Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Compromise (Thursday LINKS)

For all of my Dem friends out there, I would suggest that your views on Councilman Greg Fox's proposed fire tax amendment are a good measurement of your true opinions on divisive politics.

Over the past two years, we have all lamented the state of divisive politics in America.  Budgets can't get passed.  Debt limits are held as ransom.  The U.S. credit rating suffers.  We shake our heads and say "Why can't these folks work out a deal?"  The GOP complains that compromise is "surrender", and cling to ideological purity.  Dems use their proposals as baseline and consider any variation from that a "concession". 

Let's look at what Greg has done here --
He has acknowledged the problem of insufficient fire tax revenue.
He has proposed a tax increase that would meet current revenue requirements.
He has entered a proposal that arguably will be most injurious to those in the Western part of the County, which is his District, since these folks will have the most significant difference in their next tax bill.

Stripped of personalities, Greg Fox's proposal is exactly the kind of compromise we seem to be demanding from Republicans (and Democrats) in D.C.  Put politics aside and offer practical solutions that meet in the middle.

That's not to say that Greg's proposal should or will pass.  "Compromise" means very little when you already find yourself on the losing side.  I'm sure Ron Paul would love a compromise in which only the Federal Reserve is dissolved, and not the FAA or FDA, but he is not in a position to pull that deal to the table.  Unfortunately for Greg, there was little to no mobilization by the Red Team on this issue when the Council was considering the measure, which puts the Council in a position of least resistance towards passing the increase requested by Ken.

I also hesitate to give too many kudos due to my respect for Greg's intelligence and the presumption that the impossibility of his proposal, while offering compromise, is most likely the exact reason it was proposed.  He is fine with seeing it fail, if for no other reason than to put another talking point on his "Ken is not post-partisan" flier.  But the real take-away is for all of us.

Did you automatically dismiss Greg's proposal as an attack on good legislation?  Or did you see it as a compromise that should be considered by the Council?

LINKS

There are 968 requests for "Fifty Shades of Grey" posted throughout the Howard County library system.  (I began to try to describe the subject of this book, but started to blush.)  Meanwhile, Harford County refuses to stock the book, considering it to be pornographic.  I don't know about you all, but I feel much better living in the County with 100 copies. 

Howard County has finalized its "decision" to purchase the Belmont Estate from Howard Community College, pending environmental testing.  This should be an interesting transaction to watch, as the County purchases land from one of its largest recipients of County funds.

A state audit has found problems with oversight and security in the rolling out of Maryland slots.  Auditors determined that the State failed to collect tens of thousands of dollars from manufacturers who did not "promptly fix" broken slot machines and also found issues with the casinos security systems.  These are all small potato problems, but taken in the context of the boondoggle of Maryland gambling, it is a continuation of a troubling pattern.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at the reading level required for local blogs and finds this one scoring at the 13th grade level (at least for yesterday).  I don't necessarily take that as a compliment and hope that most of what I write is digestible.  I pile a lot of excuses on the doorstep of "I write at 6 am", but all the same, I will look to improve.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Term Limited

A late and shortened post this morning due to a very unforunate series of events that left me with a damaged computer, broken coffee table, and significant cut in my right leg. 

I did want to offer up the subject of terms limits as a topic of discussion.  As you may already know, Council-member Calvin Ball has filed a proposed amendment to the Howard County charter that would extend term limits for County Council members from three terms (12 years) to four (16 years).  Howard County is one of the few counties in Maryland with term limits and the only County that does not have term limits that align with limits for the County Executive.

I would suggest that in Howard County the incumbent advantage is not as strong as the party preference advantage.  This was on display in 2008 with the only real competitive race being in swing district 1, while all other Council members found their way back to office with relative ease.  As such, I'm not so concerned that the extension of term limits will do anything to injure the current state of competitive politics in this jurisdiction. 

I generally favor term limits to avoid the circumstance where a politician will serve in a particular position for a lifetime and become a "professional" Council-person.  There is also significant merit to the idea that these positions do require a particular knowledge base and that by slowing turn-over, we may curb the prospect of having a brand new Council every 12 years, as we did in 2004.

So let's hear it.  What are your thoughts on this amendment?  Remember that even if this amendment makes it through the Council, it will still be up for popular vote in the general election.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yesterday Was About You. Tomorrow Is About Us.

Over the past month there have been any number of high school and college graduations projecting scores of young men and women out into the "real world".  For reason I can't quite explain, I often find myself obsessed with Commencement Speeches around this time of year.  There's Will Ferrell's hilarious impersonation of a commencement speech at Harvard.  Conan O'Brien's 2000 commencement speech at Harvard, which has been placed in the shadow of the "greatest commencement speech ever" that he gave last year at Dartmouth.  Personally, I will always have an attachment to the speech Chief Justice John Roberts gave at my own graduation from law school, despite my recent struggles with his term on the Court.

And I told you about my favorite commencement speech on Wednesday, which, nevertheless, is somehow fatally diminished by the suicide of its author.

In today's Sun, the Op/Ed section includes David Simon's commencement speech to Georgetown University.  I'm not sure if it needs to be included in the pantheon of great send-offs, but, as with all commencement speeches, it carries with it a smart person's heart-felt pleas to a future generation.

Behind all the politics, Simon laments the detachment of our citizenry from the problems we all acknowledge to be true:

So for God's sake, fight. And get angry if you need to get angry. A little anger is a good thing if it isn't on your own behalf, if it's for others deserving of your anger, your empathy. And if you see the wrong around you getting bigger and uglier, then speak up, and call that wrong by its true name. Learn to refuse, to dissent. And in demanding something more from yourself and from your society, you may be surprised to find that you are not entirely alone. That other voices are saying the same things, that others want the same things.

When reading these speeches, it is often important to put yourself in the heads of the graduating class.  They're tired from a late night with friends; a little groggy for reasons related to the same.  They're excited about moving forward, while terrified of abandoning comfortable familiarity to the past.  After two decades of benchmarks and finish lines, they are facing up to the vast imposing ambiguity of "what's to come".  While I miss college (and even law school), I don't miss the threatening canyon  just out of reach, reminding me that I didn't have to answer for myself just yet, but the time would come and the answers would matter.

These thoughts are all internal, but you can't blame the graduating class for concentrating on introspection.  They've lived a life where their service hours are individually counted, their accomplishments measured by transcripts and awards, and their sole purpose in life being self-improvement (i.e., education).  I have no doubt that many of your children are selfless and outward thinking.  They are the exception.  Not by fault, but rather by the inherent requirements of being a 21 year old graduating from college.

But I would offer this one little piece of advice for those stepping out into the world -- it is only scary if you keep the intra-scope on.  If you turn your view outward, get angry "for others deserving of your anger", focus on those things around you in need of change, the terrors of uncertainty regarding your own path in life (and the ever-present question of whether it is the "right one") go away.  If you keep looking inside yourself for what you need to do to improve yourself or make a better station in life, you will always be scared.  You will stay up late at night wondering if there is some map you can follow.  You'll hate yourself for the smallest mistakes and be a bore for everyone who enters your life.

But if you invest yourself in your community, the banality and irrelevancy of those questions will become clear.  You are part of something much bigger than you.  Your selflessness will solidify your character and place in life.  When you stop caring so much about "who you are", you will find the answer in action.

Friday, May 25, 2012

CA Board Recap: May 24, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:37 pm
End Time: 9:59 pm

You read that time correctly. Despite having a very full plate between President’s Goals, Symphony Woods, and CA Town Halls, all three committee chairs stuck to the amount of time allotted and finished the meeting within two and a half hours. It was not without some discord (questionably related to the expediency of the meeting), but there were a number of us that noted after the meeting just how good it felt to stick to an agenda and not run off into the weeds on unrelated matters as they strike our fancy.

I also should mention that I was "elected" Chair of the Strategic Implementation Committee last night, which means I will be responsible for running that section of the agenda.  I look forward to the challenge of respecting the time of our Board members, while also making sure that each member has the opportunity to be heard on all issues discussed.  This is much harder than I thought it would be, but I'm learning as I go.

Symphony Woods Fountain

There were a number of parameters that our Wesco consultant group wanted to hear back on before creating additional drafts of the SW Fountain. You may recall that the Board reviewed two proposals a few months back and that there was a lack of enthusiasm for either, both within the Board and in the community at large.

