Thursday, February 28, 2013

10 Funds in 10 Months

I am talking to you.

When I wrote a post last month talking about how happy my wife and I were to start a fund with the Columbia Foundation, I was talking to you.  Not the internet masses or random clicks through cyberspace, but the type of reader who cares deeply about their community, wants to know more, and wants to do more.

I was happy to learn that the post prompted the creation of at least one fund and that there is another one in the making.  That's $10,000 for the nonprofits of Howard County, more than you and I have raised in the history of this blog.  $10,000 of private funds to help our most vulnerable, feed our most hungry, preserve the arts, increase programming for the disabled, advocate for change, and make Howard County a better place.

I understand that the commitment is intimidating and all too easy to displace onto "people who have more money than I do."   I understand that you have children and that this presents a financial responsibility far more important than third party philanthropy.  I also understand that the immediate gratification of giving today is much more "fun" than the delayed satisfaction of working towards a fund.

But all the same, I'm coming to you.

I had an inspiring meeting on Tuesday.  One of Howard County's most distinguished leaders in the community had read my January post, knew I was talking to you, and wanted to help.  They recognized that $10,000 is an intimidating sum, but that it begins with the first dollar, becomes a habit, and ends up fulfilled.

They offered up to $500 in matching funds to anyone who starts a new fund through this blog.

If you know me, you know that this got me excited.  Because I thought of you.  I thought of the person who reads this blog, cares deeply about their community, and wants to do more.  I thought of how intimidating $10,000 was, but how much closer it would feel to have $1,000 in the bank your first year.

I'm not asking you to run off and send Beverly an e-mail right away (although that would be awesome).  I'm asking you to have at least one conversation about starting a fund.  You can have it with me, your spouse, your parents, or your rich uncle Frank.  I will make whatever arrangements necessary to find a time to meet with you to discuss whatever hesitations or concerns you may have and problem-solve a way towards starting a fund.  Or, I'll tell you that you're right, a fund is not the way to go.

Here are the different ways you can make it happen:
  • Start a Family Fund to teach your children the habit of philanthropy and the joy of giving back;
  • Start a fund with your parents, to keep the link strong and have something more to talk about than traffic and what Jimmy spilled on himself at preschool;
  • Start a fund with your friends, spreading out the financial commitment, and holding annual get-togethers to decide where to award your funds;
  • Start a fund with your Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or other place of worship to enable communal giving and live the faith.
The matching donation of $500 per fund is limited.  We have until December 31.  My goal, and hopefully yours too, is to help start 10 funds in 10 months.  That's $100,000 towards the future of Howard County non-profits.  It is a huge goal that I would never be able to reach by myself.  That's why I'm talking to you.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Good Law/Bad Law on Gun Reform

Another public policy fight, another war of semantics.  "Gun owners" do not own guns.  They own firearms, rifles, pistols, semi's, and full automatics.  "Guns" are things talked about by the uninitiated, or at least those who haven't watched Full Metal Jacket ("this is for fighting").

And you can't help but feel like the "gun control" debate in Maryland is being controlled by those talking about "guns".  I've heard very little substance and a lot of lazy arguments (i.e., if [insert famous shooter's name] had had to reload, he would have been stopped).  For at least the past two sessions, our State has been in a policy race with Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, which doesn't allow for too much "wait, why are we doing this again?"

Here's the law I like - require a license to buy a handgun.  This is the type of reform that puts a minimal burden on law-abiding owners of firearms and has significant policy follow-through in terms of who is eligible for a license, how it is tracked, and what happens if you are found owning a handgun without a license.  No, criminals will not start buying licenses for handguns, but the license creates an enforcement mechanism to address trafficking.

The other significant proposals shift the focus from the gun-buyer to the gun -- what weapons can be sold.  Before we get into this discussion, let's look at a very simple chart from the Washington Post:
This is the data behind any effort to limit or curtail what weapons may be legally sold in gun shops, gun shows, and Walmart.  It is inescapable that we're not talking about "making guns criminal so that only criminals have guns."  We're talking about what the bad guy has strapped across his back when he walks into your family member's school, shopping mall, or place of worship. 

The chart we can't show is the persistent threat of freedom.  (It feels weird to use that word after George W. Bush used it as a crutch for 8 years.)  We are a free society, which is necessarily terrifying and empowering.  If we want to stop gun violence, we just need to make guns illegal.  All of them.  Everything else is a half measure policy creep towards ultimate abolition.

Abolition is not the answer.  And please stop saying "mental health" is the answer.  Violence is a tragic cost of freedom.  Centuries of policy attempting to control it have shown that punishment is a much easier proposition.  I wish our policy-makers would stop using phony arguments about a neutered public left vulnerable to an armed criminal class or, even worse, the government using gun control as a means of oppression.  Stop.  The government is trying to stop the Mississippi with a poster-board.  It doesn't have to be malicious to be bad policy.

The universe of freedoms we enjoy will always find a way to hurt us.  The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we stop trying flimsy laws that do more to hurt the law-abiding public than prevent tragedy.  I wish there was a scalpel like ban on weapons that would prove to have a significant effect on gun violence.  I've yet to see data to support one.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Laura Neuman: Terminator

Retrospective analyses of the Iraq War have often noted that one of the biggest mistakes the U.S. made after deposing Saddam's government was removing all Ba'ath members from the heads of the police and domestic military forces, creating a vacuum of power, and inviting the "guys with guns" to start their own armies in the desert (the stories of finding empty armories shortly after taking over major urban centers are haunting).

I'm not comparing Laura Neuman's ascendancy to Anne Arundel County Executive to conquering Iraq, but she may find herself on the other side of a few empty armories come 2014.

As Andrea Siegel reports, shortly after taking office, Ms. Neuman began clearing house: "Neuman asked at-will employees in the executive suite and department chiefs on Friday to tender their resignations pending a review of budgets, services and employees."  She has already made three personnel moves, firing Anne Arundel's County Attorney John Hodgson, former Chief of Staff Erik Robey, and a former police officer working as a contractor by the name of William Hyers.

For the most part, the early dismissals make sense.  I don't know what Mr. Hodgson did to earn his pink slip, but a change at Chief of Staff should be expected and the ACLU noted Mr. Hyers as having improperly accessed police files of Leopold enemies. 

What concerns me, and would concern me if I were an Anne Arundel resident, are the 33 other resignations sitting somewhere in Ms. Neuman's desk.  While still in Howard County, Ms. Neuman was infamous for telling people, sometimes audiences, that she took a pay cut to become our Economic Development Authority chief.  I'm going to guess that the same is true for everyone who turned in a letter of resignation on Friday and spent the weekend reading about the job market drying up in the face of the sequester.

But even if we were to go cold-hearted for a second, remember the empty armories.  With all due respect, Laura Neuman probably had to read the last four State of the County Addresses on the Internet.  She doesn't know where the bodies are buried.  Heck, she is probably still learning where the bathrooms and water fountains are in the County Office Building.  I don't know if I would be so anxious to build resentment with the administrators of my government.  Many of these individuals are vets and have had a "Letter of Resignation" drafted on their desktop for years.  They probably laughed when they turned it in and left all their pictures and diplomas on the wall.  But they see their new Executive differently now.  "You think you can run this place without me?"

