Monday, December 31, 2012

Conflicting Interests

Officials in Prince Georges county have adopted a sense of entitlement when it comes to the proposed new headquarters for the FBI. The county believes it has been short changed when it comes to sharing in the largess of federal government spending when compared to the other counties that border the nation’s capital. When the FBI issued a solicitation of interest from neighboring jurisdictions, Prince Georges county saw this as their chance to even the score.

Not so fast said Montgomery. According to this story by Miranda S. Spivack and Victor Zapana in The Washington Post, the county’s economic development director “confirmed that he is soliciting local developers and consulting with federal agencies about potential sites.”

Montgomery’s effort surprised Prince George’s officials, who said they thought they would be alone in Maryland vying for the lucrative deal. Last year, Prince George’s lost out to Montgomery for a $450 million lease for a federal Health and Human Services office complex that instead is remaining in Rockville.”

This move also surprised a few local officials including our own economic development director, Laura Nueman. According to the article, at a recent meeting of state and local economic officials she asked if any other counties were planning on responding to the solicitation “and no one spoke up.”


What about HoCo?

There are quite a few HoCo residents who work for the FBI and make the daily commute to DC. Why shouldn't HoCo throw its hat in the mix?

I’m willing to wager that this was never even considered and one of the reasons is likely political. Our county exec is trying to build statewide support for his governors race and supporting PG’s bid would be a smart political move, particularly considering the fact that more than a few major employers like Merkle have abandoned PG for HoCo in recent years.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Train Gardens

One of the holiday traditions that we enjoy is visiting the annual holiday train display at the Ellicott City fire station. Each year volunteers put up a slightly different version on 24 X 10 foot display inside the station which always includes a series of interactive buttons that the kids can’t seem to get enough of.

I enjoy the detail and creativity that the modelers put into this train garden. There is always something that catches my eye and makes me smile. This year was no exception.

There is also a train display in West Friendship. For the past three years the Four Counties Society of Model Railroaders has erected a huge display in the firehouse training room on the lower level. Yesterday we checked it out for the first time.

The FCSMR display is serious model railroading. It consists of a series of modules created by the different members and then linked together at the site. The painstaking detail of the various modules is pretty impressive.
Both displays are only up for a limited time. The Ellicott City train garden ends on New Years Day and the West Friendship display ends on January 6th.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Yet Another Camera

I’m rough on cameras. My most recent one lasted all of six months. After being dropped during a wild wedding weekend in Baltimore it no longer took fully focused pictures.


The problem is that I take my camera everywhere because you never know when an interesting picture will present itself. I also believe that pictures make blog posts more interesting. As Rod Stewart sings, “every picture tells a story.”

That being said I really don’t consider myself a photographer. I’m just a point and shoot kind of guy that appreciates a good picture. When a photo opportunity presents itself and I find myself without my camera for some reason, I default to my phone or iPad.

I consider them to poor platforms for good photos and so when my latest camera crapped out I was bummed. I planned to procure a new camera after the holidays when everything goes on sale. Instead, my sister Kelly surprised me at Christmas with a brand new SonyDSC-TX20.

She chose well. The TX20 is a rugged beast. It is waterproof to a depth of 16 feet, shockproof to a drop of about five feet and dust proof, yet compact enough to slide into a pocket.

Hopefully this one will last awhile. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Just for Kicks

I won’t be surprised if this Norwegian ends up in the NFL next year…

According to this story by David Picker in The New York Times, he “knows next to nothing about the sport.”

Then again, how much does a kicker really need to know?

More Apple TV Blues

Last night I finally got around to giving Apple TV a movie rental test run. Peanut and I decided to watch a Christmas movie so earlier in the day we had perused the offerings in the iTunes store on my computer. We choose a film neither of us had ever seen, Christmas in the Clouds. After dinner we settled into the couch and switched on the Apple TV.

It failed.

We were greeted with a screen that said “Setting date and time.” I figured that this would only take a minute or so.

I figured wrong.

Fifteen minutes later, with the same message still on the screen, I got on the phone to Apple tech support. We tried manually setting the time, resetting the box and finally, a system restore. Fail, fail and fail.

After the system restore fail I called Apple back. I now had a case number. You know you have trouble when they give you a case number.

“Do you have an Apple router?”

Uh oh, I thought, here we go again, another example of Apple not playing well with others.

“No, it’s a Verizon router,” I replied.

