Monday, December 5, 2011

Soaring Tuition Could Cost State in Long Run

During the 2010 Maryland Gubernatorial campaign, both O’Malley and Ehrlich tried to appeal to college students and their parents by railing against the rising cost of tuition. In recent years, many institutions felt the need to raise tuition and fees when the state could no longer afford to grant them lucrative handouts. Of course, the colleges made no secret on how they would make up the difference.

Perhaps the community colleges and universities of our great state should have reevaluated some of their priorities prior to demanding more money from their customers. In other words, they should have weighed certain extra curricular activities and other luxuries to see if the reduction in their size and scope would eliminate the need to raise tuition. Now, I realize the need for some of these campus perks. Still, every college I’ve ever considered had enough associations and clubs to appeal to just about every student.

Eventually, the soaring cost of tuition will put Maryland public institutions at a competitive disadvantage. Over the past year, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice. I naturally thought I would get the best deal using my residency status to get a lower rate. All told, a graduate course at University of Maryland University College would cost me around $1500 a course. Just before the fall semester, I balked at the cost and postponed my return to school.

During this time, I started to casually research other universities. Since my work schedule forbids attending class on a set day/time each week, I opt for online classes. Therefore, my pool of potential matches increases greatly under this scenario. Looking around, I discovered that many accredited universities across America try to woe students by offering reasonable prices.

After considering all my options, I applied to a school in Kansas known as Fort Hays State University . Though they have many students attending classes on their beautiful campus in Hays, Kansas , they also have an extensive distant learning curriculum. Long short, they accepted my application late last week.

Now instead of paying the exorbitant prices charged by University of Maryland University College, I will get a similar education for $700 a course. No doubt, both Fort Hays State and I make out on this deal. I never dreamed I could get my Masters Degree for just over $7,000.

Meanwhile, this state has lost potential revenue because they could not keep their costs under control. As more and more people seek virtual courses, competition among universities will heat up. As of now, Maryland colleges have priced themselves out of the equation. And with the threats of more cuts in state aid on the horizon in fiscal year 2013, tuition almost certainly will rise again.

In fairness, state run universities technically operate as non-profit agencies. Nonetheless, they theoretically want to attract people that wish to further their educational endeavors. Hence, it’s time to bring down the cost of tuition. Think about it; online students do not use a great deal of university resources. Why not slash the price in half considering the university will continue to come out ahead despite the drop in revenue? In the end, the influx of new students will offset that proposition.

Come January, I suspect we’ll hear the college presidents spewing their annual threats. This time, students should make it clear that they won’t accept that proposition. In the meantime, I’ll see how this unfolds as I attend virtual classes at Fort Hays State University . Go Tigers!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Speed Cameras Coming To Annapolis

Ever since Maryland allowed local jurisdictions to erect speed cameras, Anne Arundel County has elected to decline to take part in the program. Granted, the state has stepped in and placed some within work zones along Route 295. Still, our county has not exploited this revenue opportunity like many of our neighboring jurisdictions. Now, the city of Annapolis wants to tap into this well.

This week, the Annapolis City Council unanimously approved legislation that fines vehicle owners $40 for traveling 12 or more miles over the posted limit within designated school zones. Amazingly, not a single resident spoke out against the measure during the public hearing.

On its face, the use of speed cameras looks like sound public policy. After all, most parents would support increased speed enforcement around their child’s school. Of course, the motive doesn’t really involve safety. Rather, it’s little more than a money grab for cash strapped municipalities. Typically, a local government will contract with a vendor, who will maintain the equipment, forward the picture of the offending vehicle to police and then mail the citation to the owner. In other words, speed cameras truly mean a cash cow to the businesses behind them.

In theory, the potential for profit shouldn’t make its way into this argument. Still, these enforcement tools often disappear once the revenue fails to meet certain expectations. For instance, Baltimore County recently moved three speed cameras when the once lofty profit projections evolved into a net-loss. Likewise, red light and speed cameras disappeared in other areas such as Arizona and Los Angeles once the earnings didn’t outgain the operating expenses. Wait a minute, didn’t they cite safety concerns as the primary reason for installing these machines?

Bottom line, old-school police enforcement remains the best tool for getting drivers to slow down. If they increase their presence in school zones for a couple weeks, most drivers will cautiously slow down for months. Besides, under this scenario an officer can cite an actual driver instead of automatically punishing the vehicle owner.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Plenty Thanks To Go Around

On the third Thursday in November, many pause and reflect on all of life's pleasures that bring them joy. Often, people will reminisce about the past and wonder what Uncle Joe or Aunt Sue would say if they still roamed this earth. To me, Thanksgiving provides us with an opportunity to thank God for the things we should really appreciate all year long.

First and foremost, I am glad my wonderful parents, Walt and Pat Shandrowsky, insisted that I finish college immediately after high school. At the time, they required that I attend a public institution within reasonable driving distance from their home. Turns out, I met this beautiful girl Amy during my last semester at University of Baltimore. Fours year later, I would marry this young lady. Fast forward to 2011, we have the joy of our lives in little Alexis. Her presence alone makes me realize the truly important things in life.

Besides my parents, my grandfather and grandmother live literally through the woods from my house. Though Pop cannot hear or walk very well and grandmom struggles with periodic setbacks, I am fortunate that I can see them virtually everyday. My current house sat on the market for almost one year before Amy and I stumbled upon it. Nowadays, I cannot envision living anywhere else.

Next, I am grateful for my relative good health. Likewise, my wife and daughter enjoy the same. Sure, my back screams at me from time to time. Still, that's relatively minor compared to other ailments that some deal with on a daily basis.

