Friday, November 30, 2012

Bias of False Equivalency (Friday LINKS)

About three months ago, at the Civility in Media Roundtable, one of the people there who managed a local paper noted that for certain issues, they have explicitly told their reporters not to contact certain members in the community who claim to hold a representative view for "the other side."  They noted that the bias towards a "minority report" has made demi-gods out of certain people who, my words, have no other relevance other than the fact that they hold an opposing opinion.

I found that both fascinating and reassuring.  Unfortunately, that is not the general practice for today's media.  "There are two sides of every story."  "We report, you decide."  I would presume that on any given story, the reporter spends more time trying to find the "other side" than they do trying to get the facts straight on the majority position.  This is all for the appearance of presenting "the whole."  A report, no matter how detailed, is not complete unless it includes proponents and critics.

In a way, that's lazy journalism.  Rather than go out and find the facts yourself, stripped of advocacy, you find people who already know a lot about the subject and shake them down for all their best arguments.  You call Critic Cathy, tell them what Advocate Adam said, and you're off to the races with a dozen great quotes.  Meanwhile, the facts lay undisturbed.  (Oh, but Tom, what is a "fact" really? -- Back to philosophy class, please).

An interesting example of this is the requiem(s) for soon-to-be-former Board of Education member Alan Dyer.  If you read either the Editorial in the Flier or the report in The Sun, you would think the "Lion of the Board of Education" just retired.  "Sure, his lawsuits and crusades cost taxpayers money, but so did his impeachment.  Let's just call it a wash."  And believe me when I say that I understand the resistance to kicking a man on his way out the door.  But let's be honest about what we're talking about - A one term Board of Education member who was incompetent at using the political process to reach his goals and used the courts as a back-stop.  Harsh words, but true.

It is very VERY difficult to win a vote of substance.  The status quo is a heavy beast.  But through collaboration, persuasion, and, yes, horse-trading, you prioritize your objectives and get things done.  Mr. Dyer, despite his best intentions, was not good at his job.  We spend so much time talking about these lawsuits that we lose the forest for the trees.  Behind every lost vote in every government chamber, there is a lawsuit available.  Not a successful one, mind you, but we are all a blank sheet and a filing fee away from finding ourselves a named Defendant.  But these lawsuits are rarely invoked, primarily due to the "loser's" faith in, and respect for, the process.  Mr. Dyer did not have that respect and was promptly removed by the voters because of it.  Not because he was a pain in the rumpus, but because his frustrations over being bad at his job were spilling over into the business of those who were good.

We can talk about the "clique" and "the Four" or whatever ominous names are attached to those we disagree with, but there aren't two sides on this one.  There are the facts and there are interpretations of fact.  I genuinely appreciate Mr. Dyer's service and his willingness to suffer the slings and arrows of public office, but I don't think we need to feel compelled to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in the name of covering "both sides".  Mr. Dyer is a failed politician.  His term is now over.  Selling this as anything other than that only invites that story to continue.


A hearty congratulations to River Hill for winning its fourth State Football Championship.  (This is a surprisingly controversial issue.  Please don't feel compelled to bring your fight to the comments below.  I assure you there are message boards specifically for that purpose somewhere else in the interwebs).

An Ellicott City teen is being charged with using a vacant apartment as a "party house."  Not to glorify law-breaking, but it is a shame that this kind of ingenuity could not have been fostered for some other purpose.  I hope this kid gets a chance to redirect that energy to something useful (although I'm sure his friends found his skills correctly applied and utilized).

Congratulations.  You are "partially recovered" from the Recession.

Same-sex marriages will begin on January which time all opposite-sex marriage rings will least that's what the commercials told me.

Edward Lee picked the Ravens to win a game!!!  If you follow Baltimore Sun Sports, you know this is big news.  In fact, I'm surprised its not on the front page.  I'll have to look back, but I think Lee picked the Ravens to lose to their Bye week one year.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow reports that Patch reports (normally its the other way around) that the Ale House Columbia will be opening on December 10 with an Opening Shin Dig on December 14.  As a big fan of the Pratt Street Ale House, this humble blogger would happily accept an invitation to a soft open preview and my schedule is looking good for next week.  Just sayin'...

That's all for today.  I apologize for my absence yesterday, but I had an "extended work-day" yesterday, sending me down to Washington, D.C., for a mediation that lasted through the afternoon.  I also want to give a shout out to the great folks at Davis, Agnor, Rapaport, and Skalny, LLC, for throwing another fantastic Holiday Party.  Due to a CA Board meeting later than night, I was only able to attend for an hour, but this party clearly holds a special spot on many an important calendar in Howard County.  It was a honor to be invited.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  It's impossible not to.

Ravens: 31
Steelers: 13

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Council Policy-making (Wednesday LINKS)

As shown by the countless County Council candidates that promised safer highways and healthier school lunches, there is often a lot of confusion about what the Council does.  Outside of the clear responsibilities of the Zoning Board, and the drawn out Budget approval process, Council powers are fraught with ambiguity and toe-stepping.

A few recent bills have put that ambiguity front and center.  Our General Assembly passed a law limiting development in the rural parts of Maryland in order to meet environmental concerns about septic tanks, the primary means of waste mitigation in those parts of the State.  When the GA passed it, they were not talking about any individual property owner or plot of land.  They were addressing the "State".  Now, the Council, if for no other reason than "stuff" rolls downhill, has to draw those lines on the County map, directly affecting real families with real concerns about property values.  The Council's hands are tied.  Sure, they could attempt a protest vote as should be expected from the rural counties to our north, but if they do, the protest will be for naught as a general prohibition on all septic subdivisions will go into effect for the entire County.  In this instance, the County Council serves more as an regulatory agency implementing law from above.  The only difference is that regulatory agencies are normally insulated from politics.  The same is not true here.

On the other end, we have the bullying legislation proposed by Courtney Watson "to encourage the General Assembly to provide the necessary resources to appropriate agencies to implement the use of multidisciplinary teams to address bullying, harassment, and intimidation among students."  Here, the Council is looking to reverse streams.  "We want YOU to do something that WE decided was a good idea."  With an issue like bullying, this can turn into a game of political stick-me-up.  If you put the word "bullying prevention" on a flyer, you'll have five politicians and their staffers at the meeting before the location is set.  Same goes when a "bullying prevention" "law" is passed from the Council to the State Delegation.  "You're not really against bullying prevention, are you?  For shame."

As a former Board of Education member, I am certain that Courtney had a concrete objective for this legislation and that it is not the type of flash without substance that we've seen in other parts of the County on the issue.  I also think that it is good that the Council is looking to table it.  Bullying is a very difficult issue to address and one that has been around since we had children sit in the same cave together.  I'm not sure we can legislate our way out of it, but I do think we can do more.  I would love to see the Superintendent make this a priority of her office and consult with experts in the field regarding what works.  Other than that, I am skeptical of any person in elected office looking to make headway on the issue with a gavel and a statute. 


Baltimore City School Superintendent Andres Alonso has proposed out a $2.4 billion 10-year Renovation Plan for its schools, which will close 26 of them.  Alonso is targeting a "more efficient use of space", which can also be read to mean "less teachers."  I think that if this was ever tried in Howard County, we would require the imposition of martial law.

Although Maryland has decided to move from the ACC to the Big Ten, its former conference wants to make sure the Terps don't walk out on the $50 million tab owed as an "exit fee."  Hooray College Athletics!

Marriage equality proponents out-raised and out-spent their opponents by more than 2-1, helped in the last weeks by large donations from Peter Angelos and MGM Entertainment.  Gov. O'Malley's Super PAC contributed $1,000, which seems a little paltry compared to Angelos' $50,000 check.  The largest donors to the "Maryland Marriage Alliance" were the Knights of Columbus ($100,000) and the National Organization for Marriage ($400,000).

A Berkeley study has concluded that Baltimore is one of the most under-policed cities in the Country.  I am not so sure about the methodology here, but this would appear to be a jarring conclusion in light of the recent increases in shootings across the northeast of the City.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow is looking for recommendations for best Chinese food in Howard County, holding serve with Noodles Corner on Dobbin.  Jane and I tried Dim Sum at Asian Court on Sunday.  It was amazing.  For those that haven't tried Dim Sum, it is a lot of fun.  You sit down and the servers bring by rolling cart after rolling cart of amazing food that you would never order but for it sitting there glistening on a plate.  There wasn't one thing I didn't like (and we ordered a lot).  I think we all still miss Wok 175 (can anyone tell me where this food moved?).

That's all for today.  Feels good to get some links in.  I was out of practice.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It seems appropriate that we've placed a day of Philanthropy the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  After we've indulged on food and satiated consumer lust, there's Oliver...asking for more.