“That’s the problem. Many of those non-Apple routers have a firewall that blocks the Apple TV signal. You’ll need to change some settings on the router and call Verizon. I’m sending you an email with instructions.”

“But wait a minute,” I protested, “it was working the other day.”

“Yeah,” he responded with a note of condensation, “but that doesn't mean anything. Sometimes it will work, other times it won’t. You’ll still need to change the router settings. In the meantime we can try unplugging both the router and the Apple TV and see if that will get it working for now.”

It worked. An hour and half later we were finally able to watch our movie.

They never tell you about this stuff in the Apple store.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It’s Dookie Time

Once again it is time to open up a can of sarcasm on the HoCo loco world of blogging with the sixth annual Dookie awards. The Dookies, named after Hayduke not the other thing, are a time to plant tongues firmly in cheeks and have a little fun with our blogging brethren and blog readers. So, without further diddling and unnecessary verbosity, I hereby open the 2012 Dookie nominations.

Baltimore may have Dan Rodricks but in HoCo blogging we have Tom Coale. Almost every morning, the HoCo Rising blog greets us with deep navel gazing on societies ills. In return, his loyal stable of commenter’s waste no time in pointing out what he gets wrong. For his efforts to educate the electorate, we nominate HoCo Rising for the Rodricks Rant Dookie.

The Royal Dookie Academy recognizes the symbiotic relationship of Twitter and blogs and no one has done more to tweet HoCo loco blogs than Jesse Newburn. In her zeal to tie the two media platforms even tighter together Jesse has developed list of loco hashtags a mile long covering every possible subject from HoCoMartnis to HoCoNature. Count us among those that find this proliferation of #hoco’s to resemble a plate of corned beef hash, a little of everything, but very little meat. For that reason we nominate Jesse for the Corned Beef Hash Dookie. We'd write a tweet about this but we're afraid the hashtags alone would use up all 140 characters.

Expanding beyond the simple written word, Bill Woodcock has added video to his HoCo blogging repertoire. In his initial installments we see Bill peering down at us while sitting in what appears to be his living room complete with a cracked mirror and a disabled smoke alarm in the background. Bill is so close to the camera that you can almost see his nasal hairs. That’s too close for us and brings to mind the Seinfeld episode with the close talker. The Dookie academy nominates Bill Woodcock for the Close Talker Dookie.

Nobody likes school redistricting. No matter where the lines are drawn, there is bound to be a group of people who cry foul. Taking sides and calling out those who manufacture facts is a no win situation but this did not deter Lisa Schlossnagle. In her blog, Lisa B, Mrs. S, Lisa wrote 15 posts covering every aspect of this touchy subject. We haven’t seen coverage this deep on a single loco hot topic since Frank Hecker scrutinized councilmantic redistricting last year. Scholarly work such as this warrants recognition so we nominate Lisa B., Mrs. S for the Frank Hecker Dissertation Dookie.

And finally, let us recognize those who comment on blogs. Comments make blogs more interesting and sometimes downright fun like when certain elected officials jump in. This year there were several standouts including the self proclaimed avenger of statists, Bill Bissenas. After much debate and several beers, the academy felt that this years honor for best blog commenter should go to Chris Oxenham. We choose to honor Chris with the nomination for the Chattering Class Dookie this year because he recently became engaged and we suspect marriage may soon mellow out his vitriol.

As always, remember that Dookie nominations are open to all. If you have someone in the HoCo blogosphere that you feel has earned a Dookie of your own construct, please jump in.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So Long Sarah

One of the benefits of writing a loco blog is meeting other writers with an interest in loco issues. That was certainly true almost three years ago when I met Sarah Hussain. Sarah was the new girl in a local blogosphere dominated by men and, being a writer, she wrote about that too.

I immediately liked her.

I wasn't alone either. In very short period of time, Sarah cast a wide net because she didn't just write about stuff from a bystander’s perspective. She jumped into the loco scene with both feet, serving on the HoCo General Plan Task Force and the Owen Brown Village Master Plan Committee. She also joined the HoCo League of Women Voters and together with her husband Chris, created a series of You Tube videos on the candidates for the school board for the league.

In her own corner of Columbia she also organized a block party and was one of the first town home owners to participate in the Columbia Association rain garden program.

In other words, Sarah and Chris were the kind of neighbors that make great neighborhoods even better.

She even helped changed some loco perceptions of bloggers when she participated in the wine summit with Doug Miller from Explore Howard.

