Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scene This Week In...

Jessie and I connected on some weird coffee shop vibe this week. I had decided to do a post about the Starbucks Café in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City. I needed to park someplace for a hour before I went back to my daughters elementary school. This bookstore is my favorite local bookstore and one of my least favorite coffee shops. The staff is friendly enough but the wifi costs four bucks for two hours. At 9:30 AM on a Thursday morning the place was dead.

I am willing to bet that was not the case in downtown EC. As previously reported here and further confirmed in today’s post on Hometown Columbia, the place to grab coffee and free wifi connection in Ellicott City is the Bean Hollow coffee shop. On the other hand, Bean Hollow isn’t a very good bookstore.

The Scene This Week in Columbia is the sculpture “When The Wind Comes.” I was driving through Thunder Hill last weekend when I noticed this large sculpture in front of Thunder Hill elementary school. The plaque at the base of the sculpture identifies the sculptor as Rodney Carroll and indicates that it was erected in 2000.

I love discovering stuff like this. When I was a senior at Wilde Lake High School one of my best friends lived in a house directly across the street from the school. I was in that neighborhood all the time. It was fun to drive through it again and discover this piece of public art.

The 30th Annual

Last week I received a mailing for the 30th annual Clyde’s American 10K race in Columbia. Today I’m filling out the application and sending in the check. Of course that will only mean that I am “signed up” for the race. That doesn’t necessarily mean I will actually run in it. I do have certain limits.

Still, I have always looked at this race as a way to gauge how I fared through the winter. I don’t run against anybody but me. Running in the middle to the back of the pack doesn’t bother me at all. I’m just happy to participate with all the other 1,200 or so runners. Simply finishing this race is its own sweet reward.

This year’s race will be held on Sunday, April 20th right in Town Center. The course takes runners through Town Center, around the mall, up to Fairway Hills golf course and out to Route 108, then it's up to Centennial Park and back down through Running Brook to the finish line at the pedestrian bridge back in Town Center. It’s a hilly course.

It is fun though and Clyde’s puts out a nice spread of food and beverages after the race.

Last year the weather was awful; rain, wind, cold, but the race still went on. Look for those sporting 29th annual t-shirts this year. They will be wearing them with pride.

I, on the other hand, happen to think that they’re just a little nuts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Moving Day

They are dismantling the office cubes around me. My laptop is perched on a recycling bin laying on the top step of a step stool. I am hoping I can keep this chair for just a little longer.

My company is moving today. Actually, we will be moving over the next three days. After 10 years in the BWI Business District we are moving to new offices in Columbia on Dobbin Road.

It will be good to be back in Columbia. Ironically, the space we are moving into is the same space that my old firm occupied about 17 years ago. You stick around here long enough and you can end up back you started.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Barbarians at the Gate

I attended the Columbia Association Board of Directors Planning & Strategy Committee last night. I went to show my support for increasing the annual contribution that CA makes to the Columbia Festival of the Arts. For as long as I can remember, the CA contribution to festival has remained static at $95,000.00. This money is used primarily to help fund the free, three day LakeFest program of the sixteen day festival.

This year, the Board of Trustees of the festival requested a $15,000 increase from CA. As I have previously written, this years fundraising for the festival has been directly impacted by the slowing economy. Festival volunteers are pulling out all stops to make up for the shortfall. The request to CA was one of these ongoing efforts.

First, the good news; CA will not reduce this years contribution. That was actually proposed by Councilperson Cynthia Coyle (Harpers Choice). After watching Ms. Coyle in action last night I can honestly say that she is either the dimmest bulb on the council or simply an obstructionist. Councilperson Coyle and Councilperson Barbara Russell believe that the festival is “flush with cash.” They believe this because they erroneously misinterpreted a contribution made to the festival from The Rouse Company Foundation.

The foundation made a contribution to an endowment for the festival in lieu of continuing to make annual gifts. The object was to establish something more long term to insure the festivals long term survival. The intent is for this endowment to produce an annual income that would be equal to the previous annual gifts. Unfortunately because the endowment fund has not actually earned much money yet (it was only established this year), this had the resultant effect of actually reducing the amount of money that the festival would have received this year from the foundation. Instead of being “flush with cash” the festival is like a Columbia homeowner. Our home is worth more on paper than it would be in readily available cash. That is hardly being “flush with cash.”

Both Ms. Coyle and Ms. Russell said they got their information from “the newspaper.” A statement from Steve Sachs, the former chair of the festival Board of Trustees detailing the facts of The Rouse Company Foundation gift was read by CA president, Maggie Brown, at the meeting. The statement claimed that the CA board members had injured the festival fundraising efforts by these statements. Both Ms. Coyle and Ms Russell remained unapologetic for their previous statement and simply reiterated that they believed what they had read in “the paper.”

