrests in warrant sweeps across the State.  These sweeps were targeted at violent offenders and government officials point to 25 less homicides in 2011 as evidence that the program worked.  The Sun offers as an aside that there are still a number of suspicious deaths that may change that conclusion.

For once, a County leader has the upper hand in union negotiations and appears to be winning.  Harford County Executive David Craig seeks to distribute an $11 million portion of a $32 million surplus amongst county employees.  However, although eight of nine unions that represent County teachers have accepted, the Harford County Education Association has yet to "agree" and has until March before the bonus expires.  The proffered reason for the dispute is about procedure (i.e, the bonus should have been approved by the union and school board), but further reading suggests that the real issue is that the union believes all of the $32 million County surplus should have gone to schools and appears unwilling to accept a smaller portion.

I wanted to note my post from yesterday regarding Symphony Woods.  It was probably lost in the Sunday Sadness.

Featured Blog Post of the (Weekend): WB looks at our second dusting of snow.  I know that federal employees are enjoying a overreaction...ahem...two hour delay this morning due to "freezing rain" (which, incidentally, was so cold that it melted most of the snow in my parking spot).

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

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Our Regional Distraction is Over

Well folks, that was fun.  I'm sure some anthropology-sociologist (does that field exist?) could tell me why sports demand the emotional investment that they do, but they would have a hard time explaining the emptiness a lot of us have been feeling since about 6:05 pm this evening.

Congrats to the Patriots and their fans.  But only sort of.  If you're a fan of Boston teams, you have an embarrassment of riches.  You probably will enjoy each and every championship your teams collect, but just like my antitrust teacher said in law school, pizza stops tasting good after the tenth slice.  (Footnote: Do not take an antitrust class in law school if you have never studied economics.  Trust me on this one).  I don't mean this as a knock, but you probably won't enjoy it as much as we would have. 

Baltimore has the Ravens and that's it.  We dabble in Capitals hockey, but that's not Baltimore.  So when the spotlight leaves, its back to feeling inferior.  Being angry about what strangers failed to do for "us."  It's a mighty fine distraction.  I'm sad to see it go.

But these faux emotions serve some purpose.  I have no real reason to be sad about the Ravens loss.  Neither do you.  But we get this sadness for free without the true life debt that normally comes along with such emotions.  That's a good thing.

So maybe that's what a anthropology-sociologist would tell me.  We are sports fans for emotional exercise.  Fake sadness is put on the table for the prospect of fake happiness.  We ended up betting on the wrong color.

I wanted to write something to make myself feel better.  I think I did.  Hopefully some of you feel the same.

CA to Partner With Howard Hughes for Symphony Woods Plan

The Board has been authorized to release the following statement regarding next steps in CA's planned development for Symphony Woods:

In an effort to meet the goals of Howard County's General Development Plan, CA will be working with the Howard Hughes Corporation to develop a complete neighborhood plan for the Symphony Woods/Merriweather Post "Neighborhood." The Columbia Association feels that the proposed neighborhood plan will fulfill the General Development Plan's purpose of providing an exceptional cultural and recreational area in the new Town Center area. Additional details and negotiations with Howard Hughes will begin so that land uses and area amenities will benefit park and pavilion users. CA believes that this venture will meet the goals of the plan and will be a place that can be enjoyed by Columbians and those who will visit both the park and pavilion.

I believe this is the only way to go on this issue and am very happy with the manner in which this partnership has been able to develop.  Respectfully, this was never about "big ideas" for Symphony Woods.  It was about connectivity and congruence.  This approach should meet both objectives and find its way through County vetting.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sun Reports: Guy with $192,000

Yesterday, I reviewed the fund-raising reports for some of those considered to be contenders for the 2014 County Executive Race.  Courtney Watson posted impressive returns, raising $165,713 with $171,709 in the bank.  The Sun reports in this weekend's Howard section that Delegate Guy Guzzone has raised $92,000 in 2011, with $192,000 in the bank.

Notably, the Sun did not include Council-member Calvin Ball in their discussion of potential Executive candidates.  I'm not suggesting that Dr. Ball has made the suggestion that he intends to run or otherwise would have the desire to do so, but...he did raise the same amount as Guy in 2011 ($92,000).  Some (me) may suggest that if he had given residents the impression that he was running for Exec, he would have well exceeded that number.

From the Sun piece:

Donald F. Norris, a Howard County resident and chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the size of a contender's bank account is not necessarily an indication of his or her electability.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What the Gov Money Means (Friday LINKS)

After my 6,000/1,600 whoopsie-daisy, I don't think anyone should be trusting me in the evaluation of numbers...but you're getting it all the same.

Despite being over two years out from the primary, yesterday's fundraising numbers were very important in setting the stage for the Dem primary.  Here are some thoughts on what they show:

1) Ulman, Franchot, and Brown need more Republican friends.  If a chihuahua with $10,000 in the bank ran against Doug Gansler for Attorney General in 2010, chances are he would have up to $1 million less in the kitty.  My experience with politicians and elections has suggested that even when a win is preordained from the start, the percentage win, and "crushing" the opposition, is worth a lot of money.