Now they are leaving. As Sarah explains Chris got a “great job offer in California and we are moving at the end of the month. We've liked our time here, and we hope to be back. But for now, it's goodbye East Coast, Maryland, and Howard County.”

The left coasts' gain is the east coasts loss.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Max’s Redneck Christmas

A couple weeks ago, driving through Catonsville on my way home, I spotted a house at the corner of Ridge Road and Rolling Road that had almost every square inch of yard covered with inflatable holiday stuff. It was so over the top it made me laugh out loud.

Today I took Peanut by to show her and we met the homeowner. “I call it Max’s Redneck Christmas,” he told us.

Max had just finished adding yet another inflatable holiday dog to the mix. “I picked it yesterday. It was marked down,” he explained.

He told us that he actually has five more that he still needs to put up.

“I put one at the front door because people kept knocking on my door to ask if they could take pictures.”

No need to ring the bell. Max doesn't care if you take pictures.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Parking App Gap

During this years Midnight Madness celebration in Ellicott City, I gave the new “smart” parking system a test run.

It failed.

In fairness at least part of the blame could be user error based on my lack of familiarity with the system. The main problem however, was pointed out in this story by Randall Stross in The New York Times.

“Smart-parking apps aren't as useful as might be expected for drivers seeking open spots. When a parking space is vacated, there is a short delay before a sensor’s signal moves through the wireless network, reaches the centralized system and finally arrives on a driver’s phone. But if other cars are circling, even a 30-second or one-minute wait can be too long.”

That would seem to be particularly true during a period of high demand such as Midnight Madness. After our initial failure to harness the apps power to locate an open space, we simply headed up the hill to Parking Lot F by the Court House where we found plenty of avilable spaces. Even after the new pay system becomes operational on January 1st, the spaces in this parking lot will remain free.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Post Proposes DC Annex Columbia

In a parting gesture to the citizens of the District of Columbia, retiring Senator Joseph Leiberman has introduced a bill in the Senate to make DC our 51st state called New Columbia. The bill would redraw the existing boundaries of the city by carving out The Mall, most federal government buildings and monuments from the proposed state.

Today, in the Style section of The Washington Post, Monica Hesse and Dan Zak have shared their own thoughts for redrawing the capital city’s lines. Number one on their list was making our Columbia part of their Columbia.

  1. To eliminate confusion, the town of Columbia, Md., shall become part of New Columbia but be known as Old Columbia.

In case you might mistake this for anything other than satire, consider that one of their other suggestions was to make Georgetown part of Connecticut.

Still, it’s always nice to be number one.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Dookies Are Coming

The High Council of the Royal Dookie Academy met yesterday to begin the process of anointing accolades for the Sixth Annual Dookie Awards for HoCo loco bloggers.

The council found a target rich environment in the blogosphere this year and will reveal their judgments on December 27th.

But the Dookies are also an egalitarian affair. All HoCo loco bloggers and blog readers are encouraged to bestow their own honors. So consider this your memo to prepare and help celebrate the year’s best wurst of HoCo blogging next Thursday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Liz Who?

At the announcement of the new CA gym in the former Rouse headquarters building this past Monday, Ken Ulman did his usual acknowledgement of elected officials in attendance including Mary Kay Sigaty and the newly elected council chair, Jen Terrasa.

It was the state delegate he didn't mention that I took note of. Liz Bobo attended the event but Ken didn't call her out. 

Was that intentional or just a simple oversight?

Whichever it was, some in the room considered the snub appropriate given her concerted efforts to stop the Town Center redevelopment process with her buddy Alan Klein.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Inc. Deconstructed

Santa Claus runs an operation that employs over 12 million people to carry out his annual Christmas sojourn. At least that is what Paul Tronsor and Mike Mangeot told Chana Joffe-Walt in this story on All Things Considered. Since Santa is notoriously mum on his means and methods, Chana consulted with a couple of logistics experts to try and figure out how he pulls it off . Paul works for FedEx and Mike works for UPS, two companies that know a thing or two about delivering packages.

Some of their conclusions…

67,100 elves are needed to calculate Santa’s route and monitor weather conditions...

40,000 elves to deal with customs issues...

152,000 elves to load the sleigh.

It must be some sleigh too.

If 760 million children each get a gift weighing one pound, it would take a sleigh the size of 295 Boeing 747 aircraft.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Online Wine

When the General Assembly passed legislation allowing Maryland consumers to purchase wine directly from out of state wineries I didn't think that would include Amazon.

