Saturday, January 20, 2018


School System Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano is not happy. And it takes a lot for him to be unhappy. Twenty-two million dollars, to be precise.

Look at my budget presentation to the BOE. I am chagrined that I have inherited a budget with a structural shortfall of $22 M. This is WRONG! I will be seeking help to address a problem that many of us did NOT create & one which is hurting our students & employees. #NotHappy

When I first read this I thought that perhaps the good doctor had been hacked or that I was looking at a parody account. This doesn’t sound much like the relentlessly positive voice we are used to hearing from the Superintendent. It concerns me.

If you followed the BOE campaign, which saw an overwhelming desire for change in leadership, then you are probably well-acquainted with the lack of transparency, responsiveness, and accountability that motivated voters to show up at the polls. And if you listened to campaign statements you are aware of the concerns of candidates like Christina Delmont-Small about how money was being spent without public oversight.  Surely, if you paid attention to the early board meetings of the newly elected board you will have seen many, many mentions of missing financial information. 

All of this is to say that the missing 22 million, which I believe to be from the perennially “leaky” Health and Dental fund, is not a new story to anyone who has been paying attention over the last several years. It’s one of the reasons that a forensic audit was approved and is going forward. And it shouldn’t be a new story to the Superintendent, either. I’m pretty sure that the board we have in place would have been candid about the challenges of the job when Dr. Martirano was considering the position.

With all of this in mind- -why this tweet? If it is a personal expression of the intense frustration at being unable to move forward due to the mistakes of others, it is certainly understandable. That is, understandable but not a good idea in the long run. If you are the Superintendent of Schools you may type out a statement like this, in a moment of intense feeling, but then you delete it before you post.

On the other hand, this could be a carefully chosen way to reach out to the public to let us know that we need to pay attention to something. It certainly grabbed my attention. But, instead of making me worry about the 22 million, it made me worry about Dr. Martirano. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Perhaps I have become over-sensitive to impassioned tweets in this day and age when the President uses Twitter to post emotional rants about perceived adversaries. It’s very likely that colored my response to the Superintendent’s post. Despite all that, it still concerns me. I can’t put my finger on it, but something doesn’t feel quite right.

Feel free to add your comments here:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Schrodinger’s Newspaper?

I present for your edification this morning a letter to the Howard County Times:

Mr. Mercado is incensed that there is a difference between the online article and the print article about pay raises for the County Council and County Executive. He notes that a quote from Allan Kittleman is in the online version, but not included in the print edition. Mr. Mercado feels that this particular quote is key to the understanding of the issue as a whole.

The quote:

“County Council folks should have jobs outside and not use their Council job as their main source of income, because I think that causes problems,” Kittleman told the Commission. “So I would urge you strongly not to increase anybody’s salaries. I think we’re all doing fine.”

Here’s the thing. I don’t think I would have omitted this particular quote, but Mr. Mercado thinks that this was not an oversight or a poor choice in editing. He thinks it was done with malice aforethought. He assures the reader that this was done deliberately to suggest that Mr. Kittleman is in favor of the raises.

Why? It’s the “Liberal Media” he assures us. The “Liberal Media” is trying to make Mr. Kittleman look bad in an election year. His last sentence is the kicker:

This is why media cannot be trusted.

Okay, now I have a problem. I can understand noting the difference between the two pieces and the assertion that the omission may have changed the overall understanding of the piece. But taking a flying leap to claiming the “Liberal Media” is trying to sway the outcome of an election in Howard County? You’ve lost me there.

When Mr. Mercado objected to this piece, he understood that he could respond by writing a letter to the editor. He understood that they would print it. He very likely looked forward to seeing it in print. “I’ll show them!” I imagine he thought as he put the final touches on his hot letter.

So he trusted that the newspaper had a forum for public feedback. And he trusted that his words would be shared publicly with the community. In order to even bother to write this letter, he had to believe that.

But the media is not to be trusted, he tells us.

I don’t think you can have it both ways, Mr. Mercado. You have painted a picture of a newspaper that deliberately suppresses facts on the one hand, while openly printing your letter calling them out on the other hand. A sort of Schrodinger’s newspaper, if you will.

