Thursday, January 31, 2013

Text of Ken Ulman's State of the County Address

Here is the text of Ken Ulman's State of the County address, which was kindly provided to me earlier today.  I think it is becoming clear that the theme of Ken's budding Gubernatorial campaign is that Howard County, as a microcosm, is a "Model for Maryland."  Rather than run away from Howard County, as rich suburb where nothing bad happens, he is embracing it.

Ken has solidified himself as one of the "Big 3", as they are now being called, in the Dem Primary.  That offers him some name recognition in itself.  Now he needs to get a message that has purchase with those who don't know who Ken Ulman is.  We'll see if "Model for Maryland" get's it done.

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I stand before you for my seventh State of the County address more confident than ever that the future of Howard County is bright, our momentum is growing, and that the state of our county is resilient, robust and ready.


All signs show that we have weathered the worst of the economic crisis. The real estate market is improving and business growth is on the rise. Your county government is leaner, more nimble, more responsive and more focused.

Once again we were named one of the best places to live in America by CNN and Money magazine. We continue to be the healthiest county in Maryland. Our schools, libraries and parks continue to earn national recognition. And we have, once again, the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Maryland.

But it is important to note that none of these accomplishments have been achieved by accident. They all happen by design.

They are a result of the decisions we have made together. We have chosen to invest in education, sustainability and public health. We have chosen to seek innovative and creative solutions to challenges. And those investments and choices are paying dividends.

We do this not for the sake of innovation itself, but with a purpose -- based on our shared values. We do not settle for just adequate or functional. We strive to improve every day.

You, the residents and business leaders of Howard County, demand excellence and smart decisions. You want us to innovate. And I, along with our dedicated county employees, rise each day committed to meeting and exceeding your expectations.

We pay attention to the needs of the private sector and have created a business-friendly environment. We make the right investments in education, open space and infrastructure, thereby creating thriving sustainable communities. Through our choices and our decisions, we have created a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

Last year provided us with several unexpected challenges. And we were reminded that the work we do is not just for ourselves, but for our children.

So when we create a MODEL FOR MARYLAND, we are creating opportunity not just for ourselves, but for those who come after us. By our actions, we ensure that our children grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment.

The most important responsibility we will always have is to protect the safety of our people. I have never been more proud of the men and women of the Howard County Police Department and Fire and Rescue Services than in the past year.

We were tested in so many ways in 2012 -- by merciless weather events such as the “derecho” storm in June and by Hurricane Sandy in October, and by tragedies like the August train derailment in Ellicott City. But we persevered, thanks to hard work, planning and cooperation.

I wish you all could see what goes on in our Emergency Operations Center when a storm like Hurricane Sandy is approaching.

Behind the scenes, it is all hands on deck. With Sandy, we spent hours poring over flood-plain maps, figuring out where the best shelter locations would be, and deciding how to notify residents if they needed to evacuate.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to implement those plans. But your government was as ready as possible – because we work so hard, and because we look for innovative solutions.

Not all innovations come from the latest computer programs or cool apps that let you find a downtown parking space, although we like those too. Sometimes they are simple changes that come from the drive to do things efficiently and effectively. Let me tell you about one improvement that we developed during last year’s storms and were able to share beyond our borders.

When power is out and trees are down, we used to send a police officer to control traffic, and then wait for another worker from a different department to remove those limbs and trunks from the roadways, with little interagency coordination. But then we realized it would be much better to get everything done at once. So we created “strike teams,” made up of police officers to direct motorists and workers with chainsaws to cut down trees, working together to get things back to normal more quickly than ever.

While Sandy largely spared Howard County, our friends in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore were not as fortunate. So when our “strike teams” were done here, we sent them with their chainsaws to the mountains -- where more than a foot of heavy, wet snow took down power lines, creating a life or death situation. Within hours, Howard County workers removed hundreds of trees, helping to restore power. Later, our building inspectors went to Crisfield, in Somerset County, to aid recovery efforts there.

When we have a MODEL FOR MARYLAND here in Howard, we should share it. And that’s what we did. Greg Fiala, I’d like to ask you to stand. Greg is a member of our Recreation and Parks Department, and he was in Garrett County helping our fellow Marylanders get their lives back in order. Greg, I know that you and your colleagues left your families behind at a difficult time to serve our neighbors. Thank you for your selfless act of public service.

Natural disasters and other major events also highlight the critical importance of communicating with the public.

For those of us in public service, it is vital that we use all available platforms to share information and invite a dialogue at all times. That’s why it is so important to embrace social media. If you haven’t already done so, please like me on Facebook and follow me @kenulman on Twitter. That’s not just a shameless plug. We are always pushing out information at all hours, every day of the week, on breaking news, school closings and important events in our community.

For example, during Hurricane Sandy, one Columbia resident, Julie Rosenthal, along with the Young Women’s Giving Circle, school system, and Oak Tree Furniture, organized a donation drive through social media to help our neighbors to the north in their recovery. But Julie needed help spreading the message. She reached out to me on Facebook, and without hesitation we posted a call to action. Instantly, Howard County residents were compelled to help. They shared with friends on Facebook. They drove to Clarksville Middle School and dropped off donations. And then they talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. It was a great example of how social media can bring a community together, and I was happy to share this particular experience with my own daughters – who couldn’t wait to help load the truck.

While I am a proponent of social media, I am also reminded that whatever is posted, shared, tweeted, liked, you name it – it lives forever.

Sometimes I wish it didn’t. Look at the screen for Exhibit A. Sure, I lost the bet on the Ravens-Redskins game to my good friend, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. And all of the TV stations in Washington shared my terrible voice singing Hail to the Redskins while wearing an RG III jersey. BUT, Rushern and his Redskins will be watching this Sunday while my Baltimore Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl. In the end, I think I came out on top. Hey, if there is any link to my singing and picking up trash and the Ravens making it to the Super Bowl - be prepared to see regular Facebook pictures of me picking up trash next season.

Our public information office had a lot of fun with the Redskins-Ravens challenge. And one member of the team deserves special recognition today. Kathy Sloan Beard has dedicated three decades to Howard County, across five administrations and today is Kathy’s last day with the county. Kathy, please accept my gratitude for all you have done and best wishes on this next stage of your life.

It is often through the lens of an emergency that we observe the true character of our people. It was a late August night when I received the call that a train had derailed in downtown Ellicott City.

When I arrived at the scene, it looked like something out of a movie set. Mangled freight cars and coal filled the streets and parking lots of historic Ellicott City. We quickly learned that two young women were quite literally in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A rescue and clean-up operation had to take place in a confined space, with respect for the historic nature of the buildings and surroundings.

But what happened next was remarkable. We took control of the scene. The National Transportation Safety Board arrived and quickly completed an evaluation. CSX took full responsibility for the damage. Our public works crews oversaw clean-up.

And in just five days, historic Ellicott City was fully open for business. Even the lead NTSB investigator told me at the time that he was shocked that we got things back to normal so quickly.

To the families and friends of Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, please know that this community will never forget the two very special young women who lost their lives that night.

To the people who live and work in Ellicott City, you have shown your resiliency through trying times, and you have my commitment that we will continue working to make improvements to the historic district.

Since the derailment, streets have been repaved and curbs have been repaired, and just this week, we announced a major new capital project that will include additional street and sidewalk improvements, better stormwater management, and the creation of more amenities to celebrate the town’s connection to its natural environment.

While major emergencies and natural disasters are still fairly rare, our public safety team shows its mettle day in and day out.

Thanks to the men and women of the Howard County Police Department, violent crime is down and traffic fatalities are dropping. Still, too many people lose their lives on our roads. But I know our enforcement strategies are making a difference. I want to congratulate our Police Department for winning the 2012 Chief’s Challenge, a competition among Maryland police departments to address impaired driving, speeding and seatbelt use.

We are saving lives, as a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

And we must remember that our officers put their lives at risk every day to save others. Just a few weeks ago, a Howard County police officer was driving to the station at about 3 a.m. in order to serve a warrant when he came across a gruesome scene. A two-vehicle accident left one car mangled and lying in an embankment, overturned and on fire.

The officer got out and approached the burning car, and saw that there was a young woman inside. And with the flames growing, time was short. He scanned the scene, and saw what he needed to do. The officer crawled underneath, and through a small hole in the windshield, grabbed the unconscious young woman by her hair and pulled her to safety.

That woman is alive today because the officer jumped to action, and did what he was trained to do.

Corporal Craig Ream is with us today. Corporal, please stand. As Police Chief William McMahon said at the time, “We hear the word ‘hero’ used all the time, but Craig’s actions were truly heroic.”

Craig, thank you, from all of us, for what you did that night.

