Thursday, March 29, 2012

Campaign Promise (Thursday LINKS)

Last night I attended Courtney Watson's fundraiser at Shanty Grille.  To be quite honest, I was not planning on attending until about 3 pm that afternoon.  It has nothing to do with Courtney or who I support in what race.  I just felt like staying in.

But after the enticement of a beer from a friend, I decided to make it out, and I'm glad I did.

I've been to a number of political fundraisers in this County.  By my count, over the past four years, I've been to about 14.  Some were for little known candidates without a chance of prevailing.  Others were for big shot candidates that had no idea I was there.  In either case, you normally see segments of what I like to call the "HoCo Politerati" in attendance.  Each party has their own set.  The Politerati are made up of business leaders, community activists, and, for lack of a better term, "party groupies" that attend every event on the calendar, order the same drinks, and stake out for enough appetizers to make a meal out of the event.

I like to hang out with this group.  They know what's happening and always have a "you didn't hear this from me" story that I can't print, but enjoy hearing about all the same.  (I especially like how big their eyes get when I ask "Can I quote you on that?").

The interesting thing about Courtney's event was that it was low on Politerati.  The room was packed elbow-to-pocketwatch, but was made up of mostly new folks that I had not seen at other events.  In fact, one of the other politicians I saw at the event looked like they couldn't find anyone to speak with.  The Politerati would never let that happen.

Bottom line: It is still very early, but Courtney Watson's ability to bring in folks from outside of the political inner circle is going to be her biggest strength in 2014; in whatever context or opponent she may face.  I've heard many say that the Redistricting Map imbroglio was all about making D1 enticing enough for Courtney to sit out the Executive race in 2014.  That dog won't hunt.  Courtney has a serious issue of winning over Columbia Democrats, but other than that, she will be a formidable candidate for any race she chooses.

Last night was impressive.  And the beer was cold.

LINKS

In the contentious race for the Dem nomination in Congressional District 6, Gov. O'Malley has indicated that he will be endorsing State Senator Rob Garagiola.  This race is very interesting for MD politi-watchers, as Garagiola's opponent, John Delaney, has the endorsement of Bill Clinton and Comptroller Peter Franchot.  As noted in the piece, Delaney has also out-raised Garagiola "three-to-one."

The Mega Millions jackpot is causing many across Maryland to interrupt their commutes for a shiny pink ticket.  You know, $10 million, pish posh.  $500 million, now we're talking.  WB gave me a ticket last night, which just so happened to have my lucky number "05 15" (long story, ask me later).

The Columbia Association has put together another great event in its speaker series, this time focusing on Cycling Innovations and Planning with Columbia Resident Jennifer Toole.  I've seen Jennifer speak at a previous Connectivity work session and have been very impressed.  I look forward to this event and will be blocking off the calendar.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB, rightfully, protests the fact that his independent ballot does not allow him the opportunity to vote for judges.  In doing so, he has found himself in rare company of voters who want to vote for judges on the circuit court.  Everyone else wonders why.

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Necessary and Proper (Wednesday LINKS)

I felt very "21st Century" yesterday as I downloaded the oral arguments from Dept of Health and Human Services v. Florida to my computer, put the file on my iPhone, and then listened to the day's proceedings on my way home from work.  All day I had ready about what a disaster it had been for the government and about 40 minutes it, I couldn't help but agree.  Justice Scalia played master of ceremonies and even with Justice Ginsberg spoon feeding the Solicitor General responses, the government floundered.

An early focus of the Court was the "necessary and proper" clause from Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power - To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Those familiar with their Constitutional Law know that this clause is often referred to as the "Elastic Clause" and has been used (and abused) to vastly expand the powers of the federal government by way of Congress.

The Government's argument in favor of the individual mandate is based upon the Commerce Clause, which reads:

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

In a nutshell, the Solicitor General argued that no one can remove themselves from the "health care" market, and, as such, regulating those who choose not to buy insurance is "necessary and proper" to regulate health care among the several States.  Most interesting to me was that the Government seemed to wholly abandon the argument that the individual mandate did not exist, but rather the choice not to buy insurance would be "taxed."  This may be due to the fact that both sides of the dispute wanted this decision to go forward now and in arguing that this law creates a "tax" would effectively prevent an actual dispute from arising until 2014, when the law is implemented.


It was probably a very bad idea to wade into complex matters of law in my morning blurb, but I was struck by the emphasis on "necessary and proper" during yesterday's arguments.  To paraphrase Justice Scalia, just because a law is necessary does not make it proper.  The federal government is one of enumerated powers and when it seeks to make law outside of those allowed it by the Constitution, that law is not "proper." 

Strategically, this is the best response to the Health Care Law.  An amicus brief filed with the Court noted that families in Maryland pay a 7% premium (approximate $1,000 per family) for uninsured participants in the health care market.  That is only one instance showing that some sort of Health Care Reform is "necessary."  But what the Court will decide, and its looking bad for the President on this mark, is whether such a law is properly issued from the Federal Government, at least in terms of requiring participation by all citizens.

Reading all of the dystopian fiction I can get my hands on nowadays, I thought of a world where the individual mandate is removed, pre-existing conditions were retained, CMS is expanded, and we continued the Emergency Medical Treatment Act...only without pain medication.  It is inhumane and much less efficient than an individual mandate, but would retain the punitive nature on the uninsured.  This would only be for those who are uninsured by choice, as the rest of the Health Care Act would cover those who have been unable to afford insurance.  This clearly would not be a good law and as tortured (literally) as it sounds, it would be better than the alternative of having involuntarily uninsured die preventable deaths due to pre-existing conditions that were not covered by insurers.

Even better, it would fit as both necessary and proper.

LINKS

Howard County has its next School Superintendent -- Renee Foos.  It was a very interesting line of events as both Dr. Foos and the other candidates for the position, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, appeared to be selected almost simultaneously.  In a great bit of reporting, Kevin Rector and Sara Toth have determined that Dr. Dance accepted his offer to Baltimore County one hour before "Howard decided against him."  That sounds a lot like "you can't fire me, I quit" although it is hard to see who is doing what.  I will presume that Howard County was not interested in being left without a dance partner, but have also heard that this decision was made Monday night, well before any news would have crept out about Baltimore County's offer.  Either way, let none of this take away from the excitement of a new Superintendent with all of the new ideas that she brings to the table.  I think a placard should hang above every HCPSS Superintendent's desk: "Things are good here.  Don't screw it up."

It turns out that the viral fight video that has been flying through the interwebs from Long Reach high school depicts a 16 year old fighting a...40 year old, and getting the better of him with one punch.  This is one of those instances where the punishment has already been administered -- notorious shame.

It appears likely that the Council will be passing a County-wide fire tax on Thursday night.  The final amount of that fire tax is yet to be determined...but have no fear, Executive Ulman has no intention of raising any taxes...for non-hotels...on the east side of the County.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah is bobbing and weaving on her bicycle through town and is trying to make two-wheeled commuting a larger part of her life.  I've considered this myself, but can't seem to map out everything in my head, particularly when it comes to the highway interchanges.  This is probably just a crutch of my own making, but leave me and my crutch alone.

That's all for today.  I look forward to seeing a number of you at Leadership Howard County's Big Event this afternoon.  The subject is "Delivering Happiness", which seems like a great topic for a gorgeous, however slightly chilly, day like today.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

American Parables (Tuesday LINKS)

I'm really not a fan of hyper-focused National news.  In most cases, it gets me angry.  How many more "the-husband-did-it" stories do we need to distract us from peak oil, National debt, and a potential war of tremendous scope developing in the Middle East?

But for some reason, the Trayvon Martin case feels different.  At least to me.  It's something about a parable.  I certainly would never say that to devalue Trayvon's life or trivialize his death, but there is certainly a reason why his murder is on CNN while another young man will die in Baltimore tonight with far less attention.  I recently heard this case described as "America's Problems All Wrapped in One": Race, Gun Control, the Housing Market, Crime.  But again, that seems far too close to triviality. 

What does Trayvon Martin's death mean?  It is surely more than protests of hooded sweatshirts and Skittles.  It must be more than scab-picking fury.  In the short term, it requires the arrest of George Zimmerman, but doesn't that set the Country up for disappointment?  Will arrest, arraignment, prosecution, conviction, and jail satisfy this movement?  Isn't it ridiculous to even think that will work?