Finally, I am grateful to have a job that has no correlation to the United States economy. Lord knows I complain about it from time to time. Of course, who doesn't moan about their employer from time to time? At the end of the day, I know I have found the career that will forever define me.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Be safe, eat well and Go Ravens!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Proposal Worthy Of Opposition

In Pasadena, when one starts talking about rezoning, everyone automatically voices their opinion on the Brumwell property. Meanwhile, a developer has quietly tried to convince the council to amend 26 acres off Long Hill Rd. Specifically, he wanted the county to approve his request to build as many as 300 homes in the already congested area.

Obviously, proposing any more building along the Mountain Rd corridor should halt like a car traveling this highway during rush hour. Most important, this area lacks the infrastructure to accommodate more housing. For starters, virtually no one denies that Mountain Rd produces daily traffic nightmares. Also, it will worsen once people occupy the 74 units under construction near Freetown Rd. Plus, a plan already exists that allows for a 400 home subdivision along Jumpers Hole Rd.

Besides traffic, these projects put a drain on county resources. Sure, developers pay a nominal impact fee. Still, residents of these newly formed neighborhoods will continually need their trash picked up and police to show up in a timely manner if called upon. In other words, these citizens will demand government services long after the disappearance of the impact fees. Admittedly, it does mean more tax revenue. Nonetheless, the county struggles to balance the budget to meet the needs of its current inhabitants. At best, the influx of cash flow will merely offset the costs associated with the new neighborhoods.

Luckily, County Executive John Leopold has promised to veto any zoning change along Mountain Rd. Therefore, the developer will need 5 of 6 councilmen to override Leopold. The 7th, Derek Fink, has recused himself from voting due to his business relationship with the person seeking the zoning change. Regardless, residents along Mountain Rd need to keep fighting until the last Councilman casts his vote.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Police substation at Arundel Mills

n response to the latest homicides at Arundel Mills road, the Capital recently ran a front page article about the future of a police substation at the mall. A few years back, the county pledged to double the number of police officers patrolling that location. Currently, the police assign two officers per shift to patrol the property. In addition, another officer drives around and answers calls along Arundel Mills Rd corridor. With this presence, one questions the need for additional officers, let alone a separate building.

Shortly after the incident, the police confirmed that the murderer likely knew his victims. In other words, it’s not as if two unlikely people got gunned down in a random attack. Admittedly, Arundel Mills does experience a disproportionate number of armed robberies. After all, very few people enter a mall without at least some cash. In turn, the mall’s large square footage and multiple parking lots allow criminals to conspicuously drive around and hone in on a target.

Using a cost-benefit analysis approach, one must first examine if four officers can provide more efficiency than two. On the surface, the answer appears rather simple. Still, when taking into account that these officers will get spread across 1,300,000 square feet, it doesn’t significantly lessen the risk to patrons.

Of course, if the police get a substation, the crooks will simple avoid that area of the mall. Meanwhile, the officers will likely start hanging out in that location as opposed to a designed spot within the mall itself. Eventually, that will affect their overall visibility, which contradicts the main reason for increasing their presence.

Now, some will argue that policy forbids police officers from sitting idly inside a station house. Well, why then should the taxpayers foot the bill for a structure that will routinely remain empty? If it’s solely about giving the police a place to process arrestees, then I question the fiscal sanity of that idea as well. Keep in mind, the Western District Police barracks sit less than a 10 minute drive from Arundel Mills.

In these economic times, the county must prioritize capital projects. No doubt, a police substation at Arundel Mills ranks rather low compared to other necessities.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Message From Joanna Conti

The following is a message from Joanna Conti who narrowly lost to John Leopold last election. She will likely run for County Executive again in 2014.

I became involved in politics in order to use my problem-solving skills to make a difference in people’s lives. When I was not elected County Executive last year, I realized I could still fulfill this passion by working with small groups of other committed individuals on some of the serious issues facing the county. I thought you might be interested in learning about some of the work we’ve been doing this year:

Improving Our Schools: Within three weeks of my being elected Chair of the school system’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), we fielded a survey through which over 4,000 parents told us the improvements they most want to see in our schools. Using these results, the CAC started to tackle parent’s top concerns about large class sizes, bullying, the need for better science education, the emphasis on test-taking, and the achievement gap. Unfortunately, before we could make a lot of progress finding solutions to these problems, the Board of Education disbanded our grass-roots CAC and created a new CAC with 29 hand-selected members. Learn more here.

Ambulance Response: During the campaign, a number of firefighters expressed their concerns to me about how long it sometimes takes for ambulances to arrive. Using data collected under a Public Information Act request, we analyzed the 14,439 ambulance calls during the 4th quarter of 2010 and discovered that Anne Arundel County is far from meeting national standards. While there are several areas needing improvement, one simple way to speed up our ambulance response times is to order the ambulance to the scene as soon as the type of incident and location is known by the 911 call-taker, i of waiting until the end of the 911 call. It appears that this simple change could shave one to two minutes off our ambulance response times at no cost. Find out more.

Keeping South County Rural: It has become apparent that the county’s comprehensive zoning process allows the whims of individual Council members to overturn years of planning. Unless the courts uphold the sanctity of the Small Area Plans built into the 2009 General Development Plan, we need to look for stronger methods of protecting South County's rural nature, including studying policies that have protected rural areas in neighboring counties. Find out more.

As some of these projects wind down, I have been turning my attention to other challenges facing Anne Arundel County, including what we need to be doing to bring more jobs to the area. If you are interested in working with a small team of folks on these or any other problems, please let me know. We'd love to have your help!