I was wrong.

According to this story by Steve Kilar in The Sun, we can now “cozy up with both a book and a bottle of wine purchased from the online retailer.”

Forget about getting free shipping with your Amazon Prime account though. Wine purchases don’t qualify. You can’t escape the state tax man either.

I think I’ll just stick with the local wine merchants…for now.

Laser Lights

Last New Years Eve we stumbled into the Holiday Light show at the Power Plant in downtown Baltimore. It was pretty impressive.

It’s even better this year. They've added fireworks.

The six minute shows goes off at regular intervals from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The New Years Eve show will continue until 11:00 PM.

You can find the complete schedule here

Monday, December 17, 2012

Downtown Fitness Club

The Howard Hughes Corporation and Columbia Association held a briefing this morning to announce that CA had signed a lease for a 27,000 square foot fitness facility on the ground floor of the former Rouse headquarters building in downtown Columbia. CA will join Whole Foods in the re-purposed office building once a major rehabilitation has been completed.

Extensive interior work on the Frank Gehry designed building is expected to begin next year and will include the removal of the entire third floor. Howard Hughes expects to turn the lake level space over to CA in early 2014 and CA expects the new facility to open in late summer/early fall of the same year. Howard Hughes is expected to relocate their offices to another building in downtown during the construction.

At the announcement this morning Ken Ulman pointed out that this building was the only building singled out in the Town Center redevelopment legislation for preservation.

This lease will effectively bring the iconic white building to full occupancy for the first time in over five years.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The End of the Year as We Know It

When Nikki Highsmith had to cancel for this week’s podcast we decided to invite Dave Yungmann and Luis Valdivieso to join us instead for a freewheeling discussion of politics and the year in review. There was a lot to cover.

David is a loco Repub and a founding member of the New CityAlliance, an organization that supports the redevelopment of Columbia’s downtown. Luis is a Dem and a former member of the county exec’s staff. They are no strangers to spirited political discourse.

We covered a wide range of loco stories from derecho’s to derailments. Listening back over the show this morning I realized the conversation got a little bogged down when we talked about sugary drinks and the growth tier legislation. The growth tier stuff may seem boring on the surface but it has pretty deep political implications for Ken Ulman and to a certain degree, Courtney Watson. The county’s ban on sugary drinks on the other hand is much ado about nothing in my opinion. If you want a sugary drink when you are on county property, just bring with you. The ban is only on the sale of these drinks.

Of course it may be moot if the world ends on December 21st as some believe the three thousand year Mayan calendar predicted. As far as I’m concerned if the Mayans were so smart how come they didn't see the Spanish coming?

Assuming that the world doesn't end, we also learned yesterday that The Mall was renewing our contract for another year. They have been hosting our show since November 5, 2010 and we're grateful for their continued support.

Anyway, you can listen to 80th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gangnam Christmas Lights

In the escalating battle for over the top Christmas displays, this home wins, hands down. Fortunately for the neighbors it was shut down after three days. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wronging the Right

A week ago I wrote that the loco Repub Central Committee leaned heavily towards a tea party ideology. Since then I have heard from two members of the nine member committee. They both said I had it wrong.

Apparently it is the HoCo Repub Club that is in the hands of tea party partisans, not the central committee. I was further informed that two tea party activists actually resigned from the central committee several months because they felt the committee was too moderate. One loco Repub went so far as to label the current club leadership as “crazy.”

That being said, the post in question referred to a comment made in a loco politico bull session by a Repub who is active in loco politics. This individual put the club and central committee in the same ideological basket. I was merely sharing that perception, which I should note was shared over drinks. I did not intend it to be taken as gospel. 

One of the committee members who contacted me told that they “staunchly support” Allan Kittleman. The other told me that eight of the nine members are often called RINO’s by Repubs outside of HoCo because of their moderate views.

In other words, I got it wrong. Consider this a blog apology (or blogology). Contrary to what some may believe, I do try to get it right here. Thank you for setting the record straight.

Dyer Consequences

It’s a been a week now since Judge Koteen upheld the impeachment of former school board member Allen Dyer and the ripple effect of that action is beginning to be felt. Prior to the ruling, Allen’s allies on the board openly defended him. Since the ruling they have been noticeably quiet.

Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillaincourt voted against the impeachment. In this article by Brandi Jefferson in Elkridge Patch, Cindy told the reporter “The very existence of this removal action ... constitutes a threat against me and chills my exercise of speech on behalf of myself and my constituents.” 