The parameters Wesco sough clarification on were: Interactivity (yea or nay); Naturalistic or Modern; and Architectural feature or flat. One thing I’ve come to learn about this Board is that when they come to a fork in the road, they pick it up. While we chose to reconfirm our interest in an interactive fountain, the Board was disinclined to go with either Naturalistic/Modern or Feature/Flat. We straw voted in favor of hybrids, which I hope do not produce Dr.-Moreanu-like Fountain designs, but presume will give Wesco a good idea of where the Board is thinking in terms of design. The one thing we emphasized is that we would like this fountain to be innovative and create a “wow” factor with all those who see it.

Notably, Cy Paumier has also submitted design schematics and was present at last night’s meeting. Some Board members thought he should be permitted a chance to speak, either that night or worked in to some later agenda. It was my understanding, and Wesco confirmed, that Cy’s designs had been submitted to our consultants, who would incorporate those suggestions as they see fit. This was not satisfactory to those Board members who wanted to hear Cy speak.

I was disappointed that Cy chose not to speak during Resident Speak-out. For reasons I can’t quite figure out, some Board members feel that asking Cy to make his interests known at Resident Speak-out would be disrespectful. If so, we need to reexamine the very purpose of Resident Speak-out to ensure that we are not enabling a vehicle that is disrespectful to our residents.

Although mostly quiet, there were a number of Board members that did not think it would be appropriate to have Cy speak and felt that it would undermine our working relationship with Wesco. I agree. Wesco won the bid and has been doing a fantastic job working with the Board to create the best possible design based on all available inputs. We cannot ask them to serve two masters. If we continue to be dissatisfied with their proposals, we may have to look in a new direction, but up until that point, they are the ones driving the design process. I believe Mr. Paumier had the opportunity to submit a proposal during the RFP process and chose not to do so. His input as a resident and as a valued community member is still welcomed, but I don’t see what would merit a special presentation on a future Board agenda, which could only work to disrupt the process that we have engaged with Wesco.

I should emphasize that there were a number of Board members that were very frustrated with me last night, one of which left the meeting before it was adjourned. I regret that and had a hard time sleeping because of it. But I don’t doubt the decision underlying that frustration. There are an equal number of Board members that would have been upset if we had gone the other way. I’m just not sure any of them would have stormed out.

Town Halls

The External Relations Committee is evaluating the prospect of holding two town hall meetings over the next year to hear from residents about their perspective on a number of topics. New Board Member Regina Clay suggested that we hold an “open” Town Hall meeting that would give residents a chance to tell us what was on their mind. I really liked that. It was noted that we hold this every other week with “Resident Speak-out”, but I don’t think that serves the same purpose. Holding a meeting specifically designed to hear from residents is much different than including a mini-session at the beginning of our (formerly) four-hour meetings. Also, these town halls would be held out amongst the Village Centers, which hopefully will draw a group of people that may not otherwise be inclined to sit in our dark, ugly (sorry, it is), Board room.

Regina’s idea is just what we need and I hope the ERC sees it through. And if they do, I hope you will make time to be heard.

Strategic Issues

During one of the more confusing parts of the evening that felt more like a 4th grade Language Arts seminar at times, the Board discussed a series of “Strategic Issues” for CA to focus on over the next year (and many years to come). I have been serving on the ad hoc President’s Goals committee, which drafted a preliminary set of “Strategic Issues” noting the changing face of Columbia and CA’s role in it. We clearly had no idea what we were doing. Evidently, Strategic Issues are not designed to project action. They are merely intended to state the most important set of facts and implications that are facing the organization. “Cause and effect” as Jane Dembner described it.

Early on it was clear that when you turn a “Cause and action” sentence into a “Cause and effect” sentence, grammar and comprehension suffers. The staff had provided a noble effort towards redirecting the thrust of our proposed Strategic Issues, but it came off like a TBS dub-over of Die Hard (“Yippee-ki-yay, kemosabe”). Ed Coleman, noting that his committee’s time was running short, requested that Board members send in their suggestions and that Staff give another effort at rewording the Strategic Issues.

It is also worth noting that we approved the FY13 President’s Goals at last night’s meeting, which is an accomplishment in itself. Last year, we did not approve those Goals until past the deadline set in Phil Neslon’s contract, which had significant implications with compensation.

Welcome Regina!

I just wanted to note that the addition of Regina Clay has been a breath of fresh air for me personally and for the Board as a whole. She adds a much-needed perspective to our discussions and does not put up with Board members going down rabbit holes. I would say last night’s brevity was a mirage, but I think with this new Board, change is here to stay.

That’s all for today. I wish I could have said that the meeting was all positives, but there was significant strife that takes away from what would otherwise have been a great night. Many Board members have lamented that we don’t have enough time to discuss areas of disagreement informally after meetings. The one time we probably needed it most (and had plenty of time to do so), those members were gone before the smoke had cleared.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Legal Weapon (Thursday LINKS)

As noted yesterday, Board of Education member Allen Dyer has served four of his fellow Board members with a Complaint, alleging that they violated the Open Meetings Act by approving minutes of a closed meeting.  Dyer seeks to have all four members fined $500 each.

To be very clear, the meetings that form the subject of the Complaint are covered by an exception to the Open Meetings Act:

§ 10-508. Closed sessions permitted.
 


(a)  In general.- Subject to the provisions of subsection (d) of this section, a public body may meet in closed session or adjourn an open session to a closed session only to:  
(1) discuss: 
(i) the appointment, employment, assignment, promotion, discipline, demotion, compensation, removal, resignation, or performance evaluation of appointees, employees, or officials over whom it has jurisdiction; or  

As such, the fact that a closed meeting was held is not alleged to be the violation at issue in Mr. Dyer's Complaint.  Rather, it seems that this action is premised under subsection (d)(2), which provides:

(2) Before a public body meets in closed session, the presiding officer shall: 
(i) conduct a recorded vote on the closing of the session; and 
(ii) make a written statement of the reason for closing the meeting, including a citation of the authority under this section, and a listing of the topics to be discussed.
The most common legal action under the Open Meetings Act have been to strike down government action or open previously closed proceedings.  The remedy of a civil fine is available, but rarely applied.

I have not seen the Complaint, but according to Sara Toth's article: "Aquino, French, Siddiqui and Giles all voted to approve the minutes taken from those meetings which, according to the complaint, did not include dates, times, places, people present or the subject matter of those meetings."  Moreover, to the extent this action was about transparency or making information available to the public, the Maryland Attorney General maintains an Open Meetings Compliant Board, which exists to "promote future compliance by educating public bodies and members of the public."

This Complaint is not about the Open Meetings Act. We know, or at least have a very good sense, of the dates, times, places, people present, and subject matter of the meetings held to select a superintendent.  This Complaint focuses on a technical violation of the Act, behind which there is little substance.  By all appearances, Mr. Dyer has used the Open Meetings Act as a means of retribution.  The law is being used as a weapon. 

LINKS

Baltimore City will be raising water and sewer rates for the eighth time in 12 years, with an average increase of 9%.

Senator Barbara Mikulski's Paycheck Fairness Act has made its way back into the spotlight as Democrats work to court women voters in 2012.  The Act "limits the circumstances under which an employer can legally pay men and women differently. It also lets women sue employers for punitive damages if they can demonstrate they were treated unfairly."  I tend to share the concerns that are noted in the article.  While this legislation sounds good, intentional discrimination will be left to the determination of a jury, along with whatever they consider to be "reasonable punitive damages."  The Act could very well be retitled the "Attorney Employment Act", as we can expect plaintiff attorneys to flock to any practice area that takes the cap off of damages and puts the merits of their case entirely in the subjective ether of interpretive memos.  I want to work towards equal pay for equal work, but the courtroom is not the means to get there.

The Maryland Board of Public Works has approved $161 million in school construction projects, including new elementary and middle schools in Howard County.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB provides some analytics on his readers, which provides an interesting snapshot of who is paying attention to hyper-local "stuff".  With all due respect to the more senior contingent, I was happy to see that his readers are getting younger. 

That's all for today.  First meeting of the "new" CA Board of Directors tonight.  I'm very excited about the next year and hope we get off on the right foot.  Big things are happening.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This is Power (Wednesday LINKS)

One of the most popular commencement speeches of recent history is Dave Foster Wallace's speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  It was later published as an essay with the name "This is Water".  You can fund the full text here, but I've had two paragraphs rolling in my head for the past two weeks:

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

When you read something profound, you should ask yourself: Is this something I want someone else to read or is this meant for me?