American Parables are these hyper-focused National stories that define a certain time.  This is precisely where we are in terms of race.  Excluding the speculation as to whether Zimmerman used a racial slur, this was not an outwardly racist crime, but there is a fair presumption amongst many following this case that this killing was racially motivated all the same.  We are not defined by this murder as much as we are the suspicion that created it.  The unfamiliarity and presumptions.  The illogical distrust and hate.  The distance.

It will be interesting to watch this story progress.  It has the capability of polarizing and insulating.  It also has the capability of attacking that "suspicion" and "distance" to find out why it's there.  This probably won't happen through CNN.  We'll all have to get hyper-focused back to our own world and apply the parable to the lives we live.

LINKS

If you never click on another one of my links, please let this piece by David Simon on the "Stand Your Ground" law be the last link you click.  It does a handy job of wrapping up the strongest arguments against these types of laws, particularly the dangerous society they create.  (Hat Tip: Hayduke's Ghost's Facebook page)

Thanks also to JT for this very interesting study regarding Generation Y's rejection of "their parent's homes" in favor of dense urban environments.  It was one of two instances yesterday where someone described Columbia as needing to "Build or die."  I can't see that making it on any campaign posters, but the message is very direct.

Lindsey McPherson goes on a road trip with the HoCo GOP to Washington, DC, noting that this crew once again gained notoriety for their "Liberals -- Who the HELL do you think you are?" banner.  One participant noted that we shouldn't be compelled to buy health insurance.  We should be able to decide on our own...like car insurance.

(Dear Explore Howard: I can't see your page stats, but it would be great if you could make Lindsey's Political Notebook a little more prominent on your website.  It is my favorite thing to read and I often lose track of it once it becomes buried in the "Politics" section.  Sincerely, TC)

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane writes about the efforts of the Friends of Bridge Columbia to get funding in Ken Ulman's budget for engineering studies.  I've certainly been meaning to write more about this, but appreciate Duane posting Mr. Tocco's letter.

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's In a Name? (Monday LINKS)

What do "100,000", Town Center, and Don Draper have in common?  Possibly a great deal.

Last Friday, we learned that Columbia was just about to hit the 100,000 population mark.  This would certainly be a point of unmarred celebration had it not been for the reference to Columbia's original aspirations in the first line of the article:

When developer James W. Rouse revealed plans in 1963 to build a "new city" in Howard County, he predicted that it would have more than 100,000 residents by 1980.

1980?  Taking into account the compound growth that comes along with cities, one can only imagine what Columbia would look like now had it not been 30 years behind schedule.

Interestingly enough, this news was followed closely behind by another episode of And Then There's That featuring Mark Thompson, newly named Director of Downtown Development.  Early in the podcast, Dennis references "Town Center" to which Mark quickly interjects "Downtown."  Evidently, the politically correct name for Town Center is now "Downtown"...and I like it.

One would think that Columbia's growth has been held back by its apparent inability to attract jobs sufficient to sustain its population.  Just as our residents are drawn to the polar caps of Baltimore and D.C., so too are businesses.  I remember when a law firm I worked for was looking for a new office location, I suggested Columbia.  The managing partner said that it "seemed like a nice place" but that there wasn't any "heft" in Columbia (apologies to all Columbia law firms for the ignorance of my past superior).

A yet-to-be covered story around town is that "Town Center" has some of the highest vacancy rates in the region.  It seems like a lot of folks have failed to find their "heft" in Columbia.  Watching last night's season premiere of Mad Men, I wondered what Don Draper would do with a "problem like Columbia."  For those that don't watch the show, Don Draper is an ad executive that sits down at a conference table addressing the decision-makers of a company with a troubled product, tells them how people currently see their product, and then offers a new ad campaign to change the way people think.

I bet one of the first things he would say to all of us in Columbia is "Stop calling the center of Columbia 'Town Center.'  It's 'Downtown.'  You want people to imagine bustling streets, foot traffic, heck, maybe even hot dog carts.  'Town Center' sounds like some bullseye serving no other purpose than providing a geographic reference point.  'Downtown' sounds like a place of arrival."

And maybe, if Jim Rouse had spoken with fictional Don Draper in 1967, we would have hit 100,000 by 1980 with most of us driving shorter commutes.

LINKS

I really appreciated this piece about race in America and how we have such a hard time talking about it.  From my own perspective, it often feels like a game of Operation, where one slight tremor can not only ruin the conversation, but also the relationships surrounding it.  I accept that it is going to be uncomfortable, but I also am disappointed in my own obtuse reactions to those looking to have honest conversations about "what we talk about when we talk about race."  This article helped me put that in perspective.

In anticipation of this week's six hours of argument before the Supreme Court regarding the Health Care Access and Affordability law, I think this primer is helpful.  Yes, there are biases at play and certainly the writer looks to defend HCAA, but it also allows for smart conversation about a law that we have allowed one another to refer to as "Obamacare" as if it is some easily compartmentalized personification of our President.

It's a dog eat dog eat dog primary in the Congressional Sixth District as eight Republicans, including incumbent Roscoe Bartlett, vie for the seat.  As they say, very few get to leave politics on their own terms.

There is a lot to like about this bill in the Howard County Council that would look to prevent property owners who are delinquent on their HOA fees from renting out their property to new tenants.  I imagine the application of this law will be where the difficulty comes in, but the idea alone is a good one.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa B has some questions for the soon to be revealed Howard County Superintendent candidates.  Very good stuff.  "My biggest weakness?  I try too hard." 

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Busy week ahead!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tino's Italian Bistro: Best Wine List in HoCo?

Jane and I have made a tradition of going out for Happy Hour on Friday nights.  After getting tired of the same place week after week, we decided to go to Tino's Italian Bistro in the Palace Shopping Center (former location of Strapazza...a restaurant that shall not be named in my household for reasons relating to a 24 hour bout of bad seafood).  Tino's has been open for almost a year (June) and we had enjoyed the food the 4-5 times we've visited.  In fact, we both have developed "can't skip" items on the menu -- Me: Tortellini Bolognese; Jane: Gnocchi Caprese.

Although we normally order wine, it wasn't until yesterday that I realized just how incredibly affordable those wines are.  I asked our waiter Chris what the Happy Hour prices are ($1 off everything except bottles of wine) and then proceeded to order glasses of wine for myself and my bride (not yet arrived).  Chris stopped me.  "Do you plan to have more than one glass?"  "Um, yes."  "Well then you should probably just get a bottle."

Nice up sell, sir, but I received my sales training from Radio Shack University and I am not so easily tricked.  Just get me the...what's this...$20 bottles...as in multiple bottles under $30?  It has been in front of me the whole time, but I had somehow overlooked the fact that these wines were selling at near liquor store prices.  And they were good!

We ordered a great bottle of Callaway Sauv Blanc, which went well with my Seafood Mare Bella (keepin' the faith).  The whole night, with appetizers, entrees, wine, & dessert, came in under $100.  In my book, that is a winner.

Before the patrons of Iron Bridge, Aida, and Tersiguel's get on my case, I acknowledge that Tino may not bring the same firepower as those other places, but for a young couple looking to have a nice dinner without breaking the bank, I can't think of a better place to go.

So here's to you, Tino.  Keep up the good work.

A la HowChow:

Tino's Italian Bistro
8775 Centre Park Drive
Columbia, MD 21045
410-730-TINO (8466)

Friday, March 23, 2012

CA Board Recap: March 22, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:30 pm
End Time: 10:59 pm

Although I can't say we have too much to show for this meeting, I was impressed and happy with the manner in which the agenda was followed in terms of time allocation and structuring our deliberation.  That has been my biggest concern and complaint throughout the past year.  We have a new agenda system in place and while it does not necessarily forbid those abuses that were moving our most important actions to 10:50 pm, it does give the Board Chair and other members more room to enforce the time parameters set (or at least I hope so).

