Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween Open Thread

What is your favorite candy? What is the best costume you saw this year? What was the best pumpkin carving you was this year?

Oh, and make sure you check out some very important posts down below while you munch on junk food tonight.


Two of Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown’s three first step action items have been achieved two weeks after the group's founding. On Monday the County Council voted unanimously to both 1) table the appointment of a new member of the Planning Board so that the voters through the election of the next council can voice there choice in this important decision and 2) to make Governor Warfield Parkway a scenic road and thus protect the beautiful grove of trees in that area. This goes to show what a group of voters can do if they are willing to put pressure on their elected officials. For any Howard County resident thinking that the current plan for downtown is in the hands of county staff and developers, this is a perfect example that they can have a meaningful impact on directing the type of redevelopment that takes place in downtown Columbia.

Check out the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown’s website to read their positions on how downtown Columbia should be redeveloped and to sign up to support their approach if you like it. I hear a lot of people, including candidates of both parties have already done so. You can also read candidate’s response’s to the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown’s action items here. They are well worth the read and I will be posting more on this later, but in the meantime, what do you think of the candidate’s responses?

Monday, October 30, 2006


Let us for a minute contemplate what we want in our government officials. Do we want neutered and muted followers who will sit back and observe something they see as a problem and not try to solve it or do we want elected officials who will speak up and champion what they think is best for the community and let the voters in their district decide if they are doing their job appropriately? Sadly it seems some people would rather have their elected officials mute and are trying to neuter those that are elected to serve on the Columbia Council. Two Columbia Council members who endorsed the candidate for County Executive they thought would best look out for the continuation of the Columbia dream and the needs of their constituents are being attacked for doing so. To those who are attacking these council members: Have you no shame! Just because you don’t like who these council members are endorsing, you are willing to try to mute the people whose very job is to be an advocate of the needs of their constituents and neuter one of mechanisms our community has to have our voice heard. If you don’t like what these council members did the appropriate democratic response would be to challenge them in their next election.

And let’s defang one of the straw arguments being thrown around: These council members in making this endorsement clearly stated they were doing so in their individual capacity. In no way was this any statement of an endorsement by CA. So again I say: Have you no shame!

I will also say this I will use the same passion I brought to defeating Jud Malone after he said we had to trust the developers to defeating any CA Rep who assaults the democratic process by going into closed door session to try to neuter the role of Columbia Council members as advocates for their constituents. It is not CA’s role to be used for political retribution and the decision of whether these Columbia Council members did the right thing should be left to the voters in each of these villages in the next CA elections. That is democracy.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Howard County Focused Search Engine

So there is something new in the search engine world. Apparently there is a tool that can create a search engine that focuses its search to local sources. I am not sure I understand it completely, but one of my readers has emailed me saying he set up one that uses Howard County sources such as local newspapers, blogs, government websites, the Columbia Association website, and other community groups’ websites. This local search engine can be found here. It looks to me to be a great tool to help people focus their searches.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Endorsement that Matters in the County Executive Elections

Wednesday I noted that on top of the interesting endorsement in the school board race there also was an interesting endorsement in the County Executive race. A bunch of prominent community activists (mainly Democrats and a couple independents) came out and endorsed the Republican Chris Merdon. I think this endorsement matters a lot more than all of the newspaper endorsements (and yeah I noticed Merdon won all the newspaper endorsements, but I doubt this will stop Republicans from trying to continue to claim there is a liberal media). I am wondering what you think of the endorsements by the community activists?

I found the list rather intriguing. Particularly what jumped out at me was that the following people were in the group endorsing Chris Merdon:

1) Martha Clark – Non-old time Democratic politicos may not realize this, but she is the daughter of former Senator Clark who in a previous generation was the leading figure in Howard County Democratic politics. Senator Clark served as the Majority Leader in the Maryland Senate and was a much revered figure in Howard County Democratic circles until his death in August of this year.

2) Barbara Russell – There are few people in local politics who get my attention when they talk more than Barbara Russell. She has a whip smart mind and a character of steel that leads her to always do what she thinks is right. She just retired from being a longtime County Council staffer where she worked with both Ken Ulman and Chris Merdon and she probably knows more about how each candidate would conduct county government than anyone else I know.

3) Cindy Coyle – Of the three contested Columbia Association elections last April Cindy won by the biggest margin. She is smart, passionate about good governance and wants the development of downtown Columbia to be done right.

4) Rebecca Johnson – Rebecca has probably been one of the most engaged followers of the downtown Columbia redevelopment process. I found her quote on this matter particularly interesting: “I vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. Thus, I have voted almost entirely Democratic for as long as I can remember. Once again this year, I am a strong supporter of the Democratic ticket, including statewide candidates O’Malley, Brown, and Cardin. But for Howard County Executive, I will be voting for Republican Chris Merdon. Chris combines experience and fiscal responsibility with a willingness to genuinely listen to citizens and to make decisions that are thoughtful and informed by all points of view. I especially appreciate Chris’s commitment to making sure that the critical Columbia Downtown development project proceeds with care, integrity, and respect for Columbia’s core values.” [Emphasis added by me.]

