Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's In the Box? (Wednesday LINKS)

There is a scene at the end of the movie Se7en where a confused, angry, beat-up Brad Pitt is holding up a gun to the side of Kevin Spacey's head yelling "What's in the box?" over and over again.  Due to the delicate sensibilities of my readers, I will not tell you what is in that box, but I will say that the contents determined whether Brad Pitt pulled the trigger.

Morgan Freeman, having seen what's in the box, just wants Brad Pitt to put the gun down.

It's probably one of my favorite scenes in all cinema and offers a great one liner when you want to know something that someone else won't tell you.

Like the fire tax.

Lindsey McPherson has yet another great piece in the Flier, this time writing about the proposed fire tax and the Ulman administration's steadfast refusal to discuss rates until after the county-wide tax provision is passed:  "We'll have a discussion about what the rates will be in the context of the budget," Ulman said.

I don't think Executive Ulman gets to set the parameters of this discussion like that.  In fact, I think the Council should tell him to take a walk with his county-wide tax scheme until he is willing to come back with the proposed rate.  As we learned from 2007, despite Ken's comments regarding the "eastern end of the county...subsidizing the west", a increase for one is an increase for all.  While the West could expect a much greater increase than the metro regions, there is no reason to believe this is a one-sided increase.  Secondly, it is injurious to the public's ability to discuss this matter to hold back "what's in the box" in terms of what this ultimately means -- more tax revenue.

Ken, and his team, know exactly what this increase will be under both county-wide and split tax schemes.  Budget Director Ray Wacks is far too good of a numbers man to sit back and say "I'll let the politicians figure this out and then I'll do the math."

This withholding is almost smug -- "Yeah, I'll tell you what the taxes will be.  You just pass that thing first."  But in one of the more unfortunate quotes we've seen in the Flier in some time, we learn from Fire Chief Bill Goddard that this is not a "tax increase":  "While one could say it's a tax increase, I call it a tax adjustment," Goddard said.

*Wince*

Bottom line -- The Council needs to get these numbers.  What are the rates with the dual system?  What are the rates in a county-wide system?  The Ulman administration had the opportunity to get out in front of this with data about service between the two districts and prospective rates, but now the conversation is leaving their grasp and going out to the public for digestion.

If you're going to adjust all of our taxes, please allow us an opportunity to adjust your legislation.

LINKS

You know you have a good interview with a politician when you get the quote: "I've answered the question."  Lindsey McPherson exercises some journalistic muscle in questioning Ken Ulman about "adjusting" the fire tax in the context of his pledge of having "zero intention to raise taxes." (Which "some" suggested was an irresponsible thing to say in the specter of the teacher pension shift).  Lindsey hits on all the questions that needs to be asked and seems to wonder what kind of success Ken will have with this "I'll tell you later" approach:

"What I'm asking the council to do is put the rate conservation aside because this is about the fairness," he said.

That may be asking a lot of the council members, who have always seemed to adhere to the philosophy, "The devil's in the details."

I think this iteration of the Political Notebook may be better than...

After early questions about what a Howard County Veteran's Commission would do, it seems like the Council picked the right folks with the right kind of insight necessary to make this new initiative work.  There were a lot of interesting ideas tossed about to make Howard County a better resource for veterans and help those who have been looked over by "the system."

Mitt Romney won primaries in both Arizona and Michigan, averting yet another near-miss in his drive for the GOP nomination.  I'm sure this made some people very happy.  You know.  As happy as you get about Mitt Romney.  They probably enjoyed an alcoholic beverage and made a fist pump...are fist pumps communist or is that just the "fist pound"?  Well if fist pumps are communist, then they probably raised both hands over their head in a Rocky position.  There is nothing communist about Rocky.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  WB covers the "dress rehearsal" for Town Center with pictures of the display put on in an effort to woo Whole Foods.  The only thing Howard Hughes left out was a giant poster on the side of the building that would have said "Median Income: $101K  That's a lot of Cremini!"

That's all for today.  My wake-up time (5:50) is a great gauge for whether we are getting more sunlight.  If I can tell what color my shirt is prior to leaving the bedroom, it is getting lighter out.  Well, my friends, it is getting lighter out.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bully Pulpit (Tuesday LINKS)

I recently heard an interesting quip about religion that I will paraphrase here:

"Religion is like a public pool.  All the noise is in the shallow end."

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, for good or bad, has had us thinking a lot about religion recently.  During his Sunday Talk Show circuit, he repeatedly expressed his concern (with various references to upchuck) that those with religious views are being arbitrarily removed from the "public square" in favor of those with secular views.  I heard this while he was on Meet the Press and thought to myself "Huh, that's actually a good point."  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that this is just more of the "victimization narrative" that seems to be bubbling over during these past four years. 

Religion is very much in the public square, but it is mostly noise from the shallow end.  Opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem cell research seems to be all you hear from those taking a religious perspective. Not feeding the poor.  Not comforting the sick.  Not visiting and uplifting the underrepresented.  I find it odd that a religion such as Christianity, which is premised on loving thy neighbor, has so rarely been invoked in the public square to do the same or that those who profess its tenets would allow these messages to be drowned out by the less central (sometimes obscure) citations of religion as a "code of conduct" in pursuit of a greater truth (rather than the conduct being an end in itself). 

Comedian Stephen Colbert has an internet meme of sorts addressing the curious contradiction of religion in public discourse:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”


That is religious commentary in the public square.  It makes us uncomfortable.  But it also expresses, in semi-mocking tones, the uncertainty of what it means to be a "Christian Nation" as opposed to a secular one.


I consider myself to be a religious person.  I represent my views freely in the public square.  That seems to be acceptable, until I counter another religious view.  Then I am being "radically secular."  Might it just be that no one wants to discuss religion in the public square, especially the religious? 


LINKS


The very sad story of Pam Myers murder may be coming to some sort of closure with the conviction of Richard Rondola for second degree murder.  Ms. Myers was set on fire by her boyfriend Mr. Rondola in the midst of an alcohol induced argument.  The accounts of this event are very disturbing.  Rondola took lighter fluid, poured it on Ms. Myers twice, took out his lighter, and set her on fire.  She lived another few weeks before succumbing to her injuries.