Gansler ran unopposed in 2010, allowing him to do all of the normal fundraising without having to spend.  While the true blue Dems may think it blasphemous to have a Democrat encourage a contender against another Dem, a long term strategic thinker would have been out there kicking the tires on the Republican field, seeing if anyone may be interested in some third party PAC money.

2) O'Malley Money In the Balance.  It was just as surprising to see Ken Ulman with $1.3 million as it was to see Anthony Brown with $800,000.  I have to presume that Lt. Gov. Brown gave a call to his boss this past week asking him "Where are 'our' donors?"  I would imagine that Gov. O'Malley  responded "If you interrupt my Squash game with Ken one more time, I am cutting off your allowance."

No one has been able to dig into the numbers yet (as far as I can tell), but it will be very interesting to see if O'Malley money is trending to Ulman.  Many have said that Ken's path to the State House is through his friendship with the current Governor.  The retort has always been "Well, doesn't he have an allegiance to Brown."  At $800,000...I guess not.

No one is giving away money in this race.  By all appearances, Ken is working his tail off raising money across the State.  But the big donors are from somewhere.  If they are from the O'Malley camp, Martin has some 'splaining to do.

3) After Gansler, the field is tied.  If the GOP National Primary is any indication, no front-runner is safe.  But if political history has told us anything, money follows money.  Doug Gansler will be the prohibitive favorite for becoming the next Governor until some bombshell blows him off the path to victory.  Leading up to yesterday, many had suggested that Anthony Brown was next, followed by a large gap, then Franchot, then another large gap, then Ken Ulman (sorry Ho Co'ers, that's what I was hearing).  Well now it seems the pack behind Gansler is much closer.  Yes, Anthony Brown should be embarrassed and will have to work extra hard to convince new donors that year 1 reporting was a fluke.  But he still is the heir apparent until something concrete indicates that the Governor is supporting Ken.

Meanwhile, Peter Franchot is not fighting anyone for his base, although it is yet to be seen where that base is.

All the same, this will be fun to watch.  I am also looking forward to reports coming out on our prospective County Exec candidates over the next week or so.


CA Board Member Gregg Schwind went to the press with his expose on the "bogus" Senior Discount.  I'm not so sure "several" Board members pushed very hard for such a discount.  I would say it was closer to "two."  In fact, I think the result makes that clear.  It was a compromise, and one that Gregg does not approve of.  I respect his right to seek out public support on his initiative (and Board members have already received an angry missive in response), but I will continue to oppose a Senior Discount for CA rates.  I would much rather put addition emphasis on low income subsidies and programs, which may work to benefit seniors.  The argument has been made that seniors should not be forced to go through the indignity of completing a form proving their income merits a discount.  Well, what does that say about everyone else?

After the Sun published a series of articles on "invalid" tax breaks in Baltimore City, over 550 City homeowners will be required to pay four years of back taxes.  I don't mean to get all populist on you, but it seems there is a new report of corruption every six months in Maryland, yet these reports almost always come from the police or prosecutor's office.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun is nailing 550 citizens for tax breaks that the majority probably had no idea they were receiving?  A true asset to the community!  That money will available to pay for Sheila Dixon's pension.  (Golf clap)

The Dept of Homeland Security is sending out "Just Kidding" notices to 366 deportation subjects after completing a pilot program for how to expedite backlogs of immigration cases.  I will guarantee that at least one of those released will be back in the news, with the subtitle "Defendant Previously Released by Homeland Security."

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  HowChow looks at...HOLY MOLEY...A BREAD PUDDING FLIGHT!  My favorite dessert of ALL TIME...in a flight to heaven!  Breathe.  Breathe.  Um, yes, so our dear food blogger appears to have come across a rather delectable new find that he would recommend to you and yours.

Today, my friends, is Purple Friday.  If you see someone that is not wearing purple, tell them to "go back to where you came from" or some other unwelcoming jibe to make them feel out of place.  We can go back to being neighbors tomorrow.  But today is Purple Friday.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  I know I will.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Honor Your Past, Own Your Future (Thursday Links)

I sometimes joke that there should be a "Jim Rouse Swear Jar."  If you are quoted in the paper or make a statement at a public meeting that invokes "The Name of Our Founder", you must donate $100 to the Columbia Foundation (seems appropriate).

You see, outside of our sleepy hamlet, there are dozens of structures planned and built by Jim Rouse and his company that have since been demolished.  In fact, the indoor mall, an innovation that is often attributed to Mr. Rouse, is thought to be antiquated and a thing of the past.  That doesn't mean he wasn't the great man that we all believe him to have been.  It just means he was a visionary in time.