What do you think about the endorsement by these community activists? Knowing these people I am sure that this endorsing across party lines came after a great deal of sole searching. What I think is most imprtant about these endorsements is that each person on this list has a very extensive list of friends in the community and voters are always more likely to listen to the opinions of their friends, family, and neighbors than any ads or mailers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Interesting Endorsements

Three of the four School Board candidates that did not make it through the primary have endorsed Di Zou and Allen Dyer for School Board. Here is the text of their statement that they sent me:

We are former Board of Education Candidates. Even though we did not make it through the primary, we are still interested and remain active in Educational issues and in particular this year's very important election for filling 5 of the 7 Board seats.

During the three month primary season, we spoke, discussed, and carefully listened with all the candidates’ positions on the issues at the several candidate forums. However, Allen Dyer and Di Zou stand out as candidates who have demonstrated they will bring to the board an independence that has been sorely missing from the previous school boards.

Allen has a long history of trying to create transparency at the school board meetings to allow maximum public exposure. He will bring accountability to the board. He will listen to the administrators, teachers, students and parents. Allen has stood for content over fluff during the primary forums. He took positions on school issues that had substance to the students and parents of our county.

Di Zou has stood up to the conventional wisdom that tells us youth does not have the experience. He certainly is capable to deal with school issues, and as a 2006 graduate, has the direct knowledge of these current issues. Di will bring to the board the ability to represent individuals who have little input regarding the policies that affect them.

Allen and Di will raise the critical questions, hold individuals accountable, and open up the decision making process. Allen and Di are interested in the Education process and not the political process. They have no plans for furthering their political careers as some current Board members have shown.

It is time for change and it is time for independent minded board members to be elected to the school board. We urge all citizens who voted for us in the primary to target vote Allen Dyer and Di Zou.

Paul Aliprando, Marcello Bedolla, & Peter Sola

The attendance at the candidates forums have not been great, but these three have had a chance to observe the other candidates up close in a way main voters have not and see how they worked through all of the questions put to them. I think they selected to endorse two candidates that would definitely add unique perspectives to the board and strengthen the results of School Board policy. (Di Zou by informing the discussion of policy with first hand knowledge of what actually goes on in the schools and how policies impact students. Allen Dyer by not accepting conventional wisdom and asking the probing questions that force other board members to think through their positions and make the most well thought out decisions.)

In other endorsement news check out this post by David Keelan. I may write more on this later.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Coalition for Columbia's Downtown

The Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown has put the executive summary of their positions on downtown redevelopment on their website. You can find it here. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Open Thread

What a beautiful weekend! Here is a picture of Lake Elkhorn courtesy of my mom:

What is your favorite thing to do in Howard County in the Fall?

Also as we move into the final weeks of the election it is useful to remember that the next county executive and county council will be making the decisions on the biggest change to the county since Columbia was approved when they determine how Downtown Columbia will be redeveloped.

Here are some of the past posts on this blog about the downtown redevelopment plan that is moving forward under the current county executives Department of Planning and Zoning with the support of some members of the current council. (If any of the current council wants to make it clear they are not one of the supporters of the current plan I invite any member of the current council to come forward and provide detailed comments on what if any of this current plan they think needs to be changed. I am looking for specifics and not empty platitudes. It is the details of the plan that will determine its success or failure.). So here are the links to the previous posts on the plan:

The Mall to Merriweather Promenade: Part 1
The Mall to Merriweather Promenade: Part 2

Mixed Income Housing: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Why community planning matters.

Martin Luther King Day thoughts on the impact of community planning and whether new developments are contributing or undermining his dream and Rouses vision.

Let's Not Be Florida

Will the county use the Focus Group to help restore public trust?

I guess not yet, but here's hoping they will do it this time.

Let's Talk Solutions

"Hardhat Tour Defining Moment in County Exec. Race"


Hardhat Tour Defining Moment in County Executive Race

"County Councilman Ken Ulman joined County Executive Jim Robey and other officials today for a hardhat tour of Howard County's new Public Safety Training Center which is currently under construction. The training center tour marked a defining moment in the County Executive race. Today's hardhat tour of the partially built facility was the kick-off for Community Readiness Week, and the training center itself serves as an example of Ulman's record of support for public safety. On the tour, Ulman was able to see first hand exactly what he voted for in the spring of 2003 when critical funding for the project was approved. Ulman supported funding for the training center over the repeated objections of his Republican opponent, Chris Merdon, who voted against the funding.

"In a post 9/11 world, we must do everything within our power to make sure our first responders have the resources they need to keep us safe," Ulman said. "Our police and firefighters constantly risk their own lives to protect ours. They deserve the best tools and training we can provide to help them do their jobs safely and effectively."

Ulman said the training center is just one example of the fundamental differences in how he and his Republican opponent approach the issue of emergency preparedness and how these differences have been reflected in their records. While Ulman has been a steadfast advocate for public safety and emergency preparedness efforts, his Republican opponent has repeatedly proposed drastic cuts in this area opposing funding for the training center, suggesting that the County's communications system of radios used by emergency personnel should be scaled back, and proposing to eliminate Howard County's Police Aviation Unit.

"Public safety is not an area where we can afford to cut corners," said Ulman. "Our current radio system provides approximately 95% coverage across the county," he explained. "We're doing well - that's a high level of coverage relative to other jurisdictions, but I think we should be looking at how we improve coverage over the remaining 5% of the county rather than talking about how the system could be scaled back." Ulman noted that the 9/11 Commission Report cited communications failures as a contributing factor in many of the fatalities at the World Trade Center. "Whether responding to a major disaster or carrying out their daily duties, communication tools are essential to our police and firefighters."

