Friday, June 29, 2012

CA Board Recap: June 28, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start: 7:34 pm
End: 10:50 pm

I will have to be careful with my tone this morning, as I was very disappointed with how the meeting went last night.  As you can see, we are back to our old ways of pushing the meeting to 11 pm.  Some may even say "triumphantly" back to our old ways.  I will get to that in a moment, but I feel there is a divide between what the Board says it wants to do in running a meeting and what it actually endorses.  We "come down" to the feet-stompers and table-slappers.  We entertain their unprofessional behavior, meet their demands, and avoid all criticism for the good of the order.  It can't go on like this and we need to see what our leadership is willing to do about it.

Agendas
Although never actually discussed in great detail, the provision of time amongst our Agenda ended up being an important topic for last night's meeting.  All three committee chairs have shown a committed effort to abiding by the time we are allowed in meeting the objectives of the Agenda.  Nevertheless, there has been a significant amount of resistance once the "rubber meets the road."

We had two presentations last night that were not allocated enough time, both under the Strategic Implementation Committee.  I should have done my due diligence to realize this beforehand, but one presenter told me that they would only take 10 (out of 20 minutes) and another had been Staff.  When noting the time remaining for the latter, one Board member turned to me and said "Tom, this time thing has got to stop" as if I had come down from a mountain with the invention of a timed agenda.  While I appreciate the thought, hundreds of thousands of organizations across the world have been able to use timed agendas to address the matters before their Boards and CA has no innate defect that would prevent it from doing the same.

So why?  Why must we limit ourselves?  Last night the Agenda had us getting out at 10:50 pm.  With just about every Chair employing the limits that were noted in the Agenda, we left the Board room at...10:50 pm.  While a few Board members may be frustrated that someone would dare tell them there are limits to their pontifications and cross examinations, I don't think anyone could reasonably say that deliberations were artificially or unnecessarily curtailed.  However, if we had allowed for unlimited discussion on matters that did not require our immediate action (see below), other matters would have been arbitrarily shortened, despite the conscious allocation of time at the Board Operations Committee level.  So we have two choices -- follow an intelligent ordering of business with a conscious delegation of time OR follow a chaotic line-up of round-abouts and limit deliberation on whatever comes last.

The Board has the opportunity to evaluate its Agendas at the beginning of every meeting.  For reason unknown, other than an ignorance or ambivalence towards the limits of minutes in an hour, the Board passes the Agenda week after week without any comment on time allocation.  Last night, I did not need the four minutes allowed for a Chair report.  I asked that it be moved to another item that would take more time.  About 75% of the Board laughed.  I'm a big boy, it didn't hurt my feelings, but it did baffle me that a Board that, for as long as anyone seems to remember, can't seem to wrap up its business within 3 hours time, and will fill whatever time limits that are provided with whatever comes to mind, seems so aloof as to what this type of dysfunction has done to our image in the community.

Am I done?  Yes.  Let's move on, shall we?

CA's Economic Impact

The Board heard a very interesting presentation last night about Columbia Association's impact on property values, state and local revenues, and overall business revenues last night.  While I didn't feel the need to grill the presenter or confront him at the meeting, I wasn't all that sold on the concepts at play.  The methodology compared Columbia to Laurel and Ellicott City, primarily using CA as the contrast.  I like the idea, and I think it is without question that CA adds to property values, but this argument got a little too "big" for my taste and the skeptic in me took over.

All the same, I do look forward to referring to this study the next time an elected official wants to bully CA around, which seems all the rage over the past few months.

CA's Strong Homes Pilot Program

I am very excited about this program from the Groundswell organization that would work with CA residents to leverage group purchasing to lower insulating and "green" home improvement contracts with outside vendors.  The program is still having its rough edges rounded off, but essentially CA would use Community Grant funding to help subsidize energy efficiency projects for CA residents, which would then be repaid at little to no interest.  Programs in other locales have reduced costs for residents by 10-15% and have seen up to 95% participation.

Connecting Columbia

This is yet another exciting initiative managed by Jane Dembner that will fundamentally change your enjoyment and appreciation of CA amenities.  Although the project includes a wholesale re-conceptualization of CA's pathways as an actual means of getting from A to B (as opposed to just recreation), and would include an East-West pathway that would meet the concerns of Bridge proponent far in advance of any construction over 29, I am most excited about the signage.  (I am a man of small pleasures).  Our consultants are looking at flag-posts and directional pads built into the cement that will allow residents to step onto the path outside of their home, take out a map or smart-phone, and plan a trip to just about anywhere in Columbia, or even some destinations around our borders.  While rail and dedicated bus lanes may be the future 10 years out, these paths are our contemporary avenue towards creating an alternative to the single-occupant automobile.

Despite the meta-level perspective of this project, we spent a good amount of time discussing whether CA should pay for curb improvements on County land connecting to our paths.

Key Strategic Issues Radar Screen

If you all have been with me for the long haul, you may know that there are certain things (i.e., Dashboard) that just do not interest me and for which I have no real use.  The Strategic Issues Radar screen is one of them.  We spend so much time talking about what we want our organization to do that could otherwise be spent just doing it.  Throughout all of last year, there was no one occasion where a Staff or Board member said "We can't do that.  It's not a Strategic Issue."  I appreciate those who work on these items and why another Board (functioning on a higher level, perchance) may find great usefulness here, but for me it is fluff.

Planning and Strategy Committee Goals

Ed Coleman has shown true leadership as Chair of the PSC and I have been very impressed with the direction he has taken this committee.  He recommended that this portion of the Agenda be broken out into a work-session, which has been an interesting new avenue that the Board has taken on matters better addressed through open discussion.  I have some concern that the platform invites rabbit-hole chasing, but under the hand of a good steward/Chair, they can be very productive.  Last night was an example of that.

The PSC and the Board identified some trouble spots we've hit in the past with regard to Budget Planning and made some prospective edits to address those concerns.  The PSC is also looking into the very exciting step of involving the Board in long term 5, 10, 15 year strategic planning that will put us in front of problems and/or windfalls, as opposed to merely reacting to them.  There was even some manner of self-criticism directed at the Board...that was summarily rebuffed...as tends to happen with those things.  Nevertheless, I do believe the Board recognized that we have been undisciplined with Board proposals, despite there being a form and process in place for the receipt and analysis of those initiatives.

After typing all of this out, I guess it wasn't such a bad meeting after all.  My frustration remains, but we have strong leadership in place to fix that which needs fixing and evolve on those areas in need of evolution.  What I most appreciate is that I feel I can trust everyone on the Board Operations Committee.  That is important to getting the hard work done.

One more thing -- Please check out the piece in the Columbia Patch about our ability to raise $2,500 (now $2,625!) in three days.  Even more exciting is that a few of you have suggested that this project pushed you to start efforts of your own to address problems in your community that may be addressed by group action.  You can expect my full support and endorsement for all of it.  Let's keep this rolling.  Start something bigger. 

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day Two: $1,575 (Over 60%)!!! (LINKS)

You all are something special.  I hope that everyone that has participated experienced the same kind of fascinated joy as I did watching the contributions come in yesterday .  I put a widget on the right side of the screen to show our progress and found myself clicking back throughout the day.  Whether it was the wave of $50 donations in the morning or the generous $250 anonymous match at $1,000 in the afternoon, you all made this project your own, and for that I am very grateful.

We're well on our way, but the last $1,000 has always proven to be difficult.  I appreciate all of you that have shared this project on Facebook and would hope a few more of you may consider doing the same.  As I've contacted many of you to say thanks (still getting through the list, I promise to get to you), many have said "I just really like the idea."  The idea being a model for ending homelessness based on self-responsibility.  "Here is your opportunity.  Do not waste it."

You cannot prepare for a job interview in the woods.  A Burger King sink will not make you clean enough to get the job.  There is no time for completing applications when you have to spend so much of your day planning for food.  When we talk about true homelessness (referenced here as "living in the woods"), it is important that we understand the quicksand nature of this kind of situation.  That problem is why "Housing First" is such an important concept and one that we are promoting here.