Plans to move the Howard County Courthouse to a temporary location in the Ascend One building have been halted after administrative Judge Leonore Gelfman concluded that the temporary facilities would not provide an adequate level of security.


Mayor SRB is relaunching a second attempt to raise the bottle tax in Baltimore City.  It is going as expected.


The Annapolis City Council's attempts to removed a sitting alderman, subsequent to learning that he is effectively homeless, will take a unanimous vote.  This is an offensive attempt to impose a political caste system and squash a very positive story in local government.  I hope it fails and is an embarrassment for all those working towards its passage.


It appears that Baltimore City will be the subject of numerous cuts under President Obama's budget, including funds that had been counted on for waste-water treatment in the City.


Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow notes that R&R Taqueria (i.e., gas station tacos) was on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives last night.  Hopefully you tried those tacos before they were on TV, but if not, I find that the 1 pm - 2 pm hour on Saturdays to be a good time to go.


That's all for today.  I am going to the Heavy Seas Beer Dinner at Victoria tonight, which motivated me through a rather painful Monday.  Hopefully I will see some of you there.


Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Return of the Fire Tax (Monday LINKS)

As I noted on Saturday, we can expect the proposal of a county-wide fire tax to be on the lips of many a county-watcher over the next month or so.  A friend of the blog noted that contrary to the news coverage and my post, this is not the first time Executive Ulman has proposed a county-wide system.  In fact, when presenting his first budget as an Executive in 2007, Ulman proposed a county-wide tax of 13.55 cents per $100 assessed value, which constituted a 3 cent rise in the west and 1 cent rise in the "metro" areas.  It is interesting to note that in 2007, Executive Ulman was comfortable submitting his county-wide proposal with the Budget whereas in 2012 he wants the fire tax issue resolved before showing his hand.

At that time, Council-member Greg Fox commented that until Ken could show that the services in the West would be equal to those in the metro regions, he would not be supporting the increase.  Greg was able to convince a majority of the Council and limit the increase to 1 cent per $100 assessed value across the County, maintaining the disparity between Metro and Rural regions.  Notably, the 13.55 cents per $100 assessed value represents the rate for "real property" and not "personal property" (which I could use some help distinguishing in terms of how a fire tax applies).

Either way, the fact that the Executive is attempting the same proposal twice with an identical set of Council members makes you wonder what has changed since 2007.  My presumption is that the aspirations for higher office will probably allow the fire department to turn a swing vote, presuming that the Council is split 3-2.  Greg Fox scored a considerable victory in the last round, having convinced a new Council that his district should receive protection from a county-wide tax, despite being in the political and geographic minority, but that probably does nothing for his confidence in this bout.

Most interesting to me is the apparent bifurcation of the fire tax from the Budget.  It is a naked move to take numbers out of the conversation and one that is unlikely to go very far.  You can't talk about taxes without talking about numbers.  Period.  If I were the Council, I would go back to the Administration and request proposed rates.  Otherwise, you are setting all of us up.

LINKS

Great Headline:  Assembly Shift Attention from Love to Money.  Now we're talking about taxes.  It seems likely that it is just a matter of "which ones", but I would expect there to be a lot of talk about making substantial cuts to the Governor's Budget.  Similarly, I think the Teacher Pension Shift will happen, but we will have a lot of measures put in place to make this as painless of a transition as possible.  Where those two matters overlap is the extinguishment of deductions for "high income earners" and the County receipts increasing to off-set the new liability.

There is a very interesting saga in Anne Arundel County.  After one of the County Council members was sent to prison for tax evasion, the remainder chose (rightfully) to remove him from the Council.  They are now tasked with finding a replacement.  "They" being a panel of white men.  After vetting the applicants down to two individuals, the Council must now choose between "former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale, who is white, and Peter I. Smith, a Marine reservist from Severn who is black."  Along the way, at least two on the Council have made some unfortunate comments including a racial slur for African Americans and a poorly worded dismissal of "diversity" as an aspiration for a public body.  Yet again, Howard County is made to look even more boring.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah encourages us all to become educated about the names featured on the 2012 ballot(s) before the April Primary and provides some resources for doing so.

That's all for today.  I got a little caught up in the fire tax stuff and short-changed the links.  Sorry, links.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Next Big Thing: County-wide Fire Tax

Most, if not all, of the political missteps taken by the Ulman Administration over the past year have a common fault:

People in favor of the measure < People against the measure

Well, duh, right?  But it may be slightly more complicated than that.  Presumably, Executive Ulman and his staff would argue that the vocal minority does not properly represent the majority of people who would benefit, however marginally, from the proposed change, whether it be new development, school board changes, or a succession of turf field (which notably has since passed).

Taking a break from "Ken's Fall", the Administration has now proposed another measure that is treacherous at best and presents yet another opportunity for a political slip.  The Fire Tax.

As noted by Andrea Siegel and Jessica Anderson at the Sun, Executive Ulman has asked the County Council to consider legislation that would end the two-tiered fire tax and replace it with a single county-wide rate.  Notably, this was attempted by two previous administrations in 1993 and 1999; both unsuccessful.

First, some background.  The fire tax rates are currently set per $100 assessment at $0.34 $0.14 "metro" and $0.29 $0.12 "rural."  The boundary line can be viewed here (PDF) and seems to split the County just about in half.

Some simple math on a $350,000 home would yield the following taxes:


$1,190 $490 - metro
$1,015 $420 - rural

Notably, Ken Ulman does not want to discuss rates until after the county-wide rate is approved, which makes all the practical sense in the world in terms of budgeting, but recreates the "political formula of doom" noted above.  "Metro" voters have the opportunity to see their fire taxes go down.  "Rural" voters can expect their fire taxes to go up.  Without being able to communicate a likely rate, the motivation is on the side of those subject to a tax increase.  Admittedly, this same motivation would exist even if a rate were available, but as of now it is just some haunting spectre that allows any Western Howard County activist to tell residents that they are going to pay "hundreds" more if this tax passes.  In all likelihood, the real outcome will be a change of about $80 for the average homeowner, but this is hard to say in light of the size of your average Western HoCo home.

Similarly, there is no way to tell Metro homeowners how much they have to gain from this shift.  It would be politically unwise and dishonest to use the same tactics as an activist (i.e., "You'll save hundreds!"), but the prospect for lowering taxes for metro homeowners is probably the only way the political out-cry (come next week) will be countered.  You also have the opportunity to avoid the label of "raising taxes" when you present the true picture of leveling.