CA Non-Profit Community Legislation

Those following the Board's progress from last Fall may recall the consideration of a bill that would establish separate legislation for the Columbia Association as seen before the State, thereby removing it from application of the Homeowners Association Act.  The impetus of this was that the number of amendments to the HOAA have multiplied over the last five years and CA has been burdened with significant lobbying costs to monitor and seek amendment to a number of these bills.  This is at great cost to CA residents and frustration to law-makers tasked with continually amending their legislation for an entity that does not fit well within the Act.

There was significant testimony from about five different residents all speaking out against the new legislation, but particularly the exclusion from the HOAA.  Their greatest concern/suspicion was that CA was looking to exclude itself from transparency laws that would diminish the rights of residents.

We then heard from our lobbyist in Annapolis, who set the story straight.  CA was established about 20 years before the HOAA was passed and, as such, was already governed by the vast majority of those transparency provisions included in the law.  In fact, it seems almost tacitly acknowledged by opponents that CA already has much greater transparency requirements of itself than may be imposed under State law.  The bigger concern that is oft repeated is the fear of "future Boards", presumed to be malicious thieves set on destroying Columbia, resident by resident.

I've gone back and forth on whether I support this new legislation, but after last night I find myself firmly in the position of moving forward with the new law.  Rather than weaken resident rights under State law, this legislation could potentially strengthen State oversight and resident recourse.  Let's say Resident A wants new transparency provisions to apply to CA, which were rejected at the Board level.  They can go to their State Senator/Delegate and seek amendment to the HOAA, which will take tremendous effort, coalition building, and universal applicability to pass OR they could go to their local delegation and seek amendment to the "CA Law", applicable only to CA.  There is the dual consideration that so long as CA is under the HOAA, we are subject to the whims of those who do not live in Howard County, have never visited Columbia, and do not much care about what may hurt our organization (nor would they be accountable for doing so).  If Columbia is going to be the "next big thing" as some hope and predict, we should disarm our potential foes while that is still an option.

With all of that said, I still believe CA should rise and fall on its own Charter and By-laws, but I appreciate that I may be in a minority on that count.  Future Boards have within their power the ability to dissolve CA and sell its parts, but yet transparency seems to be the one thing Board members and residents are interested in keeping out of their reach.  That is a sad commentary on this suspicion that exists between a so-called "watchdog group" and those who have run this organization.  The opportunity to serve and affect change from within are legion.  You have to wonder why those opportunities were never taken.

Columbia's 50th Anniversary

Believe it or not, Columbia is about to turn 50.  The Board is considering how CA will be involved in celebrating this event and what we need to get started now in order to have everything in place 4-5 years down the line.  I think everyone is a little wary about spending too much money, but at the same time, CA seems positioned to guide this celebration better than most other organizations or the County government.  The Board has asked Staff to design some proposals that will be considered by the Board this Fall.

The Dashboard

The Jason Voorhees of Columbia made another appearance last night.  We first considered whether creating a "quality improvement program" should remain a strategic objective of the Board and then looked at new inclusions for the Dashboard relating to usage of facilities, "market share" (i.e., how many Columbians have CA memberships), and customer satisfaction.

With the creation of the Dashboard (a "quality improvement program"), I really would have liked to see the strategic objective taken off the table.  It is a complete farce that past the creation of this program, we will retain an objective to create it.  (If that sentence did not make sense, you're with me).  But, yet again, the Board got lost in how certain words "feel" and whether removing the objective would suggest that CA is no longer concerned with quality improvement.  Obviously it doesn't, but that did not convey itself to a majority of the Board and the objective's fate was tabled for re-examination by the next Board in a few months.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It's impossible not to.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

LINKS (Thursday LINKS)

A lot of things to link to today, and not much to say otherwise. So let's get right to the...

LINKS

There is little more frustrating in life than battling a bureaucracy.  Baltimore City residents have been forced to engage in half-decade long battles against the City water department over thousands of dollars in individual over-charges for what may sometimes be an $80 bill.  If that does not strike horror into your spine, you have lived a charmed life indeed.

I was not aware that the penalties for possessing 7 grams or less of marijuana in Maryland were as significant as they are.  Under current law, you can be sentenced to up to a year in prison and a $500 fine.  A proposed law would reduce the maximum sentence to 90 days, under the auspices of curtailing the right to a jury trial. I've been watching a documentary series on the National Geographic channel about the legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado and the attempts of some to recriminalize the substance.  The show is interesting because it seems to simultaneously confirm the idea that these laws are Trojan horses for recreational use, while also showing just how much the drug can help those with chronic pain live a normal life.  Long time readers know that I generally disagree with the "war on drugs", but I think the legalization of marijuana is going through a slow shift into reality.  Similar players will take similar parts, but the law will most likely follow popular sentiment...and the Nucky Thompson's of the modern world will have to find a new business.

Mitt Romney's speech in Arbutus ended up having more significance than originally expected, although by the time he got to the important parts, most people had left.  Notably, one of Mr. Romney's campaign staff had referred to the candidate's primary positions as an "Etch A Sketch" that could be reset for the general election.  Yikes.  After concluding his planned remarks and a Q&A session, Romney retook the stage to say that he will "run as a conservative."  I sometimes wonder if the GOP in Maryland is more conservative than in other states, simply due to the fact that it often is not responsible with running anything, wherein moderation can sometimes be compulsory.  Then again, I don't think the Maryland Dems could be considered "moderate" and they've been running the show for quite some time.

Mayor SRB has doubled her property tax auditor staff in a "billing integrity" program to root out "fraud and errors."  Translation: The City is going to make sure it receives every penny it is owed.

You may recall a link from two weeks ago where the lawyer for the Anne Arundel County Council basically said "pick someone already" to help bolster the Council's defense in the suit by removed member Daryl Jones.  Well shortly after filling Mr. Jones's seat, the presiding judge ruled that the Council acted within its powers to remove a sitting Council-person.  Seems like a much more efficient system than the Board of Ed.

Howard County Rec and Park has an online survey about how their offerings are used and understood by the community.  Hopefully this data will be helpful to distinguishing CA from HoCo, which is a perilous conversation for anyone who dare try.  As an added bonus, there are three prizes for randomly drawn participants. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa B gives a run down of the most recent BoE Candidates Forum at the St. John's Community Association.  On a related note, I think "infinity and beyond" needs to be used more often in political speeches. 

That's all for today.  Apparently, I am still in my funk from the weekend.  I will have to shake it off for tonight's CA Board meeting, during which we will discuss the proposed legislation that would remove CA from the Homeowners Association Act and place it in a separate category under the law. 

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3 Years and 3 Days (Wednesday LINKS)

I missed my blogoversary.  Thankfully, there will be no cold shoulder from this page of bits and bytes, but I still felt bad.  We bloggers have an attachment to these dates; for good reason too.

Starting a blog undoubtedly changes your life.  At first, it just changes the way you live.  Everything you do is just a little more interesting, even if it is just to you.  That thought you had on the way to work about how to revive our village centers?  A blog post.  That really good sandwich you had for lunch?  A blog post.  Your porch umbrella launches itself into your vacant neighbor's house about 5 feet out of your reach?  Definitely a blog post.

But then, if you stick with it enough...life sees you different.  You are the sticky paper flytrap.  "Please don't put this on your blog."  In a world without discretion, we are the ones presumed to have the least.  In light of these seemingly compulsory daily expressions, that makes some sense.  There have to be some questions about self-control.

Being a "blogger" has been one of the most interesting, fulfilling, and frustrating endeavors of my life.  Most of the time (90%), I'm just thinking about the first two.  I almost feel like they would have to be out front in order to get myself up in the morning.  For the other 10%, I think my frustration is a consequence of sticking my nose so far into this "stuff."  I see promises unfulfilled by politicians and citizens alike.  Sometimes I think the latter bothers me the most.

As for where next?  Who knows.  I don't think I say this enough, but thank you.  By reading here, you have brought a great deal of happiness into my life that I never expected when I first opened a Blogger Account.  You've changed me for the better.  You've broadened my world-view and helped me realize just how often I am wrong.  I have no doubt that this blog has made me a better person...even if the occasional reader sees me as fly-paper.