We took a monumental step forward last year toward modernizing our Department of Fire and Rescue Services, opening our new Glenwood Fire Station – Howard’s first new first station in nearly two decades – and adding two more medical transport units, bringing our total in the field at any time to 14. These investments, coupled with new technology to quickly deploy units where they are needed most, is helping us drive down response times and save lives. By setting a high goal, we achieved success by design, and our commitment to rapid response earned Howard County the Heart Safe Community 2012 award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. With our focus on medical response and the first full-time medical director in the state, we are proud to be a MODEL FOR MARYLAND and the nation.

I take tremendous pride in our schools, parks and libraries, among the best in the nation. Having the highest quality of life allows us to attract and grow businesses and strengthen the foundation for future success.

Once again, Howard County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, and we have consistently maintained that position through the Great Recession.

That doesn’t happen by accident. We have fostered new businesses and ideas through our Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, and we have focused on key advantages such as our proximity to Fort Meade through our Economic Development Authority and our Mission Growth Initiative.

Once again this year, the rating agencies have reaffirmed Howard County’s best possible bond rating – Triple A. Of the over 3,000 counties in the United States, fewer than 1 percent have the top rating from all three agencies – reaffirming our responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds and allowing us to finance critical projects at the lowest possible costs to our residents.

Because of our strong fiscal management, a business friendly climate and a focus on entrepreneurship, the county is on the leading edge in Maryland. The Howard County economy, forged through smart decisions, is a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

More high-quality, cutting-edge and fast-growing businesses are choosing to call Howard County home, and bringing high-wage jobs with them.

ELTA North America, a subsidiary of the Israeli defense company IAI, recently selected Howard County as its headquarters. This is the firm that makes the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that protects Israel from rocket attacks. In the past year, the Iron Dome intercepted more than 400 missiles from penetrating Israeli air space, and the company’s North America division is working with the U.S. military to bring that same protection wherever it is needed . ELTA searched the country for a location for its new headquarters, and narrowed its choices between Maryland and Virginia. Our economic development team set them up in our business incubator as the company considered its options and fostered a strong working relationship with their executives. In the end, ELTA picked Howard County, for our strategic location, our commitment to innovation, and because we demonstrated that we care about business in Howard County. Dave Machuga, President and CEO of ELTA North America, I’d like you stand, and thank you for the 100 high-tech workers with an average salary of $110,000 your company is bringing to Maple Lawn.

Howard County continues to leverage its advantages in cyber-security. Even with a reexamination of federal spending and resources in Washington, there is no doubt this field will grow. In fact, the Pentagon just announced that the U.S. Cyber Command based at Fort Meade will be growing five-fold, expanding its focus from defensive measures to become, as the Washington Post put it, “the equivalent of an Internet era fighting-force.” America’s top cybersecurity companies increasingly know that Howard County is where they must be.

That brings me to another new Howard County company -- Accuvant. An international leader in cyber-security, Denver-based Accuvant is one of the fastest growing companies in America. Last year, they acquired a small company in Anne Arundel County and were planning to fold it into their main operations. But after working with our economic development team headed by Laura Neuman, they realized all the advantages of Howard County, and their need to be at the hub of cyber growth. I’m thrilled to announce that Accuvant is ready to open a major office right here in Howard, adding 180 jobs to the 70 already in Maryland, meaning 250 new jobs to Howard County.

I would like for Frank McLallen of Accuvant, and his team, to stand and be recognized. Thank you, Frank, for investing in Howard County, and for helping to keep our nation safe.

You can’t talk about business development, especially in the high tech and health sectors, without talking about the workforce of the future. Our Howard County Public School System, Howard Community College and our library system all do a terrific job training and connecting our citizens to opportunities, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.

At Howard Community College, we opened the doors to the new Health Sciences Building just a few weeks ago, and we will soon begin construction on a $74 million Science, Engineering and Technology building that will train that workforce. Thank you to Dr. Kate Hetherington, the president of HCC, for your vision, and all you do to train people for critical careers.

Our library system has opened a state-of-the-art digital media lab for middle and high school students in STEM fields. It is a fantastic program, and Valerie Gross, our library director, does a wonderful job preparing for the future.

I am constantly impressed with the talent of the students in Howard County. And I want to take a moment to mention just a few. Gregory Nelson, Josh Choi, Sophia Novacic and Ryan Olson are 8th graders at Lime Kiln Middle School, which is a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

They began working together on a science project for a competition sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, entitled The Effect of Microgravity on Chryseobacterium Aquaticum Growth. Their project was chosen from more than 1,400 submissions across the country as part of the Student Space Flights Experiment Program, and will fly aboard the International Space Station. What an honor. Gregory, Josh, Sophia and Ryan are here today, along with their principal, Scott Conroy. Please stand up. We are very proud of you.

The past year was one of transition for our public school system, with the retirement of Dr. Sidney Cousin and the hiring of a new superintendent, Dr. Renee Foose. Dr. Foose has begun her tenure strongly, demonstrating a passion to make sure our system grows and prospers.

Dr. Foose, please stand for a moment and be recognized. Thank you for your leadership and your partnership.

Dr. Foose and I have begun an effective partnership on several opportunities and challenges, including working together on school safety and making sure the new technology we are bringing into Howard County through the One Maryland Broadband Initiative is utilized to the fullest extent possible in our schools.

And speaking of our broadband network, I am pleased to report that construction is almost complete. Soon we will begin lighting up Higher Speed Internet in schools, public safety buildings, businesses and health care facilities. What does this mean? Our children will get a better education, we will be safer, we will have access to better health care, more private sector jobs will be created and the taxpayers will save money. We are nearly done laying the fiber to make Maryland the most wired state in the nation. This project will improve all of our lives, and it was our leadership that created the MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

From one end of the county to another, the plans we have set in motion for growth and revitalization are taking hold. Downtown Columbia is a great example of that, with new commercial and residential buildings ready to go, mall improvements underway and the addition of Whole Foods to the historic Frank Gehry-designed Rouse Company headquarters. Even Mr. Gehry himself was excited to see our progress.

Plans are underway to turn Symphony Woods into the world-class cultural and arts space that Columbia and Howard County deserve. This project, a partnership of the Columbia Association, the Howard Hughes Corp. and the county government, will bring vitality and excitement to Downtown Columbia, and will create a world-class cultural destination. This project will truly fulfill the vision that Jim Rouse laid out for Columbia, and we must work together to bring it to reality. Thank you, Phil Nelson, and your team at CA, for working so hard on this vision.

Next week, I will accept the first-ever Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission award for our plan for Downtown Columbia. It is an honor that the state is calling this plan a MODEL FOR MARYLAND. I want to express my thanks to the member of the Howard County Council, who worked tirelessly on this plan with us and voted unanimously for it. The Council has been a great partner in our progress.

It is not just private companies and developers that are bringing innovative projects to Howard County.

The Howard County housing commission finished the Monarch Mills mixed-income development, formerly known as Guilford Gardens, and we are nearing completion of Burgess Mill Station, the former Mt. Ida, in Ellicott City. Burgess Mill features a brand new community center, which will open to the public in a few months. The center features an indoor pool, gym, fitness center, rock climbing wall, track and community rooms to replace the outdated Roger Carter Center.

With a mix of incomes and an array of amenities, these redevelopment projects look better, they fit into their neighborhoods better, and they generate the income needed to make them financially sustainable. It’s another example of the framework for creative problem-solving in Howard that is a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

Government can and should be a catalyst for innovative ideas, serving as a model, creating possibilities and then getting out of the way, making it easier for the private sector to make strides. As an example, BITHENERGY is embarking on the largest privately owned solar project in Maryland, right here in Howard County. The company is planning to build a solar array that will produce enough power for up to 2,000 homes, at the historic Nixon’s Farm on Route 32. We partnered with BITHENERGY and BITHGROUP Technologies to amend zoning and facilitate other approvals to make this project a reality. BITHENERGY is showing leadership and vision, designing a project which will save agricultural land from development and produce renewable power. I want to introduce you to Daniel Wallace, director of renewable energy systems at BITHENERGY, who is here today. Stand up and be recognized, Dan. Thank you for all you do, and thanks to the other Howard-based businesses involved in this project.

I am always pleased with the awards that Howard County receives. For the third year in a row, we were recognized as the healthiest county in Maryland. And we are continuing our leadership in health care by taking our innovative “Door to HealthCare” model to the next level.

Healthy Howard is applying to the state health exchange to become a navigator for a six-county region of the state, under the Affordable Care Act. Our “Door to Healthcare” is a one-stop shop for enrollment and has made getting health care much less complicated for 11,000 county residents by leveraging technology and using creative staffing models. Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act kicks off in October. This is a huge undertaking and one that we must get right. In Howard County, we have MODEL FOR MARYLAND to do just that.

