Monday, December 31, 2007

County Politics

I feel I should start paying more attention to County politics, so I am developing a list of things to think about, for future mention on this blog. Here is what I have so far.

1. Education Funding. John Leopold and Kevin Maxwell have been famously feuding. As I understand it, the school board wants a 10534% increase in funding, and the Leopold administration wants students to write in the sand using sticks. Just today, Maxwell had a letter to the editor reminding us* that each dollar represents a child.

(*reminding us = building public support for more $$$$)

2. Fly Ash. I must have seen a thousand articles, mentions, and letters to the editor about this subject, and I didn't read a single one of them, because it sounds like something that would bore me to tears. Sources tell me it has something to do with burning hydrocarbons.

3. Stormwater Fee. This issue carries two-for-the-price-of-one status; first that Leopold fails to acknowledge that a new fee is the same thing as a new tax, and second that the county council (specifically the Republicans on the council) failed to approve the fee despite overwhelming support.

4. BRAC. I imagine that the county will benefit from this, but the challenge will be providing a smart way to incorporate all of the new citizens.

(Attention potential new citizens: if you are looking for a place to live, I will sell you my house for $1,000,000).

5. Development of Rte. 3 corridor. Nobody can figure out who to tax to pay for the infrastructure.

What am I missing?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Special Session Lawsuit

A lot of the other blogs on the right side of this page do a better job than I do covering current events, so I sometimes skip some 'reporting' posts, especially if I am a couple of days late or if the news is about the state or county, which is usually covered very quickly by people a lot more knowledgeable than myself.

I had planned on watching football tonight, while sipping a mug of hot tea and enjoying a nice fire in my fireplace. However, when I lit the wood, my house started filling with smoke--and not because the flue was closed, because I don't have a flue. With my master plan ruined, I had to revert to plan B: here I stand before you, lonely and desolate, with my laptop humming and the Patriots game on a low-def television in the background. Confident that my information will be useful, I shall proceed.

The content of today's musings is a factual update on a constitutional challenge to the recent special session. The problem is as follows. According the Maryland Constitution, one chamber of the legislature cannot stand in recess while the other is convened, without having a vote to specifically allow an extended recess, and a message to the convened chamber informing them of what's going on.

The Senate adjourned on November 9. House records show that the Speaker received notification that day that the Senate would be adjourned until Nov. 15, which would have been fine. However, the timestamp on that notification document was dated Nov. 14! Furthermore, Senate records show that they only planned to adjourn until Nov. 13!

These discrepancies brought about understandable allegations of forgery, that were first reported here. The possibility of forgery is important because (1) it would mean that somebody is getting impeached and (2) if the proper notification was not given, the special session was unconstitutional and the $1.5 billion in new taxes would be nullified.

Republican lawyer types, particularly Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County, raised their concerns on the floor, but were scoffed at. So, after the session ended, Del. Smigel (along with 4 other lawmakers and 1 private citizen) filed a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of the Senate's recess.

Key to the case is the testimony of the House of Delegates Chief Clerk Mary Monahan, because she would know when the notifications were given, if they were given on time, and if there was any fudging of dates or anything else. Her deposition, scheduled for this past Wednesday, was halted so that the Court of Special Appeals could consider objections raised by the Attorney General. Fortunately, the Court told the Attorney General to shut his mouth, and the deposition is back on for Monday.

I would certainly love for the taxes to be nullified, but the bigger issue is the possible corruption of our elected officials. At every level of government, elected officials show their willingness to obey the law is a discretionary phenomenon--they follow the laws only when it is convenient for them. It would be nice if this perversion of ethics was dealt a punitive blow.

I hope they find a lot out on Monday, because the new taxes are set to take affect on Tuesday!

Fact Of The Day (for last Wednesday)

The Capital on Wednesday reported that an Annapolis man was convicted of murder. The article listed the address of record as 2012 Forest Dr:


View Larger Map


This is what I would refer to as the 'old' Forest Dr., or the part of Forest Dr. that was rendered all-but-useless by the construction of Aris T. Allen Blvd.

Much of the crime debate in the city has broached the issue of public housing, and you will be interested to know that this address is NOT in a subsidized housing community, as far as I know, or even relatively near one. Food for thought.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fun With The Department Of Economic Affairs/(Development)

I have received some recent complaints that my posts are becoming increasingly over-the-top, riddled with partisanship and sensationalism. In an effort to appease my detractors, I will endeavour to abandon incindiary propaganda--instead relying on my stylistic and grammatical excellence to satisfy the ridid demands of this blog's vast readership.

With that bit of business out of the way, let's focus on this week's worst idea ever!

