Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Leopold Wisely Lifts Freeze for Inspectors

About a month after he announced that there would be a countywide hiring freeze on non-emergency employees, Executive Leopold wisely lifted the ban to fill six open inspector positions. It's a good start, but I suspect getting the job done properly will require hiring quite a few more.

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Finlayson, Arnett Win Annapolis Elections

According to unofficial election results from the City [pdf], Democrats Sheila Finlayson and Ross Arnett have won the special elections for the Aldermanic seats in Ward 4 and Ward 8. Congratulations.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

County Promotes Innovative Stormwater Techniques

As is the case with so much of the good environmental work that comes out of County government, the Department of Public Works recently hosted a series of seminars on innovative stormwater management techniques. Given that Anne Arundel County has something on the order of $500 million in its maintenance and restoration backlog, it needs to be requiring best practices on all future projects.

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Getting the Bay Cleaned Up by 2010...Let's Imagine

Today's Post has a piece on what it would take to get the Bay cleaned up by 2010, like local government Executives said they would in 2000.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Annapolis Special Election Tuesday

The election to fill the Ward 4 and Ward 8 seats on the Annapolis City Council will be held this Tuesday. The races pit Democrat Sheila Finlayson against Republican James Conley in Ward 4, and Democrat Ross Arnett against Republican Frank Bradley in Ward 8.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fire Suppression in Annapolis

The Capital said it in Friday's paper, and I would like to affirm it and add to it here: The City Council and Mayor absolutely have to find a way to get sprinkler systems installed throughout the commercial corridor of historic Annapolis.

Sure, there will be some complaints from property owners, a share of whom work to extract as much as they can from their multi-million dollar property without having to maintain their aging structures. And, no doubt, there will be concerns from tenants about increases in rent. These objections are legitimate and deserve consideration, but in my estimation, they take a back seat to the fact that a significant blaze or two could destroy everything in Annapolis that so many forward thinking people have done over the past 300 centuries to preserve. There's no question that Annapolis is more than old buildings, but there's also little question that if Annapolis consisted largely of architecture like the modern entrants on Main Street and the Bank of America building on Church Circle the City would be poorer off for it, and its appeal would suffer.

All of this is to say nothing of the benefits to human safety that accrue from mandating the installation of sprinklers. For instance, in Scottsdale, Arizona, where sprinklers have been mandated for 15 years, the City has seen the civilian fire fatality rate reduced by a minimum of 50 percent [pdf], and millions of dollars in cost savings as a result of the absence of fire-related interruptions in commerce.

This is an idea whose time came a decade or two ago, and is well past overdue. Requiring sprinklers will allow property owners to convert their second and third floors to residential space, will dramatically decrease the likelihood of a catastrophic fire in the district, and will help enhance and protect our gem of a City for the next 300 years.

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Annapolis Kicks Off Greenscape 2007

The City of Annapolis is preparing to move forward with its 16th annual clean-up and beautification of the City, Greenscape. The program truly is a model that would be great for the County to adopt as well.

To learn more about GreenScape 2007, contact the Annapolis Recreation and Parks at 410-263-7958 or view the City's Web site at

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Sheriff Johnson Becomes Colonel Johnson

Former Anne Arundel County Sheriff, and candidate for County Executive, George Johnson was appointed by Governor O'Malley to head the Department of Natural Resources Police this past week. The move places him in charge of the 214 officers who patrol state parkland and waterways.


USGS Releases Comprehensive Report on the Impact of Land Use Changes

This lengthy edited volume looks like a great resource. "Rates, Trends, Causes, and Consequences of Urban Land-Use Change in the United States". The report includes chapters such as: Change to Urban, Agricultural, and Forested Land in Central and Southern Maryland From 1850-1990; Changes in Anthropogenic Impervious Surfaces, Precipitation, and Daily Streamflow Discharge-A Historical Perspective in a Mid-Atlantic Subwatershed; and, Wrestling Sprawl to the Ground-Defining and Measuring an Elusive Concept.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Local Activist Wins Prestigious Environmental Award

Anne Pearson, Director of the Edgewater-based Alliance for Sustainable Communities recently received this year's Ellen Fraites Wagner Award from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The award honors those who have "have devoted more than 30 hours each week of their own time and brought in others in their commitment to make a difference in restoring the Bay watershed." Congratulations Anne, and thank you for all your hard work.