Most of us, myself included, treat philanthropy as an "and then."  After we've taken care of ourselves, purchased whatever we need (and a little of what we don't need), we save what's left for nonprofits.  I would never trivialize the amount any one person would give, but collectively we're falling short.  And the internal dialogue doesn't change - "How can I give money away when I have a mortgage, car loan, etc.?"  We are unsurprisingly frugal when nonprofits come calling.  But for reasons uncertain, or certain, but pleasantly hidden, those refrains do not apply to other indulgences in our lives.

I didn't sit down today to talk about guilt.  No one has an obligation to give money away to anyone.  I just wanted to talk about the why and why not's of Philanthropy.  In one of my previous jobs, I was tasked with evaluating the personal finances of strangers for security clearances.  In the Midwest and the South, we very often would come across applicants who would tithe their income, despite huge mounds of debt.  By most in my office, this was treated as "weird" and "irresponsible."  Considering the  tremendous stress that debt brings, you can see how our attitudes towards "giving money away" are very different based on the culture and community we immerse ourselves in.  Some see philanthropy as a frivolity, while others see it as fundamental as paying the mortgage.

I recently sat down with a man who had found himself very wealthy after a number of successful business ventures.  He noted, "As I was coming into a lot of money, my financial adviser told me 'People will be coming to you for donations.  You should set up a fund.'"  In doing so, rather than giving dozens of thousand dollar donations, he was able to make meaningful contributions with targeted goals.  That seems to be the future of philanthropy.

Not all of us can give "dozens of thousand dollar donations", but we can make "meaningful contributions with targeted goals."  The real problem with philanthropy is that it has been cheapened.  We make our nonprofits "Dance (or wine taste) for dollars" and sanitize the underlying community need.  For all of the black-tie-pig-roast-5K-wine-tasting-paperboat-pizza-sales you've participated in the last year, how much concrete "good" did you actually get to feel?  Or did you leave empty?  Like you just overpaid for dinner that was cold and served in bite-sized portions?  And for $75-$200 a pop, that's what you get. 

We need our philanthropic community.  Not just for the homeless.  Cancer is a profitable disease.  Diabetes is a profitable disease.  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a profitable disease.  Cures makes for a bad business plan.  Athletics, art, education, and anything else that has a cost in excess of its market rate, would drown in a corporate culture that is very good at making you think that you have everything you need...until you need to buy something else.

When it comes to this topic, I often feel like I am yelling into a pillow.  Not because you don't care (although I know some folks will skip this post based on the title alone), but because the problem is just so big, while easily ignored. 

We need to find a way to give each philanthropist, no matter their ability or interest, an opportunity to make meaningful contributions with targeted goals.  Personally, I believe the mechanism is through donor-advised funds with your local Foundation, but we can't limit ourselves to narrow avenues.  I can't help but feel that $100 Dinners will be anachronistic by the time I'm 70 and not because we've moved on to $1,000 Dinners.  It will be because we've stopped tricking people into being philanthropists.  We finally made something concrete out of contributing to the public need and allowed for more than a distant touch on the "good" that money provides.  We're there now, but it will take some time to turn this tanker around.  In the meantime, keep that tuxedo in your closet.

Here are some Giving Tuesday Partners to consider contributing towards today:
Columbia Festival of the Arts
The Arc of Howard County
Bridgeway Community Church

Some other local organizations to consider:
Columbia Foundation
Voices for Children

That's all for today.  Two days without links!  I must have a lot on my mind.

Have a great Tuesday Giving to what you love!

Monday, November 26, 2012

GOP of Mooney

Because I'm a sucker for any Baltimore Sun story following the tail of a blog post, with attribution, I wanted to share this article by Michael Dresser about the blame being placed on GOP State Chairman Alex Mooney subsequent to the blanket defeat of all GOP ballot initiatives and Representative Roscoe Bartlett.  The story behind the story is the power and influence of the Red Maryland blog, authored by influential Republicans in their own right.

Even for an ultra-blue state, it was a bad showing for the GOP. and the ability to leverage the Internet to get controversial laws on the ballot appeared to be a new weapon in the arsenal of an out-numbered and out-moneyed GOP.  There was, and still is, reason to think that the existence of MDPetitions alone would make the Democratic majority a little more gun-shy with their power and potentially give the GOP a seat at the table for important pieces of legislation.

That was wrong.  Democrats swept all four questions (with expanded gambling being a borderline GOP issue, but still another opportunity to trip up the party in power).  Yes on same-sex marriage.  Yes on the DREAM Act.  Yes on Expanded Gambling.  Yes on Redistricting.  The last would seem to present the greatest opportunity for success, with our redistricting maps receiving nation-wide coverage for their obscenity. 

The accusations from Red Maryland and others are that Mooney spent so much time on Roscoe Bartlett's re-election campaign that he took his eye off the ball on the referenda questions, setting the GOP up for embarrassment without every fielding a team.  Mooney is accused of focusing on the Congressional seat as a means to prepare his own run after Bartlett retires.

Some of the counter-arguments are interesting.  One is that MDPetitions put too much on the Republican plate.  Why fight four battles and lose when it would be easier to win one?  Was the GOP forced to dance for too many fiddlers instead of building a single coalition against the vote on same-sex marriage?  Shouldn't the entire focus this year have been on redistricting, which puts a ten year hold on a 7-1 D to R Congressional delegation?

Another argument is that the local central committees are to blame for stepping out of line with the State Party and "opting out" of certain questions.  As I've noted earlier, the HoCo GOP decided not to take a position on same-sex marriage this election.  I applaud them for it, but others would say that they are treating the Party like a Chinese take-out menu when the only purpose of the Central Committee is to tow the party line.

Overall, I think that when any organization has a year like the Maryland GOP's 2012, you have to look at personnel and future prospects.  If Mooney has set the party up for a great run in local elections come 2014, then 2012 can be dismissed as an aberration caused by too many balls in the air.  If the party is in the same spot as it was in 2010, you need to move on.  To the extent there were too many ballot questions, that is a failure in leadership.  To the extent the Central Committees fulfilled their federalist ideology, that is a failure in leadership. 

Bloggers are often dismissed as stone-throwing basement dwellers, but the folks at Red Maryland are party stalwarts who have a laser focus on the most important issue when deciding a Chairman - the success of the Republican Party. 

Maryland Republicans hold their State Convention in Howard County starting this Friday.  We will provide the back-drop for a very important meeting about the future and structure of the GOP in exile.  They aren't busy governing, which gives them plenty of time to think.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Post

It seems a little trite, if not vapid, for a blog to write a Thanksgiving post, but I have never shown myself to be above such things in the past.

I feel compelled to use every opportunity, whether by calendar or otherwise, to thank you, the reader.  I can't say enough just how much joy this blog, and your readership, has brought me.  When I was 15, watching the news, reading the news, being consumed by the news, I always thought that if it was ever possible, I wanted to be a part of that.  I was the kid that walked around high school with a Baltimore Sun stuffed in my backpack, reading it at every free moment.  If it got wet or torn, it was a disappointment.  That part of my day snuffed out.  When I found a truly amazing story, my day was enriched.  I couldn't wait to get home and talk the story over with my Dad, who was a reliable news junkie as well.

Editorials were my favorite.  They were the first "news analysis" pieces, before the news felt comfortable including such pieces amongst their front page stories.  Here's a complex issue, let me help you figure it out with argument, evidence, and conclusion.  I've long since concluded that there is no better way to understand the world around you than a well pled argument, so long as you consider the existence of opposition. 

I started this blog almost four years ago after feeling speechless in a very loud world.  By putting my ideas "out there", and being part of the conversation, it drew me into the mix.  I have met so many amazing people.  Mostly because of this blog.  Primarily because of you.

I don't know how long this blog will exist, but I do know that the period in which I maintained it will always be known to me as the most exciting time of my life.  Thanks to you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CA Board Recap: November 20, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:40 pm
End Time: 9:35 pm

This was a short meeting, but only because it was almost entirely devoted to one agenda item -- the HOA legislation.  When we left the conference room two weeks ago, it seemed like we had reached some form of consensus on the process.  First, we would review the language of the proposed bill to correct the language and offer the Villages a "final copy" for them to make their determination on support from.  Then, at a subsequent meeting, we would vote on whether we would be referring the bill on to the Delegation.  That process feel apart quickly.

HOA Bill Process

I remain astonished that there are critics in the community, and Board members, that feel we are "rushing into this" and/or skipping steps.  Last night, one Board member, after voting to quash the bill forever more, followed up on the unsuccessful vote with his concern that we had not adequately evaluated the language of the bill.  There are the appearances of a strategy emerging in forestalling this bill repeatedly and then complaining that the Board has embarrassed itself with the process.  The embarrassment is that this Board has had this legislation for three months and has yet to vote on it.