LINKS

Lisbon Volunteer Firefighters came out in force at the Council hearing on the consolidated fire tax.  I couldn't tell from the piece whether there was a big showing from the Howard County GOP, but I imagine that bills like these are their bread-and-butter.  An interesting argument that I had not considered before is that while response times may be the same for both east and west, there is an insurmountable difference when it comes to fire hydrants.  They have them in the east, not in the west.  Whether that amounts to a significant change in what we should pay, I don't know.  I still think this Council should refuse to sign any bill that does not set final rates at the outset.  Otherwise, your opponent's next attack mailer will begin with the following: "Voted for TWO tax increases in TWO months."

59 residents of Wheatfield write in a letter to the editor that their community was ignored in every stage of the redistricting process.  Redistricting Commission member Kevin Rodkey also slams Ken Ulman for turning his back on Wheatfield (and Dorsey) in favor of "other considerations."  On that note, I would truly appreciate someone explaining to me how Ken's decision on redistricting helped him in pursuit of the Gubernatorial Nomination.  I just don't see it.

Mitt Romney will be in Maryland today to speak with supporters.  Yet again, most media outlets want to pretend that the GOP nomination is still in play.  Barring self-immolation of the Republican party in protest of a Romney nomination, this is a done deal.  Romney's visit does not detract from that.  In fact, many of you may recall that John McCain gave his first speech as the non-contested nominee in Maryland in 2008.  Mitt Romney dropped out hours before McCain spoke before the Baltimore County Lincoln Day Dinner. (If I have my memory straight)

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I can not think of a better example of "living a life more interesting" as a blogger than my friend WB's adventure with his vacuum cleaner turned table lamp...and bulk trash pick-up.

That's all for today.  As always, have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back in HoCo

After a less than relaxing trip to New Orleans with my brother, I'm back home.  Since I didn't get in until late last night, I really don't have my wits about me to write much of a post, so I figured it may just be best to let it pass.

Tune back in tomorrow for regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thoughts on Redistricting

I have to get things together for a trip to New Orleans, so I will not be putting up a full post today, but I did want to offer a comment on redistricting.

As you are undoubtedly aware by now, Ken Ulman chose not to sign the Council redistricting plan, which resulted in the Commission map going into effect.  Early commentary seems to suggest that the Republicans will be attacking Ken for "vetoing" a "bipartisan" bill in favor of a partisan map.  While I appreciate the creativity, I don't think that criticism sticks.

First, it seems impossible, and somewhat pointless, to have a "bipartisan" map.  Until we have computers making our Council districts, and a Charter Amendment related to the same, these maps will be reflective of party politics.  In fact, both of these maps reflected interests of varying incumbents in being re-elected.  If anyone tells you that this was just about keeping neighborhood A or B together, look for their poker face.  Same goes for anyone telling you that this was a "bipartisan" map.  What does that mean?  Which brings me to my next point...

We can't call everything that Greg Fox votes for "bipartisan."  It diminishes the roles of the other Council members and imputes certain discretion onto Greg that I'm not sure is merited.  If the third vote on this bill had been Calvin Ball and not Greg Fox, the same folks would have been angry at it not being signed, we just wouldn't be using the word "bipartisan."

Finally, there was no perfect map here.  Each map split communities.  Each map had its detractors.  Each map had certain constituencies its sponsors were looking to serve.  Being an actual resident of one of the affected communities, I can tell you that the sun still rose this morning and my grass is none the greener.  At the end of the day, the only thing this map does is change the way our Council sees their "district" and future politicos see their electorate.  All of this talk about "splitting" communities is mostly lipstick on a pig; that pig being raw politics.

We should all be glad it is over, because the most significant split was amongst the 5 members of our County Council.  It would seem inconceivable that for something as essentially partisan as a redistricting map, the four Dems would go 2-2 on the final map.  While I respect their ability to disagree, that kind of split tends to show a lack of leadership and/or incongruity in thinking.  I truly wonder how this Council will approach more controversial matters that actually affect the day to day lives of Howard County citizens...more than imaginary lines, anyhow.

Those wounds will heal.  Now its time to talk about the fire tax.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ulman Pockets Coucil Redistricting Plan -- Commission Plan Stands

From the Press Release:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – County Executive Ken Ulman will be returning Council Bill 57-2011 to the County Council on Monday, March 19, unsigned. Ulman explained the decision in a letter to the Council delivered today, Thursday, March 15:

“After much consideration, I have determined that the Bill, amended and adopted by a narrow margin, does not improve upon the map produced and recommended last year by the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission. While members of the County Council made strong arguments for several different district boundary alignments, the map presented by the bi-partisan Commission, vetted through three public hearings and five work sessions, is better for Howard County as a whole.”

No Sleepwalkers Allowed (Thursday LINKS)

With the Howard County Education Association Announcing that they will not be endorsing any incumbents and a GOP-focused primary in a D-E-M-focused County, it is starting to look like this may be a primary to watch.  In previous years, primaries were mostly good for gauging the "electability" and motivation of challengers, with incumbents displaying prohibitive strength and comfort in keeping their positions.  This year...you have to wonder.

From the outset, I think Ellen Giles and Janet Siddiqui are getting unearned credit for the dysfunction of the current Board.  It seems as if those frustrated with our County school system, formerly supporters of Allen Dyer, Esq., have noticed the county-wide frustration with his antics and have decided to hit the reset button on the whole thing.  "You're right.  There shouldn't be lawsuits against the Board by a sitting member.  Let's vote them all out!"  Eh, not so fast.  I will admit that I don't know Ms. Siddiqui, but watching the 5-10 Board meetings that I have put myself through, I have rarely seen her raise her voice or make unprofessional accusations.  As for Ms. Giles, I consider her to be a friend and a dedicated member of the community.  (Now you see why I don't make endorsements).  She appears to be frustrated with the conduct of the Board, just as a nervous flier may be frustrated with turbulence.  I don't really see her as the source and plan to vote for her next month.

Doing what all good Americans do, shouldn't I extend my logic and presume that everyone thinks like me?  Absolutely not.  I think there is an interesting element of having 11 challengers and 3 incumbents for six primary spots.  While these challengers may not say this too loudly at dinner parties, they're probably telling their supporters not to vote for incumbents.  The presumption is that through name recognition or built up constituencies, incumbents have the primary in the bag.  The challengers need to make the vote of each supporter count the most and one of the best ways of doing that is bullet voting.  I tried to explain this, but have deleted the paragraph.  It ends up looking a lot like "If one train leaves St. Louis at 40 mph..." and I have too many math minded readers to make a tookus out of myself this morning.

So if 11 challengers are telling their supporters not to vote incumbents, the HCEA is telling voters not to vote for incumbents, and other incumbents are telling voters not to vote for incumbents, incumbents have a serious Bart Simpson problem.


One for Martin.  Two for Martin.

LINKS

Howard County has retained its AAA bond rating for the 15th straight year.  That means people are learning to drive having never seen a measly AA Howard County.  That will not stop this perpetual fountain of low interest rates from being used as a medal of good governance, which I think is better termed "stewardship."

Driving past the humongous Wegman's setting up shop along Snowden River Parkway, I couldn't help but think to myself that a store of that size is almost intended to put other grocery stores out of business.  It is far too big for any other purpose.  It made me wonder what the Village Center conversation will be five years from now when "anchors" are pulled up across Columbia.

Since 2007, Baltimore City schools have paid $22 million in unused sick leave.  IT IS SICK LEAVE!  You use it when you are SICK!  This is ridiculous.  The article includes mention of unused vacation, and some would argue that school employees should not have vacation during a nine to ten months term, but the sick leave is what grinds my gears.  Please don't interpret this as an assault on teachers.  My concern is that we've created a system that will one day unfairly collapse on top of teachers, undermining duly earned benefits and salaries.

The Maryland State Senate is considering what would appear to be almost punitive taxes for anyone making over $500,000 a year (the so-called Millionaire's Tax, proving yet again that our State Legislature is very bad at math).  While I may accept a progressive tax with taxing brackets for each extra dollar of income over a certain threshold, the plan considered by the Senate would impose a higher rate on every dollar of income, not just income over $500,000.  In other words, if you make $499,999.99, your next raise may hurt your take-home pay.  Slow clap for the Senators in Annapolis!

