Thursday, April 30, 2009

Go Ahead And Waste Water Again

The county has lifted its water restrictions. Funny how it uses a picture of many sprinklers watering a big ol' lawn to deliver that news.

Alternative Energy

The Sun's ExploreHoward blog has a nice little feature on HoCo's first wind turbine, a 50-foot job that Brent Rutley, owner of the Just This Side of Paradise farm in Woodbine says saves him about $100 a month in energy costs.

According to Rutley, the turbine combined with the 22 solar panels that the farm added last fall save him an average of about $320 each month.

Rutley, who also owns the farm’s parent company Capitol City Contractors, paid $15,000 for the turbine and expects to receive almost $10,000 in state and federal alternative energy-related tax credits, incentives and grants.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

HoCo Closes OM TB Case

The Health Department says it has completed its investigation of possible TB exposure at Oakland Mills High School and did not find any evidence of "tuberculosis transmission" among the people it tested.

HoCo Asks Folks To Cut Water Use

The big water main break that has stopped all the Amtrak and commuter trains is causing problems for water service here:

From HoCo gov:

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is asking county residents to restrict unnecessary use of their water until further notice. At approximately 3:00 a.m. this morning, the major water transmission line from Baltimore City feeding Howard County, failed in Baltimore County. The Department of Public Works is working diligently to provide the County with the remaining supplies, but at this point the County will be 25% short in supply.

To ensure continued water supply throughout Howard County -- particularly for fire protection and hospital/medical use -- the County is urging all of its residents served by County water to reduce their water use immediately. Due to system redundancy, Howard County is still able to supply 75% of daily demand. With cooler temperatures and precipitation, officials are hoping voluntary water conservation will reduce occurrences of low water pressure. The county’s water remains safe to drink.

Howard County will notify residents once adequate supply is regained and voluntary conservation measures are no longer necessary.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Trotter Road Work Begins Soon

From HoCo gov:

A Howard County construction project to extend public water and sewer to the Trotter Crossing Development, in the vicinity of Southwind Circle in Clarksville, is scheduled to begin on or about Monday, May 4. The project will include construction of approximately 1,200 linear feet of both 8-inch water main and 8-inch sewer main, just north of the Trotter Road traffic circle. Weather permitting the project should be completed by mid-June.

During the project, Trotter Road thru traffic will be detoured using Maryland Route 108 and Great Star Drive. Flagging operations will be in place to direct traffic as needed, and signs will be posted to advise motorists of the construction and detour. In addition, a recorded message at 410-313-3637 will carry project details and updates about the project.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Schools Urge Precautions On Swine Flu

Dear HCPSS parents and guardians,

Over the weekend you may have heard media reports regarding cases of Swine Flu in New York, Kansas, California and Mexico. In situations involving health issues, the school system takes its direction from the Howard County Health Department. School system staff is working closely with Health Department staff to monitor the situation and the information coming from the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At this point, public health officials are recommending that schools continue to monitor student health according to regular procedures and that people take the same precautions as would be taken for any other type of influenza prevention.

Recommendations are:·

- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze (Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective).

- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

- If you get the flu stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are spread this way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is updating their website frequently in response to the current swine flu. Information is also available on the Howard County Health Department site.

School system officials are reviewing the list of the out-of-state or out-of-country trips scheduled between now and the end of the school year. We will contact schools and parents immediately if changes are necessary.

The HCPSS has detailed protocol for responding to public health issues and other emergency situations. We are confident in our preparedness and our ability to respond appropriately should conditions warrant.

Questions regarding swine flu may be directed to the Howard County Health Department at 410.313. 6300. School health issues may be directed to HCPSS School Health Services Coordinator Donna Heller, RN, at 410.313.6637.

CA, Village Vote Totals

The votes have been counted and the Sun's ExploreHoward blog has the full report.

Here are the results, courtesy of the Flier:


Wilde Lake

Phillip Kirsch 308
Linda Odum 298

Hickory Ridge
Gregg Schwind 135
Sharlene Ferguson 115

Long Reach
Russell Swatek 301
James Howard 164

Dorsey's Search

Kathleen Dragovich 101
Dan Woodruff 78

Wilde Lake Village Board:
Nancy Alexander 454
Helen Kolbe 430
Edwin Sroka 400
Vincent Marando 392
Bill Santos 381
Terry Kuhn 341

Saturday, April 25, 2009

New At The Mall

The Baltimore Business Journal reported on newcomers to the mall....

This summer, new tenants including Chipotle, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Arby’s and Ruby Tai will also move into spaces.

Chipotle’s Mall in Columbia store will be its first mall food court location.

Bare Escentuals, creator of bareMinerals makeup line, opened a 1,655-square-foot store this month at the mall. Vans, a skateboarding apparel and equipment store, plans to open a 3,000-square-foot store in the mall by the end of this year. And Monica Jewelry plans to open a 600-square-foot store this summer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Exhibit Center, CA HQ Added To Bankruptcy

Ouch. Columbia's Exhibit Center building and CA headquarters in downtown is added to the list of properties seeking protection from creditors, along with the Running Brook Convenience Center and some Columbia Corporate Center properties.

