Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?

I still have to finish my piece on the recommended changes to the budget but that post got interrupted AGAIN, this time by County Executive Kittleman’s long awaited proposal on the stormwater fee. 

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I found his press conference announcing his intent to introduce the legislation frustrating.  While of course I disagree with his proposal to “phase out” the stormwater fee that is not what frustrated me.  Instead I found the format, process, and “meat” of the proposal to be lacking and distasteful. 

I am not, at least not at this point, going to discuss or debate any of the internal frameworks of how the stormwater fee is levied.  Truthfully, I think there are some legitimate claims that the stormwater fee, as currently established is not effectively, efficiently, or fairly assessed.  Additionally I am not discussing how the revenue generated from the stormwater fee is spent.  While I think it is possible that claims could be made about how effective the projects paid for with the fee are, the Executive made no such claim in the press conference.  Instead, he made the audacious claim that program would remain as it is; the stormwater fee would just no longer be the means by which we pay for the program.

The essence of my problem with the Executive’s proposal can be summed up in one sentence “What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?”  You see, the last Republican who was County Executive understood when and where dedicated funding streams made sense.  County Executive Chuck Ecker established a trash fee.    The revenue for the trash fee can only be used to pay for waste collection and processing.  I can’t speak to specific intent but I can say that fairly universally, dedicated funding sources are created in government revenue streams when goods or services are required of the government but the revenue for said goods or services often struggle to find solid backing competing against other priorities.  Additionally, it helps when, in the case of both the trash fee and the stormwater fee, the cost for that good or service can be directly linked to those who need the good or service or those who are causing the need.

What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?

What Executive Kittleman has proposed is to eliminate the dedicated funding source for stormwater remediation.  Based on his press conference he supports protection of the Chesapeake Bay and has every intention of continuing full funding for the program, but will simply eliminate the source of its money.  If we take him at his word, then that means that he will need to cut from the budget the equivalent of what is raised through the stormwater fee. 

So I ask again What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?

He admitted as much during his brief discussion of how budgets are about priorities and choices.  I agree with that statement though I find perplexing that the example he used was the police helicopter, a program he opposed funding while on the County Council, on the day after it was used to help a mentally ill man. 

As we know from the last budget, 59% of the budget is dedicated to education and 12% goes towards public safety.  While you may have an image of our County budget being gloated and filled with fat and/or pork, you would be mistaken.  So, I will ask one more time:

What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?

Finally, the lack of process before the introduction is quite telling.  I heard nothing of any public process for the deliberation that lead to the proposal and furthermore, if he was serious about this proposal and it wasn’t just a political stunt as it appears to me to be, why would he not include any of the Democratic Council members in the deliberations?  Of course they disagree but this is a bill that has to pass the Council and if he actually wanted it to pass, he would have had to include them in the process to find a compromise everyone could stomach.  If, however, what he wanted was a political stunt then he would do . . . precisely what he did.

All of those aside though, let us not confuse the issue.  County Executive Kittleman’s proposal to phase out the stormwater fee will bleed funding from other projects.  This is a budget that already has a zero in such things as road resurfacing (covered in an earlier post) and while most would argue very much against that being budget fat, that was the fat he forced himself to cut in this last budget.  So one last time, What are you going to cut, Mr. Executive?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not My Maryland

I don’t know, maybe other bloggers will understand what I’ve been going through or maybe it’s just me.  I don’t have writer’s block.  I now have five mostly written posts.  Every time I get most of the way through one something big happens or I have an idea I have to spit out and I derail one for a new one.  So, look forward to posts in the near future on the report from the Committee on Community Policing, the budget format changes discussed at the monthly meeting and maybe the recent comment craziness involving a sitting member of the Board of Education.

As I was going through the writing of these different posts the attacks in Paris and elsewhere happened and I immediately started writing something about it but to be honest, it felt hollow.  I’m a local blog through and through, and while I cherish opportunities to take (inter)national issues local, this wasn’t going.  Then Governor Hogan made his announcement about refugees. 

So here’s the thing, his first response was to take a step back and not join his Republican colleagues in declaring he would ban Syrian refugees from entering the state.  That sounded kind of promising.  While he stated that this was to think and make a “reasoned and careful” decision, what he ended up doing is, in my opinion, far more insidious and borders on despicable.  Here is his statement:

"Following the terrorist attacks on Paris just four days ago, and after careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety."

First of all I’m generally annoyed by this theory that seems to work in Maryland that “moderate Republican” really means the same reactionary policies and positions as their radical conservative colleagues but just stated in a calmer more measured tone.  That’s not what sent me around the bend though.  The Republican Governors at the least, have the courage of their convictions enough to stand behind their claims.  Of course they can’t legally fulfill their promise to keep refugees out of their states but they grab that fear mongering hate filled flag and stand tall waving it to and fro.

Governor Hogan, on the other hand, raises the same fear mongering hate filled flag, but then points to the feds and disavows any connection to the issue.  Now, here is my fear.  I am truly afraid that this is “good” politics.  He can tap into the electorate’s basest most vile ingrained fears, prejudices and hates and yet side stepped any personal accountability.  Let us be frank, tapping into fear and prejudice has almost never been a punished move in American politics.  Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have all rewarded politicians after they tap into those fears and watching it play out here in Maryland quite literally made me nauseous. 

Maybe, just maybe though, this will be one of those moments where the electorate can rise up to the ideals that fill Maryland and America with such potential greatness.  Maybe we can rise above our Governor and even hold him politically accountable for appealing to our lowest depths for short-term political gain.  For the love of humanity and the greatness that is America and the Old Line State, I hope so.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Death with Dignity

Somebody passed this message on to me and I thought about how to write about it but instead decided I should just let it speak for itself with a small preamble from me.  Councilman Jon Weinstein’s father died last week, just two days after Councilman Weinstein had posted the message below on his facebook page.  I am reposting it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it seems like a small but important token of sympathy for an elected official who I do not know except for in passing but have respect for.  Secondly though, this is actually, to me, politics, at it’s greatest.  Councilman Weinstein is taking his very personal experience and translating it into his professional life as a politician in search of how we as a society can make policies that support and strengthen our humanity.  My thoughts go out to the entire Weinstein family.

