Friday, March 30, 2007

Revised School Board Bill Winds Through Legislature

A bill that would reform the way that School Board members are selected has passed the House and Senate and now needs to be reconciled by the two chambers. The bill stops short of an elected school board, but would require the governor to select from a nominating commission's list of finalists, rather than allow him to ignore their recommendations, as he currently can.

Bill information:

HB 1114
SB 324


Leopold Fires a Shot Across the Bow

With his latest critical area violation lawsuit, John Leopold has made it clear that there are no fish too big to be caught in his environmental enforcement net. The County is suing Herrington Harbour, one of the largest marinas in the area, for illegally constructing a wedding chapel, a rooming house, sheds and walking trails constructed without permits.

Steuart Chaney, president of Herrington Harbour, is extremely well-connected, politically speaking, as evidenced by the fact that Senate President Mike Miller (D) felt comfortable shamelessly flakking for him: "People get charged with anything these days. I just know that he's a decent, honest, hardworking man, and a good family person who in my opinion is a law-abiding citizen."

Nonetheless, the County Executive seems to be pursuing a hard line: "There will be no sacred cows at the trough. Everyone will receive this message that this administration will maintain an even playing field."

The County is seeking to tear down the illegal structures and restore the impacted shoreline.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

South River Gets Graded

The South River Federation has released its first assessment of the River. The results are not encouraging.

Post coverage
Capital coverage


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Suspicious Scholarships

On Monday, the Capital ran a piece describing one of the less well known practices conducted by some Delegates and Senators. Each year, each Senator is provide with approximately $138,000 and each Delegate receives about $35,000 to dole out as "legislative scholarships." The total amount allocated to the programs for FY08 is $11.4 million.

Why Senators or Delegates are uniquely qualified to determine who is eligible for need-based aid is an important question (particularly given that the State already has institutions set up for precisely this purpose). More important, to my mind, is the question raised by Common Cause: Aren't financial gifts, given with no oversight, extremely susceptible to abuse?

Several proposals are on the table, and both Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to retain vestiges of the program (although other Republicans and Democrats are very uneasy with the program). My suggestion is, abolish the programs and divert the funds to the Maryland Higher Education Commission to distribute as scholarships. Certainly, there's no way Senator Jennie Forehand's (D - Montgomery) bill to "lift the $2,000 cap on awards and allow senators to pay the annual undergraduate tuition and fees for a full-time student at the University of Maryland College Park" should be allowed to pass.

I encourage you to check out the list below and look for familiar names. There are a number that raise red flags for me, including children living in exclusive, gated communities and the children of lobbyists making six figures (or more).

Scholarship recipients from Districts 21, 30, 31, and 32

Local Delegates and Senators who opt out:

  • Senator John Astle (D) (Did not opt out until '08).
  • Del. Virginia Clagett (D)

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  • Monday, March 26, 2007

    Maryland Gets First "Green" School

    Great Seneca Creek Elementary School, in Germantown (Montgomery County), is the first school in Maryland built to meet the US Green Building Council's LEED standards. In fact, in November, the Montgomery County Council passed legislation that would require all new public buildings be built to green standards. Given rising energy costs and increasing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions, it seems entirely appropriate for Anne Arundel County to adopt similar standards.

    Democrats in the legislature are trying to earmark 1% of the $400 million spent annually by the State on school construction for grants to "green" projects. Apparently though, some at the State level, like House Minority leader, Del. Anthony O'Donnell don't get the fact that spending an extra 2% at the time of construction will save that value to taxpayers many times over during the lifespan of these buildings.

    With a $1.5 billion backlog in school maintenance locally, there are enormous opportunities to save county residents millions of dollars by stipulating that new construction projects utilize the most energy efficient technologies available.

    Among the schools "green" features:
  • A geothermal heat pump.
  • Extensive passive solar features.
  • Dual flush, water conserving toilets. Waterless urinals
  • Wheat board, rather than wood, book shelves.
  • Fluorescent lighting.
  • A light reflecting roof.