Ulman highlighted the Police Aviation Unit as another critical public safety tool which he supported strongly despite his opponent's proposal to eliminate the unit completely. Over the past five years, using the onboard video and thermal camera, the police helicopter has been used for numerous searches and surveillance missions resulting in 435 arrests. The helicopter also provides aerial observations of critical infrastructure for homeland security purposes.

"We're talking about tools, not toys," Ulman said, referring to recent comments made by Merdon which compared firefighters testifying in support of the training center to children asking for a playground. "I am proud to have a consistent record of supporting our first responders and ensuring that they have the tools needed to keep our county safe."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael J. Fox

Friday, October 20, 2006

How does one decide for whom to vote?

For me, it's all about issues and what I manage to learn about the positions of the various candidates on the issues in which I am most interested. I don't need to be their friend or for them to relate to me at all. What I care about is whether it seems they will be supportive or in opposition to my views. If they've been around Howard County long enough and have attended enough forums, I'll generally learn enough of what I need to know. Providing there is a certain minimal level of agreement on issues, I'll support and vote for the candidate with whom I most agree on them. If not, I'll either write in a name or not vote for that office.
My main issues relate to civil liberties and to church-state separation, freedom of expression, personal rights, and equality of rights for all. I see the government as our tool and not the reverse. Beyond that, I'm interested in gun control and campaign or governmental reform of various kinds.
Having said the above, of the most closely contested Howard County offices for which I can vote, I have no problem at all supporting Jim Robey for State Senate in LD13 over incumbent Sandra Schrader, Ken Ulman for County Executive over his only real contender (Chris Merdon), and Jen Terrasa for County Council in district 3 over Donna Thewes.
State Senator Schrader has a lengthy and, for me, mainly negative voting record. In supporting aid to non-public schools numerous times, she clearly does not support the church-state separation principle. The most striking example of this is when, in 2002, she voted for an amendment to the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (SB856) to provide $7 million for such schools. And she has consistently opposed attempts to delete or shift funds designated for non-public schools in the budget bill. She has also consistently opposed attempts to establish a state emergency contraception dispensing program and Delegate Bobo's repeated bills that would seek to control campaign contributions by attributing those of related entities to a single controlling entity. In 2004, she voted in the delegation against introducing the bill that eventually became law (as HB1486) and now requires the filling of early Howard County school board vacancies by election. I could go on if necessary, but that'll suffice for now. I've heard enough from Jim Robey to believe he'll be an improvement on the issues I most care about.
Generally, the kind of issues in which I'm most interested do not arise very frequently at the county level. So there isn't a whole lot to go on for Council members Ken Ulman and Chris Merdon. But I know from a very few of their votes, what they've said at forums, and from Mr. Merdon's responses to the questions asked on this blog that the former would be more supportive on my issues than the latter.
Because neither has a voting record, there is even less to go on for Council candidates Jen Terrasa and Donna Thewes. But their answers to the questions asked on this blog tell me that I'd prefer the former over the latter.
I've been around long enough to conclude that the major political parties stand for nothing per se. That the three candidates above I favor are Democrats is just happenstance. There are candidates who call themselves Democrats who I wouldn't support for dogcatcher and there have been Republicans in my life who I've supported. But that's purely because of their stances on my kind of issues.
I think I've been as specific in my comments above as I'm going to get. But, if pressed, I might expand on the voting record of Senator Schrader.

What is the definition of a coward?

Tim Branning writes the following letter to the editor in this weeks Howard County Times:

Calling Robey a coward takes rhetoric out of bounds

While attacks by one's opponent during a volatile political season are expected, I feel compelled to respond to a recent article in the Times. The article, titled "Schrader, Robey battle for Senate seat in spotlight race," states that Brian Harlin, Howard's Republican Party leader, called Jim Robey a "coward." While you might disagree with Robey's views, his past service to Howard County certainly does not support that accusation.

Robey spent 30 years as a county police officer and commander, including eight as chief of police. He is a two-term county executive. One does not achieve that level of success without the ability and willingness to tackle tough issues. Jim Robey comes from a profession where cowards do not succeed. His successes speak for themselves.

I was a county police officer for 28 years. I served directly under Jim Robey for most of my career. I can assure you from personal experience, Jim Robey is no coward. I have known and respected Jim Robey for 34 years, and "coward" is not a word that applies to him. Political rhetoric from an opponents supporters is expected, but the words should be chosen more carefully.

I personally think a coward is one who is scared to engage voters. Considering that Robey has refused to participate in the Bloggers Candidates Forum and the way he reacted to me at a Columbia Democratic Club candidates forum earlier this year I have strong reservations on whether or not Jim Robey is willing to listen to or engage the voters of this county on anyting. I judge people on their actions and though I have no way of judging Jim's record in the police force I do know that Jim Robey has been a coward in my interactings with him over the last year. I am seriously considering a letter to the editor to that effect, even though I was hoping to save my letter to the editor to be on the school board race.

