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Theater of the Absurd HoCo Style

Theater of the Absurd HoCo Style

How come last Monday’s County Council meeting came off like a selection from the Theatre of the Absurd?  Allow me to play the role of drama critic and provide you with a synopsis.

The production was long in the making and highly awaited….as in years (Mulching/composting bill, CB60, was invalidating a hard fought earlier bill with which people were happy just 3 years ago. The new APFO CB61 had been a campaign promise from the 2014 election!)

The Show Must Go On…….but apparently not on time.  Citizens had once again inhaled or skipped their dinners and risked life and limb through Route 29 traffic to be in their seats when the curtain went up at 7:00 pm.  Only the curtain didn’t go up until 8:15. Council members were either still negotiating or rehearsing the lines that were to support their upcoming arguments or express their deep regret.

Regrettably, during this ‘down time’ citizens could not partake in either of the following:

  • A hot beverage.  Not available anywhere in the George Howard Building but needed to warm one’s hands in the frigid Banneker Room and to provide caffeine for the long night ahead) [As an aside, if hot beverage vending machines can’t be added to the first floor lobby, how come we can’t let scout troops or booster clubs take turns selling beverages during Council sessions??]
  • Declaring the winner of the pool. (The “How many police will be present for this evening’s contentious votes” pool.) Apparently they heard us betting while we were in our cars and they decided to ruin our fun….by appearing in plain clothes.  Yes, if you attend enough Council meetings, work sessions, etc. you can ‘pick them out of a line-up’ so to speak, even when not in uniform.

Like all good theatre there were protagonists and antagonists, tag team style in this case.  In the striped trunks were Council members Fox and Sigaty and in the solid trunks were Council members Ball and Terrasa.  Council Chair Weinstein had the unenviable dual role of referee and of tie-breaker.  He sided with the striped team during mulching/composting amendment votes and with the solid team during the APFO amendment votes.

So as not to appear to be imitating the U.S. Congress there were a few amendments that actually received affirmative votes from all.

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2892 links to the 30 pages of votes on the mulching/composting amendments and

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2890 links to the 50 pages of votes on the APFO amendments

Just when the ‘audience’ was feeling that some monologues were going on endlessly and the clock was about to strike 12, several developer ‘players’ in the audience took photos of the Council and photos of the clock striking midnight. They apparently thought the bill would turn into a pumpkin at that moment and free them to keep operating as usual. You see THEY had pre-calculated that the legislation would die if a vote wasn’t taken before midnight—and promptly left.  Ahhhhaa, but ALL were foiled again.  Under our complicated system for a 125 day deadline from time of introduction to time of vote, the Bills had actually died on midnight of Sunday, rather than Monday!  With the votes invalidated, the session had actually been nothing more than a very long dress rehearsal.

Earliest opinions are that the Amazing Amendments show will now have to go ‘off Broadway’ with CB60 Mulching going back to the Planning Board since it originated as a Zoning Map Amendment (ZRA). CB61 APFO and all of its amendments which ‘passed’ will hopefully be reintroduced in January. Tic Tock. No new legislation can be introduced in December. Hopefully APFO will be reintroduced as it had been amended, rather than starting over.

I really don’t want to be a season ticket holder to see this through. (We’ve been through several seasons already!) Here’s hoping this whole production won’t get turned over to a new Council cast in December of 2018!

No theatre review would be complete without a nomination for best leading actor.  In my opinion the hands down super star for her effort composing amendments in response to citizen testimony—and standing her ground– goes to my Council 3 Member, Jen Terrasa.  (She also issued an excellent summary of all the amendments to help citizens follow along in the complex process that was incredibly helpful.)  Council Member Ball gets my vote for best supporting actor as his support for Ms. Terrasa’s many amendments was crucial.

