Friday, May 29, 2009

HoCoMoJo's New Look

HoCoMoJo, the community news site, has a new look today. Check it out here.

What's HoCoMoJo? Here's what how they describe it...we're still waiting for our download.

HoCoMoJo is an independent 21st Century local news and information community that encourages thoughtful debate and discussion of issues concerning the citizens of Howard County, by using the most advanced MObile JOurnalism technologies.

It's sort of a cross between a newspaper, a blog, and Facebook.

But it's not Facebook. It's about our community, and the people here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Making The Grade

Howard County school officials told the ExploreHoward blog that the state's new graduation requirements did not prevent a single student from collecting a diploma this year.

A small number of Howard County’s senior class — a little over a dozen pupils — did not graduate as planned, although none were held back solely because of the HSA [High School Assessment] requirement, as they had failed to meet other graduation criteria, school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

This year's crop of seniors was the first to be face the new standards, which included exams in algebra, biology, 10th-grade English and government, ExploreHoward said.

In Howard, 3,261 students met the requirement by passing the four exams, while 307 earned a sufficient combined score. Sixty students completed “bridge” projects in one or more subjects to meet the requirement, and eight students were granted a waiver.

Police Offer Reward In Bank Heist

From HoCo PD:

The Howard County Police Department is seeking information about two suspects who robbed a BB&T Bank in the 8800 block of Columbia 100 Parkway today. Police are offering a reward up to $1,000 to anyone with information leading to an arrest.

Two black males wearing masks entered the bank around 9:30 a.m. The suspects displayed guns and demanded money. They fled on foot in an unknown direction with an undisclosed amount of cash.

There were four employees and one customer in the bank at the time of the incident. No one was injured.

The suspects are described as:

Suspect #1: Black male, approximately 6’0” with a stocky build, wearing all dark clothing

Suspect #2: Black male, approximately 6’0” with a stocky build, wearing a gray sweat suit.

Police are asking anyone with information to call police at 410-313-3200. Detectives do not have photos of the suspects for release. Callers may remain anonymous.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Snowballing Post

We were first alerted to this HowChow post on ice cream and snowball stands by the Howard County Blog, which added its own faves, including one of our own -- Pete's at Oakland Mills and Montgomery roads.

Add your own to their list and pass it on...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bringing The World Here

We're happy to pass on this request from a Columbia Talk correspondent:

I am a community coordinator for a very interesting program, PAX (Program of Academic Exchange), which brings high school students from over 40 different countries here for an exchange year. The students are chosen to participate in the program based on their academic ability, maturity level and English skills. They also come with monthly spending money, health insurance and an active coordinator (me!) who works closely with them to maximize their exchange experience.

Over the next month, I will be looking for people who are interested in hosting our great students coming to Howard County next year. This is an incredible opportunity to ‘bring the world in’ and be part of a culture that no trip could ever provide. Host families come in all shapes and sizes, and do not need to have children in the local high school.

I would greatly appreciate your assistance in spreading the word or talking up the program. I can provide more information or a brief blurb about the program to insert online. Similarly, if there are others you know of that you feel would already be interested in this type of opportunity, please feel free to forward my message.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my message, and for your continued support of community activities and awareness in Howard County.


Nicole Modeen Hark

Cluster Leader, Howard County, MD

PAX – Program of Academic Exchange

Nicole says you can reach her at Or call 803-479-0275.

Save $$$$ On Trees

Here's a money saving environmental idea we received from the folks in Town Center, courtesy of the county's master gardener:

Consider planting native trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. Plants adapted to our local environment, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and require little maintenance once established. Currently the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a coupon worth $25 off the purchase of one native tree with a retail value of $50 or more at participating retail nurseries and garden centers. Check out their Web site for coupon, list of trees, retail nurseries and much more.

Howard County Master Gardener
Pat Harrington

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WL's Dead Fish Toll Hits 2,000

From CA:

The Columbia Association (CA) has been working with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the community on the fish kill at Wilde Lake. It was first reported to CA on May 6, and for the past 2 weeks CA has removed an estimated 2,000 fish from the lake. As CA reported on May 8, 2009, CA contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment fish kill response team and met with a representative at Wilde Lake on May 7. Water quality was assessed and did not indicate that there was an acute water quality problem. A fish sample was taken back to a MDE lab for analysis and indicated the sample fish had a gill fluke (parasite) and Saprolegnia (a fungal infection), both commonly found in freshwater.