This past August Brian even sought to have Allen’s seat on the audit committee restored.

After hearing extensive testimony and weighing all the evidence, here are a couple of highlights from the judges's conclusion about Allen's service on the board:

"The Respondent's repeated efforts to act unilaterally without authority from the full Board, and contrary to positions adopted by the Board, interfered with the Board's efficient operations, and the Board's ability to conduct business and serve the best interests of the students of HCPSS."

"Although the Respondent was elected to his position, the statute relied upon by the County Board authorizes removal from office for misconduct in office even for elected Board members. I conclude that the County Board has established that the Respondent is responsible for misconduct in office under the Education Article, even though the Board did not prove that each of the allegations it raised constituted misconduct in office.  The Board did prove that the Respondent was responsible for repeated violations of important rules and policies that were sufficiently serious to establish misconduct in office and render the Respondent unfit to serve as a member of the County Board." 

The entire 100 page decision is a scathing indictment of Allen’s behavior. Those who openly supported him and allied with his causes are similarly guilty by association.

Or, as my mother used to say, when you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beating up the Customer

If you are one of those who find Christmas shopping to be a painful experience you may be comforted to know that your discomfort is by design. According to this article by Oliver Burkeman in The New York Times, “evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend.”

“So stores crank up music, repeat the same songs, over and over again, pipe in smells, race shoppers around to far-flung points of purchase and clog their heads with confusing offers. All of which makes it more likely we’ll part more readily with more money.”

It works too. Yesterday I went into Hot Topic in The Mall to pick up a few things for Peanut (she loves the store!). Though the store was playing a familiar Rolling Stones song, it was blaring so loud that I found it to be annoying. That being said, I still made a purchase.

“Music played at high volumes, for example, may be irritating, but researchers from Penn State and the National University of Singapore concluded it was one of several factors that leads to overstimulation and “a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.”

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that online shopping is expected to increase by 12% over last year. Online shopping now makes up 6.3% of all retail sales and continues to increase year after year.

And, according to this story, 16% of those online shoppers are doing their holiday shopping in the bathroom

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Sun for Sale?

As the Tribune Company, parent company of The Baltimore Sun, prepares to exit bankruptcy it is exploring the possibility of selling some of its newspaper assets, including Baltimore’s major newspaper. According to this story by Edmund Lee and Serena Saitto in Bloomberg, the company believes a sale of some of its papers “would bring an influx of cash to the company after four years of bankruptcy.”

“The owners may hold onto the larger newspapers, such as the ones in Los Angeles and Chicago, and look to sell the smaller titles more immediately, said Reed Phillips, managing partner of investment bank DeSilva & Phillips LLC.”

That would seem to include Baltimore.

The Abell Foundation  has previously expressed an interest in buying The Sun. According to this story by Gary Haber in The Baltimore Business Journal the foundation expressed an interest in buying the paper before the Tribune company sought protection of the bankruptcy courts.

“If the Abell Foundation were to buy the Sun, it would be a homecoming of sorts for the newspaper. Arunah Sheperdson Abell founded the Sun in 1837. It was owned by the A.S. Abell Co., until 1986 when it was sold to Times-Mirror Co. in 1986 in a deal that included the Baltimore Evening Sun and other media properties.”

What goes around comes around.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Apple TV Blues

It never fails. No matter how simple a device appears to be I will inevitably encounter a problem. Such was my experience with Apple TV this weekend.

I didn't really need Apple TV. I bought it because I thought it would be a fun gift for the house this Christmas. Buying a gift for the whole family to share is a tradition I inherited from my father when he sometimes would buy a gift that everyone could enjoy, at least theoretically. After one too many movie nights sidetracked by a malfunctioning FIOS box, I figured for a hundred bucks Apple TV would give us more options.  

So I plunked down the hundred bucks at the Apple store in The Mall for Apple TV.

“Do you need an HDMI cable?” the store associate inquired.

“No thanks, I already have that.” I was thinking that I already two HDMI cables. When I originally hooked up my HDTV, I discovered the HDMI cable I bought was too short so I went back out and bought a longer one. I decided to keep the shorter one, just in case.

I should have recognized that question as a technological red flag. I didn't and consequently I began to see why I might need yet another HDMI cable.