Also concerning about that piece was reference to a Senate bill that would permit the State to seize County income taxes and direct those monies to education funding.  In other words, rather than loosening the reigns of Thornton (i.e., Maintenance of Effort), the Senate looks to add some teeth.  In the shadow of a pension shift, this is much more concerning than the actual impact of a shift on local budgets.  This is a manifestation of an apparent effort to make County governments subservient to their public school system.  When fire, police, and public roads have to share budget space with iPads for Jimmy, and those iPads have the endorsement of Annapolis, things will get screwy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: As someone still looking to educate myself about the Board of Ed field, I appreciated Lisa's explanation for why she is supporting David Gertler and Leslie Kornreich (although I would like to hear more about why she is not supporting these specific incumbents).

While I still have not made up my mind on endorsements, I also like to be transparent in my motivations and interests in various elections.  As such, I thought I would let you all know that I will be working a poll station for David Gertler on April 3.  This is not a job I take on lightly, as the last time I volunteered to do this, I caught a cold.  I'll probably get around to all of the reasons I am voting for David in a later post, but consider yourself on notice...and consider this an endorsement.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Taxes (Wednesday LINKS)

It is looking to be a near certainty that the State Legislature will be passing across the board income tax increases for all Marylanders by the end of this legislative session to make up for a $1 billion budget gap.  Blue-staters have a seemingly laid back approach to tax increases.  If this were Virginia, or even Pennsylvania, I think we could presume that legislators would be terrified to vote for an income tax increase for fear of finding themselves back among the citizenry.

In Maryland, we're boiling frogs.  As long as it is slow and those tax increases are spread out amongst enough "pressure points" (i.e., pay stub, gas pump, toll roads), we're good.

I keep coming back to a poll I was told about last year about Howard County voters.  They were asked "Are you taxed: a) Too much, b) Just enough, or c) Not enough."  According to the person recounting this poll, the majority of respondents checked "Just enough" with the second place answer being "Not enough."  Basic human sociology-psychology would presume that the answer would be "Too much", regardless of one's satisfaction with the services provided.

And for those that feel you are "Taxed Enough Already", it seems that you are left to write the minority report.  The fiction we tell ourselves is that the failure to raise taxes paired with "necessary cuts" will result in a new status quo that is just as good as today, but without new taxes.  Let's cut the safety net...and see what desperate people do without it.  Less government services...without any certainty that the free market is better suited.

I'm not saying that tax increases are necessary.  In fact, I think the State government has the tiger by the tail and is just throwing red meat at its face.  We need significant budget reform in this State with a paired effort to deleverage reliance on the federal government for funds (with strings attached), but that's just my opinion.  Others may think that the legislature knows whats best.  Either way, we're all paying for it.

LINKS

Maryland may be going to an all electronic toll collecting system.  The greatest danger here is that it may make tolls just too easy to pass up.  Some transportation advocates have suggested making all roads "toll roads" by installing a universal EZ-Pass of sorts into our cars.  Drive less, pay less. 

Reading the press on last night's primaries, and Santorum's "crucial" wins, I couldn't help but think about this article about why the Mainstream Media hates Mitt Romney.  Romney has this thing in the bag.  It is all but wrapped up.  Saying otherwise expresses a disappointing failure in basic math skills.  Yet the media is following this like it is a neck-and-neck horse race.  I am no big Romney fan, but it is becoming too much to ignore.

The Anne Arundel County Council has hired a lawyer to defend them in a lawsuit by former Council-person Daryl Jones, who currently sits in a federal prison.  Said lawyer wrote the Council a "blistering letter" about how their inability to fill Jones's vacancy has undermined his ability to defend their vote to remove him.  This would be a very difficult client to fire.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah transcribes a portion of the most recent And Then There's That podcast, which, by itself, would merit a FBPD mention, but she also does a great job boring down on the issue of "diversity."  I agree with her that Dr. Ball was directly on point on this issue, but I would suggest that there is a bit of identity politics here. The premise is that this Board is not diverse.  Now we get to think about "why" and I think it has a least something to do with race.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ideas Are Fungible (Tuesday LINKS)

As a hobbyist blogger, I have the opportunity to sit at my computer, propose ideas, and walk away.  If the ideas get some traction, I am awesome.  If the ideas end at the corner of my keyboard (as most do), I am none the worse.

The April 3 Primary is three weeks away.  I have not yet decided who I will be voting for or whether I will post that decision here.  Readers who have been with me since 2010 know that I really do not like the endorsement game.  Makes social gatherings awk-ward.

But I will say this -- beware the temptation of voting for someone on ideas alone.  The real measure of an elected official is not in what they think, it's in what they do.  Can they get things passed?  If they can't, their ideas, and their representation of your ideas, are worthless.  If they can, you are one persuasive phone call, e-mail, or lunch meeting away from affecting positive change.  The key is that the really good ideas are almost always group-sourced.  Sure, a politician may run on a particular handy phrase or policy concern, but once they are in office, the well inevitably runs dry.  The effective legislator/executive will have the ability to tap the community network of ideas to determine where to go next.

Effectiveness and group-sourcing are why relationships are so important.  If an elected official cannot build and sustain relationships, they are wasting a spot on the dias.  Respectfully, I think we have a good example of this in Allen Dyer.  I don't doubt that his heart is in the right place or even that he is a very smart man with good ideas, but he has ruined his effectiveness.  Even if he were able to get this voting bloc that he has been pushing for, it would not result in the policy changes he wishes to see.  If anything, it would just create a new obstinacy between the Council/Exec and the Board of Education.  For those that sympathize with Mr. Dyer's concerns, your interests may be best served by someone who shares those beliefs, but has the relationships (or relational capacity) necessary to make policy.

Both our loyalties and the press are drawn to passionately held beliefs that are prosecuted in an aggressive manner.  It is exciting.  It is engrossing.  It is not real government.  Real government is a collaborative process that is rarely exciting, especially when those involved are governing well.  The act of governing does not contemplate lawsuits, because that process is anathema to collaboration.

So while I may not list all of those I plan to vote for on April 3, I can tell you that I will certainly not be voting for Allen Dyer.  It has very little do with the merit of his ideas.  It has everything to do with the simple fact that he just can't get anything done.

LINKS

A federal transportation bill poised to pass the Senate would send over $100 million dollars to Maryland for bike trails and "street beautification projects."  I would support something like this if it was focused on actual connectivity and not recreation.  I'm a cyclist, but like others in the area, I often find it difficult to get from here to there without the need to traverse one or two highway interchanges that makes my wife hide my bike helmet.  As for "street beautification", I don't really think that is a measure of austerity.  On that point, I think our Country needs to figure out whether we are going to implement austerity measures or continue to half...butt this thing and make a mess in the process.  Huge cuts to CMS does not pair well with "street beautification."

The Fulton UMD student that threatened to go on a "shooting rampage" now says that he was just "stressed out" and officials have determined that he was not a danger to himself or others.  This is an unfortunate consequence of the need to be on full alert for these types of comments.  I see things on Facebook every day that make me think "Hmm, that's a tad violent," but I don't feel compelled to call the police because I know that is just in that person's nature.  We don't have the luxury of taking that attitude with strangers, particularly in today's environment of seemingly annual campus shootings.

Lindsey McPherson reports that local elected officials are lobbying newly districted Congressional Representative Dutch Ruppersberger to help them keep intermodal out of Elkridge.  Quoting Council-member Courtney Watson: The general agreement among Howard County officials, Watson said, is that the Jessup site, near Montevideo Road, and the Elkridge site, near Race Road, are the two viable options for the facility.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: This is about a week late, but I really enjoyed TJ's review of the Senate's plan to pair a pension shift with tax increases.  I think he does a good job of explaining a complex issue in a way that is digestible and (as always) entertaining.

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Party Sustainability (Monday LINKS)

Watching the Sunday Talk Shows, it seemed clear to me that the GOP is calling a full scale retreat from the battleground of "family values."  It was almost as if they had read the exact same memo:

"I'm not here to talk about that, I'm here to talk about the economy and the failed economic policies of this President."

If there was a memo, it shows two things:
1) The Republican Party is showing a level of organization and unity that we have not seen in some time;
2) They have pollsters.