Leopold Appoints Villemaire to Top Planning Post

On Monday, Executive Leopold appointed the individual who had been serving as interim Director of Planning and Zoning to the position permanently. Lois Villemaire, who previously held the position of Zoning Administrator, joins Ron Bowen, Director of the Department of Public Works, and Betty Dixon, Director of Inspections and Permitting as the third and final head of Leopold's Executive Departments.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Post Expose on the Cozy Relationship between Developers and Pols

Today's Post contains an investigative piece exploring the often unseemly connections between local politicians in Loudoun County, Virginia and the development community.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Wayson's Target Gets Setback

Turns out their stormwater plan is giving them problems. County spokesperson, Pam Jordan, declares "This is obviously a major delay in any improvements (i.e., conversion of forest to paved consumption pad) the owner has in mind for the property." Par for the course.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Naval Academy Considers Gambrills Farm Proposals

Today's Capital reports that the Naval Academy is now openly considering proposals for the Gambrills property that used to serve as its dairy farm.

All of the local pols interviewed, including several recently elected, expressed an interest in keeping the site rural, and opposing its conversion to a horse park.

James King (R - Delegate, 33A) - "I'm leaning against the horse park because the constituents in my districts have been openly opposed to it. I think on this one you have to listen to the residents."

Janet Greenip (R - Senator, 33) - "I would like for the property to remain open space, but not to be a drain on anybody's pocketbook."

Jamie Benoit (D - Council, 4) - "I very much want it to stay a working farm or other agrarian use. It has the potential to be a real model for organic farming."

John Leopold (R - County Executive) - Wants to see the Navy's land remain agrarian, while respecting the wishes of nearby communities.

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Beware the Emerald Ash Borer

As if we weren't already inundated with enough invasive plant and animal species, the Capital reports a new invader is threatening native ash trees. The emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia is threatening local tree populations and has led the Maryland Department of Agriculture to put a "quarantine" in place for ash trees in Prince George's County. Theoretically, no firewood or ash trees are to leave the county.

Please abide the quarantine, and if you happen to see the beetle below, please contact the Maryland Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5920 to report it.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More Well Tests, More Heavy Metals

Having found dangerously high levels of heavy metals in wells in Gambrills and Crofton, the Health Department is now expanding its testing effort into Odenton. As has been discussed here previously, well tests in west Anne Arundel have revealed elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, and thallium in the water there.

Just for some context. Here's a map of the Constellation fly ash site, the Magothy aquifer, and the surrounding area.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sun Legislative Guide

The Sun's online guide to the 2007 Legislature.


New Annapolis Blog Kicks Off

Former Democratic candidate for the Ward 8 Aldermanic seat, Paul Foer, has started up his own blog focusing on Annapolis issues. Capital Punishment "offers a progressive, political focus on local issues in the historic state capital of Annapolis , MD and environs. It strives to be a thorn in the side of the status quo, an alternative voice and a watchdog on the local media--especially The Capital... of course." Check it out.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Parole Site Pollutes Church Creek...Again

Today's Capital reports that the the Parole Towne Center is once again the source of serious sediment loading into Church Creek, a tributary of the South River.

While pumping out a sediment control pond, a contractor on the site failed to use the proper filtration devices to prevent muddy water from leaving the project area. While the "de-watering" operation was halted as soon as the South Riverkeeper gave County inspectors notification that the violation was occuring, the contractor, Reliable, was given a $500 fine, a slap on the wrist.

Both Greenberg-Gibbons, the developer, and Reliable, the contractor claim not to be responsible. Greenberg-Gibbons' Senior Vice President Kim Potember claimed, "We did not see what the county saw. We did not see the overflow ... We don't agree with the reason the fine was levied."

Perhaps they didn't see it because they don't have their own environmental inspector on site monitoring such activities.

Reliable President, Jay Baldwin was in similar disbelief: "We are not sure the county has all the facts. We treated the pond that was being drained. Our guys were watching the operation and the water was not going over the bio-filter. No water was going into that outfall."

This has only happened 3 or 5 times before. Surely it's a case of mistaken identity.

The developers are touting this leaky site as "state-of-the-art," the County is promising to crack down on environmental offenders (and levying piddling fines), and the Riverkeepers are doing the job of County inspectors. There are many things wrong with this picture. John Leopold is currently the only person in the County with the capacity to correct all three.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Severn Becomes Poster-Child for Aquatic Damage

A report in today's Post describes how local biologists are using the Severn River as a cautionary tale about the environmental degradation that occurs when watersheds are overdeveloped.

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Anne Arundel Smoking Ban Proposed

Executive Leopold, and several delegates have proposed eliminating smoking at bars and restaurants in Anne Arundel County. As far as I'm concerned, this has been way too long in coming. Why should smokers be allowed to kill the rest of us while we try to enjoy ourselves in public places?


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Students Study Local Environment

Friday's Capital reports students in the International Baccalaureate program at Old Mill High School have undertaken a number of projects researching the condition of a nearby stream which feeds into Marley Creek, integrating considerations of biology, chemistry, and physics.