Let me conclude with this: it is impossible to stand here and not talk about what is most important for all of us, in government and the private and not-for-profit sectors: our children.

Recent events – like the Newtown shooting – and tragedies right here in the past year – remind us that the lives of our children are precious. But even more than that, they are fragile, and they can be fleeting.

Threats come at us, and at them, from everywhere. From within the home, and on the school bus. Over the Internet, and from video games.

That’s why we are focusing on the effects of bullying, and how to improve school safety. We’ve created a School Safety Task Force with the school system, and we are already developing some new ideas: We need a better reporting and auditing system to track where bullying is taking place, and we have developed ideas to do that which we will be unveiling soon.

That’s also why last year we opened a new Child Advocacy Center as part of the Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit, to provide better victim services.

We have made improvements in health care; we have begun targeting obesity through the amount of sugar our children consume, in partnership with the Horizon Foundation. We are strengthening our domestic violence services; and we are making sure every child in Howard County – including the 450 homeless students who go to school every day – has a place to call home. We must continue to implement our Plan to End Homelessness.

We cannot protect our youngest Howard County residents from every threat. We can’t build a bubble around their world. But we can create the conditions to minimize those threats.

Because of the strength of our economy and the strength of our people, I know we have the resources and the ability to invest in and improve the lives of our children.

2013 must truly be the year that we PUT CHILDREN FIRST in Howard County. I am asking that everything our departments do, everything that Maryland does, and everything that you do – every day – be done on their behalf.

In Howard County, we will continue to lead by example. And the decisions that we make will continue to be a MODEL FOR OUR FUTURE and a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Office Too Small (Wednesday LINKS)

Ann Marimow at The Washington Post put out a fantastic profile of Maryland's State Prosecutors office this past weekend.  One thing not many people realize is that this office is unique to Maryland.  As Ms. Marimow describes, the office "takes on cases that are too politically sensitive for Maryland’s elected state’s attorneys or attorney general — and too small for federal prosecutors."

As recently as five years ago, this is what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I even had e-mail correspondence with Robert Rohrbaugh, who served in this position before retiring in 2010.  He couldn't make it work and I wasn't willing to be an intern again after buying a house.  The sad fact is this - the office that has handled two of the the most high profile cases for violations of the public trust in recent Maryland history...has only three attorneys.  By way of a lawyer's understanding, this means the Office can just barely walk and chew gum at the same time.  With one case in the hopper, all others are paused.

The salary isn't great.  The wins are rare.  The scorn, at times, seems pervasive.  Does anyone think it was easy to prosecute Sheila Dixon in the City that elected her by huge margins?  How about turning Anne Arundel County employees who had lived in fear of losing their jobs (and in most cases careers) for six years?

But in a way, that little office, stacked up against the most powerful people in the State, is just about as exciting as it gets for an attorney.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt earned your appreciation yesterday.  He "won one for the good guys."  Anne Arundel County Execution John Leopold was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in office.  From Matthew Hay Brown's article in the Baltimore Sun:

Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said the two-term Republican broke the law when he directed his taxpayer-funded police protection detail to put up campaign signs, collect contributions and compile dossiers on adversaries during his 2010 re-election campaign, and when he required county workers to empty the urinary catheter bag he used after back surgery.

These charges do not carry with them a particular sanction and it will be up to the Anne Arundel County Council to determine whether he will be removed from office (he is suspended pending that decision).

Re-read that italicized paragraph.  Imagine your friends, your brother, your sister, being used like servants.  Compiling a file on Citizen X while wondering if your personal details may be in a file drawer above it.  Taking a urinary catheter bag to the toilet. 

We know how this story ends.  Leopold's removal from office is seen as punishment in itself and he is released with a substantial fine, possibly 30 days in jail.  It just doesn't seem like enough to me.  We have people serving 20 years for drug addiction in this State, which should be infuriating in contrast.

Meanwhile, these three lawyers will go back to their office tomorrow, after weeks in trial, to figure out which one case will be next.

LINKS

The Flier likes it!  They really like it!  "Art District a Fine Concept for Symphony Woods"

David Nitkin, Director of Communications for the Howard County Government, offers his perspective on being a Pat's fan in Ravens territory.  I completely disagree with his characterization of "keeping his head down and his mouth shut".

Ken Ulman has announced that his FY14 Budget will include $3 million in improvements to downtown Ellicott City.  This is a continuation of his behind-the-scenes efforts to refurbish this County jewel and bring it back to the prominence it once had.  What we could really use is some State money to evaluate Ellicott City flooding and see if there is room for mitigating infrastructure...for the City on a river.

Yesterday was not a good day for the sports media.  While I fully acknowledge bias in this regard, Sports Illustrated appears to have over-zealously pursued a story about Ray Lewis using deer antler extract as a performance enhancing drug without ever checking the science.  In fact, before any other outlets checked the science, they were also talking about whether Ray would be suspended for the Super Bowl and how his pending retirement would make any appeals effective to wipe out the punishment.  Here's a tip - When someone says "deer antler spray makes him stronger", you may want to call someone with an M.D. or Ph.D. to back that up.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Please come out for tomorrow night's information session about the Inner Arbor Plan.  If you support this Plan, we need you there.

The petition to support the Inner Arbor plan is up to 133 signatures.  Ian has set a new goal of 500 by February 14.

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Let Them Eat Cheesecake

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend, and long-time Columbia advocate, about Symphony Woods when he mentioned, "The last big thing to happen in Downtown Columbia was a Cheesecake Factory."

I laughed.  Then I thought "That was 2005."  November 21, 2005, to be exact.  We've had nearly eight years of cheesecake representing the high water mark of Columbia redevelopment.

Amidst all of this talk of change, we haven't really seen much of it.  While that may be ok for some other places, Columbia seems premised on growth.  Growth of people.  Growth of community.  Growth of business.  Growth of the City.

All of us remember the first time we heard the Columbia story.  We remember how exciting it was.  This guy turned nothing into something and now that something is a place that nearly 100,000 people call home.  Rather than the organic growth from piers and railroads of so many other great cities, Columbia was planned with theory, sociology, and commercial foresight.  From this foundation, the City would grow and be different than any other place that had ever existed.

But similar to a hand grasped by our idol that we refuse to wash, we've left this foundation undisturbed.  "That is how 'HE' left it, don't touch it please."  Those individuals who push for change are drowned out by the voices that say "We're not against progress.  We're just against THIS progress."

Meanwhile, we eat cheesecake and wait.

Columbia is one ball of pent up energy.  How appropriate is it that the first real formative action since "Cheesecake Aught Five" has been watching our elected and community leaders take a sledge-hammer to a wall? This community is tired of waiting and they are tired of being teased.  They would tear down every wall between where we are now and the future of Columbia if it were that easy.

But now, we're close to something great.  A new Plan for Symphony Woods that harkens back to those same exciting ideas that made Columbia happen in the first place.  When you talk to people about it, everybody, opponent or proponent a like, they all have the same question in their eyes "Is this really happening?"  They've been sold so many moments of change that there is "change fatigue."  Charettes, Downtown Plan, design drawings, pathways, fountains, hearings, bills, zoning, signage, elections, Warfield, "open air shopping", testimony, TREES, "meandering paths", and now This.

If the Columbia Association passes the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust next month, we will begin celebrating the new Columbia in the woods this summer.  We need to.  It's just time. 

And I, for one, will be doing so with a big piece of cheesecake. 

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, January 25, 2013

CA Board Recap: January 24, 2013 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:03 pm
End Time: 10:58 pm

Any neutral observer would say that last night was a good night for the Inner Arbor Plan and the Inner Arbor Development Trust.  The original plan for last night's agenda was to save Resident Speak-out regarding the Inner Arbor recommendations until after the presentation, but a number of Board members refused to allow this arrangement, prompting a set of people to talk about how they had not been informed about the Plan...immediately before they were going to be informed about the Plan.  Just about every resident that spoke about the substance of the Plan supported it.  Those that opposed focused more on the "process", which is only beginning.

Inner Arbor Plan and Development Trust

Sometimes I feel like the CA Board doesn't know how to handle success.  We have a Plan that was positively portrayed in the media, looks beautiful, has the full support of our County's elected leaders, and prompted at least 10 e-mails from residents (most of whom we had never heard from before), telling us how excited they were about the Plan.  Instead of celebrating that, Board members attacked the "process" (that had only just begun) and made accusations about what had been done behind closed doors.

Let's talk about transparency.  The Plan, and all of its elements, was presented last night.  It will be presented again next Thursday, January 31, at Slayton House.  The presentation will be available on the CA website.  There are three weeks between last night's meeting and the final vote.  Before the final vote, there will be an opportunity for additional Resident Speak-out about the Plan. 