I think this bill is good for Columbia and good for the Columbia Association, but I also think it is "small".  It doesn't do very much.  It continues the resident protections that currently exist and separates CA for specific inclusion in all future bills.  That's it.  We can talk about lobbying costs all we want, but this is really about creating a legal firewall to protect against errant legislation.  Yet, put in the context of changing Columbia as we know it, the benefits seem very small.  The latter concern is further augmented by months of process and public hearings that, in their very existence, promote the big concern over the small change.

As I described it last night, we have an infected wound right now.  We missed an opportunity to think of a roll-out communications strategy, allowing critics to define the parameters of this debate, and have been playing on their court ever since.  That's fine.  But all Board members, regardless of their position on the bill, should be pushing this matter to a vote.  No more dawdling.  The language of the bill will either be irrelevant (voted down) or left for final edit by the Delegation, so checking punctuation and spelling is of minimal utility. 

I don't know why we do this to ourselves. 

HOA Public Sentiment

I will never be someone who votes based on public sentiment alone.  This Board has heard from about 30 people, many of them more than once, that "no one is in favor of this bill, everyone is against it, vote it down."  We've been called fools, stupid, Columbia's Politburo, and lackeys of the Staff.  This process has worked more to show the worst of Columbia than the best, with many residents stating after the fact that they were intimidated out of commenting due to the tenor of discussion.

I can take the nastiness.  I suppose we asked for it when we volunteered to spend 7-8 hours a week to serve on the Board.  Long ago, I realized that any position with a faux gold name-tag will be paired with criticism.  (Treasure the security of those weakly tacked stickers).  But I don't have to be persuaded by mass alone.  I have a right to disagree and I do.

Board members have been repeatedly shamed for not attending all of the public hearings on this bill.  I couldn't make all four.  I have a job that requires a lot of my time, especially those hours between 8 and 6.  Nevertheless, I am quite certain I could paraphrase every argument against this bill, with or without the insults.  If the complaint was that I did not subject myself to hours of condescending instruction, that is correct.  And as I've told my fellow Board members, if there is another meeting offered for public hearing on this bill, I will not be in attendance regardless of what my schedule provides.  That is not intended as "disrespect" for the people who choose to speak, but rather my conclusion that we are well past the point of utility.

I make my votes on the Columbia Council based on my judgment and evaluation of what is best for Columbia.  Public sentiment is very important to me (hence the existence of this biweekly post) as an additional input that can often direct my judgment on a given item.  But to suppose that the correct answer is determined by the weighing of chits is something I cannot accept.  I've heard those speaking against this bill say they haven't read the bill.  I've heard them say it does things it does not do.  I've heard them say we're trying to exempt ourselves from currently applicable provisions, which is also incorrect.  In this context, the Board should think carefully before deciding that the matter has been decided by way of public vote.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

HoCo 2014: Council Races

Another slow news day, another pull from the post-bank.  With the County Executive race set, there will be a number of Council districts that open up for newcomers to the HoCo political scene.  These are some of the more unpredictable races, but, again, I thought I would share what I know.

Council District 1

This seat seems the most likely to be open with Courtney Watson going for the number one spot.  Many projected this seat to be open even if Courtney did not run for County Executive due to the draw of a new Delegate seat that closely follows the borders of her district.

One of the early names thrown around has been Chris Merdon (R) former Council representative for D1.  Chris has recently joined the Howard County Republican Central Committee and would seem poised for a jump back into public life.  Then again, most folks who know Chris say they would be "surprised" if he went back into County politics.  Obviously, if he did run, Chris would be the favorite to win.  He knows the District (even with shifted borders) and has name recognition that may have lasted the eight years in hiatus (may have).

Another possible candidate is Jon Weinstein (D), who has clearly indicated his interest in running for office in 2014, leaving the targeted office TBD between Delegate District 9A and Council District 1.  As you may recall, Jon had unsuccessfully run for a Delegate Seat against Warren Miller and Gail Bates in 2010.

Wildcard: Bob Ballinger (R) lives in the new D1 and may be considering a go.  He is fresh off of a hard fought 2012 race for Board of Education and may still have the fire in his belly for a more geographically limited Council race.  Updated Note:  Bob commented below that he is not interested in running for Council D1.

Because it was suggested yesterday, I thought I would add that I have no plans to run for County Council in 2014. 

Council District 2

It is very unlikely that Calvin Ball will leave his seat, but even more curious is who would fill it should he ever choose to do so.  Budding politicos in the Eastern part of Columbia/Elkridge may have an open field to run over the next six years.

Council District 3

Jen Terrasa may be looking over a potential vacancy in Delegate District 13 should Guy Guzzone decide to run for County Executive.  If that would happen, I would not be surprised to see Dennis Schrader (R) try again for the Council seat.  Sure, he faced a nearly insurmountable registration deficit in 2010, but he also was confronted with a flood of last minute campaign cash into the district that would not be expected for an open seat.  The new District is not much more favorable for Republicans, but he would have a name recognition advantage out of the box.

On the D side, I would love to see someone from one of the Village Boards run.  Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance have some very impressive leaders on their Boards who would do fantastic at the County level.  I'm not going to call anyone out, but I hope this race is on their radar.

Council District 4

This race has already received some buzz with the retirement of Liz Bobo from Delegate District 12 setting off speculation about whether Mary Kay would look to fill her seat.  I think she will, which would leave another vacancy in Council District 4.

When you're talking about the heart of Columbia, you're looking at a lot of potential candidates.  I would expect Democratic Central Committee member Clarence Lam (D) to be looking at his options, as well as CA Board Representative Regina Clay (D).  But above all, I think Alan Klein (D) will be locked and loaded for another hard primary run.  With a crowded field of 3-4 primary candidates, I would not be surprised to see the party establishment split the vote and Alan bring home the win.  This would set up the very unlikely circumstance of a Republican actually having the shadow of a chance at winning the ultra-blue district.  Presuming Tom D'Asto (R) has retired his timeless campaign materials, we may see former blogger Trevor Greene (R) (D) in the race...and watching Rudy on repeat.

Updated Note: Trevor Greene comments below that he will not be running for County Council in 2014...and is a Democrat.

Council District 5

As I've mentioned before, I do not see Greg Fox going anywhere.  In fact, I don't even see anyone from the Blue Team challenging him this time around.

It is still very early, but with so many open seats, prospective candidates will need to get their names out there by early 2013...or November 20, 2012.  The most likely openings are in D1 and D4, with D3 depending on what Guy does in the Executive race.

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tractors Crossing

(County Council)
Hard Place

Tonight, the Council will be hearing testimony on a piece of legislation that has been described by the former head of the Howard County Farm Bureau as "the most convoluted confiscation of property rights I've ever seen in my entire life."  In compliance with State Law (Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act), the County must design "growth tiers" that correspond with water and sewer services (i.e., access to the grid).  Most controversial would be Tier IV, or "rural conservation" zone.  Quoting from Arthur Hirsch's illuminating piece on the subject:  "Within the bounds of zoning and the practicalities of how septic systems work, owners of land in that zone who are subdividing 20 acres or more can generally put up one house per 4.25 acres, or 23 houses on 100 acres. Under the council proposal, only four houses could be built on that 100-acre property."

Facing a "Farmland Cliff" of sorts, if the County does not make such a designation by December 31, all properties on septic systems will be limited to four or fewer lots, regardless of their size.

Howard Planning Director Marsha S. McLaughlin has some unfortunate quotes in the article, including, "They've had developers banging on their door for 20 years to buy their development rights."  Ugh.  I imagine that some of this is simply out of frustration and a lack of any other explanation.  The General Assembly, as they are known to do, made a controversial decision, but left the controversy for the Council to deal with.

Whether or not a rural property owner wants to turn their majestic 200 acre farm into a 50 unit development is not the issue.  The issue, and what you will hear in the testimony tonight, is that these farmers leverage the value of their land, with all development rights currently standing, for farm equipment, supplies, feed, and other matters of daily living.  If you had 200 acres of land, you would do the same thing.  But if that land is summarily stripped of the ability to develop, from 23 houses per 100 acres, to 4, that value is gone.  You money flow is gone.  Your very way of life is gone.  That collateral no longer exists, despite that fact that all it ever was existed in the mind of a banker.

I don't envy the Council here.  This matter has transformed from one of nitrates in the Chesapeake to the future of farming in Howard County, and all across the State.  If I were on the Council, I would contact one of the bankers that normally works with farmers in the rural west and ask them what can be done to preserve that collateral value.  Possibly a sunset clause on the law that needs to be renewed every 5 years?  Projected dates for connecting these rural properties with sewer access?

Soon after this law is implemented, there will be lawsuits, many of them focusing on whether the State used its power under the Takings Clause and, if so, whether due process was afforded those whose property rights were confiscated.  Yes, this is different than straight-up zoning.  The State isn't saying "You can't put an office building here."  They're effectively mandating preservation.

