Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's time to implement the charter on filling Council vacancies

In 2004, county voters overwhelmingly ratified a charter amendment supported by (among others)the county League of Women Voters allowing the Council by ordinance to provide for the filling of early vacancies in their body by election. The new charter language isn't specific as to whether vacancy-filling elections would take place in conjunction with or earlier than the next regularly-scheduled elections (which would be those of the presidential year), but the former would be easier and
probably less controversial. (Prince George's County has the latter system and a Laurel area seat has already been filled with a stand-apart special election won by Tom Dernoga.)

Unless the current Council introduces and succeeds in enacting such an ordinance before the new Council is elected, we're going to be stuck with the current system (where such vacancies are filled by the relevant party's Central Committee for as long as four years). Any suggested ordinance could have the Central Committee fill the vacancy only until the special election occurred.

I served on the last Charter Review Commission (which supported the vacancy-filling ordinance process that is now permissible) and remember testimony coming from the current Democratic Central Committee in opposition to such a charter amendment. It would diminish their power. Too bad.

This was the rationale provided in the Commission's report for the suggested amendment (which, as Question A, was supported so strongly by the voters):

"The Charter provides that the elected central committee of the vacating Councilmember's political party fills vacant Council positions. The Commission recommends filling a Council vacancy through a special election provided that such election can be held at the next scheduled general election. Such scheduling would minimize costs associated with holding a special election. The Commission recommends that the central committee continue to fill a Council vacancy until the special election or, if the vacancy occurs after the ballot deadline for a general election, until the end of the Council term.
The Commission's recommendation requires passage of an ordinance to enact a special election, rather than a provision directly in the Charter. This approach is suggested based upon legal advice from the Office of Law. Article XXI-A of the Maryland Constitution and the Express Powers Act prohibits the establishment of special election in a county charter."

The aforementioned legal problem is why the charter itself doesn't specify the vacancy-filling method and why it leaves such method for the Council to specify by ordinance.

I encourage readers to contact their Council member and urge them to introduce the necessary implementing legislation as soon as possible. To reiterate: Unless such an ordinance is enacted and signed before the new Council takes office, it won't affect them and we'll be stuck for up to four years with the choice of whoever's on the relevant Central Committee with any vacancies that may occur. Urge those Council members to do it for the sake of democracy and representative government.

Monday, May 29, 2006

HFStival Wrap-up

What are your thoughts on how the concert weekend went? HayDuke has had full coverage and offers his thoughts. One thing he says that I whole heartedly agree with is:

We're lucky to have people running Merriweather who care.

It is such a nice change from the days of Clearchannel running things.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

HFStival Coverage Continued

HayDuke as I suspected has great coverage of the HFStival with pictures.

I went over and drove around Town Center from 10:20pm to 10:45pm and everything looked fine. Some 18-30 year olds were walking to their cars. Traffic was light either because the mad rush at 11pm had not hit or those not Kanye West fans had already left. There were a lot of police out. Might have been close to a 1:1 ratio between police and people leaving the concert. I had been at a BBQ near the intersection of Steven Forest and Brokenland at 9:55pm when I heard a sustained couple minutes of sirens. Not sure what it was. It could have just been a show of force by the police before the concert got ready to start winding down. Does anyone know?

I walked around the Lakefront and saw a nice sized crowd of patrons still at Clyde's and slightly less at the Tomato Palace. I also saw a lot of families with kids still hanging out on the Lakefront, particularly around the fountain.

What did the people living downtown think?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

HFStival Open Thread

As I wrote previously I think the HFStival can be really good for Merriweather and Howard County if it is done right. Today we will get to see if it was "done right" and as always the voters get to judge. If things are not "done right" lets figure out how to make sure it is "done right" and not use this as an opportunity to attack a type of music or start a generational war. Neither of the latter are productive. I have posted on some steps I think will contribute to doing this type of event right. And though I above say the voters get to judge, because this is my outlook on the political reality of such issues, I do strongly urge everyone to look at this as a work in progress where we need to be constructive and educated elected officials and candidates of what needs to be done to make these things done right and give them a couple years to make any fixes that are needed.