This is a fully transparent process.  Nothing will be passed three weeks from now that would not have been fully available to the public in the interim.

However, transparency does not equate to public edit.  We, as a Board, would be doing a public disservice if we attempt to have a Plan the public loves (described by Michael McCall as a "concerto in three parks") open for Sim City demolition.  This is not just somebody's plan for a new kitchen.  It is a balanced system of parts, examined for flow, structure, and cohesion.  There is room for public feedback and incorporation, but we need to do so with respect for the expertise underlying the work.

CA President Phil Nelson did a brilliant job describing the Development Trust last night and why it was necessary.  In its current configuration, it would be made up of the CA President (ex officio), two CA Board Members, and two Columbia residents.  It was recommended, and I agree, that we add a fifth member (or allow the President to vote - my preferred approach) to prevent tie votes, but otherwise I think CA's interests will be protected.  The Trust is necessary to facilitate third-party funding via grants, bonds, sponsorships, or charitable gifts.  CA, as a 501(c)(4), is unable to accept these funding vehicles.  The Trust, as a 501(c)(3), would.  There is the added benefit that the Trust would let "park people do park things", but this is peripheral to the central concern that any large undertaking focused on the arts needs to be allowed to take grants.  Simple as that.

The Trust is integral to the Plan.  Without the Trust, CA will not be able to afford this Plan.  That is why these two elements are presented as one.  We may balk at the idea of creating an affiliate Trust, regardless of the safeguards in place to maintain oversight, but if we do, we also need to forgo the Inner Arbor Plan.

The public is being heard on this, and will continue to be heard as long as you all stay dedicated to the vision.  It was moving to hear the Inner Arbor Advocates flow into a single message as Resident Speak-Out went on last night.  Dream big.  Think big.  DREAM big.  THINK big.

I don't see how we can turn back now.

FY2014 Budget

After two and a half hours primarily focused on the Inner Arbor Plan, we turned to the FY14 Budget.  The central issue was the Aquatics Master Plan and whether underutilized pools like Talbott Springs should receive additional funding for amenities to bring more residents to that pool.

Let me premise this by saying that I wish we had not "Accepted and Filed" the Aquatics Master Plan.  I acknowledge that there were Aquatics Policy Statements that were passed by the Board, but for all the time we spent on the AMP, and all the time Staff spent on the AMP, we really should have just passed it.  Because we "Accepted and Filed", there is an ongoing debate about the legitimacy of a central policy document, which, as expected, has caused all sorts of problems.

I voted for, and the Board passed 6-2-1, an amendment to the Capital Budget that would take $75,000 out of Category III projects (miscellaneous Village improvements) to go toward placing additional amenities and improvements at Talbott Springs and Faulkner Ridge pools, with the caveat that this money would slide into FY2015 if the pools were found to require upgrades for ADA compliance.  I did so reluctantly.  As noted to me after the Board meeting, by passing this vote, we are rewarding stubbornness and rejecting the orderly implementation of the Aquatics Master Plan.  The Board, myself included, essentially said "If you ignore Board policy long enough, and are persistent enough, you will be rewarded." 

I voted in favor of this Motion because it was a compromise.  So long as we are keeping all 23 pools open, we need to direct resources to make them all viable.  We also need prudence.  $75,000, pendant on more pressing expenditures like ADA compliance, is prudent, regardless of the sponsor.  But let me say this, if this compromise is not reciprocated by the Board members who sought it, it will be my last.  As a Board, we need to listen to one another about what we are passionate about for this community.  We do not have the luxury of discounting the convictions of others because we don't get along with them.  That was the system in which I made my vote.  If it is not a system promoted by my other nine Board members, we may be having a lot of 6-4 votes.

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


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kittamaqundi Fever (Thursday LINKS)

When I was in college, I spent a semester "abroad" in Washington, D.C.  While many of my fellow students were going to England, Russia, or Greece, I went four hours south to study Foreign Policy at American University and participate in a policy-centric internship.  After I returned, my Political Science professor asked me a simple question: "You going back?"

Without thinking I responded, "Yep."

"You have Potomac Fever."

After swimming in the Potomac for the first D.C. Triathalon, and possibly catching the real version of Potomac fever, which involves skin redness and diffuse itching, I don't know if I actually caught Potomac fever.  I loved living in D.C. during my three years of law school and still remember using the Washington Post as my "Cruise Guide" to check out what great authors were speaking in the various coffee shops and bookstores.  But there is something plastic about D.C.  Artificial.  I didn't have Potomac fever as much as I had an infatuation with people that "thought" for a living.  Still do.

I provide this long convoluted introduction to tell you that I have Kittamaqundi Fever.  I've decided to run for a second term on the Columbia Association Board of Directors.  I'm telling you this three months out because you may be considering a run yourself.

"Why?"  Right?  Nothing has changed.  Board meetings still go for three hours (despite the briefest respite in the Spring of 2012).  I still lament the tyranny of the minority on a bimonthly basis.  Don't I have anything better to do?

I've said it before and I will repeat it here -- There is absolutely nothing better, or more fulfilling, that being a part of the public's conversation for the common good.  Nothing.  Sitting down, looking at a problem, and figuring out how to fix it.  That's terror when it is in your family room, but invigorating in the conference room, particularly when the outcome is not certain.  There are hiccups.  I have votes I regret and lost battles that could have been won.  But that is the challenge that makes it worth doing.  If this was easy, it would be bland.  Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we get up every morning hoping to face challenges that are just difficult enough to make us grow.

There is so much left to do.  I hope, and expect, Symphony Woods will be set on a track for completion before the end of my first term.  The next big item will be the future of CA's infrastructure and making an Infrastructure Master Plan for the next 30 years.  We also need to take another look at our Budget to take it off the conveyor belt and do some efficiency checks.  Zero-based budgeting may be the answer, but I look forward to seeing this through in 2013.  Finally, and most importantly, will be deciding where CA will be in the mind of the average Columbian 30 years from now?  Will we just be a lien that people grumble about paying or will we be the spoke that makes Columbia turn?  At this point in time, I think all opportunities are available to us, but those paths narrow with every year.  The significance of the new Fitness Facility in the Rouse Building cannot be overstated.  If that opportunity had been missed, CA as we know it could have been on the other side of a decline.

Now is around the time that you may want to think about running for the Board.  I have no idea what seats will be empty and what Board members will stay, but I will note that I think competition makes us all better.  Myself included.

LINKS

The big news yesterday was that out-going Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the ban on women in combat was being lifted.  Color me naive, but I was not aware that this ban was in place.  It is one of those things that seemed like it would require a presumption that would seem out of place in the 21st Century.  "Why can't women serve on the front lines?  You know why, man!  'Cuz their women!  That's why."

Apparently, North Korea is conducting a war against us of which most of us were not aware.  I expect that these rockets will be taken care of with an "Iron Dome"-like defense, but it still no fun to think of nuclear warheads targeting U.S. land.

Baltimore County is working on its General Plan and has owners in one of their most successful commercial districts throwing their hands up in frustration.  The Council voted against the recommendations of the planning staff and Planning Board to deny expansion of Green Spring Station.  The sponsors of the expansion point out, correctly, that the Council does not have expertise in this regard.  Either way, they do have the vote, and that is really all that matters.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ has returned to the keyboard to try a few pull-ups on the meaning of life.  Welcome him back with a quick read and maybe an encouraging comment.

By my count, the CA Board has received eight e-mails supporting the new Inner Arbor Plan and one e-mail promoting delay in pursuit of amendment.  Please continue to let the Board know how you feel about this Plan and the dangers of allowing this process to fester.  Our Board Meeting is tonight at 7:00 pm in the CA Building along Lake Kitt.  I hope to see you there.

Also, check out this great event for Saturday:

Trailblazing Afro Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry will perform at the 9th annual Jazz @ The Lake concert on Saturday, January 26 in Columbia, MD.  Terry has been heralded by The New York Times for having “helped redefine Latin jazz as a complex new idiom.” The concert is on Saturday, January 26 at 7:30 PM at the Jim Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Rd., Columbia, 21044. Tickets are $20 ($10 for students) and can be purchased online at InstantSeats.com/events/JimRouseTheatre, at Wilde Lake High, or at the door.  For more information, contact WildeLakeJazz@gmail.com or 410-997-2070 

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fox Farm (Wednesday LINKS)

Yesterday, the County Council heard testimony on CB1-2013 (PDF), introduced by Greg Fox, which is essentially another bite at the apple on the Growth Tiers map passed by the Council, vetoed by the County Executive, and laid to rest by the failure to override the veto.  I say "essentially" because CB1-2013 is the Council map in a ball gown with expensive jewelry.  It matches up the General Plan with the Preservation Map, tosses in corresponding annotations between the two, and Ta-Da...the Council Growth Tiers Map.