For those of you who don't remember my previous comment about my interaction with Jim Robey at the Columbia Democratic Club's candidates forum here is a repost:

Now I should say upfront that I really liked Jim Robey until earlier this year. We had spoken in passing at several events over the years, including a very nice conversation when I was working the polls for Ken Ulman on primary day 2002. Now that changed at a candidates forum for state legislative candidates at the Columbia Democratic Club where I asked Jim something along the lines of: “I am a resident of District 13 and I am hearing from many of my neighbors that live in the district that they are very concerned that the current plan for downtown Columbia redevelopment doesn’t reflect what the community said during the first day of the charrette. I don’t want to see Schrader re-elected and I am getting concerned that Democrats will get hurt by this unless people are assured that the plan will be fixed to reflect what people said they wanted. Would you be willing to give us that assurance?” Jim got very upset by the question and said he had already spoken to me about it (which is not true because our only interaction on the subject until then had been less than 30 seconds at Ken Ulman’s announcement event when he was pulled away to go up to the stage before I had said anymore than the rough concerns I expressed in the later question to him. At Ken Ulman’s announcement he had given no response, though as he was getting pulled away I had suggested he check out the Howard County Blog where I had been writing about a lot of the concerns people had with the plan.) Anyway, since we really hadn’t talked before on it I went up to him afterwards, but before I could get two words out of my mouth he stuck his hand in my face and said he knew who I was and he didn’t want to speak to me and I should go vote for Schrader. I kind of stuttered at that and tried to continue, but with his hand still in my face he kept saying “I know who you are. Go vote for Schrader.” I was sure that there must be some mistaken identity. I kept trying to go on until he turned his back on me to talk to someone else. I picked my jaw off the floor and went off to see if I could get the mistaken identity sorted out another way. I spoke to three people who have known me for many years and who have a close political relationship to Jim, but I have never gotten any resolution on the matter. At the time I thought he may be mistaking me for the guy (David Keelan) who writes the HoCoMD Blog, which also goes by the name Howard County Blog. David is a Republican activist and has been very critical of Jim Robey’s friend Wayne Livesay who is running for County Council in District 5. Based on what I have heard since I no longer think that was the case, but as I said, I have not gotten a full explanation of what Jim’s outburst was all about. I would not even bring this up except for Jim Robey saying he’d “rather show up and confront people face to face". I am just still flabbergasted by that statement and his response to me when I asked him a question in a live candidates forum.

I would never have brought this up the first time if Jim Robey didn't make public statements that made it relevant and I would not bring it up again except that a Jim Robey supporter has chosen to portray Jim Robey in a way in sharp contrast with my own experience with him.

Am I wrong that the definition of a coward in politics is someone who refuses to engage the voters?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Will The Real Chris Merdon Please Stand Up?

If Chris Merdon is positioning himself now as the “slow growth” candidate in the County Executive race then why did he take so much money from developers?

Merdon also received $4,000 from Lundy Family Partners, which is connected to Harry "Chip" Lundy, president and CEO of Williamsburg Group, a Columbia-based builder . . .

Go look at the Maryland State Board of Elections’ Campaign Finance website and you will find a lot of money coming from companies and individuals who expect Merdon to support their interests. And those interests are growth, development and sprawl. To get elected, Merdon needs to position himself right now as the champion of “slow growth”. However, after the election, the developers expect to see a different Chris Merdon and voters once again will have been fooled into voting for another “bait and switch” Republican.

Governor's Race Open Thread

So the last two days as I have been driving to work I have heard what I think is the best radio political ad I have heard this election. It is this catchy jingle themed on Christmas music. So I thought I would ask if anyone else has heard it or any other good radio ads? The jingle I heard is up on this website, where you can click play on the left hand side of the screen on a little player that appears under "Listen to our jingle".

What else have you been seeing or hearing about the governors race? Did you watch the debates? If so, what did you think?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Last Day to Register to Vote or Change Your Voting Address

The application is here. Please register if you haven't yet and if you recently moved please make sure you are registered properly. There may be several very important close races. If think you are registered, but you do not have a card from the Board of Elections notifying you of your polling place you should call the Board of Elections to confirm that you are registered properly at the right address. In Howard County the Board of Elections phone number is (410)313-5820.

Note: Since today is the final day to register or change your address you should confirm with the Board of Elections on what way to get your form to them so that it doesn't arrive to late.

A Profile of the Next US Senate Majority Leader?

If Republicans hold onto a majority in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be the new Majority Leader. The Lexington, Kentucky Herald-Leader published Sunday the most in-depth profile of him that I have seen.

My personal analysis is that control of the Senate is up in the air. Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland are toss-ups (and yes, I know I will hear a lot of complaints that Cardin is polling ahead of Steele, but I won’t believe it until the Deibold machines spit out their results and even then I am not sure I will believe it because the Deibold machines are so easily hacked). Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island, and Ohio are increasingly looking like Democratic pickups, but Democrats need to pick up a total of six seats to gain the majority, which means Dems need four of the five toss-ups (three are currently Republican and two are currently Democratic) on top of all of the likely pickups to win the majority in the Senate. If the Dems don’t win the majority it is important to know a little about this man who will be one of the three most powerful people in America.

Feel free to use this post as an Open Thread on the US Senate elections either here in Maryland or all over the country. To start off the conversation at the lowest level, does Steele’s known association with puppies loose him the cat lovers vote?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Introducing Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown

For those who like me – due to work or other reasons – were unable to make it to today’s press conference launching the new Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown hear is the text of what Alan Klein (the new groups leader and one of my guestbloggers) said launching the new group:

It is fitting that we hold this gathering, introducing this group, on this date, and at this place. It was almost exactly 20 years ago that the Hug Statue was unveiled and placed here in this beautiful setting created for it – an occasion that marked Columbia’s twentieth birthday and honored Mort Hoppenfeld, Columbia’s chief designer. It has been exactly one year and one day since the Charrette process was begun – a process which began with our citizens spontaneously and overwhelmingly affirming, and envisioning into the future, the values that guided Mort and Columbia’s other designers and that have made Columbia the best place to live east of the Mississippi. And, it has been one year and one day since the Charrette process was begun – a process which, by the time it ended, had created a plan to bulldoze this park and displace this statue (which is, I would note, a perversely masterful piece of symbolism).