Finally, please join me for an Evening of Music & Comedy this Saturday from 7:00 – 10:00 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2590 Solomon Island Road, Edgewater. I can guarantee you will have a great time listening to the singing of 2011 Annapolis Idol winner Suzy Estrada and laughing along with our comedian David DiLorenzo. Tickets are $50 in advance and $55 at the door. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday night!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baltimore City Passes Question B

On Tuesday, Baltimore City voters passed, by an overwhelming 3-1 margin, legislation that lowered the age of eligibility for local office from 21 to 18. This effort, spearheaded by a group known as IMPAC and sponsored by Councilman Robert Curran, now affords Baltimore City 18, 19 and 20 year olds the same benefit offered to others in surrounding Maryland jurisdictions.

Opponents of the measure contended that these young adults lack the life experience and maturity to adequately participate in a notoriously nasty profession. Of course, these same young people can readily volunteer for the front lines in an overseas conflict. Likewise, they can exercise the right to vote. Thus, if they can participate in the process, why not allow them to go a step further by granting them the ability to run themselves?

Besides, it’s not as if desire to hold elected office means one will get that opportunity. In reality, most people never realize this dream. After all, the electorate ultimately decides who gets these covets spots. In turn, that requires thousands of votes. In other words, let the voters determine one’s readiness for office.

All in all, this gives young people an ever greater incentive to get involved in the political process. Often, these folks nonchalantly allow others to make decisions that could have a great impact on their life. If anything, this new law expands the pool of candidates and lessens the possibility that an incumbent can have a free pass back into office.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Local Marine Considers Run for Council

With many people wondering who will enter a Congressional race in time for April’s primary, others have started eyeing a political run in 2014. Severn resident Peter Smith confirmed last week that he’s “seriously considering” seeking a spot on the Anne Arundel County Council. Unless the boundaries unexpectedly change, that means Smith would vie for the seat currently occupied by the term limited Daryl Jones.

Smith, a First Lieutenant in the United States Marines, has already started attending community organized events and meetings. He said he’s getting a pulse of what matters to the voters. Moreover, he senses that people want to ensure that Anne Arundel County remains the ideal community to raise a family. Smith stated, “As a father of one with another on the way, I share that vision”.

Smith did acknowledge the changing demographics of the First Council District. For instance, some of the area overlaps Legislative District 31, which heavily favors Republicans. Of course, it also includes part of District 32, an area equally favorable to Democrats.

A self-described moderate, Smith feels as though he brings a reasonable voice that can unite the district as a whole. “My wife is a strong Republican. Through our conversations she’s helped me see certain issues a different way and vice versa”. He added, “Compromise like this is essential on a seven person council”.

Smith said he expects to make a firm decision about his political future shortly after the New Year.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2010-2011 General Assembly Expense Report

During my campaign for House of Delegates last year in District 31 I put our Republican officials under the microscope. It is easy for Republicans in this state to issue press releases bashing the Democrats on fiscal matters but it is quite another to lead by example on these issues. Due to the close proximity of District 31 to Annapolis I decided to take a look at the expense reports of our officials. I decided from 2007-2010 that our delegation had spent entirely too much on meals, lodging, and gas expenses during their time in Annapolis. I eventually wrote a Letter to the Editor in The Capital about these findings. In their defense, Delegate Don Dwyer said it wasn't feasible to claim an official could go through a session without claiming reimbursement on some of their expenses. Delegate Nic Kipke did a good job dodging the issue and said it was necessary to stay in Annapolis during session to build relationships with his Democratic colleagues. The only one who actually put forth a full argument in defense of these expenses was Delegate Steve Schuh. He replied to my Letter to the Editor by stating it was easier to stay overnight due to certain late-night sessions as well as there not being a cafeteria in the General Assembly for the officials to use. While all 3 delegates may have put forth valid arguments according to their strong supporters they still did not give a reason as to why these expenditures couldn't be covered by the base salary of $43,500 for the position. For those who serve in leadership roles or on certain committees, there is an increase in salary. Keep in mind these officials also have regular jobs throughout the year providing a salary on top of the salary we pay them in order to represent them. For the record I decided to bring this issue up again this year because of citizen complaints that our officials had once again used taxpayer dollars to mail out their "achievements" during the previous session. Listed below are the figures from 2010 to 2011 from each of District 31's elected officials. It is interesting after their 2007-2010 term where they seemed to have sought reimbursement on every penny they spent serving us, this past session after having the frivolous spending revealed to the public, they all decreased their reimbursement requests by noticeable amounts.

Delegate Don Dwyer (R-31)
2010 Meals Session
2010 Mileage Session

2011 Meal Session
2011 Mileage Session

Delegate Nic Kipke (R-31)
2010 Lodging Session
2010 Meals Session
2010 Mileage Session

2011 Lodging Session
2011 Meal Session
2011 Mileage Session

Delegate Steve Schuh (R-31)
2010 Lodging Session
2010 Meals Session
2010 Mileage Session

2011 Lodging Session
2011 Meal Session
2011 Mileage Session

Senator Bryan Simonaire (R-31)
2010 Meals Session
2010 Mileage Session

2011 Meal Session
2011 Mileage Session

For the viewers interested in expenses by officials other than those in District 31 please let us know and we can email you the entire General Assembly list.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Did Judge McKenna Deliver a Message?

When Anne Arundel County Judge John McKenna sentenced locksmith Joseph Horton to sixty days in county jail, he said he wanted to set example to those who may consider scamming others. Horton, who immediately paid an appeal bond to delay incarceration, got convicted of using the credit card of another, theft over $1000, and identity fraud. Specifically, he quoted an elderly woman one price and then tripled it upon repair. When she refused to authorize that amount on her credit card, Horton forged her signature. Notably, he also stands accused of inflating prices on other customers as well as lying to people regarding his standing in the trade.