Now for the thank you's:
Courtney Watson
Wordbones
Sean Patrick's Pet Spa (Certain to get my business in the very near future)
Sarah Husain
Susan Krabbe
Jeff & Deirdre Robinson
Kim McCay
Anonymous
Matt Wilson
The Paterson Family
Jim Vannoy
Mickey Gomez
Wendi
Dawn Popp
David Bailey
Edward Cochran
Joan Lancos
Alice Giles
Chris Oxenham
Laurie Reuben
Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz
Kevin Kelehan
Joe Willmott (the man with the Plan)
Teejay
David Yungman

Those are some great folks right there.

LINKS

Baltimore City is coming down hard on liquor stores, with an initiative last week to close stores in bad neighborhoods, and a bill this week prohibiting them from selling snacks to minors.  As I've said many times before, these laws that appear facially valid and high-minded almost always end up with unintended consequences.  In this case, I can certainly foresee a 15 year old being prohibited from buying his family food while his two parents are at work, and having no where else to make this small part of their family unit work.  There are some exemptions to address this, but I can't see this Council considering every circumstance across Baltimore.  If you don't want kids at liquor stores, work on building the business community and rehabilitating neighborhoods. 

O'Malley still puts the likelihood of a special session on gambling at 50-50 despite an earlier committee vote that was unable to support such a session.  At this point in time, it is curious that the Governor and the General Assembly would not just wait until the next regular session to evaluate expanded gambling in the State.  Special Session's have a multitude of very serious faults, including no restrictions on fund-raising, that make a regular session, particularly due to the money at stake, preferable.

Lindsey McPherson gives a play-by-play on the spat between the County Council and Howard Hughes at last week's Council session.  This early period is about defining roles and relationships going forward.  It should be expected to be rocky.  And I would respectfully suggest to VP DeWolf that there is a difference between cooperation and obeisance.  Everyone is excited about the future relationship between Howard Hughes and the County, and I think you will find many advocates on your behalf.  The Council is not aiming to push you off your mark or undercut your position.  They are just doing their job to maintain the County's position and ensure that they maintain control of those things that they are intended to have control over.

Andrew Metcalf of Columbia Patch suggests that the Downtown Partnership Bill may be amended with regard to membership.  I think this is great news, even it does not disturb the majority stake Howard Hughes would have on the Board. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I'm giving WB a twofer.  First, he has a great post about all of you and what makes this "blog thing" so much fun.  Second, although I hesitate to make future ice cream night's out into line-waiting-slogs, Jane and I have been going to Scoop Ahh Dee Doo for a few weeks now and it is...well...probably the best ice cream I've had in Howard County.  Not only do I recommend WB's favorite (Honey Graham), but also the must-try Salted Caramel.  (The two also go well together in the same cup).

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




Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day One: $260 (Over 10%)! (Tuesday LINKS)

"Without vision, there is no power." - James Rouse

I saw that quote yesterday in a completely different context, but it made me think of the Project.  What is the vision?  Are we just putting money together for a loan?  Has the practicality of this effort overrun its idealism?

Why are you raising money?
Oh, we need a security deposit.
Aha, well that is the most uninspiring thing I've ever heard.

This effort is about so much more than scuffs, dents, and Spackle.  Sober houses change lives, but more importantly, their very existence creates hope.  When this project was first being discussed around the Route 1 Day Center, some clients would become emotional just over the idea of leaving the woods and going to a place that was dedicated to reforming lives.  The fact that there is already one house open, and that it is nothing short of a smashing success, gives hope to each and every man, woman, and child that society has moved on from.  Not only that, but if the Living in Recovery program is successful here, it can be a model for other efforts across the Country, and bring our goal of Ending Homelessness in Howard County even closer in time.  I am not inflating a small effort.  I'm letting you know just how big it is.

Here's a quote from one of the residents of our first Living in Recovery House: "I had never been clean 2 months straight in the last 20 years until I came here and now I've got 10 months.  This house is exactly what I needed."  That's powerful.  Even more powerful when you realize that you may have been one of the people to make that life change possible.

Here's what I would ask: Go to the page and donate $10.  Do it anonymously if you would like.  But I guarantee you this -- it will feel awesome.  Philanthropists talk about the "habit of giving."  This isn't just some defect that some of us have where we give up our hard earned money to strangers.  We do it because there is a psychic benefit.  I'm not going to go through the whole "you read here for free" deal, because that's not what this is about.  I don't need you to pay me through philanthropy.  I need you to help me do something big.

From the first day, thank you to:
Dave & Ilana Bittner (HoCoMoJo)
Barbara Kellner
Ellen Flynn Giles
Cory Andrews
Anonymous

You all are great friends.

LINKS

Lindsey McPherson notes that Howard Hughes and the County Council are "moving on" after their public falling out last week.  One of the unfortunate aspects of transparency law is that it often stands in the way of mediation.  This is a conflict that could definitely use mediation.  I feel that Howard Hughes would like to see a less onerous process of approval for development projects, while the Council would like more public participation and openness to the Downtown Partnership.  Neither side would ever say in a public forum what they would be willing to give up, but it is apparent that there are some base level misunderstandings of the Downtown legislation that need clearing up, and pressing on in the face of such misunderstanding is a very bad idea.

City and State lawmakers are calling for greater oversight with regard to property tax credit programs in Baltimore City.  This is surprising, considering the fact that every time there is an audit, City and State lawmakers end up with egg on their face.

The Supreme Court has upheld the lower courts ruling affirming the Maryland congressional districting map.  This case presented the odd circumstance in which a conservative group in Iowa funded a federal lawsuit, which argued that the map "hurt black voters by diluting their voting strength and violating their constitutional rights."  Whenever conservatives in Iowa fight for the voting rights of black voters in Maryland, you can probably guess which way the Court is going.

Jeffrey Toobin takes a look at Justice Scalia's angry dissent in the Arizona immigration case.  In all my years in law school, I did not see a friendly dissent, so I don't see these things as that big of a deal.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane looks at CA's renewed dredging and watershed projects, explaining why these are so important to the health of Columbia's lakes.  If you complain about the delay in dredging, yet put non-organic fertilizer on your yard, you, sir or madam, are a hypocrite.  (Duane also links to the Project, which is much appreciated).

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ending Homelessness in Howard County, Part 2 (LINKS)

In 2011, we raised $3,025 to End Homelessness in Howard County.  This money went directly to Grassroots Crisis Prevention Center, which used the funds to provide a security deposit for a sober house here in Howard County.  The house opened last August and currently provides housing for four men who are no longer homeless, two of which will celebrate a full year of sobriety at the anniversary of the opening in two months.

This house has been so successful that they are looking to open a second house and need our help.  The newly formed 501(c)(3) Living in Recovery needs $2,300 by the beginning of July.  Knowing what we are able to do last year, LIR came to us to see if we can help. 

Last year, we met our first goal well short of the deadline, but a second attempt for another $3,000 later that year fell flat.  I mostly blame myself for this, since I really didn't have the time necessary to promote the effort and otherwise committed to things like a wrap-up party that just wouldn't jive with what I already have on my plate (unless people want to get together for a party at 6 am).

We have already helped change the lives of four people who may never spend another night living in the woods.  Let's help four more.  The recently endorsed Plan to End Homelessness needs private action like this one to supplement its efforts.  The last census counted 211 homeless men and women in Howard County.  Four less people on the streets is huge.  As I said before, each person offered a new life acts as the abolition of homelessness in their lives.  We are ending homelessness tent by tent.

To close my sales pitch, I never felt more in touch or close to readers as I did when we raised $3,000 last year.  Every donation, from $15 to $250, was huge to me.  It meant that those who spend time reading here are not satisfied to watch public need and chat about it with removed fascination.  We do things.  And people can make fun of blogs all they want, but after that day I never gave those slights credence.  You all gave me a confidence that I can never repay.

So let's see if we can do it again.  Donate whatever you feel is appropriate (Link for Fundraising Page).  And when you do, walk around with your shoulders a little higher.  You're a homeless-ending hero-person.

LINKS

O's take the second Beltway series with a two run home run from Matt Wieters and some stellar pitching from Jake Arrieta.  The entire offense appears to be slumping, but to still pull out a series against the division leading Nat's despite those troubles is comforting.  Teams go through slumps.  They just need to snap out of it before the bottom falls out.  (Yes, I use that analogy a lot with regard to these O's.  My heart can't forgive 2005 and probably won't until they are above .500 in August).