And let's not forget why Leopold is sweating out a possible jail sentence: he treated his staff like crap.  He made everyone afraid for their job.  Someone needs to get down to Annapolis and buy all these people some donuts and OJ.  They are having a tough year.

This is a matter of leadership.  While asking for 33 letters of resignation makes the papers, and screams "bold leadership" (when are we going to decide that "bold leadership" is the way to describe how Wile E. Coyote treats cliffs?), it is built on indiscriminate retribution.  From my perspective, it is horrible leadership, debasing the people you hope to delegate important tasks to, and demoralizing an already beat-up crowd of public servants.

We're told that more "personnel moves" are at hand, and that's Ms. Neuman's right, but I hope she makes it quick.  Every day that there are pending letters of resignation in her desk is a day current employees plot her replacement.

That's all for today.  I hope you all have fun at tonight's HoCo Blogs party.  Unfortunately, it does not look like I will be able to make it, but am sure it will be a blast.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Transportation in Whole

Maryland needs a comprehensive transportation policy.  Not a gas tax.  Not greater protections for the transportation trust fund.  Not more rail.  A comprehensive transportation policy.

Over the weekend, I looked to our southern neighbor with some envy as Virginia passed an $880 million transportation funding overhaul that includes a decrease in the gas tax (to tie it to inflation at 3.5%) and an increase in the state sales tax from 5% to 5.3%.  There is even a regional funding component that would boost the sales tax to 6% in areas like Northern Virginia, where the State expects to spend a significant portion of the funds.  This bill also included a $100 registration fee for hybrids, in light of the fact that users will be paying less in gas taxes.

The thing about it is, both Democrats and Republicans are luke warm on this plan.  Neither side "loves it", neither side "hates it".  There is a fee on hybrid vehicles for crying out loud!  But, it gets the job done.  It moves the ball.  Compromise.

I loved this quote from Loudon County Delegate Tag Greason (R) in Robert McCartney's column on the bill:

“What I thought I was going to do [in the legislature] was make sure that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever raised taxes, because there are a few people back home who sent me here to do that,” Greason said. “But as I think about where we are today, and the 27 years we’ve been working on this problem, I think to myself that I was also sent here to solve problems.”

(If I told you I had a quote from "Tag" and it was about taxes, I'm thinking you would guess he was 'agin 'em.)

Admittedly, the bill is not exactly a "comprehensive transportation policy."  It focuses exclusively on funding, but more importantly, creates dedicated streams of funding for things like mass transportation and road construction. 

It is an unfortunate thing in Maryland that mass transportation is as controversial as it is.  We want those who have less to pay more, despite the indirect benefits single-occupancy-vehicles receive from 20 people riding the same bus.  Next time you are at a busy intersection or a round-about, particularly the one off Route 100 to Snowden River Parkway, imagine five of those people in one bus.  Next time you are riding the off-ramp on 395 into Baltimore, imagine 10 less cars in front of you.  How much would you pay for a system that reliably put people on buses to work or, even better, redirected them to rail?

The problem is, we have a regional mass transportation system.  The average Howard Countian posits a reasonable complaint that in order to ride mass transit, they need to drive, pay for parking, and pay to ride.  The average Howard Countian is not all that interested in subsidizing the Light Rail, which runs north to south in Baltimore City.  The average Howard Countian is fascinated to learn that Baltimore has an underground metro system.  ("Was that the episode of Homicide where the guy was twisted up between the car and the platform and they had to get his family before untwisting him?  That was wild.  Anyway, I thought that was in D.C. for some reason.")

Even more frustrating is that planners have been eye-balling this corridor, and its urban pockets, for rail transit since Columbia was built, hence our wide medians. 

But where we are now is far from our neighbors to the South.  Our roads are coming apart.  Our buses aren't efficient.  Our rail is too short.  And we don't have the money to do anything about it.

Without a comprehensive policy, our legislators will continue to pass piecemeal gas taxes, reallocate "protected" funds, and kick the rail-can down the road for another five years.  We all gnash our team about the federal bubble and what a sequester means for our local economy (things that our General Assembly can do very little about), but just as terrifying is that gas has been consistently over $3.50 a gallon for the past year or so and those of us who don't associate ourselves with Uncle Sam will have a much bigger problem if no one can afford to go to work.

That's all for today.  I had a great time ------ bartending on Saturday.  The fundraising crown went to Mickey Gomez for the second year in a row and I was happy to see her win it.  The entire party was abuzz with Laura Neuman, Todd Huff (as in "I'm just having water.  Did you see what happened to Todd Huff?"), and 2014 prognostications.  It's a great time for those of us who love this stuff...and a horrible time for our spouses.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Generous Assembly

I was struck by a recent article by Michael Dresser in the Baltimore Sun noting a joint letter from State Senators Nancy King (D) and David Brinkley (R) criticizing Comptroller Peter Franchot for traveling across the state and giving out "questionably invented awards", painting this as an unjustified "taxpayer financed expense".

These awards are noted in the article as follows:

The Schaefer Award is named after the late William Donald Schaefer, the onetime Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor whom Franchot unseated as comptroller in 2006. According to the Comptroller’s Office, it is given to people and organizations that help improve their communities, solve citizens’ problems and help vulnerable individuals.

The Better With Less award recognizes businesses and nonprofits that succeed in a bad economy through “efficiency and innovation.” 

The Golden Apple Award is for school volunteers, and the Silver Hammer Award is for “superior school maintenance.”

Although the King-Brinkley letter does not project out what the expense of travel may be, and requests information related to the same, the Comptroller has responded that he will produce his records and estimates it would come out to less than $5,000.

I've known about these awards for some time, have nominated people for these awards, and am happy they exist.  These awards recognize the day-to-day trench work that rarely is appreciated, does not present material reward, and otherwise merits our praise when performed above and beyond the call of duty. 

All the same, I am glad we have Senators King and Brinkley looking out for the taxpayer bottom line and would recommend a slightly more worthwhile use of their time -- stop awarding patronage scholarships.

Senator Nancy King would like you to know that if you live in District 39 in District 39, you too could be one of the lucky District 39 recipients of up to $138,000 in Patronage Scholarships:

Oh, but it's not just a Democrat thing!  Senator Brinkley would also like District 4 residents know that he has his pot of $138,000 to spend on...District 4 residents:

Senators King and Brinkley are right.  Let's cut the fat.  But how about we leave non-monetary pat-on-the-back awards for small business owners, school volunteers, and maintenance workers alone for now.  Let's start with the $11.8 million tax-payers spend every year for Patronage Scholarships and work down from there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rouse's Plagiarists (Friday LINKS)

Most people don't know this, but there are actually two applications of the term plagiarism.  The first is the most common - representing another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" as your own without attribution.  The other, and much more malicious, is quoting someone as saying something they did not say.

If you take something from this blog and use it elsewhere without attribution, I will be ticked off, but probably get over it in a day.