As the Pew Research Center has found, the positions of the GOP on issues like gay marriage will not be sustainable over the long term.  The same goes for a hard line on abortion.

What the Republican Party seems to be doing is trying to figure out what sticks in 2012.  The public sentiment on social issues seems to be more murky now than any time in recent memory.  As our poll-watcher Governor has shown, the tides are shifting.  But as I've also noted, social issues can bring rabid supporters willing to overlook the remaining planks.

"I don't care if you vote for tax breaks for the top .001%, so long as you protect the sanctity of marriage."

The trouble for the GOP is that this knife cuts both ways.  Personally, I will almost certainly not vote for any politician that would oppose same-sex marriage.  I've outlined that in previous posts and don't need to go back into my reasons today.  This isn't a litmus test for me as much as it is an introspection into how certain politicians see their role in government.  There is a very good chance that if you oppose same-sex marriage, you see yourself in a position to interject selective religious mandates into government in a way that disadvantages those who have different beliefs...or are just obedient to a base that I don't care to be a part of.  It's nothing personal.  I just don't like the way you do your job.

Reflecting back on the bubble of Maryland, I wonder how social issues play out with independents in the swing states.  As of last week, President Obama was not faring too well.  And that's with everybody in the GOP running to the right.

LINKS

A student at the University of Maryland from Fulton threatened to go on a "shooting rampage" at College Park on Sunday.  The student has been taken to the hospital for emergency psychiatric evaluation and it does not appear that he had access to weapons.

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold is hoping that his history of strong constituent services helps him through the indictment and allegations of misconduct in office that threaten his career.  There is no doubt that Leopold has had a fascinating life, but it is now marred by what appear to be excesses paired with significant lapses in judgment.  I have no sympathy for these folks.  If this was an employee of a company, they would have been fired for cause without the prospect of unemployment.

After Frederick County made English the official language of county business, similar initiatives are being sought in Queen Anne's and Anne Arundel County.  Regardless of your views, this is an exercise in futility.  Whatever ends these laws seek, they will not be met.  It simply provides a platform for red-meat Republicans to say "We speak 'merican in America."  Meanwhile, the line for marriage licenses and building permits is just going to move about 5 times slower.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: My dear friend WB is back in the States and is catching up on local political news.  I can't say he missed too much.

In closing, nomination petitions are due (or past due) for most Village Elections.  I would like to personally request that you consider volunteering your time and effort to Columbia.  This town was built off of the idea that it would be run by people.  Not "the same people."  We need new decision-makers in this community with new ideas.  That means you.

Have a great Monday doing what you love! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hypocrites Aren't We All

(The title of this post is an allusion to one of my favorites movies of all time.  A beverage of your choice on me if you can name it.)

In anticipation of tonight's "Game Change" Premiere and reflection on the two weeks of hang wringing over Rush Limbaugh's offensive rant(s) about private citizen (and fellow GULC alumni) Sandra Fluke, I thought I would share this interesting YouTube clip:


The obvious response is "Sarah Palin ran for office.  Sandra Fluke was a private citizen."  Yeah, but...Sarah Palin's daughter didn't run for office.  Sarah Palin's disabled son did not run for office.  We aren't qualifying our outrage about Limbaugh by saying "Calling someone a prostitute is ok so long as they are running for a position of national scope." 

This all comes down to what I believe is a rule of public office: Don't overreach.  If you've got a single (i.e., your most consistent entertainer-critic "stepped in it" and is losing sponsors), don't go for a double (i.e., rubbing his nose in it at a press conference).  President Obama's overreach now merits some kind of response in terms of what he will do with his own sponsor -- Bill Maher.

I expect the President to let this wash away into the past, as all good politicians do.  But I think this is a lesson for all of us in self-righteous chest pounding.  If you're on the left, I would guess that you spent sometime over the last two weeks slamming Limbaugh and the GOP for their failure to repudiate.  Do you feel the same way about your President?  Did you overreach?  And if you're on the right, you probably pulled your hair out about how Sarah Palin was being treated unfairly in the press and that it was sexist.  Do you think Rush Limbaugh deserves to lose a few of those sponsors?

And could we PLEASE stop talking about "freedom of speech" when someone loses their job on a cable news station or loses sponsors for their radio show.  I am practically begging at this point.  We all have the right to say whatever we want.  We do not have the right to have that speech sponsored or promoted by someone else.  In fact, freedom of speech is better displayed by the cable networks and sponsors choosing not to endorse that speech.  Not the blow-hard trying to get away with saying whatever they want.

Bottom line: Don't overreach.  And if you do, watch your six.

Friday, March 9, 2012

CA Board Recap: March 8, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 11:00 pm

This meeting primarily focused on the Aquatics Master Plan, but there were other important issues discussed.  The disposition for the AMP presents a vexing issue for which there appears to be no consensus (or at least not one shown) in terms of how we will approach the future of Columbia pools.  I was happy to see the Board defer any action on this plan to allow the Board more time to think.
Hobbits Glen

We received an update from the architectural firm that is designing the proposed renovation or reconstruction of Hobbits Glen.  The gentleman who spoke gave a detailed overview of the feedback they had received and how it was incorporated into future plans.  One of the most prominent items were a dedicated "19th Hole" grill/bar for the golfers, along with separate "approaches" for those at Hobbits Glen for golf and those there for the restaurant.  Based on my conversations with members of the golfing community, these were important issues and I was happy to see that reflected in this presentation.

Aquatics Master Plan

After a brief overview of the changes that have been made to the recommendations in the Aquatics Master Plan, the Board received overwhelming testimony from residents living near the pools that had been targeted for "re-purposing."  These residents consistently testified that they did not want their pool to be closed and that the real cause of under-utilization was a lack of attention and/or improvement of their existing facilities.  They described what I conceptualize to be a death spiral in which people stop going to a pool because it isn't updated, which shows attendance numbers indicating that the pool is redundant, which then decreases the call for future improvements.

While I appreciated the testimony, it was what the Board should have expected.  If there is any one truth to CA amenities it is that when the organization looks to "take" something away, there will be uproar, regardless of whether the purpose may be designed for the good of Columbia as a whole.  Those that may benefit from a new use have not had the opportunity to experience what they might be missing and, thus, they have little to no motivation to be heard.  I think we could have started the meeting by asking "Who is here because you don't want CA to repurpose your pool?" and ended up with a very good idea about what the next two hours of testimony would have shown.

That's not intended to be dismissive.  In fact, I would say that the two hours of testimony truly affected the Board and made the likelihood of any pool being voted for re-purpose next to nil.  The harder question is "What is the right choice?"  The easy choice is clear -- don't close down any pools.  And maybe that is the right choice (as I was leaning last night), but my gut feeling is that the future of CA Aquatics is slightly more complex than a straw poll of 20-50 residents who have testified at the two community geared sessions.

And that brings me to the most important issue, and one the Board considered last night: Are CA pools "neighborhood pools" or are they part of "Columbia's Aquatic Master Plan"?  A member of the Staff noted that the CA Board in the mid to late nineties (or was it eighties?), approved a policy stating that Columbia pools were a city-wide amenity (as a whole) and that CA would work away from the idea of "neighborhood pools."  As Phil Kirsch rather astutely noted, this may have been because of the economic situation of the Board at that time, when the organization was paying high yields on its bonds and did not have money to spend on new pools in its new neighborhoods.

This is a big question.  If our pools are part of a larger system, overlap will normally be an indication for re-purposing one of two pools serving the same area.  If we have a neighborhood pool system, it does not make sense to close any pools, as they all have a constituency that will be left without a pool in the circumstance of closure.  Jane Dembner, who shepherded through the AMP, noted that an online survey performed by CA indicated that most residents did not use the pool that was closest to them.  They traveled to where their friends, family, or swim teams were.  This indicates that the neighborhood concept may be nice in theory, but does not play out in application.

The problem with relying on that data is the same "death-spiral" described above, which undercuts any discussion of usage.  Unfortunately, I don't think our organization has taken proper cognizance of many of the concerns expressed regarding the upkeep of our pools.  That makes it very difficult to essentially "blame" residents for not using their neighborhood pool and "punish" them by taking that pool away.

