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It Takes a Brave Man

It Takes a Brave Man

It takes a brave man (or woman) to run for office in an incredibly gerrymandered district, one totally dominated by the opposing party. Most of the southeastern part of the county had both their legislative and council districts redrawn to assure Democrat domination.  Council member Sigaty was heard to say, “I’ve made sure that no Republican will ever win again in these districts.”  And indeed, the Democrat candidates for the two highly critical positions of State Senator and County Council member here have NO opposition in the upcoming election. How come both of those candidates still continue to fundraise, despite their offices being secured???

(Perhaps Scott Ewart gave some hints about the practice of candidates passing funds along to other Dems elsewhere.  In his excellent blog https://scotteblog.com/2018/10/15/the-mdhc-slate-attack-mailers-against-bob-flanagan-in-delegate-district-9b/  he called out the Maryland Democratic House Committee Slate for their scathing attack pieces in Legislative District 9. Although not unopposed, Shane Pendergrass of Team 13 provided $50,000 toward the effort to smear Delegate Flanagan in order to help Courtney Watson be elected. I guess when you’ve held that same office since 1994 a lot of money is bound to pile up. Since the strategy of blatantly untruthful attack ads against her opponent for County Executive didn’t work in 2014, I’m surprised and disappointed the same tactic is being tried again in Watson’s run for Delegate.)

It takes a brave man to run for office alone, as an individual, against an entire team. That team has the advantage of sharing large combined financial resources and they can blanket an area in signs and literature for the combined team, rather than individually. It can also significantly cut down on the number of poll workers needed to volunteer during early and regular voting, since one volunteer will ‘cover’ the 3 or 4 candidates of the team.

Doesn’t running as a team just prop up weaker team members, advertise that there will be no diversity in thought or voting, and put Party over what is in the best interest of citizens? (I was pleased that the Dem Primary challenger Larry Kudlow thought so. Hopefully it signals the approaching end of the Team Formula in the NEXT election.)

It takes a brave man to run for office as the “minority candidate,” the only male opposing three females in “the year of the woman.” What about gender diversity? Enough said.

It takes a brave man to run for office actually sharing his opinions and positions, recommending actions contrary to that of the majority party. Please review them at https://www.citizensforchrisyates.com/issues

It does indeed take a brave man to be a candidate for State Delegate in District 13. That brave man is  CHRIS YATES.

Why would a person invest the time, energy, and resources to seek public office under this seemingly hopeless scenario? One must really believe in the need for change in the State Legislature, that the legislature has been going down the wrong single-party path for too long. One must feel a strong commitment to serve the people of OUR STATE, after serving OUR COUNTRY for decades.

Although some might say there is no way for him to win, as a former navy captain, it’s not surprising that Chris has identified a scenario under which he could be elected. It’s not enough to vote for Chris– you have to vote for only him, despite the ballot direction to ‘choose up to 3.’  (Voting for one or more additional candidates just puts Chris further in the hole.) A man who could develop this strategy could certainly be counted on for innovative solutions to complex State issues.

After checking out his exemplary list of degrees, awards, service, and accomplishments at https://www.citizensforchrisyates.com/about are YOU willing to level the playing field by considering this strategy? Compare his background with that of the other candidates.

For those who never follow links, let me include just 4 sentences from Chris’ web page. “…..After a tour as Commanding Officer was selected for resident study at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Graduated with honors with a Master Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Simultaneously earned a Masters in International Relations at Salve Regina College and MBA from Southern Illinois University. Earned the rank of Captain before retiring after 34 years.”  To me, this identifies Chris as a proven leader; a person who expects effort and excellence from himself; a person who will go the distance to solve complex problems; who is skilled in working with others, as well as one who understands budgeting, economics, and finance. These are skills I welcome in a State Legislator!

If one has served as U.S. Head of Delegation for the DIA for numerous exchanges in a number of countries and served as Program Manager of a national level effort against significant weapon system threats involving developing and executing strategies by conducting field missions, AND successfully fought cancer, perhaps that makes one brave enough to run for Delegate in District 13 against all odds..