If you quote me as saying something I did not say, I will be furious.  I will feel victimized.  But at the very least, I will be able to correct the misattribution with my own voice and authority, most likely to your detriment.

When we leave this world, we leave little more than what we did and what we said.  It is our legacy.  Our only lasting mark.  We may have had a really nice car or an odd habit of wearing technicolor sports coats, but those trappings will fall away in the public memory within a decade.  What we do or say rarely depends on others to sustain them.  They find a way to sustain themselves.

Jim Rouse died in 1996.  When he died, the last census would have pegged Columbia at 75,883 people.  Enclosed shopping malls were still a great decision.  If you were shopping online, you would have to do so without the benefit of a photograph, because that could take an hour or two...and may time out just as the last pixels are coming into focus.  It was boom-time in America and the suburbs were sprouting up McMansions by the dozen.  In fact, I imagine that during this period, Columbia may have felt a bit left out.  Looked over.  Too dense, even.

But Jim Rouse was a giant amongst men.  He was an idealist.  Jim Rouse was a "founder" when it felt like everything had already been found.  There would be statues made and his memory would be cherished by all for generations to come.

Jim Rouse died in 1996.  He took his voice with him.  More importantly, outside of hundreds of notebooks, correspondence, and schematics, he took his guidance with him.  This orphan City, planned to be something great, told it would be something great, went to stasis.  Ever since that day, new leaders have tried to fill the void, but without the voice of a founder, they would never be able to.

Instead, Jim Rouse has been plagiarized.  We are told what he would have loved and what he would have hated.  Not in 1996, but today, when every person has a shopping mall in their pocket and the suburbs are filled with empty mansions.  We are buffeted by these representations as encouragement to make or destroy laws, policies, and development decisions.  These aren't just interpretations, but rather positions represented as fact.  "Jim Rouse would have (blank)."

We would never do this if Rouse were sick, or merely out of town, because, in those circumstances, he would be able to speak for himself.  He could refute or affirm the representation.  He could tell us when statements purportedly made by him were wrongfully attributed.  Jim Rouse himself could tell us what he loved or hated.  Whether he was inspired by a new proposal, or felt it lacked substance.  Jim Rouse could even tell us if he was a little tired of Columbia politics and would rather see what is going on in the Florida Keys.  That would be his right and privilege to do.  We've stolen it from him.

We've stolen from a man we supposedly love and admire.  We've stolen his voice and used it for our own purposes.  We've made a victim out of him.  That is shameful.

 It is the right of family members to say what a deceased relative would have wanted.  It provides comfort and presence.  I don't intend this post to be critical of that in any way.  But we really need to leave Jim alone.  He served our community more than any person probably ever will for as long as Columbia is a spot on the map.  His service is complete.  Let him rest.  And leave him his voice.


Big wow of the day - Andrea Siegel of the Baltimore Sun writes that HoCo EDA Chief Laura Neuman has been selected to serve out the remaining two year term for Anne Arundel County Executive.  That's impressive.  Well Laura, we hardly knew ye.  Best of luck.

The Maryland Death Penalty Repeal will go to the full Senate after passing through the House Judiciary Committee.  As with any large legislative body, getting through committee is the hard part.  Most pundits are saying that there are enough votes in the Senate to make it through, even with the tepid support of Senate President Mike Miller.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB notes that many in Anne Arundel were surprised by the Neuman pick, but that she may have provided the best "second choice" among a fractured County Council.  I will say that there was a least one person in the Ulman Administration who had this picked last weekend, describing Neuman as "the consensus pick" to me via text.

UPDATE: Before I forget, the deadline for applying to Leadership U is Friday, March 8.  This is a fantastic program for inspiring our young leaders of today (not tomorrow) and I would be more than happy to endorse this program for anyone who is on the fence.  If you know a young leader, or want to give an inspiring young person a few more tools in their toolkit, please direct them to Leadership U.
That's all for today.  I hope to see a number of you at the Howard County Library this Saturday!

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

No Post Thursday

I am feeling much better today, but decided to give myself that extra hour of sleep just in case.  I'll be back to my rambling ways tomorrow.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Post Wednesday

It appears I have a dab of this super-bug that's going around.  I'm having a hard time stringing coherent thoughts together, so I decided to save you all from the experience.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Different Future: Ellicott City and Hipsturbia (Tuesday LINKS)

In the nearly non-stop coverage relating to the future of Columbia, its ability to attract "young professionals", and how "population density" is the most desirable thing you can say to a 28 year old, you can't help but feel like Ellicott City has been overlooked.  It is the only place in Howard County that is referred to as a "City" with any consistency and even has a "Main Street" to anchor it to the construct.  New apartments are planned for the near future and housing construction has been underway in the surrounding hills for as long as I can remember.

And the New York Times says we may have projected "the future" all wrong.  Alex Williams writes:

As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs. 

But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them. 

To ward off the nagging sense that a move to the suburbs is tantamount to becoming like one’s parents, this urban-zen generation is seeking out palatable alternatives — culturally attuned, sprawl-free New York river towns like Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown — and importing the trappings of a twee lifestyle like bearded mixologists, locavore restaurants and antler-laden boutiques. 


Mitchell Moss, an urban-planning professor at New York University, said that funkier suburbs like the river towns are getting a new look from “overeducated hipsters,” not just because they have good schools, spacious housing and good transit, but because lately the restaurants are good enough to keep them in the suburbs on a Saturday night. “The creative class is trying to replicate urban life in the suburbs,” he said.  

River town...locavore restaurants...antler-laden boutiques...good schools...spacious housing?  

Admittedly, the writers are talking about places that connect to New York City, but would the hipster described above be disappointed in Ellicott City?  In fact, don't you get that vibe nowadays?  A younger vibe?  Jane and I couldn't even get a seat at The Bean Hollow two weekends ago.  It was filled with exactly those groups of young people described in this piece.  

I think two of the top objectives for the next County Executive will be to lay out the future of Ellicott City and figure out how Howard County is going to connect to the next wave of mass transportation.  The two are integrally related.  While Columbia may one day be able to stand on its own as a Work-Live-Play bubble, Ellicott City is unlikely to share the same future.  In some ways, it will always be a preferred "retreat", making connections to reliable transportation to Baltimore and D.C., critical to its viability as a residential area.

All the housing in the world does not decide where people choose to live.  We may be praising the wrong jewel.


Speaking of Ellicott City housing, Blair Ames notes that a proposed amendment to zoning regulations would allow the developer of the Normandy Shopping Plaza the ability to use neighborhood center zoning without the corresponding commercial space, which has surrounding residents concerned that the existing businesses will go without upgrade.  This is the first time I have heard of residents concerned that a developer is not building enough commercial space.  In light of just how long it has taken for this project to get off the ground (admittedly put off by the developer having to wait for Comprehensive Rezoning), I am beginning to think that there is a concern about profitability. 

The Flier also notes the Neuman for Exec story, but without mention of Dennis Lane's post last Saturday, which was the first I saw on the subject.  Let's make a deal - if a journalist "finds out" about something from a blog, they give a hat tip in the article. 