Really good theatrical productions leave the audience thinking as they return home. I personally struggled with replaying the ending scene where, rather like a Greek tragedy, the audience was warned of impending doom. This doom was to result from passage of the amendment to limit school capacity to 105% for elementary, 110% for middle and 115% for high schools.  As a result, beginning with 2020 almost all of the County will be closed to new development.  A thinking person might ask, “But wait, doesn’t that assume that HoCo will NOT build ANY additional schools?”

Somehow our neighboring counties manage to open a new school a year or even multiple schools in a single year. Why can’t the 4th richest County in the nation do the same?  I’m guessing it has something to do with priorities……….coupled with the low fees developers are charged…….and the insane belief that somehow residential growth will ever pay for itself.

It’s just amazing how with the pressure of APFO, increased exponentially by looming redistricting, the County Executive was able to move up opening a high school by 2 years and purchase an additional school site in Turf Valley.

Keep the pressure up—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

WHAT NEW HELL IS THIS?

WHAT NEW HELL IS THIS?

As much as I’ve searched the past few weeks to find something positive to write about, I find myself inundated with a plethora of what one might simply call bad news–on seemingly every front. It’s enough to get even the most optimistic souls down.

What’s hellish about this non-stop barrage of I-can’t-believe-it-just-gets-worse-and-worse with each news account, webpage press release, social media posting, etc. is the underlying fact that we shouldn’t believe it. The highly educated and engaged population of HoCo can’t believe it and hence feels betrayed. By ‘it’ I mean the spin, the half-truths, and the outright lies which are undermining our faith in County government—its leaders and its employees.  Allow me to highlight some of the biggest Whoppers being fed to we citizens who are treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed manure—not all of which is locally produced, but seemingly ‘trucked in’ in industrial proportions.)

There are numerous issues fraught with distortion and bias, but I’ll just pick some examples from the top issues from my perspective on the eve of some Monumental Decisions by our council members tomorrow night, November 6th.

School Redistricting Whopper.

We citizens appear to have been fed a steady diet of untruths or of incomplete facts. We have been led to believe that the under capacity schools in the West could accommodate all of the students from our over capacity schools in the East.  For example students from Manor Woods Elementary, rather than skipping over to Bushy Park Elementary, could be shifted in theory to the closer West Friendship Elementary. I say in theory because while West Friendship sits at only 81% capacity, in reality it is at full capacity as far as its septic system is considered. The same is true for other schools in the West.

What new hell would it be for Howard County students to trade needing to receive their instruction in never-really-temporary trailer classrooms for needing to use outdoor portapotties at brick and mortar buildings???—after long commutes competing with immense truck traffic on interstates and/or on rural roads.  Now that’s the stuff of which nightmares are made!  Somehow I don’t think highly taxed parents are going to accept that kind of scenario after the many sacrifices they have made in order to purchase homes in certain neighborhoods so that their children can avail themselves of the best quality schools. Neither the reputation of our schools—nor the political careers of our leaders can survive that.

APFO Whopper.

School redistricting is of course necessitated by run-away development without builders contributing what our surrounding jurisdictions would consider their fair share toward the cost of new schools. The development community and the Department of Planning and Zoning have asked citizens to believe that it is not actually new home construction that is overburdening our schools. We’re told that the problem lies with students being generated by home resales instead.

However, one learns that DPZ only counts children who are of school-age at the moment their parents settle on the newly constructed house as having been ‘generated’ from new home construction. Seriously? Seriously.

If that new home buyer doesn’t have a school-age child at the very moment they move in, then somehow any subsequent children of school age which they produce simply don’t ‘count’ under the current data system. It’s hard to believe that a developer wasn’t behind that kind of math when proffering “It’s not my fault the schools are overcrowded. I shouldn’t have to pay a penny more. I should be allowed to build unimpeded regardless of whether the local schools impacted by my new development are already at 115% or 120% of capacity or infinitely at the high school level.”   How many couples wait until they’re able to purchase a home in order to start a family? Or alternately it’s not until children are preschool-age that the pressure to be in the Correct school district heightens.

