MM here with your first 53 Beers 2009 year-end awards! Let's get right into it, shall we?
Story of the year: The national recession and how it has affected Howard County. Surprising to some, we were not immune to the recession. Businesses closed, people were laid off, foreclosures increased, and the county government felt the squeeze via furloughs and budget cuts from the state.
Runner up: the continuing debate over the plan for downtown Columbia
Non-story of the year: The fury kicked up by some anti-development forces in the county about the creation of too many groups that, in their view, appear to be facades for pro-development interests. This got play in local circles for about two months, then just became a "so what?" sort of thing. Especially after people figured out that the anti-development forces have plenty of little interest groups themselves!
Elected official of the year: County Executive Ken Ulman-- it all rolls downhill, and the state's financial woes have hit Howard hard. Ulman has done a decent job in keeping county services going strong, in light of furloughs and cuts. One has to wonder though about the long-lasting impact upon employee morale.
Runner up: The five County Council members, for working through the village center legislation and for their thoughtful approach to the downtown Columbia planning process.
Group that has to learn to do more with less: The Howard County Public School System. I love the HCPSS; I'm a product of it and have children in it. But the school system has to learn to live with reality. Growing budget requests fly in the face of that.
Runner up: The Columbia Association. Why is it that in times of financial stress, CA's finances run like clockwork? They always run a surplus. Hmm, maybe they have more money than they know what to do with, perhaps?
Political race to watch in 2010: Courtney Watson vs. Bob Flanagan, Council District 1. I wrote a lengthy post on this a few months ago. The pragmatic Democrat representing Ellicott City and Elkridge against the conservative bomb-thrower from the House of Delegates and the Ehrlich administration.
Runners up: State Delegate in District 9A (incumbents Bates and Miller vs. challengers Weinstein, Maher and Corkran) and Howard County School Board.
Director of the County's Department of Citizen Services, Susan Rosenbaum will retire on February 1st. Susan has served the county for 34 years, the last six as Department Director.
I had the pleasure to work with Susan in my former capacity as Chair of the County's Advisory Board on Consumer Affairs. There is scarcely a better advocate for universal opportunity than Susan.
Susan and her husband will be retiring to Florida, at least during the winters-- which, in light of two-foot snowfalls and 30-degree temperatures, sounds like a grear plan! Susan, good luck and safe travels in the next chapter of your life!
In a world of increasingly sterile political debate and political personalities, the loss of even a little of the remaining color stings.
A. Robert Kaufman, a FAR left-wing political activist and perennial candidate for office, passed away Friday. The Baltimore Sun has an article about him here.
He used to show up at meetings of the JHU Young Democrats (we weren't called College Democrats then) back in 1985 and 1986. I remember he used to chide us for not being about anything-- for doing way too much political debate and not enough political action. I used to wonder who this crazy old man was coming to our meetings and what was his problem. Decades later, I get what he was trying to say.
I'm glad that the school system is receiving pushback from parents regarding the HCPSS's proposed 2010-2011 calendar, as evidenced in this article from Patuxent Publishing. The way HCPSS manages it's school calendar stinks, and almost as bad is the instructional culture that is driven by this calendar.
I fail to understand, in a tough economy, why the HCPSS insists on proposing as many half-days as it does. Seems to me it's more cost-effective just to close for a day (or two) rather than implement three half-days. Of course, a half-day counts as a day of instruction in the state's eyes, and since Howard (and all counties) have to meet a 180-day instructional requirement in it's calendar-- well, there you have it.
I also enjoy the fact that parents oppose the school year extending into mid-June, because teachers have basically ceased instruction by then. OK, so I'd like to know when this practice started to happen. Because I can remember sweating my tuchus off at Elkridge Elementary School (the one that's the Norbel School now) back in the 70s, learning stuff in June! However, now that I have two kids in the HCPSS, hardly anything of value is taught after Memorial Day! Everything else is review, field days, exams, etc. I know plenty of HCPSS teachers and administrators; they love their jobs and many of them are frustrated as well by this. So where did this come from? Why does this happen?
One thing I will say is that I do believe teachers should have a professional day or two per year. Yes, I know-- many of them have off all summer. And many of them don't. Because they don't make a great salary and have other jobs in the summer. And again, they have to honor a state mandate to receive professional training.
Not sure why people are gripey at Ken Ulman for daring say that FY11 will be a tough year? Of course, many of the gripes are coming from the same old crew-- those who think that anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun can't stick to a budget or manage a complex organization.
To me it only makes sense to be honest with the populace, and I think, from my accounts of last week's hearing, that's exactly what Ulman was trying to do.
Come on, guys and gals, let's stop making lemons out of lemonade! Of course, I wouldn't exactly characterize today's economy as lemonade. Maybe, don't make raw sewage out of processed sewage? I dunno....
On this NFL Sunday this topic is extremely appropriate. The Baltimore Sun has a terrific editorial that can be found here.
Look, I'm no prude, I love my alcohol as much as the next person. But it was amazing to me how low the state's alcohol taxes are, not just compared to our regional neighbors, but nationwide. For example, in terms of liquor taxes per gallon, Virginia ranks 4th highest of the 50 states, Maryland 48th. Quite surprising.
What is proposed in the editorial is a tax increase that would average out to 10 cents per alcoholic drink-- about $1.30 for a gallon of beer. Looking at the article, this would keep Maryland still well below the list of the top alcohol taxing states. This proposal would also raise, according to the editorial, about $214M in annual revenues for the state-- not a small number considering the state's budget deficit of $1B-$2B.
While this proposal deserves merit, two other proposals should make it through the General Assembly this session. First, Marylanders should have the ability to order alcohol from out of state and have it delievered to their homes. Also, alcohol-- at least beer and wine-- should be made available at more retail outlets. It seems nonsensical to me that grocery stores, warehouse stores, etc. can't sell alcohol.
I knew that before you all finish your holiday shopping, you were wondering what Marshmallow Man recommends! Good thing you asked, because I'm going to tell you!
How'd you like to give the gift of rabbits? A flock of chicks? How about a pig, or a share of a pig?
You can at Heifer International (here is their website). HI is an organization that assists the impoverished in nations around the world with gifts of livestock. These living gifts bring these families and their communities closer to their goal of self-reliance.
This is damn cool.
Just came in from shoveling and took these. Here are picks of Stevens Forest Rd. facing north, one of Stevens Forest Rd. facing south, and one of Chez Dommage itself!
The county's snowplow tracker lists Stevens Forest Rd. as plowed, and it looks as if it has been. But it's snowing heavy now and the plows I'm sure are having a hard time catching up.
Gotta be 18 inches on the ground now. I'm hanging out by a fire with some egg nog now. Enjoy the pics!