I was an early adapter with my HDTV. Six years ago, when we moved into our new home, I bought the biggest LCD TV available at the time. It was a 40 inch Sony Bravia and it cost me four grand. This was back before the great recession hit and many thought spending four grand on a TV was a perfectly sensible thing to do.

Today of course you can buy a bigger and better TV for about a quarter of that. Sigh.

Anyway, as I went to hook up my hockey puck sized Apple TV box to my TV I realized that it only had one HDMI port and that was being used by the FIOS box.

The solution of course was to add another piece of hardware to mix. A trip to the Best Buy store in Columbia resulted in the purchase of a Rocketfish 4-port HDMI Selector, and another HDMI cable, adding another hundred bucks to the cost of my hundred dollar Apple TV. The worst part, it includes yet another remote!

It never fails.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Night of Madness

The crowds turned out for Midnight Madness in Ellicott City last night. By the time we arrived around 6:30 PM the parking lot up by the courthouse was already full. Though a light rain fell intermittently throughout the evening, it didn't put a damper on the festivities.

After grabbing dinner at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, we headed down Main Street to check out the scene. It wasn't long before we caught a whiff of something that smelled downright delicious. It was the La Pearle Waffles food truck which had commandeered a parking spot along a very narrow stretch of sidewalk. 
Further along we ran into Gunther Miller pedaling Choose Insanity bumper stickers. Gunther told me that sales were a bit off from previous years as the novelty has begun to wear off. To counter this he has diversified by adding HoCo magnets with turkey vultures to his product offerings.

High school madrigals are a traditional part of Midnight Madness and last night was no exception.
At the bottom of Main Street I spoke to a hot dog vendor who had commandeered another parking spot. Brendan told me that he was the guy behind LaLa’s ice cream parlor. The shop has been “coming soon” for almost a year now.

“It’s been a challenge trying to get open,” he told me. One of the problems he faced was the ceiling height in the space. It is two inches lower that the health department regulations require. He told me that he believes they've resolved that issue and are now on track for an April 2013 opening.

We finished up our Madness night with a wine sample at The Wine Bin. They were offering a red called Santa's Little Helper. It's the kind of wine you buy for the label, not what's in the bottle.

Friday, December 07, 2012

More on Dyer Decision

Last night former school board member Allen Dyer posted Judge Koteens' ruling on his dismissal on the howardpubliced discussion board.

In the 99 page decision, the judge levels several broadsides at Allen’s conduct as a school board member. A few of the highlights were:

“I have also concluded that the Respondent blatantly violated the confidentiality provisions of the Ethics Regulations and Policies after receiving unambiguous notice from the Ethics Panel 82 regarding his obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the Ethics proceedings.  His mass disclosure of the ethics materials was not justified by an anonymous and partially inaccurate leak of limited information or by erroneous advice from his private attorney.  The Respondent also disclosed other confidential information regarding the ethics investigation and invited Board members to attend the closed hearing even before the leak occurred.”

“I conclude that the Respondent's misconduct was substantial and harmful to the operations of the County Board and the school system.  The Respondent's blatant disregard of the confidentiality requirements of the ethics process demonstrated that the Respondent failed to accept that the Ethics Regulations and Policies applied equally to him as to everyone else.  He demonstrated disdain for the ethics process, the Ethics Panel, and its counsel, put his own interests above the confidentiality of other participants, jeopardized the Board's neutral role in handling ethics matters, and undermined the willingness of individuals to use the ethics process to resolve future ethics complaints by obliterating the confidentiality provisions.”

“The Respondent contends that his removal is improper because the County Board has violated his right to free speech.  The evidence does not support this claim.”

To2C was actually mentioned in the document under Findings of Fact items 99, 101, and 108. I am honored to be included in this document, even though in #108 the judge referred to me as Woodbones

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Dyer Impeachment Upheld

Administrative Law Judge Douglas Koteen has ruled in favor of the HoCo Board of Education in their impeachment of former board member Allen Dyer. The judges’ ruling vindicates the actions of the school board members who voted for impeachment by finding Dyer guilty of most, if not all counts against him.

Janet Siddiqui, Sandra French, Ellen Flynn Giles, and Frank Aquino all voted in favor of impeachment. Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt voted against the action. Alexis Adams, the student member of the board at the time, also voted in favor of removing Allen.

Count me as one of those who thought that continuing with these proceedings after Dyer was defeated in the primaries as a waste of time and money. I may have been wrong about that. This ruling sends a a pretty clear message to all current and future board members that behavior like this is unacceptable. That alone would seem to validate the effort.