In the meantime, use this as an open thread to discuss what you see working and where improvements need to be made. Feel free to use this thread to share good routes around town and where traffic snarls up. How does the parking situation look to those in Town Center? Together as a community we can be a collective eyes and ears on the ground that will help each other find the easiest ways to get around town. Who said traffic only needs to be on the eights? Oh, yeah that was the superb people at WTOP, who help me find the best route into DC every morning. Let's try to give them a run for their money :)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Prostitution trial in Ellicott City

In today's Sun is an article (with picture) about postponement of a prostitution trial. I guess this sells newspapers.
In my view, prostitution should be legalized and regulated only to protect against disease. No matter how stringent the laws against it, prostitution will vanish from society only when the urge to have sex vanishes and we know when that will be. The legal efforts to stamp it out just forces it underground where the danger of disease and thuggery increases. End the hypocrisy about sex and let the police and law enforcement people turn their attention to serious problems, which are numerous. Is sex between two people really anyone else's business but the participants? Does it really matter that money may change hands? I say no to both questions.

Ooops! Merdon apparently has some fence-mending to do with some Republicans

GOP voters bristle at Merdon's behavior
Spat is over testy dialogue at event and later e-mails
By Larry Carson
Sun reporter
Originally published May 26, 2006

(You'll have to read the article for yourself. Whether this spat will have a long-lasting life remains to be seen.)

Council members express differing budget priorities

It was mentioned in the local press, but in case you missed it:
On an operating budget amendment proposed by County Executive Robey to shift $250,000 from the snow removal and contingency funds to instead provide assistance to low-income people who either have been evicted from their housing or are threatened with it, Council members Ulman, Guzzone, and Ball voted yes and Merdon and Feaga voted no.
Although the operating budget was ultimately approved unanimously, the vote on the amendment points up one important difference in what we would likely get from our two leading candidates for County Executive: Ken Ulman and Chris Merdon. They each have their own spending priorities.

The Amazing Reappearing Insufficient 10% and 5%

As I reviewed the documents the Department of Planning and Zoning put out for the last Focus Group I noticed the “Moderate and the Middle Income Housing” section at the top of page 3. Yet again the documents listed moderate and middle-income numbers as 10% moderate and 5% middle-income, which the Focus Group has repeatedly said wasn't sufficient. Why do these numbers keep on appearing on document after document, when the Focus Group members and the community at large has repeatedly said these numbers don't reflect the communities needs?

According to the 2000 census:

17.1% of Howard Co households make less than $35,000
11.9% of Howard Co households make between $35,000 and $50,000
21.5% of Howard Co households make between $50,000 and $75,000
17.6% of Howard Co households make between $75,000 and $100,000

A HayDuke post from several weeks back reminds us:

Based on the county's current $82,065 median income, officials define moderate-income households as those earning between $32,826 and $65,652 annually.

So at least 29% of county households (and probably more likely more than 1/3 of county households when you factor in households making between $50,000 and $65,652 annually) would have to compete for that 10% scrap without even starting to address how 5% middle income clearly doesn't reflect the needs of the vast number of county households that are defined by the county as middle income.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Focus Group Meeting Today

Focus Group meeting will be today (Wednesday, May 24, 2006) from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm, at the Wilde Lake Inter-Faith Center. For those that can get off work, I highly recommend attending. According the revised schedule the Department of Planning and Zoning put out the subject will be Draft Zoning Amendments and Draft Pedestrian Master Plan. The handout on Zoning that was distributed at the last Focus Group meeting is here. Let me know what you think.

To get a recap on the plan to redevelop downtown Columbia click here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bad Planning

So this weekend I was running errands at the Columbia Crossings big box strip off Route 175. You know the one with the Target and Borders. It has struck me every time I have had to navigate that parking lot that it is one of the worst designed parking lots I have ever been in. Any construction, including parking lots, in the last couple of decades don’t just happen, but are designed by people. I was wondering if anyone has any insights into why this parking lot was designed as it was and what kind of approval process it had to go through?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Council candidate Livesay retiring as Police chief to avoid conflict with Hatch Act,0,6034233.story?coll=bal-local-howard

