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.