I thought long and hard about posting the following. I talked with my mother about whether she was comfortable with this post and whether she thought my dad would be ok with it too. She encouraged me to go forward and share the following...

My dad is dying. He would say he's been dying since he was born in 1931 ... that's his sense of humor. Now, his death is on the horizon. Dad survived a triple bypass and heart valve replacement 16 months ago, but was diagnosed with "small cell" cancer earlier this year. Along with his doctors, the decision was made to stop his treatments in August... and now we wait.

For the past month or so he had good days and bad; now we’re measuring “good” differently - moment by moment and we’re thankful for any signs of my “old” dad. For the past few weeks, as his condition has worsened I have seen this once proud and stubborn (in a good way) man lose his identity to the disease. His corny jokes and sharp wit have faded. Weeks ago he lost the ability to take care of himself and my mother ... something they both have relied on for most of their 60 years of marriage. Now he struggles to speak, stay awake, and comprehend his surroundings.

We have attended to the practical things ... living wills, powers of attorney, disposing of his car, and other mundane, yet important actions. However, as his body fails and his mind slips away he is denied the power to exercise control over his own life as it reaches the end.

For the past couple of years my parents have been educating themselves about, and advocating for, death with dignity. We have engaged in academic, ethical, and practical discussions on the topic. Now the topic is personal and my father should have the right to a death with dignity. With an appropriate diagnosis, the guidance of physicians, and consultation with his family and his faith, he should have one more tool available to address his terminal condition. The Maryland House of Delegates started down this path in 2015 with HB1021 - the Death with Dignity Act; following the lead of states like Washington, Oregon, and Vermont. As a legislator myself, I know that every issue has many valid arguments for and against. This issue and this bill is a matter of basic human rights. I urge the Maryland House and Senate to take up this bill, put their full support behind it, and pass it in 2016 for people like my dad. I ask you consider contacting members of the Maryland House and Senate to add your voice too.

My dad's name is Jack and while he doesn’t resemble the man I love, he will be my dad forever. He has been the best dad and grandfather one could ever hope for and he deserves the right to die with the same level of dignity that he has lived his 84+ years.

[My father passed away, just two days after this post on October 24. I was at his side when the pain and distress of his condition ceased.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ah Watson! The Needle!

The title is a quote from Sherlock Holmes (who was a cocaine addict not a heroin addict) in the Hound of the Baskervilles.

As is generally my process I waited a little bit before I wrote about this editorial in last week’s Flier.  As the ideas bounced around in my head though I got angrier, not calmer.  The editorial is discussing the $50,000 grant given to Howard County Department of Corrections by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to combat heroin addiction.  If you want more you can read about it in this article.

Before I start, I want to say off the bat that my beef is with the editorial and not the grant.  I will cover that later but I want to say that loud and clear.  So let me start with the silly/stupid stuff that irritates me about the editorial.

“Where do you get heroin? Go to a big city ghetto, find a dark alley, do the special knock on a steel door and ask for Omar. Slide your money under the door and packets of heroin slide back.”

“Howard, one of the most prosperous counties in the nation, might seem to be immune to a scourge that is associated with blight and urban poverty, as seen in the TV mini-series ‘The Wire.’”

Any self respecting Baltimore area resident knows that Omar wasn’t a dealer but a stick up man (the ole rip and run) and that The Wire was not a mini series.  Of course, that’s not the heart of my problem with the editorial but damn it’s kind of annoying.  One last block quote before I get into the heart of my problem with this editorial.

“The cynical might draw conclusions about smack being an old plague in the minority ghettos, but alarm bells are now going off after it has begun to vex white suburbia. With that, at least, comes new approaches based on prevention, education and treatment instead of incarceration.”

It really is hard to put into words how horrible and racist this is, feeding on old and wildly outdated stereotype about heroin use.  More to the point though, the fact that the editorial actually said “alarm bells are now going off after it has begun to vex white suburbia. With that, at least, comes new approaches based on prevention, education and treatment instead of incarceration.”  In other words now that rich white people use heroin maybe we shouldn’t throw addicts in jail.  I don’t disagree with the statement just that the authors felt comfortable writing it without acknowledging how monumentally fucked [1] up it is that it’s true.

Finally, although it doesn’t jibe with the rest of my points, the author’s understanding of basic math is suspect.  “But a growing trend here is clear. Last year, the county recorded 18 non-fatal overdoses. So far this year, the number is 14.”  18 in a year is 1.5 a month and 14 on October 14 is roughly 1.47 a month.  That’s not exactly a clear trend.

Let me be clear, I think this grant is good news.  I think the work done before the grant and now with the grant is fantastic and likely a model.  Personally, I am also happy that drug education in Howard County can look to the real issues and use real science backed solutions as opposed to the HC Drug Free “Say no to drugs” abstinence-only style waste of resources that have been front and center in the very recent past.

[1] I certainly debated the use of this word, however in the end decided that there is simply no other word in the English language that successfully illustrated the point.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hurst So Good

In many ways, at the Council session last week, what we saw at the very end of the session was a relatively calm look into what democratic checks and balances look like.  Nobody got hurt in the process and the end result is one that I’m actually pretty happy about.  The issue at hand was the selling of the “Hurst property” near the corner of Rt. 1 and Whiskey Bottom Rd.

I talked about this and the other property sales in this post.  I am not going to re-hash all that I talked about in that post but for this post’s purpose the relevant piece of information is that, under the Ulman Administration, this particular property was purchased with the intent of having a project developed that would assist in revitalizing Rt. 1.  The current administration appears to have determined that the potential a project on this site has for revitalizing Rt. 1 is not out weighed by the County’s need to supplement our budget in every way possible (specifically in these somewhat difficult times). 

As I said in that last post, I honestly believe that the justification for buying it and the justification for selling it are valid and simply indicative of two different governing styles.  So, County Executive Kittleman, following his style, proposes in his now approved budget that this property be sold to generate revenue.  Procedurally, disposing of any real property requires Council approval and so a resolution allowing for the sale of the Hurst property is what was up for vote Monday night.