Likely stressors to the fish population that contributed to the fish kill at Wilde Lake this spring are population stress (crowding), spawning stress and/or sudden temperature change. When fish undergo these types of stressors, they are more susceptible to bacteria, fungus and parasites.

Field reports on 5/20/09 reveal that the event appears to be concluding; however, CA will continue to monitor the lake for any changes.

HoCo Council Adopts Budget

The Sun reports the only vocal disagreement was how much money to set aside for Healthy Howard, a program that seeks to provide access to health care for the uninsured.

Howard County taxpayers will see slightly higher property tax bills and higher water and sewer charges, but no increases in local tax rates with a $1.4 billion operating budget approved Wednesday. The budget, approved by a 4-1 vote, also calls for employee furloughs and nine layoffs.

Healthy Howard gets a grant of $500,000.

Gang Themes

UPDATE: The ExploreHoward blog reports that for the second time in almost two months, Howard County prosecutors failed to gain a murder conviction in an Oakland Mills shooting death last year.

Daymar Wimbish, 19, of Owings Mills, was found not guilty Wednesday afternoon of first-degree murder of Jason Pridgen Batts by a Howard County jury, according to Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for Howard County State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino.

The Sun reports closing arguments in what prosecutors call a gang-related killing last year in Stevens Forest...even the defense attorney's statements sound scary.

Daymar Wimbish, the defendant, is an admitted Bloods gang member; his attorney argued he was merely present at a botched robbery attempt in the early hours of May 17, 2008, that ended in the shooting death of Jason Batts, 23.

"The whole gang theme was a substitute for motive," Wimbish's attorney, Spencer Hecht, said in closing arguments to the jury on Tuesday. "These were neighborhood friends who thought it was cool to be in a gang. They weren't like these older, rougher, Columbia gang members."

According to the Sun:Prosecutors and police said Wimbish did not shoot Batts but was one of three men who tried to rob Elijah Jackson in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Stevens Forest Road in Oakland Mills.

The alleged shooter is still awaiting trial. A third defendant was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and two other gun charges, the Sun says.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mappin' It

We came across this map view of planning board cases while noodling around the HoCoBlogs site. We love the concept here, though the case summaries could be a little more forthcoming:

Here's a sample of the data for a Thunder Hill case:

Case Information(Sign Code: H50)
Name: Thunder Hill, LLC
Number: BA-661-D
Category: Administrative Appeal
Case Comments: Appealing PB Decision of of 2/09
Hearing Type: Board of Appeals
Hearing Date: 5/26/2009
Hearing Time: 10:30 am
Decision: In Process

Property Information
Tax Map: 30
Parcel: 362
Lot: 3/1, PAR. A

Name: Thunder Hill, LLC
Address: 1966 Greenspring Drive, Ste. 508
Timonium MD 21093
Phone: (410) 560-0300

Name: Erskine E William
Address: Reese and Carney, LLP, 10715 Charter Drive
Columbia MD 21044
Phone: (410) 964-5108

Monday, May 18, 2009

Life After "Last Lecture"

This story about Randy Pausch, the "Last Lecture" prof and Oakland Mills grad brought a smile to our face.

We were hunting for a link to a story in last week's People Magazine about how Randy's family is doing since he died of cancer when we came by this bit of trivia regarding the new "Star Trek" movie. (We're still looking for the People link; mom and the kids seem to be doing well).

Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch -- whose lecture "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" became a viral YouTube hit and a best-selling book -- did a lot of living in the few months he had after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

Pausch, a longtime Trekkie, recalled on his blog that his first reaction to his diagnosis was, "I don't believe in the no-win scenario" -- a quote from Kirk in the second "Trek" film, "The Wrath of Khan" (1982).

One of his dreams came true when the director of the new "Star Trek," J.J. Abrams, sent Pausch a letter asking him if he wanted a small part in the film.

In his blog, he described the experience: "Naturally, I presumed this was one of my friends, playing a prank. But after a little sleuthing, it was clear it was for real. Jai (Pausch's wife) & I hopped a plane to L.A., where I got a custom-made 'Star Trek' uniform and my own station on the bridge, where I had lots of buttons and controls. I even got a LINE!!!!"