I'm currently reading two books on my Kindle: Game Change (very little of which is about Sarah Palin or even the McCain candidacy) and Game of Thrones (Book III -- best one so far).  I write a blog about politics.  For as long asI can remember, I have been fascinated by how mere mortals handle the big problems our community faces and the policy discussions that underlie those decisions. 

In that frame, many would say that I worship power or at least have an unhealthy obsession with it.

Those who worship power, and have been fortunate enough to wield it, are so often afraid.  Who is trying to take this power away from me?  Who is standing in the way of me getting more?  Most elected officials would never admit this, but in the deepest recesses of their hearts, its the reason they have occasionally thought of wrapping it all up.  They are tired of watching their back.  They are tired of caring so much about what people say about them.

But that's the amateur pol.  The real pros are on the other side of DFW's tipping point.  They have become numb to their own fear and see life as a collection of power.  Life is a video game with points counted at the end.  Power is no longer a means to an end, it is the end in itself.

I wish I could remember who said it, but I once heard a quote that said: Most political lives end in disaster.  It sounds jarring at first (particularly for those with friends in politics), but most likely true.  The more successful a politician is, the higher they go.  But the thing about political office is that one rarely gets to leave on their own terms.  While many of us can expect a nice retirement dinner followed by a week on a beach, our friends in politics can expect a concession speech and campaign debt.

I don't say this to slam politicians or discourage others from seeking elected office.  Rather, I'm writing to discourage those from seeking power to do at the expense of fear.  The rewards are not so great.

LINKS

O's Win.  The series with the Red Sox is now 1-1, which matches the number of balks each team has had over the last two days.

That conglomerate of geography, history, and finance that is "Social Studies" will now be taught and tested under the Maryland educational requirements signed by Gov. O'Malley this week.

Those interested in addressing the problems of Baltimore City crime have to be disappointed by the manner in which the waters were muddied by racially charged statements.  The bottom line is that those who were working to solve the problems of Baltimore City are going to keep on doing what they're doing, while those who wish to take a podium and talk about the peripherals will do the same.

The Baltimore City School Board passed it $1.31 billion budget yesterday, which decreased per-pupil funding for charter school students.  This is slightly misleading, since the overall funding for charter schools has increased, while paired with increased enrollment.  Red team advocates for charter schools will have to speak carefully on this, after spending the last three months decrying "cuts" that were actually increases.

Sara Toth has a perfect lead:  "As the Board of Education went into dinner recess during its meeting Tuesday, Allen Dyer served four of his fellow board members with legal complaints, suing them over alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act during the board's recent search for Howard's next superintendent." If that doesn't get your blood pressure up, you live in a different world than I.

Lindsey McPherson notes that the County Council's sole Republican, Greg Fox, may be voting for Ken Ulman's budget this year, which would be the first time since arriving on the Council in 2006.  This is all the more unusual in light of the fact that many of Greg's previously objections with regard to Healthy Howard funding, OPEB, Executive Protection Unit, etc., would seem to still be present in the Budget for 2012.  Maybe he's just tired of the fight.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Matt Wilson attended the Pre-Submission meeting for Howard Hughes's new proposed development, which has taken the title of "The Met".  Great observations and another attestation to what additional voices in the blogosphere bring to the community.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Post Tuesday

Sorry folks.  I just feel spent of ideas.  ("Tom, that happened a long time ago.")  I have some things rattling in my head, but rather than put together something that I wasn't proud of, I figured I would allow myself another 30 minutes of sleep.

Feel free to comment with whatever is on your mind.  I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Small Battles Lost (Monday LINKS)

Last Friday, when discussing Del. McDonough's racist statements, I noted that my post was not about Baltimore City crime, but that I wanted to have that discussion at some later point.  Monday seems a good enough place to start.

In 2007, I had my deepest and most stark appreciation for Baltimore City crime stated to me in plain terms, never to be forgotten.  In late 2006, I had started a "Street Law" program at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore City tailored for recently released ex-offenders.  For those unfamiliar with Street Law, it is a law course taught to populations vulnerable to crime and recidivism with the idea that if you know and understand the law, you are more likely to comply.  This theory further suggests that there are parallel universes between those who live in a (mostly) law-abiding way and those that live in a world absent of laws other than those imposed by the most powerful among them.  I had taught Street Law in law school and thought it may be useful at Our Daily Bread, especially in light of the fact that they already had a re-entry program.  (This was long before I realized that service was not about imposing the change I wanted to see on my environment, but rather listening and responding to the changes needed in the community.  But, that is for yet another post.)

Despite some early doubts from the directors of the re-entry program, my course ended up being quite successful.  I would have an 80% attendance rate, which was particularly good in light of the fact that the seminar was optional (they had some required courses as a part of the program) and it was held on Saturday mornings.  Admittedly, I would sporadically bring pizza, which kept them guessing for which days lunch would be incorporated into the program.

I have more stories than I can recount here from the four months that program was in existence.  Anyone who thinks they know about the problems facing Baltimore City would do well to spend ten minutes in one of my classes.  I heard horrific stories of abuse and deeply moving stories of empathy in a desert of cynicism.  There were some "students" who liked me, but dismissed the material as inapplicable.  There were others who very clearly resented me, but wrote down every word I said.

As part of my education, I asked to visit the City Prison with the executive director as she went in to speak to prospective students.  The re-entry program is designed to let current prisoners know that they have an option other than "returning to the streets" or "going back into the game" as it is often referred to.  The assumption is that out of 30 men, 20 will go back to a life of crime.  Ten may try the program.  Five will succeed.

During the session I attended, there was one charasmatic young man who clearly had the respect and attention of his fellow prisoners.  We all liked him too.  He was funny, said please and thank you, and addressed the executive director as "ma'am".  After the program, he said the following words that I will never forget:

"I appreciate what all of you are trying to do.  I do.  But I have two kids.  I can do what you say and make $13 an hour.  I can go back to doing what I did before and make $100 an hour.  Yeah, I might get locked back up, and probably will, but for the time I'm out, there will be food on my table and clothes on my kids back."

I would say that I am paraphrasing, but those words stuck with me in a way that makes me think I still remember them word for word.  The executive director asked him if he thought his "babies deserved to grow up knowing their father?"  He said "They deserve to eat."  After that, he effectively shut down.  No longer smiling.  No longer joking.  He was embittered by the truth of his own argument.

I certainly understand and appreciate that most of you will have no sympathy for this man.  Had he grown up in Clarksville, Columbia, or Elkridge, he probably would be our co-worker, maybe in sales, probably very conscientious about his job and future prospects.  "He chose to break the law."  "Personal responsibility."  All supremely valid points.  If we were having a practical values debate, I don't see how I could ever win arguing the side of my charismatic prisoner.  But if you want to solve the problem of Baltimore City crime, who wins a debate between the two of us is irrelevant.

It would seem to me that you need to win the argument with my friend in orange. 

LINKS

I enjoyed this piece in the Washington Post on Sunday discussing solutions to the problem of divisive politics.  Many of the talking points that we carry around in our head are summarily dismissed and replaced with less instinctive suggestions.  Give it a look.

Annapolis lawmakers are not excited about the prospect of coming back to town in July for a Special Session focused on gambling.  For the rest of us, one must admire the tremendous power of Senate President Mike Miller.  For whatever anger the Governor feigned after the regular session failed to pass a palatable Budget, he gave one of the perpetrators exactly what he wanted in a second special session to address gambling.  What kind of J. Edgar file cabinets does Mr. Miller have over there?

With the rejection of an additional gas tax, Maryland's red line (the spoke most likely to affect the commutes of Howard County residents working in Baltimore) is imperiled.  Despite all their bloviating about the environment, mass transportation seems to only be a priority under perfect circumstances.  For reasons better explained by the more seasoned political vets, there is rarely a champion of mass tran that gets their name in the paper saying "Tomorrow is too late for this project."

The County Council is pushing back the approval of Executive Ulman's Budget pending an evaluation of how the newly passed State Budget will affect the balance sheets.  More importantly for the Council, that means one more long day in Budget work session.  And you think WE were upset about the need for a Special Session...

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB chose beer over wine on Saturday, heading to the 2nd Annual Clyde's Beer fest rather than facing the mobs at Wine in the Woods.  I met him over there and must say that the beer fest had a very different, much more relaxed, feel to it. 