Elkridge residents suggest that they are "Howard County's poor cousin" despite having $33.9 million in projects funded through the most recent County budget.  For as long as I remember paying attention to local issues, Elkridge has been able to use the "no one likes us" mantra to mobilize their residents and accomplish community goals.  There is no "Greater Ellicott City Community Association."  As a big fan of people power, I enjoy watching this and wish them the best of luck going into the future.  Be careful though.  Too much success may encourage the surrounding areas to offer some competition and a bulkanized Howard County is good for no one.

It sure would be frustrating to be a Roscoe Bartlett donor after hearing that he paid $5,000 in fines to the FEC for campaign finance reporting violations

I enjoyed Arthur Hirsch's piece about the Sparrows Point Country Club and the challenges it is facing in raising revenue for what was once a "company town-like" facility.  It reminded me a lot of the private pool debate here in Howard County, especially when the head of the club development committee notes that "If you say 'assess your members'" to pay for construction projects, Mosmiller said, "you might as well shoot yourself. They'll flee."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: While I disagree with his perspective on this, WB has an important post that anyone interested in the future of Columbia should read.  Most importantly, watch the video.  Howard Hughes Senior Vice President gets as close as we've heard anyone say in public that HH may pack up their ball and leave if they don't like how things are going.  I think this is perfectly reasonable in a circumstance of undue interference, but the line has to have an expiration for this partnership to work.  Said otherwise, use it once, use it with emphasis, never use it again.  DeWolf also suggests that there are no other property developers lined up for this opportunity.  If anything, I would think that this kind of admission would put the ball back in the County's court.  I can't tell the County that I'm not paying property taxes because no one wants to buy my house.  Nevertheless, these threats seem effective.  The Council is poised to pass a bill by a 3-2 vote that exempts itself from the County Charter, forecloses community participation, and does not require any real action until we are 500,000 square feet into development.  By that point, Howard Hughes may have some suitors, and their threat to leave will have more teeth.

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday LINKS

I'm heading off to Ohio for my brother's wedding.  I only have one brother, so this is a particularly big deal for me.  I'm also Best Man, which means I get to give a speech.  I love public speaking, but have wrestled with the Toast all month.  The Big Brother's toast to his Little Brother seems to have some gravitas that I don't want to come up short on.  I'm pretty sure I'm close, but it will take some last minute wordsmithing to get it just right.

In other news, BIG announcement on Monday.  The blog isn't closing.  I'm not running for office.  And no babies (sorry ma).

LINKS

I was blown away by Emily Yoffe's "My Molesters" piece in Slate.  Father Robert Drinan was my Legislative Affairs professor at Georgetown Law and definitely one of my favorites.  He passed away two years after graduation.  I've never had anyone in my life accused of being a sexual predator or assailant.  Father Drinan is sort of in a no man's land in terms of folks to defend him.  The Catholic Church didn't approve of his pro-choice positions (and from what I remember, forbid him from practicing mass), while Dems normally kept him on the outskirts of party politics.  His family is limited to nieces and nephews.  I know the compulsion is to say "This accusation is made after the man is no longer around to defend himself", but the contra is to respect the victim and the fact that this is not easy to say under any circumstances, and certainly not anything anyone would want to "make up."  Up until this point, I thought Father Drinan's place in history would be as the Congressman who moved for Richard Nixon's impeachment.  Now he's just an archetype.

If you are at all interested in following the undercurrents of the Presidential Campaign without the static of "He-said-X-which-pisses-off-Y-and-will-have-no-affect-on-November-but-fills-our-airtime-just-fine", please check out the Rational Irrationality Blog.  The author, John Cassidy, is clearing rooting for Obama, but long ago predicted that the President may be out of luck for a second term, which makes for an interesting perspective.  In this post, Cassidy observes that the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare may be a flash in the pan compared to the decisions made by Republican appointee Ben Bernanke. 

In celebration of Columbia's birthday (yesterday), I posted this essay by Michael Chabon, who is one of my favorite writers (there's that word again).  He grew up in Columbia and wrote a very deep thinking piece about what Columbia was like in the early days and whether or not an idea like Columbia could ever really "fail".  Please read it. 

Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland posted Part 1 of his Top 50 Influencers in Maryland politics.  I was happy to be friends with at least three folks on this list, but observed that Howard County folks were mostly left out.  Local politicos are probably not too disappointed, considering most of these "Influencers" are described as puppet-masters, moving the arms and legs of their employers with ease and grace.  From what I hear about Ken Ulman, that's not how he rolls.

I've linked to the Placemakers blog before, but this post read as if it was describing Howard County: "More importantly, [mixed use town centers] are quickly becoming a market favorite and a valuable amenity to their adjacent (and integrated) residential neighborhoods. Too often, however, municipalities and developers choose only to commit to this model halfway, viewing it as a niche market with limited potential where quaint mom and pops struggle away (you know, that one-off new urbanist development at the edge of town), while the “real stuff” happens in large conventional single-use centers down the street" 

A Town Center resident hates the new Wegman's so much that he shops there on the first week after opening...and then complains about the traffic.


Catholic leaders have begun a nationwide campaign against President Obama and his healthcare policies, starting in little old Bal-tee-more.  A separate crowd of Catholics were gathered outside of the church, protesting that the Bishops do not speak for them.  Polls indicate that Obama's handle on this base group of supporters is slipping, but also appear to line up with the favorability rating amongst all Americans of around 47%.  By my anecdotal experience, those Catholics that were not inclined to support the President enjoy the opportunity to oppose him under a cross, while those that approve of Obama enjoy the opportunity to challenge their faith leaders for their less progressive policies. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Matt Wilson is firing on all cylinders recently.  His post about Wilde Lake redevelopment is spot on and even-handed (a very difficult balance to strike).  I particularly liked this line that should be front an center for any discussions about the future of Columbia: "Any space like that that's empty on a Saturday afternoon in pleasant weather is a failed space, no matter who designed it or how noble the thinking behind it was, or how popular it was when it first opened."  Church.


That's all for today.  Off to the Buckeye State.  Make sure to check in on Monday for the announcement.  We've got some work to do.


Have a great Friday doing what you love!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Not a Writer (Thursday LINKS)

One of my friends quit his job in "association management" and is trying his hand as a full-time writer, or as I like to call it "pushing off into the abyss."  He has fall-back positions available (man's not crazy), but he has been accepted to an all-expenses-paid writing workshop in the Midwest and wants to take the next two months to just write and see if he can finish the novel that he has been working on for the past five-plus years.

Whenever one of "us" (i.e., straight and narrow folks) interact with those cutting the bonds, we have an automatic reaction -- advice.  "Well, back when I wanted to figure out what to do with my life, I went on a long hike."  "Have you read..."  "My sister-in-law's best-friend's husband is hiring.  He works in sales."  I resisted most of these urges (I did recommend a book), but fell into a stutter of saying "That is really cool" almost as if I was trying to push back the advice/warning/snap-the-hell-out-of-it that was struggling up my throat.

Discussing his life as a writer, I couldn't help but bring up the blog...in a very self-conscious way.  I mentioned how I wasn't sure whether to consider myself a writer, but to the extent I was, the experience was much different than it would be for someone writing a long-form essay or fine-tuning a novel that will eventually be released all at once.  I receive automatic feedback from all of you regarding my facts, tone, word-choice, and even grammar (thankfully, the grammar comments have stopped).  I find a typo in just about every post, but you all have come to expect (and accept?) that as a consequence of a rushed post from a well-intentioned writer.

The funny thing is that my conversation with my friend turned off the subject of the blog, meandered a bit, and then he said "I need to find a writer's network.  I don't have any writer friends."

But...'member when I said I write every day?  That I spend at least 20% of my waking hours thinking about what I'm going to write next?  You do?  Ok.  So the alternative is...

I'm not a writer. 

The above soliloquy never happened.  I just let him say "I don't have writer friends" and let the subject pass.  But it did play around in my head.  I don't consider myself a writer, nor do I offer myself as one.  In fact, I would consider it an equally ambiguous and pompous way to introduce oneself.  I also don't consider myself "not a writer".