Here's a link to GGP's press release.

A New Wave Of Foreclosures?

That's what the Sun says in this story about foreclosures involving Dale Thompson Builders.

Auction signs sprout from manicured front yards of a row of new brick and stone townhouses in Columbia, signaling yet more foreclosures amid the collapse of the luxury housing market. But in what some experts see as the latest wave of foreclosures to hit the Baltimore area, the homes' builder, rather than homebuyers, went into default.

Two separate lenders have foreclosed on 35 of Dale Thompson Builders' unsold homes, building lots and unfinished houses in Columbia's Scot's Glen townhouse development. One lender also foreclosed on seven lots in a neighborhood of $1 million homes in western Howard County, according to public records detailing property auctions. Two auctions are scheduled for Friday.

HoCo On Cedar Lane

HoCo gov put out this statement today, promising to wrap up Cedar Lane work soon:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – A Howard County construction project along Cedar Lane between Freetown Road and Harriet Tubman Lane in Columbia is nearing completion. The project extended a 12-inch diameter PVC water main, approximately 5,000 linear feet, to serve the new Robinson Nature Center. Weather permitting, the project should be completed by early May 2009.

The northbound lane will remain closed while road repaving continues, and drivers may experience short delays. Also, restoration of the sidewalk and curb to their original states will follow the completion of the water main connection. Flagging operations will be in place to direct traffic as needed, and signs will be posted to advise motorists of the construction.

We wonder if this will satisfy "Anonymous"....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bumpy Road

We had a trickle of complaints come in lately about our post some time ago on the Cedar Lane reconstruction project. For our two cents, driving in that right hand lane was pretty gnarly during nonconstruction hours.

Here's what our correspondents are saying:

Anonymous said...

Hello fellow Cedar Lane travelers.

I don't know about you, but I have found this construction job to be VERY poorly managed in several ways.

Very poor temporary paving: potholes quickly formed, loose gravel / debris kicks up when people drive over it... especially when those unfamiliar with the repair impatiently pass on the right over the lousy bumpy debris ridden paving! Their solution to this seems to have been closing the lane for good until the final paving can be done.

The manner in which the cones were placed, on several days, left a lot to be desired.

The time that it is taking to finally get the job done seems to be excessive based on major road work that I've seen done in a much more efficient and timely manner.

Does anyone else share my feelings? If so, contact:

Lisa Brightwell,Public Works Customer Service, at 410-313-3440, or by e-mail to and reference Capital Project W-8273

April 22, 2009 1:05 PM

Anonymous said...

In all my 25 years of driving in Howard County I have never seen such appalling workmanship as that being performed on Cedar Lane. Rocks and pebbles fly, dinging my auto and dinging my windshield. Within moments of the temporary toping ruts have formed and people bounce down the road. My county government has permitted the quality of third world countries. I am extremely disappointed that my tax dollars were spent so unwisely and allowed such poor workmanship. While I recognize the surface to be a temporary surface, the work done and the surface placed was a hazard and whoever was in charge should be fired.

Extremely disappointed in the management, traffic control and choice of contractor. My government continues to demonstrate that they do not know how to appropriately and smartly spend my money.

April 22, 2009 2:38 PM

Anonymous said...

That job is seriously heinous.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Flower Power

One of the Talk Team's regular stops this time of year is the annual plant sale at the school system's Applications & Research Lab greenhouses next to the Board of Education's administration building off Route 108 at Cedar Lane.

A correspondent sent us this notice:




$2 PER 4" POT
$37.50 FOR 10 BAGS


4 1/2" ANNUAL $2.75 EACH OR 15 FOR $37.50(ANY CHOICE)


Sheraton Completes Remodel

The Sheraton Columbia has completed its $12 million remodel...the refurbished rooms now have flat screen TVs and Starbucks for the coffee maker.

And free WiFi in the lobby!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rising Assessments?

The Sun offered this nugget about HoCo Exec Ken Ulman's proposed operating budget in its dead-tree edition that ultimately made its way online:

The property tax rate ($1.014 per $100 of assessed value) would not increase, but tax bills are expected to, because of rising assessments. Water and sewer charges would increase 6 percent.

Given the cost of water these days, it might be time to invest in rain barrels.

Share The Road

From HoCo PD:

Pedestrians and cyclists will be racing on Howard County roads on Sunday, April 26, during the Blossoms of Hope Howard Life Festival. Motorists are advised to use caution when sharing the roads with an anticipated 2,000 to 3,000 race participants.

From 6:30 a.m. to noon, Little Patuxent Parkway will be closed between Sterrett Place and South Entrance Road, and a runners’ lane will be reserved on the following roadways:

• Little Patuxent Parkway from South Entrance Road to Hickory Ridge Road
• Hickory Ridge Road from Little Patuxent Parkway to Cedar Lane
• Cedar Lane from Hickory Ridge Road to Grace Drive
• Grace Drive from Cedar Lane to Quiet Night Ride

Howard County Police officers will be staffing traffic posts at all major intersections. Traffic delays are anticipated. Motorists are advised that race participants have the right of way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

HoCo Exec Outlines His Budget

HoCo Exec Ken Ulman released his proposed operating budget today. Here's a link to a summary. Here's how he described it in a press release:

The General Fund Budget is $820,224,970 and that number includes the $14.5 million in cuts the County received from the State of Maryland. Even after those cuts, Ulman’s budget is still a reduction of 4% from FY2009. Apart from education funding (which was increased by $2.7 million and accounts for more than half of the entire County budget), Ulman is proposing reductions in every county government department.