No Room at the Inn

Two separate sources have recently informed me that new school board member Ann De Lacy showed up at the Board of Education headquarters the day after winning her seat on the board asking to be shown her office.

Apparently she didn't get the memo. Board members don’t get offices but I do understand they get a locker of some sort. Maybe that’s where she can store her rocks.

Madness and Open Studios

In addition to the annual Midnight Madness celebration in Ellicott City tomorrow night, it is also open studio night at the HoCo Center for the Arts. Local artists working in a variety of media will open their studios to the public in the re purposed elementary school from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. We went last year and were pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of the work of our HoCo loco artists.

It is also a good opportunity to browse the center’s galleries.

My best advice is to go early, before heading down to the fun on Main Street. The arts center is in a residential neighborhood with somewhat limited parking and they don’t have a spiffy little parking app to help you find an open space. By 7:00 PM cars will be lining the streets surrounding the building. 

This weekend is also the last Second Sunday Market of the season. So if you haven’t stocked your larder with that good loco honey yet, this would be a good opportunity to do so. After this Sunday the market will go on winter break until next April.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The 20 Second Rule

How long is too long to wait for an elevator?

Twenty seconds, according to Theresa Cristy who studies “elevatoring” for the Otis Elevator Company. Christy was interviewed in this story by Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace yesterday.

"Yeah, there is a magic number, and it's 20 seconds," she says, "and that's a number that's been used for over 50 years in the industry."

But wait, its 20 seconds in office buildings but its a little bit longer in residential buildings. She didn't say how much longer.

Of course twenty seconds waiting for an elevator is nothing compared with being stuck inside one for forty one hours!

Also interesting to note is that the local offices of the International Union of Elevator Constructors are housed in a single story building in Columbia Gateway.

Chatham House Rule

Last night our group of HoCo loco politico watchers gathered again for another Pub Politics bull session. The eight attendees included men, women, Dems and Repubs. There is no formal agenda and anyone can bring up anything for discussion as long as it relates to the loco politico scene. We last met in August.

The first topic battered around was the split in the loco Repub ranks. The Repub members lamented that the local party, much like the national party has divided into two camps. One camp is more closely tied to the tea party movement and is personified by the Loretta Shields, the Chair of the Howard County Republican Central Committee. The other camp is more moderate and personified by Allan Kittleman, State Senator and presumed candidate for county executive in 2014. It is almost as if the Repubs are starting to behave like Dems.

The discussion then moved on to Chris Merdon. Many believe that Chris will attempt to regain his D1 council seat in 2014 when Courtney Watson makes her move for the exec seat. Another Repub, Bob Flanagan is also still interested the D1 council seat. You may recall that Bob narrowly lost to Courtney last time around.

Allan and Courtney are not the only ones eyeing the exec seat either but Guy Guzzone does not appear to be one of them. If Guy does decide to pass this on this race, some speculate that Mary Kay Sigaty may challenge Courtney for the Dem spot in the race. That’s a fight that Allan would no doubt like to see.

The biggest, and perhaps most heated discussion of the evening centered around the recently passed growth tiers legislation. Unless you live in the western part of the county you could be excused for not paying much attention to this but I can assure that the loco politicos are. Rather than doing my own mediocre rehash of the debate, I suggest you check out this post by Tom Coale.

The nice thing about this group is that no one makes personal attacks. For the past two years now we have been able to have spirited discussions about local politics without being offensive. The only rule governing the group is that all must agree on any new participant and that anonymity must be maintained. Last night, one of the newest members informed me that this was commonly known the Chatham House Rule.

It looks like we've let an intellectual slip under the tent.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Fun Car Day

After Halloween, I pretty much stop driving my BMW. It gets to spend the winter months nestled in the garage, awaiting the return of warmer days.

Yesterday and today I made an exception.

I wasn't the only one either. The unseasonably warm weather made today a sports car day. I even spotted a couple of coupes with their tops down.
And then there was this classic roadster I came across in a parking lot off Dobbin Road in Columbia. It’s a Datsun 2000. My colleague Bill Harrison figures it to be a 1968 vintage. He once owned a 1984 Nissan300 ZX so he knows a thing or two about the brand. Before 1983 Nissans were marketed as Datsuns.
The Datsun 2000 was a precursor to the Z cars which began with the 240 Z in 1970. I was a little surprised to see that this forty four year old 2000 was sporting regular license tags as opposed to historic tags.