That’s where the democratic checks and balances piece comes onto the scene.  The Council, led in this instance by Councilwoman Terrasa, wanted to follow through on the potential for that site to spur Rt. 1 revitalization and so passed an amendment that puts together a specific process for reviewing and determining who purchases the property.  Without getting into too many details, the core concept is that, with the assistance of a community input, each proposal will be considered primarily for the project it proposes and its potential for positive impact on Rt. 1 rather than simply offer price.

Councilman Fox did discuss his concern that this might take away too much of the County’s potential revenue from the sale and then introduced and got passed an amendment to limit the time the process can take.  He also introduced but failed to get passed a somewhat convoluted amendment that pushed offer price to a more prevalent position in the consideration.  The amendment to change the process to include the community and to prioritize revitalization potential in the sale as well as the whole resolution passed 5-0.

There are numerous examples of how a single piece of property became a cornerstone for the revitalization of a surrounding neighborhood.  Certainly Harbor Place in Baltimore, the Verizon Center in DC and AFI Theater in Silver Spring jump to mind.  While those are big examples and I doubt anyone wants a sports arena here, they do show that it is possible.  I also want to be clear that I see this as a beautiful example of creative and successful government intervention.  The County purchased a distressed piece of property and is now selling it in a way that maximizes its revitalization potential.  THIS is what democracy looks like.

I have no concept as to where the administration stands on including this process in the sale of the property but I do want to be clear in that, I am not establishing the administration as the antagonist in this story.  This story, at least as it stands now, shows that true and effective check and balance government can create winners all the way around.  Everyone, including the politicians and the community and the county as a whole, will be getting the lion’s share of what we/they could ask for and so . . . it was a good day.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Islamaphobia, Coming to a HoCo Near You

I said in September I would get back to 2-3 times a week but here’s my problem:  Nominations and budgets and hyper-local things have been flowing onto the page, but I want, desperately sometimes, to talk about the bigger and harder issues.  Every time I do, though, it feels somewhat incomplete, choppy, and stunted.  I’ve contemplated shelving these issues, but they are too important to wait for better writing. 

So shortly after I posted about Ahmed Mohammed, the kid who was arrested for making a clock, I read about this. A “far-right patriot group” is hosting a protest outside Howard County’s very own Dar Al-Taqwa because, as they put it, “WE ARE INVOKING OUR 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHT ABOUT OUR FEELING OF ISLAM IN AMERICA”.

The first thing I thought about when I saw this was all of the (mostly national) Republicans who demanded moderate Muslim leaders vociferously denounce radical Muslims and Muslim terrorists.  This argument is bunk for too many reasons to count, but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with a healthy dose of quid pro quo.   I want to demand that more mainstream conservatives actively and publicly denounce this radical arm of their ideology lest they be accused of being complicit.  In Howard County Dar Al-Taqwa is in the districts of Greg Fox, Trent Kittleman, Warren Miller, and Gail Bates.

The argument is bunk when applied to “moderate Muslim leaders” and so it’s not fair to apply it to those elected officials mentioned above, unless they themselves have called on moderate Muslim leaders to denounce radical Muslims.  Additionally, I’m not fond of over politicizing this, this should be an opportunity to stand up against hate across party lines.  I also have little doubt that the abhorrent reception Dar-us-Salaam received from our community when they proposed moving into Woodmont Academy spread across the political spectrum.[1] 

It is also worth contemplating, although important to admit that it is just speculative contemplation, whether or not this is another example of the community at large reaping what we sow.  Of all the mosques in America or even in the DC area, why did this group pick Dar Al-Taqwa?  Is it possible that they believed, based on the opposition to Dar-Us-Salaam, that they might receive support from the community?

On how we should respond as a community, I am truthfully torn.  On the one hand I feel like this group should just be completely ignored.  Their viewpoints and their little rally are so far out of mainstream society that doing something in response gives them a level of validation they do not deserve.  Additionally, it’s likely what they are hoping for because then they will get attention, which is clearly a primary goal for the group.

On the other hand, does ignoring them send a message to their targets that we do not care or even do not disagree with their hate?  Should we instead organize a counter rally in support of Dar Al-Taqwa with political leaders, civic leaders, and religious leaders gathering as one to surround Dar Al-Taqwa with love instead of hate?

The answer must lie with the leaders of Dar Al-Taqwa.  My hope is that all of the above mentioned leaders would reach out to them in the next week and show them love and support and ask them how they want us to proceed.  Simply put, this is their call and any well-intentioned move done without their leadership nearly defeats the point.

[1] Two things worth noting about this article.  The first is that the lawyers for the group fighting Dar-Us-Salaam were Joan Becker and Paul Skalny and the quoted member of the group is David Yungmann.  All of them are noted Howard County Republican activists.  The second thing is that everyone in this article (and others) stay pretty much on message that the issue is traffic and such and to be sure this was a legitimate concern.  However, if you attended any of the meetings or hearings the Islamaphobia was, at best, thinly veiled.

Monday, September 21, 2015

See Something . . . Say Something

See something . . . Say Something

I see these words all the time.  They are on metro ads, electronic highway signs, and tv commercials.

See something . . . Say something

I want to be shocked and outraged at the treatment of Ahmed Mohamed.  The 14 year old boy who built a clock, gave it to his teacher and was promptly suspended and arrested.

See something . . . Say something

I desperately want to remove all of the context of this story, the nagging catch phrases and simply consider this the acts of one overly edgy and clearly racist teacher.

See something . . . Say something

The teacher saw a brown kid who (s)he didn’t know well.  The brown kid was named Ahmed Mohamed.  Ahmed Mohamed brought a present for his teacher, a clock he made at home.  Sure if it were a bomb it would have to be made by the acme company for wile e coyote but how many bombs have you seen that didn’t have a clock on them?