The bad news is that the CA Board voted 5 to 4 to deny an increase in the annual contribution. Those voting against the increase along with Ms. Coyle and Ms Russell were Councilpersons Evan Coren (Kings Contrivance), Phillip Kirsch (Wilde Lake), and Henry Dagenais (Long Reach). Evan Coren, who also chaired this particular committee was blatantly pandering to both Coyle and Russell all evening, not just on this issue. It was quite obvious to the very small audience (less than five people including myself) that Coyle, Russell, Kirsch and Coren are all under the influence of the Alliance for A Better Columbia. I am beginning to question what a “better Columbia” actually means to these people. I don’t think it looks like any place I’d want to be.

It wasn’t all bad. There are good people on the board too. There just aren’t enough of them. Last night the festival friends were Tom O’Connor (Dorsey’s Search), Miles Coffman (Hickory Ridge), Pearl Atkinson-Stewart (Owen Brown) and Michael Cornell (River Hill). After listening for an hour and a half to the discussions about staff salaries, the sister city program (it now has some new multi cultural name) and the festival funding request, I would have to categorize these four councilpersons as the guardians at the gate. We are very lucky to have them on the council. Right now they are outnumbered and it is getting harder to hold back the barbarian hordes.

Just my opinion of course. Still, I challenge anyone to attend a CA board committee meeting and draw your own conclusions. It is high drama of Columbia politics. This particular meeting even had a surreal nature to it. Ms. Russell was unable to attend in person (I know not why) but she was present on the speakerphone. I guess that is at least better than Gail Broida (Town Center) who was not in attendance at all (again I know not why).

The bottom line is that The Columbia Association has seemingly been taken over by a people are closely aligned with The Alliance for a Better Columbia. That should scare anyone who cares about Columbia.

The Alliance for a Better Columbia is a darling of the local papers. Alex Hekimian, the president of the organization is often portrayed by the papers as a spokesman of a leading community group. The problem for me is that this organization is basically Alex Hekimian. For at least fifteen years he has been the only president the organization has ever had. I would be very surprised if the ABC board of directors hadn’t changed that much in so many years either. I am willing to bet that their active membership does not exceed 300 people. Three hundred people led by one guy, having a major influence on the direction of an organization that touches the lives of the majority of people in Howard County. Scary.

Real citizen’s organizations have succession in leadership and dynamic boards. In this way they attempt to more accurately reflect a wider range of opinion and thought. That just ain’t happening at the ABC.

In my opinion of course. This is my blog after all. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it.

For those who agree, we need to do something. We need to do something big. We need to act soon before it is too late. The barbarians are at the gate. We are outnumbered.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Scene This Week In...

I try to carry my camera with me everywhere. It’s a slick little number that fits neatly into any pocket. This results in being presented with a greater number of photo opportunities.

I was walking down the steps towards Clyde’s yesterday when this black squirrel shoots out across the walk. He’s got a big old nut stuffed in his jaws. I thought, “Dam! I wished I had gotten a picture of that little bugger.” No sooner had that thought passed through my brain than the little bugger reappeared, less than four feet away with the nut still in the jaws. I think he was so proud of his large nut that he wanted me to take his picture.

What struck about this picture was the lack of cars in the parking lot. Go by the Worthington “Dog” Park anytime of the day and you are bound to see AT LEAST one car. Worthington Park is actually a collection of three separate fenced dog runs. Two are currently in operation while the third is undergoing turf repair. One of the runs is set aside for small and more “gentle” dogs while the other is dedicated to serving the more rambunctious canines. The park is located on Hillsborough Road just off New Cut Road in Ellicott City. It is a pretty happening place for dog people.

I have always wondered why there isn’t a dog park in Columbia. I can think of one area that would be perfect, the abandoned road bed of the old North Entrance Road in Town Center.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Call to Arms for the Arts

The Columbia Festival of the Arts needs your help. I know I’ve already made that pitch in this post but now the festival also needs your voice, particularly voices of those folks who live in CPRA lien assessed properties. This Thursday at 7:30 PM the CA Planning and Strategy Committee of the Columbia Association Board of Directors will be meeting to consider the festivals request for this years funding. The CA contribution to festival has always been earmarked for the free three day Lakefest festivities. So far, Councilpersons Miles Coffman (Hickory Ridge) and Tom O’Connor (Dorsey’s Search) have been supportive of the festivals request. Councilpersons Barbara Russell (Oakland Mills) and Cynthia Coyle (Harpers Choice) have been somewhat less so. Ms. Coyle has gone so far as to suggest that the CA contribution be reduced this year.

If you believe the Lakefest celebration is worthy of CA support the festival needs your help at this critical juncture. If you can spare the time please try and attend this meeting and let the CA board know how you feel.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It’s Good To Get Away

Mama Wordbones and I just returned from seven days in the British Virgin Islands or more specifically, Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda.

Little Dix Bay was created as one of the first “eco resorts” back in 1964. The buildings all blend in nicely with the environment (none is over two stories) and the majority of the land has been set aside as a permanent conservation easement. It was originally developed by Laurence Rockefeller in an attempt to preserve as much as the island as possible. If you like to hike and experience the natural beauty of a Caribbean island you won’t be disappointed in this place. There are no TV’s in the rooms.

It is a small place (population around 2,000) that is 1,600 miles from Baltimore yet we still met six people from Maryland while we were there.