That three-way Republican primary for the western Howard County Council seat between Livesay (with his name recognition), Greg Fox (who is backed by most party officials), and Jim Adams (whose only advantage is likely to be top listing on the ballot) should be interesting. This has been safe Republican territory ever since single-member districts for the Council were adopted and it would surely take an overall Democratic landslide in the county to make it any different this year.
The likely Democratic candidate candidate for the seat (Don Dunn) had better hope that the GOP primary gets so divisive that a lot of supporters of the losers vote for him out of spite. It surely happened eight years ago in the County Executive race when the GOP primary contest was won by a relatively-moderate Columbian (Dennis Schrader) over longtime western county conservative Charlie Feaga. In winning his first term as Executive then, Jim Robey carried western Howard County precincts in the 1998 general election that no Democrat as a rule will carry. Precinct 4-1 in Lisbon is about as Republican as it gets in the county and Robey carried it that year.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Unaffiliated voters growing faster locally than Democrats or Republicans

The Howard County Times this week has an article from Earle Eldridge saying that the percentage of unaffiliated voters in the county keeps growing faster than that of those registering as either Democrats or Republicans.
My comment on that is that most of these unaffiliated registrants either don't know or don't care that they are, for the most part, cutting themselves out of a very important electoral process: deciding which Democrat or which Republican will win the primary and have their name go on the general election ballot (when one of the two will almost surely win and be elected to represent them). No candidate other than a Democrat or a Republican has achieved as much as fifteen percent of the statewide vote in Maryland within recent memory (at least forty years). Is there any reason to believe it will be any different now? I don't think so.
Potential voter registrants might also consider that just about the only purpose of registering as either a Democrat or a Republican is to allow you to vote in that party's primary. Secondarily, it allows you to file as a candidate representing that party. (But most people aren't going to do the latter.) It doesn't require you to vote that way in the general election.
Philosophically, I'm an independent and would also decline to affiliate with a party if I could do that and also have as much influence as other voters in the selection of primary election winners. But I'm not about to surrender whatever influence I may have in the total election process and so I'm registered as a member of a major party. And I'm just as "independent" as always.
Register as a "decline" or as a member of a minor party and stay as one if that's what you want to do. You have every right to do that. All the more power and influence for people like me.

Example in Why We Need to Get Creative in Preventing Ex Pose Facto NIMBYs

The Flier tonight runs an excellent example of why we need to get creative in preventing ex pose facto Not in My Back Yarders (NIMBY). In a letter to the editor with the ironic title “Now that pavilion is saved, please make it quieter” Regina Brown argues:

The "crown jewel" of Columbia (Our view, May 11) would be a lot better appreciated by this resident if we all didn't have to hear the howls and reverberations of the "concerts."

OK, so it's a national treasure, just answer me this: Does it matter to anyone that those who don't appreciate that kind of music must be subjected to horrible wailing and thudding late at night? Can't you have a concert without forcing those of us who don't enjoy it to participate?

If so much time and effort can be spent in making this venue a comeback, how about a little noise control? Think about it, please. It even scares my dogs.

To think a concert venue would be noisy?!? Really. I wish people like Mrs. Brown would stop to think that in order for the pavilion to be saved it must be economically viable and that means it needs to put on concerts that people will pay to attend. There is a diversity of these types of concerts and Merriweather is doing a superb job of covering that full range from Wine in the Woods to the HFStival. Not every concert will be everyone’s type of music, but lets not start attacking other people's tastes. If you choose to live near a concert venue you will get concert noise. Having grown up in Columbia and gone to Oakland Mills High School I have long know from my high school classmates that lived in Oakland Mills that concert noise can be heard in Oakland Mills. I have raise this at the charrette and at the Focus Group in terms of the new residental units to be built much closer to Merriweather in the Crescent, but sadly the FAQ the Department on Planning and Zoning does not include the greatest and cheapest way to mitigate Ex Pose Facto NIMBY by making sure future tenants know they are moving next to a concert venue and that they have no grounds to object to the noise.