See something . . . Say something

I’m not excusing their behavior, really I’m not.  It is reprehensible to punish him and to take it as far as they did when he clearly never said or did anything threatening.  I’d like to think that I would never EVER be that bad BUT . . . haven't we been trained to be afraid of 14 year old boys, especially 14 year old brown boys, especially 14 year old brown boys named Ahmed who brought you a ticking present.

See something . . . Say something

Isn’t that what the teacher did?  She saw something and she said something.  I would never be like that right?  Yet, I remember my first reaction when I saw the representatives of the mosque trying to move into Woodmont Academy.  Their outfits, their beards, their hijabs.  I shuddered at my own reaction even then but my “instinct” was undeniable.  The metro ads and message boards work, and we have all been trained to react in fear.

Could something like this happen in HoCo schools?  Probably.  I doubt it would escalate quite as far but it certainly could happen.  Plus, just to broaden it for a second how many other preconceived assumptions box 14 year old (and 5 year old and 7 year old) boys and girls in?  While they might not be taken away in cuffs aren’t we obligated to fight this inside the school system?  I know it’s a lot to ask of our system but who’s if not HoCos?  What better time than now?  What better place than here?

I see something . . . Now I’ve said something.  When does action happen?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Council has the Trump Card

I’ll be honest; I’m not much of a card player.  I played gin rummy with my family growing up and had some rousing games of Uno in my day.  I wasted some time in college playing hearts or spades but like I said, I’m not really much of a card player. 

Anyway, I want to talk about a trump card for reasons I will explain in a minute.  I thought I knew what a trump card was.  I assumed it was a card you inherited from a previous hand but had to pretend you earned during the hand being played.  I thought it was trimmed in a tacky gold leaf and continually tried to reject any cards that came into your hand during play.  Turns out I was off on that.  Here it is straight from Wikipedia “(in bridge, whist, and similar card games) a playing card of the suit chosen to rank above the others, which can win a trick where a card of a different suit has been led.”

If you read the August 20th Flier, or caught the article here, you not only got a chance to see my name in print, but learned that the nominations issue continues to loom large.  My coverage was on the Hartman nomination to Local Children’s Board and I was happy to see the abhorrent nature of Crisis Pregnancy Center’s in print.  That is not what I am writing about today.

I advocated earlier that the Council should table all board and commission nominations until County Executive Kittleman agrees to work WITH them in a bipartisan manner for the nomination process.  That suggestion wasn’t taken and it seems to me much to the detriment of the whole process on both sides.  Now we will continue to have partisan gamesmanship.  It would appear, in HoCo’s case, it will be under the surreal veil of not playing politics with political appointments.

There is good news though; I can tie my two non-sequiturs together.  As I see it there are three currently serving board members who the administration has proposed replacing:

Regina Stone-Mitchell, Housing Commission
Josh Tzuker, Planning Board
Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, Human Rights Commission

While each of these has had different paths to this point in all three cases the Council holds the trump card.  They can guarantee any or all three of the above continue to serve without any horse-trading with the Executive.  It’s actually very simple.  All they need to do is declare that the only nominations that will receive three votes are Ms. Stone-Mitchell for the Housing Commission, Mr. Tzuker for the Planning Board, and Ms. Walker-Lightfoot for the Human Rights Commission.  Any nominee that is NOT one of these three will get rejected. 

As I understand the law and process, if this generates a stalemate then the above three simply continue to serve.  Just to be clear, let me pull the language from, as an example, CR18-2010 “A RESOLUTION confirming the appointment of Genevievette E. Walker-Lightfoot to the Human Rights Commission.”  The final sentence reads “…the following person is appointed as a member of the Human Rights Commission to serve from the passage of this Resolution to March 1, 2015 or until a successor is appointed and confirmed:” (emphasis added)

The case for allowing dedicated volunteers to continue serving has been made, admirably in many locations.  The case for a truly cooperative bipartisan process for appointments to boards and commissions was made and apparently rejected.  By my book that leaves two options for the Council.  They can play this trump card or fold the better hand[1].

[1] I’m pretty sure now I’m mixing card games but the metaphor is too pretty here even if mixed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Apologize and correct your errors, have some fun with people who challenge you and your opinions . . .

In my last post, I clarified the truth about who precisely Mr. Oxenham was replacing on the Housing Commission – as originally proposed and as finally approved.  I continue to stand 100% behind my statements of fact as fact [1].  However, at the end of my post I launched into theory as to WHY the Kittleman administration made the change.  Through the device of rhetorical questions, I put forth two theories.

My primary theory was that the administration had decided (better late than never) that racial diversity actually is important for the Housing Commission and so re-arranged nominations to reflect that.  My second theory was that the Kittleman administration maybe in fact wanted to work with the Democratically controlled council and show actual bipartisianship and so this was an agreement between them.

As it turns out, the manifestations of the lack of diversity were quick enough to clarify that no, the Administration’s change in plans was not based on a realization of the importance of diversity nor a commitment to bipartisanship, but rather it was simply a practical response to changing circumstances.  The other nominee, Brad Myers, got another opportunity that upon reflection was the opportunity he preferred [2].  My theories actually gave the Administration the benefit of the doubt.  I stand corrected. 

Now let us break down each of the three comments.  They’re pretty long so I won’t paste them whole in this post but you should definitely read them here.  All three seem to employ the tried and true strategy of manufactured outrage, strawmen, and anything ranging from true passive aggressive to outright aggressive slights.

Ox was up first and the most straight forward and reasonable of the three.  He starts by dismissing my theories as “conspiracy” theories.  It is clearly the word conspiracy that is wildly out of place here.  I did put forth theories, though hardly conspiracy–based, and by most objective standards, were either of my theories to be true it would have put the Executive in a FAR better light than what Ox claims to be the true reasoning.

Ox then tells me where I “went wrong”.  This one I will quote directly “instead of using to resources to find out what happened you chose to make an accusations about me being rich without any knowledge of my income or tax bracket. Then tried to make bogus racial claims to stir up trouble.” [3]  I want to take specific exception to the very concept that what I did was “make a bogus racial claim.”  That’s preposterous.  I pointed out that a white man was nominated to replace an African American woman who still had a term to serve.  For the record, with the change by the Administration she is now in limbo and it will be interesting to see what the Administration does in either reappointing her or NOW proposing again to replace her.