Errors in automated law enforcement are dead.  Long live errors in automated law enforcement.

In what may continue to be the most misunderstood law on the Maryland books, the State-mandated septic ban (i.e., Growth Tiers) survived a repeal attempt after the House Environmental Matters Committee gave the repeal bill an "unfavorable" report.  This begs the question - If the law is unenforceable, as argued by some in this County, why is there a need for repeal?

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow is on another tear, to eat it up (ugh, sorry) while you can.  Yesterday he posted a review of Sushi Tendou in Fulton, giving it high marks for quality, but noting some growing pains (i.e., an absence of "crunch" in their "crunchy" roll).

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

Monday, February 18, 2013

At War With Apathy (Monday LINKS)

Last week, I participated in a Blogging Panel put on by the Columbia Democratic Club with Steve Charing and Bill Woodcock.  It was a great opportunity to reflect on what it is we hobbyist bloggers offer and why we exist.  Regardless of the context, that is one question I hear often from people first learning that I have a blog.  "What made you do that?"

One thing Bill Woodcock said really stuck out for me.  To paraphrase, he told the audience that bloggers are pushing back against the tide of apathy.  With less coverage, and lower profile issues, local government can be, and often is, dismissed as irrelevant.  This is despite the fact that we are most likely to come into contact with our local government on a more frequent basis and its actions will have a much more profound effect on our lives than whatever the President may do.  By blogging about an issue, and (maybe) making it interesting, we offer purchase for those who may otherwise let the issue pass without consideration.

I think about apathy at least once a week, normally in the context of "tilting against windmills".  As Elie Wiesel is quoted as saying (before The Lumineers stole it): "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."  There are those who hate this community.  They hate Howard County.  They hate Columbia.  They hate what it is and what it aspires to be.  But for a good number of these folks, they are anything but apathetic.  They know each member of the County Council.  They know the issues.  They know how they want things to change.  They read this blog.  They may hate me.

But as Wiesel indicated, they are not the opposite of those who love this place, but rather just a different version of the same impassioned soul.  The real danger is found in those who don't care.

And what is the danger of apathy?  What's the harm?  The audience is smaller?  So what? 

We've seen "so what" on any number of stages - power is transferred from "the people" to "the loud".  This isn't just a matter of getting eyeballs and ears.  It is fundamental to who decides what.  This local government, and nonprofit homeowners/community association, that has tremendous effects on your quality of life can be bent to the will of "the loud" easily and without coup.  We wonder why certain elements of our community are so unreasonable and unamenable to compromise, but it is because they have won small battles, in the absence of counter-points, without having to.  Why change methods mid-stream?

Apathy is an involuntary power transfer.  Your decision not to be heard is not an unflipped switch, but rather a concrete abdication of your voice to someone else.  That's not to say you should start racking up babysitting bills and miss bedtime stories.  It means you need to think more creatively about making yourself heard.  You're reading this, aren't you?  You care, don't you?

At war with apathy: the opposite of love.


I really enjoyed this long-piece in the New York Times about 21st Century technology and the Republican Party.  Particularly this: "Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, 'as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.'"  The article goes on to note that while techno-guru's on the left may be inspired to put their talents back into "the cause", those on the right may be more inclined to seek private benefit in the corporate sphere.  The contra to that position is that the real deficiency can be found with a "crust" of old-timers at the top of the party who still think TV ads and direct mail are the way to win an election.  Seeing the areas where the GOP is having most of its success, that philosophy makes sense.  It just may put a National Election outside of their reach for the forseeable future.

Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, M.D., has unintentionally found himself as the new spokesperson for the right after making remarks at a National Prayer breakfast about self-reliance.  I wonder how long this will last.  Dr. Carson should not be expected to hold the party line on all things, particularly as they may relate to "science", and may find himself on the outs within the month.

The roll-out of Obamacare has hit a few speed-bumps as the high risk pools are filling up faster than anticipated.  I don't know about you all, but I found the idea of legions of uninsured chronically ill people to be heart-breaking.  Plan administrators seem to making prudent adjustments in the face of this rush, but while many will use this as a point of criticism, I think it also shows just how necessary health care reform was to the most vulnerable among us.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB picks up on some big news just under the radar of our local journo's -- Howard County EDA Chief Laura Neuman has thrown her hat in for the Anne Arundel County Executive post.  This story has all sorts of interesting tails, such as the possibility of Ms. Neuman being a high-profile Republican in the midst of a "Governor Ulman" administration.  Early comments I've solicited from those in the loop have suggested that Ms. Neuman is a "consensus pick", but it would be very surprising to see the AA Republican Central Committee pull from a prominent Democrat's administration.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday reflecting on the great Presidents of this Country.  Don't forget William Henry Harrison.

Friday, February 15, 2013

CA Board Recap: February 14, 2013 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:07 pm
End Time: 10:56 pm

The Inner Arbor Plan and Trust have passed.  The recommendations of the Board were voted out of committee and an 8-2 majority saw the measures through.  I can't really describe to you what it felt like to be in that room last night.  It was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've had in public work.

While the Board also addressed a first reading of proposals made by an ADA compliance consultant, and discussed whether or not service dogs should be allowed in our pools (so some things never change), this measure will have further vetting at a later meeting.  The Inner Arbor Plan took up the vast majority of the time and concentration of the Board, despite also passing a revised, and non-controversial, Investment Policy.

As I noted yesterday, it was my firmly held belief that the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust were ready for a vote.  Others on the Board felt we needed more time, more process, and more meetings.  I am empathetic with that position, but disagree.  There will always be questions, just as there will always be critics.  I think this concern was best embodied by a Board member last night who repeatedly would speak for 3-5 minutes about how they did not approve of the Plan, and then say "oh, I have questions" as if this were a threat.  In a perfect deliberative system, questions would lead to a position, not the reverse.  The temptation is always there to use questions to tear down a proposal, similar to the cross examination questions you may see on your favorite court show.  We say "questions only", but that does nothing to tame the emotions of those who want to show why they are right.

There were others who stood on "process" and the need for more, while acknowledging that their vote would not change, the position of certain residents would not change, and the Plan would most likely not change.  I respect this position, but disagree.  We cannot respect all rules but the one governing all of them; that majority rules.  I was sad to hear a Board member say they were "disgusted" and "ashamed" of the Board vote last night.  All processes were followed.  All votes were public.  It hurts to be on the losing side of a vote.  I've been there many times myself.  But we need to respect the majority above all or the other rules (and processes) mean nothing.

I would like to walk you through the process by which the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust was approved last night, lest there be any confusion by those who disagree with the result:

First, the recommendations began in the Strategic Implementation Committee.  The proposal was expanded upon and clarified by Michael McCall (who showed some slight edits to the Plan, including pathways in the upper central portion of the park) and Phil Nelson (who clarified the legal recommendations in his supporting memo).  As chair, I invited all Board members to ask questions, but then moved into a full discussion as it became apparent that some Board members would otherwise monopolize time and not allow other Board members to speak.