When I spoke to Greg about this map last week, he indicated that there would be a lot more support from the rural West this time around.  While I'm not sure I would agree that there were "more", what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality.

Through either an inconvenient happenstance or a stroke of genius by Republican Council moles, the Mullinix appeal of their Agricultural Preservation "withdrawal" denial was heard first.  This set the tone for a group of Howard Countians that don't necessarily trust a set of Columbia Democrats fixing to tell them what to do with their land.  Mark Mullinix testified that when he entered the Ag Pres contract, two County officials and Senator Clark told him that when it was no longer profitable to farm, he could get out of the program.  He can't remember the last names of the two County officials, and Senator Clark is not available to defend himself, but the sentiment remained.  This was a case of city boys and their lawyers trying to pull a fast one.

Once the testimony on CB1-2013 began, it quickly became apparent that there is an available middle ground - expansion of the Agricultural Preservation program (possibly with increased grading for more valuable plots) and reworking the highest growth tiers to allow up to 7 residences per 100 acres, as opposed to Howard County's uniquely low 4 (a little confusion here, as there was also testimony that the State regulations stand at 5 residences per 100 acres).

The most interesting part of the night was when the owner of Cissel Farm testified, beginning his time with a "Viva La Revolution" fist pump and punctuating his parable of a rabbit-eating-fox wanting to go to Annapolis (that's you Ken) with whistles from a device that was represented to be the sound of a rabbit being tortured.  (See Flier writers - if I didn't lay the ground work here, no one would believe you that this happened.)  Every time Cissel would blow into his torture whistle, a set of 10-15 folks in the back of the room would stand up an sit down.  I'm afraid I don't know how this fox-goes-to-Annapolis story ends, because I was too distracted by my own internal monologue, "What the heck is going on here?"

The Council is close to a solution on Growth Tiers.  Hopefully Greg Fox can be a part of that, but I'm not really sure he is interested in compromising with the County Executive after having a 4-1 victory stripped away from him and executed at a press conference on Clarke Farm.  We, the taxpayers, may have to pay for it, but this is a better solution than having Western Howard County take the brunt of environmental legislation for no other reason than where they bought their land.

And maybe the Council should think about taking a position on props.

LINKS

I was happy to have a letter to the editor published in the Flier supporting the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods Park.  I also truly appreciate all of the great e-mails sent in to the Board of Directors yesterday supporting the new Plan. 

By my cursory review of the past week's news stories out of Anne Arundel, it looks like the prosecution is laying down a very strong case against County Executive Leopold.  There have been secretaries crying on the stand about their constant fear of being fired, police officers testifying about pulling campaign signs, and a overall consistent theme of the County Executive abusing the power of his office (and lack of oversight), to use the County government as his kingdom.  Then again, there's a reason the defense gets to go second.

"We can't survive on $7.25!"  Maryland lawmakers are considering raising the minimum wage to $10/hr to make it the highest in the Country.  These are laws of unintended consequences, passing a silent tax on every Marylander and closing out jobs that employers can no longer afford.  I hope the General Assembly treads lightly and, if passed, includes provisions that allow employers to maintain current wages if it can be shown that the increase would threaten the viability of the job.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Julia posts about Symphony Woods and how "Columbia is a Verb".  I really liked this post and its push to continue Columbia instead of maintaining it.  These are the voices that need to be heard over the next three weeks.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Symphony Woods

Last Friday, the Columbia Association Board of Directors Agenda for our January 24 meeting was released.  Contained within that Agenda was a set of recommendations from CA President Phil Nelson to approve what has been referred to as the "Inner Arbor Plan", designed by Michael McCall, and create a Trust to oversee the implementation of this design plan and take the CA Board out of the business of designing park benches.

  

This is the Plan Columbia has been waiting for.  This Plan is something to be excited about.  The general nature of a Park is preserved while a new Arts District with CA Headquarters is patched in to create the draw necessary for a fully utilized green space.  The trees in the front are maintained and the waterways in the back are framed in a way that rediscovers a previously unrealized treasure.

The proposed Trust would solicit the participation of Columbia residents, from fields pertaining to the design, funding, and construction of a Park.  There is nothing overtly incompetent about the CA Board of Directors in this regard, but the general function of a biweekly Board, simultaneously governing the administration of a $62 million organization, does not allow for the flexibility and agility necessary to get a plan of this magnitude accomplished.  We need park people to do park things.  

But this Plan surely can lose.  In fact, here is an e-mail that went out yesterday:

This Thursday, January 24th, at 7:00pm, at the CA Headquarters building above Clyde's at the Lakefront, the CA Board will be hearing a presentation on a changed plan for Symphony Woods. This plan was hatched in secrecy. It undoes the work we all promoted in creating a Symphony Woods Park and replaces it with a return to the plan which the community successfully rebuffed. It adds major buildings and other structures to the Woods, destroying the serene, park-like environment which we all supported and which was brought to fruition by Cy Paumier's design and which was already approved by the Planning Board.

 In addition, CA administration is asking for the creation of a separate entity to control Symphony Woods, thereby removing it from the control of the people we elect to make such decisions, the CA Board. This new entity's board would likely be dominated by Howard Hughes Corporation.

Please come at 7pm and speak out at Resident Speak-Out in support of open, transparent process, of a real park in Symphony Woods, and of no giveaways of the people's land to private interests.

~Alan Klein, Spokesperson
The Coalition for Columbia's Downtown

A few observations:
  • A Plan originally presented at the October 11th CA Board meeting was "hatched in secrecy."
  • Diminutive buildings constructed into a hill, replacing gravel and driveway, are "major buildings...destroying the serene, park-like environment" that no one uses, and is otherwise situated directly next to Merriweather Post Pavilion.
  • Cy Paumier's design Plan, the one previously scorned as tearing down too many trees, is now preferred.
  • With all due respect, the projection of this new Trust being dominated by Howard Hughes is a complete fabrication.
This is where we are in all of this.  I respect Alan as a dedicated Columbia activist, but he's wrong here.  The presumption of bad intentions has brought him to distort a Plan that preserves the vast majority of the natural setting, while integrating a limited number of buildings (parts of which are projected to be built underground) into what may make up less than 5% of the entire Park.

We were certain to have opponents of the new Plan.  The fact of the matter is that opponents of change win so many of these battles when those that want something better are staying home.  Then, when nothing happens, the same folks that stayed home throw up their hands and blame the CA Board.  I don't think that happens this time.  I truly believe that this Plan is powerful enough to stir civic pride.  I am confident this Plan will get people, for the first time in their lives, to be heard on Columbia's future.  There is too much at stake, and too large of a window to lose this opportunity, for people to stay home.

The first meeting for the presentation of the Inner Arbor Plan will be on Thursday, January 24th at 7:00 pm (please note the changed time).  The Board vote is anticipated for February 14 (Valentine's Day).  You can e-mail your CA Board representative, or the entire Board, via this link.

"There is a power that can be created out of pent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration of a common cause, and that if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win."
-- Howard Zinn

Monday, January 21, 2013

No Post Monday

Sorry, no post today.  It's a shame too, because I have plenty to say. 

Have a great Monday doing what you love...or in service to the community you love.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ken Ulman: "The Only Ravens Fan" (Friday LINKS)

Only one of the 2014 Gubernatorial candidates is wearing purple today; and that's Ken Ulman.  In an interview with Arthur Hirsch at The Baltimore Sun, Ken told him ""I joke with people, I'm the only Ravens fan running."  More important than sports allegiances or perspectives on whether or not Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback (most stupid conversation ever), this is about being "Baltimore's Candidate."

Maryland political commentators have been keying on this for some time.  While Comptroller Peter Franchot was still in the race, most saw his strategic plan as focusing on making the Takoma Park native a household name in Baltimore County.  When Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake was seen breaking it down at Ken's Biz Markie fundraiser last Spring, people wondered whether Ulman was making inroads with someone who many see as the king-maker for the Baltimore City vote.

But this is more than just window dressing.  Ken is also raising money from the Baltimore market.  His January 2013 fundraising rolls show that while $448,412 (42.26%) of his money came from Howard County, over a quarter came from Baltimore City and Baltimore County.  Ken raised $217,740 (20.52%) from Baltimore County donors and $61,551 (5.8%) from Baltimore City.

Many have already dismissed Ken's surprising pace-keeping as money from those who want to be friends with "the guy who decides what gets done in the wealthiest county", which is a cogent argument, but every check cut outside of Howard is a vote of confidence.  Ken has received donations from every single County 21 of 24 counties in the State.