Ox ends with a little diatribe on the state of blogging and strangely, along with his friends after him, accuses me of lighting fires while clearly holding matches. 

Next up was Brad Myers the nominee who withdrew.  For those of you playing the HoCo politics drinking game, bottoms up because Brad uses our favorite pejorative while leveling accusations at someone else, “What ever happened to Choose Civility?”  Brad spends most of his time explaining his decision to withdraw, all of which is fine and good.  I will reiterate that my statements of fact were 100% accurate at the time I wrote them and that I put forth theories as to the reason for the change.  Both Brad’s and Ox’s claims that my theories over politicize the situation are off base.  Brad goes further saying that it is “disgusting and should not be tolerated by the citizens of Howard County.”  While I was desperately hoping he would end with a Hitler reference, I guess I will settle for this metaphoric dive to the pitch like an Italian soccer star.

Honestly, David Yungmann’s is my favorite.  My theory is that since he is neither a new appointee nor the name on every Kittleman campaign piece, he felt less inclined to code his language.  Of course my theories have been proven wrong so what do I know?  He starts out of the gate by declaring that publishing something factually inaccurate is misinformation and fiction.  I agree with that of course, but again, what I published was 100% accurate at the time it was published. 

He next dreams up a response from me to Ox with two statements of interest to me.  First, that “…it doesn’t matter that he was at some point weeks earlier slated to replace her.”  This statement is WILDLY off base because it most definitely does matter.  I am putting forth that I believe racial diversity on the Housing Commission is extremely important AND that Ms. Mitchell has, as far as anyone I know of every political persuasion is saying, served quite admirably. [4]

He follows that up with another reference to my calling Ox rich and declares that means I, as a progressive, think that disqualifies Ox.  Classic conservative assumption.  I explained in footnote 3 how I came to that conclusion, it was not meant as a pejorative any more than calling him white or a man was [5].  All three were used simply as a point that we have rich white men who are represented in abundance in Howard County (of all political parties and persuasions).

After a kind of long diatribe attacking me for what he perceives as an attack on Ox which is kind of silly and not worth the time to dispute he makes the following accusation: 

“This blog is so obviously being run by someone in the inner circle of the anti-Kittleman camp and will be used to spread negative information, whether accurate or fiction, about Allan and everything he does.”

Here is where I am terribly torn.  On the one hand Mr. Yungmann clearly does not know or understand the Democratic Party in general or more specifically the Howard County Democratic Party.  The idea that they are organized enough to create an anti-Kittleman camp with or without an inner circle or that a campaign is being waged three years early is . . . hilarious [6].  On the other hand, evidence is showing that this idea is making the Kittleman Administration chase its tail a bit so . . . sure, I am part of the inner circle of the anti-Kittleman camp.  I’ve been put in charge of the secret handshake.


[1] More on this in a moment as I will address the statements of all three commenters to the post.

[2] Leadership does seem like a perfectly great opportunity, and I certainly see how he would only have time for one or the other.

[3] Although this may be a rabbit hole from which we never return, I will address my characterization of Ox as “rich”.  It is true that I don’t have any knowledge of Ox’s income or tax bracket.  I do know his home address (which he gave at the public hearing) and what he paid for the house (which is public record available on the State Department of Assessment and Taxation website).  “Rich” is both subjective and relative, and it is a term that makes many of us of higher economic status rather uncomfortable for some reason.  I seem to have struck a nerve here – that was not my intent, but I’m not apologizing either.  For a long time, I have believed it doesn’t serve anyone for us liberal do-gooders to ignore how the system works to our personal benefit.  I think the same applies to conservative do-gooders too.  

[4] I do not know Ms. Mitchell.  I have never met her.  I do not know what her political persuasions are.  My understanding from those who have worked with her, including folks INSIDE the Kittleman administration, is that she is a great resource on the Housing Commission.

[5] I am fairly certain from his conservative lens he thinks that I meant all three as a negative.

[6] It is certainly possible that such a thing exists and is happening though it would literally shock me.  Contrary to what these commenters or anyone else may think, I personally have not been involved in ANY inner circle meetings (or outer circle meetings for that matter) and have had no contact with County elected officials any more than the average County resident.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ox, You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

In this case the word is “fact”.

So there I was staring at the Casey Foundation report that I mention here, trying to put together a cogent post while clearly having summer brain.  Then, almost at that exact moment I get a comment posted from “Ox” the online moniker for Chris Oxenham, newest appointee to the Housing Commission.  Here is the comment in its entirety:

“This post was just brought to my attention and it should be pointed out that misinformation is being spread. While I appreciate your enthusiasm for local issues you have a point marked there that states "a rich white man to the housing commission to replace an African American woman who has dedicated her career to affordable housing" aside from me wondering how you got access to my tax returns to be able to make a comment about me being "rich", it should be pointed out that I did not in fact replace who you said I did. While you may personally dislike me which is fair game and I have no problem taking hits from you about my postings and comments, facts should still triumph over fiction.”

What is simply amazing to me is that Mr. Oxenham could have simply given an update and left it at that but instead choose to outright state that I was providing misinformation and “fiction” in my declaration on who he would be replacing on the Commission.  Of course I cannot know his intent but I suspect that there was a good deal of hubris in making such an accusation towards me when the facts are easily discernible through public information.

So, first of all, he is correct when he states that he “did not in fact replace who you said I did.”  However, my statement that he was nominated to replace her specifically is ALSO correct.  His statement is, at best, an update not a correction.

Mr. Oxenham was originally nominated to replace Ms. Mitchell, but the Administration eventually changed its mind and decided to have him replace the term limited Mr. Riemer.  The Council discusses this briefly when Mr. Oxenham is approved [1].  If you go to the page with the supporting documents on his nomination resolution you will find a memo from Chief Administrative Officer Lonnie Robbins to Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty dated July 30 [2].  Here is the word for word text of the memo:

“The Administration requests that Council Resolution No. 109-2015 be withdrawn at the Council's next legislative session.
Also, with regard to CR 110-2015, the appointee, Christopher Oxenham, will be replacing Michael Riemer. Mr. Oxenham will not be replacing Regina Mitchell as previously indicated.”