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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spangled Banner

Yet again, our proud regional tradition is under attack.  Mike Wise of the Washington Post suggests that Baltimore fans, by emphasizing a single word in a three minute long anthem, are "tainting a moment meant to unite Americans."

Really, Mike?

This is a song that we have garnered with any number of celebrity idiosyncrasies and often speed up or slow down to time with over-flying jet planes.  It does not have the solemnity that is common with anthems of countries like Canada or the thundering power of those from the caucuses.  Rather, it was modified from a song used in a "men's social club"and is intended to be produced with gusto and pride.  To treat it as if it were some church hymn is not only rewriting history, but also restraining a tradition that has taken any number of forms depending on situation and circumstance, all of which make it a perfect song for America to share and one that has lasted generations as OUR national anthem.

When I was little, I wasn't much of a sports fan.  During a time when most of my friends were obsessed over George Brett, Cal Ripken, and Ken Griffey Jr., I was a little detached.  Baseball was part of the atmospherics of my youth, but never a central focus.  Nonetheless, my Dad had Sunday tickets to the Orioles.  As such, I spent a lot of my Sunday's baking in the left field club seats.

For as long as I can remember, the National Anthem was something I got excited about.  More importantly, it felt like the entire stadium was excited about it, too.  I've been to plenty of games in plenty of stadiums across this Country, but no one "gets" the National Anthem like Baltimore.  People stop walking to their seats.  They take off their caps.  And they sing it.  They're not just witnesses to the anthem.  They SING the anthem.  Conscientious of every word and the subject of what is being described.

The "Oh" is not some exclusionary focus.  It is an exclamation mark.  A climax.  "OH...say does that star spangled banner yet wave."  In Baltimore, we smile when we sing the National Anthem.  We cheer when its over.  We're present in the moment.

So pardon me, Mr. Wise, if I don't take your lecture with sedate shame.  Our National Anthem is not a measure of our patriotism.  It is a trumpet of our pride.  And with that pride is a little bump from a town on the Chesapeake that just so happened to write it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I am the 14% (Thursday LINKS)

By my amateur review, and without incorporating whatever deductions we may be eligible for, it seems apparent to me that my wife and I will be subject to the income tax increases passed by the General Assembly.  It certainly is not polite to talk about income, and I had great hesitations about doing so here, but I've heard so many people try to speak for "me" over the last three months that I thought I may as well just speak for myself.

First, I'm not outraged.  I'm not even mad.  I feel the same way I feel when the dinner check is about 20% more than I had expected ("Honey, that special was $35.  I hope it was good.") I keep feeling like I should be mad, raise a shaking fist to the sky, and call someone a bastard.  But I'm not inclined to.

Second, I will spend less money.  This tax increase is not coming out of my savings or my brokerage account.  The hundreds of dollars that are going to Aunt Mary would otherwise go to Victoria or The Wine Bin or Home Depot.  (Scary to see my expendable income priorities listed out like that).  I don't think I will donate less or redirect money.  It is certainly possible that I will save a little less.  But overall, I am one of the few that can handle this increase without resetting my balance sheets.

Third, I'm not typical.  I imagine that the vast majority of my fellow 14 percenters have kids.  I would not be surprised if a significant number of "us" are living paycheck to paycheck, between daycare, food, clothing, and everything else it takes to raise a child.  I feel very bad for those folks...and assume they are mad...and calling someone a bastard.

Fourth, I would rather pay more in taxes that see any less funding go to foster care.  That's not to say our social services are a tight model of efficiency, but I do know that a cut in funding would be a cut in desperately needed funding.  Am I "tuxedo t-shirting" tax dollars?  You bet I am.  But the sentiment remains.

Finally, I do feel like someone let me down.  Still not mad, just disappointed.  The law-makers we sent to Annapolis knew there was going to be a shortfall between revenue and expenditures when they went into session last Winter.  As I've noted repeatedly here, Howard County has some very powerful senior representatives.  Why didn't I see one alternative spending plan from any of them that wasn't called "Doomsday" and didn't premise cuts on services that have no business being cut?  What are you doing down there if not looking out for us?  Your colleagues may have made you think that Howard County is just a bunch of rich NIMBY's, but you know better.  And you knew that your constituents would bear the brunt of any tax increase from day one.  Who was standing in front of the train?  Where were our alternatives?  You may not have to face a legitimate challenger for all of the Novembers of your life, but you will have to deal with the fact that people like me trusted you to look out for us, and I don't feel like you did.

LINKS

The O's had yet another marathon game last night, closing out a 4-3 win in the 15th inning with an Adam Jones home run.

The Sun notes that if Governor O'Malley were to run for the White House, he would have to explain his "tax first, ask questions later" legacy.  Of particular note is that the taxes he is set to pass dip down into the self-identified "middle class" and do not limit themselves to the Obama-defined "rich" at $250,000.  Among the many black-letter laws of politics is the prohibition: don't increase taxes on the middle class.

The first new building for Downtown Columbia will be a $100 million mixed use project near the Columbia mall.  It is projected to have 380 new apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space.  Construction is projected to start early next year.

Opponents of the Wegman's liquor store note that the proposed new location violates numerous laws relating to ownership, particularly in light of the fact that Wegman's is a chain store.

Grand Prix tickets will be going on sale at the end of this month.  Unless the vendors are willing to make that purchase a secured debt, I would recommend against buying any.

Delegate Patrick McDonough warns tourists about "black youth mobs" and advocates for a "no travel zone" in the Inner Harbor.  He says that to fall to mention the "race of the participants" would be "political correctness on steroids."  (I've typed three different sentences, but I think Delegate McDonough may have made me speechless).

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  (I may have to rename this "Sarah's Corner")  Sarah advocates for using Howard Transit for this weekend's Wine in the Woods festivities.  (Clyde's will also be having a Beer Festival on the Lakefront).  Jane and I were very close to using the bus last year, but our inhibitions, and ignorance of the fare total, discouraged us at the last minute.  Maybe we'll give it another go on Saturday.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ken Gets Homelessness (Wednesday LINKS)

Yesterday evening, along with what appeared to be half of Howard County, I attended the Columbia Foundation's Spring Party.  This has become one of my favorite nights of the year and last night did not disappoint.  The Horowitz Performing Arts Center (lobby) is a beautiful space to hold an event and I hope the Community College continues to offer it to outside non-profits for fundraisers.

About two hours in, County Executive Ken Ulman came into the building.  Or as Jane later said "everybody started looking at us" (we were standing next to the door that the Executive had entered).  Haters are going to hate, but it is neat to have that person that draws the air in on a room, regardless of whether you agree with the guy on the issues.

Shortly after chatting with some County movers and shakers, Ken came over to chat with my group of folks.  Knowing that his time was limited, I thanked the Executive for allocating $366,500 to help fund the Plan to End Homelessness.  He very well could have nodded and changed the subject to a less controversial topic like the burgeoning Orioles or the weather (I talked about the weather so much yesterday), he explained the problem as he sees it and what he wants to do to fix it.

But these weren't talking points.  This was an engineer's description of a broken machine.  And in terms of the homeless problem, it is all a problem of relays.  Our systems are not talking with one another and people are falling through the gaps.  There are looming structural problems, like the inadequacy of overall crisis and recovery housing, but in terms of the primary focus of prevention, most of the resources are there, they just aren't talking to one another.  Based on just my unscientific survey of chatting with folks, there are at least 5 different organizations that can fund "that critical rent payment", yet people are still evicted from their homes without ever seeing that chance.  The mental health safety net is thick, yet we still have sick people living on the streets.

Most people steeped in government and County budgets may not think that $360,000 is a lot of money and its not, at least not in terms of the scope of what is expected (i.e., ending homelessness).  But I truly believe that Ken gets this problem in ways more sophisticated and deep than myself and is dedicated to seeing this money produce clear and recognizable results.

This won't be a project that is completed within his term.  As much as I would like to see homelessness eradicated in two years, it probably will take that long just to have the program infrastructure in place to take action.  From that perspective, there's very little political return Ken can expect from this investment.  But I certainly appreciate it and am confident that the decisions made in this direction over the next two years will provide new lives for hundreds of Howard County citizens.  That is a return all its own.