Let’s cut this NIMBY stuff off at its knees. We know that most house hunting does not take place on Friday and Saturday evenings when most concerts happen, so many people are a little dense about the extent of concert noise. We also know that most people don’t read that giant stack of papers they get and have to sign when the close on a property. (The people at my closing looked at me like I was crazy when I sat there reading everything I had not gotten in advance, thankfully for them my realtor was great and had gotten me most of that paperwork to early or we might still be sitting at my closing, but I know I am the very rare exception). So we need to get creative. As I mentioned at the charrette, for very little cost a 10 foot by 10 foot noise simulation room can be built in one of the buildings in the Crescent and require that before anyone sign to be a tenant in the complex they must spend 10 minutes in the room listening to concert level decibels. The cost of this is miniscule compared to the cost of time and money wasted fighting Ex Pose Facto NIMBY, so let’s cut them off at the pass. I strongly believe there is a market of people who will want to live where they can hear the concerts, but let’s make sure those who move in know the extent of the concert noise.

And while we are on the issue of what market will want to live next to a concert venue, one of the prime markets is young professionals, but in order to attract this market the units will have to be prices in a range young professionals can afford. To restate one of my earlier post on what a young professional that works for the federal government (one of our areas major employers) can afford:

A lot of people in our community work for the Federal Government so this could be a good starting point. The government pay scale in our area is:

Grade 1 Step 1 - $19,214

Grade 2 Step 1 - $21,602

Grade 3 Step 1 - $23,571

Grade 4 Step 1 - $26,460

Grade 5 Step 1 - $29,604

Grade 6 Step 1 - $33,000

Grade 7 Step 1 - $36,671

Grade 8 Step 1 - $40,612

Grade 9 Step 1 - $44,856

Grade 10 Step 1 - $49,397

Grade 11 Step 1 - $54,272

Grade 12 Step 1 - $65,048

Grade 13 Step 1 - $77,353

Grade 14 Step 1 - $91,407

Grade 15 Step 1 - $107,521

If you are starting with a college degree you are probably starting at a GS 5 Step 1 or a GS 7 Step 1 and if you are starting with a Masters degree you are probably starting with either a GS 7 Step 1 or a GS 9 Step 1. This means that many young professional in our area will have salaries in the $30,000 to $45,000 range. If the calculation of what a person can afford to purchase is three times their annual income, then these young professionals would be looking for properties in the $90,000 to $135,000 range. You currently cannot find a condo in Howard County in that range, nor are there very many apartments that could be rented by people making this range of income. When I bought my one bedroom one bath condo 2.5 years ago I bought it for $110,500. A couple months ago an identical unit went for $205,000.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Focus Group Schedule

The Department of Planning and Zoning has wisely decided to add an additional Focus Group meeting on June 28th. It was clear at the last Focus Group meeting that more time was needed to go through the issues on the agenda. Here is the Department of Planning and Zoning’s schedule moving forward. As you will note there are two options under consideration. The next Focus Group meeting will be on Wednesday, May 24, 2006, from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm, at the Wilde Lake Inter-Faith Center. For those that can get off work, I highly recommend attending.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A way to get even more money for Howard County public school needs