As noted in the article, back in 1982 the Council considered a similar piece of legislation that would have limited rural development to 20 acres per household.  30 tractors drove down from the west to the George Howard Building in the middle of January.

Holiday traffic may start a little early.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Flier HOA Op/Ed Dead Wrong

The Columbia Flier has seen fit to weigh in on the HOA Legislation proposed by the Columbia Association this afternoon.  Without couching my language at all, I have to say that it is one of the more presumptive, uninformed, and blatantly incorrect items of journalism I have ever seen.

From the start, it operates from the faulty premise that CA is looking to "reclassify" itself in a way that would exempt CA from currently applicable provisions.  This presumption is allowed for those who have not sought to educate themselves on the bill, but a complete fabrication for anyone who has undertaken even the quickest review of the proposed law.  What the proposed bill would do is create a new section under the HOA Act that would posture the Columbia Association for specific inclusion in all future bills intended for homeowners associations.  All current provisions of the HOA that apply to CA will continue to apply as specifically referenced in the bill.

In fact, as repeated throughout this process, CA could have sought the title "Super", "Mega", "Grande" Homeowners association, and the effect would have been the same.  The title "nonprofit community service corporation" was used to avoid confusion, which is only further fostered by this editorial.

Second, the Flier posits that this bill requires "more work and more public vetting."  What work, and what purpose vetting would serve, is omitted.  Surely, the single staffer that has covered this bill would be able to tell the editorial board that those members of the public so inclined to comment have declined the opportunity to edit the bill and would rather squash it altogether, most commonly under a complete misunderstanding of what is trying to be accomplished.

Third, this bill is currently under consideration by the ten Villages of Columbia, which are set to decide whether they will support this legislation by early December.  This is a contigent of Columbians who have a sincere stake in whether the legislation goes forward and have sought an informed opinion from counsel as to whether it would be favorable to support the bill.  To count the 30 residents that have spoken out against this bill as a "groundswell" is frankly ridiculous.  If the editorial board had simply asked what the posture of the bill was at present, they would have learned that there are more advocates than "a couple of board members and CA's attorney" with others still trying to educate themselves before making a decision.

Finally, and most disappointingly, the Flier has the opportunity to provide clarity in times of confusion, but instead has premised their opinion on a litany of quotes.  The actual language of the bill escapes the entire editorial without mention, citation, or reference.  That speaks to the quality of this Op/Ed more than anything I could possibly say.

I know it's a light news week, and I assure you there are many well-reasoned positions available in opposition of this bill, but for a paper with such a loud voice, I think we could have expected more than this.

Party of One (Thursday LINKS)

In post-election conversations, I've spoken with a good number of people that are Registered X but voted for Y Party's candidate.  I almost have the refrain memorized:  "If X Party would just give up on (blank) issue, and focus more on (blank), I would have supported them."

We live in a customized world.  Entertainment, employment, education, and even news has been whittled down from a communal shared experience to one that has been designed specifically for YOU.  Eating whatever sub combination found itself wrapped in saran wrap is sooo 1980's.  Subways wants you to have it your way.  Four primary networks for news?  Pssh.  Here's the Internet where anyone can take the microphone.  Encyclopedia?  Meet Wikopedia.

It seems predictable we would expect the same from our political parties.  A little fiscal conservatism (we all love how that sounds, don't we?) a little social liberalism (means so many different things to different people) and...Ta Da!  "This is the party that I think would win."

But that position comes from a presumption of entitlement.  "I am a voter.  Both parties want more voters.  They should do what I say!"  While in reality, political party planks are made up of those who have made themselves heard.  Voting blocks, advocacy groups, monied interests.  (And we've found ourselves in a cynical nose dive, let me Denzel Washington this baby and...we're back).

What I mean to say is that political parties are big, awkward, careening giants, stumbling through a field of china shops.  You should not expect them to make you happy and, more often than not, they will make you mad.  They cannot hear you and will not bend down to listen.  The only thing giants care about are other giants. 

Name an issue: Abortion, same-sex marriage, civil rights, taxes, energy, environment, education.  Those that are heard on these issues are people who have made their interests into giants.  They've done the hard work of cultivating support, raising funds, and speaking very loudly about their concerns.  Sure, it results in litmus test evaluation of candidates, but for a good segment of the population, regardless of how they may characterize themselves, they are litmus test voters.

Why do I say all this?  To bum everybody out because they are sad the giants aren't listening to them?  No.  I actually wanted to point out one of the more interesting victories of this past election.  The Howard County GOP Central Committee did not take a position on Question 6 (same-sex marriage).  This wasn't because Committee members said "You know, I think I heard Joe Smith grumble in his garage that he wishes the GOP would stay out of the marriage equality debate."  Instead, it was Central Committee members, like Dave Myers, noting that one of their elected officials had taken a position in favor of Question 6, and it would be better if the local GOP left the decision to the discretion of individual voters.  They agreed (with significant dissent).

The giant left one china shop undisturbed.  It will not buy future goodwill with the electorate.  Joe Smith probably still thinks the local GOP was carrying the party line.  But it showed how those with their hands in the dirt can have an influence on party decision-making.

If you really want a custom made party, and you think your view of the world is one that should be made into a giant, you need to get your hands dirty - either by making a giant yourself, or getting into the belly of the beast.  Otherwise, understand that there will never be complete congruence between your personal beliefs and the stumbling behemoths that are now racing towards 2014.  Crash crash crash.


A bit of an unorthodox link to start you day - check out this cartoon over at The Oatmeal about putting out online content.  His discussion of comments is pretty spot on (although I "resemble that remark" regarding daily posts).

The Atlantic has a great piece about the "real" scandal relating to General Petraeus, and it has nothing to do with a bone-headed affair.  Rather, the author looks at the dangers of militarizing the CIA, particularly regarding drone strikes.  "Um, yes, when you put it like that, it is much more scary and offensive.  Let's go back to talking about affairs."

The Board of Education is still undecided on what redistricting map it will adopt with (now) less than 24 hours to vote.  Make sure to watch the dissenters on this one.  Redistricting is a "cut the baby" vote, in which great numbers of people will be offended regardless of what passes.  Politically minded Board members are going to do whatever they can to keep their finger prints off the final outcome, and will raise a stink about "the people" and "the students" before voting "no". 

One of the unintended consequences of restricting future rural development is that property owners looking to eventually profit from their land have been pushed to develop earlier than they may have otherwise decided to in order to dodge the ban on septic and off-grid development projected for the near future.  For those of us who like driving along peaceful acres of farmland, that is a very bad thing.  The Mullinix brothers have seen the writing on the wall and are seeking to remove the County Agricultural Preservation easement that currently prevents them from developing the land.  In order to do so, they will have to prove that the land cannot be profitable through farming.  From my perspective, that seems like an overly onerous burden, but one that these property owners, or their predecessors, went into with their eyes open.  This will be an interesting case to follow.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Julia does a great job putting community involvement in context: it's like cleaning a bathroom.  If that was in any way jarring for you to read, click over to the post.

That's all for today.  I hope to see a number of you at tonight's Columbia Foundation Annual Dinner.  It is National Philanthropy Day.  Do some good and have a great day doing what you love!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Philanthropy by Pay Stub

Our non-profit community is in trouble.  They may not be saying anything, and the pink ribbons, blue bumper stickers, yellow bracelets, and rainbow puzzle pieces may be just as apparent today as they were five years ago, but their budgets are crumbling.

First went the corporate donations.  Beginning in approximately 2008, corporate giving began retreating from philanthropic giving at a pace of -2.5% per year.  This sector of community support began to return in 2009, but levels of giving are still far below 2007 numbers, both in actual and inflation-adjusted dollars. 

Individual giving then stagnated.  While it was able to supplement the loss of corporate giving in the early stages, it was not prone to increase with the recovery, pinning philanthropic organizations to yesterday's operating budget.  Meanwhile, the demand for their services increased with additional jobless and under-employed seeking the services of organizations they one time sponsored.

Now, it appears, the final leg of the chair is poised for kicking - public funding.  This is a controversial, but critically necessary, component to non-profit funding.  Those in favor of public funding note that these non-profits supplement, or augment, government services and that money spent to assist the future operations of such organizations would otherwise be necessary to perform the underlying tasks if the organization no longer existed.  Critics will say that governments should not be mega-philanthropists and shouldn't "do good with other people's money."  An incontestable fact is that but for government support of the non-profit community, a significant majority of these organizations would wind-up operations, and close their doors.

You may have heard of something call the "fiscal cliff".  Our non-profit community has a lot at stake over the next three months.  Will funds that had otherwise been designated for public support be withdrawn?  Will charitable deductions be one of the "loopholes" closed in the name of "tax reform"?  Will tax increases wipe out the steady contributions they've seen from individual donors?