It really doesn't matter one way or the other, but I think it is an interesting consideration.  The blogger's place in the world is far from defined and may never be.  The closest description is being "one-off" from something else.  One-off from a journalist.  One-off from a food critic.  One-off from a writer.  Not necessarily a lesser form, but certainly not the same.

LINKS

The 15 year old found shot in Marriottsville was from Baltimore County.  According to this article, he was driven to the location, exited the car, and shot.

One of my favorite Orioles of all time, Eddie Murray, has been linked to an insider's trading probe that had previously resulted in fines for another former Oriole, Doug DeCinces.  No criminal charges have been filed against Murray.

The Second Special Session is unlikely after the House Gambling panel failed to reach a consensus on opening a casino in Prince George's County or lower the tax on slot revenues.

The most recent session of the Board of Public Works ended up turning Governor O'Malley into a punching bag, as Comptroller Franchot denounced the Governor's efforts to hold a special session on gambling and only voted in favor of allowing the purchase of Rocky Gap by a slot company to take the "white elephant" off the hands of Maryland tax-payers.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB proves that you shouldn't make a blogger angry, (You won't like him when he's angry) when discussing Council-woman Jen Terrasa's no-show at last week's And Then There's That podcast.  Proving Jen the benefit of the doubt, I'm sure there was some uncertainty about her commitment, where one party took her as committed and the other thought it was "penciled in", but anyone who has seen ATTT in action knows that this is a professional outfit with a lot of prep and time spent on production.

Bonus Blog Post of the Day: Matt has found some really interesting articles/essays on the web that he has shared in a "Caught in the Web" post (I think we can reclaim this phrase from To Catch a Predator, right?  It's been five years or so).

That's all for today.  This week has been a whirlwind and will not calm down anytime soon as I head off to Ohio for my brother's wedding tomorrow.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Festival (Wednesday LINKS)

When I was in high school, I did Lincoln-Douglas debate.  This form of debate is also sometimes referred to as "values" debate due to the format, in which each debater will promote a core value, explain why theirs is superior to their opponents, and how the "resolution" best promotes or is contra to the proposed value.  I hope I have that right, considering it is based off of my memory from about 15 years ago.

LD Debate played a significant part in my development, despite not being very good at it.  I would estimate that over three years, I participated in about 50 debates.  I can only recall winning three.   And this was before speed-talking took over policy and, to a lesser extent, LD debate, screwing it up in a way only Americans can, so it wasn't for lack of super-human abilities or any other easily excusable fault.  I just don't think I was mature enough or interested in the heavy load of outside work that would be necessary to succeed.

That's not to say my lack of skill took away from my enjoyment of the "game".  I really liked LD debate.  It was like seeing the actualization of all my years of schooling.  "THIS is why I am learning things.  To beat people over the head with a log of logic!"  I have no doubt that this early extracurricular set me on a path to where I am today and also have no doubt that every single one of the kids that beat me back in high school tells people that they "thought about going to law school."

I distinctly remember debating a resolution having something to do with public funding for the arts.  To a high school student, it was a no-brainer.  With limited funds and unlimited social needs relating to the very survival of the least fortunate, funding for the arts is unnecessary.  This was around the time that feces and urine were finding themselves in contact with religious symbols at most contemporary art museums, which provided an easy example of what the public should not be "forced" to endorse.

What was so easy for a second-rate LD debater to understand has become a much more complex issue for his 30 year old counter-part.  My wife works at an art museum.  I've been to her exhibitions and felt the bridled power of art in context.  Last weekend at Lakefest, I saw something else that is hard to define.  Art provides common experience.  It binds the young and old, rich and poor, black and white.  Maybe it is a play off our our base cerebral reactions to stimuli, maybe it is something more ethereal, but you felt like you were doing something with your community as opposed to just being a part of it.

I'm reticent to apply value to something I can't define (and that argument would certainly score me similar points to those I was awarded in high school), but similar to my realization about debate all those years ago, I feel I've finally had a realization about why art has always been promoted as a community value.  This isn't just something that artsy people enjoy.  It is a mechanism of community building and support.  While we need order, deliberation, and governance as the blood and bone of our citizenry, art is the soul.  We can spend all day trying to define it, but most of us would like to acknowledge that it exists.

LINKS

The Downtown Partnership bill appears to have been universally panned by both the public and the Council at Monday's hearing.  Based on the comments from Council members, including Courtney Watson's description of the plan for Affordable Housing funds going through the Housing Commission a "tragedy", it seems as this bill was presented without any collaboration with other Council-members.  Alan Klein notes that if the current bill passes, both he and ABC will be proven correct that the Downtown Plan is not enforceable.  I think that is bit of a stretch considering the 15+ levels of approval for development, but with regard to affordable housing, it is hard to argue.  I believe a lot of this consternation could have been avoided if the bill had included a wider array of membership with greater authority over affordable housing plans, and expect the Council to amend in order to incorporate the same.

The public testimony regarding Council-member Calvin Ball's proposed term-limit amendment, extending terms from three to four, had a slightly more mixed response, with Alice Giles and Alan Klein both speaking in favor of his bill.  Klein adds that he is against term limits, but feels the current Council should commit to not seeking a fourth term if the amendment passes.  Although Brian Meshkin testified against the bill, and said he regretted the fact that there were not term limits on Board of Education members, when Calvin asked what he has done to impose term limits at the BoE level, Brian proffered helplessness, noting that those limits are set by the State.

TJ gets very excited over Ken Ulman's announcement that he will be holding an event in support of marriage equality.

And Then There's That hosts John Stoltzfus from the Columbia Festival of the Arts to discuss upcoming programming across Columbia.  It definitely made me excited about...all of the shows I will miss when I fly to Ohio for my brother's wedding.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  HowChow finds a favorite frozen yogurt chain, which he admits have popped up like dandelions across our County.  Jane and I have enjoyed the variety, but have yet to find one that really stands out.  Red Mango may be our next stop.

That's all for today.  Slow news week.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Columbia Insecure (Tuesday LINKS)

For the first time that I can remember, people are acting with uncertainty regarding the future of Columbia.  They don't know if Redevelopment will work.  They fret over the stability and dedication of our corporate partners.  They comfort themselves with the idea that a 1970's living history museum may not be that bad after all.

I don't get this.  At all.  Without one stitch of redevelopment, Columbia has outpaced Maryland's population growth by 3%.  Our median income is $20,000 over the Maryland median and our poverty level is 2.5% lower.  Our community investment and philanthropy, while not measured by any metric I am aware of, presumably also outperforms comparable districts.  We have accolades piling on our doorstep and I still have not mentioned the simple fact that drew Jim Rouse to these 14,000 acres back in 1962: We sit between two metropolitan areas approximately 5 miles off the interstate highway.

This is valuable earth we are all sitting on.  The opportunity to direct those advantages towards future growth (and related income) is a desirable one that is easily communicated to third parties.  This has played out in practice.  In the past five years, REI, Wegman's, and Costco have all seen the opportunities available in this area and opened new stores in our area.  Meanwhile, Whole Foods, a company known for targeting more urban environs, flirted with the idea of opening a store on our lakefront and remains in the background as future development is set.

This is valuable earth.  I think the reason we're all a little insecure is because the prospect of growth and change is equal parts terror and excitement.  We need County negotiators to make sure that "value" that we have every reason to be confident about is wielded to the best possible community advantage.  That means translating our community investment into future participation; maintaining the hard won advantages of the Downtown Redevelopment legislation; and being willing to walk away from the table when the other side threatens to do the same.

I spent 20 minutes at 6:00 in the morning listing the reasons why Columbia is a precious asset.  It is not a hard sell.  We have a valuable partnership with our current stakeholders, but there is no reason to ignore the prospect of outside suitors.  This is business and we need a business-like approach.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams" -- Henry David Thoreau.  Works for people.  There is no reason it can't work for Columbia.

LINKS

We've talked a lot about biases, both in the news and in how we view the world.  I really enjoyed this New Yorker piece focusing on "motivated reasoning" and how it can change previously held positions based on whether they are adopted by "the other side."  I think the author did himself a disservice by choosing such a politically charged title ("Unpopular Mandate"), but the underlying case studies are non-partisan in application.