See item in today's Sun

Every little bit helps and we can't lose by providing the best possible public school system here, in the state, and nationally. I can tell you another way than those mentioned in today's Sun article to provide a few thousand dollars more for our public schools here in Howard County.
There is a law, passed by the state legislature in 1943 and later incorporated for some reason into the Howard County Code, that entitles parochial school children in the county to ride along with public school children on the public school bus routes. A permissive section of that law allows the county to create new bus routes for such children. For the past few years, under that permissive section, the county has been treating five particular religious schools as if they were public schools for busing purposes. These five schools are, and remain to the best of my knowledge, St. Augustine's in Elkridge, St. Louis in Clarksville, Resurrection in Ellicott City, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ilchester, and Bethel Christian in Savage. At last report, designated non-overlapping transportation areas were created for each of these five schools and children who resided within these areas were transported to their school using county taxpayer funds.
Every year, whoever is superintendent of our public school system puts X number of dollars in the proposed operating budget for nonpublic school transportation. Superintendents come and go, but the amount of the request seems to go upward all the time. Routinely, our elected school boards, County Executives and Councils accept that particular budget item. On those occasions when the necessity for the item on transportation for the five religious schools has been challenged, benefitting parents seem to rise up en masse and scare either the school board or the Council from implementing any change in the request.
And it has to be said that there are other religious and non-religious private schools in the county who could decide that they're tired of only the currently favored five benefitting from county's busing program and insisting on "equal protection of the laws" for themselves and their children. We might have a doubling of the current cost.
It doesn't have to be this way, people. What we are doing here is subsidizing religion with county taxpayer funds and depriving our public schools (which the only ones for which we are responsible and controlled by us) of money that could otherwise be directed toward them. As indicated, those religious schools belong to and serve private religious interests. They are protected by the First Amendment's religion clauses from public control. They can teach whatever they choose and select the pupils and teachers of their choice for the reasons of their choice.
Too bad that the First Amendment doesn't seem to work both ways these days. While it works to protect these religious schools from public control, it doesn't seem to work to prevent the public from having to provide for one of their basic financial needs: transportation.
That 1943 law could be repealed or it could, at least, be strictly implemented so that the only transportation provided for parochial school children would be along the public school bus routes. How about asking the candidates for school board, County Executive, County Council, and the state legislature how they feel about this law and what they would do about it?

On to the Council vote on smoking,0,6500939.story?coll=bal-local-howard

It's now obvious that the Robey-Ulman bill extending the ban on smoking in public places in Howard County will pass and possibly without amendments. Sitting in the audience at the hearing, I can remember only two opponents testifying against it and they seemed to represent either the affected establishments in general or one in particular. The general public seems accepting of the new law to be. So, apparently, the only question is whether Council chair Merdon will join Councilmember Feaga in opposition on the final vote.
The Sun article by Larry Carson mentions other jurisdictions in Maryland that have smoking ban laws. I would add Charles County to the list of those having at least a partial ban. There, for the time being at least, freestanding bars are exempted.

School Site Discussion Continued

HayDuke writes that the main question is:

If we force the landowners to set aside a piece of land for a school, what other amenity will we be sacrificing? I think we have to assume that there is a limit to the amount of "proffers" we can expect from General Growth and that this limit is related to what we give them.

Well, let me start off saying that I am in favor of General Growth making a massive profit. That said I do not think that profit should come at the expense of the community. I think that that profit should come as a result of being a good partner with the community. The community through our elected officials will determine whether General Growth makes a profit and how fast by determining how much additional residential units to grant General Growth. We are in the drivers seat. No one I know is opposed to General Growth making a huge profit, just that the tax payer shouldn't have to foot the bill for those profits. When we talk about the county or CA paying we are talking about tax or lien dollars.

There are certain inherent costs that come with new residential development such as schools, transit systems, and parking. These are costs the developer bares in exchange for the ability to make their huge profits. If it were any other way it would mean that the tax payers would have to pay and why should tax payers have to pay to give someone else a profit? New residential units will mean we will need more classroom space (unless we are willing to allow developers to push on to us overcrowded schools and the reduction of quality of the Howard County Public School System, which is something I think neither the developer nor the community wants) and thus to say that it is an “either schools or other amenities” argument is patently false. The cost is there and it has to be borne. The question is will our elected officials stand up for the interests of the tax payers and insist that these costs are not pushed onto the community so that the developer can reap a bigger profit. Any elected official worthy of holding public office will step up to this challenge and hit a homerun. It is a no brainer for them. No amount of campaign contributions can make up for a politician pushing these costs onto the tax payer, especially with a project to the scale of the downtown Columbia redevelopment. A politician who transferred their voters’ tax dollars into profits for developers would kill their political future.

We are not going to get into playing one community need off another.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Downtown School Site Discussion

HayDuke doesn’t like the idea of putting a school in the Crescent site in downtown Columbia. He ends his post by saying he is open to being convinced that a school site should be an option, so let’s start a discussion and collectively brainstorm about this idea. First, I think we need to clear out early assumptions.