General Government spending is down 5.9%; Public Facilities spending is down 4.7%; Legislative and Judicial Services is down 5.4%; and Community Services spending is down 4.2%. However, Ulman has maintained level funding of $4.8 million in Community Service Partnership grants program and restructured distribution of individual grant awards to direct more funding to those agencies which address critical human service needs such as housing, food, health care, and crisis support. The Executive has also created a $40,000 Emergency Assistance supplement to provide additional support to those with the most critical needs.

Under this budget proposal, non-essential county facilities will be closed over the winter holidays (December 25-January 3), but County libraries will remain open. Non-public safety employees will be furloughed for those four business days; County department heads will be furloughed one additional day for a total of five days. Although elected officials cannot legally be furloughed, Executive Ulman has asked elected officials to join him in voluntarily participating in a five-day “furlough” by returning the equivalent of five days worth or their salaries to the County.

“The decision to layoff and furlough county employees was the most difficult one I had to make; but by furloughing, we dramatically reduced the number of layoffs we had to make,” said Ulman.

Why There's No School Thursday

From the public school system's e-newsletter:

Again this year, schools will be closed for students on the fourth Thursday of April. The practice started last year in response to requests from school administrators for help in addressing high student absenteeism on Take Your Child to Work Day. The HCPSS supports the idea of parents involving their children in their professional lives as a positive way for young people to learn about the world of work. However, Take Your Child to Work Day adversely affected the instruction at many Howard County schools when only a handful of students showed up for school on that day. Our solution was to move the Professional Development Day for educators, which was traditionally scheduled in March, to the fourth Thursday of April.

Is this the ideal solution? Probably not. However, we are open to alternative solutions that support teaching and learning while also supporting parents who wish to participate in Take Your Child to Work Day.

County Seeks Advice On GGP Bankruptcy

You get the feeling from reading the coverage of General Growth's bankruptcy and the implications that it might have on downtown development that county officials really, really, really want to approve something despite the uncertainty surrounding the developer's future.

Here's what HoCo Exec Ken Ulman told the Sun's ExploreHoward blog:

Ulman said he is still looking forward to working with General Growth on its development plans in the county.

“We need to move forward in a thoughtful, careful manner,” he said. “I hope there’s a plan approved by the County Council later this year. That plan, while it might not be exactly what General Growth proposed, would represent the county and community vision for Town Center. ... Whatever entity carries out that plan will still have to meet the vision.”

Council chairmanwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, who represents Town Center and west Columbia, also remains optimistic about the process, even as the County Council moves to retain bankruptcy experts.

Sigaty said she doesn’t expect the bankruptcy filing to have too great an impact on the county’s work on a plan to redevelop downtown Columbia, although it could impact the county’s dealings with General Growth.

“A plan is a good thing to have no matter what,” she said.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mall Is Not Part Of Bankruptcy

According to the Sun, not every General Growth property is part of the bankruptcy filing seeking protection from creditors.

The Mall in Columbia, the master-planned community of Columbia, and the development in Columbia Town Center are not involved in the bankruptcy filings, according to information posted on the company’s Web site.

Other local properties owned or managed by GGP that are not involved in the filings are the American City Building in downtown Columbia, the Columbia Association building, Towson Town Center, Laurel Commons and Mondawmin Mall.

The company is going ahead with its plan to redevelop downtown Columbia, said Gregory Hamm, regional vice president and general manager of Columbia for General Growth.

“As we have said many times, a good general plan and zoning will run with the land,” Hamm said. “Regardless of who owns it or what the circumstances are, a quality plan and all that comes with it survives transfers, survives economic ups and downs.”

Some local General Growth properties are part of the bankruptcy filing, including Gateway Overlook shopping center, on the eastern edge of Columbia, and the Hickory Ridge Village Center, in west Columbia.

HoCo Bans Texting In HoCo Cars

The state legislature recently passed a law that will fine drivers up to $500 later this year if they are caught texting while driving. HoCo Exec Ulman is going to wait before imposing a similar ban on county employees. It'll be interesting to see how it works. In DC, it is against the law to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free kit, but you wouldn't know it by watching all the gabbers in police cars and other city vehicles.

From the HoCo Exec:

County Executive Ken Ulman today announced that he has issued Executive Order 2009-03, which prohibits all county employees from texting or e-mailing while operating a County vehicle. Ulman made the announcement this morning at a Maryland Highway Safety Foundation breakfast meeting held in Howard County.

“The research and statistics are there, distracted driving causes accidents,” said Ulman. “And since we have this knowledge and see it every day when we are on the road, government must do its part in making our roadways safer.”