I will not be so bold as to presume it was my blog post which convinced the Administration of the error of its ways.  It was much more likely the result of negotiations with Council members who are, as they should be, taking the responsibility of approving such nominations seriously.  Like I said, Mr. Oxenham’s comment is, at best, simply an update.  His referring to my post as misinformation and fiction over facts is blatant obfuscation.  Pretty quickly and easily proving one of the reasons I was so uneasy with his nomination to the Housing Commission in the first place.  The comment, however, does highlight a whole series of new questions for me.

Mr. Oxenham said, “This post was just brought to my attention”.

Was the attention bringer a member of the Kittleman Administration?

If so, did they also request that Mr. Oxenham obfuscate the history as he so clearly did?

If so why would the administration run from the change or want to pretend this wasn’t a change?   Are they afraid to admit they made a mistake or yielded to pressure?  Are they afraid to admit that they gave into pressure to keep racial diversity on a County Commission?

All just questions, for now without answers.

[1] I believe you can find it at the 12-minute mark.
[2] My post in question was dated July 23

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Last . . . Bite on Nutrition

Barring something unforeseen this is definitely the last I will be talking about the CB-17 and honestly I am going to keep it short because it has ALL been said.  Listening to the session from last week really only one sentence stood out as summing up the entire debate.

Councilman Fox, in a lengthy and relatively rambling defense of his vote not to override the veto, honed in on two key arguments.  The first was that old trope of stealing our freedom.  The second was that the bill, as amended, did nothing.  He tied those two together with the age-old “slippery slope” argument.  I am open to discussion on this but as far as I can tell the “slippery slope” argument is a fallacy 99.78% of the time.

So back to the one magical sentence, it came from Councilwoman Terrasa and it was the first thing she said “I find it hard to understand how a bill that does nothing takes away the freedoms you are talking about.”  The statement was followed by what sounds like fairly robust laughter from the studio audience and some mutterings of protest from Mr. Fox. 

It was a good line but it struck me as a pretty earnest statement as well and it highlighted the logical flaws in the opposition to the bill.  The arguments against the bill appear to be based on what opponents believed the bill was or based on other bills it looked like, not what was actually within this bill.  Truth be told, it is pretty difficult to see through to what the actual objections are to the actual legislation.  If you, Mr. Fox, object to what you believe will inevitably come next as we careen down the slippery slope, the appropriate time to argue is when it comes along.  Support for A does not in any way indicate permissiveness for B.  That’s a tired argument without factual support.[1]  Oh and just for the record, I agree that Diet Monster has no redeeming nutritional value for kids (or adults).  However, that still places it as a better option than those that have been found to be the leading cause of the biggest epidemic facing our children.  How gross Diet Monster looks or tastes or seems is simply not relevant.  Also I just tried Diet Monster and yeah it’s disgusting.  Anyway, all appears to be well that ends well and it will be interesting to see how such legislation is implemented in this environment.

With it being August, I suspect I will stay at a slowed down pace, hopefully still posting at least once a week.  I will shoot for some of those 30,000 feet issues or side projects I have been looking at.

[1] If you argue back with Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, I’m throwing you out of my corner of the internet.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Politics of Nutrition

Here it is, my first official correction.  On May 28th in my post titled “I Aimed For The Public's Heart, And. . .Hit It In The Stomach” in reference to the nutritional standards legislation and the science that supports it, I stated that “I am frustrated with the science here because it makes for, at best, mediocre politics.”

According to the poll announced here by the Horizon Foundation, apparently it makes for pretty good politics.  OK that’s not really a correction but whatever I stand by my statement.  Both of them.

A lot of people disregard polls, usually saying something like “you can get a majority of people to agree to anything if you frame the question right.”  Mildly good point, imaginary curmudgeon.  Additional skepticism could be raised because the Horizon Foundation commissioned the poll here.  Well, these are concerns easily assuaged as the actual text of the questions asked can be found here.  These are the three questions relevant to this exercise:

Assess three specific components of the legislation, indicating whether you feel it is a “good idea or a bad idea.”

1)        This law would require all vending machines on County property like parks, libraries, and recreation centers to provide at least 75% healthier food and drink options. 25% of the offerings would be less healthy, like regular soda, chips, and candy bars.

2)        This law would require the County to offer or sell only healthier food and drinks to children during programs when their parents are not present.

3)        This law would exempt special events like the 4th of July and Wine in the Woods from its requirements, and would also exempt non-profits like booster clubs who want to sell food and drink on County property.

The results were resounding with 68% thinking components one and two were good ideas and 78% thinking component three was a good idea.  So, it turns out that this is only, at best, mediocre politics if you put forth straw man arguments based on preconceived notions of what this legislation does rather than the reality of what it does.  I worked this sentence over and over before I ended up here and I am not totally happy with it.  However, I think to make it clearer I would have to list and debunk the most egregious of the straw man arguments.  After deliberating I decided that was a bad idea because every time one repeats an argument, even if to debunk it, the argument gains a hold in people’s minds.  (Think weapons of mass destruction or was Obama born in America?)  So, I decided the only thing you would read in this post is what the bill ACTUALLY does.

Here is my biggest annoyance.  Setting up straw men like that, playing political games, scare tactics, and obfuscating the facts just to further an agenda.  In my book there is a phrase to describe this type of “policy making”.  Washington style politics.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Children in Poverty and the #HoCoMD

I had several ideas bouncing around my head for my next post, none earth shattering.  I was going to write about nutritional standards, but Councilman Ball wrapped that up very nicely here[1].  Then I thought I should stay focused on the nominations process and maybe dig up a cornucopia of troll comments from Housing Commission nominee Chris Oxenham.[2]  Finally, I saw a lot of potential for snarkery with the free Wi-Fi in Ellicott City story and resulting silly editorial, but I yawned even writing this sentence.