The best way for the Ulman administration to make sure this is not Groundhog day for last Fall is to get out in front of this storm with data:

1) What were the comparable expenditures for fire between metro and rural districts (last 5 years)?
2) How many fires requiring response were there between the two districts (last 5 years)?
3) What is a likely county-wide rate?
4) Is this net positive, neutral, or negative for the County?  

Without this data, you are abdicating its collection to those who make propaganda and fear-monger.  I think Western Howard Countians have every right and every motivation to oppose a county-wide tax, but the Ulman folks have an obligation to make this an educated debate.  Otherwise you will lose again.  And it will be embarrassing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Merriweather-Symphony Woods Concept Plan

I asked Jan Clark to send me the schematics and drawings from last night's presentation so that I could share with all of you.  You can find those drawings here.  For a good idea of what was proposed by Howard Hughes, you can look at the drawing below:

You will note from the linked schematics that the light green parcel on the upper left side is projected as a possible site for the new Central Branch Library, but these are just ideas.

CA Board Recap: February 23, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 10:37 pm

Shorter than expected meeting, but there is little pride to be taken there.  This meeting does not have much to show for the time, effort, and frustration that was spent on its existence.

Symphony Woods
CA must submit its revised plan for Symphony Woods by March 6.  This new plan will be a "Neighborhood Plan" including both Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Last night the Board, and a few members of the public, received a preview of the Plan to be proposed by Howard Hughes with an accompanying schematic by CA for Symphony Woods.  There were two items of this Plan that received some resistance from the Board.

First, the Howard Hughes Plan presumes/incorporates a series of land transfers for some vendor pavilions on the south-east side from CA to HH (i.e., pavilions are noted on property that currently belongs to CA).  Board members objecting to this schematic seemed to presume that Staff was interested in relinquishing this land without negotiation, payment, or trade.  The Staff's response was that a) This is just a schematic with little to no legal significance in terms of ownership of land; b) This land may be sold or leased to create a more complete design for the neighborhood with due compensation being received by CA.

The second concern was a parking lot on the north-west side of the neighborhood.  Notably, this parking lot is much larger than that proposed by CA's SW plan and presumably would serve MPP.  I can't recall whether the proposed lot was on CA land, but I do know that the primary concern was...more trees will be cut down.

On top of everything else, there were five residents, primarily if not exclusively from Oakland Mills, who expressed concern regarding the "53 healthy trees" that would be cut down in the creation of Symphony Woods park.  I clearly lied to myself when I thought the issue of trees in Symphony Woods had been put to bed.  The tree issue is jumping on the bed, breaking the springs, and waking the neighbors.

There is a well-used quip in Howard County that every resident presumes that once they pulled their "for sale" sign out of the ground, a big fence came swinging across the County borders with a "No Vacancy" sign.  The SW complaints are that notion under a different cloak.  This sparsely used, vacant park was no one's "paradise" until changes were proposed.  These changes are focused on a forward-looking "new" Columbia that is down-right scary to those who have spent their entire lives here.  I understand that and have a significant amount of empathy for those who are concerned.  Nonetheless, if you think there weren't 53 trees cut down to build your house, your grocery store, or even your favorite man-made lake, you are deluding yourself into this fiction that "Columbia is nature."  It's not.  And Symphony Woods is not a natural preserve.

Either way, the Board did not vote on anything last night.  It was an "FYI" session.  For my information, this is going to be a boondoggle once there comes a time for the Board to vote.

Dashboard Metrics
Pavlov would have a field day testing my blood pressure whenever someone uses the word "Dashboard."  (Is it possible to get PTSD from meetings?)

We spent another hour (plus) discussing how to make the Board more efficient by way of a set of graphs (known as the "Dashboard") that will provide a snapshot of where our organization is along those metrics.  This is a fantastic idea in concept.  Execution is looking grim.  As a member of the Staff joked last night "We are no longer looking at this as a destination as much as it is a journey."

The most significant debate last night was whether survey results for member satisfaction with CA Staff in the Sports/Fitness and Community Services context would be a valuable metric.  The survey responses to be gauged were Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, and Not Sure.  Staff included all responses, but then combined "Excellent/Good" to great consternation and gnashing of teeth by the Board.

I don't find this metric to be useful at all.  Maybe it is my general skepticism of survey statistics, but the variation between Excellent and Good does not amount to anything in my judgment; certainly not anything I would expect the Board to act on.  Imagine a 50% drop in Excellent's to Good's.  What does that mean?  It was a rainy day?  People were suffering from seasonal affective disorder?  Or that staff is losing a step?  Nonetheless, I was a minority vote on this item, which found itself in limbo over the simple fact that these surveys are done approximately every two years (at $20,000 expense to CA lien-holders) and would not have much relevance in a quarterly survey.

The next metric proposed was "Internet/Social Media Metrics."  Some Board members wanted to add a metric that would show our "Internet communications."  Seeing that I may be in the minority of Board members that follow CA on Twitter and on Facebook, this seemed a bit hypocritical and/or ignorant.  There are easier ways to see whether CA is a salient target for spam-bots.  But again, I was in the minority, and this metric will be "attempted" in the next proposal.

What I keep coming back to is one of my first meetings as a Board member.  The Quarterly Report had just come out and a number of Board members were demanding certain pieces of "data" from the Staff.  Question by question, the Staff would respond that the data was provided in the Quarterly Report.  It was embarrassing.  In this context, it is not too difficult to imagine a day in which a future Board demands "Metrics" from Staff, to which they will point to a 40 page packet and say "It's in the Dashboard."  At which time, I will stand up and slow clap.

Service Reductions

Certain members of the Board (overlapping with those who wish to cut staff salaries, rates, and CPRA fees), want there to be at least 30 day notice for any "service reduction" that adversely affects residents.  This is another nice idea in theory.  Unfortunately, its application is a hot mess.  New programs, failing programs, or simple redundancies cannot and should not be subject to a 30 day holding period.  Some Board members responded that this would only be a "Guideline" and not "Policy", to which I have to ask "Why are you wasting our time?"  Is the presumption that Staff does not have common business sense and they are only waiting for proper inputs from our amateur Board?