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  • Friday, March 23, 2007

    Washing Our Hands of Phosphorus

    This week the House of Delegates passed a bill phasing out the use of phosphorus in dishwashing detergents. If passed in the Senate and signed by the Governor (who says he will sign the bill), Maryland will join Washington state in being the only states to require phosphate-free detergent (so far).

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    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Legislature Decides Not to Tie Allstate's Hands

    Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee wisely decided against passing a bill that would have required insurers to write homeowners' insurance policies in coastal areas that some have deemed a poor investment because of their risk.

    As I've said here before, there's no reason private (or public) insurers should subsidize poor and/or dangerous investment choices on the part of individuals. Floodprone areas, or those susceptible to other sorts of natural catastrophes shouldn't be built on from this point forward. It's that simple.

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    County Gets 547 Acre Preserve

    Chalk up another score for John Leopold. He has again shown himself willing to go where the Owens' administration feared to tread. Not only has the County picked up 547 acres of the former Crownsville Hospital site from the State for free, adding to the contiguous greenway from the Patuxent Research Refuge to Waterworks Park in Annnapolis, Leopold is also in negotiations with the State to amortize the cost of remediating the remaining 100+ acres.

    The previous administration, frightened away by the $25 million price tag to clean up the environmental issues looming in the antiquated hospital buildings, refused to pursue the property. Leopold's response, "The costs are there, but if we plan for the property in a measured, responsive way, we can handle those costs over time... It's important that the county hold the reins of controlling its destiny rather than leave that control at the whim of state decision-makers." I certainly agree with that sentiment, as long as he keeps Dennis Callahan away from it.

    The preserve will likely be opened to passive recreation, such as hiking and bird watching, and the administration is working with DNR to allow some hunting on the property.

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    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    CLSI's Latest Poll Results

    The results from AACC's Center for the Study of Local Issues latest survey are in, and they hint at the tension between higher taxes and better services that many residents in the County feel. The most important problems, in residents' eyes, remain growth (16%) and taxes (15%). As the survey's author, Dr. Dan Nataf says, "everybody is a liberal on spending and a conservative on taxes."

    The spring 2007 data indicate that half of the 529 residents surveyed favored "a school system which is absolutely top quality regardless of the cost." However, in response to the recently proposed 17 percent increase in the county public school system's budget, only 25% said "fully fund this proposal by raising some county taxes." Twenty percent wanted to "fully fund this proposal by reducing other county services," while 43% wanted to have their cake and eat it too, desiring to "partially fund this proposal to the extent possible without increasing taxes or reducing other county services." How, exactly, that final option could even occur (massive assessment hikes?), is not entirely clear.

    Among hot legislative topics in the news, a whopping majority of respondents want to ban roadside soliciting (76%), raise the cigarette tax to defray healthcare costs (72%), and ban smoking in all restaurants and bars (68%).

    As has been discussed here previously, most County residents (61%) are "not very familiar" with the issue of "changing the method of selecting the Anne Arundel County school board." I suspect the percentage is actually far higher than that. Nevertheless, 20% of respondents are content to keep the existing system, 42% want an elected school board, and 40% favor a board "selected by citizens representing elected officials and other community groups such as the teachers' union and the chamber of commerce."

    The damage to County government's political capital wreaked by the previous administration is still evident in the fact that a majority of respondents (52%) do not "trust the county to find the right balance between paying for these expenses and keeping taxes as low as possible?"


    Monday, March 19, 2007

    More on Leopold's Bid for the Farm

    Saturday's Post followed up on earlier reporting about the County Executive's bid to secure a lease on the Naval Academy Farm. He has announced the appointment of a seven-member advisory panel to finalize details of the plan, but generally speaking, he is seeking to:

  • Retain the existing organic farming operation.
  • Add community gardens.
  • Create a walkable botanic garden.
  • Add a "solar energy farm."
  • Include an agricultural museum.