There's a somewhat new show called "Portlandia" that is on IFC.  The theme music has the line "The dream of the 90's is alive in Portland."  With all of our self-reflective criticisms put aside, I think that we could say that the dream of the 60's is alive in Columbia.  That's our foundation and we should honor all of the aspirational goals that were set out for this community when it was created.  But we need to move on.

If someone says that "this is not what Jim Rouse would have wanted", the presumption is that they want to stop time.  What Jim Rouse wanted was written in volumes of documents at the Columbia Archives.  If someone wants to cite Mr. Rouse, they would do well to find his specific proposal and bring it to the forum.  But most of the time they can't...and haven't even tried.  The presumption is that Jim Rouse thinks like they think.  And since they don't like it, Jim Rouse wouldn't have liked it.

But isn't that a bad way to build a community?  Bring your babies up the hill to Solomon and hope for a wise decision?

I've said this before, but I often feel like Columbia residents abdicate their responsibility to think forward by using Jim Rouse as a crutch.  We have an obligation to that man to make Columbia attractive for new residents, walkable, financially successful, and an asset to the County as a whole (rather than the 1/3 of us who live within its amorphous borders).  But instead we obsess over what a (respectfully) deceased man would have preferred?

$100 in the swear jar could do a lot of things for this place.


It is no surprise that Doug Gansler won the money race for Gubernatorial candidates with $4.1 million, but it was a surprise to see Ken Ulman come in second with $1.3 million (trailed by Peter Franchot, $1 million, and Anthony Brown, $800,000).  Considering that Gansler was coming off an uncontested re-election bid with $3 million, Ken may have just put on a show of force that will catapult him into "contender" status.

Lindsey McPherson gets some quotes from the Howard Countian in Chief regarding his successful fundraising.

Chances are, if you live in Howard County, your income taxes would increase under Gov. O'Malley's proposed budget.  This plan would not raise any rates, but would phase out exemptions for earners making $100,000 or more.

The carousel projected to possibly move to Symphony Woods is being ordered to move out of the Inner Harbor by March of this year due to unpaid bills to the City. 

I love friendly rivalries as much as the next guy, but every time I see this close-up picture of Ken Ulman and David Nitkin eating donuts, I think "Your health coach is going to be very disappointed in you."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB takes a hard look at those criticizing the new Mall plans.

In closing, this is my 6,000th 1,600th post.  Holy moley.  That is a lot of sleep debt!

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Teacher Pension Costs (Wednesday Links)

With full warning that it was only a matter of time before the shift occurred, it still seems a bit surprising that the State plans to shift teacher pension costs to the counties this session.  The governor has proposed a bit of "retirement cost trading" in which the County would pay half of the teacher pension costs paid by the State and the State would take on half of the Social Security costs currently paid by the counties.

The Associate Press reports that Ken "Ullman" is against the shift:

I still don’t think it should be shifted,” Ullman, a Democrat, said. “I know my colleagues don’t think it should be shifted. It’s a huge burden, but I do respect and appreciate the governor’s attempt to make it more palatable.

The Sun goes on to quote the Howard County Executive as pressing a slightly sharper criticism:

"I think he understands the impact is very difficult. I'm disappointed that there's going to be a proposal to shift the burden to counties because I don't think we're in any better position to be able to afford it than the state is," said Ulman, a Democrat. 

Those who followed this proposal the last time around will recall that there are many permutations of how these costs would be shifted.  One of which, called the "wealth factor formula", would have Howard County essentially subsidizing other counties to the tune of about $6 million:

Some formulas under state consideration would require wealthy counties like Howard to pay more. For example, one formula including a wealth factor would cost Howard $23 million more instead of $17 million more without the formula, while less-prosperous Baltimore City's costs would drop from $22 million to $5 million under the same formula.

There is still a lot to find out about this shift, but I presume a big battle remains as to whether these costs will be put into the budget for the Board of Education or covered by the much smaller County budget.  I would not be surprised to see the State find a way to defer and let each County decide the manner in which these costs will be allocated.  Why does this matter?  Well, despite delegating taxation and budgeting to the County (with legislative approval), the State still imposes significant requirements on the County regarding how much money will be allocated towards the schools.  Similarly, the School Board budget has become a bitter pill for the Executive to swallow year after year, with some wondering whether these school budgets accurately reflected the economic environment.

Said otherwise: Putting teacher pension costs directly on the County would burn the candle at both ends.

This issue has a great deal of depth and there are still plenty of items to talk about, including whether counties have the ability to negotiate or diminish teacher pensions and, if not, whether it is equitable to have them bear those costs. 

It's been a while, but it seems like we finally have something to talk about again.


The Anne Arundel County Council finally voted to removed soon-to-be-jailed council-member Daryl Jones from office.  According to the piece, Mr. Jones promised his constituents that he "will continue to fight and be certain that you're not disenfranchised through this process."  When I worked for the DoD reviewing security clearance applications, we had a rule: If you don't pay Uncle Sam, you don't get paid by Uncle Sam.  Mr. Jones pled guilty to "a single misdemeanor charge of failing to file nearly three dozen personal and business tax returns over a six-year period."  I'm not sure about you all, but I think that makes you unfit to serve.