My suggested approach, which did not have much sticking power with the Board, was to take a more decentralized look at these pools.  Implicitly, this calls the game in favor of "neighborhood pools", but I also think it can make inroads in terms of a hybrid approach.  All of our pools will never be equal, but we will also never experience a day when all of our pools are fully utilized.  A piece-meal look at each under-performing pool may reveal ways to make it a "Columbia-wide amenity" without taking away that "one pool" that is in walking distance for 100 residents.  When you take a meta approach, the details are lost.  For this particular project, I think the details, and the simple things, may just be the crux of the solution.

The Board will be addressing this at a later date and I look forward to seeing additional avenues explored.

Service Reduction Policy

After nearly three hours discussing the Aquatics Master Plan, we turned to a draft "Service Reduction Policy" that would essentially require Staff to provide 30 days notice to the public for any reduction in programming or hours at a Columbia amenity (primarily focusing on gyms).

I did not like this policy when it was first proposed and I did not vote for it when it passed.  I think this is micro-managing at its worst, which has the concrete danger of tying the hands of Staff and wasting CA money on unattended programs.  Nonetheless, when I voted against this policy, the proposing Board member turned to me and said something to the effect of "Nice job, Mr. Transparency."

Glad to see none of us are above a grade-school collegiality level.
That's all for today.  Have a great day doing what you love.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Connect and Disconnect (Thursday LINKS)

"American Masterpiece" recently put out a special on the Amish that I found fascinating.  Most interesting to me was the fact that the Amish prohibit technology primarily because of their belief that it is bad for the community.  I had always understood that the Amish looked to preserve some 1860 version of the world due to some underlying concerns linking electricity with Satan.  (Full Disclosure: I never gave this much thought, approaching the Amish with the dual American perspectives of "quaint" and "weird", with a subconscious connection to apple butter.)

The thought is that when you have a car, your time is no longer yours.  The ability to effectively be anywhere you want brings with it the responsibility to go anywhere people want you to be.  Similarly, the telephone shortens and cheapens human interaction.  If you visit your Aunt Velma, you will talk about everything and nothing for the entirety of your visit.  If you call Aunt Velma, chances are you will have an itinerary of things to discuss and, if male, an end goal for the conversation (i.e., Mom's Meatloaf Recipe).

It is difficult to argue with this theory.  Technology has multiplied our connections, but seemingly cheapened their worth.  Think of this blog.  While I would like to think I have met over 60% of those who read here, there are 40% of which I have a daily "connection" without ever knowing their name.  In fact, there are those who find some worth in posting anonymously to ensure that this connection is as cheap as possible.

As our government and community meetings go online, I wonder if we are taking a further step back.  I am a strong advocate for increasing accessibility and transparency; however, as has been apparent with the Board of Ed, it is easier to yell into a telephone than across a table.  There is no innovation without detraction, even if those downsides are not readily apparent.  I'm not one of those who advocates deleting your Facebook account or finding two hours a day to go without Internet, but I always believe it is important to reflect back on "what's happened."  E-mail has increased the perceived value of a phone call, which at one time was the substitute of sitting in the same room.  I have to wonder where the priority on those visits has gone.

LINKS

Jessica Anderson writes that the neighborhoods affected by Council re-districting map are not particularly enthusiastic about the final result.  There may have been some over-selling and under-valuing of some community concerns, which has led to a map that only the members of the Council could love.

A Baltimore County teachers union is considering legal action after County Exec Kevin Kamenetz introduced a pension bill that would end the practice of using overtime wages to calculate pension benefits.  The administration said it would save the County $502,000 a year.  It is interesting that we don't see more measures to address how pensions are calculated in the midst of a pending shift of those costs from the State to the counties.

National advocates against the Death Penalty have targeted Maryland in their efforts to repeal the practice across the Country.  The Maryland State Senate held a hearing yesterday on a repeal bill yesterday.

Interestingly enough, as an effort to create a "Towson Swim Club" fails due to a lack of interest, Howard County Swim Clubs received a boost via Council-member Courtney Watson's bill that would allow them to sell their development rights for a one-time inflow of additional revenue.  Simultaneous to all of this, the CA Board will be accepting a presentation on the new Aquatics Master Plan this evening, with what is expected to be a large showing from members of the community concerned about "losing" their pool.  You have to wonder about the sustainability of the community pool in light of all of this.   (Disclaimer: I am not advocating for anyone to "lose" their pool.  Just noting the congregation of related events).

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks at the future of biking in Columbia and observes that our current connectivity is almost entirely geared toward the car, with slight consideration for the cyclist.  New grants may change that as CA looks to improve Columbia connectivity for both pedestrians and cyclists.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Message Finesse (Wednesday LINKS)

I stayed up until about 10 pm watching the returns from Super Tuesday.  I really do love this stuff, but CNN's coverage may have actually made me tired.  They have this tympanic high-paced background music, paired with sliding iPad screens, focusing in and out of obscure counties in Ohio, intermixed with Wolf Blizter gravely announcing "We have news.  We HAVE news."

I watched the first hour or so with Jane.  After one of Wolf's stutter-steps, she asked me "Is he serious?" as if this was actually mock up coverage of Super Tuesday.  She had a point.

Jane also made a second astute observation when Sarah Palin was interviewed after casting her vote in Alaska: "It seems like nobody cares that she is there."  I would like to think that this sentiment is shared across the entire Country.

In my two hours watching, I also saw three "Victory" speeches: Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum.  Ron Paul's speeches have a predictability that is almost comforting.  He slams the federal government, then President Obama, and then does his best to hold back his own distaste for the Republican Party, while still letting everyone know that he does not find the GOP harmless.

Limbaugh Gingrich (whoops -- Thanks Spymoose) gave a long-winded diatribe about why he is great and why people keep missing out on the fact that he is great.  He also worked in the Tea Party "I am one of you" codeword of "elite" about 10-15 times.  Santorum did the same, to the tune of about 20.  "Elite" is a funny word, especially with how it is used in politics.  If you needed surgery and I said "I know one of the elite surgeons in the Country who is available to do your surgery," you would obviously take my offer.  If I said "Political Elite", no matter what the context, you would imagine a malevolent cabal.  I don't know if that is successful branding or some evolutionary construct passed down from generations in fear of kings, but the darn thing works.

But how does it work within the Republican narrative.  Political chemistry says you can't put "elite" too close to "class warfare" in a speech or the whole thing will blow up.  Supporting high income earners, corporations (are people too), and organized religion (just the "good" kind, not the "bad" kind), is supporting elites.  So pardon me if I find some cognitive dissonance whenever I hear a Republican pretend they are fighting against the "political elite."

But that's my fault for expecting any of this to make sense.

LINKS

Anne Arundel County's largest police union has called on County Executive Leopold and Police Chief Teare to step down after the former was indicted for misconduct in office.  There is no doubt that the indictment puts a great deal of mud on the face of AA Police, but I would think their primary concern would be to make sure something like this never happens again.

An assistant principal at Howard High School has been accused of stealing credit cards from colleagues and using them to buy presents for her family. 

Lindsey McPherson's Political Notebook observes that Republicans feel emboldened by the new legislative redistricting plan and feel that they can pick up two HoCo Delegates in the new 9A and Delegate Liz Bobo's seat in District 12.  While Del. Bobo may have had a firm hold on her sub-district in 12B, the removal of subdivisions within the district makes the GOP feel they can garner support from outside of Columbia to bump the incumbent.  Based on my amateur review of voter registrations, it also looks like GOP numbers have gone up since the last election, making these projections much more realistic than they may have been four years ago.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers notes that the new redistricting map may not preserve a 4-1 majority for Dems if Courtney Watson chooses to run for Exec in 2014.  You also have to wonder if Courtney would be interested in another hard-fought battle in D1 if she can substitute a hard-fought battle for County Executive.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Best of What's Around (Tuesday LINKS)

Due to the numerous meetings that I attend throughout the week for CA and...CA, I try to reserve Monday night for staying around the house.  It is labeled on my work calendar as "Monday Chores" and something I try not to ever mess around with.  As such, I did not attend the League of Women Voters Forum, but watched the first half on TV.

Since I didn't see the whole slate of candidates, I'm not comfortable saying who looked best or who I plan on voting for, but I was very impressed with this group without exception.