In addition to the judgment in court, the Maryland State Attorney General’s office ordered Horton to repay $132,000 in restitution and $274,800 in civil penalties. No doubt, the criminal justice system recognized the downright criminal behavior displayed by Horton. Granted, his highly respected defense attorney correctly pointed out that no criminal charges ensued as a result of most of these allegations.

Still, Horton exploited people at a vulnerable time. When someone inadvertently locks themselves out of their automobile or home, they have little other choice than to break a window or call a locksmith. When dealing with Horton, customers stood better off shattering glass to solve their problem.

Luckily, government entities have mechanisms to combat unfair trade practices such as price gouging. Regardless, by the time these bodies can act, multiple customers have already overpaid the offended party. In turn, it’s often difficult to recover the money via restitution. Even the defense attorney conceded he does not know how Horton will repay the $400,000 in fines and penalties.

Really, sixty days in jail does not equate to the aggravation suffered by the victims of Horton. If Judge McKenna truly wanted to send a message, he would have given a harsher sentence on a felony that calls for up to 15 years in a state prison.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Odenton Development

Recently the proposed rezoning of the Brumwell lot has dominated the local news. Meanwhile, citizens in other parts of the county face similar dilemmas. And while some hope to get a final answer on these proposals in the coming weeks, the residents of Odenton have waited four years to find out whether they will see a mixed use development near the MARC station.

Now, it’s important to note that this project doesn’t involve a zoning fight. Instead, the state of Maryland fought for this transit-oriented development four years ago. In turn, the county agreed, pending completion of a new sewer line. Of course, the taxpayers of Anne Arundel will foot the bill for that aspect of this project. Nonetheless, that’s likely several years away from coming to fruition.

Meanwhile, the Odenton Patch reports that developers, state and local officials now seek $10 million from the federal government to build parking garages near the proposed site. This represents approximately half the amount required to finance the parking facilities. Without the money, the likelihood of the project decreases significantly.

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the plan calls for :

One hotel with 90 to 120 rooms,
74,000 square feet of retail space,
572 apartment and condominiums, including 60 units dedicated to affordable housing for seniors,
250 townhouses,
5 single family homes, and
two or more parking garages for MARC Commuters with a total of 3,500 parking spaces and 1,245 additional parking spaces for the development. Total parking on the site will increase from 2,000 spaces to almost 5,000 (4,745) spaces

Keep in mind, the residents of Odenton already have multiple shopping stores and restaurants within their confines. Likewise, visitors don’t need to travel far to have a selection of quality hotels to chose from. Thus, one must question the necessity of such an idea, especially when millions of tax dollars will help finance its existence.

Regardless, Anne Arundel County needs to discourage large scale development. After all, our infrastructure (roads, schools etc.) cannot accommodate these luxuries. As mentioned before, impact fees alone don’t nearly compensate enough for the long term costs and headaches.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Incumbent Edwards an Underdog?

As it stands now, two prominent opponents have announced they will consider challenging Congresswoman Donna Edwards in the April 3rd Democratic primary. Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit and Prince Georges County States Attorney Glenn Ivey both have their eye on knocking off the suddenly vulnerable incumbent.

When the new lines got announced, Rep. Edwards loudly voiced her concerns. In particular, she condemned the new boundaries as an affront to her constituents and herself. Instead of serving the citizens of Montgomery County , Ms. Edwards will now acquire a sizable portion of Anne Arundel County . And though her district remains safely Democratic, she still maintains her opposition.

Perhaps Ms. Edwards realizes that her career in Congress may soon come to an end. After all, Glenn Ivey has won countywide in Prince Georges for the last three election cycles. Thus, it’s likely the two share some of the same supporters. As a result, voters will now have to choose which one they prefer as their Representative in Washington.

Meanwhile, Ms. Edwards has alienated much of the Anne Arundel County electorate by appearing unhappy about serving this area. In the same way, Glenn Ivey has limited name recognition outside of his home county. Therefore, this scenario plays out well for Jamie Benoit.

Mr. Benoit, a term limited councilman, enjoys widespread popularity, especially in the western suburbs of Anne Arundel County . In fact, he easily defeated his opponents in the past two elections. And, unlike the other aforementioned candidates, Mr. Benoit can focus his efforts mostly on this county. After all, while Edwards and Ivey battle it out in Prince Georges, Benoit can secure his standing among the large bloc of Anne Arundel County voters.

Really, I do not see race overshadowing this election. Instead, I see the candidate who can secure his or her backyard as the ultimate victor. As of right now, this sets up as a nice advantage to Jamie Benoit.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Andy Harris seems content with new Congressional lines

When the new Congressional maps got adopted last week, many Republicans justifiably voiced their concerns. After all, it’s apparent that they will likely lose a seat in Washington . While many have publicly denounced the gerrymandered boundary lines, one elected Republican has only offered scant criticism.

First District Congressman Andy Harris initially lost to Frank Kratovil in 2008. Two years later, the voters overturned themselves by electing Harris. Regardless, many presumed the First District would get drawn more favorably to Democrats through redistricting. In a surprise though, Sixth District Representative Roscoe Bartlett emerged as the vulnerable GOP incumbent. In the process, Harris gained more Republican constituents in his district.

Historically, Eastern Shore voters have distrusted any politician who resides west of the Bay Bridge . In an attempt to alleviate this conc Harris, a Baltimore County resident, purchased a condo in Dorchester County back in 2008. That said, he maintained his residence in Cockeysville . Nonetheless, he could have claimed either as his home depending on how the new boundary lines played out. In the end, both properties remained in the First Congressional District.