After about 50 minutes of deliberation outside of the committee, we brought it back to the three committee members for a vote.  In light of the previous hour and a half spent at the January 24 meeting and the three hour public information session on January 31, the SIC voted to waive our committee's right to two hearings on an issue, and vote (3-0) to recommend the matter to the Board for approval.

As noted above, the Board had consultants speak about ADA compliance, at which time the majority of residents that had come to speak chose to leave.

After this presentation, a non-SIC member of the Board made a motion to suspend the Rules requiring a third reading, and vote on the Inner Arbor recommendations.  I'm embarrassed to say that despite my father being an accountant, I had been operating all week off of the mathematically challenged assumption that we would need 8 votes to get a 2/3 majority, and was sketchy on whether the votes were there.  I'm blaming stress.  Nevertheless, so long as we have a base 10 system, 2/3 of 10 is 6.6 or in human body terms - 7 votes.  The vote passed 7-3.  All that was needed was a majority vote to pass the recommendations.

The Board then had a second opportunity to discuss the measure and, again, Board members who were opposed to the vote used the premise of "questions" to express their opposition, and indicated that we would be there for a while.  I don't usually use names in these posts, but I need to do so here.  For as long as I've been on the Board, we have been led around by minority concerns.  Not just "allowing the minority to be heard" or "protecting minority interests", but quite literally allowing the minority to set our agendas and decide how long we will be away from our family on Thursday nights.  Regina Clay was the first person to stand up and say "enough".  She moved to close debate, yet another measure that requires 2/3 vote.  I think you could have heard a pin drop.  The Chair took a vote and 7-3, the vote passed.  We were going to vote.

When the vote came, it passed 8-2.

As I said at the meeting, this vote was about enabling Phil Nelson.  If you ever have a chance to meet with Phil, you can't help but be impressed by his capacity, knowledge, and leadership.  He didn't need guidance here.  He needed permission.

This is just a vote, in a dark Board room, at 10:30 pm.  Throughout the meeting, I could hear clanking from construction workers banging away in the Clyde's space underneath.  I found myself imagining what the new Clyde's will look like and how it will become a fixture of the new Downtown.  We're all imagination right now.  All of us.  With the Board's vote last night, CA finally has an opportunity to be a part of that.  That vote, in a dark Board room, at 10:30 pm transformed Symphony Woods from an untapped treasure to a place of imagination.  Not one of you reading this, from this day forward, will be able to pass those trees without thinking about the future.  And for most of you, that is an exciting place to be.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

CA Board: Ready to Lead?

After a month since the Inner Arbor Plan was first release to the public, two Board meetings, scores of letters to the editor, a petition, and a public Q&A, the Plan and the proposed Trust may come for a vote tonight.  I say "may" because due to what is often referred to as the "Three Reading Rule", the Board will have to "suspend the rules" by 2/3 vote (8 of 10) to allow a Board vote at tonight's meeting.

Without getting into numbers or presumed votes, it has become apparent over the last week or so that a super-majority of Board members support the Plan.  The Trust is not as exciting, and presents some intimidating legalese, but is essential to the ability to execute the Plan without additional financial liabilities for the Columbia Association.  With that understanding, I believe a near identical majority support the creation of a 501(c)(3) development trust.

With both of those majorities acknowledged, it would seem the Board is ready for a vote.  We've answered the two questions noted at the beginning of this process:

1) Is it the right plan?
2) Do we have a mechanism to get it accomplished?

Nevertheless, I won't kill myself trying to get a vote tonight.  If it is pushed off for two weeks, and the Board chooses to sit on its majority, it will not break my heart.  But I am certain the Board will come to regret that decision.  For the first time in as long as I've been paying attention to the CA Board, the community is looking to us for leadership.  For the first time, the community is excited about a Board vote, not just angry.  We can let that fizzle, but if we do so, we should do it with the knowledge that we are inviting two weeks of nasty letters to the editor, critical e-mails, and whatever other stumbling blocks opponents can throw in front of a vote to get the Board to put it off again.  Heck, even proponents may have some things to say about our malaise and failure to act.

There will always be questions.  But at this stage in the process, we are acting as policy-makers, not operators.  The minutiae of Trust language and legal agreements are rightfully delegated to paid officers of the organization.  Phil Nelson has an obligation to keep us informed of those developments as they occur and is ultimately accountable for how this transaction turns out. 

We are in the driver's seat.  That is a place that many in the community would rather have never seen happen.  Past Boards have shown themselves incompetent to make big decisions or partner with other community stakeholders when it mattered.  We can lead tonight and pass a vote taking action on Symphony Woods or we can limp across the finish line two weeks from now, forever marring the positive progress we've made and confirming the skepticism of our critics. 

We'll need to hear from you.  What do you want your Board to do?

Have a great Valentine's Day spending time with the people you love!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union V

This was President Obama's fifth State of the Union address and, in my opinion, the best yet.  It wasn't great for the initiatives presented, although I agreed with a number of these, but rather the manner in which the President used his one hour of prime-time to move his political agenda.  Who will be able to think of last night's speech without having universal Pre-K and "they deserve a vote" ringing in their memory?  While we all may have different views on how this Country should operate, we should all be able to respect a well-played hand.

As I was looking over a transcript of last night's speech, I thought to myself that there should be a contest to see who can summarize the speech in the fewest words while communicating the substance.  Political theater is often not much for substance, and we're all busy, so just tell us what the plan is and show off for your friends on your own time.

Here are some big take-aways that I picked up:
  • Medicare Reform: Cut drug subsidies and introduce means testing.  Change to a qualitative model of paying for medical services (formerly referred to as "death panels" by alarmists who can't-read-good).  This is just specific enough to create some obligations for the President.  Means-testing is the right thing to do and the U.S. Government, as the largest consumer of medical care, can set the parameters for how medical care is cost out.  

  • Tax Reform:  While few would recognize it as such, the President was throwing the Republicans a bone on this one.  House Republicans have been trying to trade "tax reform" for "tax increases" since 2010.  In fact, this entire paragraph of the speech, from closing loopholes to protecting jobs at home, could have been pulled from a Romney speech.
  • American Jobs: This part was a little murky for me, but in sum, the President proposed creating 15 manufacturing hubs under the Departments of Defense and Energy in towns stripped of jobs by globalization.  Exactly what these hubs will manufacture was left for further deliberation.  The President also proposed a "Fix-it-First" infrastructure program to bring our roads and bridges up to the 21st Century (or maybe just the late 20th Century) through partnerships with private capital.  It will be left up to speculation if this means private toll roads are a future prospect and whether or not that may be just what America needs to create jobs.  President Obama also proposed raising the minimum wage in the United States to $9/hour and tie it to inflation so that anyone working 40 hours a week has enough money to live.
  • Energy/Climate Change:  The President put his comments about Climate Change directly on top of his comments about energy independence.  I don't think we should expect a comprehensive Energy Policy to come out of this Administration, but the emphasis on alternative energy is there.  For what feels like the first time in this Presidency, Barack Obama urged Congress to pass cap-and-trade (McCain/Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act).  He wisely chose not to use those politically charged words (forcing pundits to take a breath before slamming him), but the code-words were there.  I don't think cap-and-trade is the solution to climate change, but in the absence of any movement, it is something.  The President also noted that his administration will be creating a Race-to-the-Top-esque Plan for cutting energy usage.  "Watt-to-the-Test".
  • Universal Pre-K:  I liked this idea so much that I will just share with you what the President said:
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance. 