Ulman’s Executive Order goes into effect immediately; a similar Maryland law, recently passed by the State legislature, goes into effect on October 1, 2009. This order bans the reading of text messages and e-mails, which is not covered in the new state law.

"We applaud Howard County Executive Ken Ulman for his vision and leadership in making highway safety a priority as demonstrated by this much needed Executive Order, which further expands the texting ban passed by the State legislature," said Reese Ruppersberger, Executive Director of the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation.

Here's is a copy of Executive Order 2009-03:

Executive Order: 2009 – 03

Dated: April 15, 2009

Subject: Prohibition Against Texting and

Using Email While Operating a County Vehicle

WHEREAS, text messaging, or texting, and emailing with cell phones and other electronic devices is a convenient and efficient method of electronic communication, but the act of texting or emailing while driving can divert attention from the focus required for safe driving; and

WHEREAS, according to an analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, driving while texting appears to be a growing trend, with one study estimating that 20% of all drivers send or receive text messages; and

WHEREAS, the same analysis indicates that driver inattention is a factor in an estimated 80% of motor vehicle crashes and 65% of near crashes, with the result that driver distraction appears to be a factor in about 4.9 million accidents, causing 34,000 fatalities and 2.1 million injuries; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of County employees, county residents and motorists who use the streets and highways in the county to establish rules that enable County employees to operate County vehicles in the safest possible manner.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDERED by the County Executive of Howard County, Maryland that a County employee shall not use a hand-held electronic device to write, send or read text messages or email while operating a County vehicle.

AND BE IT FURTHER ORDERED that this prohibition does not apply to a County employee in a County vehicle that is parked outside the travel portion of a roadway, as that term is defined in the Transportation Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I, Ken Ulman, as County Executive of Howard County, Maryland have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of Howard County to be affixed this 15th day of April, 2009.

Ken Ulman

County Executive

General Growth Seeks Protection

From WaPo:

General Growth Properties, the giant shopping mall company whose holdings stretch from Tysons Corner to the planned community of Columbia and Baltimore's Inner Harbor, announced today that it has sought protection from creditors in bankruptcy court.

The company had been struggling for months to win relief from billions of dollars of debt, much of which is past due.

"All day-to-day operations and business of all of the Company's shopping centers and other properties will continue as usual," the company said in a news release.

General Growth, based in Chicago, had been trying to sell some of its landmark properties as it asked lenders to forgo debt payments, but amid recession and a credit crunch found little room to maneuver.

The bankruptcy filing could compound the woes of the banks and institutional investors that funded General Growth. By reducing the company's expenses and potentially slashing the price of its real estate, it could enable General Growth to undercut other owners and operators of shopping malls, contributing to the economy's downward spiral.

It also adds a new element of uncertainty to the future development of Columbia, where General Growth has been working on a long-term land use plan. General Growth years ago acquired Rouse, the pioneering developer of Columbia and of festival marketplaces around the country.

The company owns or manages more than 200 regional malls in 44 states, among other properties. Its holdings include Harborplace and the Gallery in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Alexandria's Landmark Mall, Laurel Commons and Tysons Galleria.

One of the last straws for the company was a request days ago from a group of bondholders that the trustee for the bonds sue to enforce payment.

General Growth said it has lined up $375 million to fund its operations while in bankruptcy. The financing is from the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, one of the firm's major investors.

General Growth's stock closed at $1.05 Wednesday, far below its 52-week high of $44.23.

The company's bankruptcy filing listed assets of $29.6 billion and debts of $27.3 billion.

Its major investors, directly or indirectly, include fund manager Vanguard Group and Fidelity's FMR LLC, according to the filing. Big creditors include the bank Eurohypo.

The big losers in the company's decline include its founding Bucksbaum family. As of March 23, chairman John Bucksbaum and other family interests held more than 2.6 million shares, according to a regulatory filing.

Bucksbaum was replaced as chief executive in October. The company also replaced chief financial officer Bernard Freibaum, who had been struggling with debts of his own. Freibaum sold almost 3 million shares in October to repay margin calls -- demands for repayment of borrowing -- and he was left with $3.4 million of margin debt, the company reported in October.

When Adam Metz, who had been the company's lead director, was named interim chief executive last fall at a salary of $1.5 million, the company promised him a "fixed bonus" of $2 million and the potential to earn an additional bonus of $1 million based on performance.

"While we have worked tirelessly in the past several months to address our maturing debts, the collapse of the credit markets has made it impossible for us to refinance maturing debt outside of chapter 11," Metz said today in a news release.

"Our core business remains sound and is performing well with stable cash flows," Metz said.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TB Diagnosed At OM High

The principal at Oakland Mills sent out a letter today telling families that someone at the school has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and is under medical care.

Although health authorities believe the risk of transmission is unlikely, the county nevertheless has started an investigation to be sure no staff or students have been exposed to the bacterial illness. Some people are being asked to come in for further testing.

A meeting is being held at the school tonight (4/15) to discuss, or anyone concerned can call the health department at 410-313-7524.

Florida Comes To Columbia

Not the state, we're referring to the father of the Creative Class. WaPo once did a profile when Richard Florida came to work in these parts. Here's his site.