The International Baccalaureate program is a course of advanced study for high school students that trains them in critical thinking and prepares them for college level work. Projects conducted by the students included looking at the effect of fertilization of the football field on the health of the stream (the students found no impacts, concluding that the wooded buffer between the two absorbed excess nutrients), as well as local biodiversity.

Future classes will look at the stream again, seeking the best options for restoration, and eventually track the effects of those improvements.

I heartily applaud this effort by the students and teachers of the Old Mill IB program, and I encourage other schools in the County to undertake similar monitoring and restoration efforts.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Surprise! Bay Won't Be Cleaned Up by 2010

Today's Post reports on the astonishing revelation by an EPA official that the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay is going to take several more decades.


Should We Elect a School Board?

Since John Leopold's election as County Executive there has been quite a bit of discussion about moving from an appointed school board to an elected school board, a move he supported as a Delegate. The retirement of Phil Jimeno in the Senate opens the door to an elected board, as he was one of the most vociferous opponents of the idea (Mr. Jimeno's replacement, Bryan Simonaire, supports an elected Board). Among the other members of the County delegation, Senators John Astle (D) and Janet Greenip (R) support an elected Board, while Ed DeGrange (D) opposes one, and Jim Rosapepe (D) is open to the possibility. The House delegation is much more uniformly supportive of the change.

So, how should the County proceed? My initial instinct is that greater democratic involvement should always be the goal in these sorts of situations. However, there is also concern that politicization of the School Board, which some may see as an electoral stepping stone to higher office, would serve students poorly. Of course, that isn't to say the current archane process, where the Governor appoints Board members from a pool nominated by community organizations isn't political.

So what does the research say? An analysis of appointed vs. elected school boards in New York State found, "with several exceptions, the school district under the appointed board seemed to be the mirror image of the district under the elected board." A 2003 study of mayoral takeoever of elected school boards in urban areas found that "mayoral takeover (and an appointed school board) was associated with greater levels of per pupil expenditure [pdf]." In an analysis of 100 school districts nationwide, researchers Kenneth Wong and Francis Shen found that over a 5-year period, "districts with appointed boards produced fewer management problems, labor disputes, and financial improprieties; they bring "a broader set of expertise" among managers that allowed them to better access state and federal grants; and they showed more academic progress as measured by test scores."

So, of the research available seems to lean in favor of an appointed, rather than elected school board. However, there is clearly more analysis to be done. My concern, at this point, is that whether elected or appointed, changing the structure of the Board is going to have less impact on the educational outcomes of students than it will on the appearance of taking some sort of important action. If the Anne Arundel County School system has serious problems, I think they can be more readily addressed by improving teacher compensation and keeping up with infrastructure maintenance than changing the structure of the school board. But, of course, those things cost money.

Additional Research:

  • Interest Groups and the Shift from Appointed to Elected School Boards. (1996). [pdf]

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  • Senator Jimeno Retires

    Sun coverage here.

    Capital coverage here.


    Board of Appeals Gets Some New Faces

    Four of seven of the previous members of the Board of Appeals have been replaced by the County Council. The good news is, William Moulden is sticking around (although, unfortunately, Anthony Lamartina is not), and Ray Jicka, Vance Remillard, and Michael Toppper are out. The new appointees are: Carroll Hicks, D-Severna Park, William Knight, D-Hanover, Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, & Jim Rzepkowski, R-Glen Burnie. John Boring, R-Arnold and Arnold McKechnie, R-Davidsonville (who had the worst voting record on the previous Board) were re-appointed.

    Only time will tell if this Board is going to make a mockery of our environmental protection laws like the previous one did, or will instead stand up to protect the public good.


    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    Annapolis Special Election Results

    In Ward 4, it will be Democrat Sheila Finlayson facing off against Republican James Conley, and in Ward 8, it will be Democrat Ross Arnett taking on Republican Frank Bradley.

    [Full results from the Sun]

    [Full results from the Capital]


    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Annapolis Special Primary Election Today

    Today is the primary for the special election in Ward 4 and Ward 8. Polling location details are below:

    Ward 4: Voting Precinct 06-04, Heritage Baptist Church, 1740 Forest Drive or Voting Precinct 06-14, American Legion Cook-Pinkney #141, 1707 Forest Drive

    Ward 8: Voting Precinct 06-08, Eastport Volunteer Fire Hall, 914 Bay Ridge Avenue or Voting Precinct 06-18, Eastport Elementary School, 420 Fifth Street

    Sun coverage of the Ward 4 and Ward 8 races.

    Capital reports extremely light turnout. The winner in each of these races may only have 50-60 votes.