Baltimore County is considering the same transgender discrimination bill that just passed in Howard County.  Not surprisingly, the same concerns arose, most prominently whether men will be allowed in women's bathrooms.  Not too long ago, I was speaking with a former County Council-member who worked on getting this measure passed here in Howard.  I discussed some of the concerns that I had, which included the bathroom/changing room example.  He responded that "If you're looking at someone else's business when you're in one of those places, maybe you shouldn't be in the bathroom."  Fair enough.

Most of you have probably heard of the horrific discovery in Howard County yesterday of 40 dead animals inside the home of a woman associated with animal "rescue."  The owner of the house has not been located. 

Over 50 residents attending the unveiling of the Columbia Mall's new "lifestyle center" plans last night.  Of those in attendance was Cy Paumier: "It's boring," he said. "It's very repetitive. We've heard most of this before." And Bob Tennenbaum: "When people walk out, everyone's going to say, 'What is it?'" Tennenbaum said. "When Jim Rouse did it, there was a goal."  You can't help but hear some echos of the criticisms posted against the plans for Symphony Woods, which both Mr. Paumier and Mr. Tennenbaum helped create. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Trevor has sent out questionnaires to candidates for the Board of Education and is posting their responses.  Hopefully, as we get further into the campaign, we can get more positions of substance from these candidates.  Platitudes will certainly embolden your supporters, but they probably won't win any new ones.  I applaud Trevor for this effort and look forward to hearing what the other candidates have to say.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Are Bloggers Good for the Community? (Tuesday Links)

When speaking with TJ about his article for Patch on Ken Ulman and the role of bloggers in the community (subsequently the victim of a vicious round of editing), he asked me the very basic question of whether I thought bloggers were "good for the community."  My gut reaction was "of course," but thinking it through further, I realized I had very little to back that up.  Instead, I just repeated the question back slowly "Are bloggers....good...for the...community?" and told him that I don't really know.  Bloggers provide a number of values to the community, most specifically a opportunity to discuss public issues in a public way, but there is nothing that would require these varied interested parties to consider the benefit of the community at all.

I think we have a mostly benevolent crew of bloggers in this town.  None are anonymous.  Just about all are involved in the community in one way or another.  If I were asked for a spot check on whether Howard County blogs are good for the community, I would say yes.

But, as TJ seems to argue in his post, blogs are tempted by hysteria and there are no editors working this beat.  For someone in favor of turf fields, the blogs (possibly this one in particular) were injurious to the community.  We unfairly stoked fires and relied on a lazy construct of "leaky roofs" to play pinata on an otherwise legitimate proposal.  Where local news can often be an echo chamber between blogs and newspapers, the blogs can often set the parameters of a given news issue before real journalists can get the story.

This isn't a mea culpa and I've looked back at my posts from that time frame to come to the conclusion that I was mostly fair with the turf fields debate, but I understand why others may feel differently...others who may be more accustomed to a steady stream of unquestioned praise.  And I guess that's where I come out on whether blogs are good for the community.  We're good as long as we're asking more questions than we are providing answers.  Answers take work and normally more work than is allowed by the time of a hobbyist.  TJ's conversation with me concluded with a question about my promise not to "break news."  Basically, "why not?"  I'm not trained to provide you (the reader) with news you should trust.  If you glean news from anything I've written, you should do so carefully, as it is normally not intended.  My intent is to create those questions that make the news worth reading.

Such as, do we have any leaky roofs?


One of my all time favorite scenes from one of my all time favorite movies is the Billy Bats scene in Goodfellas.  This is the part of the movie where Tommy (Joe Pesci) comes into a bar for Billy Bats's "home from jail" party, and Billy tells him to go get his "shine box" to shine his shoes.  Tommy takes offense and the next thing you know, our group of protagonists is burying Billy Bats on the side of the highway (whoops...SPOILER ALERT).  Anyway, the Maryland General Assembly is looking to tell the Tea Party to get its shine box.  Despite no provocation or real need, State Senator Jamie Raskin would like Maryland to belatedly ratify the 17th Amendment, which required that US Senators be elected by direct vote of the people as opposed to being appointed by the State legislature.  This looks like a complete waste of time and otherwise plain bullying by the political majority to show the minority that they can't even stop the passage of an irrelevant vote.  "I'm going to take Jimmy's hat and there is nothing he can do about it."  I hope that the Howard delegation has more maturity than to vote for this trash.

Only in Maryland would a government look to expand programs while simultaneously cry poverty and request more taxes.  I can't speak directly to the value of "health enterprise zones", but it does seem to be throwing money at an incurable societal ill in the midst of what should be a tight budget year.

