Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Will You Remember?

I keep a calendar on Google, an additional one on my iPad. I used to be really good at writing things on them. Updating them. Checking them, even. Recently I have fallen off the calendar habit. So I hope that everything I need to know will be in my facebook events or in my email. I keep a back-up of my work schedule in Dropbox. And, for the most part, it has been okay.

But today I am going to jump back on the calendar bandwagon because I have an important date to remember: Wednesday, April 11th, from 6-8 pm. The next HoCoBlogs Party is coming our way at The Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills.

Hosted by Sarah Husain of sarahsays, and me--YAY!--of VG/TS, we're looking foward to getting the blogsters and readers back to this hometown hangout where the nachos, wings, burgers, and chili dogs are legendary. And the beer selection is awesome! You might just want to join their Beer Club while you're there.

So, today is Sunday. You're beginning to think about the week ahead. Maybe you have an appointment book, or set up your reminders through a phone or other electronic device. Stop right now and go here.Reserve your ticket(s) for the HoCoblogs Party. Now, put it on your calendar and set up your reminders.You don't want to miss it. Every time I go I meet new folks and discover new blogs. I'll check with Lauren to see what our specials will be. (Second Chance is famous for them.)

And then I'll get back to you. Because, like me, you might need a few reminders. And your friends might, too, so--spread the word.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Invisible Columbia

You may recall that, as a result of the councilmanic redistricting process, some rather vocal folks came out to detail their objections to being moved into a district that included Columbia.  (I believe that would be District 2, represented by Calvin Ball.)  I found the hostility disheartening. While I don't believe that Columbia is the center of the universe or that it holds any innate superiority over other parts of Howard County, it is where I live, and it is difficult to see it kicked around in this manner.

Well, I had just about gotten over that unpleasantness, until this morning.  I attended the opening of Blandair Regional Park. It was a beautiful day, and it is a beautiful park.  I have been waiting with excitement for this day since I moved here in 1999. As my daughter ran for the play equipment, I felt the kind of joy that only a parent can have, watching a child take flight in play.

Okay, that's the good part, you say.  What could be unpleasant about that?

Well. Grand Openings mean ribbon cuttings, and speeches, and giving thanks for the significant contribution of those who made the day possible.  And as the event wore on, it became apparent to me that there was one word that would not be mentioned:  Columbia.  Not once.  And the Village of Oakland Mills was mentioned in such an offhand way as to look like a careless afterthought.

The more I go to such events, the more I know that mentioning the names of The Important People is extremely important.  In fact, word on the street has it that some politicians will actually make a point of expressing their displeasure if they are overlooked.  Today, in a park which is located, geographically speaking, in Columbia, in the Village of Oakland Mills, some significant people were overlooked.

Yes, I am aware that it is a Howard County Park.  But we are not at war, here, are we, folks?  Is Columbia so unpopular a place that it is acceptable to go through a full half hour of speeches without even speaking its name? It took me right back to those angry folks who protested being a part of District Two.  Dr. Ball, in a recent visit to an Oakland Mills Village Board meeting, remarked that it was a relief to be amongst people who were happy to be in his district.  And we are. 

But we shouldn't be invisible.  I dare say that many of The Important People who spoke today have received votes from residents of Columbia, including Oakland Mills.  They have had a long time to prepare for this day, so a suggestion that this was an oversight just doesn't cut it with me.

So, here is my thanks to The Important People who should have been thanked:  Sandy Cederbaum, Oakland Mills Village Manager; Abby Hendrix, Oakland Mills Village Board Chair; Alex Hekimian, Columbia Council Representative from Oakland Mills, Cathy Latham, Oakland Mills Representative to the Blandair Park Committee.  Every single one of these people was present today.

So, to everyone who made this park a reality:  Thank You. And, from the Village of Oakland Mills, in Columbia, Maryland, I offer this:  You're Welcome.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Focus(?) Group

I hope you all have been following LisaB.Mrs.S. as she has examined the ins and outs of the Howard County School System.  She has been encouraging fellow Howard Countians to educate themselves about the upcoming race for the Board of Education.  This past Saturday, she took that role one step further by hosting a meet and greet session for two of the candidates:  Leslie Kornreich and David Gertler.

A small group of interested parents gathered—between six and eight; I didn’t make an exact count. Lisa helped start out the session with some questions for the candidates to answer.  It didn’t take much to get the conversation going.  The candidates were ready, and the group had plenty of questions and concerns.

Here is a list of things that the parents were interested in discussing:

1. Improving communication and openness--
2. Embracing social media to include stakeholders
3. School overcrowding and the redistricting process
4. Involving parents and teachers in decision-making
5. How to maintain active PTA’s in the face of redistricting
6. Integration of technology for the best benefit to students
7. Successful professional development when implementing changes
8. Inclusion classes without adequate professional support
9. The exact role of the school board

Throughout the afternoon, the common thread was communication, openness, and involving parents and teachers.  Everything else on the list connected to these concerns.  Both candidates addressed this, albeit in different ways. 

While both referenced personal experiences with a lack of communication, I felt that Mr.Gertler did a better job articulating ideas for improvement, and his own qualifications for making these changes.  Ms. Kornreich, while well-versed in the negative consequences of a lack of communication and openness, had less positive information to share about what she brings to the table to work with others and transform the situation.

I would have come away from this experience with a completely positive feeling had it not been for an unusual turn of events about a third of the way into our discussion.  Brian Meshkin, already a member of the Board of Education, arrived to participate in the event.

The dynamics changed from the moment he came in the room.  He easily assumed a position of authority as he spoke, and soon a good deal of the discussion centered on him and his opinions.  Mr. Gertler tried to steer the conversation back to the candidates, but to no avail. Ms. Kornreich, on the other hand, deferred to Mr. Meshkin, even apologizing once when she seized an opportunity to make a point when she knew that he was waiting to speak. 
Why was Mr. Meshkin there?  Was he an interested party, looking to learn more about the candidates?  Did he feel it necessary to shape the discussion that was to happen at this event?  Did he wish to undercut the candidates?  Conversely, did he wish to make it clear that a vote for either one of them is a vote for Meshkin? While his manner was relaxed, his tone easy-going and confident, his active participation changed the focus of the event.

I’d like to give Mr. Meshkin the benefit of the doubt—that he didn’t realize the effect his participation would have on this event. But I do hold him responsible for his choice.  He was indeed charming and seemingly reasonable, but he made a conscious choice to insert himself into a situation that was not truly meant for him. This, ultimately, colored my overall feeling about him:  that he may have some good ideas but the way he operates is troubling and maybe not very collaborative.

My final two points: 

  1. I was extremely impressed that Mr. Gertler refused to participate in any negative conversation about current board members.  He refused to be pulled in. Although the afternoon may not have gone the way he would have wished, he remained friendly and professional throughout.  Considering the amount of tension and stress our school board has been known to experience, I think that is a very good sign.

  1. I wouldn’t have known any of this were it not for our hostess, who set up the event, opened her home to us, and encouraged us to be a part of the process.  The Howard County Public School System should take a lesson from her.

See you at the polls on April 3rd!


Sunday, March 4, 2012

...the Forest for the Trees...

John McCoy, Columbia Association Watershed Manager, is a man with a mission.  He is charged to reduce run-off and he is willing to employ a variety of methods to make it happen. One of those ways is through the planting of trees. Lots of them. The fact that CA can use grant money to pay for these trees is an added incentive.  Many other methods for reducing run-off are costly.

The Village of Oakland Mills has some lovely Open Spaces just perfect for homing a good portion of these free trees.  In some cases, volunteers are willing to do the planting.  It seems like a win-win for Columbia, our environment, and the Chesapeake Bay, doesn't it?  There's just one problem.

That land belongs to the citizens of Columbia (Oakland Mills) and they are using it. Most of the areas designated for tree planting are used in active recreation by families and children. In some cases the lack of trees in a given area provides an openness for walkers on neighborhood paths, a feeling of safety that encourages frequent use. Turn-out for an informational session by Mr. McCoy was surprisingly large. At least, I think it surprised Mr. McCoy.

To be perfectly clear, not everyone there opposed the planting of the trees.  In addition, some suggested other places that they believed would make more sense, and interfere less with the neighborhood. Mr. McCoy, for his part, felt that people didn't have a true appreciation for the adventures their children could have playing in the woods.  Although I didn't say anything at the time, our own family experience with a six year old daughter contracting Lyme Disease meningitis makes the thought of playing in the woods a nightmarish prospect. But I digress.

I don't see anyone as a Bad Guy in this. But I do see a rather simple-minded approach to the plan. To me it comes across like this, "We need to Plant Trees. You have Big Space. Poof--Done!" Mr. McCoy said, rather testily, I thought, "This plan was done by an environmentalist, not a landscape architect." What seemed to elude him was: a clear understanding of the neighborhood, the history of agreements made concerning the space, and a real knowledge of how this land is being used today.

As far as I am concerned, no plan concerning the planting of these trees could be successful in the absence of all three. Mr.McCoy is an intelligent man. If, in fact, he does possess this knowledge, he needs to do a much better job of showing it to the stakeholders. If CA is us, then these are the folks he needs to be working with, and not just talking at, as we move forward.

The meeting was an excellent start. I look forward to a more collaborative future.