Mulching/Composting (with food and animal waste at an industrial scale on farmland) Whopper with Cheese.

Where to even begin on this one???  The public trust was broken the moment CB 60 was penned since ‘the issue’ was thought to have been settled after the hard fought battle which produced CB20. Citizens shouldn’t have to revisit and resume the fight to protect their children from large trucks on rural roads, or their wells, health and air quality for 3 years+. Nor should citizens be bullied by Council member(s) who consider themselves omniscient and refuse to hear from expert witnesses who may present testimony which disagrees with their plans to assist certain land owners. Are we expected to believe that farmers must be free to do whatever is necessary to increase their income even when it threatens the health and safety of residents nearby?

The issue is far greater than industrializing preserved farm land.  There must be adequate protections for those living near industrial areas in the East as well since HoCo has promoted residential development shoulder to shoulder with industrial. It’s amazing how the County can pretend covered operations are not feasible when Anne Arundel County has done so near the Laurel Race Track within a mile of the HC border.  Protecting the health and safety of the citizenry takes a back seat again…….but not without consequences.

The HC citizenry has awakened to the issues above.  Compromise on amendments and plan rewrites are definitely in order. But I predict that the citizenry will not tolerate being ‘sold a bill of goods.’  As I have stated previously, there is transparency and then there is transparency.

Always be prepared to lift your feet (or save your watch) if it gets too deep—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

You spoke. But who listened?

You spoke. But who listened?

How come when many citizens spoke on APFO, some County Council members were better listeners than others?

There will be another Council Work Session on Monday, October 23 at 4:30 pm in the George Howard Building. This time it will be devoted to discussion of proposed AMENDMENTS to the Adequate Public Facilities bill.  By copying the link http://cc.howardcountymd.gov/Portals/0/Scanned%20Draft%20Amendments.pdf you will see a summary chart as well as the actual amendments submitted.

Spend a moment with the chart. Analyze how many amendments were submitted by each Council Member and I think you will quickly see who listened and responded to the requests by citizens, the School Board, the Teacher’s union, etc……and who put developer interests above taxpayers.  [If you are not yet conversant in the initials:  JT= Jen Terrasa, District 3; CB=Calvin Ball, District 2; JW=Jon Weinstein, District 1; MKS= Mary Kay Sigaty, District 4; GF=Greg Fox, District 5; AK=Allan Kittleman, Co. Exec.]

You can read and analyze the proposed amendments in their entirety.  If you have some ideas for amendments to amendments please share them with your Council Member ASAP.  Watch the Worksession at http://cc.howardcountymd.gov/Online-Tools/Watch-Us if you are unable to attend in person.  If you do plan to attend just beware:  the session is once again scheduled to be held in the limited seating of the C. Vernon Gray Room.

Examine who is responsive to citizen testimony and who is ‘just above it all’ when you listen to the Work Session conversation and debate on the 23rd — and meet me on the high road,

Susan

 

THERE’S TRANSPARENCY… AND THEN THERE’S TRANSPARENCY

THERE’S TRANSPARENCY… AND THEN THERE’S TRANSPARENCY

There is the kind of transparency citizens seek and welcome from their government. Examples of such would be open meetings, regular town hall sessions, plentiful opportunities for citizen input through meaningful participation BEFORE the decisions are made and already being acted upon.

The other kind of transparency which seems increasingly common and is most unwelcomed is the transparency of motives and actions which elected officials apparently think we are incapable of seeing through.  Examples of this transparency were outlined in http://howcome.md/inquiring-minds-want-to-know/ yesterday such as scheduling work sessions in too small a room and at an inconvenient time to keep attendance down.  Another example is the way some Council Members are very transparent during Council Legislative Hearings. They regularly employ the practice of only asking questions of those in support of their bill so that individual can talk favorably for an extended period of time, well beyond the 3 minute limit.