"A new study by University of Maryland researchers released Monday evening found a nearly threefold increase in deaths or injuries in accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones."  One can only hope that this will not inspire new laws prohibiting "walking while bee bopping."  Just as umbrellas don't make it rain, I don't think headphones are substantially increasing the risk of a morning walk.  Rather, I think the prevalence of headphones and pedestrian travel may have increased, leading to increased accidents and fatalities.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at the possible reconfiguration of the Mall, paired with a history lesson for those of us who may have forgotten what the old Mall looked like.  My most distinct memories of the "old Mall" were the McDonald's birthday parties and the Chinese restaurant with the fish tank in the window.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK, Jr. (Monday Links)

Unfortunately, I will be working on this government holiday (as I have for the past three years), but the day is still one of significance for me.  As many of you will hopefully already be aware, today is officially known as the "Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service."  For me, that raises today up beyond Columbus and President's Day.  The day, in itself, is a calling to act in honor of someone who gave everything for his cause.

Another little known fact about the march on Washington, D.C., during which Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech was actually titled the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."  One of my friends who organizes an annual MLK Job Fair in Baltimore City often says that had Dr. King lived, he most likely would have directed significant focus on economic equality as a means to racial equality.  He sees the former as left unfulfilled, which has significantly hindered the prospects of "real" equality, even with equal rights under the law.

Economic strength turns equality into a "way of being" as opposed to a permissive status.  Undoubtedly, those that have never confronted ugly prejudices or worked with those who have will say, quite confidently, that equal opportunity creates economic equality and there is good sense in that.  But as many others will most likely respond, that's like starting the game in the middle of the fourth quarter with one side up by 20.

The subsequent question is whether or not anything can or should be done to promote economic equality.  And we should be clear that economic equality does not mean financial equality.  This isn't about making every one's bank account read the same numbers on Friday.  Economic equality relates to the ability of an actor with the same abilities to work within the economy for the same goods as his/her neighbor, regardless of their background, race, or gender.  Notably, the surrounding factors of "life" are not mentioned in that description, with those surrounding factors normally being the impediments to economic equality (also omitted for the sake of conversation).  We're talking about education, social services, and housing.  Those aspects of our government that are so often described a bureaucratic hog-wash are also some of the greatest tools for class mobility.

Surely, the gates can remained locked.  But as many observed, if it had not been for Martin Luther King, Jr., those gates would have been torn down.  And our Country would never have been the same.


Ravens are one W away from the Super Bowl.  I know that a lot of folks will be criticizing the Ravens for yesterday's offensive performance, but they seem to forget what people normally say about good teams that play Baltimore.  "Their offense just wasn't firing on all cylinders."  "[Insert Player] had the worst game of his season and probably would have beaten the Ravens had he shown his normal self."  That's what good defenses do.  The Texans have a higher ranked defense than the Ravens.  They are a good team.  The Ravens beat them and will now move on to play another good team.

Six County middle schools will have police officers stationed inside starting tomorrow to combat crime and prevent criminal behavior.  And from that day forward, Jimmy had to settle for only using his lunch money for mealtimes.

Four of the eight contenders for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland do not live in their Congressional district.  Evidently, this is not a requirement for office.  In light of the manner in which we tend to draw districts in Maryland, I don't think we need to be concerned about the constituents of the "squiggly lizard district" feeling that their representative is not properly representing squiggly lizards on the federal stage.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I enjoyed Dennis and Paul's interview with Cy Paumier and appreciated that Cy mentioned the oft used phrase that he prefers "collaboration over competition."  There was the suggestion that some have criticized the Lakefront Plans, which I don't think is accurate.  The criticism, which is one I share, is that we don't have alternatives.  Before we start nodding our heads to "collaboration" and marvel at the beautiful drawings of the new Lakefront, let us keep in mind that CA is in the process of avoiding its own contracting rules in order to promote this plan over the universe of all others than may be submitted.  I am confident that the Board will seek alternative proposals over the next six months, but am similarly concerned that we have already corrupted the process.  Collaboration is important, but this is the same group that said they "welcomed competition" back when first seeking the contract.  It may not be long before "collaboration" is similarly lost from the conversation.

That's all for today.  If you have the day off work, maybe give a call to the Volunteer Center to see if there is something fulfilling available this afternoon.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

CA Board Recap: January 12, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start time: 7:32 pm
End time: 10:10 pm (Follow by Closed Session)

As I noted in yesterday's post, last night's Board Meeting was to be a work session to evaluate proposed changes to the FY 13/14 budget.  While I was prepared to take the red pen to the four inch thick stack of operations and capital expenditures, the night turned out to be much different than I expected.

Board Requests
It would not be a proper Board of Directors meeting without the prominent feature of Board interests.  Seemingly to the surprise and disappointment of the Board Operations Committee, the Planning and Strategy Committee submitted a list of approximately seven "Board Requests" to put over-arching edits on the substance of the budget.  The Board spent about an hour and a half going through each item...and watching the PSC vote down each one.