Now let’s be clear. We support the idea of the Charrette and are grateful to those in the County who sponsored and subsidized the event. Done well, a charrette is an effective vehicle for gathering, and responding to, citizen input on major projects such as the completion of Downtown Columbia. Unfortunately, in our view, something went terribly wrong in last year’s Charrette.

The citizen input was clear, even to the Charrette consultants. They acknowledged that collectively we told them we were quite in favor of further development here in Downtown so long as it was kept to reasonable proportions in terms of density and building heights, sufficient affordable housing was provided, historical and cultural needs were respected, the environment was not degraded, and traffic, parking, and transit were all adequately handled.

You see, Columbians, indeed Howard Countians, have been brought up for two generations now with the expectation that Jim Rouse’s goals in establishing Columbia will be honored and actually implemented. Jim said that he wanted Columbia to respect the land, be a complete city, be a place for people, and, oh by the way, make a profit as well for those taking the risk to do the development. We couldn’t agree more!

So what did we get in the plan supposedly based on the Charrette?

We said we wanted to hold density to reasonable proportions. In fact, “LOW” was the term the Charrette consultants used to describe citizen wishes. Instead, we were presented with a plan which provided for up to 5500 new residences, three to four times what General Growth Properties itself proposed less than two years ago.

We said we wanted appropriate building heights, which were consistently stated by citizens as being those up to 10 – 12 stories. Instead, we were presented with a plan with many areas of 20 story and higher buildings and which includes, through its omission, a 27 story high rise close to the Lakefront.

Jim Rouse demanded that Columbia be an inclusive city. One in which, as he said, the janitor and the executive would live in the same neighborhood. The County’s plan tells us that truly affordable, low income housing in Downtown is an impossibility and that instead we will have to make due with provisions for moderate and middle income housing. That is, for those making 50 to $110,000 with nothing for lower income residents.

We were provided a plan in which various historical buildings were often considered for the scrap pile and in which a requirement for “public amenities” might well be satisfied by some art hanging in the lobby of a privately owned, controlled access office building or the interior courtyard of that same, private controlled access, building.

And, instead of traffic and related issues being adequately handled, we were presented with a plan that called for traffic levels which earned a failing grade, according to the standards of the County itself.

As to profit? No problem here! The potential windfall to be derived from this redevelopment, this bestowment of thousands more residential units than is currently allowed will be huge. Some have estimated it as upwards of one billion dollars.

There have been, we want to emphasize, some positive things, both in the plan that was said to have been derived from the Charrette and in the ensuing Focus Group discussions the County, through the Department of Planning and Zoning, has conducted.

We appreciate and support the general notion of a vibrant, walkable, people-friendly Downtown, which the County has said is its goal, as well.

We appreciate the notion of mixed uses throughout the Downtown area.

We appreciate that the County has listened and has included a design review process for new construction, though we would rather that lay people …residents…be included in that process as well as professionals.

We appreciate that the County has lowered the overall heights of buildings in their revised plan. We note, however, that this reduction was not due to a values-based desire to achieve a human scale of development, but was rather due to the fact that they under-estimated the traffic congestion that the density their original plan called for would create.

We appreciate that the County will encourage green construction. We believe, however that mere “encouragement” is too little, too late and falls short of the vision required to take Columbia into the future as “The Next America”.

We appreciate the fact that the Charrette was held at all and that the County has continued to engage at least a few citizens, their hand-picked Focus Group, in discussions on the issues that have arisen from their original plan.

We appreciate the dedication and hard work which Marsha McLaughlin of DPZ and her staff have put into this process. We wonder, however, where our elected officials have been and what guidance, if any, they have provided to those who work, after all, for them and at their behest.

And, finally, perhaps paradoxically, we appreciate that the County’s plan strayed so far from what the citizens actually said we wanted during the Charrette, for it is this chasm between citizen input and the resulting Charrette output that has spurred so much energy, interest, and activism.

It was Delegate Liz Bobo who first leapt into this chasm and mobilized 300+ people to gather last January, beginning and legitimizing the expression of doubts, concerns, and questions about what the County was proposing and about how quickly the proposal was being pushed through the system. (Thank you, Liz Bobo!)

It was into this chasm that, for almost a year now, dozens of citizens have leapt - faithfully attending Focus Group meetings. Sitting as mostly silent witnesses to a process which was causing them grave concern, and often as vocal contributors to attempt its improvement, as well.

It was into this chasm that voters leapt to elect new members of the Columbia Council and nominees to the County Council who stood publicly in favor of slowing down the process and making sure that we take the time we need to take in order to create a development plan worthy of this city, indeed this county, and its values.

And it is into this chasm that we announce the formation of the “Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown”, an independent, non-partisan, grassroots collection of individuals from around the City and the County. Our purpose is to be advocates for the clear values that were expressed by the public during the Charrette; to provide a focus for those values, to be a container in which those values can be developed and made clearer, and to be a vehicle to ensure that those values are adhered to by the County, the Columbia Council, GGP, and the development community in general.