Notably, this is not just a reform targeted at education, but also a measure of equality to take the burden of child care off of single mothers.

  • Higher Ed Reform:  President Obama has proposed Congress change the Higher Education Act so that federal funds are redirected to those colleges and universities that meet certain metrics based on affordability and value.  The White House will issue a "College Score Card" that communicates these metrics to parents.  Seems like a "market-based approach" to me, and something that is a long time coming.
  • Afghanistan: Troop draw-down to end the war by the end of 2014.
  • Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union:  Needs more research, but the words alone communicate "NAFTA on Steroids".
  • Firearm Reform:  In what may have been the most powerful part of the President's speech, he talked just a skosh over the heads of the American people.  He repeatedly noted victims of gun violence in the audience and across the Country and urged that they "deserve a vote".  Nevertheless, he never said exactly what he was trying to get passed.  Universal Background Checks?  Popular, should pass.  Automatic Weapons Ban?  Less popular, will not pass.  Senator Chuck Shumer seemed to believe that the President gave the push necessary to get background checks to a vote, which may have been the goal, but that seems awful dramatic for such minimal gains.
I've run out of time, but summarized most of the big issues discussed last night.  I also watching Senator Marco Rubio's response and was impressed by his overall presentation, but disappointed by substance (there wasn't much).  Republicans had an opportunity to match substantive policy with substantive policy and they failed.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Transparency & Drones (Tuesday LINKS)

While we debate the propriety of killing murderers on death row after decades of due process here in Maryland, our President has been having to answer questions about targeted drone strikes used to kill American citizens in other countries without so much as an evidentiary hearing.  Over the weekend, my former criminal procedure professor, David Cole, published an Editorial in The Washington Post, stating that it is ok for the President not to tell us who he plans to kill, or the mechanism by which that assassination will occur, but in the name of transparency, he must acknowledge when American citizens have been killed by U.S. drones.

Most of our discussions about transparency are quite mundane: Counting days on a calendar to make sure the proper notice of meetings has been given; evaluating whether an agenda topic truly is the subject of legal advice or business negotiation; revealing as much as possible without interfering with the operation of the organization at issue.  But this is mostly peripheral.  The fact of the matter is that transparency concerns are most often taken up by those who believe there is something malicious afoot, and those individuals tend to have some form of conspiracy imagined that is only aided by the fact that certain information is hidden.

Stripped of requirements, regulations, and sunshine laws, transparency is a matter of trust.  Trust between the electorate and their representatives.  How can I trust you to make the right decision if I don't know what information you are basing that decision upon?  That question is behind every transparency issue we face.  We may never agree on what that decision should be, but there is a base understanding that elected and elector should stand on equal footing when evaluating the problem.

In matters of military and defense, that construct is destroyed.  The balance of interests weighs heavily towards concealment.  It has reached a point where most Americans have become jaded to their position in matters of military force.  Somehow, it has become easier to become outraged over $5 million to study the mating habits of koala bears than a $5 million bomb destroying a foreign town filled with innocent civilians.  I guess it all depends on the internet meme in which the information is provided.

I agree with my Professor.  Even in our hands-off, please-don't-tell-me-the-yucky-parts approach to defense policy, including the use of unarmed drones hauntingly hovering over remote towns for months at a time before dropping their fatal load, we should know when one of our own is killed.  And we should know why.  It is a matter of fundamental trust between the government and its people.


Howard County lawmakers and business leaders celebrated the groundbreaking for the Metropolitan Downtown Columbia, yesterday, which will be a $100 million apartment complex with approximately 380 units projected to open in Spring 2014.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake just handed the citizens of Baltimore 45 minutes of bad news under the description of "bold reforms": "requiring more city workers to contribute to their retirement fund, charging residents for trash collection, asking firefighters to work longer hours and cutting the city workforce by 10 percent over time."  I imagine that most residents are interested in SRB's promise to cut property taxes by 22% over the next ten years, but the pain will be felt in the short term with the gain left for whomever fills her seat after she is term limited out of office.  I like SRB and I think she does a good job in Baltimore, but this is the second year in a row that I feel she has over-promised in her State of the City address.  Baltimore has plenty of things in need of fixing.  Start small.

Baltimore County provides a lesson in the dangers of referendums on land use.  A failed petition in that jurisdiction brought in $600,000 in contributions, mostly from competing developers, to stop the development of a number of properties.  A Zoning Board may not be the best system in the world, but its the best system I've seen.  Certainly much better than having your competitors beat money out of you in the public square.

Among the Anne Arundel County Republicans looking to fill John Leopold's vacant seat as County Executive, Dan Bongino will not be one of them.  Interestingly enough, Kendall Ehrlich was quoted over the weekend saying that she would be interested with the implication that she was not willing to "try out" for the job and only wanted it if there was no competition.  Needless to say, there is a LOT of competition, with at least three other GOPers going for the number one spot.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: MM raises the alarm over the cut to Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, which provides recovery assistance to Marylanders with substance abuse problems.  I agree with my fellow blogger that this cut should be reexamined and reversed.

That's all for today.  I don't know about you all, but this gray muggy weather is taking the wind right out of my sails.  Gotta keep on keepin' on!

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Retribution and Rehabilitation: Maryland Death Penalty

Word out of Annapolis is that the votes are there in the Senate to pass a death penalty repeal and, with presumed passage in the House of Delegates, have Maryland join the 17 other States that have either never instated the penalty or repealed it since first enactment.  The Sun gave the issue full coverage this past weekend with the perspective of victims' family members, inmates' family members, and legislators.  While the emotional side of this issue is to be appreciated, it is unlikely any of this coverage swayed votes.  The critical question that may be left without answer up and through the vote is: How do we deter the damned?  For those criminals that have already been given life without parole, what is there left to lose?

This is a question that exists in our heads more than it does in practice.  A 2002 review of prison murders found that of 87 prison inmates killed in jail, only 1 of them occurred in a State that did not have the death penalty.

But I wonder if we are missing the bigger picture.  Is our prison model overly focused on Retribution over Rehabilitation?  What are we getting for the annual operating budget of $1.2 billion to supervise 22,000 inmates in 22 prisons?

And I understand the temptation here is to scoff at rehabilitation.  The limits of semantics indicate that a "rehabilitative" prison sentence is for the good of the prisoner.  However, when you consider that over 10% of all Marylanders are on probation or parole, we're not just talking about "prisoners", we're talking about our lower class.  Prison can, and often does, define a person.  You are either a criminal or you are not.  If you are the former, a life of crime is not only an invitation but a mandate.  Certainly this carries with it significant deterrent force...presuming a considered mind. 