In an interview with Easton ’s Star Democrat, Harris praised the new district by saying "My request was to keep the Eastern Shore whole in the district ... And I was pleased to see the new map do that." Likewise, when asked his opinion of the new limits of the First Congressional District as a whole, Harris offered, "It's just much more consistent with the nature of the Eastern Shore ." In fairness, he did express small reservations about the state map in general.

In reality, Harris cannot dislike this map. At the end of the day, the only job any politician truly values consists of the one voters bestow upon them. Therefore, without a formidable primary opponent stepping up, Harris likely cruises to re-election. Thus, it’s unlikely we’ll hear Andy Harris joining the chorus of Republicans demanding intervention from the courts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Roadmap to Improving Mountain Rd

Yesterday, Delegate Nic Kipke started soliciting opinions on how to improve conditions along the troubled Mountain Rd. In fact, the dangerous Pasadena thoroughfare averages at least one crash involving emergency response per week. Likewise, 12 people have lost their lives on this highway since 2003. In reality, absence of the state highway administration miraculously coming up with $100 million, local officials will need to rely on more practical solutions.

First, a moratorium should go into place forbidding any more development. This includes all residential and commercial ventures. Regardless of the promise of impact fees, the end cannot justify the means. Building more in hopes of alleviating this problem defies common sense. After all, the primary goal should focus on reducing vehicular traffic.

Next, Chesapeake High School issues parking permits to all juniors and seniors on demand. Before granting this privilege, all applicants should have to produce their MVA records every six months. Anyone with points on his/her license should forfeit their right to drive a vehicle to school. In the same way, anyone with grade point average of 2.0 should also lose their eligibility. Keep in mind, student athletes must maintain their grades. Thus, why not broaden this threshold to participate in other perks?

Automatically, this new rule would reduce the number of travelers on Mountain Rd. At the very least, it would only allow those students who have demonstrated a level of responsibility to enjoy this desirable fringe benefit.

Finally, the police department must step up enforcement on negligent traffic violations. Often, people pull onto Mountain Rd off Woods Rd without coming to a complete stop. Similarly, drivers routinely blow through traffic lights when it's clear they could have stopped prior to the change. If county police focus on this, as opposed to targeting those that go 65mph in a 55mph along Rte. 100, then it will naturally reduce the on-going hazard in Pasadena.

As mentioned, we need realistic solutions to improve the conditions along Mountain Rd. Luckily, the proposals outlined here would only place a minimal strain on scarce resources.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Council has Limited Authority

As the County Council grapples with numerous controversial zoning appeals, some want them to get involved in a dispute plaguing the Light House homeless shelter in Annapolis . Over the last two months some people, including a former employee, have filed formal allegations of discrimination and harassment against the shelter. As of now, it remains unclear what relief the interested parties expect from the Council.

Now, the county did grant over $100,000 for operating costs at the Light House over the past two years. Likewise, the organization received $1.2 million in tax dollars towards a new facility. Thus, the county has some scant interest in the place. Still, it’s doubtful our council has much legal authority to meddle in their affairs. After all, the institution classifies as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and not a government agency.

Make no mistake, I think this situation warrants an investigation. Nonetheless, we have other government entities in place to redress these grievances. So far, the Anne Arundel County Human Relations Commission has yet to issue their findings in this case. If anything, they have sole jurisdiction on a local level. Beyond that, the State Attorney General or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission could take up the case. Unlike the council, these bodies have clear legal authority to intervene in such matters.

In general, I am skeptical about any party that skips around to multiple venues in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. Moreover, I am troubled that the complainants disregarded the grievance process at the Light House in favor of involving several different agencies. Often, bypassing this step doesn’t look good in the eyes of a governing authority.

Regardless, I see no reason for the Anne Arundel County Council to waste valuable time by taking up this case. At the very least, they can postpone their involvement until they debate whether or not to allocate future funds. In the meantime, they can sit back and allow others to ascertain the facts.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Benoit Considers Run For Congress

Now that Maryland ’s Congressional Districts have supposedly taken shape, it’s important to note that primary election voters will hit the polls in little over five months. Critics of the new map often complain that this protects the jobs of Democratic incumbents. Of course, one current member of Congress makes no secret about her disdain for representing part of Anne Arundel County. Still, according to the law, a good part of our county would fall under her domain.

Keep in mind, only Andy Harris has seen his primary residence redistricted into an area that would force him to go against another Maryland Congressmen. That said, it’s widely expected he’ll claim residence at his Dorchester County condo to put him into position for a re-election bid in District 1. Meanwhile, no other Democrat faces a similar dilemma. Therefore, why does Donna Edwards have so much worry about gaining the Democratic areas of Anne Arundel County?

No doubt, Rep. Edwards maintains popularity in Prince Georges County, but remains an unknown around here. As a result, she finds herself susceptible to a prominent primary opponent, especially because no elected official would have to abandon their current seat to mount a challenge in District 4.

Thus, that opens the door for Councilman Jamie Benoit. Although he enjoys tremendous popularity among his constituents, term limits forbid him from seeking another four years on the Council. Naturally, this forces Mr. Benoit to ponder his future options. Would he consider challenging Ms. Edwards? Instead of speculating, I decided to ask him that question directly.

“I am not ruling out a run for Congress in District 4”, said Benoit. He added, “I want to make sure Anne Arundel County has the representation we deserve in Congress…. I don’t want us as some afterthought”. When pressed, Mr. Benoit insists he hasn’t made up his mind, but vows to fight for our county regardless if he enters the race or not.