Did y’all miss me?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Scene This Week In...

The Howard County Blogtail Hour came to Ellicott City this month. The local blogosphere landed at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. Jesse Newburn and Frank Hecker “sponsored” the gathering which was also attended by Bill Santos, David Wissing, Mike Morucci, Ed C., Cheri Beck, Susan Coghlan, and Mary Kate Murray. This auspicious gathering seemed appropriate for my Scene This Week in Ellicott City.
Before the blogtail hour I stopped by the mall for a haircut with long time Columbia barber, Wayne Shepard. Wayne has been a fixture in the mall for as long as I can remember. In the early days his shop was called Rex’s Place, today it is known as Cavallaro & Company. Wayne is another one of those long time Columbia residents who recently relocated to Ellicott City. That kind of makes him a poster child for this here blog.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Never Gonna Happen

A few months back I was standing in line for coffee at the Mad City Coffee stand in the main lobby of the Howard County General Hospital. In front of me in line was an African American male who appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies. Unprompted, he turned to me and asked “So who do you think is going to be our next president?”

“If I were a betting man I’d put my money on Barak Obama,” I replied.

“Never gonna happen,” he shot back.

I think about that response quite a bit these days. Keep in mind that this coffee line conversation occurred before the Iowa caucuses. Obamamania had not yet taken off. To this gentleman, the notion that our nation could embrace an African American as president was just too farfetched.

I initially believed that this was a generational thing. His generation had experienced the hard edge of race relations and discrimination for too long. His cynicism was well entrenched. My generation, though not that far behind him, grew up a bit more enlightened in this area, particularly in Columbia. For me, an African American president is very conceivable.

Columbia has always been a little ahead of the national curve in this regard. My first realization of this came when I went away to college in Cleveland. The campus was primarily white with very few minority students. It was a bit of a culture shock for a kid raised in Columbia. Today, John Carroll University is much more diverse than it was in 1973.

While we may live in an area that is progressive in race relations we are behind the times in how our primaries work. Maryland is a closed primary state meaning that participation in the primaries is largely limited to registered voters of the two parties. As a registered independent the only vote I can cast in the election on Tuesday is for the school board. It is time for Maryland to get with the program and open up its primaries to independents.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In This Months Business Monthly

I took a departure my usual commentary to make an unadulterated fundraising pitch for the 21st Annual Columbia Festival of the Arts. The festival needs some serious help this year.

You see, as much as some people like to beat up on the developers and the home builders in Howard County, they are the ones who have been disproportionately represented in sponsorships for the festival. As you may have noticed, the real estate business isn’t doing all that great lately. That in turn has had a negative impact on festival fundraising.

A few facts are in order here. The festival costs in excess of a million bucks. That doesn’t count the value of the time that the hundreds of volunteers add to the equation. In our business we call that leveraging up. The community gets a great deal. It gets a free three day Lakefest (which still puts the best stage at the lakefront), artists workshops and masters classes for the schools, a community art project (this year it’s the birdhouses), a parade, and world class performances in the intimate 700 seat Rouse Theatre.

Even if all the paid events sell out (which occurred about three times last summer) it would not cover the cost of the performances. Donations by corporations and individuals subsidize the entire sixteen day festival and keep ticket prices generally affordable. A business can participate for as little as five hundred bucks and an individual can “join” the festival for as little as fifty bucks and yes, membership does have its privileges.

In addition to the corporate and individual donors, the festival holds a raffle and a special fundraising event. Last year the fundraiser was a dinner in the Spear Center atop the General Growth Building in Town Center. The guest appearance last year was John Waters. It was a pretty wild evening.

This year’s fundraiser will be held on Friday May 9th in the Spear Center and will feature comedienne Paula Poundstone. The theme for the evening is Black Tie and Bling Bling. The entire sixteen day festival schedule will be made public in mid March.

If you could see a way to help the festival this year it would be greatly appreciated. You can contact Leigh Murphy at the festival office to learn how you can help. The festival office is located in Town Center at 5575 Sterrett Place, Suite 280. The phone number is (410) 715-3044.
Or drop me an email.

And to show that I put my “bones” where my words are, I have donated all of my 2008 income from the Business Monthly to the festival.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Requiem for the Tower

The site is stabilized, the deposit money is being returned and the sales center is now by appointment only. The Sun reported today that everyone who had a reservation with a deposit for the Plaza Residences would receive their deposit back. WCI will continue to honor the reservations.

“"We appreciate their patience as we look forward to the continued successful development of the Plaza Residences," Robert H. Grabner Jr., vice president/senior project manager of the tower division of WCI Mid-Atlantic U.S. Region Inc., said in a statement.”

They say the earliest the project could get going again would be around mid 2009. Of course this isn’t the result of any local pressure. The condominium market is taking the biggest hit in the housing downturn. Ironically, WCI may be thankful that the anti tower legislation and lawsuit held them up for awhile. Right now the last thing that company needs is unsold units.

Liz Bobo was even strangely compassionate in her quote. "It's an example right in our own community of the impact of the housing slump,"

How very insightful.