As you may have guessed,this piece does not in any way address the merit of the proposed raises themselves, but rather on the wild accusations contained in this letter. Speak out if you believe a subject needs to be addressed. By all means, call out inaccuracy when you find it. But when you start seeing conspiracy behind every tree, it might be time to put your pencil down.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Sorry, folks, I’m in the thick of writing student reports and my brain doesn’t have enough space left over to construct a meaningful blog post.

I do have several things I am working on, including:

HCPSS budget issues
Tuesday’s APFO Meeting

And, of course, the perennial favorite, why you should run for your village board or as a CA rep. Yes, you.

I’m hoping to get something more substantial up tomorrow morning. In the meantime, Scott Ewart of Scott E’s Blog was on a roll yesterday with campaign finance reports, if that’s your thing. You can take a look here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Plan

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked for CA’s Department School-aged Services doing aftercare, first at Waterloo Elementary, then, at Longfellow. While at Longfellow I attended a mandatory training on emergency response procedures. It was an entire evening after what was probably a long work day for everyone.

It was difficult to wrap our brains around the concept of what we would do if we had to go on lockdown or evacuate the school with children in our care and possibility be in charge of them for several days. I know I just wanted to deny it was even possible. Yes, I knew weather events could be unpredictable. And I knew we lived in a world where things like 9/11could happen. But, as the evening wore on with handouts and power point presentation slides, a part of me began to shut down.

Why are we doing this? When are we ever going to use this?

After the false alarm in Hawaii this past weekend, a parent asked the following question on Facebook:

Does anyone know what the school policies are in case something like what happened in Hawaii were to happen here? Or if the threat was real?  Is there lockdown, do kids shelter in place, etc? Awful to think about but I didn’t realize I had no idea what would happen to my son if he was at school until reading all those terrifying stories coming out of HI 

The memories of that evening workshop came flooding back into my consciousness. That was probably 15 years ago. You need to have a supply of water. You need to have backpacks you can take with you quickly with easily portable snacks and things to do. You need to know which of your children require medication. You need to have out of state phone numbers in case local contact numbers are disabled. You...

I can’t remember anymore.

I can say that I am reasonably certain that the school system has a plan. If CA has one, the schools definitely have plans and procedures in place. Each school most likely has a designated staff member assigned to making sure all materials are up to date and each school probably holds periodic trainings to review. For all I know, there is an additional training module to complete on this topic.

All of this is to say that: yes, there is a plan. And when your children are at school the teachers and staff and administrators will do everything to protect our children. We already know how many times they have put themselves in between students and shooters, for instance. As horrific as the thought of what almost happened in Hawaii is to us as parents, it is good to know there is a plan. Comfort. But small comfort at that.

Still, though: do we want to live in a country where these fears are forced to the forefront so often? What can we do to change that?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Owning The Past

This Christmas my sister and brother-in-law received a subscription to My sister has been filling me in as she goes deeper and deeper into our family’s past. It has been fascinating. And fun.

Until I opened this email:

Learned today that we have slave owners on Mother's side.  I found the record that actually listed all of them by name and age.  Also learned that we have a Captain in the Confederate Army in our past.  We found a letter from Mimi that said that we had someone in our past who was there when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  Maybe that was the same guy.  All the Rylees in the history of the country are all relatives of ours.

When we are done, I will send you the entire tree.  

My ancestors enslaved and exploited the labor of other human beings. There it was. I couldn’t put the possibility out of my consciousness any longer. I’ve known that a part of my family was from the South. I knew I had ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. But something inside me refused to make the connection that my family might have been culpable, complicit, a participant in such a great wrong.  We were probably too poor for that, I told myself.

Learned today that we have slave owners on Mother's side.  I found the record that actually listed all of them by name and age. 

This makes me sick. I feel heartache and revulsion at my connection to such cruelty and injustice.

On a day when our nation honors the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I am sitting with the knowledge of my family’s complicity in a system of deeply entrenched power and violence that tainted this country from its inception and from which we have not recovered. As long as we don’t want to face the truth of it and the reality of its persistent consequences, we perpetuate its evil.

I am mightily sick of people who begin by saying “Martin Luther King, Jr was a great man but...”

But what?

But when you speak the truth about race I will call you divisive.
But when you ask me to make the world more just for others I will question your motives.
But when Dr. King’s message makes me uncomfortable I will deny it.

Throughout our nation, the work is not done, the Dream is not fulfilled. Here in Howard County, we continue to struggle with facing the truth of racism and realizing that the truth means action. Racist incidents in our schools, the controversy over redistricting, and the upcoming race for County Executive shine a spotlight on who we are. 