Jim Adams noted about halfway through the first hour that one of the things Howard County government in general should be planning for is dramatically increased gas prices and the effect that will have on our valuable juxtaposition between Baltimore and DC.  For all of our focus on Downtown Columbia, this is still a commuter County.  As we learned from Chris Leinberger, it was only the affordability of automobiles that made the suburbs possible (or as he would say "sub-urban") and the converse would presumably be true.  When it is no longer affordable to drive, the suburbs will be similarly threatened.

That's a rather profound comment about something we take for granted in this County.  We are the benefactors of good geography.  I would love to say that there is something about the water, air, or "culture" that makes property values what they are, but I think most realists would have a hard time refuting that its "location, location, location."  And that's something that we (rightfully) presumed was fixed.  Baltimore and DC are not moving.  Howard County isn't moving.  We have it made.

But as Mr. Adams observed, the value of our location is not fixed.  It is dependent upon factors outside of our control.  More importantly, barring some serious innovation over the next 30-40 years, it is dependent on terms like "peak oil" and "terminal decline."

I don't mean to be alarmist and I don't want to suggest that Mr. Adams was either, but good leaders are good planners.  Downtown Columbia is only part of this plan.  If Baltimore and DC are our lifelines, we need to find a way to keep those lines open.

LINKS

The Howard County Council has passed an altered redistricting map 3-2 that "will keep the Ellicott City neighborhoods of Wheatfield and Brampton Hills in District 1 and...keep the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search in District 4."  Republican Greg Fox was the deciding vote -- words that no Democrat thought they would see when the Commission map was proposed last year.  Courtney Watson and Calvin Ball voted against the proposal, noting that the adjustments only addressed the concerns of some residents at the expense of others.  As emphasized by Lindsey McPherson in her article, this legislation still must be signed by Ken Ulman before becoming law.  If he does not sign by March 15, the Commission Map will become law.  You have to wonder what it is about the map passed by the Council that Ken will like, especially when non-action effectively allows Ken to by-pass all of the weird fiefdom politics that has possessed the Council over the past three months.  Bottom Line: Republicans should be thrilled that D1 stays almost exactly the same.  Dems...well...you had a nice run.

The "Ash Wednesday" storm that almost washed away Ocean City occurred 50 years ago today.  This was one of those stories that my grandmother would tell me.  She wasn't in Ocean City when it occurred, but "the flood" would be a placeholder for whether the story happened before or after 1962 (although in my five year old head, I thought she was talking about Noah).

The "good and substantial reason" requirement for a gun-carry permit in Maryland has been ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court Judge.  In law school, I was told that it was unusual for a District Court Judge to rule that a given law was unconstitutional.  Between the Health Care Access and Affordability law and this, it seems that the trial courts have been emboldened. 

The Maryland State Senate has prepared a "doomsday budget" to show what a budget balanced without tax increases would look like.  I find it somewhat garish to throw around the word "doomsday" when there are thousands of families in this state that have had to remake their household budgets with "cuts" and no "revenue increases."  Longtime readers know that I don't like the comparison between households and State budgets, but I also don't like the faux horror of having to balance a budget by cutting what can be cut and preserving the State's top priorities.  I would suggest that exercises like this are performed in a way to scare the public into accepting tax increases rather than truly prioritize important expenditures over those that may be redundant, unnecessary, or antiquated.  Notably, under the "doomsday budget", Howard County would see a cut of $23 million in education aid.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow gives another run down of suggestions, comments, and concerns of his readers, which are turning out to be some really great posts.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Politics By Other Means (Monday LINKS)

A political bombshell dropped last Friday as Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold was indicted on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation.  Republicans often tell me that "Maryland is the most corrupt state in the County," which made me wonder how they took this news.

I guess I didn't wonder too much.  I knew that the presumption was "politically motivated prosecution."

The concerning thing about the accusations are that they appear to resemble what could be called a "spaghetti on the wall" indictment.  When studying for the Bar Exam, we were told that when you come across a Criminal Law question, you are to look at the facts and think of any and all crimes that may have been committed and include them in your answer.  No analysis.  Just identify and respond.  It would be hard to make the argument that this isn't what happened here.

"But don't you want politicians to be prosecuted for whatever law they break?"

No.  My experience with those in political office, and the rules that surround them, is that law-breaking, in the most basic sense of the word, is not that unusual.  Accepting a cash donation outside of the limit or using a work e-mail account for campaign matters are just so benign that it is hard to keep track of what the law is.  Political "life" would seem to resemble what you will hear police officers say about traffic law -- If you follow a car for ten minutes, they will commit at least two traffic violations meriting a stop.

The indictment against Leopold is salacious and disturbing.  None of us want our politicians doing what he is accused of doing.  Moreover, I'm not trying to say that these accusations are benign.  But here's some food for thought.  The State Prosecutor changes in November of 2010.  The previous State Prosecutor was Robert Rohrbaugh, known for the prosecution of Sheila Dixon and the investigation of many other prominent Democrats.  He was appointed by Bob Ehrlich.  The current State Prosecutor is Emmet Davitt.  He was appointed by Martin O'Malley.  The first fish on his plate is a Republican.

There's a new sheriff in town, folks.  Watch those brake lights.

LINKS

Baltimore City has been compelled to spend $360,000 on testing monitors after there were allegations of cheating at 16 schools during the last round of standardized tests.  Proving that their PR person must be asleep, the principals' union is fighting against the extra set of eyes. 

The Sun profiles Maryland's first lady and her efforts to assist the passage of same-sex marriage, including her infamous "cowards" comment that stirred the pot immediately prior to the vote.


Information on Baltimore City contracts is available online to open the door on what the City spends its money on.  In light of the embarrassing audit findings over the past few months, I think you can expect "citizen auditors" to find even more gems as this transparency tool gains popularity.

A recent study showed that over one third of Baltimore City residents do not have "ready access" to healthy food and instead must rely on corner markets and fast food for their daily nutrition.  City officials are looking to address these "food deserts" by allowing residents to order healthy food online and have it delivered to local libraries.  Interesting idea, but I wonder how sustainable it is.

Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day: The local blogosphere has noted two important events tonight.  First is the vote on the new redistricting plan.  53 Beers seems to think that D1 may "lean GOP" in 2014 and we will go back to a 3-2 Council.  The second event is the LWV Candidate Forum for BOE candidates prior to the April primary.  WB notes that this is available online for those inclined to watch, but not to attend.

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Battle for Dorsey

The final fits and starts of the Council Redistricting Battle seem to be resting in great part on what is to be done with the neighborhood of Dorsey's Search.  The original Commission Map (you know, those folks charged with hearing the public, drawing a map, and proposing the map for a vote) has the entirety of Dorsey's Search in D1.  In the map below, D1 (Watson) is yellow, D2 (Ball) is purple, D4 (Sigaty) is green, and D5 (Fox) is blue:
You'll note the dark yellow/light green portion below 108, which constitutes the Fairway Hills neighborhood, transferring it to D1 in order to remain with the rest of the Village.  The presumption is that by putting Dorsey's Search in D1, it makes a potential swing district less "swingy" and more blue.  Obviously, making D1 "more blue" was against the interest of the GOP and, in response, Greg Fox submitted his own Map, putting all of Dorsey's Search back into D4:

This map excises the entire Columbia Village from D1, giving D4 back it's "thumbs up" shape from the previous districting scheme.  This change, along with a few others, puts D1 back into "up for grabs" territory favorable to the GOP and the prospects of a 3-2 Council.  Obviously not something that a majority Dem Council would want, right?

Wrong.  Mary Kay Sigaty submitted her own districting plan, which, similar to Council-member Fox's proposal, puts Dorsey's Search back into D4:
In fact, you'll note that the boundaries for the 29/108 "district mixing bowl" are identical to those proposed in the GOP/Fox Map.  But wait, along with Courtney Watson's map putting Dorsey in D1:

We also have Jen Terrasa's Map, putting all of Dorsey back in D4:


Sing it with me now...
You put the Village in, you put the Village out,
You put the Village in and put your party's chances in doubt. 
You do the hokie pokie and you pull your markers out,
What is this all about?