Are YOU willing to help this unassuming and witty, highly educated, skilled, and dedicated person fight unfair odds? If so, consider sharing this blog with friends and neighbors as a way of introducing them to an inspiring candidate. Consider volunteering to work at the polls, telling voters about Chris and the important strategy of voting ONLY for him for State Delegate to improve the lopsided odds.

In a county that alleges to embrace diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, etc., etc., why not diversity of thought?  Would it really be so terrible to add a few well qualified Republicans or Independents to the Maryland legislature? Aren’t the needs of the PEOPLE more important than Party Allegiance?

Make District 13 a place of opportunity again—and meet me in the high road,

Susan

What is the opposite of a “Party” girl?

What is the opposite of a “Party” girl?

Q.- What is the opposite of a “party” girl (or guy)?

A.-  An “Independent”

I’ve had more parties this year than ever! No, I’m not bragging about my social life. I’m simply reporting that in 2018 I’ve switched my political “party” affiliation from Republican to Democrat and recently to Independent. I feel so free not needing to defend either major party’s (at times indefensible) people or positions!

It makes sense for me to “unaffiliate” since I ultimately don’t actually believe in “Party” politics. I prefer to evaluate a candidate’s qualifications and positions and vote for that person—not the D or R after their name– not their party.

I often think that if there was an “Underdog Party” that would be the best match for me. I freely admit I’m more likely than most to give full attention to candidates considered underdogs in their races. In fact, I will highlight one such candidate tomorrow, so please come back then! Subscribe so you don’t forget.

Don’t let your evaluation that both major parties may have gone too far to their extremes make you decide to give up your precious opportunity to vote.

TODAY, OCTOBER 16 IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO REGISTER BEFORE THE UPCOMING ELECTION  

You can register right now on line. Just have your driver’s license handy.

https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/OnlineVoterRegistration/InstructionsStep1

Exercise your right to register and vote—and meet me on the highroad,

Susan

How Come Little People Lose While Big People Win?

How Come Little People Lose While Big People Win?

 

While HoCo is famous for embracing ethnic, racial, and gender diversity I sure don’t perceive equal treatment and justice for little people versus big people here.  One can define big people and little people in different ways, hence this blog theme may require multiple installments (Round One, Round Two, etc.) to distinguish the opponents in their unequal fights. 

Today I will use the terms to generally distinguish the group known as adults from the group known as children. Subsequently I will use the term to distinguish BIG adults (those with power, influence, money) vs. the majority of adults, “the little guy or gal” (seemingly without power, influence, or the kind of REALLY big or old money or position which assures the first two gifts). Perhaps it’s my small (and shrinking) stature, or the decades I spent teaching, raising or advocating for children…or perhaps it’s the powerless feeling that comes from being ignored by “the powers that be,” but I admittedly identify with the little people, the children who need a voice. 

Round One

Despite all of the PR promotion espousing valuing children and their education above all else in HoCo, I’m just not seeing it in the actions of our county government OR our school system. Actions truly speak louder than words. The opening of the new school year with net 5 more ‘temporaries’ further magnifies this point, especially when contrasted with a recent appalling county budgetary commitment.

Here is what I regard as evidence of messed up priorities. The response to overcrowded schools in HoCo is to roll in trailer classrooms –which are so far from temporary that to call them ‘a temporary classroom’ is a horrible misnomer—as is ‘learning cottage’ or other cutesy attempts to make the proverbial silk purse. These units are now rolling in as 5 packs and 9 packs and often dominate former playground space. The district budgets on average $1.8 million per year to keep up with these less-than- ideal structures? (The FY2020 HCPSS capital budget reflects 229 such temporary units.)

In contrast, the response to an overcrowded courthouse is to build an elaborate monolith that will cost taxpayers almost a half billion dollars over its 30-year Public-Private Partnership agreement. Much has been waxed poetic about the importance of the public having a good experience while at the Courthouse.  Isn’t the only really good experience at a court house winning your case?