The policy is going back to the drawing board, but I would just as soon see it thrown away.  If there is an improper handling of a service reduction, the Board will have every opportunity to take that up with Staff...as an operational criticism.  Not as Board action.

Similar to Board meetings, I have run out of time to discuss the matters before the External Relations Committee (i.e., the Committee upon which I sit).

Have a great FRIDAY (!!) doing what you love!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is The CPRA Lien Fair? (Thursday LINKS)

There was a Columbia Association Board meeting last night, but it was not long enough to justify a Board Recap.  By that, I mean it was only two hours (sad face) with approximately 45 minutes being closed (re: contract negotiations).

A focal point of last night's discussion was the Columbia Parks and Recreation Association Lien also referred to as "the Assessment."  Before last night's meeting, it was 68 cents for every $100 of assessed value with a 2.5% increase cap for any individual home-owner.  After last night, it was 68 cents for every $100 of assessed value with a 2.5% increase cap for any individual home-owner.  (For those working as slow as I am this morning, it stayed the same).

I emphasize that because to hear some of our Board members speak last night you would think we voted on an increase.  In fact, you may have heard people say things like "A resident's property value may have gone down 20-30% yet they will still be paying more to CA."  I couldn't tell if this was populist nonsense or a general misunderstanding of property taxes, caps, and assessments.  CA staff provided a guesstimate that approximately 0.4% of all Columbia residents would be paying more in FY2013 than they did in FY2012.  Forget Occupy's 99%...think of the 0.4%!

This is an area of great misunderstanding.  Property taxes and the CA Assessment are both based on property value with maximum annual increases in what your actual payment will be.  As such, as your property value goes up, your tax/assessment will only go up in accordance with the stepped cap (5% or 2.5%).  For short-term home-owners (1-5 years), it is an unfortunate possibility that your property assessments have gone down so far that you will be paying less in CPRA/Property taxes this year than you did last year.  For those who have been in their homes for 5-15 years, it is likely that your CPRA cap increase of 2.5% has kept your actual payment low enough that you have not seen an appreciable change over the last 5 years and almost certainly will not see an increase for FY2013.  Now, for those long-term property owners (15 years+), you may be part of the 0.4%.  If there remains increased value in your home that has not been reflected in the CPRA due to the 2.5% cap (i.e., if the assessment still needs to "catch up" with the increased assessment of your home), you may see an increase.  At most, it will be 2.5%.

If you want to call property appreciation a tax increase, that is your prerogative, but you would do well to provide an alternative, because that is the foundation of a property tax.  Notably, there were no alternatives proposed last night.  There were a number of nice sound bites regarding "compassion", "tough economic times" and that this Budget is a "failure", but none of the Board members suggested an alternative.  In my book, that's posturing.

Bottom line: No increase was passed last night.  I would not have voted for one.  I doubt there is anyone on that Board who would have voted for an increase.  We kept the assessment exactly where it is.  And in the face of declining property values, that is a merit to the Staff.  Not something that should be deemed a "failure."

LINKS

TJ does a bang up job destroying Governor O'Malley's proposal to shift teacher pensions from the State to the counties.  It would be nice to see this picked up by the other Patches (is that how you use the plural of "Patch"?  Makes me think of an orange cat).  Most interesting to me was his discussion of how much teachers already pay into the pension, which is frequently acknowledged to be unsustainable.  Imagine paying into two retirement vehicles (SS and pension) that are repeatedly referred to as items that may not last the next 20-30 years.  (County employees -- this is why you should probably give a toot about OPEB, but I am not opening that can of worms today).

George Huguely, former UVA lacrosse player accused of murdering his girlfriend, has been found guilty and sentenced to 26 years.  This verdict is disturbing on many levels.  It is undisputed that Mr. Hughuely killed a 21 year old woman after previous instances of abuse.  That is a grave offense and one that I believe amounts to more than 2nd Degree Murder.  Nonetheless, Mr. Huguely's sentence is comparable to the jail time doled out for any number of crimes in Baltimore City relating to drugs.  Just drugs.  These are very different jurisdictions with very different juries, but I don't blame the juries.  I wonder what kind of criminal justice system we have that puts scores of young men in prison for half-lifetimes for drugs (just drugs), yet killing a woman in the prime of her life merits only 26 years.

Yet another audit has been released in Baltimore City: "The audit, released Wednesday, found that some homes received only estimated water bills for years at a time while others received no bills."  This adds up to about $4.2 million issued back to the bill-payers.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  Here's some truth -- If it had not been for HowChow, I would never have tried Korean food.  It's nice to be able to link certain life experiences back to particular folks that had an influence on your life.  For me, it was a blog.  HowChow gets back on the kimchi box to tell you why you should get out to Rte 40 and try some grilled meats.

That's all for today.  For those who asked, I am feeling much better.  Thank you for your concern.  I had heard horror stories about how this bug was a 7-10 day ordeal, but mine ended up being the slow buffalo.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Take What's Comin' (Wednesday LINKS)

The Baltimore Sun has an op/ed column lauding Baltimore County Executive Ken Kamenetz's tact on the teacher pension shift.  The piece notes that due to its population and median income, Baltimore County is poised to be hurt the worst by the new scheme:

Poorer jurisdictions are due to get an influx of direct state aid under the governor's proposal, and richer ones benefit more from Mr. O'Malley's idea to limit income tax exemptions and deductions for the top fifth of earners. The result is that Baltimore County would see a hit of nearly $3 million in the fiscal year that begins in July, with the effects magnified in the years after that.

Despite repeatedly endorsing Mr. Kamenetz's position on pensions, the writer never really explains exactly what that approach is, other than to note:

He is seeking legislation that would allow the county to combine efforts with the school system in areas like information technology, workers compensation, procurement and data management. Mr. Kamenetz believes that the county and schools can eliminate redundancy and save money without affecting what goes on in the classroom.

The general point of the piece becomes clear only at the end:

But the biggest fight Mr. Kamenetz faces, and the one on which he could use some back-up from the other executives, is over the governor's scheme for providing the counties with more revenue to compensate for the new costs they would face.