This note comes from a Talk correspondent:

The Chamber of Commerce is presenting a talk by Dr. Richard Florida next Thursday, April 23. According to their press release, "Florida will address the economic impact of the Creative Class, the core force of growth in our future economy. The Creative Class is expected to add more than ten million jobs in the next decade. His message is critical to Howard County as we develop the plans for Columbia’s downtown. The business community, community activists, students and elected officials will all benefit from Florida’s thought provoking messages."

The event is $25 and takes place at APL's Kossiakoff Center. You can find more information about the event on the Chamber's Web site, or about Dr. Florida on his Creative Class web site.

Rating The Police

From HoCo PD:

A team of assessors from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) will visit the Howard County Department of Police in April to examine all aspects of police policy, procedures, management, operations and support services, Police Chief William McMahon announced today. As part of the on-site assessment, members of the community are invited to offer comments at a public information session on Monday, April 20 at 7 p.m.

The Police Department must comply with more than 400 standards in order to gain re-accreditation status, a highly prized recognition of law enforcement professional excellence.

“Being a nationally accredited police agency is important because it tells our citizens that we are doing everything possible to offer them the highest quality of service,” said Chief McMahon.

The public information session will be conducted at the James N. Robey Public Service Training Center at 2200 Scott Wheeler Drive, in Marriottsville.

The assessment team is comprised of law enforcement practitioners from similar agencies in other states. The assessors will review written materials, interview individuals and visit facilities to confirm compliance with all CALEA standards. The assessors are: Team Leader, Assistant Chief Dan Bruno, Gwinnett Police Department (Ga.); Captain David Newlan, Cape Coral Police Department (Fla.); and Linda Kaus, Modesto Police Department, (Ca.).

Once the Commission’s assessors complete their review of the Howard County Police Department, they will report back to the full Commission, which then decides if the agency is to be granted re-accreditation status. Certification covers three years, during which the agency must submit annual reports to the Commission demonstrating continued compliance with all required standards.

Members of the public who cannot be present at the April 20 public information session, but would like to provide comments to the assessment team may call 410-313-2214 on Tuesday, April 21 between the hours of 1 and 5 p.m. Telephone comments and appearances at the public information session are generally limited to 10 minutes and must address the Howard County Police Department’s ability to comply with CALEA’s standards. A copy of the standards is available at police headquarters.

The local contact is Tamera G. Bulla who can be reached at 410-313-3229 or by e-mail to

Anyone wishing to offer written comments about the Howard County Police Department’s ability to meet the standards for Accreditation may write to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, Inc. (CALEA), 10302 Eaton Place, Suite 100, Fairfax, VA 22030-2215. For more information about CALEA, citizens can write to the same address, visit or call 800-368-3757 or 703-352-4225.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Foie Gras Vandals Caught On Camera

The owners of the Iron Bridge Wine Company restaurant on Route 108 told WBAL that a surveillance camera captured images of vandals taking part in what apparently was a second protest over the restaurant's decision to serve foie gras.

A recording of the incident has been handed over to the police, according to this report.

The owners said the vandals struck again on Monday morning, breaking two more windows and tried to get in through a side door.

“If people think they’re going to change our minds by sneaking around in the middle of the night and do childish things like bashing in our windows they’re incorrect,” Wecker said.

Wecker said his restaurant will not be threatened and his employees are even making light of the situation, wearing “got foie gras” T-shirts and adding more duck liver items to the menu.

It Takes A Village.... make a village -- or maybe not.

The HoCo planning board is apparently split about how much say local residents should have in the redevelopment of Columbia's village centers, according to this Sun story.

A proposal to allow major redevelopment of Columbia's village centers has so divided the Howard County Planning Board that members can't even agree how to describe their disagreement.

The board divided, 2-2, on the issue March 23 with one person absent. But Monday night, members were still arguing over what the description of their votes should say. After a closed meeting with a lawyer and a public discussion after that, the members agreed to try again to come up with a document they can sign to push the issue to the County Council.

"I've been very distressed at how this process has broken down," said board member Linda Dombrowski, calling it "a mess."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Community Consulting

We have watched for some time this back and forth over whether the Columbia Association knows what it is doing in bringing its reservation and payments systems online. You can read the Flier's latest dispatch here.

Which makes us wonder if folks on both sides might benefit by reaching out a bit more to all the resources in this community. Plenty of people know a thing or two about software around here. We've got colleges and community colleges all over. The county government and schools are trying to tackle the same challenges. And Columbia itself is home to one big national firm that seems like it might have a little expertise to share:

MICROS Systems, Inc. provides enterprise applications for the hospitality and retail industries worldwide. Over 220,000 MICROS systems are currently installed in table and quick service restaurants, hotels, motels, casinos, leisure and entertainment, and retail operations in more than 130 countries, and on all seven continents. In addition, MICROS provides property management systems, central reservation and customer information solutions under the brand MICROS-Fidelio for more than 20,000 hotels worldwide, as well as point-of-sale and loss prevention products through its subsidiary Datavantage for more than 50,000 specialty retail stores worldwide. MICROS stock is traded through NASDAQ under the symbol MCRS.

