Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Craziness Returns

What with the interesting political hocus pocus going on in Annapolis this week, I thought it was significant that this post came up in my memories for today on Facebook.

The Craziness Continues

At the heart of that post:

I'm of the opinion that these meetings allow for greater transparency and accountability. In Howard County the community struggle with our school system over these issues has taken on almost epic proportions. Citizens continue to testify in Annapolis in favor of a bill to ensure meaningful compliance with MPIA requests, yet legislators in Annapolis don't think our Superintendent should need to articulate capital budget priorities in an open meeting. 

For heaven's sake, right now Howard County is practically the definition of why these meetings need to be open. We have students and staff who have suffered long term health problems due to mold issues in their schools. All the while those in power denied there was any problem at all and there was no one holding them accountable. The Board of Education, whose mission is to direct the Superintendent, largely abdicated their responsibility to the community.

So what happened in Annapolis this week? Here’s a few snippets from Bryan Sears of the Maryland Daily Record:

Breaking: while the Board of Public Works met and the governor and comptroller criticizes an effort to remove them from the school construction process, the Budget and Taxation Committee was pulled from the floor and voted out the House bill. Republican senators expressed anger over a lack of a hearing.  
#mdpolitics #mdga18

Live from the Board of Public Works. Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter VR Franchot are expected to comment on pending legislation that would end board oversight of school construction around the state. 
#mdpolitics #mdga18

No one would suggest that I’m a big fan either of the Governor or of Mr. Franchot, but I’m still very much in support of having these sessions remain as they are, in open hearings in front of elected officials. I don’t know where Howard County would be right now if we hadn’t been able to present our concerns about mold in our schools during this very public forum. 

Some folks seem to think that this is political payback for Mr. Franchot’s involvement in proposed craft beer legislation. I’m not an Annapolis insider, so I really couldn’t say. But the bill passed and now goes to the Governor. The Governor will very likely veto and the begins the process of whether or not the assembly will override the veto. If this is political payback for something, I think it’s poorly thought out. Taking away an opportunity for public input and scrutiny just doesn’t feel right to me.

Friday, March 30, 2018


If yesterday’s blog post proved anything whatsoever, it would be that Dave Yungmann has plenty of women friends who are willing to give him testimonials. That’s great. It’s good to have friends, and it looks like he has some of the best.

Things that these testimonials focus on:

Dave Yungmann is a great guy. I don’t dispute that. My blog post wasn’t about that at all.

Dave Yungmann did a lot during the BOE campaign that you don’t know about. I don’t dispute that either.

That’s just how people write campaign literature. It’s no big deal.

He would never erase women. He’s not like that.

Here’s the deal. As a writer, albeit an amateur, I naturally focus on how people use words. So my blog post was an analysis of how Mr. Yungmann was telling his story to the public. In a political campaign, once you put stuff out there, the public will read it and give feedback. That’s how it works.   And there’s nothing innately unfair about commentary on political campaign posts. You are responsible for how you tell your story.

It says something about who you are.

While Mr. Yungmann might not be the sort to take credit for other people’s work and erase women from the narrative—and I hear the folks who are telling me this—his campaign material clearly did just that. I don’t care what political party he is, I would have called out anyone for that. Particularly since the topic, changes in the school system, was one I had quite a bit of knowledge of.

I see examples almost every day where women are excluded, erased, talked over, and diminished when it comes to community and political discourse. Not only does this do a great disservice to women, it is also a loss to our culture as a whole. We all lose when representation and leadership do not reflect the fact that it takes both women and men to make good decisions in a culture that has, no surprise, both women and men. It’s really that simple.

Every time we allow someone to shape the narrative in a way that excludes or downplays the contribution of women we endorse the underlying misconception that men’s work is somehow innately more valuable. I just can’t give that a pass.

I want to thank everyone who took the time yesterday to chime in on this topic. Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wait, What?

Into every successful movement, spearheaded and supported largely by women, will come one man who will take credit for the whole thing.

I was noodling around on Facebook, looking at candidate pages,when I took a look at the page of David Yungmann. Yungmann, a Republican, is running for County Council in District 5. My eye caught this sentence:

David became a leader in the movement for new school system leadership, successfully electing a new Board of Education and installing a new Superintendent.

Wait, what?

I rubbed my eyes. I shook my head. I read it again.

David became a leader in the movement for new school system leadership, successfully electing a new Board of Education and installing a new Superintendent.

While I was aware that Mr. Yungmann supported the campaigns of two of the BOE challengers, I had no idea he was responsible for both the new board and the new superintendent. That’s pretty impressive.

In fact, it’s a such preposterous claim that I clicked on the photo hoping that it might explain that mind-boggling sentence.

It didn’t. It actually made it worse. I understand that politics is an exercise in highlighting one’s  accomplishments but, in this four-frame promotional piece, Mr. Yungmann takes a story in which many people were involved and makes it all about him. He takes a piece of very recent history and turns it into his story.

This galls me because most of the leadership on this particular issue was actually the work of women: Cindy Vaillancourt, Bess Altwerger, Vicky Cutroneo, Barb Krupiarz, Christine McComas, Lisa Markovitz, to name but a few. Yes, men were involved but women did most of the “heavy lifting” on  this over a very long period of time. No matter how much work Mr. Yungmann devoted to this effort it does not give him the right to erase them from the narrative.

I’m not entirely positive what all this means in relation to his campaign for County Council. I do know that I never want to serve on a committee with Mr. Yungmann because he will surely want to take all the credit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


All text printed in italics is from this article in the HoCo Times by Kate Magill:

Howard County looks to add door locks, 4 officers to bolster school security 

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Tuesday that he is committing $1.1 million in his upcoming budgets for school security initiatives, including more door locks at high schools and additional police officers for middle schools.