Every day Ken proves his critics wrong is a day his name recognition problem dwindles.  Is it ultimately surmountable when running against high profile statewide candidates?  Seems tough.

But so were the Broncos.

LINKS

In that same article, Arthur takes a look at how the County Executive race is shaping up, with quotes from Dennis Lane and myself.  Unlike other local journalists, Arthur was not afraid to use the names of our blogs in his piece, which should be the new normal after years of "local blogger" nonsense.

Against my better judgment, I watched Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah last night.  Whomever serves as Lance's PR person should be fired.  He was horrible and I'm pretty sure he lied again, including his incredulous statement that he didn't think the fact that he used PED's was a "big deal".  I have no reason to be mad at a stranger who never did anything to me, but I am.  He probably shouldn't even be famous.

Friends in Annapolis - be careful.  I would imagine that any contributions (or promises of contributions) you receive from the NRA could be poison pills for later elections.  Imagine the scene where there is some sort of shooting in Maryland (other than the daily ones in Baltimore that people ignore) and the press opens up your campaign account to see substantial contributions from anti-gun control groups.  Fair or not, it won't look good.

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold has elected to waive his right to a jury trial and have his fate decided by a fact-finder judge.  This is his right, but in a matter of public corruption, you would like to see things decided by a jury. Even more disappointing is that Leopold had originally confirmed his interest in a jury trial, wasting thousands of dollars in preliminary jury selection, jury questionnaires, and $15 a head payments to prospective jurors for a day off work.  Of local interest is the fact that Howard County's own Judge Dennis Sweeney, corruption jurisprudence extraordinaire, will be deciding the case.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at the "gentrification" of Route 1, lamenting the loss of...character once displayed along that strip.  Hey County Council - any thoughts to making a taco truck plaza?  It should would save some of us a bit of driving time.

That's all for today.  Thanks for reading and commenting yesterday.  I'm told that at least one person contacted the Columbia Foundation to set up a fund yesterday, so my "self important gas-bag" equation worked out in my favor.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!

Ravens: 31
Patriots: 28
Bonus Prediction: Jacoby Jones returns a kick for a TD.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Columbia Foundation Fund

Yesterday, Jane and I filed the paperwork, and our first payment, to set up "The Paterson-Coale Fund" with the Columbia Foundation.  I had been thinking about doing this since July, when I joined the Foundation Board, and we had been talking about it since October.  I knew we were going to go through with it when Jane said "That would be really neat."  My wife, in opposite of myself, is not a very effusive person.  "Neat", and even more so "really neat", is a big win.

What does it mean to have a fund with the Columbia Foundation?

Once our fund is complete (more on that below), Jane and I will be able to contribute a set amount (percentage of the corpus [total amount of the fund]) to a Howard County nonprofit of our choice.  We can also contribute to any other National nonprofit that provides services within Howard County or any other organization with explicit agreement of the Foundation.

Why not just give directly to the organizations you support?

Jane and I still plan to do this, but there is no better way to support the nonprofit community, and the Howard County community, on the whole than by contributing to an umbrella fund like the Columbia Foundation.  The greater assets the organization has, including donor-advised funds, the more it can do.  And the Columbia Foundation does a lot.  In its history, the Foundation has contributed over a million dollars in grants to Howard County nonprofits and does so on an annual basis.  The Columbia Foundation is the only such organization in Howard County that provides funding to all nonprofits, regardless of focus or mission.

Not only that, but our Fund will provide an investment premised on philanthropy.  Yes, "investment".  The Columbia Foundation does not promise a certain rate, but it does project out approximately 5% of the fund value for annual contributions.  That means if your fund is $10,000, you will be able to make an annual $500 contribution to the nonprofit of your choice into perpetuity.  If you continue to contribute to the fund, that amount grows.  $500 is enough to offer a noticeable benefit to the organization and the people it serves.

On the most practical level, this is a "must do" for the most fortunate amongst us...who often receive solicitations for gifts.  Rather than having to make "yes or no" decisions on the spot, you can refer the requesting organization to your fund, give your annual contribution date, and ask them to submit something in writing.  It is the best way to know you are getting the most for your philanthropic dollar. 

That's not to say that the Columbia Foundation is only for the very wealthy.  Jane and I would not consider ourselves among that number.  We are doing this because we find fulfillment and happiness in philanthropy and want to create a vehicle for a lifetime of giving.

So, I'm convinced.  How does this Fund thing work?

Jane and I made our first payment of $1,000 last night.  That was a substantial sum for both of us, but one we had been saving for over the last six months.  Over the next five years, we have a goal of raising another $9,000.  That, too, is a lot of money, but we believe that with a target out in front of us, and a plan to get there, we will be successful.  The Columbia Foundation asks that all donor-advised funds be funded at $10,000 within five years of creation.  Notably, Board Members have the opportunity to create a fund at $5,000, but I am no good as a guinea pig if I utilize that benefit.

How do you get to $9,000 in five years?  $75 a paycheck.  $75 in tax deductible contributions towards your fund, that you will be able to direct for years, and possibly generations, to come.  Not to mention "found money"-type situations when you receive an "extra paycheck" or large tax refund or a fundraiser dinner party, BBQ, or backyard volleyball tournament.

But Tom, $75 a paycheck?  That's a dinner out.  That's real money.

Right.  It is a sacrifice.  But would this really be a worthwhile undertaking if there wasn't a sacrifice of some sort?  They say money can't buy happiness, but Jane and I have been talking about our fund all week.  We're excited by the prospect of giving our money away.  It is irrational.  My reptile brain must be on the fritz.  But we are in love with the idea of formalizing our commitment to philanthropy and doing that through an organization we support.

Starting a fund sounds great, but this is just a little out of my price range.  Is there anything else I can do?

Absolutely.  The grants I've noted above are given out of the Foundation's "Unrestricted Fund", which is the Foundation's bread and butter.  You can set up any arrangement with the Foundation for monthly, annual, or semi-annual contributions towards the Unrestricted Fund AND even volunteer to serve on the Grant Review Committee to help decide where that money goes.

You can also form or join a Giving Circle amongst friends.  The Women's Giving Circle is the most successful example, helped formed by a number of Howard County women, and passionately prosecuted through their continued good works.  (Google "The Women's Giving Circle" to see why this program should be listed amongst Howard County's greatest achievements.)  I've often thought that it would be fun to start a Book Club...ahem...I mean manly Reading Group, and use that as a premise for a Giving Circle.  There are plenty of ideas like this from craft groups, music groups, or even parent play groups.

No offense, but don't you feel a little weird talking about money like this on your blog?  Do you feel like you may be bragging?

Yes.  But this is important and if one of you starts a new fund while the remainder think I am a self-important gas-bag, so be it.  Long-time readers know that I am greatly concerned about the future of our non-profits.  We've somehow transitioned from an age where people tithed to their places of worship, which provided for social need, to an age where government provides for our nonprofits, to an age where neither the government, nor a tithing populace, are funding our nonprofits.  I'm not contributing to our fund out of fear.  I'm doing so out of hope.  And it feels really good.

If you would like to learn more about starting a fund with the Columbia Foundation, or getting a Giving Circle together, please check out the Foundation's website here.

Please also feel free to e-mail me directly with any questions you may have.  I would be happy to meet with anyone who wants to know more about opportunities to give.

Have an amazing Thursday doing what you love.  I know I will.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All the Marbles: Columbia and Ken Ulman (Wednesday LINKS)

One thing I'm asked fairly often is "What do you think Ken's chances are for Governor ?"

But for politics, it would be rude and petty for one man to talk about the ambitions of another (maybe it still is), but, nevertheless, I am constantly tempted into these conversations and tend to take a more optimistic view than most: "It depends on Columbia."

Ken has two significant hurdles to cover in his pursuit of the Governorship: 1) Howard County is thought of as a utopia of sorts, where the tax receipts are always overflowing and an occasional murder is cause for front page coverage in our local papers; 2) Name recognition.  In other words, when the average voter is asked about Ken Ulman, they will either say "Who's that?" or "Oh yeah, he's the Executive for Howard Cownie.  Man, must be nice."

But Ken knows this.  If Ken knows this, why is he still making an aggressive push for Governor when he could have set himself up as a front-runner for Attorney General or just about any other State seat he wanted?

Columbia.  Ken finds himself in the enviable position of being in the control booth during a transformative time for not only our County, but the entire State.  Columbia could be the next great thing.  Columbia could find itself mentioned with Baltimore, Annapolis, and Silver Spring as a center for business, recreation, and urban living.  Columbia could have the next great Maryland recreational park in Symphony Woods.  Ken Ulman could be the name associated with all of the "new big things" happening in Maryland, making his opponents look like "old Maryland politics."