Specifically, we announce the following five first positions and actions:

  • The County Council is about to consider a nominee to fill a vacancy on the Planning Board. We urge the Council to table this appointment. This is not about the nominee or his qualifications, but rather a statement that the new Executive and especially the new Council should be the ones making this decision.

  • We support the County Council’s move to protect Governor Warfield Parkway as a Scenic route and thank Council members Merdon and Ulman for responding to citizen input and proposing this designation.

  • We ask that the County Council and County Executive candidates respond to our positions, as laid out in our Executive Summary and, soon in a longer white paper on Downtown Columbia. We will make sure that their responses receive wide distribution.

  • The proposed Plaza Tower building is much too tall for the rest of Downtown and is out of keeping with the human scale of development that the citizens support. Its construction should be halted and the use of that site considered in the context of the rest of the Charrette area.

  • We plan to hold a series of gatherings, both large and small, during which we will work to educate the public as to what is going on with respect to Downtown development, and to be educated by them as well, as we continue to work to be the face and voice of the public’s values, needs, and wishes in this area.

Frankly, we would prefer that we didn’t have to be doing this. We would prefer that someone with real authority (and, frankly, we don’t care if that someone is the County, GGP, CA, or someone else) …that someone with real authority step up to the plate with their own grand vision for Downtown Columbia. Someone who will say, “We won’t wait to be required, encouraged, or even asked to do what’s right. We INSIST on affordable housing in Downtown that matches the income levels of our population. We INSIST on green technology in all new construction so that Columbia takes its place as a leader among cities in this area. We INSIST on funding adequate public transportation so that we make the city more accessible and reduce people’s dependence on cars. We INSIST on a wide variety of publicly available cultural and civic amenities to make Columbia an even more attractive, vibrant destination. Bottom line…we INSIST on creating a Downtown whose development is steeped in the values that Jim Rouse first promulgated and that the community holds dear!”

Columbia is a planned community. More importantly, it is a planned community based on certain values. It is vital that all development be of human scale and done in the spirit of those values. We urge all citizens to make your voices heard and to join with us in support of our community’s values. This is the spirit in which Jim Rouse founded Columbia. We owe it to him, to ourselves, and to future generations to do what we can to make sure that we leave Columbia even better than he left it to us.

Alan, great job! I could not have said it better myself :) And thank you to all the great people who have given up their time and energy to make sure the future development of Howard County is done well.

No to Lame Duck Appointments

It has come to my attention that a new nominee for the Planning Board is working through the approval process before the election. Considering that four out of the five County Council members are lame ducks, we are less than a month from an election, and whoever is appointed to the Planning Board will be serving until mid-2008 I think that it would be unconscionable for the lame duck council to approve the appointment of a new member. Let the voters through their selection of the next County Executive and County Council determine what the make up of the Planning Board will be.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Moving Forward

Well, I am back from a couple days off blogging. I have had a pretty busy week, including helping put together something that I hope will help move the downtown Columbia redevelopment process forward in a constructive way. From the start I have said that I am in favor of redeveloping downtown Columbia, I just wanted a plan that works and that means a plan that creates a livable, economically sustainable downtown that reflects the Howard County values of mixed income housing, preservation of greenspace, and well thought through planning before it is built so that the infrastructure will meet the communities needs.

I have joined with a number of other people who have been following the downtown redevelopment process closely to form a group that will try to make sure that the final plan reflects what the community has been consistently saying from the first day of the charrette through multiple public speak out opportunities since. As we move forward in this I would appreciate you continuing to participate in the process either through participating in this new group or individually to make sure Howard County evolves in a way we are happy with. It will be important to have our voices heard through letters to the editor, attending town halls and hearings, and making sure our elected officials who will have to sign off on any plan hear our concerns and proposed solutions. This new group will present some foundations that we have heard from the community on which a revised plan can hopefully be built.

On Monday, October 16, 2006, in Hug Statue Park at the Lakefront in Downtown Columbia at 11:30am, exactly one year and one day from the opening of the Charrette, the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown will announce its formation for the purpose of carrying forward the many creative ideas and values the people of Howard County have put forth so far.

The Coalition will be advocating for a vision of a completed Downtown that will truly be worthy of carrying Jim Rouse's "Next America" into the future. The citizens spoke loudly and clearly a year ago for human scale development, affordable housing, sustainable buildings, and cultural amenities. Somehow these values have gone missing or are woefully underrepresented in the current proposals.

For Jim Rouse the four goals were respect the land, build a complete city, be a place for people, and make a profit. The potential for profit is evident. Some have put it as high as a billion dollars. Unfortunately, attention to the other three goals has not been as robust. The Coalition is determined to ensure that all four goals will be attained and in the order

Rouse held them!

The Coalition will present their goals, objectives, and initial proposals which coincide with the values put forth by the people, most notably on the first day of the Charrette. They will also discuss aspects of the county's proposed Downtown plan with which they agree and disagree.

The public is invited. For further information contact Alan Klein at

If you want some background on the counties current proposal you can find useful links to blog posts I have done on the subject here.

Please also continue to check here for updates on the county plans and how we can have a meaningful impact on fixing them. I suspect that right after the elections the process of redeveloping Downtown Columbia will start picking up speed.

I will also post links to the new group’s website as soon as it is up.

(Note: Some of the above is also in the press release and email announcement our new group sent out, so sorry for if it is a bit repetitive.)