You may not know it, but this is National Philanthropy Week.  Tomorrow is National Philanthropy Day.  We have a hard time talking about philanthropy.  "I've already given a lot this year."  "Tapped out."  "Come back to me next year." I'm not asking you for money, but I am asking you to re-think the way you give. 

All success comes from habit.  We call it "hard work" or "dedication", but it is really just a well-engrained habit that we set in our brains at some point in time that led us to success (or failure, for those habits that work in the opposite direction).  Successful philanthropy needs to be a habit.  It can't be sporadic giving (unless a very nice, charming blogger asked you politely to help fund a sober house for homeless in Howard County).  Joking aside, we're doing it wrong.  For the non-profit community to succeed, we need to make that support a habit, not a happenstance. 

For 2013, I will be selecting three non-profits to "Put on my pay-stub."  I will contact them directly, obtain bank account and routing numbers, set an annual giving amount, and forget about it.  In increments of $30 - $40 a pay-stub, I will provide dependable, predictable stream of income for the next year.  In 2014, I will add one more.

I will no longer have to budget for philanthropic giving (making arrangements beforehand to work in any gala/annual fundraiser into my annual giving).  No more having to remember my checkbook.  Set it and forget it.

I'm not saying this to brag or flaunt good deeds.  I'm saying this because we need more people to do this.  Starting next year.  If we want our animals sheltered, our poor fed, our children protected, and our arts to thrive, this is what is necessary.

There's no better time to start thinking about this than National Philanthropy Week.  I'll forgive you if you want to wait until National Philanthropy Day.  If you want some ideas for a great place to start (or augment) your philanthropic habit, or who to contact for those pesky routing numbers, please e-mail me directly.

No Links today, but I did want to promote "The Nutcraker on Ice", which will be presented by the Columbia Figure Skating Club on December 15 & 16.  You can find out more about this event at this website.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Howard Referenda-ed

There is a good amount of analytical depth available when talking about questions put to referendum.  Is the electorate properly educated?  Is it a fair argument that the public benefits from profligate campaign spending on referenda to outline the issues at play?  Can "government by referendum" result in discordant policies that leave no one accountable for the outcome?

Those are mostly rhetorical, but we do know the results of the 2012 referred laws, which bear review.

First, Howard County really likes its lawyers.  While the statewide vote on requiring Orphan's Court Judge's to be lawyers was only 87.9% to 12.1%, Howard County approved the measure 88.2% to 11.8%.  Ok, so it really isn't much of a difference, but we leaned more heavily in favor than other jursdictions.

The same is true for crooked politicos.  Maryland voted 88% in favor.  Howard voted 89.2%.

Now is when it gets a bit more controversial.  Howard also favored the DREAM Act more than the statewide average, with 60.7% of the votes cast in favor of the measure.  The Maryland results were 58.3% in favor, a difference of almost 2.5 points.  As with the rest of these questions, it is hard to decipher whether these results have any basis in partisan leanings or whether the voters made decisions independent of such considerations.

If we were to test our results for discerning voters, I think Question 5 (redistricting) would be a reasonable option.  Maryland voters approved of the new map with 63.6% of the vote, while Howard approved at 64.4%.  Your opinion on this outcome depends on whether you think voters are paying attention to the question.  If you do, this is a partisan-heavy electorate happy to put its hand on the scale of congressional apportionment.  If you don't, the rest of the questions lack any relevance in terms of evaluating the electorate's preferences.

 The largest divergence between Howard and State-wide results was on Question 6, relating to marriage equality.  While Question 6 eked out a win on the State level with 51.9% of the vote, Howard voters spoke very clearly on the matter, approving the measure with 58.6%, a difference of almost 7 points.

Question 7, regarding expanded gambling, may end up being a medal of honor amongst political wonks proud of their home County's voters.  While State voters approved with 51.9% of the vote, Howard County, with its County Executive on TV telling us gambling was good for education, jobs, and Maryland, voted the measure down decisively 47.5% to 52.5%.  You have to wonder what kind of ribbing Ken took, and will take, regarding Howard's vote.  "I thought you said you could get Howard on board, Ken?"

I have to run off to a meeting and won't have time for links today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Little More Than Thanks (Monday LINKS)

Yesterday, November 11, was Veteran's Day.  It will be "observed" (what a weird description of a "day off") as a "federal holiday" today.

Our appreciation of this Country's veterans is well worth examining.  So often I feel that our thanks come in forms that are self-serving, or worse, self assuaging.  Facebook has cheapened so much and Veteran's Day is no exception.  "Post 'Happy Veteran's Day' share this picture of Marines and...I'm...done."

But in the converse, how can we adequately show appreciation for this kind of service?  I watched Restrepo for the first time over the weekend.  It is an amazing film with great weight.  The sacrifice of our American soldiers is inescapable.  There is one scene in which a scout unit is attacked during "Operation Avalanche."   These men, most barely over 20 years old, fight through biologically ingrained programming to flee and charge into danger.  Physical strength can be built with weights and protein shakes in the safety of a gym.  The type of mental heavy-lifting it takes to override basic human instincts is Herculean. 

We all "appreciate" the risk to life and limb, but we try not to think about it too much.  If we do, it is a quick slip before we feel guilty (we can't have that).  But how can you escape this topic without feeling "guilty" that one half of one percent (0.5%) of all Americans serve in the military?  That those who have already sacrificed are compelled to do so again and again, either due to obligation or a forced choice based on financial needs.  This is not a shared burden.  Perhaps it explains why our Country has lost its reticence to go to war to "protect our friends" or "spread freedom."  We're not the ones fighting.

All of this culminates in our shamefully inadequate treatment of returning veterans.  Americans don't like the idea of a lost war.  Better to have served in a good one, with no politics attached, and you may get a parade.  It should be completely unacceptable to all Americans that 20-25% of all homeless men in the United States are veterans.  It should be completely unacceptable that any veteran is without a job.  It should be completely unacceptable that any veteran should be limited in what kind of education he or she receives after returning home from service.

My Dad, my Uncle, and my Grandfather all served in the United States Army.  I think of them every Veteran's Day.  I also think about how they would want to be "appreciated."  Yesterday, after prompting from TJ back in February, I made a contribution to Team Red, White, and Blue.  Team RWB takes a holistic approach to helping veterans and enriching their lives.

George Washington once said “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."  I would like to think that this works in reverse as well.  A veteran's pride in service, and self-worth with respect to the same, may be directly proportional to how we treat the veterans of today's wars.  We can't undo decades of sweeping bad wars, and veterans of the same, under the rug, but we can show them that it won't happen again.  But it takes a little more than "Thanks".


David Frum offers some food for thought on where the Republican Party should go from here.  His post-election analysis has been quite spectacular.  I do think pundits are going a bit overboard on their recriminations of a Party that was one or two shifting policy planks away from pulling in a majority of the popular vote.  This wasn't 1988.

Arthur Hirsch looks at the Howard County Charter questions, with particular focus on the new referendum standards.  As I was quoted as saying in the piece, I think the presumption has to be that Howard County voters knew what they were voting for.  This is a discerning electorate that actually voted down Question 7 for expanded gambling.  Moreover, I think it is conceptually inconsistent to say that the voters were not competent to decide a question that would have more readily allowed them to decide future questions.  If you think they were duped, we're better off not having them be duped again!  My perspective is that Howard County voters want certainty in the legislative process, which is a reasonable position to have, even if that means the de facto existence of the referendum is squashed.

Baltimore City's Ethics Board, which oversees the Ethics Director, has not met since the 1990's.  While this will make for good stump speech material, I really don't find it that upsetting.  The ethics director receives inquiries from City politicians and provides opinions related to the same based on written guidelines and comparable jurisdictions.  An oversight board may do more to muck up that position than anything else.  Then again, why have the Board if they aren't going to meet?

Very scary story over the weekend of a Taco Bell Manager shot several times outside the store just off of Broken Land Parkway.

Luke Lavoie shares the plans for a park and bocce ball court in Hickory Ridge.  It would be great to see some public momentum behind this plan as the expected opponents (trees, money, volleyball advocates) sound their horn.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  WB notes one more episode of the sad trend amongst certain Republicans to hang the American flag upside down as a matter of protest against the reelection of Barack Obama.  I was willing to say this was a one-off dramatic display by a nut, but then my Facebook feed started showing the occasional upside down American Flag as profile pictures.  (My "friends" list needed some trimming anyway.)  This behavior is a shade off of burning the flag and absolutely unacceptable.  What offends me all the more is that many of the people promoting this nonsense once appeared on a Howard County ballot.  I'll tell you this much, should they ever run again, we'll remember.

That's all for today.  Please consider contributing to Team RWB or some other worthy non-profit to show your appreciation for our Country's soldiers. 

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What If Romney Won?