We not suggesting CA put out some bureaucratic RFP seeking input. But perhaps something more informal; we've seen many examples where groups of techies come together for a weekend to noodle a problem. And there are plenty of institutions in this town that could use some help.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is There A BRAC Effect Yet?

These days, when just about everyone in the business world is slimming down, it can be hard to discern exactly what effect the Base Relocation and Consolidation process will have on development in the region, at least for the near term.

Check out this report from the real estate information firm CoStar, itself a corporate resident of our fair town:

CoStar says the big government contractor SAIC recently completed a lease for 171,000 square feet in Franklin Center at the Columbia Gateway office park, where it will consolidate several local offices.

The deal is the largest office lease in at least the past six months in the Baltimore market, although like other leases that have been signed recently, it is probably not a signal that leasing markets are turning around, brokers say.

The lease will leave a hefty amount of vacant space in its wake that is expected to be difficult to fill. SAIC currently has five offices in Columbia, according to its web site, many of which are in the same building park, known as Columbia Gateway, as Franklin Center.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Dose Of BRAC Reality

Sometimes hearing all the hyperbole about the flood of jobs coming our way when the government consolidates operations at Fort Meade can be a bit much. But even we were surprised to read in the Flier this candid summation from a county official about the expected benefits from the Base Realignment and Closure process:

Groundbreaking is occurring this month on several new buildings at Fort Meade, and the first wave of jobs is expected in 2010, said Kent Menser, executive director of the county’s BRAC office. While there will be thousands of Defense Department jobs moving to the area through BRAC, expected growth at the National Security Agency, located at Fort Meade, and among federal contractors is also factored into the equation.

Because the process is spread out over several years, local residents will not notice any immediate impact.

“It’s not a tsunami, but phased growth,” Menser said.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Here's Who Students Pick For Top Teachers

From HoCo Public Schools:

Each year the senior class at each Howard County high school selects their Teacher of the Year from their school's faculty. This year HCPSS-TV tagged along with senior class representatives as they surprised their school's winner. On March 12, the teachers were honored by the Howard County Association of Student Councils at their annual spring luncheon with the Board of Education and top school officials. During the luncheon, each teacher relived that surprise moment as the video was shown to those in attendance.

The Teachers of the Year as selected by the Class of 2009 are Barry Beerman of Glenelg HS; Linda Blakeslee of Centennial HS; Mary Curtin of Reservoir HS; Jack Dibler of River Hill HS; Shanae Fant of Wilde Lake HS; Rick Gardner of Howard HS; Ben Grabenstein of Hammond HS; Dale Harriman of Atholton HS; Laura Herbers of Homewood (Gateway); Paula Mee, Homewood (Bridges); Renard Parson of Marriott's Ridge HS; Eric Sandersen of Long Reach HS; Tom Sankey of Mount Hebron HS; and Donald Shea of Oakland Mills HS.

Are Gov't Furloughs Coming?

It seems so based on HoCo Exec Ken Ulman's comments during a Baltimore radio show.

Ulman said a dozen or so people could be laid off and other workers furloughed if the state legislature follows through with budget cuts.

The Sun offered this excerpt from the conversation:

"Everything is on the table," Ulman said, speaking on Dan Rodricks' call-in radio show on WYRP. "You're going to see some reductions in services - parks not maintained, some reduction in library hours."

Nothing Routine About Money In The Road

So often we take news of traffic accidents for granted. But the ExploreHoward blog's straightforward account of an accident involving an armored truck that left quarters spilled across the interstate reminds us how these things are never routine.

Here's how it starts:

Soon after the sudden string of brake lights, a large cloud of dust mushroomed into the air above a relatively clear stretch of Interstate 95 Monday morning.

Shortly after 9 a.m., a Loomis armored truck had veered off the highway just south of the I-195 exits for Catonsville and the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and overturned.

Within seconds, drivers of other vehicles headed north on the interstate had jumped out of their vehicles and run up to the truck.

With the tires still spinning on the upside-down truck, a door was pried open and two men scrambled out, obviously shaken.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Arrest In Bob Evans Robbery

How is it we didn't hear about this at the time, we wonder.

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police have charged a man for a March armed robbery of a Bob Evans restaurant in Ellicott City. John Davis Waters II, 29, of Columbia, is facing 34 counts, including armed robbery, robbery, false imprisonment, use of a handgun in commission of a felony, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and a theft charge.

On March 18, police believe Waters escorted an employee into the restaurant, pointing a handgun at him. Waters demanded money from a safe and robbed employees of cell phones and an iPod. He then placed the employees in a walk-in freezer. The employees waited a few minutes, exited and called police.

Detectives conducted area checks for a suspect matching the description given by the employees and located Waters at a hotel nearby.

While executing a search and seizure warrant for a hotel room in which Waters was staying, police also found marijuana. Waters, along with three other men, was also charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. The other men are Michael Harding, 30, of Columbia; Christen Brooks, 29, of Columbia; and Titus Strong, 29, of Baltimore.

Waters is being held at the Howard County Detention Center with no bail.

Will 60,000+ Virgin-fest Relocate Here?