I am convinced Mr. Benoit has a legitimate shot to take this seat. After all, it’s also rumored that Prince George ’s County State ’s Attorney Glen Ivy may throw his name into the fray. Under that scenario, him and Edwards would likely split the Prince George ’s County vote while Benoit could pick up many votes in his own back yard.

Like many other observers, I am looking forward to watching how this ultimately unfolds.

No Conflict Here

With a vote on the forthcoming about the potential rezoning of the Brumwell property, Councilman Derek Fink asked the county Board of Ethics to determine if he has a conflict of interest in this matter. While Mr. Fink doesn’t believe he faces an ethical dilemma, Bonnie Brumwell Hoyas thinks otherwise. Regardless, the councilman intends to make the ruling public once he receives it in hand. Certainly, this move may not silence some Fink critics, even though I believe he has every right to weigh-in on this matter.

First of all, we elected Derek Fink to represent us in the council. Therefore, it’s important we give him the full authority to do so. Now, just because Fink has a financial interest in the neighboring property, that factor alone shouldn’t render him helpless when it comes to voting on this hot button issue. Really, I can’t follow the logic of those that take a differing view. After all, using their thought process, Mr. Fink would have to recues himself from just about any decision that affects District 3. In other words, his partnership in the Greene Turtle has no correlation with his ability to make legislative decisions.

Once again, the Brumwells apparently want those that disagree with them to have no say about the future of this property. After all, they approached the Council about over-ruling the Department of Planning and Zoning. Now, they want to disqualify the only guy who has direct accountability to the residents affected by this proposal.

For the record, Councilman Fink has not indicated to me his ultimate intentions concerning this decision. Granted, I have a gut feeling about his leanings. Likewise, it’s obvious that the Brumwells don’t have much faith in him embracing their controversial plan for the Mountain Road property. Otherwise, they would not go out of their way to exclude him from this process.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Anne Arundel County in Congress

Well, Governor O’Malley and his colleagues in the General Assembly have officially given their approval to the new boundaries of Maryland ’s eight Congressional Districts. Barring any changes by the court, the Democratic Party should easily pick up at least one seat, most likely in the district currently represented by Roscoe Barlett. Once again however, Anne Arundel County will get split into four distinct subsections.

For the past ten years, Pasadena has divided the boundary lines for the First and Second Congressional Districts. Now, pretty much the same areas will define the confines of the Third and Fourth District, even though Congresswoman Donna Edwards has made it blatantly clear that she wants no parts of representing the mostly conservative area.

Now, some of the Republican proposals called for Anne Arundel County to have its own Congressional District. On the surface, I kind of like the idea. Granted, I am having a difficult time envisioning who would emerge as the winner in this hypothetical scenario. Naturally, I think such a race would attract some of our biggest names. After all, 2012 would allow every Senator or Delegate to run without having to vacate his or her current seat. No doubt, that would increase the pool of candidates. In the same way, it’s likely we’d see prominent private citizens as well as former elected officials entering the fray.

Ultimately, I think Anne Arundel County would come down as a swing district. Sure, recent trends give a slight advantage to the Republicans. Still, an expected large GOP field could have someone with less than 25% of the primary vote emerging as the nominee. Depending on the individual, I think certain Democrats would have a reasonable chance.

Before we get too excited thinking about this possibility, let’s concede it’ll never happen. Without splitting Anne Arundel County , the Maryland Democrats risk losing a seat as opposed to gaining one. And regardless of how the courts may redraw the maps, I still expect the same end result.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reject Rezoning

Recently, someone referred to me as one the main spokespersons against the rezoning of the Brumwell property. Make no mistake, I want no such role and can’t believe some have put so much focus on what comes out of my mouth. Bottom line, I am simply a concerned citizen with serious reservations about the potential impact of development at the Pasadena site.

First of all, I have no ill will toward the Brumwell family. I respect their desire to maximize the profit off the sale of the land. Granted, since I am not in their shoes, I get to look at the broader picture. Face it, the Mountain Road corridor already faces daily traffic nightmares. Depending on who one should believe, it’s projected a big box store would bring thousands of additional cars a day.

Now some have said that impact fees generated from allowing development of the Brumwell property could help alleviate the traffic concerns. To me, that sounds like subtraction by addition. In other words, that assertion makes no sense whatsoever. Moreover, we’ve already witnessed the fallacy of relying on the promise of these aforementioned fees. For instance, the development of Compass Point came with a promise that Ft. Smallwood Rd would connect with MD-100. Clearly, that’s next to impossible now.

Besides the traffic problems, future development would also affect other parts of our infrastructure. Recall, the electricity routinely goes out during most storms in the Pasadena area. Thus, I cannot fathom adding something that would demand a substantial amount of electricity from an already stressed grid.

For the record, I also oppose a condominium project at the site. Unfortunately, some have falsely duped others into believing that if we reject a zoning upgrade, then we’ll automatically see a large housing project. Regardless of how many times certain people repeat this statement, the fact remains that the county would have approve such a venture. In turn, they’re unlikely to deny a big box store and then do an about-face by allowing an even more unpopular residential plan.

In the end, the County Council must reject any attempt to develop the Brumwell property. Certainly, the impact could further exacerbate already out of control problems.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Incarceration Not Warranted

On November 28th, Councilman Daryl Jones will appear in Judge Ellen L. Hollander's court room for sentencing on his failure to file 35 tax returns over a four year period. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I met Daryl Jones in the summer of 2006. I immediately liked the guy and endorsed his candidacy in both the primary and general elections. Today, I still consider him a friend. Thus, I respect the fact some will naturally point out my bias. Regardless, I don't think he belongs in federal prison.