Placeshakers has become one of my new favorite blogs.  They write a lot about urban development and planning, which is a fascinating subject for me.  As with any blog, there is a slant, and this one is against anything "NIMBY".  You'll see in this piece that they are critical of our collective respect for "neighborhood representatives" over "elected leaders". --  "We are more likely to withhold our support for actions through global, national or even regional institutions that have the best chance for advancing the goals we say we believe in and more likely to invest our trust in individuals and institutions that have the least chance for leading change and may, in fact, thwart it."  I like the idea, but I'm not sure I buy it.  I think we need friction, even with the prosecution of what may be presented as "the goals we say we believe in", to fully appreciate the implications of those goals.

City Hall should not have expected their systematic shuttering of liquor stores in troubled neighborhoods to go down easy.  Korean-American owners have expressed to the Sun that they feel targeted by the new effort and will challenge rezoning in Court.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake had a bad Monday.  The Council cut $6 million from her budget and the City Comptroller met with the press to discuss the purchase of over $650,000 in phone equipment without her approval.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow realizes a dream and gets into the new Wegman's for a first look.  Click over to see if he thinks it lives up to the hype...that he may or may not have contributed to over the past two years.

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rodalbe (Monday LINKS)

I had dinner with my Uncle Robert on Friday.  He has spent most of the last 30 years living in France, where he is an assistant professor of Spanish.  (Don't worry, I couldn't make sense of that until I was around 16).  He is also a history nut and spending his sabbatical writing about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War on behalf of the republic.  My uncle is a fascinating guy and offers up a multi-national aura that makes you feel like you are becoming more cultured just by speaking to him.

One of the subjects we discussed was my grandfather, Edmund Star Coale, II.  Grand-dad fought in World War II and was seriously injured shortly before the Battle of the Bulge in a little town called Rodalbe, France (then Rodalbe, Germany).  Robert brought up the town on Google Earth and narrated how the US soldiers had come in from the North along the rail line.  This was later criticized due to the fact that to take the town, US soldiers gave up the high ground and exposed themselves to mortars.  Nonethless, Grand-dad was part of the 600 soldiers that were sent to do the job.  My grandfather told people that the town didn't feel right, which was later confirmed by the knowledge that there were Germans in the basements of the houses.  While the regiment was attempted to dig a perimeter trench (it kept filling with water due to the water table), the town was counter-attacked by a pincher move from the Germans, coming from roads to the Southeast and Northwest.

My Grand-dad was the "runner" and was sent back up the hill to report on what had happened in the town.  When he did, the commanding officer told him to go back into the town and tell them to hold for more reinforcements, but by the time he had run back into the battle, there were only 80 of the original 600 men still alive.  They retreated up the hill, where my grandfather was sprayed by a German mortar.  He lost an eye and had shrapnel along his side that took the next three months to work out.  Granddad was  awarded the Bronze Star (posthumously) and a Purple Heart for his actions on that day.

What was most chilling about this account was that of the 80 men remaining from his regiment, Granddad was the only reported survivor.  The rest died in fighting leading up to and including the Battle of the Bulge.  That makes Rodalbe, France a very important place to me.

LINKS


The O's took 2 of 3 from the Braves, finishing off the series with 20 straight scoreless innings and a near no-hitter on Saturday.

People were waiting in line for yesterday's opening of Wegman's as early as midnight.  I hope that those of you who went found it fulfilling.

As many as 2,866 elementary school children will need to be redistricted to new schools for the 2013 school year to ease overcrowding in the northeast.  A lot of this has to do with the new opening of Duckett's Lane Elementary in Elkridge, which would seem to provide a good opportunity to do all of the moving that needs to be done for the foreseeable future.  Unfortunately, this shift only addresses elementary school capacity, with middle (2014) and high (2016) slated for future redistricting over the next few years.  We can expect high school redistricting to be the most controversial, as parents see college prospects hanging in the balance.

Baltimore is stripping some stores of their liquor licenses in order to crack down on crime in bad neighborhoods.  City officials suggest that they are removing licenses for those that don't meet regulations, but with the quotes provided to the newspaper, litigation seems inevitable. 

The pro-bailout New Democracy Party won 30% of the vote in Greek Elections.  From my perspective, this is the best possible outcome, but for those looking forward to the crash of the Euro, you will have to wait at least a few more months.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane spent an hour and a half at the new Wegman's on Sunday and shares some pictures of his afternoon.  As may be apparent from my posts up to this point, I don't quite get the manic fascination with the new grocery store, but I am happy to see a new merchant bring such happiness to my local friends.  I'll probably stop in sometime this week (others were projecting this craziness to last into July), but I will have one objective and one objective only -- a Wegman's sub.  Based on my experience with our Williamsport, PA Wegman's during college, the Howard County "Best Sub" debate has been closed.  Wegman's wins.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, June 15, 2012

CA Board Recap: June 14, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 9:51 pm

We finished before 10:00 pm for the second straight meeting.  I can't help but equate this feeling to watching the Orioles.  I am hopeful, amazed, proud, but also cautiously waiting for the bottom to drop out.  Shari Zaret did a great job as Board Chair, keeping agenda items as close to their designated time as possible.  Other chairs did their best to do the same, acknowledging that overflow in one area may require curtailment of another.  Said otherwise, the night was not treated like some ever-fortunate slot machine, pouring hours of value-less time into the Board room.

And yet again, similar to last meeting, the Board had some significant accomplishments to show for its time.  I do not prize brevity over all else.  We are there for a job and have important things to do.  But, I also think is important for this Board to confront the paralysis of inaction that has been enabled by four hour meetings.  Why should we ever pass anything when the discussion points are endless?

Resident Speak-Out

It appears as if the retired forces of opposition to Downtown Development have regrouped.  We heard from three different business owners last night who, along with 25 other individuals, have formed the "Howard County Independent Business Association", which is focused on, among other things, creating an independent "Planning Board"-eqsue entity to enforce the private covenants (think HRD) that the HCIBA believes are no longer being enforced.  Brian England, one of the leaders of this group, emphasized that when he decided to start an automotive repair shop in Columbia, he was required to do so away from the highway.  He claims that new development will not have those restrictions.  The material distributed by this group suggests that Snowden River Parkway will soon become "Snowden River Pike."

I don't see this kind of initiative as something CA should be getting involved with and prefer to see these concerns resolved between the Council, Executive, HHC, and the newly formed group.  In 21st Century Columbia, CA is nothing more than the partnerships we are able to form.  I appreciate their concerns, but CA is not positioned to be an advocacy organization, particularly in this context.

Aquatics Master Plan

Last night, the Board accepted and filed the Aquatics Master Plan.  The vote was 5-4 with one abstention.  Immediately after the vote, one of the dissenting Board members stormed out of the room.  If you observed that this is the second meeting in a row what a Board member has left before adornment, you are paying attention.

There was a lot of confusion surrounding this vote that I believe played a big role in the frustration following passage.  Those that voted to pass the Plan see it as a framework of recommendations from which future action will be prompted.  For instance, the Plan recommends that Splashdown be evaluated for replacement with a new and improved waterpark.  It then states, in somewhat ominous terms "Remove Splashdown."  This is a long-term recommendation that I think appropriately acknowledges the limited utility of an aging amenity.  It is not happening today or even next year, but when it does, a more "modern, family-friendly" water-park will be proposed based on additional community outreach and approval of the Board.


Moreover, this Plan met the goal that was most important to me, which was keeping all 23 pools open.  There was some objection to the classification of neighborhood, community, and destination pools.  Within the context of limited resources, that classification is necessary.  The alternative is closing pools and redirecting resources.  I hate to go all Bain Capital on you, but that is the practical issue at play here.  Will each Board member be tasked with visiting the pools in their Village and ensuring quality services for Columbia residents?  Absolutely.  But we can't have 23 destination pools.  We can't even have 23 regional pools.  We need to be responsible with resident funds, while not taking anything away from what is currently provided.

Allocation Model

This is one of those topics that is of great concern within CA, but of little to no relevance to anyone outside of the Village or CA Board.  As I (hope I) have explained before, the allocation model is designed to distribute property assessment shares (i.e., the CA lien payment) amongst Villages to help run their facilities, enforce covenants, and improve community involvement.  I really am not interested in going into the model itself, other than to note that Andy Stack has spent an admirable amount of time working on this very complex issue, and if CA had a Medal of Honor, it would go to him without contest.