"Come on, counties!  Don't you see the Governor is trying to give you money?"  Despite the serpentine logic of the column, I think it is a very good explanation of the teacher pension debate, including the suggestion that this shift will provide a platform for pension reform.  If you want to extend the "brace for impact" logic a little further, The Sun may also suggest that it would behoove teacher's unions to get out in front of this avalanche and make suggestions to their independent school boards about how pensions may be restructured, costs may be cut, and balance sheets fixed.

What's more interesting about this piece is that the approach advocated would undercut the benefits of adversarial government.  The Executives don't get a vote on the teacher pension shift, but they do have political power.  Doesn't it make sense for these elected leaders to use whatever influence they may have to fight against a shift so that the eventual compromise is one that hurts the least?  Controversial government actions are subject to compromise but only if the controversy presents itself.  The teacher pension shift is big (and bears repeating).

Kamenetz's "twice for flinching" approach may be accommodating and romantically stoic, but, as The Sun piece notes, Baltimore County will be taking the worst of this change in expenses.  Notably, this is after a recent spat between the County government and the teacher's union related to tight funds and teacher cuts.

I think Ken Ulman knows that teacher pensions will be shifted back to the County.  I also think he is going to make that a very hard decision for our State Legislature and one that comes with as many bells and whistles for the counties as may be available.  That's the way controversial decisions should be made.  With compromise.  Not concession.

LINKS

Speaking of education funding, the Howard County Board of Education unanimously passed a $697 million operating budget request for FY 2013.  That is a 1.9% increase from 2012.  Here's the bad part:  "But some members noted that the budget did not include a contingency plan for dealing with the possibility that teacher pension costs could be shifted from the state to the county level. French said the Tuesday meeting was not the time or place for such a discussion, but agreed that a full discussion needed to be held in front of the public — and soon. French suggested such a discussion be held during the board's March 8 meeting."  No evacuation plan.

The Howard Delegates' votes on same-sex marriage went 5 for, 3 against.  I wouldn't be surprised to see that as a pretty fair representation of the popular vote in this County should the matter go to a referendum.

Frederick County Commissioners have voted to make English the County's official language.  Proponents say it will deter illegal immigrants from settling in the County...obviously reflecting the fact that illegal immigrants look to obscure County ordinances when determining where they will live.

Meanwhile, back in places that are passing legislation that matters, Baltimore County has passed a transgender discrimination ban, defeating a "bathroom amendment" that would have excluded bathrooms, locker-rooms, and dressing rooms from the protections offered by the new law.  I loved this line from the article: "Opponents of the bill have said it would lead to men dressed as women assaulting females in restrooms, though critics could not point to any specific incidents in places that have transgender anti-discrimination laws."  Doesn't that pretty much sum up any argument against any civil rights bill for the history of time?  "Something horrible's going to happen!!"  "Do you have an example of this happening elsewhere?"  "No, but...HORRIBLE!!"

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah is making a movie!  Ok, so her husband is making a movie, but she is helping and running the website.  This seems like a cool thing to follow, especially since I tend to believe Howard County lacks in the cinema department (despite those warehouses were Homicide and The Wire were filmed).

That's all for today.  I'm feeling a little under the weather, so forgive me if any of the logic was fuzzy (can I put that disclaimer on the bottom of all my posts?  "Geez, Tom really needs to get over that cold.  He's not making a lick of sense.")

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Retreat (Tuesday LINKS)

I spent the last four days in a remote cabin in the middle of New York State.  There was no TV, no Internet, and no Cell Service.  Local government was relevant only insofar as that's where people go when there is a dispute about land boundaries and hunting licenses.  You can get from place to place by car, but most people take ATV's.  They tell a lot of bear stories.

It was a great vacation for someone like me.  I have a tendency to find myself drawn to "screens" to see what's going on.  It's a bad habit.

But nature is also the most effective method of providing humility.  The thing about technology, particularly the Internet, is that it provides the illusion of control.  You would think the vast expanses of the techno-verse would be similarly humbling, but everything is a Google search away.  Not so when you look up a wooded mountain and think about going to the top; looking at millions of stars unaffected by city lights; or something as simple as the complete silence of the outdoors without the hum of HVAC units, murmur of televisions, or swishing of passing cars.

It was also odd to look out from high up on the hills and see expanses of land that were comparable to all of Howard County and think about what we've made of our "spot."  This hive.

Life is so much different there.  It makes you think in so much simpler terms, but in such greater depth.  While I enjoyed my retreat, I think I picked the right life for me.  Maybe I'll spend a little less time with my screens.

LINKS

On my way back home, I listened to a Midday with Dan Rodrick's podcast discussing the new headquarters for Exelon in Harbor East.  Dan cited a recent column by (soon to be former) Sun columnist Jay Hancock that reminded me of the Columbia Downtown Development debate: "Developers always say they need tax breaks because the "economics" of the project wouldn't work without them. But that proposition is rarely tested. Cities and states always cave in. And the books are rarely thrown open to reveal the most interesting economics — how tax incentives feather developers' profits."

The same-sex marriage bill has moved to the Maryland State Senate after passing in the House of Delegates.   While the magnitude of this bill is significant, its passage has almost become a formality with the thunder of chest thumping undertaken by Republicans who promise to take the measure to referendum.  In effect, I think this has almost given an "out" to legislators that fear reprisal in their districts who can now say "I think this should be decided by the people and therefore am voting with the understanding that it will go to referenda."  Good.  You do that.  I understand that these votes have gone against marriage equality in the past, but I think Maryland may be different in that regard.  So long as the protections for religious liberty are incorporated and sound, the motivation to get-out-the-vote against the bill just isn't there.  Now, for those favoring marriage equality, there is all the motivation in the world to knock on doors, vote, and enjoy all of the attributes that go along with fighting for civil rights.  And THAT could be very dangerous for Maryland Republicans.

I like what Baltimore County is doing with regard to "Planned Unit Developments" and making more information online for those projects that will skirt underlying zoning in exchange for a "community benefit."  Admittedly, as we've seen locally, the more information you make available, the more you may be accused of "hiding something", but there are the reasonable folks in the middle who just want to know what's happening with their community.  This type of transparency lessens their burden.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow continues his "Welcome Home Series" (which would make a nice book) with a review of those great places in HoCo that many people talk about, but few people know how to get to.  Thankfully, smart phones have made destination driving a little easier, but I don't think you have lived a complete Howard County experience unless you have eaten at a place, thought it was great food, but then forgot how to get back.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You've Got (Social) Issues (Thursday LINKS)

A while back I wrote a post lamenting the death of the same sex marriage bill.  I noted how it was a missed opportunity to put Maryland amongst the first in the Country to pass such legislation.  I went on to say that we were letting a significant portion of the population down.