“I’m a good person. I didn’t do anything wrong!” We want to say.

Ah, but did we do anything right?

My family. My family. My family did this. I can’t change that. I can change who I am right now, in the present. I will stumble and fall. A lot. But I hope that, when I do, you’ll lend me a hand and remind me why I’m on this road.

Join me?

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Most of us were probably asleep at 2:30 am on Saturday when the roof collapsed at Merriweather Post Pavillion. The pictures were all over social media yesterday. If you haven’t seen them, here’s a link to the Merriweather Facebook page. I know there are more out there but, as I didn’t take them myself, I’d rather not share here without the photographer’s permission. A quick Google search will most likely yield a number of images.

It’s difficult for me to look at these images without having some kind of emotional response. The stage area looks so naked and helpless. The iconic outline of the structure that has defined so many of our summers is suddenly just—gone. Merriweather isn’t merely a structure in our community. It’s almost like a member of the family, a friend.

Seth Hurwitz of I.M.P. was quick to release a statement assuring the public that Merriweather will be rebuilt and ready for the 2018 season. That’s got to be a huge financial commitment on top of what already has been invested in this project. I’m grateful that Merriweather continues to be deemed worthy of effort and investment. Life in Columbia would be irrevocably changed without it.

Believe it or not, there’s probably a little knot of naysayers who’d like to see this spell the end of our local live music venue. (I still haven’t gotten over the gentleman who shouted at me that I was against “putting a bubble on Merriweather” during an Oakland Mills Village election.) I haven’t seen any words to that effect in the last 24 hours, but then, I’m probably not a member of the right listservs.

Looking at the photographs yesterday made me think about the essence of what makes Merriweather “Merriweather”. Is it still our old friend without the old, rather homely, Frank Gehry facade? (Yes, I’ve always thought it was homely. And I’ve come to love it anyway.)

What would you say defines the essence of Merriweather? Here’s my take:

It is painful to see our old friend flattened and out of commission. But its spirit is intact. The gentle slope of the lawn as it rolls toward the Pavillion, the stage where so many amazing musicians have shared their gifts, the echoes of song, the memories of dancing, laughter, joy.

Merriweather has been declared to be ‘down for the count’ more than once during its lifetime. And yet, time after time, it keeps proving those forecasts wrong. I.M.P. and the
Downtown Arts and Culture Commission look up to the challenge to me.

This is a terrible setback. Yes, the damage is significant. But the spirit of the place is resilient and strong.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


I just received a suggestion from Facebook that I spend from twenty to forty dollars promoting this morning’s blog post. Apparently it’s doing better than many similar posts on my page. For just $40 I could reach up to 3800 people!

This is the post to which they referred:

Good to know, Facebook. My absence of a blogpost might be the next big thing. I could be more well-known for not writing than anything I have actually written. If that isn’t a reason to ponder cultivating a little humility, then I don’t know what is.

This entire episode put me in mind of the concept of influence. Who would we say exerts influence over how we think or take action in Columbia/Howard County? Who are our “influencers”?

It was certainly interesting to see the County Executive and HCPSS exchange Very Public Letters to one another this week. It seems likely that Mr. Kittleman chose this method of communication not because his telephone was broken or that his office was out of stamps. For some reason he deemed it necessary to aim his letter at a particular audience, far wider than the intended recipients. Who was meant to be influenced by this gambit? Was it a way of exerting pressure on the Board of Education and Superintendent Martirano by stirring up discontent amongst the citizenry?

I really don’t know.

Some folks are influential because of what they do. Their actions inspire. Some are influential because of what they say or write. Their words shape the public debate. Some are influential because of perceived social, financial, or political power. We may wish we could be like the well-dressed and witty crowd that attend charity fundraisers, for instance.

For me the most influential people in our community are people who make me think. Sometimes they lift my spirits, sometimes they make me uncomfortable. And oftentimes that thinking leads me to action and/or change. I am deeply indebted to them. I used to spend far too much time wanting to be one of the Cool Kids. I am happy to say that, one way or another, I have been “influenced” by a far better crowd.

Oh, and if someone wants to DM me and explain what that was all about with the Very Public Letters this week, I’d appreciate it. I feel like the kid sitting at the dinner table serving as go-between because Mom and Dad aren’t speaking. There’s got to be a better way.