HayDuke assumes the design of the school as not a “nice, little neighborhood school buildings that double as community meeting places and ballfields for organized and non-organized play”. Instead he assumes it will be a massive, unwelcoming, aesthetically-grotesque complexes that are more akin to penal institutions than educational ones (as many of the new schools he feels are built are). I think this is a false assumption. We can design the school whatever way the community thinks is best. School Board member and candidate for the County Council Mary Kay Sigaty has spoken about the need to examine a different type of school design for any school downtown. Why cannot the school double as a community meeting place? Many community groups use school space for their events at schools all over the county. In fact, one of the needs brought up at the last focus group was the need for community centers. More people living downtown will mean more community groups needing spaces to meet and the school and also serve this purpose. Also more people means more demand for ball fields. If we are building green topped buildings, why cannot we locate a soccer field on the roof of the building enclosed in a Plexiglas wall. On my metro ride everyday I pass a basketball court located on the roof of a building enclosed with a wall high enough to keep the ball in. This increases the use made out of the space and provides playing fields for downtown residents.

HayDuke also assumes the school will be “surrounded by massive lots of surface parking”. This isn’t necessarily the case. If the school is an elementary or middle school, which seems most likely the case, then the parking will be needed for staff and some parents who are volunteering, but the parking could be designed so that it is a garage that seconds as Merriweather parking in the evenings. With concerts being forced to end by 10pm due to the current noise ordinances (which I remember being said at the first focus group meeting, but I am sure HayDuke, who is master of all things Merriweather will correct me if I am wrong) then concert will need to start by 7pm and with concertgoers starting to arrive an hour before a concert at 6pm and more office workers these days working later not all parking geared for office workers will be available for concert parking, but school parking (particularly for elementary and middle schools) could provide a great supplement.

HayDuke assumes that with space limited it is best to keep schools out of downtown. This is a mistake, because space is limited in all of Columbia (some might argue in all of Howard County), so unless we bus the kids long distances space will need to be found in Columbia. One of the nice things about Ken Ulman pushing for comprehensive planning of downtown rather than the piecemeal that was happening before he pushed for the charrette, is we can plan for the space so we don’t worsen the overcrowding of our schools. Though a site at Sunny Spring has been mentioned for a school, until we have a better grasp of the numbers of students created by the new residential units it is wise to plan for a school site that can be phase in if later needed. (Since the Crescent looks likely to be part of the later phases of the downtown redevelopment, the Crescent school location has the added bonus of being something that can be held in reserve in case it is needed and if it isn’t needed it can be used for other needs.) I also would add that a downtown school site 1) adds to the vitality the area, 2) adds activity to the community as kids walk to school, 3) add eyes to the street in the mornings and afternoons, 4) adds economic incentives for businesses such as toy stores, bakeries, ice cream parlors, comic bookstores, kids bookstores, hobby shops, arts and crafts supply shops, music stores, and sporting goods stores to locate downtown where kids might stop in after school. I grew up in Owen Brown and often would walk over to the Baskin Robins or the bookstore after school when I was in middle school.

The bottom line for me is that if you build more residential you are going to get more kids needing schools. Kids add vitality to a neighborhood and we should be careful not to segregate them out of our downtown. One of the complaints of those of us who grew up in Columbia was there was not enough stuff to do and a good design can help chance that. Most lively downtowns have kids and schools and if we design the school right we can make it fit in to the rest of downtown without sacrificing other amenities. In fact, it might be a great way to enhance the surrounding area. The schools parking can serve Merriweather. The school could have a blackbox theater or jazz space. The school could have a pre-teen activities area like the Teen Center at The Barn. The school if locates on the east side of the Crescent could have a nature center connected to it. The school can be used at meeting space. We can be creative with a space scarcity and by doing so get more bang for our buck out of land use.

We are on our way to a new downtown and we can in typical Columbia fashion find new solutions. We should not be limited by what has been done before. We must also not fall into the mistakes of Bush's Iraq War "planning" and base our plans on rosy estimates. The last thing we want are more overcrowded schools or a road infrastructure not able to handle the new users. Lets plan for the maximum need and then a little more so that we don't get caught with longterm problems. Creative fixes are easier and cheaper to do if we plan them in advance before constructution than trying to retrofit solutions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Merdon's status as Council chair apparently can't be changed,0,6234290.story?coll=bal-local-howard