Our discussion of the death penalty, particularly as it relates to prison safety, demands a larger discussion about what we want for our prison dollars.  We may never rehabilitate a murderer for release, and that may be fine, but does that end the discussion.  Are we labeling people murderers-ever-after?  More importantly, is our "corrections" system really designed for correction, or are we just creating a criminal class?

This far removed from the prison system, in the richest county, in the richest state, we are privileged to approach these questions as a matter of philosophy or criminal justice theory.  Sure, it doesn't feel that way when our house is broken into or our car is stolen, but crime in this part of the State is rarely a matter of life and death.  I understand and acknowledge that my own empathy is a matter of privilege.  You will not find a population harder on crime (and criminals) than those who live in the worst parts of Baltimore or D.C. 

That doesn't prohibit the question.  Is our corrections system making it worse at the end of a wrathful sentence?  Do we need a greater focus on rehabilitation?  Are we getting our money's worth?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Evening In the Stacks: A Hilariously Good Time

If you have the opportunity, go to the bank, ask for $125 in ones, and have one of your friends, family members, or children throw it at you. 

Then pick it up and buy a ticket to Evening in the Stacks.

Harford Does More

Harford County just announced that for the second year in a row, its homeless population had decreased by nearly 20%.  Even more impressive is that of those homeless, the vast majority are living in some sort of shelter.  According to this article by The Aegis, in 2010 there were 221 homeless in shelters, 13 on the street; 2011 - 243 homeless; and in 2012 there 204 homeless in shelters and 12 on the street.  A recent count in January of this 2013 found 166 homeless living in shelters, including 68 children.

In Howard County, there were 230 homeless counted in 2012, which included 142 people in shelters and 82 living outdoors or in cars.  This was an increase from 191 homeless counted in 2011 and 221 counted in 2010.

"Shelter" obviously means different things to different people.  In Howard County, where our primary shelter has 33 beds, those that happened to sleep with a roof over their head in last night's rain and sleet were staying in a Motel.

The difference is Housing First:

Harford County has 13 emergency, transitional and permanent supportive shelters, offering a total of 304 beds for homeless adults, children and families.

If you're like me, you reviewed these numbers and thought "this can't be."  Maybe Harford is bigger?  Nope, Howard has about 45,000 more people.  Maybe they spend more money?  Nope, Harford County's FY14 operating budget was $624 million ($124.4 million capital), while Howard County's FY13 operating budget was approximately $900 million operating ($175 million capital).

The Aegis article goes on to note that the "Harford County Department of Community Services provided more than a $1 million in homeless program funding" to nonprofits, but you would be hard pressed to find a County Executive more supportive of nonprofits that Ken Ulman.

So what are they doing better?  Why are their homeless numbers under 200 and dropping fast?  Housing first.  The Plan to End Homelessness includes the following requests, totaling approximately 100 housing units (still far less than Harford):

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) apartment units for 16 families and 19 individuals. The new HSSP program will provide 7 or more units.

Small Efficiency Apartments
(SEA) for 54 individuals. The planned SEA project will provide 33 units. It is a specialized type of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals.

Recovery House beds for 18 individuals (about 5 housing units). Group residential settings for formerly homeless person in recovery from addictions.

Rent Subsidies for 6 families. This category includes households that do not meet the disability requirements for Permanent Supportive Housing but have income limitations preventing them from accessing affordable housing on their own.

Of these priorities, the Council is still pushing through SEA housing for 33 units, one third of the total goal. Anyone concerned about ending homelessness should be proud and thankful for the new and sincere focus that County Executive Ken Ulman has put on this problem.  But we're not there yet.  

In a little less than two months, Ken Ulman will reveal his Capital Budget for FY14.  This will be his second to last budget as County Executive.  He will have the opportunity to permanently solve homelessness in Howard County with a continued push on Housing First.

Harford has a lead.  Let's beat them to the finish line.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Comptroller in the Crosshairs (Thursday LINKS)

Michael Dresser in The Sun reports that Delegate Dereck Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat, has introduced a bill in the House that would transfer the Comptroller's power to tax and regulate alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.  Seeing as this bill was offered unilaterally, without the support (or consultation) of Comptroller Peter Franchot, it is apparent that this bill is a shot across the bow for Franchot's steps out of line on issues like casinos, gas taxes, and special sessions.  As Dresser notes, Delegate Davis was a "staunch backer" of gambling expansion back in 2012.

Here's my favorite quote of the piece:

"It's unfortunate if he thinks a legitimate policy discussion revolves around him," said Davis, who chairs the House Economic Committee and is a member of Speaker Michael E. Busch's leadership team.

Oh is it?

There are two kinds of people who "love politics".  There are those who will talk policy all day long and look at every issue like a puzzle waiting to be solved.  There are also those who wish they made more gangster movies.  They love the obscure committee assignments, lost invitations, and district lines just on the other side of an incumbent's lawn.  That's "politics" to them.  The policy stuff is for the fluff-birds to twitter on about while the "real men" (there is machismo here) wield power.

This whole episode has the latter crew flexing their muscles and watching re-runs of the A-Team.  It is bald political retribution of the worst kind.  In this case, it fundamentally changes the operation of an office that has operated quite effectively for the past six years.  This power finds itself in the gray area between the tax authority and the regulation authority, but in light of the fact that smuggling is brought on due to significant taxes (neighboring states have lower tobacco taxes), it makes sense to bundle these powers with the Comptroller.

This bill will be sent for a cost estimate and Delegate Davis has indicated that if it is high (creating an entirely new department, shifting personnel, and constructing new organizational infrastructure tends to be costly), he does not plan to pursue it any further.  It seems to me that the Delegate was caught in the midst of his political bullying and would like us all to know that "I wasn't gonna hurt him or nuthin'.  We're friends, right Petey?"

I hope to see this bill go away.  The Democratic party has this State locked up.  As such, it is good to see some disagreement amongst party leaders to create some measure of vetting for legislation before it becomes law.  The Comptroller has frustrated a number of people over the last six years, and probably will do so for another six, but changing the office in which he sits is just bad policy. 


I've seen estimates from 1,500 to 5,000 people showed up in Annapolis for a pro-gun rights rally on Lawyer's Mall.  Governor O'Malley testified before a Senate sub-committee considering his proposed assault weapons ban.

The United States Postal Service will no longer deliver mail on Saturdays.  That makes sense to me and is long overdue.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB notes that he has found inspiration to write from his ideological opponents.  You can count me as one of those who is very thankful for that. 

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unequal Halves (Tuesday LINKS)

One of the more interesting things to watch in the play-out of the Inner Arbor Plan and vote is the manner in which the "two sides" have been portrayed in the media.  More specifically, the two co-existing hang-ups in the press to presume two equal sides on any issue and over-play opposition.

Obviously, being someone for the Plan, I am biased in this regard, but I don't think a neutral observer would have much to disagree with.  The Board has received over 20 e-mails from the public, at least 15 of which have supported the Plan.  There is a petition circulating with 207 (last checked) signatures supporting the Plan.  Three members of the County Council and the County Executive have come out in favor of the Plan.  I fully acknowledge that opponents have won the numbers battle in Resident Speak-out and Letters to the Flier, but not by much.