Three new school resource officers, and a supervisor, would join the three officers assigned to serve six middle schools: Mayfield Woods, Patuxent Valley, Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Lake Elkhorn and Oakland Mills.

Stephon Clark

Until the additional school resource officers arrive, Gardner said the department will mandate all patrol officers to add public and private schools in their beats to their regular patrol rounds.
Tamir Rice 

“So the role here is for our road officers, in their beats, to make at least one check per day of going in, checking in with school administration and staff, getting to know them, also if time allows walking in the school, interacting with students and if time permits, to even have lunch with the students,” Gardner said. “This is not something new, this is something that officers have done on their own in the past, but this is now just formalizing that program.”

Philando Castille

Martirano said the school system plans to have “enhanced communication” with families about the increased police presence in schools to ease anxieties that parents or children may have, but he did not provide specifics.

Eric Garner

The idea of an increased police presence has been met with concern from some community members, including Howard County NAACP President Willie Flowers, who said while he sees the value in helping officers and students to get to know one another, he didn’t believe the initiative has been well communicated to parents. 
Michael Brown 

I know they mean well. I know they feel they are simply doing their jobs, doing the best they can to protect students using the resources they have available to them. But I wonder. I wonder if our new director of Diversity and Inclusion, Kevin Gilbert, was seated at the table when these plans were being made. 

Sandra Bland

We know that learning is adversely affected by stress. The County Executive and the Superintendent are hoping to allay fears about school shootings.

Freddie Gray

What about the learning of students whose life experiences have taught them to fear police?

Walter Scott

I don’t know. I just don’t.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Last Call

I was there on Sunday when the store employee held up his phone to play bagpipe music and tell people to bring their purchases to the cashiers up front. He had been doing that every Sunday at that time for many years, but this particular time it was different.

“Please bring your purchases to the front to pay. Thank you so much, and have a good evening. And a happy life.”

The customers laughed a bit, then applauded.

On a Sunday, March 25th, Daedalus Books and Music Outlet Store closed its doors for the last time. There will be no more browsing, no more discovering new music heard while shopping, no more great finds which snatch gift-giving victory from the jaws of defeat. The new owners will continue an online presence from their headquarters in Ohio but our hometown store will be no more.

We all know that, in the age of Amazon, bookstores are a dying breed. Yet somehow I thought that our little funky, off-beat local place would last forever. As a teacher I found books to use in the classroom and books to give as student gifts. As a parent I took my young child to their children’s department from strollerhood onwards. I remember afternoons of watching her gleefully explore their collection of beanbag chairs.

I bought CDs, DVDs, calendars, greeting cards, magnets, toys, crafts books, cookbooks, big, glossy coffee-table books about cathedrals for my husband. It was a place to “noodle around”when one just needed to get out of the house for a bit. One of the long-time employees was a former student of my husband’s at Towson University, so we always felt a sense of kinship there.

Those of us who manage to live in the affluent splendor that is Howard County by finding and prizing all the good bargains will find our lives diminished now that Daedalus is gone. Surely anyone who would rather pick up a book and flip through it rather than click a button online, and who treasures the joy of discovery, will find their worlds a bit smaller.

The bagpipe fanfare was oddly appropriate. We have lost an old friend. Farewell.

 And have a happy life.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Sweet Spot

I had a conversation the other evening about development in Howard County. I confessed that I have found myself to be conflicted on this issue. In fact, I have shied away from writing about it in the recent past because I have felt that my stance of conflict was of no use to anyone. I thought that, after doing my homework, I should be able to choose one side or the other.

I haven’t. If you’ve ever wondered why I didn’t weigh in on APFO, this is why. Or make a definitive statement about the Columbia TIF.

On the one hand, I know what communities look like when businesses feels that they are no longer commercially viable. Developers are no longer motivated to engage. It can be a vicious cycle. A lack of willingness to invest can be the kiss of death. And I know that we need a push for affordable housing and decent “starter” housing. We need to make that a priority.

On the other hand, I do see quite clearly the overcrowding in schools that continued development has brought to our area. It seems logical to suggest that the pace of new housing should be slowed while new school construction is sped up. There are legitimate environmental concerns. And do developers pay an amount that is a meaningful contribution?

I once had a conversation with someone who suggested that those who are against further development are selfish. “They have found the good life in Howard County but now they want to pull up the ladder and keep others from finding the same thing.” He also suggested that there’s an underlying classism/racism in many of their arguments.

Hmm. If true, that’s pretty ugly.

The arguments against development, it seems to me, come from a basic concept that there is a finite amount of land/amenities in Howard County. As you keep adding more structures/people, it cannot help but dilute the quality of life. I’m not saying I agree with this, just that I think this is the argument. As a preschool teacher I can see some value to this. We have square footage-per-child limits for a reason.

And yet there’s no denying that this is an argument which is based on a scarcity mindset. If others come, will there be enough? Will what I have be diminished?

My conversation about development the other evening made me realize how much I want to find common ground between these two sides. What is the sweet spot between continued investment in Howard County and protecting and supporting infrastructure, services, amenities, schools, etc? It simply can’t be an either/or proposition.

I read this recently in regards to the school budget, but I think it applies here as well.

The opposite concept of the "tyranny of the OR" is called the “genius of the AND.” We can preserve our core beliefs AND invest in new initiatives. We can advocate for resources for community A AND also want the best for community B. We can advocate for students in overcrowded schools AND students who need to utilize the school lunch program. We can want PreK AND more resources for students with disabilities. It doesn't have to be either OR...
What do you think? (Candace Dodson Reed)

What do you think? How can we find the sweet spot? Can we?