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  • Fire Department on Track to Blow Overtime Budget, Again

    The Capital has put a pleasant spin on the latest overtime news out of the Fire Department, but the fact is, they're still on course to spend about $1.26 million more than they've been allocated this fiscal year ($4.4 million).


    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Local Politics Radio Show Hits the Airwaves

    Former Green Party candidate for the District 7 County Council seat, Robb Tufts, is producing a local politics radio show that will run on WRYR 97.5 FM, South County's low power FM station.

    The panelists for the political roundtable this Saturday are:

    Mike Collins - Chair of the Republican Central Committee, Former candidate for House of Delegates in D30
    Ray Naughton - President of the South County Democratic Club
    Rob Savidge - Treasurer, Anne Arundel Green Party
    Spear Lancaster - Former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate
    David Whitney - Constitution Party candidate for the House of Delegates in D30

    The political roundtable is hosted by Erik Michelsen. Erik is a member of the Franklin Manor Community Association and serves on the board of the South River Federation.

    Full Circle -- Saturdays @ 9am: Full Circle is WRYR's new weekly program discussing the topics that affect us here in South County and the Chesapeake Region. Each Saturday, Full Circle features a different panel of guests to talk about our watersheds, gardening & farming, arts & culture, and politics. Our political roundtable is featured the third Saturday of each month. Political pundits from across the political spectrum will discuss the local issues and take calls and answer emails from the listners.

    Listen to it locally or if you live outside of South County listen to it online at Call and email us at 410-867-9677 or


    Horse Stadium Plan Withdrawn

    Citing a lack of public support, the Maryland Stadium Authority yesterday announced that it would not be submitting a proposal to the Navy to lease the Dairy Farm property in Gambrills.

    In an interesting twist though, John Leopold has announced that the County will be submitting a bid to continue to use the farm as an organic farming operation as well as a community-garden and park.

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    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Wal-Mart Ups the Ante

    Unsatisfied to simply fill in 13-acres of the Little Patuxent's floodplain, Wal-Mart has decided to upgrade its original plans for a store on Route 3 in Crofton to include the construction of a "Supercenter". In Wal-Mart lingo, a "Supercenter" includes not only conventional retail options, but grocery goods as well. This, despite the fact that Wal-Mart has repeatedly denied an interest in providing grocery shopping at the location in the past.

    The Sun article repeats misinformation propagated by the development team that the project calls for "filling in at least 3,500 cubic yards of nontidal wetlands along the Little Patuxent River." Actually, in this case, the Sun conflates two different pieces of information: The fill (volume) will be used on the Little Patuxent floodplain, to bring the 13 acres up to a flat grade with the existing, upland piece of the property. The amount of fill is not 3,500 cubic yards, but instead something like 37,000 cubic yards, about 3,700 dump truck loads. The non-tidal wetlands (area) that will be destroyed is something on the order of .6 acres.

    Needless to say, Wal-Mart's change of plans has even gotten the normally docile Ed Reilly worked up, "They made a fundamental change to the character of the project without consulting us and notifying us, and that concerns us. I am very disappointed that they didn't contact us." Watch out folks, he's disappointed. I suspect that when hundreds turned out against Wal-Mart late last year, the handwriting on the wall was in large enough font that even Councilman Reilly could make it out.

    Councilman Benoit, whose district includes the site of planned store, offered: "The message that Wal-Mart is sending: They don't care what the residents of this county think. I don't know what they are trying to do. If they are trying to incite major, major community resentment, they are going to succeed."

    Is this hubris on Wal-Mart's part, or a high stakes game of chicken?

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    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Bringing Rain Barrels to Back Creek

    Today's Capital reports on the creative effort by local artists and the Back Creek Conservancy to raise awareness about the damage caused by stormwater by painting rainbarrels and auctioning them off at local businesses.


    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    Blogging the Patuxent

    Check out the Patuxent Riverkeeper's blog, Patuxent Ripples.

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