As Pausch noted in his blog, look for a guy who walks across the ship's bridge and says, "Captain, we have a visual!"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Coyotes In Town Center!

From Town Center's listserv:

In response to a report we received from a Town Center resident who spotted some coyotes in the Vantage Point neighborhood, the village office contacted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and was given the following information:

1. Coyotes have been spotted in all Maryland counties. They are not new to Howard County.

2. Coyotes are sandy/gray in color and are about the size of a German shepherd (30-35 pounds). In contrast, foxes are reddish in color and weigh about 15 pounds.

3. Although they are generally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them during the day.

4. Coyotes' main activity is scavenging for food. Do not leave pet food outside. Secure trash cans with bungee cords. To make trash cans less enticing to coyotes, place an ammonia-soaked rag in the trash can to mask the aroma of food.

5. If you see a coyote, the DNR officer recommended "harrassing" it, by throwing something or spraying water at the coyote.

6. Coyotes prey on small wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits, but they will also prey on pet cats and small-breed dogs if the opportunity arises.

7. The DNR officer stated that she knows of no case in Maryland in which a child was harmed by a coyote. She further stated that such an occurrence is very rare in the east coast of the United States.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Three Charged In Security Guard Shooting

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police have charged three men in the assault and attempted shooting of a Columbia security guard Wednesday night. Rick Britton, 20, of Odenton, was charged with attempted murder; Derrod Peterson, 18, and Darnell Furby, 16, both of Columbia, were charged with assault. Furby was charged as an adult.

Police were called to the 8800 block of Flowerstock Row around 9 p.m. Wednesday for reports of shots fired. Upon their arrival, they located a 27-year-old male security guard on-duty who had been confronted by a group of young men. The guard reported to officers that he had been punched in the face and that one of the men had fired multiple gunshots at him. He was not struck by the gunfire. As the guard fled, the suspects entered his security vehicle and stole money.

Detectives launched an investigation which led them to identify Britton, Peterson and Furby as suspects. The three were located and arrested at various residences, not their own, without incident.

Britton was charged with attempted murder in the first and second degree, assault in the first and second degree, attempted armed robbery, theft and handgun violations. He is currently being held at the Howard County Detention Center on no bond.

Peterson was charged with second degree assault, attempted robbery and theft. He is currently being held at the Howard County Detention Center on no bond.

Furby was charged as an adult with second degree assault and robbery. He is currently being held at the Howard County Detention Center on $25,000 bond.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

HoCo Offers Reverse Mortgage Counseling

This sounds like a clever idea to provide counseling for what can be a risky proposition. HoCo offers free counseling to people who are considering a "reverse mortgage" in which they typically receive annual payments that are charged against the equity of the home. If the homeowner goes through with a loan, then a fee is collected as part of closing costs.

From HoCo PR:

The Howard County Office on Aging, through Maryland Access Point (MAP), is offering Reverse Mortgage Counseling to Maryland residents age 62 and older who are considering this as an option. The counseling, a collaborative effort with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) is targeted to seniors who may be able to pay for their everyday expenses but are struggling to cover the costs of health care, home repairs and modifications, increased property taxes and other unexpected expenses.

MAP of Howard County currently has four specialists who are trained Reverse Mortgage Counselors. Seniors who receive reverse mortgage counseling through MAP of Howard County will not be charged the counseling fee of $125 unless they choose to apply for a reverse mortgage and then secure a loan. When they do, the fee will become part of the closing costs.

The fee will be waived for seniors who are facing financial challenges such as foreclosure, and for those with modest incomes (under $20,000 for single homeowners, and under $30,000 for couples). To schedule a counseling session or learn more about the costs and features of a reverse mortgage, call MAP of Howard County’s toll free number: 1-800-506-5806.

MAP Specialists provide counseling by telephone to clients throughout the State of Maryland based on each individual’s needs and circumstances. They can also review with seniors the benefits and challenges of living at home and help homeowners find other benefit programs they may qualify for through the National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp®.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Going After The Gypsy Moths

State officials were scheduled to begin spraying the county with insecticide aimed at gypsy moths today (May 12), according to the ExploreHoward blog.