LINKS

Seventy-five percent of the new tax burden passed by the Senate (and soon by the House) will fall on taxpayers in "Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties."  Howard residents are projected to pay an average of $575 more this year than last.  That's an arbitrary way to look at tax increases, but still one that we in Howard should care about.  The article also notes increased taxes on tobacco products and higher fees for certain state services.  Most concerning, as is normally the case with higher income taxes, will be the effect these increases have on S corporations.  These filers are typically small business owners who pay taxes individually as opposed to creating a separate legal entity and paying corporate taxes.  But even worse than that is the fact those facing higher taxes most likely have not been withholding correctly.  That means they will have to make up for about six months of "back payments" in future withholding.  Just for the sake of symmetry, can we please call this the Doomsday Taxes to pair with the Doomsday Budget?

O's beat the Yankees 5-2...and Yankee fans show, yet again, that they cannot keep their 30-year-old gloves inside the stands when the ball is in play.  

Howard County resident Kathryn Manion won the "most lucrative undergraduate literary award in the country."  Nice job, Kathryn!  Don't forget to have book signings in Hoco (if they still do those types of things five years from now).

The Administrative Hearing to remove Board of Education Member Allen Dyer from office is in recess until June 6, but with a pending Motion to Dismiss, it may not go much further.  According to this piece by Joe Burris, the Judge's parting words would seem to be damning for the Board's position, wherein it was suggested that the charges are not clear, and that this fault is "becoming increasingly more relevant."  From my perspective, we would all be better off if it ended there.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah (two days in a row!) looks at StreetScores and Walkability around Columbia, starting with Owen Brown.  I love that "Banking" is on lock down.  What can you walk to around here?  Oh, well, I can put on my shoes and take out a loan, but in terms of just about everything else, I need to get in my car.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Solar Arrays in River Hill

Occasionally someone will telll me that there is something important that I should be writting about, but am otherwise ignoring.  My normal response is "I agree that this is important.  Would you mind writing a guest post?"  CA Board Representative from River Hill Michael Cornell met my challenge and shared the following:

My wife, Bonnie, loves to save money. My daughter refers to the both of us as “hippies”. I guess the attention to going organic, becoming vegetarian (I’m the one holding us back), installing rain gardens virtually over half the yard, raising worms( in worm bins in the garage) for composting, growing what little food our small lot allows, and our energy savings devices – including a 16 panel solar array, is what seals the deal on the hippie label. These activities are also earth friendly and easy on the check book.

She was very quick this weekend, on Mother’s Day no less, to check our latest energy bill. I’m not making this up - the bottom line was a $29 credit. Although that’s not an average month by any stretch, it does illustrate the point that actions add up. Yes, we have solar panels. What energy we do buy comes from wind energy credits through Clean Currents. We also have a solar attic fan that helps to cool the house. The programmable thermostat also ensures we are not paying to heat/cool the house when no one is home. Plus, we participate in BGE/Exelon’s energy program which allows the utility to cycle off our air conditioning during peak hours to reduce demand on the grid. The actual electric portion of our bill was $12.10. (We have a 2000 sq ft house, 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath.) 

The reason I share all this is that CA (Columbia Association) had a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 5thfor a 24 panel system solar array on ground mounted posts with GPS trackers that allow the panels to “follow the sun” as it moves through the sky- producing 40% more energy than stationary panels like we have. 

The panels are projected to produce 9.3 megawatts of power annually and offset 6.4 tons of carbon. Solar energy is a great way to reduce demand for fossil fueled energy production. And while I am a believer in climate change (or more appropriately name “climate chaos”) solar is a great way to save money.  The panels, including the tracking systems built here in Columbia by ATR, and including installation, cost about $34,000. They should pay for themselves in about 10 years – sooner if energy costs go up. All the energy they generate is free – as long as no one figures out how to put a meter on the sun. 

This is just one of many projects CA is bringing on line to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce energy costs. If you follow such things, the projects are part of CA’s Greening of Columbia program – or “Here Comes the Sun” as CA President Phil Nelson likes to call it. 

Unlike many of the things CA does, this is project is readily visible. If you are driving east bound on 32 towards 70, right on the burn at exit 19 – Great Star Dirve – there they sit – watching the sun, making energy that feeds into the community center and the pool in River Hill.  CA works hard to reduce costs so we can put that money into our aging infrastructure and programming. Hopefully it serves as an example of what businesses and home owners can do to save money and be environmentally friendly at the same time. 

The good news is … you can do this without the worm bins!

Exposed (Tuesday LINKS)

I don't talk about my blog at work.  I love my job.  I love my hobby.  But I don't want them to mix.  I also am, and always will be, self-conscious of the title "blogger".  I've tried coming to terms with it, but some egotistic flare pops up whenever the term comes into use, making me say "website" instead of "blog" or "hobby" instead of "blogging".

I just don't like that word.  Blog.

And for the last three years, very few folks at work knew about this blog.  There was a slow trickle working its way down the crevasse.  About two years ago, Jane mentioned the blog at a happy hour to two of the younger associates.  I gritted my teeth, told my co-workers it was "a small hobby" and went on my way.  A year after that, at another happy hour, one those associates mentioned the blog to a partner.  I smiled and tried to change the subject as soon as I could.  About a month ago, another partner mentioned that his wife thought she had seen something I had written about bullying.  I nodded and said "Yep, that's me."

But the floodgates broke last Thursday.  Our office has occasionally had elected officials in to speak about the business climate in Maryland and how their individual offices may be of assistance to the firm.  I had invited Comptroller Peter Franchot in to speak about the Special Session.  About 15 attorneys, partners and associates, attended.  The Comptroller began his talk by complimenting me about this blog and recommending it to all in attendance.

Gulp.

The inevitability of it all washed over me.  This moment was always going to come.  I'm just glad it happened via the Comptroller of the State of Maryland.

The reactions have been very positive.  I've taken a good amount of teasing ("I hear you're a far left Dem-o-crat hippie"), paired with general curiosity: What is it called?  What do you write about?  How long have you being doing this? Overall, there has been a "to-each-their-own" shoulder shrug.  Some think it is weird.  Others wonder how I have time (me too!).  But most just nod as if saying "Now I know one more thing about you", which makes me feel bad about ever keeping this compartmentalized in the first place.

I don't expect to gain any readers out of the "Great Reveal."  Frankly, that would be weird.  But I feel a little more whole this week than I have for the past few years.  There is more symmetry.

LINKS

Speaking of the Comptroller, Peter Franchot has issued a statement arguing against tax increases during this week's Special Session.  While I certainly agree with the Comptroller, what I would really like to see from someone, anyone, close to the ground on this is a comprehensive plan to cut spending without taking pounds of flesh from our State education system, law enforcement, and foster care, or pulling strings from the safety net.  That seems pie in the sky, and there is only danger for any politico who attempts it, but I also think it is what we need in order to move the conversation against higher taxes.  Otherwise, these opinions are easily, and rightfully, dismissed.

Democrats are having a hard time counting votes on the new tax plan, as Montgomery County Dems consider whether a sales tax may be better than an income tax on "their wealthy constituents."  Thankfully for the Democratic leadership, Howard County Dems do not give one flying patoot about their wealthy constituents.

Council-member, Professor, Fireman, and now...Columnist?  Dr. Calvin Ball has a column in this week's Flier offering his reflections on the death of Grace McComas and providing additional avenues to addressing the bullying problem in our State.  I'm happy to see this conversation moved forward and think Dr. Ball is the person to do it.

The hearing to remove Allen Dyer from the Howard County Board of Education will extend into June.  Typing this on May 15, I can't help but be disappointed at how far this has gone out of hand.  No matter the frustrations of the Board, this impeachment has become a farce, demeaning all involved.  The real winner is Allen Dyer, who's only apparent goal is to see his name in lights.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah wonders why we don't pay as much attention to traffic fatalities as we do the exceedingly rare homicide in Howard County.  One thing I couldn't help but think about when looking at Sarah's graph of traffic fatalities between 2006 and 2010 is all the safety and "enforcement" measures we've put in place over the years and whether we get any bang for our fine bucks.  Red light cameras.  Work zone speed cameras.  School speed cameras.  Are we preventing deaths or just funding the clean-up crew?

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  I look forward to seeing a number of you at the Columbia Foundation's Spring Party.  Remember -- the location has changed.  If you show up at the Rouse building, you will be forced to spend your evening with a small group of similarly confused, presumptuous, Columbians.