Unlike students or teachers who will be stationed in “temporaries” for 180 to 190 days each school year, most citizen interaction with the courthouse is very fleeting. If more room is needed for awaiting jurors—why not roll in a trailer? More room needed for clients to meet with their attorneys? Add a trailer. More room needed for ready-access file storage or the law library? Add more trailers.

No doubt the first objection by the big people to my simplistic solution will be “But it’s not safe!”

So just who is standing up for our CHILDREN’S safety???

It was certainly not the Administration, the judges, Clerk of the Court, Register of Wills or the Sheriff’s staff who testified that the new court facility was needed immediately, if not sooner. They and the attorneys in thousand dollar suits seem more interested in luxury facilities for themselves. While children are in trailers without bathroom facilities, even Appellate and visiting judges will get kitchenettes in their new courthouse suites!  Where’s the justice in that?!

Even if additional space IS needed, does it justify a new structure three times the size of the existing one? Obviously they’re thinking ahead to population growth. But what about school population growth? No one would ever argue for building a new school with more classrooms than will be needed for decades, just to let them sit vacant. Yet that appears to be the case with the new Courthouse.  Everything down to the filing cabinets, furniture, and copiers are included in the Courthouse plan for 8 judges, even though we have only 5 and have in fact been turned down for a 6th by the State due to a determination of a lack of need.

But wait. There’s more.  Although at no time was it said in a public meeting or included in a newspaper story, the Courthouse as described in the bill recently passed by the Council and signed by the Executive is just the beginning of a greater Civic Complex to be erected. I appreciated learning about the plan for two additional mega-buildings and 600 additional parking spaces at http://ecsmart.org/civic-complex . Surely the public has a right to be aware of long range plans which will involve great indebtedness.

So where ARE HoCo’s priorities? Clearly not really with school children….not when those trailer classrooms actually count toward ‘building capacity’ leaving us in a Catch 22 situation.  If trailer classrooms are counted just like brick and mortar classrooms when evaluating the need for additional brick and mortar schools, won’t we always appear to have adequate capacity—when we know that isn’t the case and that it is only getting worse with rapid over development???

Will our own state delegation continue to drag their feet on permitting HoCo to increase the school surcharge fees developers pay to help fund schools? Perhaps you should be asking that question at candidate forums….

IMHO we can’t afford the lofty new Courthouse and Civic Complex when school construction and rehabilitating Old Ellicott City are also such pressing big ticket items. If the Courthouse/Civic Complex can’t be delayed, re-conceptualized, or stopped by referendum, then perhaps we should at least convert the unused space in the new Courthouse to a magnet high school for students wanting to specialize in the practice of law that protects children from the powerful and influential Big People!

Ask yourself “Can I really afford to not pay closer attention to what is happening in my County?” Examine the voting records of candidates and the campaign contributions they accept from Big Money People who benefit from their inside tract positions—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

P.S. to taxpayers on the hook for the $459 million+ court house : How come you will also have to pay to park at the new Courthouse? I sure hope the daily rate will be set at less than the stipend provided for serving on jury duty!

 

#WeFloodToo

#WeFloodToo

The title #WeFloodToo first came to mind as I sat in the County Council meeting at which the one year building moratorium for Ellicott City was being discussed. (The #MeToo movement was still having a positive impact.) I felt it was significant that people from communities outside of Ellicott City where also commenting on the flooding in their own neighborhoods. The Valley Mede neighborhood was particularly hard hit. Again. I commented that anything learned about over-development’s effects in the Tiber watershed should also be applied to the rest of the County, because in fact, flooding is NOT a feature exclusive to Old Ellicott City.

Friday was the start of another long holiday weekend, not unlike the 2018 Memorial Day weekend. Here in the southeastern part of the county it was ushered in by torrential rain, accumulating several inches in under an hour, causing flooding throughout numerous communities. It wasn’t until I got a message from my daughter with photos of flooding at Guilford Road and Mary Lane that I realized the seriousness. Soon after I started seeing more photos and postings on Facebook about flooding occurring on roads, in yards, and in basements. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think, “Here we go again” and “I hope Ellicott City isn’t getting THIS.”