Last Tuesday, President Obama lost Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida, and will not be re-elected to a second term.

Let the accusations and recriminations begin.  The President did not have a plan for bringing this Country out of a recession.  He proved unable to work with a Republican majority in the House, and therefore was unable to an effective Executive.

Personally, I believe the biggest reason President Obama lost was because he wasted the political momentum and "mandate" from the 2008 election on a Health Care bill when he should have used it to put our fiscal house in order.  Presumably, if he had successfully maneuvered a budget deal through his majorities in both Houses and addressed the debt, he may have maintained that Democratic majority throughout his first term.  They would not have unilaterally passed an unpopular health care bill at 11:00 pm, and the Tea Party may have continued to be a fringe movement.  But for the Town Hall meetings across the Country after the Health Care bill, the Tea Party would have been without a catalyst and Glenn Beck would have a harder time saying that the government is trying to take over your life. 

In the last months of the campaign, Mitt Romney was able to paint himself as someone capable of reaching across party lines.  "Moderate Mitt" paved the road to the White House, which played further into the narrative of "We gave Obama a chance, its time to try something new."  We will soon learn what tax reform means, but it can be presumed that many of the most treasured deductions and exemptions will have to go. This is probably all for the best.  Tax rates on the rich are seemingly irrelevant.  One of the advantages of being rich is that you can pay professionals to lower taxable income in such a way that you essentially create a separate scheme altogether.  Rather than sit on the defensive, Mitt Romney used the second debate to show that yes, he paid 14% in income taxes, but here's why that needs to change.  He promised that under his tax plan, he would have no choice but to pay at least 30% of his income in taxes, despite all the accountants and tax lawyers in the world.  It was communicated brilliantly and had true resonance with voters.

Foreign policy ended up being our October surprise.  Mitt Romney left his accusations regarding who knew what to the cable networks, and pounced on the fact that four Americans died on foreign soil, in an unstable Country, without any coherent policy towards the emerging governments in the Middle East.  At the third debate, he compared and contrasted the President's relationship with dictators and democracies, showing that there was no congruence or predictability in how the United States would respond.  Most interesting was Romney's promise to end rendition, a tactic that has continued since the Bush Administration with very little discussion in the press.  This started a brush fire on President Obama's left flank that he did not expect, and was ill-prepared to respond to.

It is unclear where the Democratic party goes from here.  For all of their successes, one may wonder if they are pushing for too much too soon.  Conservative attitudes amongst certain segments of the immigrant population in Virginia, Florida, and Colorado supplemented an overwhelming white majority in voting for Mitt Romney.  And this was without a coherent immigration policy on the right.  One can assume that this will be a high level objective of the Romney administration to solidify their gains and lock down a second term.

Congratulations to Republicans.  It looks like you have many successful years before you.  Democrats have plenty of time to think "What If?"

Friday, November 9, 2012

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

Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 11:12 pm

We really don't have too much to show for our four hours this week.  Some of that may be the result of the Board's experiment with "Work Sessions", which have lacked the structure of our regular Board meetings, but it also may just be the nature of what was discussed.

FY14 Budget Requests

The Board is preparing to review the fiscal year 2014 budget for additions, subtractions, and corrections.  Off the top, it looks like we will have additional money available from what was set aside for Symphony Woods, so the Board has the opportunity to look at different uses for those funds.

Representatives from the Village of Hickory Ridge presented a compelling plan for a park next to the Hickory Ridge Village Center that was projected to cost approximately $800,000.  This park included a circular half-mile pathway, three gazebos, and a bocce pit (obviously the focus of Board discussion).

I love the plan and am excited about working bocce into the next activities guide, but I was a little put off by the argument that Hickory Ridge "is due" in light of the amenities offered at other Villages.  This argument should be put in cement boots and dropped to the bottom of Lake Kitt.  In my two years on the Board, we have never passed anything because one Village "was due".  For all of our faults and foibles, we are very good at evaluating proposals based on merit alone.  This Board has also been sincerely collegial and cooperative when it comes to the aging infrastructure of our Villages and working to bring them up to par.  Saying Village A has nicer schtuff than Village B is a quick way to get me to tune out.  It is divisive, petty, and short-sighted.

As expected, we were barely off the starting block on the Hickory Ridge park before we were talking about bathrooms in Wilde Lake and amenities at Oakland Mills pools.  Notably, this was immediately after the Planning and Strategy Committee Chair said we would be talking about Board Requests at another meeting.

CA has a lot on its plate in terms of infrastructure maintenance and upgrades over the next five years.  I am hopeful that this project can be incorporated, and honestly believe it will be.  I just hope we can do this based on merit and not some never-ending discussion of who deserves what.

15 Year Capital Project Improvements Plan

CA President Phil Nelson is seeking policy guidance from the Board on our long term strategic goals for infrastructure improvements and augmentation of what CA offers.  In short, he wants the Board to evaluate when CA is and where Columbia is going in terms of demographics, market shifts, and lifestyle changes.  When you hear people say "CA is phasing out young families", it is very likely that this is the topic that they are speaking to (regardless of whether it is a reflection of anything we have voted on doing).

Do you all remember the game Pipe Dream?  It was a spacial intelligence video game in which you had to place pipe to get green goo from point A to point B without it spilling onto the game board.  You had a certain number of pipe pieces to use and were timed against the unfortunately timed release of the goo while you are still working.  Great game.

Board deliberation is a lot like Pipe Dream.  If there is no structure (pipes), the goo goes everywhere.  That's not the Board's fault, and, in fact, I would suggest that this would happen with any ten people asked to discuss a topic.  That's why designing an Agenda is an art, requiring conscientious evaluation of topics, what is being asked of the deliberating body, and reasonable time expectations.  If all three elements are not in balance, you can expect an unproductive three hours to fly by in a hurry.

This was an early step in the process and I think it was intended to be a free-for-all.  That's fine, but there are a number of Board members who retreat from this kind of spaghetti-on-the-wall deliberation, and did so last night.  I also can't say what, if anything, came from our discussion other than "We want to keep our stuff, make it better, and add new stuff."  There were some very interesting, radical, ideas that were tossed around, including getting out of the gym business all together.  (To paraphrase one of my young-parent friends who came across his 3 month old son 2 hours after a diaper had come loose in the crib - "[Goo] was everywhere.")  I will expect Phil to take this Round Robin and make something of it, but more importantly, I will hope for some additional structure for future deliberations based on what the Board presented last night. 

HOA Bill

We need a new rule that if an Agenda item has been around for more than a year, it gets a name placard and a seat at the Board table.  The HOA legislation has long out-lasted this requirement.

Unfortunately for all involved, this measure was framed by speeches from two Board members casting aspersions about whose failed leadership caused what to unravel and how horrible this entire process has been.  This stuff really doesn't move the ball and just hurts feelings.

At this point in time, the Board needs to put on its big-boy (or big-girl) pants and vote.  I stared, mouth agape, as one Board member suggested that we were not in a position to vote on this bill.  If we are not ready to vote on this bill, we will never be ready to vote on anything.

After spending almost 30 minutes talking about whether we agreed with the reasoning for the bill, and another 5 minutes discussing process, the External Relations Committee referred the legislation out of committee to the Board.  We informally agreed on a process that unfortunately will not have been memorialized other than scattered agreement amongst the Board - A) The Board accepts a proposed Draft as what will be proposed; B) The Board holds a second later vote to endorse the legislation for consideration by the General Assembly.  This process will allow Villages the opportunity to have final language that they can take to their counsel for review, while also providing some measure of forward movement on an issue that has long over-stayed its welcome.

I think every element of CA can use a good debriefing on this matter when it is finally put to some disposition.  Was our communications strategy forward-thinking and effective?  Were we adequately prepared for anticipated criticisms?  How do we define the Board's fiduciary obligations?  What represents a conflict?

I'm exhausted on this matter and I have spent all tolerance I may have had for those who wish to analyze this bill to death.  At heart, I think the Board has shown a shadow of cowardice in its constant retreat from controversy.  We've allowed a wound to fester and this is the consequence.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lessons Learned from Election 2012

The dust is still settling from Tuesday's Election, but we do have some numbers to digest and things to mull over as far as how these results project into the future.  This is not hard statistical analysis, but rather assumptions based on fact and my general knowledge of the County.

First, the HoCo Presidential Results:

Turn-out 2012: 188,748 (64.45%) 
Turn-out 2008: 145,601 (83.15 %)

Something seems screwy here.  Top number taken from MD BoE, bottom from HoCo BoE.

Obama/Biden 2008:  87,120 (60%)
Obama/Biden 2012: 84,069 (59.3%)

McCain/Palin 2008: 55,393 (38.1%)
Romney/Ryan 2012: 54,161 (38.2%)

(Santa Claus did not get one vote!?!?  No one likes irony in this County?)