Friend of the blog, Ox posted (to paraphrase): "I'm glad this is over so we can get back to the economic issues that are affecting the lives of millions of Marylanders...Tom sucks."

He was right (not on the last part).

Same-sex marriage is important.  It should pass.  But it, along with so many other social issues, constitute a smoke-screen and one that I hope you don't buy into.  Politicians enjoy the opportunity to see themselves as liberators and defenders.  They don't like to see themselves as taxers and spenders (which they all are regardless of party stripe).  Social issues allow our elected leaders to put on the mantle of liberators and defenders.  Look at their newsletters, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds.  They aren't talking about bond bills and capital projects.  They're talking about "marriage equality", "protecting your wallet", and...well...Bible verses that somehow endorse what they are about to do.  It makes state government seem like the crucible of freedom, if not the final battle between good and evil itself.

There have been a good number of articles recently about how the blue collar workforce is essentially using its political power against itself in supporting the Tea Party and other conservative initiatives.  Whether or not that's true, there is no reason to fault their logic.  This is not about the practical issue of how bills will be paid!  This is about LIBERTY!  FREEDOM!  BALD EAGLES! And for the Dems it is about EQUALITY!  FAIRNESS!  That bad ass O logo!

I guess it is too much to ask folks to look beyond these issues.  My Facebook wall, and presumably yours, is filled with all of the liberator and defender claptrap that can only be expected to increase over the next 9 months.  Somehow it is allowing regular citizens to ignore the fact that our taxes are about to go up, gas taxes are regressive, the vast majority of our National Debt was collected under Republican administrations, the Teacher Pension shift is a shift in sovereignty, and our roads are taking a silent tax on all of our cars year in and year out.

But...ok...I was following you.  But what does all of that have to do with bald eagles?  FREEDOM!

LINKS

The ONLY potentially good move made by the Baltimore Orioles during the off-season, signing of South Korean Kim Seong-min, has been denied by Major League Baseball.  Next thing you know they're going to retroactively cancel out the O's contract with Brian Roberts. ...  I said the Next Thing You Know...

Maryland counties came out in force against Gov. O'Malley's proposal to shift teacher pensions back to the counties.  I noted above that this would be a "shift in sovereignty."  What I mean by that is noting that the counties are limited by statute in terms of revenue.  Increasing their liabilities will not just be a financial burden, it will significantly curtail what they can do for their citizens, whether that means environmental initiatives, nonprofit funding, schools, or public safety.  The folks that really should be testifying are the teachers.  "Splitting the baby" in this context means two things: Cutting the Education Budget and Pension Reform.

Baltimore City is looking to close one of its high schools and curtail grade levels at others in an effort to restructure failing programs.  These are brave moves, but unfortunately it looks like City School reform is little more than "brave moves."  There has been little to show for all of the revolutionary efforts that have been made to bring City Schools up to par with those across the State.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa looks behind the recent "reading class" kerfuffle at "Common Core", which is being implemented across the State of Maryland.  Common Core represents a "Disciplinary Literacy" approach to reading in which reading is increased within the context of their "content classes."  I've been told that this is being implemented in middle schools because studies have shown that growth in reading does not show marked improvement after 5th grade if skills are taught in isolation from content.  This makes a lot of sense.  Reading comprehension, a core focus of advanced reading in middle schools, can only be accomplished when there is a purpose in comprehension.  Content classes would seem to provide that purpose.  So don't worry.  Your children will not forget how to read in 6th grade.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Speech Has Woodbine Wrought

In reviewing an article about the proposed legislation "that would require the State Highway Administration to create a permit program allowing individuals and organizations to display American flags in traffic roundabouts", I noticed the following quote:
"[The SHA] also expressed concern that the bill is not 'content neutral' — it would allow for flags to be flown but not other items — and would raise 'a likely challenge under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.'"

This is a textbook example of Pandora's Box legislation.  Prescribing a certain type of speech on public land is dangerous, regardless of "noble intent."  I understand that previous commentators have been told that "if you are against this legislation, you are against America."  I welcome the comments.  My concern, and one I would represent to the good folks of Western Howard County, is that once this bill passes, your roundabout is no longer yours to control.  I think we all would like to imagine a garden of American Flags, but that's not how free speech works.  You don't get what you want.  The thing about speech is that it only needs protection when it is otherwise unwanted.  Intermixed with your flags may be athiest promotion, political signs, and, unquestionably, signs about the nearest open house.

In fact, if I were you, I would keep government out of it.  SHA can remove your flags at its own peril.  No one is going to pass a law prohibiting the removal of the Northrop Team.

The Seven Percent Solution (Wednesday LINKS)

As expected, the Teacher Pension Shift proposal has the eye of county governments across Maryland and has the prospect of doing significant damage to local budgets.  While just about all County leaders are fighting against this bill, I have not read anything from Annapolis suggesting that the shift is otherwise imperiled.  The only discussion I've heard is "which knife" -- proportional shift or "each according to their ability to pay" (as advocated for by Baltimore City leaders)...(and if you were to ask me, I would see things going this way, since any other solution would cripple Baltimore City budgets for the next decade, thereby injuring a significant engine of Maryland economic growth).

But our County is prepared.  Lindsay McPherson writes that Howard County's Budget Administrator and other administration leaders are preparing for the $6 million to $17 million burden:

"What the county executive has done is gone to department heads and asked them for alternative plans to reduce (their) budget request by seven percent," Wacks said.

This is good leadership and I hope the Ulman administration shares these proposed reductions with the public (regardless of whether they are implemented), paired with an expected reduction in service, performance, or efficiency.  I've long thought that all government departments should have "Evacuation Plans" as a matter of course so that when contraction is necessary, it can be executed in a well-planned manner without undermining the government service at issue.  Cutting taxes is a legitimate objective of government leadership, regardless of party affiliation.  Nonetheless, the character of government is to grow, not to retract, unless an elected leader dictates otherwise.  From my perspective, the best way to do this is by way of cooperation with leaders within the administration who know (as deeply held secrets) where the trimming can be made.