Even though Dave Rakes has been replaced by Calvin Ball on the Council, his December vote to make Republican Chris Merdon Council chair will serve to maintain that status until this coming December. Oh well! We'll survive.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Number of county school board candidates now up to at least nine

Alphabetically, declared candidates are Frank Aquino (who ran last time), Larry Cohen (retiring from the school system), Sandra French (former long-time member), Ellen Flynn Giles, Patricia Gordon (current member finishing her six-year term), Carmen Harman (Spanish teacher), Joshua Kaufman (president of current board), Tony Yount (retired principal), and Di Zou (high school senior). With five members elected this year, there would need to be at least eleven candidates or a primary would not be necessary and there seems to be plenty of time to come up with the required number for that.

Hearing Monday night on county smoking bill



Ready for Smoke Free Air in Howard County?

Give us ½ hour of your time to make it a reality

Do you remember signing a resolution in favor of smoke-free air in Howard County in the last year or so? At long last, it's time to finish the job and win healthier air for all Howard County workers, residents, and visitors. County Executive James N. Robey and County Councilman Ken Ulman introduced a very strong smoke-free air bill earlier this month. CB 38-2006 (click here for the bill) will make almost all indoor workplaces and public places smoke-free. It will also provide for a 15 ft breathe-easy buffer zone outside smoke-free workplaces and public places and make Merriweather Post Pavilion smoke-free. Along with our partners at the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association, we urge you to help us win smoke-free air for all Howard Countians. How can you help?

Follow these simple instructions...

1. Come to the hearing next Monday for at least the first 1/2 hour. We really want to have a big crowd. Can you come? PLEASE??? Will you please let me know? We'll supply the stickers. You supply the "seat warmer"!! Bring family, friends, and neighbors. Let’s send a strong message of support to our Council champions. We need 3 votes to make it happen.

Monday, May 15, 2006
7:30 p.m.
Banneker Room
George Howard Building
3430 Court House Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043

2. Send a letter of support for CB 38-2006. Tell our Council that you want smoke-free air in Howard County and that a phase-in for restaurants/bars is unnecessary! If you don't live in Howard County, tell them why a smoke-free Howard County will benefit you and your family!!!

To send an EZ FAX, go to

To send a Lung Alert Email, go to

Or if you want to send your own email to the Council, address it to and it will be delivered to all the members.

PLEASE!!! IT only takes a few seconds to do and will mean alot.

3. Please send this email to family and friends in the county and the state.

Much thanks!

Glenn Schneider

Legislative Committee Chairman

Smoke Free Howard County Tobacco Coalition

Big GOP contributor forced out at Board of Regents,0,5315654.story?coll=bal-mdpolitics-headlines

Dick Hug is no loss to the Board of Regents. Also mentioned in this article is Jim Rosapepe, who is running in the Democratic primary against right-wing Senator John Giannetti in Legislative District 21 (which stretches from Laurel into College Park). Rosapepe and friends (including me) will be in the parade on Main Street in Laurel beginning at 9AM on Saturday, May 13. There will be assorted politicos and booths of all kinds along the way. Come on out and join in the fun.

Ken Stevens

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Guest Blogger

I am pleased to announce that we have a new guest blogger Ken joining us tomorrow. Ken knows more about Howard County politics than anyone I know. He is new to blogging and it may take him a little bit of time to get use to it, but I think he will be a great addition to this site.

Update: I should add that Ken also adds more regional diversity to this blog, since he hails from Savage. The other guest bloggers live in Elkridge (Dawn) and Ellicott City (Demos) and I live in Columbia. I am still looking for several other guest bloggers and hope to have one or two from western parts of the county. I think each of the guest bloggers I have picked so far brings something special and as they post more I hope you come to agree with that assessment. Also I guess I should clarify that Ken is also not the new sports guest blogger, who I had hoped would start posting last week, but who has still not set up his account.