Monday, May 14, 2012

56% of Howard County Favors Same Sex Marriage (Monday LINKS)

A March 2012 poll of 450 likely voters conducted by a national polling firm found that 56% of those polled responded "Strongly Support" (42%) or "Somewhat Support" (14%) to the following question:

"As you may know, Governor Martin O'Malley recently signed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland, that is allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.  Based on what you know, do you support or oppose the legislation?"

Those opposed (37%) broke down as follows: "Strongly Oppose" (30%) and "Somewhat Oppose" (7%).

The poll then provided results by party, listed here as Support/Oppose:

Republicans 32/60
Independents 70/23
Democrats 70/23

There was also a breakdown by age and gender.  Both men and women in the 18-55 age group were strongly in support of same-sex marriage: Men at 59%; Women at 64%.  Even more interesting was that women in the 55+ group still answered in support of same-sex marriage at 53%.  Men in the 55+ age group were only 39% in support.

What take-aways do we have here?  The first is that HoCo Republicans should not expect a same-sex marriage referendum to electrify their base.  Secondly, Republicans that do come out strongly against same-sex marriage should enjoy the delicately carved districts in which they serve.  This poll does not address the regional differences split up amongst the highways and byways of Howard County.  Finally, for any Dem to win Howard County (including those folks looking at becoming Governor), they are going to have to support same-sex marriage.  In light of the heavy majority (70%), one has to wonder whether the prominence of that support, as opposed to back-of-the-flier endorsement, will have an effect in 2014.

These results were provided to me with a promise not to include the source.  That's what makes this a blog and not an esteemed pillar of the fourth estate.  If you feel this detracts from its credibility, ignore it.  But this would be one substantial creative writing exercise for yours truly if I wasn't looking at the actual data.

Special thanks, as always, to all of my Deep HoCo's. 

LINKS

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank hopes to run a horse in this year's Preakness named Tiger Walk.  The horse is not supposed to win, but if you are inclined to root for local billionaires, this would appear to be the means to do so.

The new tax plan proposed by the General Assembly is projected to spare approximately 84% of Maryland citizens, but that will not comfort those that it touches.  While those making over $100,000 will feel a slight hit ($100-$200), the biggest increases will be on those making more than $1.1 million, who will pay $3,600+ more in new taxes.  Most concerning is the following line from the article: "If the tax package passes, Maryland would have one of the highest income tax rates in the country when you also take into account local 'piggy back' income taxes, according to data compiled by the Federation of Tax Administrators."  It doesn't take too much math to figure out that with Howard County maxing out the piggy back income tax, we may pay the highest income taxes in the U.S.  Yet another credential to put on our post cards!

Harford County contributes $10 million to its volunteer fire units, which County Executive David Craig has decided merits additional oversight.  The County has been considering switching to a paid fire-fighting force, which is facing resistance from those looking to save County dollars: "Ken Farmer, a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a section chief at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, recently gave Harford volunteers a workshop that outlined plans for a company of career and volunteer firefighters, such as Howard County operates."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB notes that the Board of Education may be throwing its weight around with the refusal to approve an AFPO chart for next year, effectively freezing the current chart, and potentially over-crowding those schools that are listed as "Open", including Wilde Lake Middle School.  The relationship between the County Council/Exec and the Board of Education has normally been benign and cooperative, but I can't imagine they appreciate this body stepping out of its box and telling them what development is appropriate and what deals must be struck with developers.  Frankly, I don't think that is within their jurisdiction.  TJ Mayotte has recently written that things are so peaceful in Howard County that we make non-news into news.  Well this is real news.  Really bad news.

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

Friday, May 11, 2012

CA Board Recap: Year One

Last night, I was re-elected/re-appointed from the Columbia Council to the Columbia Association Board of Directors.  I assure you that the magic trick that transforms the Columbia Council to the BoD is not worth going into here, but it is just complicated enough to have at least one person (for the last two years) say "How do we do this again?"

Said otherwise, I officially started the second year of my term.

This has been a very interesting journey and I would like to think I've taken all of you with me through just about every step.  I came on the Board thinking "This thing needs fixin' and I'm the guy with the hammer."  That was cocky.  It was also unfair to those who have long tenures on the Board who have tried to steer the ship in more subtle ways along the years.  There's not one member on this Board that doesn't think CA needs to be fixed in some way, with each viewing the "problem" in a different spot.

Somewhere near the mid-point of my term, one of my friends told me "You've been compromised, but that's ok.  That has to happen for you to get things done."  I spent the next week moping about the idea that I was the one that changed.  I thought "That's not true, I've just changed my methods."  I attempted to explain that "I can't just be a barn-burner."  Then I realized that the observation was not a criticism, but to the extent it may appear as much, it was true.  I was...ugh...compromised, but not in a way that changed my overall focus or goals for Board service.  I stopped trying to tear down walls and refocused on working within the parameters that were set.

A lot of this has to do with my appreciation of and friendship with the other members of the Board.  Lawyers have a very unfortunate trait in that we are made to have intense, uncompromising, winner-take-all arguments, and then invite the opponent out for a beer after it is over. (You've probably seen this trait on display throughout these pages).  When non-attorneys encounter this trait, it strikes them as sociopathic.  "Wait, you and I disagreed for just about that entire meeting.  You said my position was 'completely without merit' and then pushed for a vote overriding my concern.  Why are you being nice to me now that the meeting is over?"  This is something that I can't change about myself (despite a recent effort to soften my tone), but it is also something that will inevitably create barriers between me and those I disagree with.  I still like every one of these Board members and enjoy my opportunity to work through tough issues with them.  They frustrate me.  I frustrate them.  But our dedication and motivations can never be questioned.  I like that.

It is hard to recapitulate 24+ meetings at over 3.5 hours a pop in one post.  We've passed big things like Hobbit's Glenn and preliminary plans for Symphony Woods.  We've passed small things like the "Change in Operating Hours" policy. 

It is a rare experience to be so close to the ground while the plates are shifting.  For the first time in almost 50 years, this City is in the midst of fundamental change and reconfiguration.  It is very difficult for me to explain to all of you exactly how it feels to be in this position at this time.  Equal parts excitement and terror.  Hope and paranoia.  As I've said before, two of the most common thoughts I've had over the last year have been "This is big" and "We better not mess this up."  We are making decisions on motions that implicitly read at the end "...for the next 30 years."  For someone like me, that type of intensity is just about as good as it gets.

There is still a lot of work to be done.  Despite my better judgment, I have volunteered to be Chair of the Strategic Implementation Committee this year.  As Chair, I will sit on the Board Operations Committee (gaining that pesky vote that would have been so helpful to Board Reform last year), and run one-third of our Board meetings.  Similar to my motivation to run for a spot on the Board in the first place, I felt that I needed to put up or shut up.  Committee Chairs take on a lot of additional work, but they also have a great deal more responsibility with regard to the direction of the Board and its interactions with Staff.  I look forward to the new opportunity and hope my wife forgives another night out of the house for BoC meetings.

Finally, just about every time I've written something positive about CA Board service, at least one person has come to me and said "Tell me how you really feel."  It seems the sour tastes much better than the sweet.  And I'll be honest, there are as many frustrations with this endeavor as any of you had previously predicted.  But what no one predicted, and no one seems to be willing to accept, is how much I do enjoy this work.  I've worked too hard to build trust with all of you to blow that on some rainbow and lollipop tune that may conscript you to Board service.  "Ha ha, tricked you.  Now I can finally go back to watching Thursday Night Football.  Peace."  If anything, I was tricking people by writing overly negative posts about Board service to make some martyr out of myself for the rest of Columbia to sympathize over.  There is no other opportunity like this one in Columbia and I'm happy to be one of the people doing the work.

So let's wade in again, shall we?  I appreciate all of you that have read my bi-monthly posts and commented with your thoughts.  That has been sustenance through the tough parts and discipline through the easy ones.  I don't thank my wife on the blog when I can just as easily do so in person, but if you like what I'm doing, maybe you can thank her the next time you see her.  She deserves it more than me.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Opportunity To Lead (Thursday LINKS)

For the first time in US History, a President has voiced his support for same-sex marriage.

To quote our Vice President, that is a big f'ing deal.

You'll have to excuse me if I don't automatically view our President as a champion for marriage equality.  He came into office saying that marriage "was something sanctified between a man and a woman" and sat on that post for three years.  You also have to wonder about his new found interest in states' rights, after primarily supporting centralist policies for the majority of his term.  But hey, I'm not President and I certainly won't take away from any amount of courage necessary to make this announcement six months before the General Election.