All of this was in my head when this came across my screen – The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2015 Kids Count Data Book which reveals and analyzes statistics and trends on children’s well being.  I have a long way to go before I am done reading and digesting all of it.  I actually hope I can put some of the stuff I find most interesting up in future posts.  In the meantime, one statistic I came across early brought me to my knees.  22% of American children live in poverty.  Let’s be “generous” and say 1 in 5 US kids.  As a quick refresher, the poverty line for a family of four in 2013 was $23,550.  If that information doesn’t break your heart, then you do not have one.

I put this number into the context of our community.  We here in Howard County should be in a much better position to help make things better in our region.  In my view, this is similar to the U.S. role in fighting both climate change and nuclear arms proliferation.  In both of these issues, the U.S. is in a very strong position to take a leadership role and we bear some level of responsibility for getting everyone into this mess in the first place.  Same goes for affluent suburbs outside of large urban areas.  Of course Howard County does not have quite the redlining history as other jurisdictions, but nevertheless, we are still on the winning side of the same interdependent economic system that put one in five children in poverty.  Three items in our recent history got me kind of angry thinking about this:

1)   The Susan Garber led assault on the new Day Resource Center
2)   The nomination of a rich white man[3] to the Housing Commission to replace an African American woman who has dedicated her career to affordable housing. 
3)   The push in Oakland Mills by mostly liberal Democrats to fight to create a country club like sports complex to attract “high end condos” to replace housing that currently works for less affluent people of color.


This isn’t an attack on any politician current or past; truthfully it’s not a great political issue.  Especially in Howard County, we like to care on a conceptual level.  If you get a moment, talk to the leaders at the Community Foundation of Howard County about Howard County’s philanthropy as it relates to other jurisdictions.  It is shameful.  Both of those statements being said, poverty in the region is an all hands on deck issue.  Every organization and institution in this County needs to engage, and our government should be leading that collective effort.

[1] Also feel free to read the comments anywhere that article exists or is shared if you find yourself low on bile #thanksobama I mean Communist Calvin
[2] They’re remarkably easy to find but worth noting that his blog commenting got A LOT more polite of late.  I wonder why?
[3] A rich white man who has shown himself to (being generous) not fully grasp issues around poverty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blogging About the News . . . paper

I’m going to be honest; there is something about blogging about the state of print media that really tickles my fancy.  I feel like an Oldsmobile newsletter author in 1929 writing a piece on the current state of buggy manufacturing.   Anyway, what inspired me to write has already seen some decent writing, primarily from Village Green Town2.  She started talking about it here with a follow up here.  Her stuff is quite compelling and she is more succinct than I am so if you haven’t already I encourage you to check it out.

A lot has been said about the sorry state of modern journalism generally, not to mention the sparseness of it locally and my beef here is not with the reporters[1].  In two successive pages, three items spell out how sad things are and how sad they will likely be until it is mercifully over.

Item #1

Instead of writing their own editorial on, well anything at all, the Flier editorial staff simply handed over the reins to Executive Kittleman and printed an unedited copy of his defense of veto letter on nutritional standards.  Now, this one could have been worse.  They could have, with marginally more effort, simply rearranged the words and printed it as their own.  We’ve all read editorials and known they were regurgitating what they had been spoon-fed.[2]  At least they respected themselves or maybe even their readers[3] enough to acknowledge it as a propaganda piece by slapping Kittleman’s name and picture on it.

Item #2

Doug Miller writes an Op-Ed on the nominations in the County, which you know I have talked at length about, and so has every other blogger.  Here is my beef: there wasn’t any.  You ever watch a British period piece movie?  I usually spend them having the following conversation with whomever I’m watching the movie with “Did something important just happen?  I feel like that was a thing but I can’t tell, nothing actually happened.”[4]

The piece reads as written by someone who is barely, and I mean BARELY, paying attention to the process at all.  Here is the most illustrative statement “Council member Calvin Ball’s appeal for a ‘conversation’ about why Kittleman wants to replace someone eligible for reappointment with someone new is reasonable enough, but Kittleman’s under no obligation to spell it out.”  BOOM.  No, that’s not it.  WHIFF.

Item #3

That cartoon bugs me to no end.  If you didn’t see it, it shows a satellite rounding Pluto with the words “Made in Howard County.  No Sugary Drinks on Board.”  I get jokes.  I can even get and appreciate jokes/cartoons that take positions I don’t agree with.  This one ignorantly continues a false narrative, which is pretty insidious.  Like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” false narratives take hold as truth the more they are repeated.  In this case a bill about better options but still is including the bad ones (like sugary drinks) being portrayed as a prohibition.  Of course the cartoon is usually a graphic representation of the week’s editorial, but since the week's editorial was propaganda furthering the false narrative, maybe the cartoon was right on point.

[1] Well reporter singular these days but still, it’s not with her.
[2] That’s not aimed specifically at the flier/sun/tribune but they’re not immune either.
[3] All nine of us.  OK, that might be one snark too far.  Apologies.
[4] I know that’s a one sided conversation, but let’s be honest, by the time anything that could be construed as a thing happens in a British period piece, everyone’s asleep anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nominations (Full Continue)

On Monday in #HoCoMD all the political folks sat around waiting for the most predictable outcome since Titanic and were not disappointed as County Executive Kittleman predictably vetoed the nutritional standards bill and used a lot of very predictable language in his veto message.  My focus, however, remains tightly on the nominations.

The Executive’s message through his campaign site and through his message givers on social media[1] appears to be two fold.  The first focuses very much on Susan Garber while the second is about the process.  More specifically on process, they claim other Executives got deference with their nominations and the Council can vote nominees up or down but tabling is somehow a violation of civility. 

First things first, Susan Garber is barely the issue.  On her own merits I personally find her a bit out of touch but specifically around the development issues not a particularly big deal.  On the Planning Board my prediction is she would simply be frustrated while simultaneously frustrating (primarily the Columbia Downtown process).  It would be annoying but not overly so.  In short, Susan Garber is not the issue.[2] 

For the Garber nomination the focus is much more on the fact that she is set up to replace an existing Planning Board member who has another term he could serve if reappointed.  To dismiss a volunteer that way is, at best, tacky.  At worst it is a blatant sign of disrespect to the largely thankless job of serving on a Board, especially the Planning Board.