Thursday Candidates Forum for Judge and County Council 2 Candidates is hosting another candidate forum:

Thursday, May 11, East Columbia Library
6:45 - 7:00 pm Meet & Greet
7:00 - 8:00 pm County Council District 2 candidates
8:00 - 9:00 pm Circuit Court Judge candidates

Since normally virtually no one knows anything about the Judge candidates it is nice that Barry and the good folks at are providing a chance for voters to get to know them a little more. Tell me what you think of the forum and share your thoughts on the candidates. Also what do you think of electing judges?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stop Digging, Stop Burying

No, this post is not about the dredging in Howard County Lakes. It is about the stupid move by the Republican majority in the Congress with the backing of the White House to extend the investor class tax cuts to 2010. How are we as a society going to afford this? Are we going to borrow more money from China? And you know when it comes time to pay for all of these cuts the first thing the Republicans will do will be to cut the very investments our country needs in affordable healthcare, education, infrastructure, not to mention your retirement. And it will not be just the poor in our society which will be hurt, it will be the middle class. Are you as secure as your parents were?And will these cuts affect the wealthy? No, because we are creating in America an apartheid society, divided between the wealthy and the rest of us. They will have their private schools, hospitals, police, colleges, highway lanes and retirement communities and you and I will not be allowed in. If you think a society like that is great, visit Brazil or South Africa and then tell me this is the direction we should follow. So tell the Republican Congress to stop digging this deficit hole and burying our future.

Tuesday, May 9th: Congressional Candidate Dr. Peter Beilenson's Town Hall Meeting on Medicare/Rx

Peter Beilenson, District 3 Congressional candidate is having a Town Hall meeting, Tuesday, May 9th at 7pm at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center. Medicare/Rx discussion. Peter Beilenson is the former Health Commissioner for Baltimore City and one of the leading candidates for the congressional seat Ben Cardin is vacating to run for the US Senate.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Nationals have a New Owner and we will soon have a New Guest Blogger

Theodore N. Lerner’s group has been selected as the new owner of the Nationals. From what Lerner and his family have said they want to do with the team I think I am optimistic and think this was a great choice by Major League Baseball. It is local ownership that wants to be a partner with the community and is committed to build the team up from the farm system. I have long been frustrated with Angelos’s ownership of my beloved O’s for his buying sluggers at the end of their career and failing to make effective use of the farm system.

This brings me to the exciting news that we will soon have a new guest blogger joining us to cover our region’s sports and other topics that affect the people of Howard County. I look forward to hear his thoughts on the new Nats ownership.

Act Now To Keep The Web Public

If you enjoy reading this blog, surfing over to that site about Matchbox Toy Cars, or reading some amateur chef’s site about preparing sushi, then you should pay close attention. The Congress is trying to change the web fundamentally. They want to practically privatize the public internet. Read the editorial below and then click on this link to tell Congress to not destroy the very essence of the net. Act now or your surfing experience will be more like watching Cable TV in the future.

The New York Times
May 2, 2006
Keeping a Democratic Web

"Net neutrality" is a concept that is still unfamiliar to most Americans, but it keeps the Internet democratic. Cable and telephone companies that provide Internet service are talking about creating a two-tiered Internet, in which Web sites that pay them large fees would get priority over everything else. Opponents of these plans are supporting Net-neutrality legislation, which would require all Web sites to be treated equally. Net neutrality recently suffered a setback in the House, but there is growing hope that the Senate will take up the cause.

One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like.

That would be a financial windfall for Internet service providers, but a disaster for users, who could find their Web browsing influenced by whichever sites paid their service provider the most money. There is a growing movement of Internet users who are pushing for legislation to make this kind of discrimination impossible. It has attracted supporters ranging from to the Gun Owners of America. Grass-roots political groups like these are rightly concerned that their online speech could be curtailed if Internet service providers were allowed to pick and choose among Web sites.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee defeated a good Net-neutrality amendment last week. But the amendment got more votes than many people expected, suggesting that support for Net neutrality is beginning to take hold in Congress. In the Senate, Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, are drafting a strong Net-neutrality bill that would prohibit broadband providers from creating a two-tiered Internet. Senators who care about the Internet and Internet users should get behind it.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Focus Group Open Thread

What did those who attended the Focus Group think of it? What do those who were unable to attend think of the FAQ's the Department of Planning and Zoning put out? I will post Thursday on my thoughts, but I would like to hear fro you first. If you don't want to put your thought in the comments (which is best), you can also email them to me.