From this we can say that the Republican party is stuck, if not moving backwards.  McCain received 36.5% of the statewide vote in 2008.  Romney won 36.4% in 2012.  In both circumstances, Howard County GOP voters outpaced the average, but with a less popular Obama on the ticket, I think Republicans would have liked to have seen Romney get over 45%.  There was no ground game here, and the Romney campaign probably could care less about a County in the middle of a deep blue state, but local Repubs were watching this election to see where they stand.  In sum - not good.

Why?  They need to capture unaffiliated voters to win.  As noted in an earlier post, Howard County Republicans only make up 30% of registrations, with Democrats at 48%.  It doesn't take too much lazy math to realize that the unaffiliated voters are weak partisan Dems.  In order to win a county-wide race, or even stay competitive in swing Council District 1 and newly created Delegate District 9A, they need those unaffiliated voters.  It doesn't look like they're getting them.

The sad thing is that I think that GOP success is possible in this County.  We have a strong Chamber of Commerce and a wealthy corporate sector who, I would assume, are playing the hands they're dealt by sending contributions to Dem law-makers.  The local GOP has put its resources into tea-party rallies and the Taxpayer Protection Initiative when it could have otherwise fostered its professional base.  Two years is a short time to get a political house in order, but if they want anything more than an embarrassment come November 2014, that's the task at hand.

Board of Education Results:

Siddiqui -- 64,006 (22.0%)
De Lacy -- 48,342 (16.6%)
Giles -- 47,743 (16.4%)
Ballinger -- 44,610 (15.4%)
Gertler -- 43,438 (14.9%)
Scott -- 41,363 (14.2%)

Some local elected officials were predicting this result as early as the first week of October.  It may be worth noting that Ken Ulman won re-election for County Executive in 2010 with 66,121 votes.  Janet Siddiqui would have made him sweat.

I think I speak for a lot of people when I encourage Ann De Lacy to pay attention as they remove Allen Dyer's name plate from the dias.  Take pride in your victory, but understand that the electorate will only tolerate so much "shaking things up." 

Bob Ballinger did a great job capturing the Low Education Education Voter, between sign waving, prolific sign posting, and the "Bullet Bob" strategy amongst Republicans.  Unfortunately for him, I think he's seen the limits of this approach, especially since there will be a second chamber on that gun in 2014 when union-endorsed GOPer Brian Meshkin runs for re-election.  (I'm going to have to hold on to all those angry posts about the HCEA from my GOP friends to see if they feel the same way when one of their own is riding the apple to office).

David Gertler saw the business end of the LEEV.  He tried to appeal to those who would pay attention to tutoring sessions and a discussion of what STEM means, spurning opportunities to sign way or post 10 foot signs at choice intersections.  It was a risk he took with eyes open and unfortunately it did not go his way.  If this election teaches us anything it is that cold-blooded practicality wins the BoE.

Jackie Scott is a very impressive woman, and I was so glad to see her running, but I'm not sure if she was made out for campaigning, or at least not yet.  I really didn't see Jackie around too much and mostly found out what she was doing from her Dem sponsors.  Speaking of which, I think that for all of the promotion of Jackie Scott's candidacy in the last two weeks by members of the County Council, there should have been some guidance on day one about how the campaign should be run.  If that happened, we didn't see it.  I hope Jackie stays involved and would even suggest that a run for County Council may be more successful for someone with her background and skill set.

This all looks like Monday Morning Quarterbacking...because it is.  My guy lost too.  But a loss doesn't count unless you learn from it, and I think there is a great deal to learn from 2012.

I'm not going to have a chance to review the ballot questions today, but may give them a shot on Monday.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Requiem for an Election

What a wild ride.

I'm too exhausted and scrabble-brained to offer much in the way of commentary, but I did want to drop a line to thank those who ran and lost.  Us on the outside don't know the distinct disappointment of putting yourself out there (you, your ideas, your name) and having to deal with unfavorable results.  What I hope you remember are all of the people that felt so passionately about your campaign, stood in the cold, proudly showed your bumper sticker, and are feeling just as disappointed this morning that you didn't win.  That is admiration and appreciation that many of us will never experience, and you had it for the last four months.  It doesn't go away with a ballot.

We now move on as a Country.  Elections are one of the few times in politics where we actually have some measure of truth.  "So and so" won.  "So and so" lost.  In light of all of the misinformation that was taken as truth regarding polling data and which states were going in which direction, I hope there are some people questioning that dichotomy this morning.  We can have different opinions, but can't continue to live in different realms of fact.

I'm proud of my State this morning.  Sure, it means the world to me that we passed marriage equality and the DREAM Act, but I more just appreciated what yesterday felt like.  We all cared deeply.  Whatever it was we cared about may not have been unified, but that energy was really palpable.  You can't help but think what we could do if we ever did find something to agree to do together.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Final Election Run-Down: "How Do You Govern?" (LINKS)

I finally had an opportunity to listen to last week's episode of And Then There's That, featuring one of my favorite state politicos - Comptroller Peter Franchot.  Early on in the discussion, Peter was discussing Washington gridlock and the nastiness of Congressional politics, wondering amongst all of that "How do you govern?"

What an interesting question; with a different inquiry on each emphasis:

How do you govern?
How do you govern?
How do you govern?

That question, in all three forms, will be all that's left come Wednesday (please let that be all that's left.  Pah-leeease).  After all the campaigning is done, and you've either fetched the golden ring, or returned to relative obscurity, how do you govern (yourself) (your office) (the matters before your deliberative body) (your constituents)?

That question applies to all of us.  Are you better known for what you're against than what you're for?  Have you kicked the tires on citizen engagement, or are you a "Facebook freedom fighter"?  Have you learned something over the past two years that you're passionate about and would rather not leave at the doorstep of November 7th?  How do you govern?

Here are some links to help you through today's ballot:

My thoughts on Board of Education: Gertler, Giles, Scott

This is an unpredictable race, folks.  Make sure to vote loud and proud this afternoon, and if you have a chance, maybe drop your favorite candidate a line to see if they need help working a poll.  I am disappointed that I will not be able to work a poll for the first time since moving back to the County, as I have a meeting (who'da thunk it?).  Please think hard on your vote.  Let's not swap out one controversy for the next.

Questions 1 & 2 (Orphan's Court): Lawyers are normally good at handling legal matters.  Vote Yes.
Question 3 (Removal from Office): Force corrupt politicians from office?  Yes, please.  Vote Yes.
Question 4 (DREAM Act): Never say no to education.  Vote Yes.
Question 5 (Congressional Redistricting): Save the Rabbit. Vote No.
Question 6 (Marriage Equality): All you need is love. Vote Yes.
Question 7 (Expanded Gambling): Money for nothing and the slot machines for free.  Vote No.

Howard County Charter Amendments:
Questions A, B, D, and E - Vote Yes.
Question C - Vote No.

I've never been one to hold a clipboard outside of a Giant asking people to sign, but it only takes a quick glance at Questions 5 and 7 on this ballot to appreciate the ability to petition laws for referendum.  As I was quoted as saying in The Sun, under this amendment, the threshold for signatures will continue to move further away while grassroots resources remain stagnant, particularly when one needs to mobilize within a matter of weeks in order to have a successful petition.

If you want to do away with the ability to post a law for referendum, I strongly encourage you to vote for this Amendment.  That is a reasonable position and one with a lot of thought behind it.  I just don't agree.

President: Barack Obama

There really is no use sharing this vote, other than to fully inform whomever clicks across this page.  If they think I'm a socialist "community organizer" (gasp!) with a deficiency in economics because I support the President, that may color their view of my endorsements above.  But I will tell you that I've given this vote a lot of thought, specifically seeking out Price of Politics after learning that it was critical of the President and his handling of the debt ceiling crisis.  I have immersed myself in all of the Rove, TownHall, Newsmax, Fox News critiques that I've come across, only to leave more confident in my decision.  This isn't a vote against Mitt Romney.  It is a vote for the President.

I would go into my reasoning here (and actually just deleted the same), but I feel we have lost the ability to speak reasonably about Presidential politics.  Over the weekend, I posted an article on Facebook offering a different view on the Benghazi attacks than those put forth by Fox News and other conservative outlets.  It effectively ruined my weekend.  I'm not doing that today.

Please come out for the Isle of Sanity tonight at The Rumor Mill.  As an added consideration, my wife is from the Jersey Shore and will be participating in "Operative Fill the Subaru" to bring items up to families affected by Hurricane Sandy (so, no one gets named Sandra for the next ten years, right?).  If you wouldn't mind looking over this list and bringing along any requested items to tonight's event, it would make Jane very happy (my core goal in life):

Baby: diapers, etc./Food/Clothing
Kids: Clothing/Activities/Games/Toys (please no battery or electronic)
Adult: Clothing

Supplies: work gloves, batteries, flashlights, thermos, hand warmers
Pets: Pet food/bowls/collars/crates
Canned/nonperishable food/bottled water
Warm Clothing: Coats, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, thermal underwear (new please), sweatshirts, sweatpants, slippers
Medical: C Collars, roller gauze, bandages, disposable blankets, tape, rubber gloves, trauma dressings, band aids, peroxide, alcohol, slings, antibacterial ointment, ace bandages

We will also look to set up another drop-off later in the week, possibly at our house.