For those who think Symphony Woods is a bit too sleepy, we say be careful what you ask for...

HoCo Exec Ken Ulman is telling folks that the promoter of the big Virgin Mobile Festival, previously held at Pimlico, is considering Merriweather as an alternative venue. The music festival is one of the largest on the East Coast...

Check out this story in the Baltimore Business Journal. The Sun also blogged on the possibility here.

CA Election Preview

The Sun offers a preview on the upcoming elections for the Columbia Association board of directors.

Each of the 10 villages has one seat on the board, and half could elect new board members when the two days of voting end April 25. Three villages - Owen Brown, Town Center and Harper's Choice - have no board contest this spring, while incumbents in Oakland Mills and River Hill are running unopposed. The other five each have two candidates vying for one seat.

Now It's Our Turn For Cherry Blossoms

Who says DC has to have all the fun?

We like cherry blossoms, too. Check out this site for a whole host of events -- including restaurant discounts, garden tours and philanthropic efforts -- scheduled this month to celebrate cherry blossoms and the arrival of spring.

Here's an explanation of the effort, from the county's Web site:

In 2003 Howard County’s Office of Tourism proposed a tree planting program that would beautify the county’s attractions, its parks and its roadways with Kwanzan cherry trees. The project was inspired by Washington D.C.’s annual tidal basin spectacular and designed to capitalize on the blossom-mania that descends each year in the neighboring Capital. With Howard County’s Kwanzan cherries blooming two weeks later than D.C.’s Sakura trees, tourism officials hoped that cherry tree enthusiasts would extend their viewing pleasure by taking a quick trip just 30 minutes just down the road to visit Howard County. The goal was 1,000 cherry trees in the ground at select locations in five years.

Equally important as the beautification component of the proposal was the desire for the project to also give back to the community in a meaningful way. The trees would also be used to both raise awareness of breast cancer prevention each spring and raise money to benefit those within the community coping with cancer.

The concept was taken to former Howard County Executive Jim Robey who agreed to champion the project and also provide resources from within both the Department of Recreation & Parks and The Department of Public Works to kick start the initiative on public lands. Thus Blossoms of Hope… the Howard County Cherry Tree Project began.

Four Years Later, thanks to BLOSSOMS OF HOPE...

* 219 Blossom of Hope trees now grow in 18 different groves planted on public land in Howard County. Over half of the trees have been sponsored and six of the groves are fully sponsored. The groves range in size from five to 26 trees and are located at county libraries, local parks, historic attractions, as well as the county office building in Ellicott City, the seat of local government.
* Over 300 Blossoms of Hope Trees have been planted along State & County roadways.
* 50 additional Blossoms of Hope Trees have been planted on open space in Columbia.
* Corporate partners have planted over 300 of the trees on private properties
* Individual homeowners have planted 65 new Blossoms of Hope trees in yards across the county as a result of the programs bi-yearly, residential tree sale that began in 2006.

Overall, approximately 1,275 new trees are now blossoming across Howard County as a result of Blossoms of Hope… the Howard County Cherry Tree Project ! AND…

Over $50,000 has been contributed to the Howard Hospital Foundation earmarked for Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Image Center,, a special place that helps individuals and their families cope with cancer. AND…

CHERRYBRATION, a new outdoors spring festival that celebrates the blossoming of the trees premiered in 2007 to further promote the important role that nature and outdoor activity has to individual wellness.

Friday, April 3, 2009

911 Back In Operation

Temporary outage is over.

Alert: 911 Is Down Temporarily

From HoCo gov:

Due to a Verizon technical issue, Howard County’s 9-1-1 system is temporarily unavailable.

Call 410-313-2911 in case of emergency until the situation is resolved.

Rough Stuff At The Schools

The Sun reports that six people were arrested at Reservoir High on Tuesday after a scuffle there between two feuding families.

The members of the two families - students ages 15 to 17 and two female adults - encountered one another in the front office during the school day and began to bicker, said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. The families had been involved in a long-running feud in their neighborhood in Laurel, Caplan said.

"It started to get real ugly," Caplan said. "The staff stepped in. 911 was called."

The Sun says another student was arrested on Wednesday after scuffling with a school resource officer at Hammond High.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Colon Cancer Claims OM Teacher

Sad news: Donna Sunderdick was an absolutely first-rate teacher, a person who truly cared for her students. She touched the Columbia Talk family, and we mourn her passing.

From OM Principal Frank Eastham Jr.:

Dear Parents,

We are all saddened by the death of Donna Sunderdick, one of our English teachers. Mrs. Sunderdick died earlier this morning after a long battle with colon cancer. We have Student Services staff members and members of the County Crisis Intervention Team (school counselors, school psychologist, pupil personnel worker and heath assistant/nurse) present in our school today and tomorrow to assist students and faculty with questions and grief, which accompany a situation such as this.

Ulman Wants You

Our county exec goes directly to the people to get them to turn out for their favorite public works projects. Here's an example:

Dear Neighbor,

As you may know, today I presented the proposed Capital Budget for Fiscal Year 2010 to the County Council. I am writing to share news about projects in the budget that may be of interest to you.