While the President's support may be symbolic (i.e., he will not be in a position to implement policies promoting same-sex marriage), our leaders here in Maryland have a very concrete measure to support.  In all likelihood, on November 6, 2012, the voters of Maryland will hold a referendum on the civil rights of our neighbors.  The majority will decide whether to "permit" the minority certain rights, namely the right to marry.

We also have a stable of putative leaders that have their eyes set on 2014.  Gansler, Ulman, Franchot, Brown.  Some are still trying to define themselves on the state level, while others are looking to distinguish themselves from the field.  Marriage equality would seem to be that vehicle.

This issue is not without substantial risk.  In fact, I would suggest that a logical candidate for the Democratic nomination would allow this cup to pass, but politics isn't logical.  Spending millions of dollars in campaign contributions for a job that pays $150,000 is not logical.  That makes risk all part of the game.

If (Gansler, Ulman, Franchot, Brown) spends the next six months championing marriage equality, they automatically risk losing a substantial part of the black vote, which was shown in a recent Gonzales poll (PDF) to be 33% in favor and 60% opposed.  They also risk looking "foolish", which has more weight than one would presume in political circles, on a losing vote.  In politics, it is not better to have loved and lost.  It is better to have stayed home.  None of these candidates want to be the one at the podium when advocates give their concession speech.

But if the measure stands...well, I would have to imagine that seals your ticket to front-runner status and possible a trip to Annapolis.  Political views are stubborn to change, but there is a shift underfoot.  In fact, two years from now, especially with the confirmation of same-sex marriage, voters will most likely be strongly in favor of marriage equality.  One thing I love about the law is that it often gets out in front of public sentiment.  Normally, it requires a true leader to hold that banner.

Finally, a mea culpa.  A few months ago I posted about how same-sex marriage was a smoke-screen to allow elected leaders to play freedom fighter while passing harmful taxes and allowing government to grow unchecked.  I stand by parts of what I wrote, but not the manner in which I wrote it.  I was unfair to those who are affected by these types of laws and felt that regret yesterday when I saw the result from North Carolina.  Our friends and neighbors need our support and need the support of our leaders.  This is a very real, very present, and very important issue that defines who we are as a Country.  I apologize for not seeing that.

LINKS

(I appear to have gone into a zone and when I came out, it was too late to do much link preparation)

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  Staying with the theme of the day, Matt Wilson has "5 Things" to say about same-sex marriage and the President's announcement

That's all for today.  Have a great day doing what you love WITH the people you love!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

And Then a Step to the Right (Wednesday LINKS)

Yesterday was an unfortunate day for U.S. politics.

A moderate well-respected Senator from Indiana, Dick Luger, lost his primary to Richard Mourdock, a candidate "backed by conservatives ranging from the National Rifle Association to local Tea Party activists to the Washington-based fiscal conservative group the Club for Growth."  In short, the Congress that can't pass a Budget and nearly drove the big yellow bus that is the U.S. Economy off a cliff just lost one of the people that was trying to steady the wheel. 

As part of his concession speech, Senator Lugar wished his opponent luck, while also noting that unless Mourdock"modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator."  The shock of his loss must have distracted Sen. Lugar from the fact that this new brand of Republican views gridlock as an achievement.  Look at the terms they use: "Stop", "Repeal", "Overturn".  Without getting to the merit of the underlying proposals, what exactly have they done?

A little closer to home, North Carolina passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  As with many pieces of legislation written in anger or fear, this one will have consequences for straight couples (not them!  They're the good guys!) not contemplated by the drafters, such as an evisceration of joint custody arrangements and some previously legal joint property rights between non-married couples.

I guess for some folks yesterday was a good day for democracy.  I could go on and on about "when good people do nothing" and all of that, but you've heard it before.  People disengage from politics and community leadership because they say it is too extreme or nasty.  They rarely consider that it may be different if they were in charge.

LINKS

The "King of the High Wire" will quite literally follow in his great-grandfather's footsteps as he treks across the Inner Harbor today.  The biggest difference may be that his ancestor performed his feat at the 1973 Baltimore City Fair while he will be doing it on a Wednesday afternoon.

Citizens of Carrol County are accusing their Board of Commissioners (i.e., County Council) of skirting Open Meetings laws via "golden rod."  The article is somewhat confusing, but my understanding is that the Board has a gold piece of paper that they will pass amongst themselves at meetings for pending approval of staff action.  If three of the five members approve, the staff action is authorized.  The concern is that these are decisions not made available to the public.  It has been submitted to the State's Attorney for action.

Should the General Assembly fail to pass a new Budget next week, Baltimore City schools will be rolling out a four-day furlough plan for school employees.

Lindsey McPherson has another Political Notebook looking at views about the Special Session from either side of the aisle.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks at the Whole Foods effect that we will not be experiencing in Downtown Columbia.  I truly wish there were someone, somewhere, considering the synergistic implications of new vendors and planning the new Columbia accordingly.  I just don't think that person exists.

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Two Prisms (Tuesday LINKS)

Over the next month or so, the two competing narratives of the 2012 Presidential Race will come into form.  Oftentimes these themes are formed more by current events than the crack teams candidates hire to frame issues. 

Both parties will probably agree that the election will be about the economy.  Although President Obama had the convenience of some very unfortunate economic reports lining up with Osama Bin Laden's death, there's only so much dirt that can be brushed under the rug.  The presumption by many Republicans is that Mitt Romney could be a dog in people clothes and still get 30% of the "referendum on the economy" vote. 

The prism of each campaign reside on either side of the same beam of light.  With Romney, the slogan "Better Tomorrow, Today" suggests that even if the economy is getting better, it isn't getting better fast enough.  "We're so excited about improving the economy, we're going to bend the space time continuum."  Obama, with "Forward", essentially is saying "Things are bad, they could have been worse, we need to press on with our current methods and objectives."  The brevity of this slogan communicates its "Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle, do not feed the dinosaurs" sub-theme. 

But then behind these blunt instruments are the more nuanced rhetorical themes.  Romney will have the interesting objective of being a challenger who argues to have more experience than the incumbent in matters having to do with the economy.  I think I've heard him say these exact words "President Obama is a nice man, he just doesn't know what he's doing."  And even the most confident supporter of our President can't tell you exactly what experience Barack Obama had prior to 2010 that would have made him a good President.  All they can do is point to his time in office and provide their own evaluation of how he has "learned on the job."

But the blue team is essentially running against an archetype.  Should the American mainstream ever start to care about income inequality and wealth stratification, future generations will be shocked that Willard Mitt Romney was ever a legitimate candidate for President of the United States.  "Did rich people get 100 times more votes than poor people in 2012?" "So this guy had a car elevator?  And he was telling the unemployed that he sympathizes...with the inevitability of their circumstances?"

So this year will be about the economy, but only how it makes people feel.  I'm not sure voters read economic reports as report cards on the performance of our President.  Rather, I think they consider: a) Am I unemployed?; b) Are my friends or family unemployed?; c) Have I seen any appreciable improvement in that condition over the last four years?

Everything else is optics...and stuff for the more fortunate to squabble over for the next five months.

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"I saw you're the rep from Dorsey." -- Prominent Local Howard County Dem.  As soon as I heard it, I knew they were referring to this article about CA's Minority-business purchasing goal.  I was one of two votes against a CA policy that very clearly has the interest (and advocacy) of some powerful folks.  This was a tough vote, but I don't think we can reach equality by way of discrimination.  Such policies breed resentment and divisiveness.  I understand and appreciate the merits of such a policy, but do not believe they are worth targeted purchasing, evaluating people by their demographics instead of the merit of their proposal.

The Howard County Council passed a smart bill that will deny or revoke a rental license for any property owner who is over 30 days delinquent on their HOA fees.  Previously, these delinquencies would prevent prospective owners from qualifying for FHA loans, thereby injuring property values of neighboring units.  Nice job, fab five.

The "Sun Investigates" column today is focused on a provision in recently hired Superintendent Foose's contract that would allow for "up to $25,000 in relocation costs."  School Board Member Frank Aquino notes that all expenses must be submitted to the Board for approval, but this just looks bad.  Unless I see a house on a trailer coming down Route 32, I think this is a little excessive.

Rick Santorum endorses Mitt Romney in an e-mail sent to his supporters late last night.  Politics is weird.  And creepy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: 53 Beers anticipates the end of Allen Dyer's term on the Board of Education, preferring that his termination be via impeachment...and exile.  I, too, am disappointed that the proceedings will extend into next week.  That is a hefty dose of legal bills...only to precede many many more.