The department will spray nearly 1,100 acres in Howard County using bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium that has been authorized for use as a pesticide since 1961. It can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract if encountered by humans, but any serious adverse health effects are not likely, according to a study prepared in 2004 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Maps showing the 20 spray locations in the county can be found here.

Wilde Lake's Dead Fish Mystery

From CA:

The Columbia Association (CA) is aware of the fish kill at Wilde Lake and the current estimate is approximately 400-500 dead fish. CA contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment fish kill response team and met with a representative at Wilde Lake on May 7. Water quality was assessed and did not indicate that there was an acute water quality problem. A fish sample was taken back to a MDE lab for analysis. The preliminary analysis indicates the sample fish had both a gill fluke and a fungal infection (Saprolegnia), both are commonly found in freshwater.

Likely stressors to the fish population that contributed to the fish kill at Wilde Lake this week are population stress (crowding), spawning stress and/or sudden temperature change.

CA will continue to remove the dead fish from the lake and monitor the lake for any changes. CA will keep the community informed of any new information as it arises. For more information on fish kills in Maryland please visit the MDE web site.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Holiday Trash Collection Gets Easier

From the HoCo exec's office:

Effective Memorial Day 2009, Howard County will implement a new “slide” schedule for trash, recycling and yard waste collection on the six major holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The “slide” schedule means that when one of the above major holidays falls on a weekday (Monday-Friday), ALL trash, recycling and yardwaste collection scheduled on or after the holiday that week will “slide” one day.

“In the past, people could put trash out on the day following a holiday but had to hold on to recycling and yardwaste until the following week. We hope this new schedule will be easy to remember and more convenient for our residents,” said County Executive Ken Ulman

For example, under this new system, if your regular collection day falls on Monday, May 25 (Memorial Day), trash, recycling and yard waste will be collected on Tuesday, May 26. Those scheduled for Tuesday will “slide” to Wednesday and so on through the week through Saturday.

Triathlon Comes To Town

A word of warning from HoCo PD: More than 2,000 people are coming to town for the Columbia Triathlon this Sunday on May 17 and traffic expected to be bad on Route 108:

From 8:30-10:30 a.m., Md. 108 will be closed to eastbound traffic from Harper’s Farm Road to Ten Mills Road. Delays are anticipated along the following roadways, where participants will be given the right of way:

Running Route (6.2 miles)
• Old Annapolis Road
• Carillon Drive
• Cross Country Drive
• Century Drive
• Colonial Drive

Cycling Route (25.2 miles)
• Homewood Road
• Folly Quarter Road
• Triadelphia Road
• Triadelphia Mill Road
• Green Bridge Road
• Howard Road
• Linthicum Road

Howard County police officers will direct traffic at all major intersections. Motorists are advised that race participants have the right of way.

OM Educator Is Teacher Of The Year

From HoCo school system:

The Howard County Public School System has announced its new Teacher of the Year, as well as the winners of four other awards for educational staff.

Kimberly Feldman, an English teacher at Oakland Mills High School, was named Howard County Teacher of the Year for 2009. This award exemplifies the highest standards in teaching and educational leadership. Feldman will represent HCPSS in the Maryland Teacher of the Year competition, sponsored by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Tara Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Talbott Springs Elementary, and Brian Sackett, an English teacher at Atholton High School, were named HCPSS First Year Educators in the elementary and secondary categories respectively. This award recognizes new teachers who demonstrate exceptional skill in instruction, communication, and interaction with students.

Kristie Dietrich, an elementary inclusion paraeducator at Cedar Lane School, and Erik Burnett, a Black Student Achievement Program transition assistant at Atholton High School, were named winners of the annual Distinguished Assistant Award in the special and general education categories respectively. This award recognizes outstanding educational assistants who serve a critical role in students’ success.

Gary Williams, night building supervisor at Rockburn Elementary School, is the winner of the Excellence Award for Building Operations. This award recognizes an employee who demonstrates outstanding performance, professionalism, and resourcefulness while helping to ensure a well-managed, smoothly running infrastructure.

Nancy Duffy, principal’s secretary at River Hill High School, is the Office Professional Recognition Award winner for 2009. This award recognizes the important contributions of administrative assistants and other office staff in creating a positive educational environment.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin made surprise visits to each winner’s school to announce the awards. The winners will also be honored at the annual HCPSS “In Honor of Excellence” celebration on May 19.