Most frustrating about this aspect of the meeting was that, with minor exception, the Board had considered each and every one of these proposals previously, with some minor edit to make it new.  It was like PSC Greatest Hits.  Salary and incentive manipulation.  Rate manipulation.  Under-utilized pool rates.  As the new guy, I felt like this was one of those tests you take at the end of a quarter to make sure you learned everything from the previous three months.

Other than a re-examination of the bonus structure, which was left for another date once the Board had an opportunity to review recently disclosed information, this would appear to be an inefficient use of the Board's time.  I say "appear to be" because the Board member who made these proposals was fully within his rights under the current procedures to have his proposals heard.  Frankly, I applaud him for the time and effort he has put into initiatives that he thinks are best for Columbia.  That doesn't mean I wasn't frustrated as the minutes ticked away on something that most Board members believed was already decided.

There is absolutely no filter between a Board member's idea and an hour-long discussion at the next Board meeting (that is unless your idea is some measure of Board reform, but I digress).  So long as this is the case, the Board can expect meetings to last well in excess of three hours.  In fact, the only reason we aren't still there is because of a clear lack of support for the proposals considered.  Had even one of these matters found purchase with two or more Board members, the discussion would have been longer, only to find out forty-five minutes later that the minority still could not win a vote.

Unfiltered agendas; interminable debate; and a fear of the vote.  The three pillars of CA Board inefficiency.  All on display last night.

Curb Appeal

The Board also spent a significant amount of time considering a request by two villages (Wilde Lake and River Hill) for additional assessment share to implement a program intended to improve the curb appeal of Village residences.  While the program appears to have different permutations in implementation (and was offered on a trial basis to all of the Villages previously), the basic idea is that the Village will hire a consultant to evaluate volunteer homes for their "curb appeal" and give recommendations for what they can do to increase the value of their home.

I will admit that when it came to a straw vote (the way we determine what gets into the preliminary budget), I voted against the proposal.  The proposed cost was $15,000 a year per Village.  When we asked whether this was for both FY 13 and 14, the answer was uncertain.  I was a little concerned that we were considering a potentially $60,000 proposal without recommendation from Staff or much certainty as to how this money would be allocated.  I think it is important to give Villages the opportunity to use assessment money with some sovereignty and would agree that this program may be the means to do so.  I did not vote against the program.  I voted against a flimsy proposal.  Nonetheless, the vote passed and hopefully will be more substantive when it eventually is incorporated into the budget

ZB 1095M

The CA Board was very interested to learn that we may have new residents in Long Reach for which it appeared there had been no prior "heads up" by the County.  Human Resource Dynamics recently requested rezoning for a parcel of land next to Costco that they wanted to turn from commercial to residential.  Notably, this is on CA assessed land in the Village of Long Reach.  HRD was successful with the Planning and Zoning Board and now have ZB 1095 M before the County Council.

I can't say what communications were made or whether this was something where CA was notified but the Board was not.  However, if it turns out that CA was not notified, this just seems to be a failure in partnership.  The County does not have a legal obligation to notify CA of anything, but so long as we are talking about "partnership" in the future of Columbia, I think a very basic measure of fulfilling that interest is letting the organization know when residential zoning is considered for land assessed under the CA lien.  I say that as a citizen, not a Board member (to the extent those two can be removed from one another).

As noted above, the Board did go into closed session to discuss proprietary business negotiations.  I understand that whenever the Board goes into closed session, it is a matter of consternation and gnashing of teeth.  With all apologies, these sessions are necessary while also necessarily limited in scope and occurrence.  The Board is cognizant of the appearance of closed sessions and works hard to make whatever information known as soon as that information can be made known.

That's all for today.  Have a great FRIDAY doing what you love.  I know I will.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Gauntlet (Thursday Links)

Many of us that observe hyper-local politics noticed that the Board of Education race tended to be the most hostile in 2010.  While the Executive and Council races may have been higher profile, the Board of Education race solicited the most letters to the editor (and blog page hits).

For good reason, this caused me to think back to my Mom's time on the Clarksville Elementary and Middle School PTA's.  Because my Mom doesn't do things halfway, she ended up President of both and experienced the true politics of education.  It is bare-knuckles nasty stuff.  In fact, I remember going to some events and leaving early because of some dust up or another that made the event "uncomfortable."  I was always proud of my Mom for putting herself through this (eventually being honored as a Lifetime Member), but the two experiences left a lifetime impression on me regarding community politics.

It may be unfair to say this, but due to the ladder function that PTA's tend to serve in relation to Board service, that type of politics has clearly bled over.  You don't just disagree, you dislike.  Your opponent is not just wrong, they are evil.  YOU are doing this for your kids, while they are...well who cares what their motivations are because they're trying to hurt your children!