In preparing the budget this year, we received requests for many worthy projects, and although we were unable to fund them all, the proposed budget reflects our priorities and our commitment to investing in our future, especially in these tough economic times. There is no question that these are difficult times and that providing for the community’s infrastructure must be balanced by strict adherence to fiscal responsibility. Despite the difficulties of our current economic situation, we must continue to move forward by investing in the long-term infrastructure and public facility needs of the County.

I am extremely pleased to announce that we were able to include funding to begin construction of Blandair Regional Park, which, once complete, will become the crown jewel of our park system. The $5.3 million in bonds proposed for this project will fully fund Phase I construction including three multi-purpose artificial turf fields, a playground, trails, and restrooms. Planning for Blandair has been ongoing for many years, but I am confident that as work begins, it will prove to have been worth the wait.

Funding for this project is not guaranteed, however, as the budget process is not yet complete. The County Council will be reviewing the budget, conducting public hearings and ultimately making the final decision on the budget and projects contained therein.

I urge you to show your support for this project by testifying at a public hearing or writing a letter or email to members of the County Council. Support from citizens like you is critical. Councilmember Ball has been a strong advocate for Blandair Regional Park. Your personal testimony will help the entire Council understand the importance of this project.

Please feel free to share this letter with anyone who may be interested. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about the budget or the budget process, do not hesitate to contact me.


Ken Ulman
County Executive

A Man Of Few Words

When he was HoCo executive, Jim Robey did not seem particularly interested in the limelight. No one would ever accuse him of being a microphone hog. So we were not exactly surprised to read this Sun account of a state Senate vote this week rejecting a bill to use cameras to catch speeders.

But senators critical of the cameras, which they called an intrusion of privacy and a cash cow for local governments, rose one after another in opposition Wednesday. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, told his colleagues he had been wrongfully accused after a car using his old license plate was snapped by a camera in Washington. He said it took two months of irate phone calls to get out of the citation.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, read aloud a passage from the book 1984, including the famous line, "Big Brother is watching," before the legislation failed, 24-23. A day earlier, the Senate voted 26-19 to broaden a bill that initially allowed cameras just in construction zones to also include a half-mile radius around all schools - a plan closer to what the governor wanted.

Perhaps in an expression of confidence, few supporters of the bill rose to defend it when it came up for a final vote Wednesday. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat who suggested the school zone amendment, limited his remarks to saying that he had already said everything the day before.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Money For Schools, Roads and Parks

HoCo Exec Ken Ulman releases his proposal for the capital budget, that's the one used to build things. Here's an excerpt from his press release:

The priority we place on education is clearly reflected in the $52.5 million in local funding dedicated to the School System. This total represents approximately half of the Capital Budget. Although it is not possible to fully fund the Board of Education’s request, funding is included for all projects that expand school capacity or continue renovations already underway. Funding is provided for Mt. Hebron High School, Northfield Elementary School, Bellows Spring Elementary School, Stevens Forest Elementary School, and Hammond Elementary and Middle Schools.

Howard Community College is also an essential part of our community’s educational partnership; and in this economy, more students are turning to HCC for an affordable, top notch education. The Capital Budget invests $4.3 million in Howard Community College, which will enable it to complete the renovation of the Student Services/Clark Building and proceed with important systemic improvements. We have included sufficient funding to move forward with the County match for the new Allied Health Building, should State funding toward that project become available.

There is also $14.4 million proposed for construction of the Miller Branch Library & Historical Center, making the County’s oldest library branch the newest. The addition of the Historical Center, in partnership with the Howard County Historical Society, will enhance the library and make it a valuable community resource.

Based on results of the Department of Fire & Rescue Services’ self-assessment which identified that response times needed to be improved and services enhanced in both the west and northeast areas of the County, the proposed budget provides $7.8 million for the construction of two fire stations and land acquisition. The first station will be constructed in Glenwood to help serve the Route 97 corridor, and the second will be constructed at the site of the Mayfield Highway Shop and serve as a temporary fire station and permanent logistics facility until land can be acquired and a new permanent station built near the intersection of Routes 1 and 175.

Once that station is built, the logistics facility will remain at Mayfield to help free up space in existing fire stations for emergency equipment. Though the stations will be built as long-term facilities with three bays, they will be designed to be “adequate and utilitarian” and based on a modular structure that reduces construction costs by millions of dollars.

While schools and libraries are critical to our quality of life, so are Howard County’s parks and recreation programs. Included in Ulman’s proposed budget is $5.3 million in bonds to move forward with the long-awaited development of Blandair Regional Park, $1.6 million in bonds for Troy Park to begin the design and construction of Phase I, and $1 million in bonds for North Laurel Park to construct park amenities around the North Laurel Community Center (ball fields, parking, skate spot, pavilion, basketball courts and playground).

Ulman’s budget also shows a strong commitment to maintaining and improving the County’s infrastructure. Road surfacing projects are included for a total of $4.5 million in pay-go funding; proposed resurfacing locations include areas around these Village Centers: Oakland Mills, Dorsey Search, Long Reach, and Owen Brown. The County is also proposing land bridge and storm drainage maintenance and upgrades for a total of $2.5 million.