The Ivan Betancourt nomination for Human Rights Commission is a two fer.  He is replacing an existing member (the Chair in fact).  She blogged about her experience here so I won’t venture to put words in her mouth.   Additionally, as I stated before, Betancourt was an extremely outspoken opponent of the Dream Act, going so far as to declare his refusal to vote for McCain because of his position on immigration and appear in an ad for John White for Congress on the issue of immigration.  Feel free to call this political, but that kind of fervor against people based on immigration status[3] should be a disqualification for appointment to the Human Rights Commission.

As I have now said several times, the Kimberly Hartman nomination for Local Children’s Board is a blatant affront to the values of Howard County.  For Kittleman to nominate someone whose job it is to be dishonest to young people to the Local CHILDREN’S Board is so abhorrent it makes me shake every time I think about it.

Now let us get to the issue of “process.”  Here is what I don’t understand.  If the Council really was just trying to send a message to the Executive that he couldn’t have the nominations he wanted, than they would have relished an “up or down vote” as much as he seems to desire one.   However, their message is quite different.  Bipartisanship means, by its very nature, things have to be done differently.  Above all, bipartisanship means communication throughout the process. 

I am not in a position to know that these meetings did or did not happen, so I am reading the tea leaves[4] here and none of them say open lines of communication to facilitate working relationship.  The picking apart of potentially every nominee in public is bad form for everybody and so, just my humble opinion, if the Executive is truly committed to being an independent leader he must reach across the aisle BEFORE nominations are made.  At the end they may very well reach an impasse, at which point an up or down vote on the impasse would be suitable.  But Mr. Kittleman, please at least respect the Council – and the citizens of Howard County – enough to stop pretending you play no part in the current stalemate.  Especially if it’s true that you threatened to shut down the Planning Board until you got your way[5].

[1] Which apparently, based on their editorial about nominations and giving him a column for his veto, includes the Columbia Flier.
[2] I do also want to note however that Ms. Garber was extremely active with a group that took direct aim at Councilmember Weinstein in lets just say an unpleasant way.  If I were Weinstein, I would take this nomination as a personal insult.  It would be like if President Bush expected Senator Kerry not to obstruct the nomination of the leader of the Swift Boat Veterans to the Supreme Court.
[3] Yes, I know he is a legal immigrant.  That does not change my opinion on what taking this position does to delegitimize his nomination to the Human Rights Commission.
[4] In this case the leaves are the request by the Councilmembers for more information and the memo back saying, “nah I'm good.”
[5] A move I can’t for the life of me imagine is legal which may very well be why the threat wasn’t executed. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nominations (Full Stop)

I watched the legislative session Monday night and the steady stream of social media afterwards.  At issue for me, and clearly others as well, were the appointments.  A small bubbling of a rift between Council and Administration revealed itself, as covered in this article.

Democrats outside the Council appear to be claiming victory because all three of the worst nominations:

Ivan Betancourt for Human Rights Commission
Susan Garber for Planning Board
Kimberly Hartman for the Local Children’s Board (One more time, I wrote about this one here)

Were tabled or left on the table.  I, on the other hand, think this was a bit of a lost opportunity.  The Council focused on two primary over arching issues.  The first is that some of these nominations are replacing currently serving appointees who have at least another term to serve if they were reappointed.  The second is that they requested the Administration provide additional information on its nominations and were refused.

In response County Executive Kittleman and the lone Republican on the Council, Greg Fox, said that this was playing politics with . . . political appointments.  Kittleman’s direct quote from the article is "It seems that the council is starting to use Washington-style politics here in Howard County," First of all, this is classic “Kittleman style politics.”  Which is to say this a sound bite without depth or context but even I will agree that hey, I don’t want no Washington style politics so I must be against that move.

Secondly, the Councilmembers appear to be struggling to find ways in which to . . . work together.  There are two steps to individuals getting appointed onto County boards and commissions.  The first is nomination by the Executive and the second is confirmation by the Council.  Kittleman mentions that no other Council has required such scrutiny over nominations previously and asks why he is being treated differently.  This is called bipartisanship; if I’m not mistaken it is what you ran on being good at Mr. Executive.  It’s more work for everyone involved but to assume that you are given deference in the process is disingenuous at best.  Besides any deference he may have earned, he lost by nominating a vocal opponent to the Dream Act to the Human Rights Commission[1] and the Executive Director of the local Crisis Pregnancy Center to anything at all but in this case the Local Children’s Board. 

I was thinking about his statement about “Washington style politics” and I was trying to come up with a time when I remember legitimate bipartisanship instead of attempts to out sound bite each other.  Then I remembered this.  President Clinton reached out to Senator Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee[2] and asked him for suggestions for his Supreme Court Justice nominee.  Senator Hatch gave him Ruth Bader Ginsburg; she was nominated and confirmed 96-3.  That is what bipartisanship looks like.

Now back to the lost opportunity.  This was a moment that the Council could have made the above point.  We are from different parties trying to run government and so as the Executive, you MUST include us more in the process before nomination if you expect deference during confirmation.  Until you are willing to entertain that notion, the whole process will wait.  It will be on hold for everyone, whether a good or bad nominee.  They still have time to make that point though, and should at least consider holding up ALL nominees until such time as the Executive is willing to make the process truly bipartisan. 

One final unrelated note.  The Council tabled the disposal of two of the properties I talk about in this post but approved the disposal of the Bickley property.  I will be keeping a close eye on who that property gets sold to, as I believe strongly that it is inappropriate for the government to take money from someone for the purposes of living on this dangerous property.

[1] An opponent of the Dream Act.  To the Human Rights Commission.  Let that bounce around in your head a little bit.   Here is a letter to the editor from Mr. Betancourt on the subject.
[2] The Republicans were in the minority of the Senate at the time and the President still reached out.