Sunday, March 25, 2018


Boy, that Kindness Rocks craze sure went south in a hurry, didn’t it?

Pennsylvania school wants to arm students with rocks to protect them against active shooters

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Basket Bingo (Not What You Think)

Easter is coming and some of you will be making Easter baskets. If Easter is not your holiday, you may have an occasion to celebrate the coming of Spring, or a birthday, or even a wedding. A gift basket could be just the thing.

I have an idea. What if you filled your basket with items from Mom and Pop businesses in Howard County? Here are a few ideas:

Try some delicious sweets and treats From Momma’s Kitchen.  The selection of flavors is amazing and her presentation is always over the top gorgeous.

Head over to the Breezy Willow Country Farm Store and noodle around to find just the right things to tuck in your basket. They have some wonderful handmade soaps that would bring some delightful Springtime fragrance to your gift.

A jar or two of Neat Nick Preserves would easily fit in a basket. Perhaps you could tuck in a fresh baked loaf of bread from River House Pizza?

I made my first visit to Su Casa in Ellicott City on Thursday evening. I always thought that they were just furniture. Was I ever wrong! There’s lots of smaller, “gifty” things that would work perfectly in a basket.

Normally I would suggest a trip to Daedalus Books for a few little book-related gifts but this is their last weekend and I’m not sure what the selection will be. Stop by to wish them well anyway. You might find a bargain.

Am I forgetting a great local source for Easter candy? Little Spring-y toys for kids?

Chime in with your recommendations in the comments. Remember, it has to be truly HoCoLocal.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Words of Wisdom

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to be surrounded by snow, slush, and cold weather on my birthday. Here in Columbia, Maryland, it’s a bit of a surprise. No matter. It’s my birthday and the weather won’t get in the way of my celebration.

I’m going to indulge myself by doling out a bit of birthday wisdom today. Humor me, will you?

Probably the most important thing I have learned in recent years is how important it is to find friends who challenge your thinking. If I have done anything that will contribute to a slowdown in the aging of my brain, this is it.

In light of that, here’s the person who has done the most to transform my views on race and how that affects all of us in Columbia/Howard County.

In case you don’t know, this is Candace Dodson Reed, co-host of the podcast Elevate Maryland and a part of the HoCo Forward slate for Democratic Central Committee. I was fortunate enough to bump into her last night at a local event (more on that this weekend) while I was mulling over what I wanted to write about today. We talked about how important it is to use one’s voice to say the things that need to be said. Things that perhaps others shy away from or just plain don’t see.

I owe so much to Candace for being the role model who challenged my white suburban worldview and got me to start asking questions. What do you mean that being a liberal white woman wasn't enough?  Was it possible that there was much more to do if I legitimately wanted to be an ally? What was an ally, anyway?

I have had much to learn and I am still learning. I haven’t always come off looking all that good, and I have often felt uncomfortable. And, over time, I have realized that’s a good thing.

There is a meme on social media which begins, “Find you some who...” So here is mine.

Find you a friend who challenges you to be better.

I guarantee that you will be on the road to being wiser. And, who knows, maybe younger, too.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


There’s a nascent political page bubbling up on Facebook and I don’t like it. It’s called HoCo Truths. Whoever runs the page has chosen to remain anonymous and when you click on the “About” button, there’s a big fat zero. There’s only a few “Likes” so far. I don’t know how long it has been in existence.

Here’s what I don’t like. Whoever is behind this page is interestested in promoting the idea that Governor Hogan and County Executive Kittleman have “dangerous” views. Their track records are dangerous. If they are re-elected there will be danger in our futures. Now, I find much to disagree with when it comes to the Governor and the CE. But it’s important to articulate why different candidates represent a better vision. Engage and motivate people to support the values they believe in. Support the best candidates.

Something about this just feels like someone lurking in the shadows of a dark alley, whispering “psst!” to passers-by. It’s creepy. It also appears to be in the same vein as negative materials circulated during the last County Executive election. And, in the long run, those didn’t go over so well.

I take a dim view of pages/accounts on the other side of the political spectrum who frame Democratic candidates as “dangerous”. So naturally I don’t think that the way to beat them is to join them. I don’t think that promoting fear is a healthy or long-lasting motivator.

If I were going to start a page called HoCo Truths I would use it to promote discussion of the truths we face in Howard County that all of us need to work to address. As it stands, the murky nature of this page gives me an uncomfortable feeling about how it’s using the word “truth”. I hope this page either a) evolves into something better or b) fizzles out entirely.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


It wasn’t that many years ago when I took on the role of trying to get people stirred up about the board of education race in Howard County. I must say it took a while for that excitement to truly take hold, but when it did—well, the change was substantial.

This time around I have noted how different the playing field has become. There are now a variety of online forums discussing local school system issues. Former BOE candidate Corey Andrews has created a questionnaire for candidates. Blogger Jason Booms has been writing about the responses. Scott Ewart  has been keeping track of candidate announcements and is providing a space for the questionnaires to be “housed” online.

Thanks, guys.

I’m still working my way through the questionnaires. I’m dealing with my disappointment that I won’t be able to vote for incumbents Cindy Vaillancourt and Bess Altwerger. While I don’t feel that the BOE race is any less important this time around, it is true that I don’t feel the same urgency that I did for the last one.

Want to know why?

I’d like to direct you to results of the audit for the Teachers for Tomorrow Program. It’s just outrageous. Money misallocated, plans approved without being discussed, decisions made without following proper procedures, policies violated. The bad actors involved in this boondoggle are no longer in charge. We are facing major problems with our budget due to their mismanagement, but we now have people in place who are doing their jobs responsibly and with transparency.

That’s a huge change.

Way back when I put myself into the business of asking BOE candidates to respond to a questionnaire, what I wanted to know was quite simple.

Question, "What do you think the job of a Board of Education member is?" Please address the following:
1. What power does the position convey?
2. What is the best use of that power?
3. To whom is the Board of Education member responsible?

When I evaluated candidates in 2016, I was looking for:

 responsiveness, transparency, and accountability

Again, far simpler than Mr. Andrews’ 8-category questionnaire. There’s a reason for that. During those years we were enduring a Superintendent and Board who were ignoring the most basic ethical and behavioral standards of their positions. Bringing about change required finding out who actually was willing and capable of turning that situation around.

I think we have begun to turn that around. We’re at a point where asking the more specific questions is warranted, because we aren’t worrying daily about excluding the public and unknown financial shenanigans. 

I commend Mssrs Andrews, Booms, and Ewart on their timely coverage of the BOE race. I want to assure my readers that I’m not abdicating my responsibility on this. As I read through the candidate’s responses along with the rest of you, a new set of questions are coming together in my mind. I’ll be writing about that soon.

In the mean time, the HoCo Times has a new Education Reporter on the beat. Her name is Kate Queram. Thank goodness for real live journalists. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Clean Living

Happy first day of Spring. How about that snow forecast, eh?

In honor of the changing of the seasons, here’s a little public health announcement: wash your hands.

No, it’s not a hocolocal story. It’s universal. Take it from an early childhood teacher: you need to start them young. Children are natural germ spreaders. You don’t really want me to go into detail.

Washing ones hands is such a basic contribution we can all make to public health. You’d be amazed at how lackadaisical many folks are about it. It’s not a very “sexy” cause in the grand scheme of things, but it should be.

Visiting a pregnant friend?
     Wash your hands.
Meeting a new baby?
     Wash your hands.
Walking in the door at the end of the day?
     Wash your hands.
Leaving your volunteer shift at the preschool?
     Wash your hands.

Why yes, I do have a sick teenager at my house right now, and I’m desperately hoping to remain well. Why do you ask?


Monday, March 19, 2018

More Than Bake Sales

Over the weekend news broke that a substitute teacher used by the Howard County Schools had been charged with child sexual abuse for an incident in Montgomery County. Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano sent out a letter to parents on Saturday covering the situation in general terms.

If you want to know specifics I suggest you follow the PTA Council of Howard County on Facebook.  PTACHC President Vicky Cutroneo was been providing the most through, up-to-date information available on this horrific situation throughout the weekend.

Some folks think that the PTA is “merely” about bake sales or booster groups, after-prom parties and teacher luncheons.   The PTA Council in Howard County addresses those issues and so much more. They maintain an informational website as a resource but have recently entered the social media world by keeping members up to date on Facebook.

Want to stay in the loop on Howard County Schools? I’d recommend adding PTACHC to your social media diet.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. It’s quiet at the Snowden Starbucks, and I pick a seat with the scenic view of the bowling alley. I have reached the point that my glasses don’t afford me a clear view of overhead order boards. I reach into my memory and come up blank. I try to appear knowingly ironic as I order a “middle-sized” caramel macchiato.

I’m slipping from middle age to late middle age. I’m wondering if all the people I saw at the Wilde Lake Starbucks used to come here on a Sunday morning. The music on the sound system leans acoustic but not too mournful. Introspective with slight hint of perkiness. Audible wallpaper. 

There will be no Village Election in Oakland Mills this year. No one is running. Well, that’s not quite true.

 Six candidates are running for seven open seats on the Oakland Mills Board.  One candidate is running for the one open Columbia Council Representative seat.  This is a *non-contested race for both the village board and Columbia Council which means that all candidates will be deemed elected and begin their one year Board term on May 1, 2018.  The Oakland Mills Board will confirm the appointment of candidates on April 24, 2018.  

The last time I went to an Oakland Mills Village Board Meeting was to speak on behalf on Jonathan Edelson as Board Chair. I remember being particularly concerned about the lack of participation in Village Elections. I challenged the board to dedicate some time and energy to involving a larger share of Oakland Mills in the election process. 

We need more people to be informed, to care, and to vote.

I know this Village Board works hard and I also know that when one is in the middle of attending to the issues one is faced with, in the moment, those long-term goals slip out of consciousness. It has been a source of relief to me that I am no longer in fear of angry people trying to “re-invent” my Village. I do feel that our current board is caring for, nurturing, paying attention to our Village. 

This piece is in no way a criticism of their work. The problem of declining participation and uncontested Elections is Columbia-wide.

Columbia is a verb. Until it isn’t. 

Perhaps Columbia was a fad, a craze, a cult that didn’t necessary “take” with the next generation. Or perhaps the focus has shifted to just getting by. Both parents working just to make it. No extra money for baby sitters and anyway, what if something went wrong? We work too hard. We worry. We wake up early, go to bed late and wonder if we are making our children’s lives better or worse.

Like I said, late middle age. Visions of mortality. The sounds of the audible wallpaper are morphing into something more decidedly mournful. The Starbucks is filling up. We’re all together, alone at our separate tables. With our electronic devices. 

I tell you what. Let’s make a date to get together this Spring. Put it on your calendar now: the annual Oakland Mills Village Plant Sale. They still have that even if there’s no election. There will still be Spring, after all.

Annual Plant Sale
We will hold our annual plant sale for plants, hanging baskets, and herbs on Saturday, April 28 from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.  This is a great opportunity to purchase quality plants at great prices and for a great cause - it's a fundraiser for the Oakland Mills community.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


They seem to be reaching critical mass over here...

The top ten things that bug me, in no particular order:

1. Houses with the garage placed in the front as a focal point. Howard County has a lot of these!

2. People who snicker while other folks give testimony at public hearings.

3. Chess-shaming in reference to UMBC ‘s basketball win. “I thought they only had a chess team, ha ha.”

4. Outright meanness in social media groups. See also: telling the admin what to do.

5. People who think that abortion is the protesting equivalent of school gun violence.

6. How long Spring is taking to arrive this year. How tenaciously Winter is holding on.

7. The American way of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day.

8. The fake School Superintendent account on twitter. Completely self indulgent and not remotely enlightening or amusing.

9. The way the local press chews up and grinds down journalistic talent.

10. People who will support you privately but not in public.

There you have it, folks. My take and also my invitation to you to do the same. In particular, any local pet peeves?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Time Sensitive

What could you do with $5,000.00?

The folks at Stevens Forest Elementary School have plenty of ideas of how to spread that money around to support their Title 1 school community. Right now they are within striking distance of third place in the contest, which would win them $5,000.00.

Contest details are here:

Here’s the deal. Today is the last day, so just go and vote once. That’s all you need to do, and then share this post to your friends so they can vote before today’s five pm deadline.

Vote here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Happiness Is...

Columbia ranks as twelfth happiest city in the U.S.


Readers of this blog know that I take most ranking announcements with a grain of salt. This one just floors me. How do you quantify happiness? Who gets to choose?

The article in the Baltimore Business Journal mentions some of the factors that were taken into account. I notice that an active arts scene didn’t make the list. Hmm.

What would be on your top ten list of what makes you happy in a community? What’s your number one?

Be serious, or be silly. But, tell me: what makes for happiness in a hometown?

Add your comments here:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Walking Out

Whether we “allow” students to walk out or not, let’s face the fact that they have a reason to protest. Every student who walks into a school has a reason to fear gun violence within those walls. We can only say “it’s never happened here” right up until it does. We didn’t expect that horrific incident at the Columbia Mall, now did we?

It happens. It has happened. It is happening. It will happen, even here, if we don’t make a substantive change in how we deal with guns in our culture. Students know this. They have no motivation to say, “well, on the other hand” or “let’s not go overboard” or any of those mealy-mouthed, whataboutism claims.

Children lie dead in school classrooms. Classmates bleed out, ripped apart by by bullets from assault weapons. Students throughout the nation train and rehearse active shooter drills. This is not education. This is the antithesis of the learning and growth that School is supposed to represent.

Measures that turn our schools into prisons may be reassuring to some parents but students know better. Most of those same measures have already been proven ineffective in previous school shootings. Even if we turned every school into a SuperMax facility, our students could very likely meet their end at the movie theater. Or a nightclub. Or a shopping center.

It’s not the location. It’s the guns.

I believe in the right of students to protest. I believe that protest can be an effective motivator of change. I’ve seen some adults carping that kids don’t understand larger issues and merely want a reason to cut class. That just galls me. Let’s not sell our kids short. And besides, in every group are those who will understand and those who won’t. Even in groups of adults. That doesn’t mean we negate the rights of all because some won’t “get it.”

Whether or not one lives or dies or loses friends and teachers is relevant to every student. It is not an issue that belongs a to particular political party. It belongs to every child who goes to school and lives in fear. We have allowed this world to come into existence.

Our students are saying “enough”.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

An Odd Choice

I’m a bit late in getting to this srticle in the Howard County Times:

16 candidates vie for Howard County Council seats (Kate Magill)

Dated March 5th, this piece does a good job at sorting out who everybody is and what they are running for. It’s Howard County. You can’t tell the players without a score card. And in this case it’s more than merely a score card, since some candidates come with complex backstories that take three entire paragraphs to sort out. Ms Magill does an excellent job articulating Janet Siddiqui’s complicated candidacy.

But then, at the end of the article, something odd happens. Suddenly it turns into an interview with outgoing council member Greg Fox. What the heck? In a piece that is 16 paragraphs long, Mr. Fox warrants 4 of them. That’s fully 25 per cent. Whether one is a fan of Mr. Fox or not, what is the rationale for allowing him to have the last word on the council race in the article?

Is it perhaps because he is the only one of the current council members not running for anything? Does that supposedly render him impartial in the upcoming election? (Spoiler: he isn’t.) The portion of the article dedicated to Mr. Fox might best be labeled “how Republicans want to define the upcoming local races in order to hammer Democrats.” He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, and I’m sure there are others who share it.

But without such a clear label his words stand alone as some kind of an authoritative declaration on the race. There is nothing else in the article to balance his views. I find that odd.

Reporter Kate Magill has been doing an amazing job doing the work of several people. This blog post is not meant to pick on her. We need local journalists. We are lucky to have Ms. Magill. I’m just puzzled by this particular journalistic choice.

Should there be another voice in this article? Who would you choose?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Anger and Kindness

I have nothing but loathing for the time change this morning. On the other hand, I’m more grateful than ever for that first cup of coffee.

This weekend I was sad to see a valuable member of an online group state that she was leaving because of ill-treatment. Others chimed in, lamenting the toxic environment. I have to say that I don’t think this group is a hotbed of toxicity, but, like any online group, sometimes things go awry.

Why can’t we get this right? We deplore online bullying by teens. And yet we, as adults, right here in Howard County, struggle to keep a Facebook group free from negative personal comments. How can we be good examples for our children if we don’t practice online civility ourselves?

Some people fault admin/moderators for not dealing with outliers more aggressively. While I agree that the role of moderator is a valuable one in steering an online community, it isn’t their job to be everyone’s police officer. It’s rather like blaming the teacher for one’s own bad behavior. Being a moderator for an online group is hardly a paid, full-time job. People have lives. They can’t be watching every minute, ready to pounce on transgressors.

I think that most of us do a good job of policing ourselves, with the occasional slip up if the conversation gets heated. I also think that all of us could use some basic training on how to interact online. We recommend such training for kids—did we ever have any? The Howard County Library System has addressed issues like these in their Choose Civility initiative, but I suspect that the people who attend such events are the kind who already care about how they interact on social media.

How do we get beyond preaching to the choir? Is there a way to reach trolls that could get them to buy in to a different way of interacting? How do we drive home the point that, when you log on, you don’ t leave your basic human kindness behind. You bring it with you.

For every member of a group who articulates publicly why they are leaving, there are many who leave silently or simply stop engaging. Just because we don’t read about it doesn’t mean it is not happening. This particular member did the group a service by starting a conversation about problems that we all need to face. She didn’t owe us that, but I’m grateful that she did.

Board of Education Chair Cindy Vaillancourt shared this piece over the weekend. I highly recommend it. The author, Ann Bauer, closes with these words:

Be angry if you must, but be kind as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. Contribute a little joy to the world. It’s the only way I see out of this chaos we’re in.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Big Dance

Savvy HoCo residents have been following the case of a former school Superintendent in Baltimore County. Dallas Dance, who recently entered a guilty plea to perjury charges, came perilously close to being the Superintendent of our school system. In what might be the weirdest and most incestuous search process ever, HoCo and BaltCo used the same search company and came down to the same two top candidates: Dallas Dance and Renee Foose.

Some day there may be a made-for-tv movie about this, folks. It’s that weird.

Lauded columnist Dan Rodricks has written a piece about Dance. It’s good copy but it completely misses the point. In “Dallas Dance and the failure to learn” Rodricks is left scratching his head at the “smart guys in fine suits” make stupid (criminal) mistakes when there are so many famous examples that might warn them that it is sure to end badly.

First of all, why use the term “smart guys in fine suits” when you’re going to launch into the malfeasance of former Mayor of Baltimore Sheila Dixon? Surely there’s a non-gendered way to say it?

There’s nothing puzzling about the kind of powerful people who make selfish and criminal choices on the job. It’s quite simple. The kind of person who does this doesn’t think the rules apply to them. They believe they are “special”, “different”. They recognize no connection between themselves and these other examples Mr. Rodricks has documented in his article. Perhaps this sort of person could be described as a certain psychological type. I’m not qualified to say.

I do know that this behavior is often the same behavior seen in abusers. They believe they know everything. They encourage a cult of personality. They groom potential followers. They feel no connection to the concept that their actions will have consequences. They may call out others for bad behavior but anything they do is justified. They are special. They have reasons.

Perhaps what is more puzzling is that we haven’t gotten better as a society at recognizing people like this before they are hired, before they are elected to office. Maybe not, though. Someone who operates like this can be deceptively reasonable early on. They have the intelligence to do and say the right things to “make the sale” when they are selling themselves.

As we in Howard County look at the demise of Dallas Dance and learn more about undeclared payments and unethical contracts, I wonder if this story might unravel further. Could Howard County fall victim to the same kind of fancy-dressed grifter that worked his way into the Baltimore County School System?

Somehow I think that there’s more to this story, and that the rest of it will play out far closer to home.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

No Respect?

Today Elkridge is getting a brand new library. But they won’t be getting a new high school.

When the BOE voted 4-3 to choose the Mission Road site for the 13th high school in the system, a lot of hopes were dashed in Elkridge. I feel for them. Evidence suggests that Elkridge has been at the end of the line for many things in Howard County. And Elkridge residents are mighty tired of this.

I know that these decisions are complicated. I know that there are good reasons on either side. I also know that there is a long-standing feeling that Elkridge “don’t get no respect” in Howard County and that this is just one more decision among many that stings.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Believe the Women

I’ve been following the goings on in Annapolis during this years legislative session. Have you? The women’s caucus released a report detailing a culture of harassment and describing examples of outright abuse. Then, stunningly, Del. Kathleen M. Dumais released an open letter to the press, signed by the women of the legislature:

objecting to press accounts where the legislature has been portrayed as "'a frat house' and a den of iniquity. The letter says such portrayals are "unfair and inaccurate." (from Bryan Sears, Maryland Daily Record)

This letter did not go over well with members of the women’s caucus.

“I have a lot of feelings about that letter — like furious and betrayed,” said the staffer who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation.

I cannot for the life of me understand why women were not supporting women here. What on earth was Delegate Dumais thinking? It seems that she and a few others who had input into the letter were worried that press coverage of the caucus report was reflecting poorly on them and their work in Annapolis. They were worried that it made them look bad, that they wouldn’t be taken seriously. 

Well, in my opinion the people they should have been thinking of first were the women who came forward with their stories of harassment and abuse. It’s just mind boggling to me that their response to this report was, “wait—this might make me look bad.” Do we support #believethewomen only so long as it doesn’t encroach on our personal comfort zones?

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. My wish for Maryland would be women supporting women in Annapolis. Be the example you’d like to see throughout the state. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Politics and Clicks

Hey there, local candidates! What are you running for? Maybe it’s:

Columbia village board
Columbia Association Board
Board of Education
County Council
County Executive
House of Delegates
State Senate

Have you created a social media account for your campaign? Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Are you using social media in a one-way fashion, to push out information? Or will you be interacting with the public through your social media accounts?

Yes? No? Maybe? Why or why not?

Hey there, local voters! How important is a candidate’s social media presence to you? Do you prefer meet and greets? Candidate forums? Someone who knocks on your own front door? What do you expect from a candidate’s social media account? What makes it useful/not useful for you in making your voting decisions?

The rise of social media has transformed our election processes both nationally and locally. Now we have professionals who will sell you their services to create and shape your social media presence. Social media is now considered a part of a candidate’s “brand”.

But how important is it in local races? I’m watching this year’s campaigns shape up and I am interested in your opinions.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

No Delay

I hit snooze this morning because my sleepy brain was sure we would have a delay. We don’t.

In lieu of a well thought out blog post, I offer this article about a new law in Canton, Ohio. It claims to be addressing a problem. But is it? What gets addressed, and what gets left out?

Canton City Council Passes a Scaled-Back Shopping Cart Law

Confession: I read this article several times assuming it dealt with the Canton in Baltimore City. Maybe I didn’t hit snooze enough this morning.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Shaming the Devil

One of the hardest things about being committed  to transparency and responsiveness is when you have to share bad new. Really bad news.

From Board Chair Cindy Vaillancourt:

We adopted a heartbreaking budget this evening.  We raised class sizes for all grades except kindergarten.  We suspended all elementary school foreign language.  We reduced the increases in special ed.  We reduced building maintenance.  We reduced our capital budget request.  

We did not include furloughs.  We restored playground monitors.  We added 66 special education staff (educators and para-educators).  We committed to funding the full 85% of the health insurance premiums.

But this is only the request.  If the county does not fully fund it, there will need to be more cuts.  

We need the community to contact the County Exec and the County Council to let them all know how they feel about fully funding education.

If we are to provide the level of service the community expects, we will need to be restored to 58% of the county budget --- not the 52% we have been reduced to over the past several years.  

Please consider attending the County Executive's budget public hearing on Thursday, March 8.

This is the truth of where we are. While on the one hand it is true that the Board is saddled with the consequences of financial mismanagement of previous leadership, on the other hand the fact is that County funding for the school system has been steadily decreasing over a number of years. We know all this because Ms. Vaillancourt is no longer prevented from seeing all the details of the school system’s financial workings, and is not prohibited from telling the public what she knows.

Remember, the watchword for the previous administration was “control the message.” Now we are seeing the unvarnished truth that those shiny new programs were designed to hide.

Well, “yay,” you think. At least then I didn’t know how bad it was. We could all pretend we had the very best, world class school system with the brightest, shiniest new programs ever.

Can we handle the truth?

Howard County voters elected a school board that would bring transparency, responsiveness, and accountability to the workings of our school system. It took a lot of grass-roots activism to get them there. Our work is not done, however. Please write to the County Executive and ask for a re-commitment for funding education at previous levels. If you can, attend the County Executive’s budget hearing on Thursday, March 8th to support full funding of the school budget.

I believe that this moment has been a long time in coming. I think that it has been known for quite some time that the County has not been funding the needs of our school system adequately. For a time, the distractions of dysfunctional leadership out on Route 108 masked the deeper problem. But now, here we are. Will we, as a community, make education the priority it needs to be in order for our children to flourish?

Send your letters here:

Monday, March 5, 2018

There Goes the Neighborhood

I travel Route 108 through Clarksville quite a bit these days. And I have noticed something recently that makes me wonder. Now that the Clarksville Commons project is up and running, suddenly the adjacent Wendy’s looks seedy and out of place. The colors look wrong. The size seems out of scale.

Has anyone else noticed that? Or is it just me?

Long ago an electrical fire in a old dishwasher meant my mother was in the position to choose both a new sink and dishwasher. Once they were installed, the rest of the kitchen looked dreadful. In the end that one dishwasher ended up being the cause of a compete kitchen remodel. Funny how that works.

I thought of that when I looked at the Wendy’s. It hasn’t changed. But the location around it has been transformed rather dramatically. Does it matter? Does the Wendy’s meet a community need and is it doing the kind of business that makes it financially viable? That’s probably more to the point than whether I think it looks out of place.

Surrounded by a natural food grocery, a sit-down restaurant known for its gourmet vegetarian menu, and now flanked by an artisanal pizza place and a farm-to-fork establishment, the little fast food joint feels strangely out of place. How long can it hold out against the creeping progress of healthy and upscale living? Perhaps, in the future, River Hill residents will be going through the drive-through for their take out orders of kombucha and avocado toast.

Just kidding. But, who knows?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Let’s Have Coffee

Yesterday I met up with a friend at the new Wilde Lake Starbucks. It was my first visit since they opened. The location was a convenient midpoint between our two houses and besides: I was curious.

I know that many of you can recite the list of former occupants of this space with the confidence of Sunday school scholars reeling off the books of the Bible. I can’t. My memory goes back as far as the KFC. It wasn’t a particularly large KFC, as I recall. I remember having dinner there once with my daughter after a summer camp show at Slayton House. I think we were the only customers.

I had a bit of a Doctor Who moment when I walked in to the Wilde Lake Starbucks. It’s enormous. It may be the largest Starbucks I have ever been to. It’s definitely “bigger on the inside.” The traffic flow was slightly counter-intuitive for me (you go right and move left) but the service was friendly and competent. At ten am on a Saturday morning, the place was hopping. The parking lot, shared with David’s Market, was packed. The drive-through had a line.  I think it is safe to say that if Starbucks felt it was taking a chance on this location, they are probably seeing some reassuring numbers at this point.

The Wilde Lake Village Center was full of people. It is no longer a vast wasteland of lonely parking lots. This is a good thing. I drove around a bit to try and understand how it has been reconfigured. I think I like it.

While I was chatting about the future of the local arts scene in Wilde Lake, a certain candidate for delegate was meeting up with interested citizens for a meet and greet for coffee at the Downtown Whole Foods. Another friend of mine posted from her favorite coffee place in town: Anna’s Coffee Roastery.  Oh, how we love our coffee places in this town.

And did I tell you about the time I had coffee at Caffe Bene with a candidate for the Board of Education? Wait, let’s save that story for another day.

Have you been to the new Starbucks in Wilde Lake? What did you think? Do you like the new Village Center?

And where are you having coffee this morning?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Tell Me More

I confess to having an ongoing interest (obsession?) with the former Columbia Flier building on Little Patuxent Parkway. It is, to me, an iconic Columbia building and the site of much of the New American City’s history. Although I have been told that the location is worth more if the building itself is torn down, I wish this did not have to be.

Therefore, I continue to follow the ongoing saga of what will become of “The Flier Building”.

From the most recent legislative bulletin from my Council member Calvin Ball, comes this tidbit listed under Tabled Legislation:

Introduced by: The Chairperson at the request of the County Executive

A RESOLUTION pursuant to Section 4.201 of the Howard County Code, authorizing the County Executive's sale of certain real property known as the "Flier Building" owned by Howard County, Maryland, containing approximately 2.159 acres, and located at 10750 Little Patuxent Parkway, Maryland; waiving the advertising and bidding requirements of Section 4.201 of the Howard County Code; and providing that the County Executive is not bound to sell the property if he finds that it may have a further public use.

So, local political and land use geeks, tell me more. What does this mean? 

We know that Patuxent Publishing vacated the building, and is itself no more. We know the building was for sale for quite some time with no buyers. Then the County bought it (towards the end of the Ulman administration)  to be used as the headquarters of a business incubator. Then, with the change in administration, the building was deemed too expensive to renovate and I gather it was considered a bad purchase in general. 

That was in 2015. Where are we now? What progress has been made on this? I feel that there must be a more in-depth story here after three years. And, after all this time, I still have never seen the inside of this building and I fear that I never will. 

I’m still waiting for HGTV to swoop down and turn it into an Extreme Home. Although it also might make a fabulous space for something to do with Howard Community College. In the meantime I have lots of imagination and very few facts. Educate me, Columbia/HoCo friends.

What’s going on with the Flier Building?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday's Top Ten

I got so caught up in the “will they/won’t they”close schools drama that I temporarily forgot I had a blog post to write.


News highlights for your Friday:

  • The Howard County Library System has a new Director, Tonya Kennon.
  • Howard Hughes Corporation and the Howard County Arts Council have announced the Merriweather District Artist in Residence Program 
  • The Howard County School System will raise class sizes as a way to address budget shortfalls.
  •  The percentage of the Howard budget which is dedicated to Education has fallen from 58 per cent to 52 per cent.
  • Children’s musical group Milkshake will be performing at the Chrysalis this season.
  • Bloggers Jason Booms and Scott Ewart are having way too much fun anazlying and informing about the upcoming local elections.
  • Lupa, the Roman-inspired restaurant which replaces Petit Louis Bistro Downtown at the Lakefront, has opened.
  • The space formerly occupied by Comptoir will sell gelato!
  • Decisions on Hickory Ridge Center plan delayed for ten months...
  • My husband was a genius to take down our patio umbrella last night.

I hope your day goes well. Please take care to avoid the fate of these unlucky job applicants.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


It’s taking me a while to process the news that BOE member Cindy Vaillancourt will not be running for re-election. While I understand why she would choose not to run, the effect of losing her knowledge and ability on the board will be huge. I will very likely have more to say on this subject. In the meantime, this post from December, 2016 will serve to remind my readers how much has happened on Ms. Vaillancourt’s watch.

In the Moment (December 10, 2016)

I've been mulling over this week's Board of Education swearing-in of new members, subsequent election of new officers, and all that followed. Two moments stuck out to me. They are an indication of the the leadership style we can expect from Board Chair Cindy Vaillancourt.

The first moment occurred when Superintendent Foose suggested that the Board might not be able to take a partular action in question and suggested that the first step was to consult legal counsel. Ms. Vaillancourt calmly stated that no, they wouldn't be needing to do that, and any subsequent questions could be ironed out in the next day's closed meeting.

It was such a simple moment that one might have missed it. Ms. Vaillancourt listened to the Superintendent, considered her request, and then she said no. And in that exchange, the Howard County Board of Education ceased to serve at the pleasure of the Superintendent. Of course, by statute it's always been in writing that the Superintendent is under the supervision of the Board.

That isn't what's been in practice for quite some time.

No whip-cracking, no mustache-twirling necessary. Just a simple, "no, I don't think so."

Later on, when Sandie French was expressing dismay at the course of events, the irony of her protestations set off some in the audience. There were ripples of laughter. I don't believe that anyone was laughing at Ms. French, but rather were incredulous at her arguments.

Ms. Vaillancourt leaned forward to her microphone. "Come on, guys," she addressed the room. Her tone was gentle, but authoritative. The laughter ceased.

Clearly she was not going to allow anything that smacked of disrespect for a fellow board member. When you consider how members of the board have treated Ms. Vaillancourt in the past, her determination to be civil and even-handed is remarkable. Although, for anyone who knows her, it wasn't the least bit surprising.

Monday evening showed us Ms. Vaillancourt to be prepared, articulate, determined, and someone who will take no guff. It also showed her desire to work collegially with other board members, refusing to take or wield special privileges that other board chairs have claimed before her.

I'm looking forward to a new style of leadership on the Board of Education. Monday's meeting suggests good things are on the way.