Those running without children in the system (or recently through the system) are at an early disadvantage.  They will most likely be sucker-punched before they hear the bell.  But this is a very important election and I appreciate the now 15 candidates that have offered themselves up for the position.

I will acknowledge up front that I think Allen Dyer forfeited his right to serve on this Board the moment he took extra-legislative action to resolve a lost vote at the Board level.  Once someone is offered the privilege of service to deliberate on behalf of the people, they also have an obligation to work responsibly within that system.  Having failed to persuade his colleagues of the correctness of his proposals, Mr. Dyer filed suit, at great expense to the County in time and treasure.  The courts will always be open to Mr. Dyer and I have no doubt that he will continue to avail himself of the opportunities they present.  I just don't think he gets to be on both sides of the "v."


As noted above, 15 candidates have filed to fill three spots on the Board of Education.  I'm very happy to see friend of the blog David Gertler in the race.  It should also be noted that frequent commenter Corey Andrews has filed his candidacy.  Best of luck to everyone.  It should be quite a trip.

Courtney Watson is looking to add paid interns to County Council staff.  Presumably, this is not only to offer experience to young residents, but also to help manage the significant work load of our County Council members.  As someone who has completed three different unpaid internships of varying prestige (including two during law school [meaning I was living off loans]), I can't say I'm in favor of this.  Stripped of all the semantics: Monetary incentives should only be introduced when free labor dries up.  I'm not sure there aren't plenty of budding politicos looking to do constituent services for free.  And before we get into the argument of who can "afford" to work a free internship, I can say from experience that the 9-5 internship still leaves plenty of time to get over to UNO's to work the dinner shift as a waiter/busboy/host/bartender...I sure did love that job.

I forgot to link to this blog post at the Sun noting that Mayor SRB "swung by" Ken Ulman's fundraiser at Mother's in Federal Hill.  The blogger doesn't seem to know what to make of it, but I don't think it is a clear show of support.  Rather, SRB may be intelligence gathering for how Howard County plays in the City that Reads.  (Does anyone else that's spent time in Federal Hill find it odd that Mother's hosts political fundraisers?  The last time I was there, I saw three women in "less than weather appropriate attire" walking around selling test tube shots.)

I get angry when reporters buy into clear sound bites by politicians without filter.  For instance, Gov. O'Malley's "one cent" tax increase.  "Well, one cent?  HA.  What's the harm in that, deary?  I think I paid my tax accidentally when I reached into my pocket to get my iPhone and a penny fell out.  I didn't even take the time to pick it up!"  It's not one cent it is one percent.  The Governor would like to increase the sales tax by 1%.  Is that so hard?

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Columbia 2.0 makes the first endorsement of the 2012 Board of Education race, promoting his cousin Kelly Casey Van Horn.  Please also make sure to include Lisa B. in your links.  She plans to put specific focus on the Board of Education race and is sure to promote views much different than those you will find here, which is critical in an election cycle.

That's all for today.  Tonight the CA Board will be hosting a Budget Work Session.  While this may sound boring, the values of any organization are best represented in where it spends its money.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Walkabout (Wednesday Links)

If local political and community leaders are successful, the manner in which Howard County residents get from here to there may look very different ten years from now.  I attended last night's "Connecting Columbia" event and the turnout was surprising.  The work-shop began with attendees completing various stations around the room (for raffle tickets), which were geared towards obtaining feedback about the connectivity of Columbia's paths, little known features hidden away in Columbia's open spaces, and concerns that residents had about areas for improvement.  By the time the "sit-down" session began, it was nearly standing room only.

CA has engaged a consulting firm to develop a plan that will focus on improving inter-connectivity between CA paths, County roads, and the County Bicycle Master Plan.  This is yet another opportunity to look back on the untapped potential of Columbia's original vision to create more value for residents.

Despite being a center-piece idea for the original Columbia concept, I would assume that less than 5% of residents walk to work.  Of those, I would guess that less than 2% use the path system to do so.  Even then, I think my numbers are inflated.  A lot of this has to do with the practicality of how many residents actually work in Columbia, but there is also something about the paths themselves that prohibit use as a transportation system, over that of recreation (i.e., predictable and known running, cycling, and walking loops).  If you have not found yourself lost on Columbia's paths at least once, you either lack a fundamental desire for adventure OR you have not availed yourself of the opportunity.  It is almost impossible to use a new area of the path system and not find yourself in a spirit breaking round of cul-de-sac pinball.

The Columbia Connectivity Task Force will be looking to make Columbia's 93 miles of path a more utilized amenity and possibly change the way people live in this community.  As noted by the lead consultant, who also happens to be a Columbia resident, most trips are 3 miles or less.  If someone was taking that trip in Columbia, chances are the paths would connect their way.

(Hat tip to Sarah for giving me the extra nudge I needed to get out to last night's workshop.  There is another session tonight in Slayton House).