It’s hard not to think of Old Ellicott City ANYTIME it rains. But it is also appropriate to think of one’s own home and community, of friends living in low lying areas, of parcels recently stripped of trees and vegetation…….and of the many signs announcing pre-submission hearings for additional development.

When I saw pictures of the flooding at Guilford Road and Mission Road—‘the worst yet’ as described by a resident—I was particularly upset. https://www.facebook.com/jeff.walters.359/videos/10212687945889636/?t=13

I progressed to anger hearing there was also flooding at Mission and Route 1 and by the railroad bridge over Mission, just past where acres and acres of forest have been cleared for housing that will flank our proposed High School #13.  The gentleman posting the video said “It appears that the sediment pond they built has overflown and partially collapsed and is spilling onto Mission Rd. Heavy silt in the water.” This will ultimately finds its way to the Little Patuxent River.

I certainly hope the County plans to correct these issues BEFORE school children are unable to either get to or return home from school safely.  If this isn’t the poster child for a need to correct our development regulations and to take controlling storm water seriously, I don’t know what is!

But wait there’s more.  Not far away is the construction site for a storage building along the Little Patuxent. Local citizens strongly opposed the permitting without any public notice of a facility whose entrance interrupts a portion of the Patuxent Branch trail, used for decades by area residents. For brevity here I will direct you to https://www.facebook.com/groups/FriendsGuilfordHistory/ , but will share  photos taken by Wayne Davis which illustrate HoCo’s cavalier attitude toward commercial development adjacent to a flood plain and a branch of the Little Patuxent River.

Heavily silted stormwater flows from the construction site on to the roadway trail. It crosses and flows into the river which is just to the right of the cones and the vegetation.

 

 

 

 

Clearly no other area of HoCo has faced the repeated level of death and destruction as has OEC (to my knowledge).  This makes one hesitant to say anything about the need for attention to storm water generated by overdevelopment elsewhere.  However we must admit the damaging effects of storm water resulting from HoCo’s addiction to dense development if we are to improve the situation. There is no easy Narcan fix, no antidote to the desire for more and more tax income. HoCo officials seek doses of greater and greater density, even knowing that it depletes our public facilities and emaciates our quality of life. The acceptance of ‘campaign contributions’ from developers feeds the addiction. Admitting the problem and making behavioral change is essential for what will doubtless be a long and difficult recovery. But we MUST begin now.

Fortunately the Patuxent, Middle Pax, and Little Pax don’t flood destructively frequently within the borders of Howard County. There have however been deaths at locations one doesn’t necessarily think of as ‘the river,’ such as South Entrance Road and Rt. 29.  Residents of Savage remember vividly when Hurricane Agnes resulted in the destruction of the Foundry Street Bridge and when water has engulfed US1.

 

 

Those of us in Savage worry during each heavy rain about a resident whose home sits along the river. On the May weekend when OEC was destroyed, thankfully only her driveway was destroyed. I don’t know how I would have reacted to finding FISH on MY driveway! I was happy to share these photos with the Council.

Historically, Howard County, like much of Maryland, has made two very large mistakes regarding the management of storm water. First, throughout the era of the construction of Columbia, the approach was to get storm water away from developed properties and off to rivers as quickly as possible. (This speed has resulted in the erosion of streambanks necessitating costly remediation.)  Next, the ‘NEW’ storm water regulations demanded water be kept on a newly developed property, to be cleaned before it flowed elsewhere.  If the retention, bio retention, or micro-bio retention facilities function correctly, it is cleaned water that will still flow down steep slopes, picking up sediment and debris on its way through the watershed. Channels continue to fill in without dredging and attention. Culverts become blocked without attention. The substitution of impervious roofs, roads, sidewalks, etc. for open spaces of pervious fields and forests, places us literally on the path to destruction. We must wake up to the reality that we cannot be lenient in our approval of SW Management plans.