Since I am not a lawyer, I had to rely on others to gauge his chances of receiving a term of incarceration. On average, most people have told me the guidelines call for at least a thirteen month sentence. I am sorry, but the punishment doesn't fit the crime. After all, he's lived on this earth 47 years and only has this brush with the law. A graduate of University of Baltimore Law School in 1992, Daryl Jones has a solid reputation in the legal community. Likewise, he has served the First Council District well since his election in 2006.

Make no mistake, I am not glossing over this clear violation of the law. Obviously, he owes the federal government $108,369. Of course, how can he start to repay this debt if he has to give up a year or so of his life living beside career criminals? To me, secure confinement defies logic in this case.

At times, the federal judicial system likes to make examples of high profile figures. Thus, I fear the recently appointed Judge Hollander will overlook common sense in favor of making a name for herself. Keep in mind, this plea already puts Jones' law license in jeopardy. Now, if we couple that with a year behind bars, that will decrease the chances of Jones' ability to make good on this substantial sum of money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Problems At Pasadena Post Office

Back in June, an article appeared in the Maryland Gazette highlighting some startling allegations from employees of the Pasadena Post Office. At the time, an internal post office investigation revealed that 90% of their total workforce said they witnessed some form of workplace harassment. Likewise, complaints filed with the Post Office Equal Employment Opportunity Office showed that some felt the local postmaster, Launda Griffin, showed preferential treatment towards African American employees and retaliates against those who file complaints.

Apparently, not much has changed at the Mountain Rd establishment. Ms. Griffin still retains her position. In the same way, some employees feel they remain in a hostile work environment. Now, the Post Office has threatened to transfer any employee who talks about the problems to their customers or the media. According to my sources, they recently held a meeting demanding silence about the issues that continue to ail the Post Office.

Really, I see one common denominator that keeps this controversy alive. Instead of promising a massive transfer of dissatisfied employees, the regional office should consider a change in management. Even if Ms. Griffin and her staff have attempted to mend past wounds, it's obviously not resonating with the line staff.

In the past, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore regional office defended Griffin as an "excellent manager." Well, part of leadership involves motivating people to ensure the maximum amount of productivity. Clearly, most of the 37 or so employees dread going to work each day. Therefore, it's time for the Post Office to consider the most practical change to ensure their customers continue to receive the best possible service.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Minimum Wage increase while unemployment hovers around 10%

So it seems that there is a going to be a push by Progressive MD to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. I can tell you of 1 job that will not exist if this happens. You see I own a small locksmith company and have recently hired a 19 year old young man to become an apprentice. I pay him less than $10 an hour and to be honest with you he isn't worth what I am paying him. Now I do not say this to be mean hearted or rude but I am paying him to learn. For the most part he gets to ride along and watch. As time progresses I will begin to let him start doing some of the work with close supervision until I am sure that he is competent enough that I would let him work on my locks on my house. This will take about a year of me paying him a little less than $10 an hour or with taxes, uniforms, unemployment insurance and salary it will cost me about $20,ooo to teach someone. Who by the way once he can do it proficiently will expect a raise to probably somewhere close to $15 an hour. Now I am not crying or complaining about having to do this because it ensures me that I get the kind of technician I want representing my company. My complaint is that coming up with some arbitrary minimum wage number and making everyone comply can hardly make it worth for skilled trades to hire and train apprentices without inflating our cost to our customers in order to pay someone a higher than deserved salary. I feel that if we are going to make a minimum wage than maybe we should make it $20 an hour in order to make it easier to get by for people. I know that $20 an hour sounds preposterous but if you really think about it the idea that government is going to decide your contract between you and your employer sounds equally as preposterous.

Monday, January 17, 2011

10 Years For Murder in Anne Arundel

If anyone reads the daily police briefs, it's no secret that Anne Arundel County has seen a rash of serious crimes. To their credit, Police Detectives often identify and arrest these perpetrators. After that, we rely on Prosecutors to aggressively pursue the charges and a bench willing to dish out lengthy punishments to those deemed guilty.

Last week, a Maryland City resident entered an Alford Plea, thus conceding the state had enough evidence to convict her of a December 2009 fatal stabbing of a man that supposedly owed her drug money. For her heinous crime, this criminal received an unimpressive ten year sentence. After she earns her inevitable good conduct credits, it's likely this person will roam the streets again sometime in the near future.

I would to hear an explanation from Judge William Mulford, a Bob Ehrlich appointee and former criminal defense attorney. After all, even if Prosecutors and the Defense agree to a plea bargain, a judge does not have to bless their agreement. In fact, s/he must determine if the agreed upon punishment fits the scope of the crime. In this case, Judge Mulford has failed the citizens of Anne Arundel County.

Make no mistake, I plan to hold the bench responsible for their decisions. Sadly, Anne Arundel County has too many lenient judges among their ranks. Luckily, they must face the voters every fifteen years. It's time to send some packing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Get To Know Jerry

To avoid the inevitable questions, I've decided to tell people a little about myself. First of all, like all the contributors here, I receive no compensation for this venture. Therefore, I cannot invest more time on this blog than I do on my career, education or family. In other words, many people have ideas about what I should investigate and opine on. While I love suggestions, I have to limit myself to an extent.

For the record, I am a conservative. Though I left the Democratic Party after the 2000 election, I re-registered with party as a show of support for my fathers Senate run in 2006. He never encouraged or pressured this move, but it felt right at the time. To this day, I do not regret this decision. Moving forward, I decided my ideology more closely aligns with the Republicans. Moreover, as of December 28th, I am once again a member of the GOP. That said, I am not an apologist for anyone or any political party, In the other words, I hold both sides to the same standard.