Have no doubt that these are sincerely difficult decisions.  Everyone is a government slasher until they sit down at the table with the person who prepared the budget.  Everyone thinks the government is too big until they work in the cubicle next to a person whose job is cut.  And let's not forget about our books.  As extension of something noted in Lindsey's piece, Citizen A notices a tax cut once.  They notice a reduction in library books repeatedly over the course of their residency in the County.

The Board of Education would do well to create their own 7% solution and Evacuation Plans.  If the Teacher Pension Shift is to occur, which I predict it will, you can be certain that Executive Ulman will expect a pound of flesh from the BoE...if not more.  Proportionally, the greatest opportunity for reduction in spending is in the Education Budget, regardless of what kind of horrors that may raise in the heads of parents and teachers.  This shift is going to hurt all of us in measurable and concrete ways that we notice.  Ken Ulman is doing the right thing by making sure we see it coming and the cuts are as painless as possible.

LINKS

Sara Toth notes that Howard County's most prominent teacher's union plans to recommend to the Board of Education that they either seek mediation or quit.  With all due respect to the HCEA, I don't think you can fix agitation with agitation.  This is like a wife telling her husband that he either clean the dishes or move out of the house.  It is not going to get those dishes clean.  In fact, I think agitation has stressed this Board out.  Every single thing they do is met with such scrutiny and criticism that it appears to be impossible to operate.  They work under the constant threat of litigation, whether that be tort or impeachment.  That will fray your nerves, and that's coming from an attorney.  What I would recommend, to both the HCEA and the Board, is to just take it down a notch.  The soap-box speeches aren't going anywhere.  The threat of litigation is not going anywhere.  But you need to find a way to operate above it.  Ignore what you can.  Recognize that there are other good people sitting on the Board with you.  And keep everything on the up and up.

Lindsey McPherson's Political Notebook: "As County Executive Ken Ulman spends more time making connections in other parts of the state, other gubernatorial hopefuls are making some connections of their own — here in Howard County."  

It appears that the Grand Prix will not be going anywhere.  Baltimore City has reached a new five year deal with "Downforce Racing."  Respectfully, that sounds like a Speed Racer bad guy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: If you link to two local blogs in a single post, you stand a good chance to get the daily nod.  Sarah visits the Family Market, runs into WB, and notes that both of them ended up there after reading a post on HowChow.  It's like getting extra credit in first grade for using two "words of the week" in a single sentence!

That's all for today.  I should note that I had another nice surprise courtesy of the blog yesterday.  My 6th Grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Stout, sent me an e-mail noting that he reads the blog.  That was pretty cool.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Show Me A Sign (Monday Links)

According to the Howard County Municipal Sign Code, the start date for when political signs relating to the April 3, 2012 primary were allowed was February 3, 2012 (60 days out from the election).  By my amateur survey of Howard County's hills and valleys, no one seems all that interested.

By the look of things, the HoCo GOP may have to consider mounting their horses sometime soon.  Whether it is Mitt, Rick, or Newt, the Nomination is unlikely to be locked up by April 3, barring some kind of sweep on Super Tuesday (March 6th). Even then, the new delegate structure whereby the runner-up gets proportional delegates may permit the hangers-on to hang-on well past the house-guest/dead fish mark.

More importantly, where are our Board of Education candidates?  I very well may have missed it, but I recall there having been numerous forums well before the primary in 2010.  Not to puff our collective chests, but smart candidates will find themselves at the Corner Stable this evening to get their name out in a game where that ends up being 70% of the effort (with the other 30% being where that name falls amongst the alphabet).

Whatever you're putting in the ground, tread lightly.  I know of a good number of friends that will steadfastly refuse to vote for anyone who places illegal signs (i.e., those found along public property).  We all know you didn't ask the round-about's permission before placing that sign.

I am reserving at least one of my primary votes for whomever has the most signage.  It seems like the American thing to do.

LINKS

The Fed's may be cutting back, but Maryland's two largest federal employers, Social Security and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare, are staying put at about the same size they are at now.

This article made me happy: "Bill seeks to keep guilty pols from getting paychecks, pensions."  Depending on the political bent of the person you are speaking with, you may often hear the phrase that Maryland is the "most corrupt state" in the Union.  More times than not, the individual is referring to ethics and corruption prosecutions, which are not really a fair measure of actual corruption.  The places you really want to watch out for are those where everyone says things are peachy-keen.

Jessica Anderson's article regarding the Elkridge CSX site makes some of our Howard County polliterati (yeah, that's right, I made up a word) look like a bunch of citizens filing FOIA requests regarding additional costs to CSX related to the potential sites for the intermodal facility.  She closes with a breath-taking stat: "CSX and the state estimate that the transfer cargo site will generate more than $18 billion in direct and indirect economic activity and 6,700 jobs over 30 years."  Looks like the people that will really be affected by the new intermodal site have yet to arrive.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow welcomes newcomers with a "tiny tour" of Howard County cuisine, lamenting that no matter what, you're going to have to get in your car.  He includes the most important tip -- "Then read HowChow more and see what else you'd want."  That's what I do.

That's all for today.  Sorry if the post was a little "blah."  The Baltimore Sun was more slow than normal and I feel like I may be stuck in first gear.  I have a mini-vacation on the horizon, which will be much needed and much appreciated.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Voting on a Jet Plane

I was recently referred to the 5 hr 30 min mark of this session of the Howard County Board of Education meeting.  It begins with an admonition by the disembodied voice of Brian Meshkin to the Board for originally disallowing his participation in the meeting via teleconference and then changing course to bring Mr. Meshkin in as a tie-breaking vote.

Then it devolves.  First at a trickle.  Then the dam breaks.

A few things:
1) Mr. Meshkin should be embarrassed that this was ever necessary.  He admits to having had to miss a number of meetings due to his business in California, which he would have certainly been aware of prior to running for office.  I don't know all of the facts, but based on the unrefuted comments of the Board members, Mr. Meshkin first requested participation by phone that morning.  If anything, I would expect him to be thanking the Board for permitting his participation in absentia, not shaming them for a perceived conspiracy to "use him" for his vote.

2) At about 5 hr 44 min, Allen Dyer requests that the Board recall its vote to impeach him.  That was a nice aside.