The down-side is that this is somewhat obvious, prejudicing Ken's negotiating position with anyone who is deciding between a 2014 and 2015 ribbon cutting date.  "I really want you to be able to put your name on this, Ken, but I'm really concerned about being able to open this in time with all of the trouble we're having in getting through the development approval process."

The good news is - Ken hasn't blinked.  He has fought the fights that needed to be won and smoothed the paths that would otherwise cause his hometown to stumble.  He has done this without fanfare or even mention in the paper.  Whatever we wind up with in Columbia, it will be in great part to these efforts.

The real tragedy in all of this, at least if you think it is a tragedy to see hard work well done fall short, is that the timing may still be off.  Fundraising reports are due this week and AG Doug Gansler has already reported that he has raised another $1.2 million with $5.2 million in the bank.  To put this in perspective, Ken reported having $1.3 million total in last year's January report.  I expect Ken to have out-raised Gansler for 2013, but I don't know if he will have anything near the $5.2 million war chest that the AG will have on hand.  Ken will have some hard choices over the next four months.  Stay in, and bump shoulders with the next Governor, or drop out and maintain his footing for a redirected political career.

Either way, Columbia, and its good news, may come too late.

UPDATE:  I was wrong.  Ken has raised $1.1 million in 2012 and $2.1 million on hand.

LINKS

Mom Mom's Obituary in The Sun.

An accused murderer is facing the death penalty for indiscriminately killing young African American males.

Sometimes I wonder if Columbia may have a few decades as the "young brother" to places like Towson and Silver Spring.  Government officials out of Towson have aspirations to make their town a "tourist destination" with a number of recreational attractions to tune up the "two stop lights and a traffic circle" that make up the County seat.

Early review on Gov. O'Malley's gun control proposals: Mikey don't like it.

A Johns Hopkins panel examining gun violence has recommended universal background checks for the purchase of firearms.  Is there a reasonable argument against this proposal?  Is there a reason why this proposal has been encumbered with more aggressive gun control measures that may stall in Annapolis and Washington, D.C.?  Is anyone really interested in moving the ball, or do they just like calling one another names?

School Superintendent Renee Foose reported to the County Council that bullying has not increased in Howard County schools in recent years, but that new technology has made bullies more pervasive in the lives of the victim.  I hope that these deliberations on addressing bullying in our schools understand and contemplate how slippery a word like "bully" can be, often interchangeable with the title "victim".  This is a dangerous pursuit.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB was at the "wall-breaking" at the Columbia Mall yesterday and notes that announcing vendors before the sign the dotted line is bad for business.  Like Whole Foods?

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

About a Library (Tuesday LINKS)

Books, right?  This post is going to be about books.  Tom's favorite book, his first book, the book he forgot to bring back to the library, the book his dog ate, things you can do with books, and why libraries are the best place for books?

When most people think of libraries, books are their first thought, followed by late fees. (I have a sudden craving for Family Feud.) When I say "most people", I mean "most well-off people".  If you're not well off, you think of the Library as your access to the Internet, where you learn English, where your child gets the individualized tutoring assistance they need, your Netflix, and, most importantly, a retreat.

While we may lament the age of "Bowling Alone", libraries remain one of the few free communal meeting spots.  Need to plan a community event?  Meet at the Library.  Study group?  Meet at the Library.  There is a presumption of good intentions at the Library (real-life experiences of librarians notwithstanding).  People don't normally meet there to cause trouble.  The entire structure promote self-improvement and advancement on the shoulders of community investment.

There are no party lines in the Library.  Clinton's biography is on the shelf below Bush's.  It is somewhat amazing that for an institution as old as the Library, there have not been any controversial changes to mar its purpose.  The Library has set its parameters and chosen not to go outside that box.  When it comes to public information and resources, thinking "inside the box" is preferred.

But back to my first point, the Library is more than books.  Without ever intending to do so, it is the foundation of a universe of social services that are only limited by our imagination.  Think of an idea to help you neighbor and there is a 70% chance that the Library may be your backdrop.  It is where resumes are reviewed and printed.  Fluency developed.  Lives are changed.

On Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm, the Howard County Library will hold its Evening in the Stacks fundraiser at the new Miller Branch Library.  This event has swiftly muscled itself in with the Columbia Foundation's Spring Party as a "must attend" event, if for no other reason than it is just plain fun.  Between costumes and guest bartenders, the event planners have tossed off all pretension in favor of openness and community.  Oh, and there's this:


Anyone know where Jane and I can fit in some square-dancing lessons before the 23rd?

I am honored to be one of the "celebrity" bartenders this year (one day, Jane will forgive the Library for bestowing that title) and I would really love to see all of you there.  I don't often guarantee a good time but...here it is - I guarantee a good time.

February 23.  7:00 pm.  Miller Branch Library.  Yee.  Haw.

LINKS

Our County jewel keeps on a'shining.  Howard County Community College opened its Life Sciences Building yesterday, opening the doors for thousands of Howard County and Maryland students looking to work in health, medicine, and related fields.  It cannot be overstated that this building will be the bridge to the middle class for a generation of students.  Whether these students choose to be nurses, techs, or assistants, an expanded Life Sciences program offers additional opportunities to turn a two year degree into a substantial career helping to treat the sick and save lives.  I work with these folks every day and am proud that my County has the premiere school for those studying in this field.

The Howard County Property Value Decline is over.  For those of us who have not bought or sold property in the last five years, the entire episode was marked only by an occasional e-mail from Zillow, but for Howard County bean-counters, this was a scary time.  Revenues dropped while demand for services increased.  I really can't compliment Budget Director Ray Wacks and his staff enough. 

Many folks accuse me of being a softy on crime because I am not in favor of the death penalty and think our "War on Drugs" is really a war on poor people.  Well, lest their be any confusion, I think every book in the law library should be thrown at politicians who are found in breach of the public trust.  You chose the position and understood the scrutiny.  If you commit any indictable malfeasance in that position, you should go to jail.  Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold's trial for misconduct and fraud begins tomorrow.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Julia knocks it out of the park with this post on philanthropy and our varying attitudes towards "what we can afford".  I am honored that Julia, and her husband, have contributed towards the fundraising efforts of this blog and so appreciate her putting into words the conflict within all of us when we decide to "give" instead of using that money on ourselves or our loved ones.  We should think hard on these things.  It makes the gift more meaningful.

Thank you all so much for you comments on yesterday's post.  I am very happy to report back that The Baltimore Sun will be posting a full obituary for Mom Mom sometime this week.  My grandmother lived a mostly unheralded life.  The idea that she would be one of the people profiled in amongst the stories she would read on a daily basis would be so exciting for her...even though she would probably add that "The Sun is so biased."

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Agnes Hicks Coale (1922-2013)

My grandmother, Mom Mom,  passed away last week.  I didn't mention it in my posts because 1) I wanted to save you all the awkward "my sympathies" comments that are nearly compulsory after such an announcement, and 2) I wanted to do a full post.

I will miss my grandmother, but the truth of the matter is that I've missed her for some time.  She had advanced dementia, which made it difficult for her to communicate.  Looking back, it says something about her love for her grandchildren that despite the creeping fog of such a disease, she always seemed to recognize my brother and I when we would visit her (something which I know I came up short on).

Over last week, I tried to do some research on my grandmother to make a pitch to the Baltimore Sun for a full obituary.  As with any other citizen of the 21st Century, I tried to find information on the Internet.  There was nothing.  It soon became apparent that not only are we losing the Greatest Generation, of which my grandmother was a member, but we are also losing the last generation to go without a digital footprint.  While my grandmother will have the opportunity to live on in the memories of her loved ones and her career achievements (we'll get to that in a moment), the rest of us will require teams of archivists to sift through the wheat and chaff of online living.  Facebook, blogs, Amazon, Classmates.com, High School websites, College Websites, workplace websites, club websites...we're splattered everywhere!  My grandmother gets to go out with the elegance of a discrete existence and will probably be one of the last to do so.

If you received any sort of public school education in Baltimore County between 1944 and 1995, there is a significant chance that my grandmother had an impact on what you learned.  Here is what I sent to The Baltimore Sun:

Agnes Coale graduated from Towson State Teachers College in 1944 with a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education.  She then achieved a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Education from Towson State University in 1970.

From 1944 to 1953, Ms. Coale was an Elementary School teacher at Hamden Elementary.  From 1953-55, she taught at Lydalee Tall Elementary, which was a part of Towson State Teachers College.  From 1964-66, she taught at Ruxton Elementary.  She then taught at Towson Elementary School for five years, followed by one year stints at Stonleigh, Riderwood, and Fullerton.