Here's a link to Sun story on the award.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cleaning Up Little Patuxent

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is holding a ceremony today to break ground on a $100 million project at the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant to install new equipment to remove so-called nutrients from wastewater flowing to the river.

High levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous), as well as sediments, have been destroying the Little Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay for years.

According to the county's Web site, the plant in Savage serves the central part of Howard County, including Columbia, Savage, and North Laurel. There are 820 miles of gravity and force main sewer pipe that carries wastewater to the plant.

GGP's Bankruptcy Case

The WSJ sets up today's bankruptcy hearing involving Columbia's developer and owner of the mall (the mall is so far not part of the case). Lots of investors who hold Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS)are watching closely because that's how GGP gets a lot of its money. Loans on commercial mortgages get packaged into securities and sold to investors. GGP is the nation's largest CMBS borrower, the Journal reports.

A major issue in the bankruptcy case is General Growth's request to draw cash flow from its malls and use it at the corporate level or in other areas of the company. Such transfers of money within the corporate structure used to be routine at General Growth, as they are at other similarly structured real-estate companies. But, now that General Growth is in Chapter 11, its CMBS lenders want to enforce the malls' status as separate entities and keep the malls' extra cash flow from being siphoned away to pay other creditors, namely unsecured lenders.

To prevent that, General Growth took several steps in its bankruptcy filing that might aid any argument it ultimately makes to continue drawing cash flow from the malls for corporate use, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among them, General Growth pledged to continue paying interest on its mortgages, possibly making it more difficult for CMBS holders to argue they should be allowed to foreclose. It also pledged to provide its mortgage lenders "adequate protection," meaning they will have an administrative claim in any liquidation scenario to cash flow drawn from their properties by the parent company.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

AP Rewards

For years, WaPo's education columnist Jay Mathews has long championed the idea that pushing students to take AP classes and tests is the best way to prepare them for a successful college career. Jay even came up with the Challenge Index to compare schools based on how many tests their students take.

One member of the Talk Team has spent much of this week taking his share of those exams, and he reminded us of another reward for academic rigor.

Free stuff.

All week he and his classmates have trooped over to KFC, Chick Fil-a, Rita's and other places that are offering free eats just for taking the tests.

"Dad," Young Talk tells us, "when was the last time you saw a line out the door of a fast food place?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living Well Despite Big Boxes

He saw this in Jay Hancock's blog at the Sun. Fortune ranks Columbia No. 7 for America's Top 25 Towns to Live Well.

Sez Fortune:

Seventh place Columbia, Md., a 97,506-population town between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, is packed with restaurants, parks and music venues, and it is zoned against big boxes, making it exceptionally small business friendly.

No big boxes?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Transit Town Center

The Sun says the county council agreed to sell bonds to build a parking garage at the Savage MARC commuter rail station, to be paid off from tax revenues generated by the project. The council's legislation posted here said the county intends to borrow up to $17 million.

The area is currently a 13-acre parking lot. That would be replaced by a parking garage, leaving the rest of the land available for development by Petrie Ross Joint Ventures.

Their proposed Savage Towne Centre, located at the intersection of Route 32 and Dorsey Run Road, would include 416 new residential units, 21,000 square feet of retail, 9,200 square feet of restaurant space, 7,800 square feet of office and 152 hotel rooms.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Columbia Archives Goes Online

The Columbia Archives has become to put some of its materials online. You can reach the homepage here.

Here's one account of the town's history.

Boy! Do we feel old.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The New Prez Takes Over

From CA:

The new Columbia Association (CA) President Philip Nelson officially begins his term today, Friday, May 1. Arriving to the organization earlier this week, Nelson got a head start in his new role and met individually with members of the CA Board and CA senior team members. Both provided him with transition plans that he is currently reviewing.

Nelson received a B.A. in political science from Fort Hays State University in 1971. His experience includes serving as city manager of Northglenn , Colo. , from 2001 to 2006; city manager of Derby , Kan. , from 1988 to 2001; and county administrator of Barton County , Kan. , from 1986 to 1988. Most recently, he served as city manager of Troy , Mich. , where he was employed from 2006 until March of this year. Nelson will reside in Hickory Ridge.