To be completely frank with all of you, and with due respect and admiration for all of my Village Manager friends, there is a not-so-silent competition amongst Villages that often turns a bit ugly.  The Allocation Model brings that competition to the fore.  "Why should one Village get that much when we only get this much?"  I understand that there are remaining issues with the current Model, but as stated repeatedly throughout this process, the current Model was based on information as submitted to CA by the Villages themselves.

Surprisingly, one of the members of the Ad Hoc Committee to reexamine the Allocation Model sought to stay implementation of the new plan pending further measurement of three facilities that felt unfairly evaluated under the current scheme.  As a member of that Committee, I said I would be fine with that approach, so long as this was the only objection and, once addressed, the Model would be implemented as written.  The Allocation Model passed through the External Relations Committee with that caveat and will be before the Board at the next meeting.

Sister Cities

As you may be aware, Columbia participates in a sister cities program with similar communities across the Country.  We have been invited to a meeting of our sister cities in Lancaster, England this September.  The ERC wanted to consider sending a Board member to this conference and paying for their airfare.  The Chair of the ERC, Cindy Coyle, suggested that we send fellow ERC member Suzanne Waller, who has been involved in the program for some time.

In an very informal discussion, I noted my own hesitation against paying for a Board member to go to England on CA's dime.  We have far too many residents who are hearing about the limits of our resources to then turn to them and show pictures of a smiling Board member standing in front of Big Ben.  Last night I had said I may be in favor of paying a half share, but even that would be a tough vote for me.  No matter the amount, that money can and should be directed to things like our community grant project or additional resources for seniors.  This is not a judgment on whomever wishes to represent CA, but I think we should encourage them to go without paying for the trip.

External Relations Committee

The ERC had been provided the lion-share of meeting time last night, but at the prompting of Ed Coleman decided to close out their meeting and go into an after-meeting work-session.  I was happy to see them do this and hope they had a lot accomplished.

Unfortunately, it appears that the CA Board is breaking up into cliques.  The Aquatics Master Plan was yet another nearly divided vote with a bare majority passing it through.  I think we made the right decision and am happy that the Board did not punt the Plan for further discussion, but I am worried about the overall Board dynamic.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

False Sense of Access (Thursday LINKS)

When I was in law school, I took a seminar course called "Community Organizing and Public Discourse".  It was one of those classes that, should I ever be subject to national scrutiny, would paint me as a domestic subversive and/or terrorist, whereas in reality, it was a lot more about how people interact with their government (in a repetitive and boring way).  Community Organizing is something that I still have a hard time getting my head around, as may be obvious from the semi-annual hand-wringing amongst these pages.  What inspires people power?  How can it be fostered?  What makes for successful execution?

One of the last days of class, we were discussing whether unorganized non-institutional groups have any chance at being heard at the National level, or whether those interests require sub-existence within another established interest group.  A contemporary example would be groups that oppose domestic fracking.  Could they be heard independently or do they require partnership with a larger environmental group that has already created its doorways to sympathetic lawmakers?  Our cynical and pessimistic view was that the players of the game have been, for the most part, set.  Dynamic changes in societal interests may sprout new groups, but they will be the exception.

We then came to the near laughable question of whether an individual had any chance to be heard on National issues (we were a cynical bunch of 3L's).  We noted all of the levels of constituent services, weighed the value of campaign contribution to create access, and considered an individual's demographic representation of a larger constituency and whether that would influence legislative action.  We concluded that one of the most dangerous aspects of a democratic republic (happy now?) was that it gave individual citizens a false sense of access to the legislative process.  If I think I am participating, I may be disinclined to activate that "true people power" described above.  If I feel I'm being heard, I will keep this between you and I.

I think we see a different form of this in today's "slacktivism" (WB -- watch out for this word as a "word of the year").  Even though it has only been five years since graduation, I feel as if my generation has pulled even further away from the idea that we can participate in government.  Rather, our political ideas are our own.  Identity politics in its most extreme.  And for whatever reason, from my anecdotal experience, we don't seem interested in conveying those opinions onto elected officials so long as our 535 "friends" know that we don't like torture, want to save the whales, and find it hilarious whenever a politician spells something wrong (Welcome to Amercia).

Whatever little dopamine center that releases when we engage in political discourse is apparently satiated with a Facebook post or a Tweet; even more so if it is followed by a comment war.  The instances in which social media has been shown to effect public policy are far outweighed by the number of times social media is used to rant into the darkness.  Every single time I see one of these posts (even from many of you), I feel like posting the question "What are you doing about it?"  (But that would be so pretentious that I am only willing to do so ambiguously on this blog).

One of the reasons I so remember "false sense of access" and spending a full hour talking about it in DC (a mere two miles from the Capitol) was that I was the one that presented those terms.  I'm not a cynical person, but I am cynical about the manner in which we interact with those in power.  This blog is an act of cynicism in that I feel that we are told what to discuss and what is important, as oppose to deciding for ourselves.  We're spoon-fed micro (i.e., criminal trials) and macro (i.e., obesity "epidemic") national issues at such a dizzying rate that is hard to keep a steady head about what actually affects our day to day.  Once we do that, we are encouraged to "post it to Facebook", which is about as effective as reading your concerns out-loud to your cat (I'm just not sure the dog is ready for that kind of heady stuff).

Is it all just a repository?  Is it any wonder that today's dystopian fiction incorporates Facebook?  Should we all consider a new standard by which we are asked to evaluate whether we have acted sufficiently outside of the internet to present a particular political issue as part of our online identity?  Only then may you post your screed on your face.

LINKS

O's win on the back of a strong outing by struggling starter Jake Arrieta and a broken bat home run from Chris Davis.  Ok, so the latter did not play that big of a role in a 7-1 whuppin', but it was still neat to see...made me very sad/nervous about my forthcoming cable cut-off.

Lindsay McPherson writes that Del. Frank Turner is still no fan of gambling and as we learned last fall, he "carried the water for no man."  This would seem to put him in a difficult position as gambling advocates will expect to see new gambling legislation pushed through the subcommittee he chairs to a full hearing in Special Session.

A group of Baltimore County high school students drew a chalk drawing of a KKK lynching of President Obama on the heels of his visit to Maryland.  While it is tempting to draw larger conclusions about this type of disturbing act (as the reporter seems all too interested in following), I think the most reasonable conclusion is that these were a bunch of white kids posturing for attention.  The only true implication is that we are far from a post-racial society and these kids most likely live in an environment where such abhorrent thoughts are acceptable.

If this Presidential race is going to be "about who raises the most money", Sheldon Adelson's $10 million Super-PAC contribution for Romney will certainly be felt across the Country.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB reports back from Jen Terrasa's fundraiser at the Corner Stable, along with the observation that "Courtney wasn’t there because she was also having a Wine Women and Watson event tonight. I don’t know who scheduled what first but HoCo is really too small for two politico fundraisers in the same night."  Scheduling events in Howard County is always a mess.  Thankfully, between CA and...CA, I can just presume that I will not be able to attend.  Last night, I was at our Village Board meeting.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There is No Spoon (No Links)

I have an early morning meeting today, so I don't have time to put together a full post, but I am going to cheat.  One of the invaluable benefits of this blog is to have my ideas subject to "peer review" by a lot of very smart people.  Kristin posted a comment about a week back that has been stuck in my head ever since. I think she made some really interesting points about what we talk about when we talk about race:

I'm a little behind on my HoCo reading! I'm a Washingtonian now, so not sure if I still get to participate. I'm surprised you feel uncomfortable talking about race because you seem to understand it quite well, in that I think you get privilege, which is what conversations about race are really about. Any time someone fails to acknowledge their own privilege that derives from membership in a certain subgroup when they are talking about another subgroup, that crap is going to be racist, or classist, or sexist, or homophobic. We derive benefits from being white in a white society. And when you fail to acknowledge that, you are being racist. You don't have to think you are better than a person of color, you just have to think you have it the same. It's easy to do. If Del. McDonough had been using his comment about black youths to draw attention to the many ways in which institutions in Baltimore have been set up from the start to disadvantage young people of color, I think it would have been a fine thing to say. There IS a young black violence problem in Baltimore. But it is not because people have a certain skin color that they are violent, it is because they are the victims of a racist society. Del. McDonough only proves this point further by using his pulpit to proclaim that the only problem is the youths themselves. Sometimes I just want to call a timeout on the whole world and make them sit in silence for two minutes to reflect on their crap. I feel like that would have to help.
 (Emphasis added).