In 1973, Ms. Coale was promoted to the position of Vice Principal at Sparks Elementary School. The next year, she was assigned to the Vice Principal position at Loch Raven Elementary School, where she served for ten years from 1975 to 1985.  Ms. Coale’s last position in the Baltimore County School system, completing a forty year educational career, was at Rodgers Forge Elementary school.


Beginning in 1984, Ms. Coale worked as an Adjunct Professor at Towson State University in their Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education programs.  In this capacity, she would teach and supervise student teachers in Baltimore County Public Schools.  In 1995, she was hired by UMBC, also as an Adjunct Professor, to supervise student teachers, followed by a three year position at Loyola College of Maryland doing the same.  Ms. Coale concluded her professorial career back at Towson University, before retiring in approximately 2001.


Ms. Coale worked on numerous Baltimore County Committees and Work-Groups on Curriculum Drafting, including a 1974 Handbook entitled “So – You are Getting a Student Teacher” published by the Maryland State Department of Education, Office of Teacher Education.


This all washed over me while writing it, until I sent it to one of my friends in State Government.  He responded: "Went to school at a time when most young women went right into homemaking, and moved seamlessly into upper administration during an era when that was something of a male bastion." 

My grandmother was a trail-blazer.  My little, white-haired, purple-suited grandmother was a trail-blazer.  There are a lot of questions I wished I had asked her, ranging from topics like teacher's unions to the potential benefit of charter schools.  She was a staunch conservative, which, reflectively, probably had some interesting areas of contradiction to explore.  I missed out.

There are innumerable fun facts about Mom Mom.  She almost always wore purple.  Her favorite singer was Glenn Miller, but I think her favorite song was "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus.  Mom Mom went tanning well into her 70's.  She only went to restaurants where she knew the bus boys.  Mom Mom loved Broadway until she saw Rent, after which she approached the entire industry with suspicion and distrust.  She loved Listerine, and encouraged her smelly grandsons to give it a go every once in a while. 

Her favorite line, for me at least, was "Don't contradict your grandmother."  If you know anything about me, you know that this would have been an impossibly difficult pill for me to swallow, even at 8 years of age.

She taught me my first night-time prayer.  "Dear God, please take care of everyone I love and everyone who loves me, especially Mom Mom (and then we filled in the names of everyone else we could think of, including my dogs...these prayers were long)."  In fact, this prayer was the source of a great deal of contemplation for me.  Why both categories?  Are there people that love me that I don't love?  Don't get me wrong, it is appreciated, but also terribly creepy.

After every meal, she would have a slow cup of coffee.  When I say slow, I mean take whatever the amount of time it took to eat your meal, and project out another 50%.  This is a sad memory for me, because it seems apparent that Mom Mom just wanted to spend more time with her grandkids.  Back then, it felt like torture.

Whenever we were at a place with a piano-player, Mom Mom would give my brother and I a dollar to ask him to play our parents' wedding song.  This was probably something that started out cute, but became a little annoying after two toe-head little boys would repeatedly come running back to the dinner table, expecting their parents to get up and dance.

She always asked me if I had a girlfriend, even if I was too young to have one.

It was a blessing to have a grandmother into my thirties.  Up until this point, you don't appreciate the exposure of a 90 year life.  During my last night with my grandmother on Tuesday, I played Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Cocktail" on my iPhone.  It was the top song of 1942, when she would have been 20 years old.


Thanks for hearing me out.

Have a great Monday doing what you love.

Friday, January 11, 2013

CA Board Recap: January 10, 2013 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 11:10 pm

Looking back, we probably overloaded our agenda and should give any agenda item with the word "Budget" in it a full meeting.  The discussion of Splashdown went well over the time allocation and, as is our custom, we ran out of time while burning the midnight oil on an important topic (the FY14 Budget).  This falls on the Board Operations Committee, which I am a part of, and I hope we take another look at how we manage our meetings...again.

Splashdown and Enclosing an Outdoor Pool

We received a tremendous presentation from Williams Architects/Aquatics on their preliminary plans for renovating/replacing Splashdown and enclosing an outdoor pool.  The representatives from Williams have done a great job of presenting a litany of options (I think with alternatives, I counted about 11) meeting the community's requests at every turn.  I was most impressed by their flexibility in saying "We proposed this, the community said that, so we changed this."  As many of us have experienced, the community's desires are very difficult to nail down, but based on some of the Resident Speak-out, the Williams Group did a great job capturing the important points.

I'm not one to get into the details when I post about a meeting, so please check out the Agenda and Support materials here for more of the nitty gritty.  I am hesitant to commit to any plan until I hear from our Executive Team on how this fits into future Budgets.  While different Board members may have had different take-aways from last night, mine was that this Board's eyes (and the Community's eyes) may be getting bigger than our wallets.  Unfortunately, this has turned into a "Well, if you're going to build a new golf facility, you certainly can afford a new X," which is the most backwards logic you can expect to encounter.

I like the idea of making Splashdown a premiere water park for Central Maryland (not just Columbia).  I like the idea of enclosing an underutilized pool to provide warmer water for seniors and year-round competition space for the Clippers.  I don't like the idea of my name being associated with the Board that sank the battleship.

Tennis Facility

Due to the mention of FY14 Budget Discussions on our Agenda, there was a large contingent of the tennis community at our meeting for Resident Speak-out.  Maybe there is something discrete about Tennis, but most Columbians would be surprised to learn just how many people play in our area.  Our Tennis Bubble in Owen Brown is at capacity and, by the sound of it, so are a lot of the other regional indoor tennis facilities.  In light of this, CA is considering a plan to replace the "Bubble" with an indoor tennis facility.  It is projected that the Tennis Bubble has another 5-7 years of use, at which time a future Board may be compelled to construct a new tennis facility under duress.  By addressing this need now, we have the benefit of cool minds.

While I favor a new Tennis Facility, and the $100,000 in Planning Funds allocated in the Draft FY14 Budget, I don't think such a facility will need to be operated for a loss, as has been the presumption.  Rather, this pent up demand in a wealthy community may offer the opportunity for time-slot pricing to at least bring us even.  I'm not in the practice of advising our Executive Team on rates (enough of my colleagues on the Board are more than apt in this regard), but I will say that when a final proposal comes through, I will expect it to be a net-positive project.

Draft FY14 Budget

As I've said many times here, any budget review presents the opportunity to enter into a whole-scale audit of the entire organization.  Maybe that's what some Board members want, but if so, shame on them for voting for an Agenda that only allocates 60 minutes at the end of a busy meeting to do so.  So long as we are not entering into an audit, we may benefit from some additional formality to frame discussion (i.e., Motions to Amend, Second, Discussion, Vote).  Through no fault of the PSC Chair, the Budget discussion devolved quickly into a discussion of the Aquatics Master Plan.  I think the Board, and the Executive Team, set themselves up for failure by "Accepting and Filing" the over-arching policy goals of the Aquatics Master Plan, rather than affirmatively passing them as a policy statement.  We're at a point where these policy goals have questionable legitimacy with some Board Members, while others want to fight the entire AMP process over again.

Update: It has been clarified for me that the Board did adopt these policy statements regarding neighborhood pools, but unfortunately there continues to be various interpretations of what that means amongst the Board members.  That may be unavoidable, but it is hindering any mature discussions about how we maintain all 23 pools in a fiscally responsible way.

We voted to keep all 23 outdoor pools.  That imputes a spectrum of upkeep amongst those pools, with some getting earlier attention than others.  Some Board members would like to start work on the least utilized, worst-off pools, presuming that by doing so, those pools will increase their utilization rate.  I think that such an approach is fool-hardy and based on chicken-egg presumptions that none of us would risk our own money on.  If we revisit the Aquatics Master Plan, I would advocate for a full-on revisit, down to whether we keep all 23 pools open.  I had the unreasonable expectation that once the continued availability of pools was maintained, Board members would appreciate the implication that renovation and repair would take even more time than it may if we downsized to 19 or 20.  That expectation was unmet.  I am tired of the "have our cake and eat it too" approach to pools and think the Executive Team is being boxed into a corner, only to be beaten over the head with the Board's own missteps.  We chose to keep all 23 pools and now they are at fault for their disrepair.  It is not right.

FY14 Budget discussions will continue at our January 24 meeting.

Overall, we don't have anything to show for last night's 3.5 hours.  I wish this Board would be more purposeful with its time, but so long as we flounder in our attempt to respect minority positions, while prosecuting the will of the majority, we will have little to show for our work.  In this respect, we're letting Columbia residents down.  We repeatedly talk about forming "partnerships" with the County and for-profit entities without ever turning the lens back on ourselves to ask why anyone would want to partner with us.  If your company or constituency had a line-item in the FY14 Budget, for which you have extended time and capital, I doubt you would be comfortable leaving the final vote in our hands.  That disappoints me, but I don't think it is without resolution. 

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