By yesterday afternoon, there were ten candidates filed for Howard County Board of Education.  A notable inclusion is friend-of-the-blog(ger) Bob Ballinger, affectionately known from the 2010 election as "Bullet Bob" for the strategy of GOP voters "bulletting" his name on the ballot, while forsaking all others.  That ended up getting screwy down the stretch.

As goes Howard County, so goes Baltimore County?  It looks like Balt Co will be considering a transgender anti-discrimination bill similar to that passed in Howard County last month.  This will be all the more interesting since the assault of Chrissy Lee that put transgender issues on the State agenda took place in Rosedale (that's Balmer Cownie, for all you out-of-staters).

For anyone who has chuckled at a home game while Mishael Miller speeds up or slows down the national anthem to match up with the jets flying overhead, you owe him to read this article.  He's been singing the anthem for the Ravens since 1996!

In Maryland, we make President of the Senate and Speaker of the House a career position.  When the session starts up today, both Mike Miller and Mike Busch will be "celebrating" the distinction of being the "longest-serving pair of presiding officers in any state in the nation."  They've been in their positions for almost twenty-five years, according to the piece.

I really love the first paragraph of this article: "Baltimore County Council members said Tuesday they believe taxpayers will get a good deal under a plan to install more speed and red-light cameras later this year."  That's like the husband that gets his wife a brand new vacuum cleaner for their anniversary, right?  "Honey, you'll love this, three different speeds!  What?  You said you needed a new one!"

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB takes a look at the new faces filing for Board of Ed and takes a liking to one of the newcomers.  Filing deadline is tonight at 9 pm, so we'll see if this race gets ramped up further heading into the April primary.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Race for Second Place (Tuesday Links)

I was recently discussing the prospective Gubernatorial 2014 race with a friend, who described the Dem primary as being "all about second place."  Presuming all of the predicted players throw in their hats, we will have the "back to your corners" stratification of the Maryland Dems that occurs whenever there is not a candidate of unification.  Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman will find support from Mid-Maryland North.  AG Doug Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot both came up in Democratic circles of the DC suburbs.  As such, the winner of the primary will be whomever can grab the most votes in their "home base" and get second place in as many other counties as possible.

This analysis tends to put Franchot in a very good position to win, even without getting Montgomery County, where it is presumed that Gansler has more name recognition as the former State's Attorney.  With a focus on fiscal issues, Franchot could come in second amongst most of the DC Suburb counties (including Howard) and then sweep first place for all of the red counties, including the Eastern Shore.  Brown takes Baltimore, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel, but the second place spot in those jurisdictions will probably determine who wins the nomination between Gansler and Franchot.  (Personally, I have not had very good experiences with Doug Gansler and am not so certain the campaign doesn't implode long before November 2014).

Obviously, each campaign has its own "Narrative to Victory", but this one seems to make sense, and tends to incorporate avenues to victory for most of the candidates.  The description above is part of the reason why so many pundits say that there are no trains to the State House from Ellicott City, but I would be interested in hearing why that may be wrong.


The Sun does a retrospective on Gregg Bernstein's first year as Baltimore City State's Attorney.  Statistically, it seems impossible to say that Bernstein is not an improvement, although the Sun tries its best to do so.  It seems like the only avenue in which he failed was promising more than he could deliver.  Nonetheless, kudos are appropriate and duly relinquished from this lowly blogger.

Maryland is on track to complete the reforms required under its $250 million Race to the Top grant.  I'm not a numbers guy, but I certainly would like to see an analysis of what money this grant displaced and allowed the State/counties to spend on other matters.  It seems purposeless to fulfill sometimes onerous grant requirements when the money does not put the State in a better financial position than it would be otherwise.  We're hearing the same notes about why additional revenue is necessary, but it would seem that grants of this magnitude would come into play somewhere.

City Councilman Carl Stokes has a populist bomb strapped to his chest and is ready to use it.  He is fighting for an initiative that would put a 50% property tax cut on the ballot for referendum, which Mayor SRB has rightfully noted to be disastrous for City finances.  Sometimes I think about how a security guard at a federal building needs to go through 50 pages of security clearance material to get their employment and elected officials are merely a ballot away from the bank.

Expect to start seeing purple lights around town as the County looks to support the Ravens' playoff run.  I expect Redskins fans to be collecting signatures at your local Giant to put turn the County back to a neutral shade of gray.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Goes back to WB for going to two political fundraisers in one day.  After his "outing" of Courtney Watson in October, I doubt any politicos are saying "with no reporters in the room..."  "Report cards" are due January 18, at which time we'll see which of our local leaders has raised the most dough.  I think we can expect some surprises and maybe even a dark horse County Executive candidate.

That's all for today.  Rather than a silly Facebook quiz, I think your ability to avoid this monster flu that's going around is the best predictive for your ability to survive the zombie apocalypse.  Yes, I know that knocks out everyone with a child under 10, but...the little ones slow you down and don't have good aim.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!