There is a lot in there to discuss and I hope Kristin doesn't mind that I put her in the spotlight, but this is an important issue for us to digest (whatever that may mean).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Following the Leader (Tuesday LINKS)

I recall two distinct stages in my pre-school to elementary school education.  The early stage placed emphasis on the collective.  We were instructed how to get in lines (more importantly, how to stay in lines), how to share, how to treat one another, and the idea that our classmates had "feelings" that could be hurt.  Grades were hardly a consideration and the greatest accomplishment of the day was snack, a collective happy time, followed by nap, imposed collective silence.

As we became older, the individual became king.  Raise your hand when you want to speak.  Everyone will be watching you.  Study hard to earn good grades, a reward that is valuable to no one other than you (despite the joy those grades may bring your parents).  "You are a special snowflake that will never be replicated."  And eventually -- Be a leader.  Team leader.  Group leader.  Table leader.  Whatever we did, one of my peers was the leader of what we were to accomplish.  The collective was presumed and the individual was prime.

I don't ever remember my educational experiencing redirecting from that focus.  Leadership, individuality, solitary achievement.  Admittedly, I did not play sports in high school, which is presumably "Appendix A" to the K-12 educational experience, but I don't know how much that has changed those that participated, with the added consideration that each sport takes a different view of the individual over the collective.

So why am I going through a philosophically shallow review of my early education?  I wonder if my generation has been ruined for followers.  As a culture, the leader is, quite literally, king.  I've seen t-shirts that say "Don't Follow.  Lead." or "Lead or Get Out of the Way" (the closest we get to acknowledging the role of a follower). 

But this world desperately needs followers, particularly as the number of leaders dilutes the points to be led.  What's odd is that in Howard County, the leaders most effective at inspiring and mobilizing followers are those that are most often maligned by others.  I don't need to list them here, but as a thought experiment, think to yourself "If I needed 100 people to join my cause and provide a 'show of force' who would I call?"  It is unlikely that your first thoughts went to anyone in our County government, but that's not a knock on them.  By my anecdotal experience, in order to inspire followers, you must be willing to push extremes.  This Council and County Executive have promoted collaboration, which is good policy, but tepid leadership.  I would also proffer that we can't call anything a leader does "leadership" just to lionize their actions.  Rather, they are being effective actors towards accomplishing objectives. 

What's the danger in the extinction of followers?  Why not promote collaboration over leadership?  Unions would seem to be a good example here.  Regardless of your views on the current utility of unions, it would seem incontestable that the organized actions of workers have been the most effective means of promoting the middle class for the past century.  As less and less of our workforce participates (i.e., follows) labor leaders, that voice is significantly diminished. 

Same goes for political parties.  In Howard County, the proportion of Republican residents is much larger than the proportion of Republican representatives.  Greg Fox is a very good council-man, but he does not seem interested in being the leader of the Republican party in terms of mobilization or organized goals.  The "people" exist without executing their voice.

To me, the immediate concern is Columbia.  I think of those that have the most to gain from Columbia's Downtown and the tremendous voice they have in the process.  I don't see a counter-weight.  I trust our elected officials to mind the store and think they are doing a fantastic job on that score, but I also know they favor collaboration over confrontation.  Who are they compromising with?  We have so many non-partisan or single issue organizations that seem "safe" for participation, but none that I would see stepping into the breach, with those 100 people behind them, to say "This is not right" or at least not in a way anyone would listen.

"Well, what has you so worried?  Did someone do something wrong?"  No.  And I have no reason to believe anyone will.  But I feel like we're driving without our seat-belt. 

LINKS

Wegman's officials have said that past openings have involved lounge chairs and sleeping bags.  I truly hope that my fellow HoCo'ers have the dignity and self-respect to decline that opportunity next weekend.  We may need some counselors on deck for those folks that walk inside and find out that the carrots still taste like carrots and the bananas still go bad by day five.

It is neat to live in a place where the Superintendent can say she wants to provide a "world-class education" and it is not just hyperbole.

I saw this 5-alarm fire from my office at work.  Anytime you see this type of fire, you can't help but be thankful for the men and women that confront these terrifying blazes on a daily basis.  The smoke cloud probably extended about 15 blocks north from the warehouse.  I'm glad no one was hurt.

Baltimore has fallen out of the FBI's Top 5 Murder capitals, with a 12% drop in 2011, presenting the lowest murder rate per capita since the late 1980's.  It may be important to note that this is while Baltimore's population continues to decline; however, at a rate much less severe than 12%.

The Baltimore City bottle tax has preliminary approval, which is huge for Mayor SRB's efforts to direct more funds to City schools from inside the city limits.

On a more personal note, Jane and I will be looking to "cut the cable" over the next month.  I bought a Roku HD box last night and am excited about the new venture of internet TV.  We're going to have both Roku and Cable for the first few weeks to make sure we aren't ignoring some cable-provided sustenance, but then I'm turning in my Verizon boxes for good (or at least until I change my mind).  For reasons Jane and I have never figured out, we did not need to sign a contract for cable, so we can close out without penalty.  It has been great for negotiating HBO, but it is time to move on.  You can expect an update on how this adventure works out.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane has a very interesting post about trees as an indication of per capita income of a community. 

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

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Link-Up

Another round of links to start your week --

LINKS

Rolling Stone has a piece about America's last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Bowe Bergdahl, and how this single individual could be holding up the end of the conflict.  It is a "long read", so feel free to spread it out across a few days or a long metro ride.

The Washington Post looks into Barack Obama's crumbling coalition amongst LGTB and immigrant groups, with contrasting advocacy for the former that has created resentment amongst the latter.  When you look into the motivations for why powerful interests oppose certain reforms, immigration is often the most depressing.  Those who exploit immigrant workers in harsh conditions with low wages are mostly able to do so due to the threat of deportation, effectively using Uncle Sam as their "muscle". Opposition to gay rights seem to be fading.  There's no reason to believe opposition to immigration reform ever will.

"Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward" (I always had those names flipped in my head) proved that despite retirement, death, and burial, they DO still have Nixon to kick around whenever they darn well please, thank you very much.  The two journalists review the "five wars of Nixon", broadening the picture on just how many horrible things Nixon did in office and how he tried to bury it all after leaving the White House.  Blame it on my youth or my history teachers, but I had a much more narrow view of a single break-in, while Woodward and Bernstein describe all manner of domestic espionage and bribery that even went so far as to break into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.

Paired with this article in the paper edition was a siren's call warning that investigative journalism, seeming to be a bedrock of print journalism ever since the Watergate scandal 40 years ago, is in danger.  The sad truth is that we should care about the decisions of our elected officials, even outside of their public office, particularly if they show a fault in judgment or character.  Without journalists, we need to base those judgments almost entirely on what those same politicians are willing to tell us.

On that subject: "But in dozens of interviews in Washington and London, those who knew Halligen described how he created a trail of creditors, from lawyers to landlords to housekeepers. And they said he left a group of Washington insiders wondering how one charming and audacious hustler managed to seduce them all."

The New York Times notes that the GOP's policy on gay marriage may be compelled to follow the money as bundlers like billionaire Paul Singer look to redirect focus in favor of marriage equality.


You could be excited about the O's two extra innings wins against the Phearsome Phils, or you could note that they barely scraped out a series win against a last place team.  A win is a win is a win.


First, HoCo has a new reporter in town and I would like to be one of the first to welcome Arthur Hirsch to the beat.  Second, I think Arthur does a really great job on this article about the Downtown Partnership, which even incorporates some Rouse-isms.  As I have noted before, I think it is critical that we inject more community leaders into the Partnership in order to fulfill its purpose.  I look forward to the Council giving this legislation additional scrutiny to make sure all stakeholders are consulted prior to passage.  