Yet, if you read just about any article about the subject, things are "split" down the middle.

In a way, that's good.  I've always believed that the best way to find some measure of "truth" in politics is by way of a vigorous debate between two equally informed sides.  Lies and misconceptions relied upon by one will quickly be torn asunder by the zealous critique of the other.  But nevertheless, this construct presumes some measure of cooperation between the two sides.  They want the truth; not just a scalp.  When these sides aren't addressing each other, and instead a neutral sounding board, lies and misconceptions win the day.  "If I'm losing, lie.  If I'm winning, lie.  Just never admit I'm wrong."

In the Symphony Woods context, this has resulted in a significant portion of the public (although not as large as may be represented in the newspaper) believing that Cy Paumier's Plan is a shovel and hard-hat away from construction.  Maybe I have no credibility on this because I favor the Inner Arbor Plan, but the plain truth is that this Plan is far from construction and may never be approved.  What is most odd is that some of the exact same people who spoke against Cy's Plan at Resident Speak-Out are now supporting the plan as originally configured.

I appreciate the opportunity to hear the views of those who oppose the Inner Arbor Plan.  This opposition has fractured into different objections now, most of which I hope can be addressed to some measure of satisfaction (to the extent such satisfaction is sought).  But in my work to hear from as many people as possible about this Plan and the future of Symphony Woods, I have heard from far more people who are looking hopefully to the Board for action on this Plan and no other.  It is a shame that support, and positive community emotion, is not getting a full hearing in the press.


Council-members Calvin Ball and Mary Kay Sigaty signed a joint letter to the editor in the Flier supporting the Inner Arbor Plan and the Trust.

Although the article is not yet up, the Council voted 4-1 last night to approve the growth tiers compromise worked out between the County Executive and County Council.  Regardless of the terms, this is an unquestionable win for the County Executive.  Unfortunately, this also would appear to be an unmitigated alienation of the rural West.  They were strenuously opposed to this bill going through and thought they may have won one when the Council voted on its first map 4-1, allowing more properties the opportunity to develop and pull equity from the value of develop-able land.  I am always one to appreciate a compromise, but I sincerely hope that all of the negative consequences predicted by some do not come true.

Delegate Tony McConkey (R) seems like a real winner.  He aggressively lobbied for a bill that would make it easier for him to regain his real estate license (after being ordered to pay a $75,000 fine that he sought to cap with legislation) without disclosing his conflict of interest.  In fact, while lobbying for this bill, he had to be restrained and removed from the office of another Delegate by the police. 

As you may notice from the banner ad, Evening in the Stacks is fast approaching.  In order to get a head start on fundraising, I will be starting a book referral service.  If you donate to the Library (including my name under "Special Instructions") and forward me your PayPal receipt - (any amount) with the body of the e-mail including your favorite book, I will recommend another book for you to try.  Typing that all out, it seems a little complicated, but let's give it a try.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB urges everyone to stand up and be counted on the Inner Arbor Plan, similarly skeptical of the false dichotomy presented in the newspaper.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.  I am sure a number of you will be going to the parade.  Sadly, I had made a commitment for the exact same time this morning and will not be able to attend, despite the parade running right next to my office Downtown.  That's all I have to say about that.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ravens Won the Daggone Super Bowl!

Sorry for no post this morning, but I still don't think I should be writing (uncorrected post title: "Ravens Won the Dafgone Supper Bowel").

But I have to.  Sports victories are meant to be shared.  Communal joy!  The only permissive time for primal screams in public places!  A ridiculous amount of a non-primary color!

Waa Hoo!

I was able to watch the game with my family and close friends last night.  That was cool. 

My wife made amazing food and there are a lot of leftovers.  That, too, is cool.

The people of my home state are very happy today.  That is the coolest of all. 

I was telling a friend last night after the game that this positive energy is not for nothing.  All of us should use our good mood to do something good.  We all know this mood is fleeting.  Grab it and make something lasting with it.

That doesn't mean we all don't need a good sleep.  Or as Sizzle would put it "Sleeps".

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Let's Make Columbia Awesome!

Positivity begets positivity.  Check out this new video put together by Ian Kennedy featuring the "awesome" components of the Inner Arbor Plan:

Let's Make Columbia Awesome. Join the Facebook group here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Symphony Woods: A Matter of When

Last night was a good night for the future of Columbia and a good night for the Inner Arbor Plan.

I appreciate all of the proponents that took the time to come out last night and wish I could have had the chance to chat with you, but I went into last night's event with the goal of speaking with as many opponents as possible.  This is a collaborative process and I appreciate the opportunity to disagree, yet still talk constructively about the future of Columbia's downtown treasure.

Despite seeking out opponents, the one word I kept hearing last night was "When?"

"When are we going to see the first pathways go in?"
"When is the art sculpture projected to be placed?"
"When can I take my grandchildren to the children's theatre?"
"When are we going to get people to start using the woods?"

"When" is an inspirational question in this context.  It is urging us forward towards an exciting goal. 

That's not to say there weren't those that wanted a divergent path.  A handful of people I spoke with asked whether the Columbia Association could marry the Paulmier Plan with the Inner Arbor Plan and start construction on the former immediately.  This approach carries with it a number of concerns and roadblocks.

First, the Paumier Plan, as conceived in the public, is not what was accepted by the Planning Board.  The revised Plan would require meandering paths and better connectivity with Merriweather Post pavilion.  The Planning Board also expressed a lack of excitement or draw by the Paumier Plan, which is a conceptual defect that cannot be cured by redirected paths.  Some time last Fall, the CA Board saw what I have referred to as the "Melted Cruciform" Plan, which was plain ugly.  Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but we all recognize disfiguration when we see it.  I can't, in good conscience, vote for that Plan to go into Symphony Woods.  Maybe there is another opportunity to add additional pathways to that portion of the woods, but the Paumier Plan is not it.

Second, I do not believe the relationship between Cy Paumier and the Columbia Association is a good one.  It has reached a point where we must part ways, and that includes any and all Lakefront Planning.  Out of respect for Cy, I will not go into any further detail here, but I will say that so long as I am on this Board, I will not support any further professional relationship between CA and his group.

Finally, as I've noted before, there is a balance, flow, and general concept to the Inner Arbor Plan that is not so easily amended as spending 5 minutes in Photoshop.  Even ignoring the issues of congruent design, Cy Paumier has criticized the Inner Arbor Plan in the Flier (with too many inaccuracies and falsehoods to count) making any productive collaboration between the two designers unlikely.

But this is peripheral.  I really don't want to get into the negative back-and-forth that mar conversations about Columbia's future.  The general sentiment last night was that the community supports this Plan.  There will always be nay-sayers.  There will always be those who say "We want progress, not this progress."  But there's a reason these folks lose their battles (and elections): The positive message always rings true.

We're moving in the right direction.  To answer all those "when's" from last night, the answer is "soon".  But we need your continued support and the confidence to be heard.  Excitement will not tolerate silence.

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