Flooding is one issue, but the health of our rivers is equally important. The Patuxent (Pax) River watershed occupies over 2/3 of this County, yet it is generally the Patapsco which gets the most attention. For several decades the Pax, which originates here in HoCo has had a D- rating.  In 1980 the Counties to the south of us along the Pax insisted the state protect them from the pollution which Howard County created and sent downstream. (How embarrassing!) The State legislature authorized the creation of a Patuxent River Commission to protect the health of the river. Currently, the political power of developers in HoCo is threatening the Patuxent River Commission (PRC) itself, pressuring to eliminate the Commission’s ability to comment on private development regarded as deleterious to the watershed. (How embarrassing!)

You can read more on the situation at http://paxriverkeeper.org/the-only-state-river-commission-in-maryland-just-blinked/  Please consider signing the petition at http://paxriverkeeper.org/petition/ to show you care about the health of the Pax River and the future of the PRC—as well as its commission members who attempted to advise the HoCo Planning Board and Council on a most egregious case.

Insist that everyone throughout the County should be safe from uncontrolled storm water caused by uncontrolled development. Look carefully at which candidates are likely to put developers’ interests above the safety of residents—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

 

Who Let the Dog’s Out?

Who Let the Dog’s Out?

Writing about the Council’s special session from last week may help me work through the emotions it evoked. By the time this blog concludes you should have a better understanding of why it seems heavily “dog-oriented’ and I should be able to, if not ‘let it go’, at least learn from it.

[Many readers may reflexively connect Who Let the Dogs Out? to the 2000 hit recording by Baha Men popularized locally by Ravens football. But the expression actually has multiple origins and I will suggest inquiring minds check Google for more in depth info.]

There is a long history of the Council having a very full agenda of critical bills during the ‘Dog Days of Summer’, prior to their August recess. I’ve come to think of it as the time for Summer Political Theatre. While citizen participation is always high, there is nevertheless a significant portion of citizens away on vacation who miss their opportunity to provide testimony.  Activists are quite aware that some Council members act as if what citizens are saying is spoken in frequencies outside normal human hearing capability. (Perhaps they are pretending that citizens are testifying in a frequency only dogs can hear.)

Ultimately, despite additional July legislative hearings and work sessions business always seems frightfully rushed. This year was certainly no exception and it was further complicated by the Administration moving up the schedule on the Courthouse financing bill, CB54. Some have questioned the coincidence of this occurring precisely when an activist began multiple public information requests because of concerns about the validity of need, location selection, companies benefiting and bidding procedures.

The answer to Who Let the Dogs Out? depends on whether one is considering a literal or a figurative connotation. The literal involves actually freeing dogs from a room, house, or enclosure and the figurative relates more to looking like or acting like a dog in a derogatory sense, suggesting one acts no better than dogs. I intend NO insult to dogs in my comments. I too am a HUGE dog lover, especially of rescued dogs whose loyalty to, protection of, and caring for their human family is unparalleled.

Starting with a literal example……Rambunctious dogs are often put in a spare room or separate fenced area when company comes. If someone lets them loose, it would be asked directly who had (inadvertently/ accidentally or thoughtlessly/ inconsiderately) let the dogs out. A lack of attention to detail (like failing to close a door or gate completely) or simple haste might also result in dogs being able to run free, potentially bringing harm to themselves or others. The Council appears to have greenlighted CB-59, the P3 arrangement for the new courthouse, without fully understanding it. In my opinion, they showed both haste and a lack of attention to detail. They valued speed over detail. Did they sacrifice time and accountability that is due their existing office to campaigning for the next? Did the Executive simply trust his staff and friends in business without truly looking over the details?  Was everyone just focused on fast action to assure their names will appear on the brass plate in the new courthouse?