Naturally, this blog will likely make me new friends and some enemies. Unfortunately, it may also turn former allies into adversaries. I only hope everyone remembers that I am only spouting my opinions. I don't maintain friendships based on political leanings. I hope others ultimately feel the same way. After all, we're lucky to live in a nation that encourages diverse political opinions.

I am really looking forward to working on this blog. I only hope that all of us have enough time to make it a relevant entity in local politics.

Moving to Annapolis For Three Months

With the start of session, legislators from all over the state will leave their bailiwicks and take up comfort in a luxury hotel or a private rental home. Of course, the taxpayers foot the majority of this cost. In addition, we'll cover their cost of traveling to Annapolis as well as their meals. Still, it's a justifiable expense to ensure the citizens living in far eastern or western suburbs of this state receive their due representation.

Sadly, the state of Maryland doesn't limit this perk to legislators traveling sizable distances. Instead, even those living in Anne Arundel County can take advantage of these benefits. While some such as Senators Ed DeGrange and John Astle routinely decline these gratuities, other so-called fiscal conservatives view it as an entitlement.

Now, I've heard excuses ranging from age to late sessions as the reasons for Anne Arundel legislators expensing hotel rooms. After reviewing the transcripts of the last few sessions, it's extremely rarely to find a meeting that extends beyond 8:20pm. If that's too late for some, perhaps we need more energetic leadership. And, I don't want to hear about the need to bond with fellow legislators after-hours. While I see some validity in that argument, I simply encourage them to limit their alcohol intake and drive home later in the evening.

Make no mistake, we intend to publish the expense accounts of the entire Anne Arundel County Delegation. Some may feel as though the public doesn't care based on the results of the last election. Nonetheless, we intend make it a visible issue over the next four years. I suspect voters will not overlook this again in 2014.

Anne Arundel Delegation

On the eve of the 2011 Maryland Legislative Session, the Anne Arundel County Delegation unanimously selected Bob Costa as chairman and Don Dwyer as vice-chair. While I am glad the Democrats didn't change the rules after seeing the results of the election, I am wondering why Republicans apparently fumbled their first snap.

For the record, I applaud the choice of Bob Costa. I've met him on many occasions and view him as an affable and straight-forward guy. I often wonder why he chose politics. After all, very few of his colleagues possess the candidness and honesty that epitomize Costa.

Don Dwyer, on the other hand, often engages in petty battles that have little, if any, effect on the daily lives of his constituents. For instance, Dwyer preoccupies himself with gay marriage. While I agree with his sentiments on this issue, I really feel there's more pressing concerns facing the community.

Also, Dwyer favors a confrontational style that ultimately renders him ineffective as a legislator. Of course, Dwyer then blames his membership in the minority party as the reason why he cannot pass meaningful legislation. Meanwhile, party affiliation doesn't hamper Bob Costa in neighboring District 33.

Over the last few election cycles, Republicans have positioned themselves nicely in Anne Arundel County. And, their efforts have helped them seize control of the local delegation. Therefore, I am curious why they've risked alienating people by elevating a controversial character like Dwyer such a visible position.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mike Busch changes the rules?

So it seems Mike Busch has decided to change the way the county delegations are decided. While Dems. controlled AA county the rule was if a district encompassed more than 1 county those delegates got only a single vote for the entire district while delegates in districts that are solely in AA county each got a vote. Now that it is Rep. controlled it seems that Busch is beginning some retribution upon (R) members of the AA delegation by moving office assignments in order to punish some delegates. See in MD it is one set of rules as long as it works to the ruling classes advantage but as soon as it doesn't it is time to change them. While it should not be of great surprise to anyone who has payed attention to the way things are done in Annapolis it does help solidify the argument given by some friends who have already fled MD for less hostile states.

Creation of State Debts

Based on published reports, Governor Martin O'Malley must find a way to raise $600 million to balance the FY 2012 budget. Therefore, he finds himself with only two options: curtail spending or raise taxes. Considering he has a willing legislature at his disposal, I suspect he'll opt for the latter. After all, with session still a week away, some Democrats and Republicans have already pre-filed legislation that would add to an ever growing deficit.

First, Democratic Delegate Melvin L. Stukes proposed a bill that would grant $500,000 to constructing a Heritage Center in Baltimore City. Likewise, Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell asked for the same thing in her chamber. Second, Republican Delegates Adelaide Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway along with Democrat Rudolph Cane seek $300,000 for the "design and construction of a replica of the Choptank River Lighthouse located in Cambridge".

Sure, these projects may have importance to some in local communities, but I fail to see the cumulative benefit for Maryland taxpayers. To me, that should serve as a litmus test for the allocation of state funds. Of course, in this economic environment, even the most pressing needs warrant the utmost scrutiny.

Come next week, I am certain will see more of this from Delegates and Senators on both sides of the aisle. Rest assured, you'll likely read about it here, especially if the Anne Arundel County Delegation decides participate in this fiscal irresponsibility.

Standard Disclaimer

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed by the individual contributors here, do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of the group as a whole. While we agree on many issues, occasionally we share a differing opinion.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

County Council Bill Regarding Monetary Settlements

Councilman Benoit has proposed a County Council bill requiring all legal settlements over $100k be authorized by the council. The bill covers any legal settlement over $100,000 which limits council oversight to the largest cases. In the past three years only two cases exceeded that amount. Council approval is required for more minor expenditures and in my opinion this shouldn't be any different. We will just have to wait to see where everyone comes down on this one but I can imagine that County Executive is going to push to get this shot down in order to preserve the power he has.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Jan. 18 in the Council Chambers and all are encouraged to come and listen and chime in on the debate. Check the council website for details.