Judging from its condition I’d wager that it spends the winter in a garage too.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Third Times a Charm

In 2004, Veli Demirel attempted to rezone a two acre parcel at the intersection of Frederick Road and Centennial Lane from residential to commercial. At that time he was proposing to build a two story commercial building on the site. His request was denied.

In 2010 Veli went back to the zoning board. This time tried to change the zoning from R-20 to the relatively new OT District or Office Transition District.

“This district is established to allow low-impact office uses adjacent to areas of residential zoning. The OT district is a floating district that will provide a transition along the edges of residential areas impacted by nearby retail/ employment areas or arterial highways carrying high volumes of traffic. The standards of this district should result in small-scale office buildings on attractively-designed sites that are compatible with neighboring residential uses.”

The R-20 zoning allows approximately two single family homes per acre which means Veli could build four homes under the existing zoning. His 2010 plan called for a pair of two story office buildings. His request was denied.

Now he’s back again with another bid to get the OT zoning but this time with five two story buildings with apartments over office space. Each building would be approximately 5,000 square feet. Last month the Department of Planning and Zoning recommended this plan be approved.

The County Council, sitting as Zoning Board, will vote on the recommendation a week from today.

Could the third time be the charm for Mr. Demirel?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Record Sellout

It may have taken them 35 years to get there but last night the Columbia Orchestra had its first sellout performance at the 747 seat Rouse Theatre. They rocked the full house with a powerful performance of one of my all time favorite pieces,Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1. I can’t recall where or when I first heard it but it soon became a favorite. I've always been a fan of big piano music and Concerto No. 1 is big piano music. Last night Anne Kosclieny tore up the keys of a twelve foot concert grand as conductor Jason Love whipped the orchestra through its paces.

They rocked.

We almost missed it. Earlier in the week I had noted that the orchestra was a having a concert on Saturday night. We considered it a Saturday night option. I really didn't think it would be necessary to purchase tickets in advance. 

I was wrong. We were lucky to snag the last two seats together and only because someone turned them back in.

Is it just us or does anyone else find the seats in Rouse to be a little tight


Last Tuesday, as I was heading back to my office, I heard this story on All Things Considered, by Shankar Vedantam, about whether orchestras really need conductors 

“They seem important. After all, they're standing in the middle of the stage and waving their hands. But the musicians all have scores before them that tell them what to play. If you took the conductor away, could the orchestra manage on its own?”

It’s a great story. The bottom line is that they have now scientifically concluded that a conductor, particularly a good conductor, makes the music better.

Jason Love is a good conductor. They've even made a bobble head of him.

To cap the evening off the orchestra treated their record audience with Sleigh Bells.

Good stuff.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Fun with Numbers

The story about the county’s plan to build a new apartment complex for the homeless provided a surprisingly target rich environment for us this week. Preparing for the show earlier in the day both Paul and lamented that our selection of local stories for this news cycle were a little weak. As we talking I received an email from George Berkheimer, a colleague at The Business Monthly. He pointed out that in order to build this new complex the county would be replacing an existing 38 unit mobile home community called Beechcrest. The new development would have 33 individual apartments.

“That’s five in the hole, the way I count it,” he wrote.

Or more. Consider that most of those 38 units house more than one person. It seems as if the county housing department is just creating more work for our guest, Bita Dayhoff, the president of the Community ActionCouncil.

Bita is a gem and we are lucky to have her. She’s smart and incredibly charming. Three years ago I had the opportunity to work with Bita on renewing the lease for the Food Bank in Columbia. I found her to be a tough negotiator and a constant advocate for the less fortunate in HoCo. She sits on the front line of HoCo hard times.

We also talked a bit about Courtney Watson's anti bullying initiative. Courtney had proposed a resolution to “Encourage the General Assembly to provide the necessary resources to appropriate agencies to implement the use of multidisciplinary teams to address bullying, harassment, and intimidation among students.”

She has since tabled the bill. At best it had lukewarm support. The school board didn't even endorse it and it is questionable whether she had the votes on the council to get it passed. It was widely criticized as lacking any substance. As one of her colleagues on the council pointed out to me, even the people who testified at the public hearing in support testified more about the problem of bullying than about supporting the actual resolution. For example, Brian Meshkin spent his most of three minutes giving a campaign speech telling the council about everything he’s done about bullying. Courtney’s resolution merely provided him a jumping off point for another self promotion pitch.

You can listen to the 79th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.