New Blog in Town

Boy have we entered blog proliferation. New Howard County related blogs seem to be popping up every day. A good friend of mine and someone I have a lot of respect for Steve Fine has just started a new Howard County focused blog: Fineline. Go check him out and make him part of your regular Howard County reading. If you know of any other good Howard County or Maryland related blogs feel free to give a shout out to them in the comments section.

Open Thread on the Blogger’s Candidates Forum and Elections In General

The candidate’s responses to the Blogger’s Candidates Forum questions can still be found here. I plan to start digging in to the school board race over the next three weeks. Since this was the first time we were doing this I was giving a little extra time the candidates to see if anyone else would respond (I saw several of them at an event the week before last and tried to give them an extra push). Do you have any questions we didn’t ask that you want the candidates to answer?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mikulski Joins Ulman in Support of Working Families

Senator Barbara Mikulski Joins Councilman Ken Ulman for Announcement of Initiative for Working Families

United States Senator Barbara Mikulski joined County Councilman Ken Ulman at the Children’s Learning Center on the campus of Howard Community College today as Ulman announced plans to make Howard County Government a more flexible and family-friendly employer and to work with other employers within the county to increase workplace flexibility.

Ulman pledged that, as County Executive, he will convene a task force to analyze County Government and develop strategies for increasing the use of flexible and alternative work arrangements such as part-time positions, job-sharing, flex schedules, and telecommuting. Ulman explained that such flexible work arrangements not only assist working families in balancing family and work responsibilities, but also benefit employers by decreasing recruitment costs, decreasing training costs, increasing retention of experienced knowledgeable staff, and improving productivity and staff morale.

Earlier this year, Ulman sponsored a Conference on Working Families which focused on workplace flexibility. Business owners and human resources professionals from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors attended the conference. Ulman spoke to current County Executive Jim Robey at that time about implementing flexible work arrangements in County Government. Ulman said he was pleased that Robey’s administration has already implemented some provisions for flex schedules and telecommuting, and Ulman wants to build upon that foundation to implement a comprehensive plan of flexible work arrangements.

“Howard County should be on the forefront of working for working families,” Ulman said. “As County Executive, I will bring greater flexibility to County Government and develop resources to help private sector employers in Howard County provide greater workplace flexibility. Working together with private employers, we can create a truly supportive community for working families.”

Ulman noted that Howard County is fortunate to have private-sector employers, such as Arbitron, who are already leading the way in workplace flexibility. Mikulski and Ulman visited Arbitron’s Columbia offices this morning prior to the announcement at the Children’s Learning Center.

Ulman highlighted the Children’s Learning Center as a great example of a creative solution to provide practical experiential learning opportunities for students in early childhood development, education, and nursing while at the same time solving the challenge of childcare for Howard Community College faculty members and students. Ulman committed to fund the completion of additional classrooms at the Children’s Learning Center.

Ulman also reiterated his pledge to eliminate the waiting lists for the County’s before and after school care program noting that the program is cost neutral to the County but provides a very valuable service for working families.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Open Thread

What are you seeing from candidates in your neighborhood? What are your neighbors saying about this years election? What is your favorite TV or radio ad? Which candidates are you getting mail from? What do you think of the content and design of the mail pieces?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why Ken is in Trouble

This is something I started looking at after I saw the precinct results, but it has taken some time to run the numbers and type up.

One of the big things that jumped out at me when I was looking through the precinct data was that the Dunbar vote combined with the undervote (ballots where Democratic voters chose not to vote in the County Executive race) combine to be a very significant 30% of Democrats that voted against Ken Ulman. If that isn't a warning sign to Ken that he needs to give assurances to his Democratic base that he is hearing their concerns I do not know what is. More interesting is to see which precincts were trying to send Ken a signal that he has to come out strong and address their concerns. I decided to examine the precentage of anti-Ulman votes within Ken's council district by precinct.

Precint 2-13

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 2-14

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 2-20

% Anti-Ulman

These first three precinct are the Dorsey Search neighborhood where Ken grew up and his parents still live. The anti-Ulman precentage in the teens is about the max range I expected for the primary. Ken was going to be the nominee and Harry Dunbar spent virtually no money, had virtually no volunteers, and other than show up at forums I saw no evidence that he was actively campaigning (door-to-door, lit drops, mailers, phone banking, ads, etc.). Harry was never a credible choice to face a well financed Republican who was and is campaigning agressively. Frankly, I thought Harry would be lucky to break 10% because -- on top of not actively campaigning -- he made himself into such a joke.

So now let's work our way through other precincts:

Precinct 5-2

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-3

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

OK, this is where alarm bells should be ringing. Just shy of 30% of Democratic voters that chose to vote in the primary in this precinct also chose NOT to vote for Ken. This, particularly at this level of votes, is an active choice. So what area is in this precinct: As we see from the map above that this is the Downtown Lakefront, the Vantage Point neighborhood of Town Center, the apartment next to the Central Library, the east side of Running Brook, Ten Mills Road, and Columbia Road south of Ten Mills Road. Thus some of the area most impacted by Downtown Columbia redevelopment.

Precinct 5-4

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Here we have a quarter of Democratic voters that chose to vote in the primary also choosing not to vote for Ken. This area is the Warfield Triangle neighborhood of Town Center and the inner side of Green Mountain Circle and Faulkner Ridge Circle.

Precinct 5-5

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-6

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

The previous two precincts are interesting because they are the two non-Columbia precincts in the district. Ken beat Mary Kay four years ago in both these districts with the latter precinct being Ken's fifth best precinct in 2002. Boy times seem to have changed in this latter precinct.