I’d actually planned to follow-up tonight with some of the revelations from last Monday’s Council Work Session dealing with the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) specifically schools, roads, and healthcare.  However, it appears that there will be additional work session discussion following the close of the October 2 Legislative Session and therefore NO VOTE will occur  Monday. (At least that is what we’ve been led to believe.)

Unfortunately the same is not the case for CB-60 establishing industrial mulching and industrial composting with materials that include the trucking in of food waste and animal mortality. While five hours of the September 25 Work Session was devoted to discussion on CB61/62 for APFO, only 85 minutes was devoted to CB60 despite 2 task forces and citizens activism for 3 and a half years. Of the 85 minutes, 70 minutes were occupied by DPZ’s slide presentation on the proposed amendments and supporting comments from Jeff Danis, who runs the Alpha Ridge mulch facility.

Apparently that presentation by DPZ was the first time Councilmembers Terrasa and Ball were made aware of the proposed amendments. Is there not transparency between the administration and ALL of the Council Members!?  Or among the Council members themselves?? (Apparently not, as the same two were also also left out of the loop by the C.E. altering the Columbia TIF to redirect over half of the $90 million funding that was originally allocated to the garage.)  But wait…it gets worse.

On Mon Oct 2, the County Council will do something highly unusual. At the scheduled Legislative Session, following the Introduction of New Legislation, the Council has scheduled a “Recess for Work Session on Council Bill 74-2017, Council Resolution 124-2017, and Council Bill 60-2017,” immediately followed by a vote on CB60. All this instead of adding continued discussion of CB60 to the next scheduled County Work Session. Why the rush, you might ask?

John Tegeris, President of the Dayton Rural Preservation Society and a champion of the cause has speculated “During the Sept 25 Work Session, Councilmembers Terrasa and Ball were asking hard questions related to our health and safety concerns. Those questions were answered ambiguously, flippantly, or not at all. It seems that Councilmembers Sigaty and Fox may have noticed that our health and safety concerns were being taken seriously, and in an effort to not lose more ground on their position, they have pushed for an immediate vote on their bill.”

I encourage you to link to Tegeris’ full letter to better understand citizens’ concerns about the health risks inherent in the proposed industrial scale processing to be permitted throughout the County.  NO HEALTH ASSESSMENT has been done by any appropriately qualified employee of the County, yet Council Members Sigaty and Fox continue to dispute any testimony by experts, as for example, to the fact that wood waste is a carcinogen, that ground water supplies will be contaminated, and that airborne toxic and infectious agents can be spread for great distances. Surely it was pure coincidence that noted Hopkins physician and researcher, Dr. Velculescu, planning to share his expertise on the topic never got the opportunity.  He had to leave on other business after waiting 3 hours beyond the time he was told to appear at the September 25 meeting.

I can’t adequately summarize or restate any better, so I urge you to go to http://www.preservedayton.com/letter-from-president when you finish reading this blog.

I’m confident you will agree “It is the responsibility of all Council members elected to uphold the trust and faith placed in them by the people they represent, and to give adequate time and consideration to ensure that quality of life, health and safety is protected for everyone. The potential impact of CB60 is so extreme that it deserves the benefit of full consideration, without being rushed to a vote.

We must all wonder why CB60 is being rushed and squeezed through the process, and with unorthodox measures.  We must also ask why one proposed administration amendment will enable an owner/operator to not be compliant with regulations for two years?  I think the public ‘can see through’ that one.

Mr. Tegeris concludesWe will hope miracles happen on Oct 2, but if they do not, we will start to focus our attention on the elections to put new, better leaders in office and for whatever else lies ahead to keep fighting for our health, safety and quality of life.”

Follow Mr. Tegeris’ recommended Call to Action. Don’t let politics rule where science should—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Inquiring Minds Want to Know……

Inquiring Minds Want to Know……

How come there were so many opportunities to ask how come this week?  For starters:  How come Monday’s Council Work Session was made so inconvenient for citizens to observe in person?  Was it done purposefully?  You decide.