Nate Silver notes some last minutes surges in the poll numbers for Obama, placing a 91.6% likelihood that the President wins re-election tonight.

RCP's No Toss-up Map predicts a final Electoral tally of 303 to 235.  I don't agree.  I think Obama could lose Colorado and possibly Virginia (although the ground game there has been strong).  My prediction: 294 to 244.  Feel free to include your electoral projections below.

Interesting news came out yesterday that while Democrats across the State have encouraged voters to "Vote Yes on 4, 5, 6, and 7", Peterson Cos., the beneficiary of expanded gambling in National Harbor, has dropped $270,000 into a "sample ballot" initiative urging voters to Vote No on 4, 5, and 6, but Yes on 7.  Just as interesting as Peterson going against the Dems is the fact that State GOP Chair Audrey Scott has put her face on a piece of literature advocating for Question 7.

On the heels of Sandy, we're expected to receive a "wintry mix" on Wednesday into Thursday that will also affect the Jersey Shore.  Please think of those families when you're sorting through unwanted sweatshirts.  (You're never going to fit into that Notre Dame hoodie again, let it go.  Tell yourself it shrunk.  It's ok).

Approximately 20% of all Howard County registered voters took advantage of early voting last week.  Jane and I thought we would give it a try Friday night, but the line out of the Bain Senior Center at around 8 pm was about 30-40 people deep.  I would much rather vote at my sparsely attended polling station this afternoon.

Kevin Enright has left the "best and the brightest" over at Team Ulman to begin work with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  My only real interaction with Kevin was when I had an appointment to meet with the County Executive on the same day that there was a "liquid manure spill" on Main Street in Ellicott City.  I cannot share the words that were spoken on that day, but will only relay that the periodic updates provided by Kevin to Ken were hilarious.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ makes it out from blogging hiatus to offer his perspective on the Election questions.  Always a great read.

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Isle of Sanity 2: The Revenge

Those of you who were kicking around this space back in 2010 may recall that Sarah, WB, and I planned to get together on Election Night to review the election results without the highs and lows of partisan allegiance.  WB was kind enough to reserve a table for us at Clyde's, which ended up filling, and then spilling over into the surrounding seating area.  By the end of the night, it seemed as if 20-25 people had rolled through or set up shop throughout the night.  It was a great way to share stories about how crazy that election had become and how weird it will be to have new personalities to follow (although the latter were few in number).

Dennis and I decided over the weekend that we were going to try this again, incorporating lessons learned from 2010 (i.e., wireless Internet is key).  This is a dorky tradition, but it is ours to share.

Matt Milani and the Rumor Mill crew have agreed to host.  I've projected about 12 folks, but am beginning to think I may have sold our crew short.  You can find the Facebook invite, and RSVP, here.

A Practical Argument for Ballot Question 4: The DREAM Act (Monday LINKS)

I consider myself a very practical person (don't we all).  By that, I mean that if I feel my emotions are pushing me in a certain direction, I will try to step back and check under the hood to see what reasoning I am relying on to make that decision.  Sometimes, there is no one behind the curtain, and I have to acknowledge to myself that the decision may be rash or impractical, but most of the time I can find some bones beneath the flesh or otherwise change my mind altogether.

When the DREAM Act was first passed, I concluded that it was a bad law.  "Our state can't afford to subsidize education for illegal immigrants."  Right?  That makes sense.  Oddly enough, as I went to look further at the reasoning underlying this position, I found that it was based almost entirely off of presumptions and had very little basis in fact.

The United States does not have an "immigration" problem.  We have an "unskilled immigrant" problem.  Our legal immigration system is so dysfunctional that we effectively deter highly educated immigration and encourage illegal immigration, which, as so aptly noted by the right, creates a class of "criminal immigrants."  So what do we do now?  We can place additional regulations and fines on small businesses to create "voluntary deportation" of spurned employees or we can reform the current system to foster legal immigration, deter illegal immigration, and incorporate those who already find themselves within our borders.  Nevertheless, this pipe dream can only exist at the federal level, leaving state's holding the bag on a current class of unskilled illegal immigrants.

In order to address the current state of things in Maryland, our State Legislature saw fit to pass the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented illegal immigrant students the right to pay in-state tuition at a community college once they've completed three years of high school in Maryland.  A student's eligibility is also premised on their family filing Maryland income taxes from the time they are in high school through the time they graduate college.  The student must obtain at least 60 credits at a Maryland community college before they may transfer to a four-year institution.

1) Barriers to Entry -- Our current economy holds education out at a barrier to entering the middle class.  Unless you have an associate's degree or technical certification, it is incredibly difficult to live above poverty.  On the other side of things, if you were to look at the rolls of citizens (illegal and legal alike) receiving government services or assistance, you would find a direct correlation with education.  At present, the financial barriers to even community college education are too steep for even the most motivated student if they do not have access to in-state tuition.  If you look at the table for HCC, you'll see that the difference between "in-county" and "out-of-state" rates is almost double.

2) Path to Citizenship -- The President has already announced that any student graduating from college by way of the DREAM Act will be allowed a work permit to assist them in a path to citizenship.  Getting away from forms, proof of birth, character statements, and citizenship tests, if we were to create an optimal path to citizenship for current immigrants, education would be the key.  Maybe you are inclined to say that educated immigrants under the DREAM Act will take jobs away from other Maryland students, but if that is your concern, you should turn your gaze to India, China, and the whole of Europe, who have sent skilled immigrants to the United States to take high paying jobs and, oh by the way, further fuel our economic productivity.

3) An Investment in Maryland -- There can be no question that there will be a cost for the DREAM Act, although you would be hard pressed to find those numbers in the editorials supporting the law.  A UMBC study found that by 2016, state and local governments will share a total cost of $7.5 million a year, with approximately $50,000 a year from the federal government.  This study went on to find that these costs would eventually be off-set by income and sales tax, as well as decreased costs in public services.  For each class of students assisted by the DREAM Act, there would be an estimated return in taxes of $24.6 million.  Hmm.  I'm no investment guru, but if I asked you to invest $8 million, for a total return of $24.6 million (ignoring the societal benefit of an educated workforce), I think you would sign on. 

It's not a perfect bill.  Opponents will say it will make Maryland even more of a "sanctuary state" than it already is, and provide a magnet for illegal immigrants, ignoring the 6 year trend of reverse migration and the long-term planning that would be necessary for a family of immigrants to take advantage of this bill, but even if they're right those are just additional shares of a long term investment in Maryland.  If we have the highest concentration of educated immigrants in the Country, our economy will thrive, businesses will move to the State to take advantage of this work-force, and the return on investment will increase.

For addition insight on this topic, please read Council Member Calvin Ball's editorial in the Flier.  As you may already be aware, Dr. Ball is a professor at Morgan State and has seen the transformative power of education.


It's almost over, folks!  Despite the admonition that polling would be handicapped by Hurricane Sandy, I have not been able to take my eyes off the polls for the last week.  I particularly enjoy Nate Silver's analysis over at the FiveThiryEight blog.  He not only analyzes the polls, but also explains the hidden faults in the data and the uncertainty in the statistical process.  I think if this blog had been around ten years ago, I may have avoided a certain blemish on my college transcript.

David Frum writes the most compelling argument for Mitt Romney that I have read so far this election.

Andrew Sullivan responds to the Frum piece with a more emotional rebuttal, but its worth reading both together.

Council member Calvin Ball has proposed a bill creating hiring preferences for disabled veterans and other applicants with disabilities after noting that approximately 5,000 of the 6,000 individuals in Howard County with disabilities were considered "not in a labor force."  The County, as an employer, has the opportunity to provide additional opportunities for employment that may not exist in the private sphere.  When I worked for the DoD, there was a special program hiring blind cashiers for building snack bars.  It was amazing to see a man who could not see operate an entire shop with small tricks he had learned to govern the store.  I think Dr. Ball is on to something big here and hope the rest of the Council will support this law.

Council Member Watson has proposed a bill to the State General Assembly seeking funding to create multidisciplinary teams in each jurisdiction to address bullying.  This is a slippery subject without a real answer.  I look forward to hearing more about this bill and seeing what is possible.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: It appears that our friend WB has found himself at the other end of a threatening letter from a lawyer retained by Board of Education member Brian Meshkin.  This is what happens when you start to believe your own press releases.   

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