Precinct 5-7

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

This is Ken's best non-River Hill/non-Dorsey Search precinct and the only one that the anti-Ulman vote is under 20%. It includes Hobbit's Glen, the north side of Clary's Forest, and the west side of Ceder Lane/Harpers Farm Road. Outside of River Hill this is probably the farthest Columbia section of the district from Downtown.

Precinct 5-8

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

This is the outside of the Green Mountain Circle and Faulkner Ridge Circle and the south side of Hesperus Drive. Ken actually does better here than the rest of Wilde Lake which is interesting, but the anti-Ken vote is still over 20%.

Precinct 5-9

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-10

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Ken's base in River Hill in this precinct and Precinct 5-22 are still Ken's best precincts. It was Ken's landslide in 5-22 four years ago that put Ken over the top of Mary Kay.

Precinct 5-12

Anti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-13

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-14

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Interestingly the west side of Running Brook and the east side of Hesperus is tied with Precinct 5-6 for his worst precincts in county council district 4.

Precinct 5-15


UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

This precinct includes the Banneker neighborhood of Town Center, but it is a very small part of a large precinct that takes in a good chunk of Hickory Ridge. This was one of Ken's better precincts in 2002 and he still does slightly better here than any of the neighboring precincts.

Precinct 5-16

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

The area of Columbia Road between Ten Mills Road and Rt 108 has just shy of a quarter of voters choosing not to vote for Ken.

Precinct 5-17

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-18

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-21

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

Precinct 5-22

UlmanAnti-Ulman% Anti-Ulman

River Hill still is Ken's strongest precincts.

So what do we learn from all of this. No precincts match up well with village or neighborhood lines, but Ken does poorly in most of the precincts have a significant chunck of their voters living in the Town Center and Wilde Lake areas. In fact, only 3 precincts in the non-River Hill/non-Dorsey Search Columbia parts of the district have an anti-Ulman precentage under 23.9%. The fact that the anti-Ulman numbers are also strong in 5-09, 5-13, 5-17, and 5-21 shows that the concern is pretty broad in parts of Columbia not immediately next to downtown. I live on the east side of Columbia and I hear concerns about the downtown planning from a lot of others on the east side.

I take these numbers as a very bad sign for Ken. I worked on Ken's campaign in 2002 and walked large chunks of these precincts for him. There is no way to spin these numbers other than that Ken is in touble with his base. There is a great need for Ken to solidify his base by coming out strong and giving voters specific guarantees about what any redevelopment under his administration will or will not do. At this point the community has spoken at public meetings, CA elections, and the primaries and every time they have expressed concern with the downtown plans. Ken needs to show that he has heard them. This staying aloof, running a front porch campaign (some also call it Rose Garden campaign) will not work and Ken will lose. If he does lose he will have no one to blame but himself. I privately told Ken the issue of this election would be development as we walked out together after the final day of charrette week and that I was hearing a lot of concern in the community.

This election will come down to this: Will Ken solidify his base? Will Chris Merdon convince enough hard core Columbia Democrats that he is better on growth and committed enough on public services to not undermine our great schools and public safety services by fiscally irresponsibly cutting taxes?

This race has always been Ken's to lose, because of the generic numbers of the county, but so far he is on the way to doing just that. Howard County voters will swing vote on the issues and if you don't get out in the community and listen, learn, and respond to voters concerns you will lose elections.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Democracy For Howard County Hosts Movie Screening Of Iraq For Sale Sunday October 8th

Democracy for Howard County will host a free screening of the movie Iraq For Sale on Sunday, October 8th at 1:00 pm at the Miller Library in Ellicott City. This movie is by Robert Greenwald, the same person who created such movies as OutFoxed. Following the movie there will be a short discussion. Please RSVP at dfa-Link.

School Board Open Thread

So we have had some discussion of the County Exec race responses to the Bloggers Candidates Forum questions on a previous open thread, but I was wondering what you thought of the School Board Candidates? I am planning to spend the next couple weeks covering the School Board race and candidates’ responses to certain questions, but first I want to hear what your thoughts are.

Here are the answers that candidates have sent us so far. What do you think of their answers?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Howard County Blog

Howard County Blog

Here's info re candidate forums:

Oct. 4 County Exec and Council @ Ellicott City Senior Center (questions from the floor from attendees)

Oct. 8 All candidates @ Oakland Mills High, sponsored by PATH (no questions from attendees)

Oct. 11 County Exec and Council, League of Women Voters @ Howard Community College (written questions from attendees to be screened by moderator.

Oct. 18 Maryland Senate and Delegate candidates, League of Women Voters @ Howard Community College (written questions)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bloggers Candidates Forum Open Thread

Here are the answers that candidates have sent us so far. What do you think of their answers?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogger Candidates Forum

David Wissing at the Hedgehog Report that is compiling the candidates answers emailed me and is in the process of getting them all online. I really appreciate the time he is putting in getting this in an easy to read format. Based on his email he is trying to get them up as soon as possible and most likely they will be up on Tuesday.

I want to thank the candidates that have responded. They have shown a lot of respect for the community in participating and engaging in answering questions and listening to the comments of the community.

Nate Sandstrom had an article on the bloggers candidate forum in this weeks Columbia Flier/ Howard County Times. Welcome any new readers. You can find the questions that were asked here. When candidates responses are posted please feel free to comment on the responses and ask follow up question.