While I was only able to attend the first two and a half hours of what turned out to be an eight and a half hour endurance session, clearly the length of the Work Session is indicative of the importance of and conflict over the current legislation under consideration.

In a nutshell the biggest topics were APFO (the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance-and how it relates to redistricting; mulching and composting regulations with serious consequences for both the west and the east; and repeal of the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) deal for Howard Hughes to develop downtown Columbia now that the previously ‘critical’ parking lot has been eliminated. All of these topics sparked LARGE citizen participation at the legislative hearings and through on-line testimony for months.

So how come the Work Session was scheduled for 3:00 in the afternoon in the C. Vernon Gray Room? The CVG Room has an audience capacity of somewhere around 48, if the chairs are packed in so tightly that once one is in their seat they cannot exit— unless they weigh 99 pounds and work part time as a contortionist. Many of those four dozen seats were occupied by staff and by persons cherry picked to provide input.

Because it took me so long to find a parking space and then to hike uphill to the ground floor entrance of the Banneker building, I had the distinction of being the first person to be turned away due to the room being ‘at capacity’. I wondered how come there were five uniformed policemen in the glass-enclosed lobby outside the CVG Room to stop me and subsequent citizens who had made the trek? How come I was directed to the Banneker Room to watch the work session on a big screen— at first by myself and then shortly thereafter joined by a few others……..accompanied by two of the policemen, presumably to ‘maintain order’ there as well?

The Banneker room, which probably seats 300+, had pre-printed signs attached to the open doors indicating that it was the location for overflow seating for the Work Session.  Now if it was believed that the CVG room wouldn’t be adequate to hold an outpouring of citizens interested in observing the session first hand, how come it simply wasn’t scheduled for the Banneker room in the first place???

Had there been actual physical threats or was the Council simply feeling threatened by the recent increase in engagement by the public?

I later gained entrance to the session by bopping back to the hallway outside the glass enclosed lobby and inquiring whether I could enter when the current speaker left.  While waiting I overheard one of the thoughtful officers on duty questioning ‘Why on Earth?’ had they been assigned there. He further pondered why, if indeed the public was already upset by the legislation, would the Council further aggravate the public by excluding us from eye to eye (albeit silenced) participation?

Indeed. How come so many County resources were being wasted???– the time and talents of the policemen, staff supporting A-V systems in two locations, and the electricity consumed in lighting and over air-conditioning two rooms rather than one.

How come there was such blatant disregard for citizens’ time and efforts???– making the drive, altering child care routines, altering work schedules, missing family meals, etc. when topics anticipated to be discussed at a certain time were actually discussed many, many hours later?  How come discussion of hot button school related concerns were scheduled at precisely the time moms would be getting kids off the bus?

And how come on Tuesday night the County Executive’s quarterly Town Hall held in North Laurel was, for the first time, limited to a single topic: health care?  Health care in a County with a burgeoning and aging population and with only a single hospital IS an important topic for the ENTIRE County. Limiting the topic of concern at regionally-held town halls does eliminate other concerns of local importance however.  Was this done purposefully?

How come there is such “estrangement” or “disconnect” between those elected to represent us and the actively engaged public?  For that matter, how come there is such obvious “estrangement” or “disconnect” between those elected to represent us and their own colleagues? How come so many ‘pending decisions’ seem to actually be anything but pending?

How come the natives are so restless?  Could it be that it has become too obvious that sides have already been taken and the usual ‘winners’ will win yet again?  Can our well educated population no longer be fooled by manipulated statistics and data?  Will the weary old guard of Government Watchers be renewed by the new troops joining the fight?

Are we approaching that ‘tipping point’ I predicted where citizen dissatisfaction over declines in our quality of life can no longer wisely be ignored?  Watch and see. Watch and see—even when only allowed to observe.

Be there to look ‘em in the eye when they take their votes—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

P.S.  Remember that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement!