Monday, February 29, 2016


This just in (as they say)--Bill Woodcock notes on The 53 that:

....also in the world of Christine O'Connor, apparently my blog escaped her lips at Thursday's Board of Education meeting, as she said that she was not the "Christine" who commented upon my filtration of truth of her letter.

If Ms. O'Connor did not write that comment, then the post I wrote yesterday is wrong. There's no way around it. I reached out to Mr. Woodcock and, after discussing this with him, all I can really say is that we don't know. She says she didn't write it, but at this point there's no way to verify that.

Here is the post Ms. O'Connor left on my blog in 2014:

I truly hope that those few who read this blog will take the time to find out more actual facts about ALL of the candidates, even those who did not get endorsed by the HCEA. This "summary" of the candidate forum leaves MUCH to be desired. Also, I highly recommend using spell check when you call yourself a writer….-Christine O'Connor

Here is the post on The 53:

Maybe get the facts straight if you want to call yourself a journalist. Dr. Foose has addressed the community's concerns. The two contrarians on the Board are impeding our progress.

I saw enough similarity there to believe it was the same author. It's also true that I was willing to believe that it was. (The difference between a blogger and a journalist, perhaps?) And that's all I know.

There are plenty of other things to talk about this week. I'm looking forward to the HoCoBlogs party tonight at Nalley Fresh. With plenty of local bloggers in attendance, there'll be plenty of stories swirling.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Vocabulary Lesson

This week the Howard County Times extended a professional courtesy to Board of Education Chair Christine O'Connor by publishing her 'letter to the editor' which was, at 583 words, more than twice the allowed word limit. As an elected official, she may feel that it is her due, but it was, in fact, a courtesy. The Howard County Times has guidelines, space considerations, and time constraints for a reason. Newspapers--their editorial staff and journalists--live by a set of guidelines and principles meant to serve the spreading of news first and personalities second. It makes for better journalism.

Shortly after Ms. O'Connor's letter appeared local blogger Bill Woodcock wrote a response piece on his blog, The 53. While Ms. O' Connor's letter chided those in disagreement with the board as failing to Choose Civility, it was interesting to note that the very first comment to his blog post was this snippy rejoinder from Ms. O'Connor herself:


Maybe get the facts straight if you want to call yourself a journalist. Dr. Foose has addressed the community's concerns. The two contrarians on the Board are impeding our progress.

I find it stunning that Ms. O'Connor does not know the difference between a blogger and a journalist. To be sure, definitions of the word blogger aren't very flattering (see Urban Dictionary) and definitions of journalist aren't entirely perfect as journalism evolves. But I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a local elected official to know the difference. Especially one whose area of expertise is, well, learning and knowledge.

While journalists must abide by a code of professional behavior, bloggers have no such obligations. (Possibly why we are deemed the lowest of the low by many.) So Mr. Woodcock really owes Ms.O'Connor nothing, with the possible exception of allowing her to talk back in the comments section. This is probably why most elected officials don't put themselves out there in the comments section of blogs, because they don't want to risk the likelihood that they will be getting down in the mud with pigs, as it were.

Ms. O'Connor clearly doesn't know the difference. And it isn't the first time. She jumped in on this blog during the last election cycle when she didn't like my summary of a Town Hall candidates' event at The Other Barn. She just couldn't resist. She had to put me in my place.

In my opinion this doesn't show very good judgement. There are going to be times, as an elected official, that biting one's tongue is going to be the best course of action. On the other hand, it is far more genuine than local officials who comment anonymously or create sock puppets to parrot the party line.

Above all, it is essential to realize that one's position of prominence doesn't automatically guarantee extra courtesies and deference. Building relationships and building up credibility in the community are a big part of the job of a public servant. Of course, understanding that is predicated on understanding that one is a public servant.

So, for the folks in the back row, a quick review:


Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Little Paradise in Maple Lawn

The first time I ventured into the residential part of Maple Lawn I was entirely creeped out. It reminded me of trailers I had seen for The Truman Show. So evocative, so derivative, so many perfect details that reminded one of real places without actually being a real place. At least that is how it felt to me. Like a movie set: beautiful, but fake. If there is such a thing as being the victim of emotional architectural manipulation, that is how I felt.

I have since met real people who live in Maple Lawn, and who are quite happy to live there. And I am also keenly aware that my personal experience doesn't automatically translate into the truth for all people. I'm sure there are people who venture into Columbia who have similar feelings about our neighborhoods, with the added discomfort of feeling that this is a movie set that's getting rather worn around the edges. A less-than-important back lot, perhaps.


Last night, after saying we would for almost a year, my husband and I went to dinner at Ananda. We were the recipients of a gift certificate from my husband's guitar class parents. They knew we love Indian food. We had heard so many rave reviews. But setting aside an evening for just the two of us when neither of us was sick, tired, or committed elsewhere took a lot longer than either of us had expected.

What can I say? Ananda is the perfect date night restaurant. The ambience is perfect. You will be able to hear your dinner companion speak. A table for two is still large enough for you to reach your hand across the table and give your partner's hand a squeeze. Service is gracious, the pace is smooth, unhurried. We arrived just before sunset and the views around us as the sky changed from light to dark were gorgeous.

Just enough dark. Just enough light. Fairy lights around the ceiling, plus a multitude of tea lights fluttering around the edges of the room gave a magical glow. And a fire in the fireplace. (Were those real gaslights at the entrance?) Many carefully thought out details combine for a feeling of warmth. Eating dinner at Ananda is a special occasion.

The food was unbelievably fresh and gave me the feeling that someone had lovingly cooked for me in their home kitchen. I tried things I hadn't had before, and loved it all. My husband was able to order two favorites from his Manchester conservatory days that he's never before found in the U.S. : onion bhaji, and a chicken Madras. If we hadn't been so comfortably full we would have ordered dessert, because we really could have stayed there for hours.

In fact, we ran into some of my husband's friends from work on the way out and stayed a while longer to chat. They were sitting at a table in the bar area, which was a very popular place to be on a Friday night. A note: I made reservations through the Ananda website, and it's clear that reservations are recommended.

Columbia often seems to be the home of a continuous string of chain restaurants. I have been hard-pressed to come up with that many that I consider "date-y" or romantic. Ananda hits the mark. It is an oasis of all the good things in a world that's often too fast, too cruel, too cheaply made.

Would I move to Maple Lawn to be closer? Probably not. But maybe, if someone built me a house directly next door to Ananda, I might consider it.





Friday, February 26, 2016

Disney Dreams

Saw this tweet last night:

@iankennedy7 At this #downtowncolumbiamd transportation demand management meeting and someone legitimately just called for a #monorail. #HoCoMD



In a 1997 article in the Washington Post about Robert Tennenbaum's book, "Creating a New City: Columbia, Maryland", reporter Anna Borgman notes:

Public transportation was considered essential (Rouse hoped for a monorail system), and Columbia's planners expected many residents to use bicycles and scooters.

Most of us think of Disney when we think of monorails, unless we have lived in a place that actually has one. We think of Walt Disney the man, the seemingly limitless horizon of the 1960's, Tomorrowland, and it feels nostalgic and a bit dated. The world of tomorrow--yesterday. Plenty has been written about the connection between Rouse and Disney. There seems to be a consensus that both men were visionaries of their time, admired eachother, perhaps.

And yet when plans for a new park in Symphony Woods were on the table, critics were quick to blast the Inner Arbor design as a Disney-fied nightmare, a sort of theme park house of horrors. We can't seem to decide how we feel about Rouse and Disney here in Columbialand, The New American City. In fact, the only part of that phrase we probably all agree on is the American part.

Some fear anything "new". Some look around at how dated Columbia is beginning to look and laugh at the idea that it's new. Some long for a transformation that speaks of its newness. As to "city", well, that's a word that makes many long-time Columbians nervous. No matter how often they see it, they are perpetually in denial. Surely their suburban utopia was never meant to be a city...

Monorail. I think it's an appealing concept. It's also probably wildly expensive and we may not have the density to support a viable system. Whatever public transit system we commit to in the future, I hope it does have an element of fun. I truly believe that for public transit to catch on in a bigger way in Columbia, that it will have to appeal to our imaginations and be fun to use in addition to being convenient and affordable.

Disney Dreams. Rouse Dreams.

What are your dreams?


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Smoke, Mirrors, and Special Education

Used with permission from Howard County Parent Kim Bir:

I'm fuming at Superintendent Foose's misrepresentation of facts here. ("Supporting Special Edcation", by Superintendent Renee Foose.)

This post is thinly veiled attempt to discredit the criticism regarding special needs funding. It is a complete and utter misrepresentation of the facts. Four Million dollars has been directed out of special education (money that is in the budget, but gets moved around later) in the four years she has served, while the student and special needs population has been rising. Additionally, she fails to acknowledge that the 2014/15 special needs budget was reduced by over twenty-five per cent from the previous year.

So the modest increases each year since then still do not have us at the levels we were a few years ago. This has had terrible consequences. The school system now feels their money is better spent fighting parents than providing services - notice how the legal budget has mushroomed to over $800,000 per year.

Think what we could do for $800,000 rather than paying expensive lawyer consultants (she got rid of in-house counsel) that charge by the hour. Paraeducators for example, have been greatly reduced in kindergarten, a year of great transition when more staff support is needed, not less. Inclusion is a wonderful model, but you cannot cut the supports that make it successful and not degrade the quality of education for all.


So on the one hand we have school system presentations, and on the other hand we have facts. As stakeholders we undoubtedly expect that those two things will be the same, but clearly they are not. While Dr. Foose once suggested that the budget could not be understood by members of the public unless they had advanced degrees, it seems that it would be more helpful to be a detective, or the Amazing Randi.

A simple analogy: recently I deduced that prices were going up at my local grocery store. Why? Take a look.

Wow! Maraschino cherries! Exciting!

Wait, what? Why should I be so excited by maraschino cherries? Similar "Wow" signs were sprouting all over the store. And then there's this:

Hummus. I love hummus. And it's a "low price." Great!

Does anyone see something wrong here? Well, use this for comparison:

I'll admit this isn't the greatest bargain. I'm not sure a "wow!" Is truly justified. It's only ten cents off, after all. But how do we know that?

We know that because we know how much the item usually costs, what the sale price is, and how much we save per item. Then we can make a decision as an informed consumer as to whether we are willing to purchase that specific item at that specific price.

When my grocery started posting a boatload of "wow!" signs around the store without information to back them up, it was pretty clear to me that they were trying to draw attention away from the fact the food prices were rising. There's an entire field of study pertaining how to get people to buy things at the grocery store, and clearly there's a lot of smoke and mirrors involved.

But when it comes to our special education students, or any other part of the school budget, for that matter, honesty is the best policy. Not glossy p.r., not eye-catching charts with partial truths, not prevarication honed to a fine point. Honesty. The Amazing Randi would have called the tactics we are seeing now nothing more than "woo-woo." And we deserve better.

If you are looking for honesty, and are tired of "Wow", you have it in your power to make a difference. Use your vote to bring real change to the Board of Education.






Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Day to Remember

The Keurig has stopped working. I haven't had any coffee. My daughter isn't feeling well and is staying home from school. I sliced the tops of two of my fingers trying to cut a sandwich roll yesterday. Last night the pizza place sent my Greek salad with ordinary black olives rather than the Kalamata olives advertised on the menu.

The weather report for the day predicts more gloom. It is not shaping up to be the best day ever.

First world problems, I haz 'em.

So let me yield some space here for something positive.

Yesterday the Chair of the Howard County Council, Dr. Calvin Ball, stopped by my husband's Music Technology class to present him with a resolution honoring his semi-finalist status in the Grammy Music Teacher Awards and his commitment to teaching music in Howard County. (Photos by Eric Solomon, Sam McCready, and Donna Pidel.)

What a wonderful thing for the County Council to have done, not just for one teacher, but for the students who were there to share in that experience and see that someone cares about them and what they are learning. Celebrating teachers--the work they do and the relationships they build--is something I think we should do more of. Acknowledging the importance that arts education has in the lives of our children doesn't just make teachers feel good. It helps our children to thrive and grow.
So, although my day today is off to a rough start, I have some happiness to hold on to.
And now I'm going to make an enormous pot of coffee.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Time for Silence Is Over

An Open Letter to Howard County Superintendent of Schools,

Dr. Renee Foose and the Howard County Board of Education

from a former Chairman of the Board of Education

February 16, 2016

Dear Dr. Foose and Members of the Howard County Board of Education,

I write this open letter in response to recent actions by the Board and HCPSS, the disturbing approach to governing that the Board and Superintendent have adopted, and the completely unprecedented alienation between you and the citizens of Howard County and elected officials at the highest level of state office. The time for silence is over. The time for hoping that you will come to your senses and see how bad things have become is also over. Each of you (Dr. Foose and the Members of the Board), must take immediate and dramatic action or see the school system that you claim to hold dear enter into a period of significant decline, lack of parental involvement and rapid departures of your best teachers, administrators and other staff.

Just over the past weeks, during an increasingly turbulent winter, the Board and Superintendent have come under unprecedentedcriticism by a bipartisan group of elected officials, up to and including the two highest elected officials in Maryland and nearly the entire Howard County delegation to the State House. Governor Larry Hogan, in an official public meeting, stated that "There’s a palpable loss of trust between many parents and the county school system, and in particular with the superintendent." Peter Franchot, the Comptroller of Maryland, all but accused the school system of covering up a health crisis and putting the wellbeing of staff and children at risk to avoid embarrassment. Howard County State Representatives of both parties have also weighed in. Delegate Frank Turner said: "If we filled our rooms full of administrators and staff, shut our doors and not allowed public testimony do you realize the kind of criticism we would face …I don't expect it to happen in our county." Delegate Warren Miller said that "It's not normal activity for a board or public school system to do some of the things that they've been accused of, I hope that there is a change of a spirit, both at the school board and public school system, to be more open. Until there is, I think we all have to be vigilant about looking out for our constituents."

It would be bad enough if this was simply an issue between you and other elected or public officials. However, it is not. There is an unacceptable level of animosity between you the people you serve, the citizens of Howard County. Beginning with a forum on December 8th hosted by the Howard County State Delegation, there have been multiple meetings, sometimes attended by hundreds of people, where well-meaning and involved citizens have expressed anger and frustration about the actions of the Board and Superintendent. In every case, you have been dismissive of those concerns, showing nothing but contempt for us, the citizens of Howard County. Perhaps this contempt (and an unspoken acknowledgement of this state of affairs) is what led to the embarrassing process in which the contract of Dr. Foose was renewed, without any public input or even the ability of dissenting voices within to the Board to be heard before a vote.

This is not how things work in Howard County and it is antithetical to our shared values,the honorable history of theschool system, and to our continued success. Action on your part is needed now:

Dr. Foose, please acknowledge the reality that you are not the right leader for our school system. Please do what is best for the school system and children that you claim to serve. I call on you to withdraw your candidacy for Superintendent of Schools before your new contract takes effect. This will likely mean an acting Superintendent for a year, but it will give the Board (including newly elected members) the opportunity to choose a leader who can better serve our county.

Members of the BOE, whether you will ever admit to fault or not, please acknowledge the obvious lack of trust between you and the people you serve. I don’t know if you can fix that as individuals, but as a system you must. I call upon you to take immediate actions to dramatically increase transparency for school system and BOE operations. Some actions you should take include:

Publically support proposed legislation that would require the state public access ombudsman to investigate the integrity of county school officials' denials of public information requests from July 1, 2012 — when Dr. Foose became superintendent — through December 31, 2015.

Reinvigorate transparency mechanisms within the HCPSS that you have allowed to atrophy: the independent audit office, the school system ombudsman and the public budget committee.

Immediately put in place independent audits and public reports for the following:

o The process for renewing the Superintendent’scontract – including criteria you used, opportunities for public input, and potential irregularities during the meeting itself.

o Potential health and financial concerns regarding the conditions and maintenance of HCPSS buildings

o The provision of special education services and how our actual practices follow the intent of school system polices and how they compare to actions of other counties in Maryland.



It is also worth noting that every member of the Board will be up for reelection either this year or in 2018. Each of you should objectively look at the current situation and ask yourself if you really are the right person to lead this system. It may be the best thing you can do for the county is to step aside and allow for new leadership.

Thank you for your attention and consideration,

Joshua Kaufman, former Member and Chair,

Howard CountyBOE, Elkridge, MD


Shared with permission.


Monday, February 22, 2016


At five forty-five our coffee maker goes off like a dentist's drill, grinding the coffee before brewing. At six I wake everyone up. By six-twelve I'm making my daughter's breakfast. There's time for a pause with a cup of coffee, then by six-thirty I am making lunches for my husband and daughter, filling a travel mug with coffee, or counting out lunch money on "buy" days.

At six forty-five the door closes and they are off.

Every weekday follows this pattern. All the tiny pieces of each routine are followed: the knock on my daughter's door, followed by a gentle patting and rubbing of her back and shoulders until I am sure she is really and truly awake. Feeling guilty because it is far too early for her and she is miserable.

"I know," I say, stroking her back. "I know."

When you love someone you want to be able to make things better for them. You can't always. Sometimes there are life experiences that they legitimately must face, and you can't run alongside, smoothing out the path. This is especially true when you have children. Every day you have choices about how much to do for them, how much you need to let them do for themselves. Raising capable children requires letting them develop the capacity to be challenged and to persevere.

But there are exceptions.

Our school start times for older children are ridiculously early. I know I have said this before but I'm not done saying it. There's a significant amount of evidence that later start times promote better health and emotional well-being for students, plus better educational outcomes. Later start times work with teenagers natural sleep/wake cycles, instead of against them.

Early school start times and the resulting sleep deprivation are linked to chronic tardiness, discipline problems, more motor vehicle crashes, obesity, depression, illicit drug use, lower academic outcomes, and a lower over-all quality of life. Study after study shows that no one should be starting school before 8:00, and that most teens do better with an 8:30 start time.

We say we would do anything for our kids. We love them. But then we wonder if getting up at an ungodly hour is just one of the rite-of-passage things we need to let them go through.

It isn't.

I know that our school system has been "studying" this issue for quite some time. When are we going to make some positive progress? The Amercian Academy of Pediatrics recommends school start times of 8:30 am or later for adolescents. We have documented scientific evidence to make the change, plus I have plenty of undocumented anecdotal evidence at my house.

It is way past time to reset the clock for a better school day.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Action Items

Let's get right to it. My to-do list:

  • Figure out how to fix the problem where comments show up as white lettering instead of black. They are fine on my iPad. On my phone, I can get them to read correctly if I scroll down and click "view web version." But readers continue to be flummoxed by this, so I am guessing it is a problem on laptops and/or desktops? Time to get someone more tech-oriented on the case. Thanks for your patience.
  • Write a letter to the HoCo delegation and the State Superintendent of Schools, Jack Smith, regarding the approval of the Superintendent's contract. In order for the contract to be enacted, it must be ratified by Mr. Smith. Under normal circumstances, this approval is essentially a formality, but Dr. Foose's contract was pushed through under extraordinary conditions. If you have concerns about this, join me in writing a letter before Tuesday, February 24th.

  • RSVP for the February 29th HoCoBlogs party at Nalley Fresh. A new restaurant is coming to Dobbin Center, and it looks like we've got a chance to be some of the first people to try it out. (Here's more info about Nalley Fresh.) As always, these parties are open to bloggers and blog readers. Join us!
  • Learn more about this Thursday's meeting about transportation to be held at Central Library. Looks interesting. Columbia desperately needs better public transit. Widening highways is not the only way to help people get around.
  • Oh--almost forgot! This one is for you. There's a Groupon for unlimited digital access to the Baltimore Sun, which means our local papers as well. You can get an entire year for $49.00, compared to the $15.96 monthly that I am paying. And no, I'm not going to cost that out for you because we already know that will go bad quickly. This is a really good deal and will give you a relatively painless way to see how much you'd use all that information if you had it.

Have a relaxing, restorative Sunday. After you get all those things crossed off of your to-do list, that is.


Saturday, February 20, 2016


Just a friendly reminder that yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of my most-read blog post, "Howard County Music Changing?" (5536) The only other post that has come close is the recent "These Doors Are Shut" about the Superintendent's contract renewal. (5355) The two pieces might almost serve as bookends around a period in time when stakeholders' input was deemed unnecessary and unwanted.

In outlining the changes that were being made to music and art education by the implementation of the Elementary Model, I presented this list:

  • Data presented on Duckett's Lane model: None (still in first year)
  • Data presented about new program: None (no official announcement to stakeholders)
  • Data presented on how reduction of music and art affects students: None
  • Input sought from the Instructional Facilitator of Music in Howard County: None
  • Input Sought from affected principals: None
  • Input sought from Music and Art Teachers: None
  • Input sought from parents: None

If this pattern of behavior looks familiar to you that's simply because it has become the modus operandi of our school system. When it first began to happen it was alarming. Perhaps by now we should be used to it.

Are you?

When I say that my two blog posts serve as bookends, that is because I'm hazarding a guess that our community is ready to put an end to this way of doing business. That is only going to happen if we, as citizens, use our votes to create a better board of education. The date of the Primary Election is April 26th. Early voting will be from the 14th through the 21st. The deadline for a registered voter to request an electronic absentee ballot is April 22nd.

If you are looking for something to share with neighbors and friends to drive home the importance of this election, I suggest the editorial in this week's Howard County Times, "A school district's slipping grade in building public trustworthiness." In describing the ongoing litany of school system failures, the writer states:

These episodes are more than a communications problem — they point to undercurrents of opacity and mistrust. Ignominious behavior toward critics is no way to lead a respected, high-quality institution.

Let's turn the page, no, let's close the book on a management style that disregards and disrespects parents and community members. Let's write a better story for our children: together.







Friday, February 19, 2016

A Few Questions

Telephones and I just don't mix. Sure, there were those fleeting teenage years when we were besties, but that didn't last. Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes knows that I will go to great lengths to avoid talking on the phone. I'm perfectly happy to make do with texting and email. For me, Caller ID is a boon. There's absolutely no reason to pick up the phone if I don't know who's calling.

Which brings me to the recent poll by the Kittleman folks. They didn't call me. Or maybe they did and I just didn't answer the phone. My dislike of telephones means that I am, pretty much, self-selecting out of any sort of poll. Oh, well. I don't think I represent a very large group of people who loathe telephones, so it's no loss to the overall validity of the venture.

But what about people who don't have land lines anymore? Do telephone polls and surveys account for them? And am I correct in assuming that, for the most part, the larger chunk of people shedding land lines is younger? Not entirely, of course. But mostly. How does that skew results?

I know that political polling is quite the science and there must be some interesting mathematical way that one accounts for people with telephone aversion, or people who no longer have a "home phone." But I can't helping wondering if the pool of respondents is shrinking and shrinking. Not just because of the aforementioned reasons, but because people don't feel the obligation to answer the telephone in the way that they did a generation ago.

If I am right, I wonder how this impacts polling. And that brings me back to the Kittleman poll. We really don't know much about its validity. Most professional poll results include information like this: dates of the poll, group targeted, number of households called vs. number of actual respondents, how that number relates to the number of the overall target group, and finally, a prediction of validity.

We don't have any of that.

So all I know for a fact after this week is that Mr. Kittleman has raised a lot of money, and that he's tremendously interested in which way the political wind is blowing. That's not enough information for me to come to any reasonable conclusion. How he leads in the year ahead is what's worth watching.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Getting the Word Out

Columbia received a belated Valentine yesterday from the Inner Arbor Trust--an update on the progress of the Chrysalis project. Click through the link to see photos, video, and read the information for yourself. Long story short, the work will be finished within this calendar year and the Chrysalis will make its debut in Spring of 2017.

This timely update makes it abundantly clear that, while a small group of naysayers are trying to undercut the work of the Inner Arbor Trust, folks over there are just continuing to do their jobs. And, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Michael McCall's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Yesterday's report gave me a chance to see that a bigger opponent of the plan may be how little many residents know about it. Pictures of the Chrysalis on Facebook prompted comments such as the following:

  • Aren't they going to have pavilion seating anymore?
  • Don't tell me it's really going to look like this.
  • This is why we're cutting down all the trees?
  • Now we'll never have room for Wine in the Woods.
  • Columbia doesn't need more parks. Columbia needs a nice museum.

It soon became apparent that there was widespread confusion about what these folks were seeing. Some thought it was the Merriweather upgrade, some thought it was the Howard Hughes project on the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway. Many have been sold a bill of goods that "all the trees" are coming down. Some people had heard about the new park but didn't know about the Chyrsalis. Some people didn't know about the park at all.

I made the mistake of trying to respond to all the misconceptions. Why? Well, because I'm a huge fan of the park, and because it was driving me crazy to watch the spread of misinformation. And maybe that wasn't such a wise choice because, by the end of the day, I was left with the feeling that I was a weary warrior in an unending game of social media Whack-a-Mole.

It's just going to take time. There's no way to inform every single person simultaneously. Some people will be connected to what's going on locally, and some will not. And, human nature being what it is, dire predictions and sketchy rumors will spread faster than actual truth.

So I'm going to attempt to step away from trying to fix everything that's wrong on the internet about the Chrysalis/IAT/Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. Well, mostly. There's just one thing we need to get straight: they are not "cutting down all the trees." No matter what anyone tells you, it's just not happening. Some trees, largely ailing ones, will be coming down. More trees will be planted than removed as a part of the process.

It would be hard to have Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods without the Woods, now wouldn't it? Tell your friends.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

New and Improved?

There's a new pizza place in town. In a new strip mall in town. Grotto Pizza has come to Columbia. With an address on the 'other' side of Minstel Way, it looks more to be on Snowden River Parkway. I've seen some concern from long time local residents that increased development in this area is going to cause traffic headaches. Will Grotto be popular enough to test that theory? I guess we'll soon find out.

I think of Grotto as something special one considers doing at the beach. I know loyalties tend to be divided between Grotto and Nicola, and I don't intend to challenge anyone's preferences here. But I am wondering. If I can get that Grotto experience any time I want in Columbia, why would I want to go there once I get to the beach? It almost seems as though they'll be cannibalizing their beach locations by expanding into local ones.

So a Grotto's in Columbia may be new and improved, but will it make Grotto's at the beach feel same-old, same-old? Your theories welcome here.

Speaking of new and improved, I stumbled upon what looks like a major overhaul on the Howard County Government website. Two first impressions: it's visually cluttered and doesn't have a unified look, and it looks more like a campaign page for the County Executive. For fans of Mr. Kittleman, there's the nice touch of seeing him put that pesky County Council in their place at last. Good luck trying to find them. On the new page the County Council is reduced to the protagonist in a "Where's Waldo?" game.

If you support the County Executive, you'll be happy to see his photographs plastered all over the place. If you don't, you may find that aspect galling. What's more important, of course, is whether the new design helps people do what they need to do. Was there a problem with the old site which this redesign solves? If so, what was it?

My mother had a saying in regard to products at the grocery store, "If something says 'New and Improved!' it usually isn't." She cast a skeptical eye on such claims based on a lifetime of experience. I don't necessarily share her views. When it comes to Columbia I often find myself on the side of new and improved.

I won't dismiss this "new look" for the website out of hand.I'll need to give it a try and see if it does what I need it to do. So should you. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Same probably holds true for the pizza as well. I wonder if they do school restaurant night fundraisers. That could be fun.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Return of the Mysterious Mr. D.

Yesterday, while I contemplating Lincoln and unity, an older post of mine was on fire with belated debate in the comments section. One commenter, going by the name of "Thomas Diller" was systematically questioning everything I had posted and picking away at other commenters as well. As the name was not familiar to me, I attempted to do some research.

I can't find any accounts for a local Thomas Diller. Not Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, no Google hits establishing this as a real person. But, I do find Mr. Diller in comments sections of Howard Public Ed and The 53, Bill Woodcock's blog--in 2012. I started asking around and it turns out he frequented the comments section of Patch around the same time, along with a companion named Robert Rhodes.

In all cases he is addressing school system issues defending management and attacking anyone who is a challenge to management. He's left perfectly nasty diatribes against Board Member Cindy Vailancourt on Howard Public Ed. And now, in another election year, he's back.

Of course he is.

I guess Mr. Diller, being new to this blog, doesn't know that I strongly encourage people to post under their own names. And it does seem highly unlikely, given the evidence, that this is is his (?) real name. The evidence points to someone in Central Office or perhaps even on the Board of Education itself. Traveling incognito in the comments sections during election years.

Yesterday, while I talked about unity and Lincoln, someone was hard at work showing us what we're up against. Be on the lookout for people like this who attempt to sway public opinion against anyone who seeks to create a better board of education. I may have outed one of them, but I'm sure there are others waiting to replace him.

A reminder:

I encourage discussion in the comments section but I have no patience for trolling, or really any kind of nastiness. It is my preference that people post under their own names. I stand by my word every time I post, and so should you, if you choose to engage here.


Monday, February 15, 2016

What Unites Us

The time of my usual blog posting has come and gone. My family slept in, the snow is falling, my mind is filled with a swirl of thoughts about the upcoming Board of Education race. I see an explosion of talk on social media about candidates and issues. That's good. I see any number of local bloggers and activists speaking out and getting involved. That's good. But something is nagging at me.

One of the only positive things to come out of a truly disappointing state of affairs in the Howard County Schools is the truly bipartisan response from community members who see the truth and simply want to make things better. The work done by the Howard County Delegation is an example of that. I read this comment after an article in the Howard County Times:

The Howard County School Board has done what was previously unimaginable - unite Democrats and Republicans.

And it is not merely a uniting of Democrats and Republicans. It is also East and West, parents of African Amercian students, parents supporting music and the arts, parents of special education students, as well as teachers and staff. There's probably more that I am forgetting. What unites us? The realization that we, as citizens, voters, stakeholders, have been locked out of our local school system and our children are much the worse for it.

As it is President's Day it seems only fitting that I should have this thought on my mind:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. -- Abraham Lincoln

Right now people are still feeling the stinging slap of disenfranchisement that the Board of Education administered to the community on February 4th. The word is getting out that this is a race to follow. That's exciting. Believe me, anything that amplifies a feeling of ownership to Howard County Citizens about this election will be a vast improvement over earlier years.

In all the excitement I see a variety of surveys, interviews, and word of potential endorsements. I've seen preliminary reporting on who has what money to spend and a suggestion to look and see exactly where that money came from. I also see sincere requests from people who haven't really been following this up until now and they need some good, solid advice, or a push in the right direction to do some research for themselves.

There are some excellent candidates running. I thank all of them for putting themselves out there. But I'm not ready to jump into the fray and announce endorsements. I'm waiting to hear the results from the HCEA interviews. They have been doing this for a while now, they know what they are doing, and they are good at it. It's a big piece of the puzzle for me.

Keep in mind that the best thing you can do right now is tell your friends, neighbors, church members, club members, and acquaintances at the bus stop that there's an important election coming up, and that their votes are really important. Tell five people, and ask them to tell five more.

We won't win this election unless we make it about our schools, our students, our teachers and staff. It can't be about ego or influence. It can't be about fighting amongst ourselves. We must be a house united.

Our goal: a better board of education. In my opinion, that means that none of three incumbents (whose lack of responsiveness and accountability has become legendary) should be re-elected. Though we may not all miraculously agree on the three candidates to replace them, we can continue to support positive and inclusive goals that will lead to a victory that all can share.



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Local Love Notes

Have you seen the Baltimore Valentines, designed by Baltimore Sun reporters? Take a look. There are twenty six different Baltimore-centric cards, each playing with a well-known Baltimore theme, but in an old-school Class Valentine sort of way. Some examples: the runaway blimp, the Domino Sugar sign, a Bal'mer Hon with signature beehive hairdo, Edgar Allen Poe, the Orioles, and the Ravens.

What if we had similar comedic Valentines for Columbia/Howard County? What well-known people, places, and stories should we feature? Some preliminary thoughts:

  • Merriweather: They're playing our song, Valentine. Or perhaps, let's raise the roof on Valentine's Day.
  • People Tree: You're my kind of people, Valentine.
  • Pink Rabbit: Valentine, you make me hoppy!
  • Snow Plow Tracker: I won't stop til I find you, sweetiepie.
  • George Howard Building Vending Machines: I'm hungry for your craveable love.
  • HoCo Unsweeted: You're sweet enough for me, honey.
  • IAT Chrysalis: You put the Symphony in my Woods, baby.
  • Sculptures outside the Metropolitan: Our love is in bloom.
  • Council Member and all around friendly guy Calvin Ball: Give me a hug, Valentine.
  • County Executive and Polar Bear Plunger Alan Kittleman: Icy Waters won't quench my love, Valentine.
I won't say the possibilities are endless, but I think we have plenty of our own people, places, and stories to choose from. Suggestions? Add them in the comments. I'm looking for sweet, proud, funny, irreverent, silly, but no downright nastiness. I know it can be deliciously fun to be snarky, and I came up with some of those, too. But I didn't post them.


It is Valentine's Day, after all. Have a good one!


Saturday, February 13, 2016

If You Build It

Friday evening found me prowling the prepared foods at Wegmans's for a quick dinner as a woman alone in the upstairs café. I can't always go to the Second Chance. Besides, dinner at the Second Chance means at least one Dogfish, and I had to be awake and ready to pick up the kid when she was done with her teen event at church.

So Wegman's for dinner it was.

First off, I was overwhelmed by the shrine to Valentine's Day at the entrance to the store. The flower display alone is rather breathtaking. If you haven't done your Valentine shopping--and if that is a thing that you do--let me tell you, Wegmans has flowers, cards, chocolate, stuffed animals, and any number of ways to express your (seasonal) love. Wow.

One of the things I love about the market café is the selection of international offerings. Some days I go straight for comfort food like barbecued chicken and mac and cheese, but most of the time I have portions of Indian food jockeying for position on my plate with Asian offerings and Mexican. Oh, and interesting vegetable dishes. I have trouble restraining myself in the buffet line. I'm sure that I am not alone in this.

The upstairs seating at Wegman's is a fun place for people-watching. As I sat with my crazy-quilt of dinner choices I had a good chance to look around. Nearby were two teens, or maybe young college students, lolling on chairs, laughing and chatting. Young couples passed on their way to find a table. Parents with young children. Older couples who looked to be enjoying a Wegman's dinner date. A few people seemed to be set up to get some work or studying done.

Down below, shoppers were pushing their carts and navigating the aisles. So many shoppers. So many different kinds of people. One thing unites them: they have the money and the transportation which makes it possible to shop at Wegman's. After that threshold is met the many differences are apparent.

Where were all of these people before Wegman's was built? What were they doing of a Friday night in February? Some were undoubtedly shopping at the stores closest to their homes. But Wegman's has filled a need not just for groceries but for eating out, gift shopping, and as a welcoming public space where one can hang out, have a snack, meet up with friends.

Or eat dinner as a woman alone, and feel perfectly fine doing so.

Some people see stores like Wegman's as sounding the death knell for smaller stores in the village centers. I don't deny that Columbia is facing the consequences of having more grocery stores than our market will truly support. And it does matter to me that we continue to have grocery stores for people who can't afford Wegman's and don't have the transportation to get there.

Last night I simply marveled at the slice of our community who turned up on a Friday night at Wegman's. In less than four years they've become an integral part of our community. We don't have many "third spaces" in Columbia. Perhaps you think it's silly that a suburban mega-grocery gives us a sense of community. Maybe it is.

But you just can't beat it for people-watching. And the food is pretty good, too.



Friday, February 12, 2016

Gossip Guys

Yesterday, journalism. Today, the rumor mill. No, not that Rumor Mill. This rumor mill:

Rumor mill -- noun phrase
The source of rumors, especially those that seem to be deliberately passed along.
Wednesday evening a former OMCA board member showed up with the stunning news that Michael McCall had resigned from the Inner Arbor Trust. Oh, and would they like to consider Cy Paumier's plan again?
They declined.
Still, that was pretty troubling news. What could it possibly mean that Michael McCall was leaving the Inner Arbor Trust? By the next day similar stories were swirling around town--Mr. McCall had resigned, Mr. McCall had been fired, and a lot of other things that don't bear repeating.
There's just one thing. Michael McCall hasn't resigned from the Inner Arbor Trust, nor has he been fired or anything else of the sort. But someone, or rather someone(s), wanted the Columbia community to believe that he had. To sow doubt. To create discord.
"Michael McCall has resigned! Now's the time to redo the plan!"
Now who would stand to benefit from that?
By the end of the day, our rumor-mongering had reached fever pitch when a member of the CA Board tried to pass off the same story as truth at their regular board meeting. This same member is on the Inner Arbor Trust Board and is known to oppose the plan.
Hmm...I wonder how this rumor got started.
Could it be there are still grumpy people out there waiting for just the right opportunity to destroy the Inner Arbor Plan for Merriwether Park in Symphony Woods and seize control 'for Rouse, for Columbla Pioneers, and for Cy Paumier?' It seems that there are.
And this week they outed themselves in a big way.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


This is "citizen journalism" So is this. Both are accounts of the February 4th Board of Education meeting where Superintendent Renee Foose's contract was renewed under highly questionable circumstances.

This is an article in the Howard County Times by reporter Lisa Philip. Within this piece about yesterday's unanimous vote by the Howard County Delegation on public information requests is a discussion of that same meeting. The entire piece is beautifully written, but this section is particularly valuable as it shows us how elected officials are viewing what occurred in that filled-to-capacity boardroom.

I hope you'll read Nikki Schmidt's letter to the editor, and Lisa Philip's article as well, because both speak to glaring flaws in our local school system that need to be addressed. But you may not be able to if you've already read your three free articles this month and you're not a paid subscriber. If you are not, here is my pitch: is $15.96 per month a reasonable fee to be assured that someone highly trained and qualified is watching people who don't want to be watched?

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations. -- George Orwell

There is a price for a free press. Free does not mean at no cost, it means free and independent from those who would seek to restrain it. If, as a citizen, you want that kind of news, you must pay for it. Advertising revenue does not suffice, no matter how much you think it should. Do you get three free sandwiches at the deli before you have to pay? Three free ball game tickets at Camden Yards? Three free doctor's visits? No? And does that reset itself each month for three more? No? Why not?

People must be paid. Materials and business expenses must be met. We pay for services and goods and don't expect to be offered a free ride. But we get mad or apathetic about paying for the news. We look at our family budgets and think it is an unnecessary expense.

When you think about the hundreds of thousands of dollars, actually millions, that are at stake in our school system, what would you be willing to pay for this one article alone? I'd wager at least the entire month's fee and then some. You can read it, discuss it with friends and neighbors, pass it around, use it as inspiration to write a letter of advocacy or to sign up to campaign for better Board members.

We pay through taxes to support our schools. And even though we may feel in our hearts that those taxes should be enough, that does not stop us from participating in PTA Fundraisers, restaurant nights, and all sorts of donations of time, money, and goods to support our schools. Because we know that tax money alone isn't sufficient, and that if we don't do it, who will?

Fifteen dollars and ninety six dollars per month is approximately $ .53 per day. So, substantially less than a large soda or fancy coffee daily. Probably less than a school restaurant night each month.

I can't possibly know whether you can afford it or not. That would be presumptuous of me to say.

I can ask you to strongly consider it.