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

Show Me More in 21044 (Monday LINKS)

"Life is great in 21228."  -- Superfluous proud bumper stickers around the region.

Those who have seen these stickers know that 21228 is Catonsville.  I normally find myself repulsed by the trite or sicky sweet, but these bumper stickers are fine by me.  I like the idea that these folks love where they live so much that they prop it on the bumpers of their minivans, sedans, and occasional sports car (I've seen it!).  It is a good measure less haughty than "Choose Civility" and gets right to the point -- I have this bumper sticker because I live in Catonsville.

I spent a good part of Sunday in 21228.  Their Farmer's Market, while somewhat modest compared to Baltimore City, is a great regional market and just opened on the 6th.  Simultaneous to the opening, Catonsville also had a "Flower Mart", which had even more vendors, including the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Board, both of which appeared to have partnered to put on the event.  The entire downtown main street was filled with pedestrians, strollers, dogs, and reusable cloth bags.

I have to tell you -- I was jealous.  I wondered why Columbia can't have the region's largest Farmer's Market.  I lamented the fact that Ellicott City's Second Sunday may be the best Sunday event in Howard County, but takes less than 10 minutes to experience.

We're dropping the ball here.  Young professionals love this kind of thing.  Howard County has agriculture presumed on its flag!   And with all due respect to the current Farmers Market operations, Thursdays from 2 pm to 6 pm is not going to capture that market.

For the competitive minded folks -- If Columbia were Springfield, wouldn't Catonsville be Shelbyville?  I love our neighbors and everything they offer, but there is certainly narcissism of small differences at play.  In fact, the entire time I have been typing this post, I have been fighting the urge to insert some slight about a region that I have no reason to dislike.  (Maybe I did with the Shelbyville comment).  Any way you cut it, why are we ceding this community asset across the Baltimore County border?

So I'm issuing a challenge:  Chamber of Commerce, Howard County Tourism, County Council, Executive Ulman, community leaders -- let's reclaim weekend farmers markets in central Maryland.  As Sarah has earlier pointed out, we certainly have enough parking lot space.

And then we can work on our zip code themed bumper stickers.

LINKS

In an update from last Friday's story about the Adler v. Meshkin lawsuit, Sara Toth notes that Mr. Adler will be dismissing his legal action and "recant[s]" his previous comments.  Brian Meshkin is quoted as saying that he is "grateful for Steve's continued support and friendship" and that he looks forward "to continuing our collaborations."  Weirdest.  News Story.  Ever.

The Baltimore Orioles have the best record in baseball.  hhhhhWhattt?

The racing group that put on last summer's Grand Prix promised to fund and plant 198 trees around Downtown Baltimore.  Those trees are now being planted...at the taxpayer's expense.  I'm pretty sure "Grand Prix" is going to become a useful metaphor in Maryland politics for years to come.

Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande beat the more conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy for President of France.  The vote has been interpreted by many observers as a rejection of the austerity policies put in place by Sarkozy's government.  (Americans are known for not reading enough about foreign affairs.  Maybe this is a link you click just to shake off on 10th of that stereotype.)

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I enjoyed listening to And Then There's That with one of my favorite people, Joan Lancos, as guest.  Joan knows more about what's going on in Columbia than anyone.  Period.  And I know at least four people that would be very put off by that comment.

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

Friday, May 4, 2012

Venture Rapids Turned Lawsuit

Some folks have asked me whether I know the substance of the lawsuit between Steve Adler and Brian Meshkin as noted in this morning's post.  While I have not seen the Complaint, I did want to share the following invitation for investment that was issued in April of 2011.

We are writing today to ask you to meet with us to discuss the opportunity to help us launch a new non-profit business incubator in Howard County.

As a Sponsor, you will take part in building businesses, creating jobs, and creating an economic impact to our county and region. Plus, the incubator can be a great lead generator for your firm and an effective PR opportunity.

Venture Rapids, Inc. is different than any other incubator in Maryland and the surrounding region. Located in the Historic Savage Mill, it is based on the principles of successful business incubators and venture accelerators on the West Coast. It’s not only an office space with value added services, Venture Rapids is a non-profit that helps build businesses and office space is just a bonus.

As the founders of this effort, we came together because of our commitment to Howard County and the principle of Community Capitalism – the idea of focused investment and philanthropy simultaneously driving economic development. Our goal is the creation of viable start-up companies, which create jobs, and contribute to economic growth.

Your sponsorship of Venture Rapids is critical to the success of this mission. Today, we are asking for you to meet with Dr. Gloria Jacobovitz, Managing Director of Venture Rapids, and one of us to discuss your level of sponsorship. We’ll follow up with a phone call over the next few days.

Thank you, in advance, for your consideration.

Warm regards,
Steven Adler & Brian Meshkin
Co-Founders

Venture Rapids
Located in Historic Savage Mill
8600 Foundry St
Savage, MD 20763-9513
410.541.MILL (6455)

I would be interested if there were any other investors in "Venture Rapids" and, if so, whether this money may have gone down river.

Disturbed (Friday LINKS)

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the two victims from last evening's shooting at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City


I didn't want to write about this today, but every time I tried to think of something else, the shooting just got louder in my head.  So I guess this is what it will be.


I don't buy into the "we're not as safe as we thought we were" or the "suburbia shattered" narratives that tend to float up after a tragedy like this.  Frankly, I find those sentiments offensive and disrespectful to the families who have lost.  This doesn't change anything about Howard County.  It is just so sad.


I recently met with a friend in Columbia to lament the lack of interest in serving on leadership roles for the Village and CA Board.  To paraphrase, she noted that people are rarely moved from their inertia by something positive.  They are motivated by the negative.


I think we can expect our community to come together for our neighbors after last night.  It will be one of those fleeting moments where we reflect on just how much we care about and support one another.  There will be piles of flowers, candles, and teddy bears.  Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail have yet to replace that much.


Maybe this is an evolutionary trait.  When tragic violence occurs, the community retracts and defends.  Don't let anything I say take away from that.  But observe it as it occurs.  Be present in what is actually happening.  Realize that the true loss is something experienced by few, but felt by many.


What am I even saying?  I don't know.  I'm just sad this happened.  I'm sad that we are on the cover of the Baltimore Sun for something like this.  I'm angry that this is the fastest way for Howard County to get on the front page nowadays.  "Look.  See.  Not perfect."


LINKS


Former GOP candidate for Howard County Executive, Horizon Board Member, and local business leader Steven Adler has filed a $3,000 breach of contract action against Board of Education member Brian Meshkin in Howard County District Court.


You think anyone from the Obama Administration heard the news that 8 men were arrested in a Laurel prostitution sting the same day as the Secret Service held their ethics training nearby?


Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld will be resigning from his post as of August 1.  He leaves behind a very interesting legacy.  There were no shortage of scandals (i.e., Tow-gate, Select Lounge Shooting of Plain-clothes office), but he also served as top dog while the City had its lowest homicide total in thirty years.  Personally, I will always remember him for having a Gregg Bernstein sign in his front yard while working with then current State's Attorney Pat Jessamy.  That's my kind of guy.


A mere hours after Bealfefeld's announcement, Mayor SRB's top crime adviser Sheryl Goldstein announced that she too will be stepping down.  "Correlation is not causation" will be on the lips of every City official going into the weekend.  Everyone else will be wondering what the heck just happened in City Hall.

In other weird coincidences, Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs and Yankees all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera both suffered ACL tears on the same day.  (That is the only way I could write about Sizzle's injury without turning into a sobbing mess).

Congrats weed dweebs, the maximum punishment for misdemeanor marijuana possession has been decreased from one year to 90 days.  The maximum fine has been reduced from $1,000 to $500.  Party on and be excellent to one another.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Matt reflects on his first month in Columbia.  Come on Harper's Choice, invite the man out for a beer/coffee/frozen custard.  And don't worry, Matt.  I love my Village, but Dorsey's Search is rarely anyone's destination...for just about anything.  We kind of like it that way.

That's all for today.  Crazy busy weekend with Cinco De Mayo landing on a Saturday (be careful out there).  The Hope For the Homeless 5K is tomorrow morning as well, which raises money for the Route 1 Day Center.  This is a really great (hard) course and I hope to make it out.

Have a fantastic Friday doing what you love!