This Road-Rage incident in Glen Burnie is pretty scary.  First the guy runs another car off the road.  THEN, when someone else pulls over to help, he gets back into his car to rear-end them.  Be careful out there, folks.


Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day: WB winds up his "awesome" weekend with some pics from around town.  I, too, had an awesome weekend, which is making this Monday a little more difficult than others.


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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Link-Up

I'll never forget the first beer I had with Wordbones at Clyde's, when he described "link dumps" as "lazy".  In the time between then and now, my link dumps have evolved from an occasional post when I had nothing better to say to a daily (and some would say primary) feature of this blog.

I'm not sure WB would still consider these posts "lazy".  It is actually quite exhausting to put together gattling impressions on the daily stories, especially if I spend too much time worrying about being consistent.  The filter on what to post and what not to post is also sometimes difficult.  You all may have noticed that I am not all that interested in crime or "neighbor" stories that don't have any policy implications.  I don't put much attention on financial news or whether the Dow went up or down.  In these times of abbreviated links, I actually don't post what I spend most of my time reading, which are long-form news analysis pieces.

That's why I'm switching things up.  I liked the suggestion of IP yesterday to have alternating days of links and posts with abbreviated links.  Friday will be a link day and I will decide from there what feels right.  I plan to go 3-2 posts to links, because I still have a lot to say and 3 seems just about right.  If you like it, good.  If you don't, let me know.

LINKS
If you really want to know what a "Double Rainbow" means (and are not just recycling jokes from 2010), check out this link.  Otherwise, please bury that joke in your backyard.

I really like Major Garrett's case for "More Divisive Politics" in The Atlantic.  Particularly this last paragraph:

Division, for lack of a better word, is good. That's the Gordon Gekko side of politics. Division forces people to listen to an argument and take sides. Silly and front-loaded appeals to unity and post-partisanship fog the mind, delay action, and deepen mistrust. Over time, voters begin to understand they are being deceived. People take stands for a reason and want the politicians they send to Washington do the same (71 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats want more partisan fealty, not less). This is not inconsistent with democracy. It is democracy. That's the cynical secret of presidential leadership.


Garrett failed to note that it is often in the area of "compromise" that we see a lot of the "muck" of politics, with the Health Care Bill being a great example (i.e., Louisiana Purchase, etc.).  Admittedly, this type of politics is antithetical to base presumptions of my political philosophy, but I think any presumptions must be challenged in order to test convictions.  This new thrust in political analysis towards abandoning compromise in the middle feels more like a retreat than anything else.  These same journals have been advocating for the middle for the past decade, but now seem to be saying "Aw screw it.  Run to the fringe and see who gets there first.  Execute the hostages."  Locally, we still have the opportunity (and compulsion) for compromise, so I don't think this type of approach can be applied universally.  All the same, I think it may be good on a National level, where the detailed aspects of governance are often abused, and the large scale policy changes are inherently partisan.

If you are a Mad Men addict like me, I suggest you read Slate's weekly conversation discussing Sunday's episode.  Due to travel and other obligations, I did not get a chance to watch last week's episode until yesterday, and I am still a little haunted.  It seems like the writers have taken a sharp turn towards hurting the audience and the characters we like the most.  That is always an interesting place to see a drama go and, at least with Mad Men, has a lot of depth to it.

For as long as I've been reading newspapers, Baltimore City has had a witness problem.  Someone is shot in front of 5-10 people, no one saw anything.  Maryland passed strong witness intimidation laws, the street enforced stronger codes of silence.  One mother is trying to change that to find the murderers of her son, but that tide is unlikely to change.

Mayor SRB has swung back on City Council President Jack Young's "irresponsible budget changes."  I just have a very hard time accepting any increase in spending based on projected increases in revenue that are not supported by the folks with the calculators.  This type of false hope is worse than irresponsible.  It's politically fraudulent.

Councilmember Calvin Ball's Fourth Annual Men's Health Fair is tomorrow, 10 am to 2 pm at Howard High School.  I volunteered at this event last year and will be sitting at the front desk again come Saturday morning.  There are so many important resources available for free that there is no reason not to go.  Please encourage your husbands, brothers, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers to go.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB is looking for good summer reading suggestions.  I've always thought that a local book club amongst the political wonk crowd may be fun, but from most of my friends who have tried such clubs, they turn into homework.  I am about to finish the third Game of Thrones book and will be taking a sabbaticl from Mr. R.R. Martin before diving into book four this summer.  Any good non-fiction recommendations? I started The Great Divergence last night, but am concerned that it is a bit too ideological for me (which is fine, so long as it comes with supporting facts).  I'm giving it the weekend, but may start looking elsewhere.

That's all for today.  I am so incredibly happy that today is Friday.  This week has been a sprint and yesterday tested my patience in more ways than I can describe here.  Jane and I celebrated our three year anniversary on Wednesday and will be going to Volt on Saturday.  We've been together for ten years, so a three year anniversary just feels...well...understated. 

Have a fantastic Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Extreme Measures (Thursday LINKS)

Although I have explicitly recommended against taking too much away from a recall election that about 70% of the voters did not want to participate in, I can't help but feel like it had great symbolic importance for elected officials across the Country: Do big things.

Regardless of your politics, you must admit that Governor Walker went big in his efforts to cut State debt and balance the budget.  He was in the national spotlight within months of taking office.  Democrats left the state to avoid voting on his collective bargaining measures.  He took huge risks with an electorate that was motivated enough to try to remove him from office with an out-of-term recall election.  When petitions first started circulating, his approval ratings were at approximately 47%.  We can discuss the $20+ million from outstide the State, but most analysts are saying that theses efforts did not affect the electorate's interest in ousting their Governor.  If it's the economy, stupid...well, stupid, the voters think things are going a-Ok.

In fact, I would suggest that this election touched on an ideal that we all have of our elected officials using the extent of their power, regarding of resistance or partisan/special interests, to make our lives better, using whatever means necessary.  Before Godwin's Law makes an ugly appearance, please note that I said "the extent of their power."  While the red team may have been smiling through most of this post, I would suggest that the blue team should use Walker as an example.  Stop beating around the Bush tax cuts (that one is for you, TJ).  Go hard on initiatives you think you can pass.  In a state like Maryland, where the political party has streamlined the separation of powers, Scott Walker's recall election is an indictment of sorts.  Annapolis has the power to do whatever it chooses, yet we took two years to pass marriage equality and the past six months have been spent on raising taxes and finding space for more casinos.  I don't think the Democratic party would define itself by those metrics, but contrasted with a Governor that took big unpopular actions to balance his budget, and in the process gaining the approval of the citizens of his State, it is hard to see things otherwise.

While we all expect this election to have long term adverse effects on unions, I think the real positive will be more proactive efforts by local, state, and federal officials to "fix this mess".  I can't believe I'm saying this, but compromise may actually have out-lived its purpose.  Maybe it is time to go big and let the consequences fall where they may.  And maybe we would all be much better for it.

LINKS

Orioles take two of three from the Red Sox in Fenway.  I'm not ready to declare this team back on its path to the playoffs, but Brian Roberts will be back soon and if Zach Britton can get his game together in the minors, this team could be something special to watch.

Restaurants along the PowerPlant looking to expand the pier-bars/seating areas along the water have found the State fees to be prohibitively expensive, costing as much as $800,000.  Comptroller Peter Franchot is quoted in the article as saying these fees are "confiscatory" and are preventing private business from creating jobs.  At a time when Baltimore is desparate for growth, it really is unfortunate to see these type of common-sense hindrances in the way.

Maryland Live is open for business in Anne Arundel County.  If you thought the special interests were bad in Maryland before, wait until the gambling lobby really takes form.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Well & Wise has a guest post from Andrew Cameron, M.D., who has been one of the physicians spear-heading new efforts to promote organ donation.  He writes about how we are doing in terms of donation and how we can improve.  Please check this out and consider being a donor.  I am.

That's all for today.  I know the links are getting shorter as the intro posts are getting longer.  I would apprecate feedback on that.  The links are somewhat sterile, but I know a number of you use them as a "What's happening" to start the day.  My original deadline for finishing posts was 7:00 am, but that time limit keeps getting pushed back. 

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!