3) When addressing the procedures of a deliberative body, you need to presume that what is good for one is good for all.  Do we want our elected bodies to be small speaker boxes sitting behind name plates?  It is an obligation of elected office to sit before the public, face to face, and cast your vote.  Technology is not going to overcome this requirement.  Consider the legal system.  As much as we may like to challenge our speeding ticket over Skype or have witnesses in Colorado testify at criminal trials in Maryland through a television set, the law does not allow it.  In my own experience with CA, it is inevitable that when a member participates over the phone, there will be problems.  They can't hear.  It cuts out.  They inadvertently interrupt other members.  It is a mess.  So while I know there are alternative views on who is wrong and who is right, I just think there is a more practical  issue of what we expect of those we elect.  Above all things, I think "presence" is a fair preliminary.

4) Holster your weapons.  Mr. Meshkin's accusation here is so ludicrous that it almost escapes reason.  "I want to vote for this item.  You were not going to let me vote for it.  Now you are.  You are using me for my vote.  It hurts my feelings."  And the dungeon analogy?  Did Board of Education storm troopers escort you onto that plane, Mr. Meshkin?  This Board has seen enough discord and controversy that it is all the more unfortunate that this non-controversy was blown up due to the conscious choices of one of its members.

I was not going to write about this item.  I wasn't even going to post today.  But this bothers me.  We are all accountable for our own actions.  The world has enough martyrs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

CA Board Recap: February 9, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:34 pm
End Time: 10:58 pm

This Board meeting was dedicated entirely to Columbia Association's Operating Budget.  It became apparent early on that some members (member?) have viewed the Board's opportunity to "review and approve" the Budget as a paired opportunity to dictate the very operations of this organization.  This is after repeated assurances that they are not interested in "getting into operations" and are rather exercising the Board's responsibility of "oversight."

What was even more frustrating is that it seems the Board is either unable or unwilling to prevent a blatant acknowledged tyranny by the minority in the course of Board meetings.  As will be noted below, the Board considered over 34 proposals regarding the Operating Budget.  With two to three items that were put on Tracking Forms for later action, none of the proposals made it past a straw vote.  That means the majority was not interested in the proposal, which was apparent from the start on many of these items.  Despite the CA Board's Special Procedures that are intended to govern our meetings, which explicitly say that the Chair is to take note of how many members would like to speak for or against a given item, each proposal was subject to discussion amongst whomever still had muscle-nerve contact between their shoulder and their hand.

In terms of Operational interference, it is time for the Staff to just say "no."  There is a legal limit on what a Nonprofit Board of Directors may require of Staff in terms of dictating action.  I would probably stand up and cheer if one Thursday a member of the Staff said to a Board member "We believe your proposal is entirely within the realm of CA operations and will not be following your directive on this."  It would surely infuriate the Board Member, and possibly others, but it would also seem to curb this blank checkbook approach that has micro-managed a very good organization into nonsensical spiderwebs of policies, white papers, and inequitable formulas.

As I noted above, we reviewed over 30 some-odd proposals.  I am only going to include those that stuck out for me.  Again, spoiler alert, none of them passed.  

Salaries Line Item

If you enjoyed "Attack on the Staff, Part 1" you'll love "Attack on the Staff, Part 8."  Yet again, members of the Board sought to limit the increase in the salary line item to keep it at the same amount as 2012.  Whether it is federal, state, or the nonprofit sector, I do not believe in taking "hard times" out on well-performing Staff.  If we were looking to curtail our budget to save money, I firmly believe it should have been in Capital Projects or Programming.  It was yet another round of amateur hour in terms of what CA's thousands of employees "deserve" due to "tough economic times."  This proposal was voted down, as were subsequent proposals looking to edit salary items in the budget.

Rates

If you enjoyed "Attack of the Rate-Slashers, Part 1" you'll love "Attack of the Rate-Slashers, Part 8."  Frequent readers will know that many on this Board see no measure of science in calculating rates.  If it is a lot of money, it is too much.  If the difference between resident and non-resident rates appears too small, it is not "significant."  Who has time for market comparisons when we have the "eyeball test" to apply to complicated matters of CA income?

I appreciate the interest in lowering rates...for low income residents.  Respectfully, for everyone else, I am willing to trust our Staff to consider market rates and our interest in providing Columbia residents a rate that is significantly below that rate.  Other than that, I have no experience to offer in this regard and will not impose my judgment on the rates that have been calculated.  These numbers don't exist in space.  They're based on the cost of fulfilling a membership, the cost of subsidization between resident and non-resident, market competition, etc., etc.  You have to wonder whether this organization would be spiraling into the red if there were two to three different Board members who thought Board service was an opportunity to get cheaper golf for their friends.

We also returned to the Board's policy of not offering Double Discounts.  Anyone paying attention to the Senior Discount will know that this has become a bit controversial.  In short, CA does not allow "double discounts" as a matter of "good business practices" and therefore a member who has a 10% Senior Discount may not also enjoy a 20% discount on the early renewal, leading to a 30% discount on their Plan.  It was suggested that we abolish the double discount rate at the Board level, which I tend to agree with.  The trouble is that the way it was written suggested that this may be misconstrued as prohibiting staff from setting their own discount policy, including the prohibition on double discounts.  (Still with me?).  As such, the matter was deferred for later Board action.

Soon after the straw vote went through, one of the Board members, who happens to be the standard-bearer for the senior discount, called the Board "spineless" and then corrected himself to say we were "gutless."  I would counter that this populist nonsense with no basis in data of any sort, and very well may be injurious to CA, is spineless...reckless and arrogant.  Offering up to 30% off CA memberships to a growing segment of our population is not just wrong; it is dumb.

It looks like I have run out of time.  Those were the two most prominent areas of discussion from last night's Board meeting.  I didn't see any members of the press, but I've been wrong before.  Nevertheless, I don't know if there was anything to cover.

I can't imagine that the ten directors enjoyed the use of their time last night.  Three and a half hours that could have been spent with your spouse, your children, your pet, or just reading a book.  But why aren't we doing anything about it?  We talk a lot about the Board's credibility and our interest in transparency, but both are injured by long purposeless meetings.

Residents will have their say in April.  Maybe they'll actually tell us something this time.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.