Through their action/inaction they figuratively unleashed the mythological dogs of war, ‘allowing a bad thing to enter the world without restraint.’ In this case, the dogs of P3 (Public/Private Partnership for the Courthouse construction financing) were released to join the pack of wild TIFs (Tax Increment Financing Plans for downtown Columbia and others). I fear this combined ‘pack of dogs’ may haunt the County’s financial future for decades.

It is the job of watch dogs, of all shapes and sizes to pay attention and to alert us to threats, real or perceived. Sometimes it takes maintaining a close eye or ear—or sniffing things out. Our Council members, Executive, and County employees have a similar role. Yet when it comes to the courthouse, I’m not confident everyone earned their kibble. Issues which should have been obvious, appear to have gotten by them.

It was startling to have the Council learn only days before the final vote that the new facility was going to be THREE times the size of the existing one, despite HC not even qualifying for an additional judge. Was this size specified in the RFP? Is so, why? If not, why weren’t the proposals directed to a more reasonable size given costs for both construction and maintenance would relate directly to square feet involved.  Is this a continuation of the County’s ‘Edifice Complex’ where each subsequent building has to exceed the previous in costs and features? 

Only Council Members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa voted to table the bill, as citizens requested, in order to get clarification on multiple issues. Having already passed bills and resolutions carefully constructed by the Administration to pave the way for CB 54, four of the Council members clearly simply wanted to be done with it.  Dr. Ball was ultimately the sole dissenting vote on the bill. From my perspective, the other Council members are all in the doghouse.

So why is my brain seemingly stalled on references to dogs since Friday’s meeting? The explanation is simple. As if I didn’t already feel like someone had shot my dog, in addition to the disappointing vote on the courthouse debacle there came disappointing votes on the ethics bill (only to do the bare minimum required by state deadline, the rest tabled), repealing the mobile home site rental tax (tabled for financial need info), amending requirements for development on scenic roads (tabled to stall), extension of the planned service area for Erickson development opening the west to additional development (passed). If it weren’t for the passage of the delay in permits for the Tiber and Plumtree watersheds the session would have been a real dog.

Before concluding the session, CB39 referring to specifying sheltering, tethering and other animal control regulations was removed from the table in time to assure the bill didn’t expire.  The amount of time, effort, and attention to detail from citizen input that went into revising this DOG BILL  was MANY, MANY TIMES greater than that applied to the 452 MILLION DOLLAR+ COURTHOUSE DEAL. The contrast was so striking!!!  One must conclude that clearly HoCo is going to the dogs.  Or is it that our politicians fear the backlash of the large dog (owner) vote more than they fear the minute proportion of voters knowledgeable about the complexity of the courthouse decision……?

I’ll conclude by adding that it disturbs me that a new 21 firm entity, each with its own staffs and subcontractors will carry out the design, construction and 30 years of maintenance for the new courthouse. Prior to this new experimental way of creating a building, County staff was accountable to the public to administer and supervise such tasks.  It reminds me of the advice, “Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself’ which means “Don’t pay someone to do a task and then do it yourself.” County folks will still be involved (one would hope) in assuring that contractual arrangements are met.

While most of the Council offhandedly negated my concerns, it is reassuring to receive private communications from persons with lots of experience bidding, negotiating, and building federal and state projects. Their conclusions provide affirmation of my thought process and concerns. They too are concerned about the cost of the courthouse, and more importantly – the process chosen to design, build and finance the work. They conclude “In the method they’ve chosen the county has decided it doesn’t want to manage the work.  They’ve chosen not to manage the risk.  But what they have chosen in this process is for Howard County Taxpayers to pay for this decision.   They have chosen the most expensive method to build a project.  It  also requires the least amount of government oversight. Something doesn’t seem quite right to me in this process.”

To the others out there who share this concern, only time will tell. For now all we can do is commit to continued vigilance, to laser focused attention and oversight. But we can at least take some time to recharge during August, doggone happy that no additional potentially harmful new legislation can be passed for the month the Council is away on break,

Evaluate all candidates and office holders on their likelihood to pay attention to constituents and to the details of matters before them—and meet me on the high road,

Susan