(Intermission #1: I thoroughly enjoyed writing those first 2 paragraphs! You see, I went through all these fancy words, in an effort to show that I don't have to make outrageous claims to make these posts good. But then, I went right back and made an outrageous claim that this idea was actually the worst ever! I even implied that there can be a new "worst idea ever" each week. Very funny stuff!)

Some time ago, Mayor Moyer determined that 'Economic Development' was a function worthy of its own department, apparently having outgrown its former role as a sub-office within the purview of the Mayorship. Along comes O-11-07, defining the duties of the new Department of Economic Development. Whoops!!....

"That stinking City Charter--it actually mentions precisely which departments may exist, and 'Economic Development isn't one of them. Curses on the Charter!", the mayor failed to say.

Along comes CA-01-07, a charter amendment to allow such a department.

Now, somewhere along the way, 'Economic Development' got renamed 'Economic Affairs', and I don't quite know why. I cannot think of any legal or perfunctory reason why such a change might exist, and I am somewhat reluctantly forced to conclude that ego and/or political hogwash are somehow involved. The 'Department of Economic Affairs' sounds like more of an ominous, far-reaching, and powerful entity, and if nowhere else than in my imagination, I think a belief in big government drove the name change.

Anyway, I don't much like this idea. It takes a too much time for me to present a flowing narrative explaining my arguments, so instead, I am going to present you with language from the actual bill, inserting my thoughts piecemeal, on a comment-as-you-go basis.

C. The department shall have the following duties and responsibilities:
1. To assist existing businesses to remain in business.

This should ring alarm bells for everyone who reads it. Using everyone's wealth to help certain people is a restriction of freedom, and prevents capitalism from working properly. Economic freedom leads to good things:


The green bars represent the highest levels of freedom--click here for the full scope of the information.

Let me elaborate using a first hand example. When I started my business, it was on a very small scale. I did not have a lot of overhead, and didn't need any startup capital. From year 1 to year 2, business increased by 500%!! I freaked out--heck, I was only 21 years old and didn't have any academic or on-the-job experience. I went to a bank and said "Hello, my name is Brian, I am 21 years old, I just started a company in the most competitive industry that exists, and I need $50,000". The bank promptly responded "son, there's a jar of tasty lollipops near the door on your way out".

So, I went to the SBA, which is a quasi-government agency. They didn't loan me the money, but they guaranteed repayment of 80% of my loan to the bank if I defaulted. The bank consequently gave me the money. I know this seems hypocritical given the case I am making at this very time, but hear me out. As time goes by, I tend to think this money actually hurt my operations. You see, since I had the money, I spent it. I hired more managers than I needed, and leased on office that I didn't need. I went into even heavier debt for 2 years, as these expenses caused me to earn losses for 2 years. As we speak, I have the proper amount of labor, and do not use the office--a profitable arrangement. Of note: the business model that I use now is the same model I used before I received SBA guaranteed financing.

This is precisely the point I want to illustrate: government involvement in the private market distorts incentives. If I hadn't received that money, I would have been forced to succeed using a different model. I might have found another way to get money, but more likely, I would have kept doing business following the original model, which turned out to be the correct model. See what I'm saying?

2. To promote the establishment of businesses that serve local residents.

Here are the steps to promote the establishment of businesses:

1. Have property taxes as low as possible.
2. Streamline permitting process.
3. Provide adequate parking and transportation access.
4. Sit back, smoke a cigar, and watch businesses thrive.

The city can do these things without a new department and a highly paid department head.

3. To recruit, assist, and promote minority and disadvantaged businesses and to enhance employment opportunities for all residents, especially women, minorities, and youth. For example, to develop and administer workforce development activities and programs as the programs relate to the economic vitality of the city.

Why is everyone except middle aged white males entitled to special treatment? Isn't this called racism?

4. To apply for and administer grants and loans related to the economic vitality of the city and to assist with various tax credit and loan programs offered by the County, State, and Federal Governments as these programs relate to the economic vitality of the city.

This sounds like a noble cause, but again, it seems that an existing city department could handle the load.

5. To work with other municipal employees or private parties in identifying areas in the city in need of economic revitalization and to cooperate in the preparation in plans to bring about economic revitalization to such areas.

(Intermission #2. Something good did come of the SBA money. Since I participated in their program, I was eligible for their rewards, and was recognized as Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003. Fancy.)

6. To work with businesses and residents to recognize and resolve differences over such matters as parking and special events.

What?? How did that get in there?! Why would the economic affairs department be officiating parking disputes.

I am imagining that the Mayor lost a bet to the person whose job this really is, and was forced to shift this annoyance, or else go back on her word and disgrace the memory of her ancestors.

7. To offer existing businesses and prospective businesses assistance in identifying sources of financing and obtaining professional and technical assistance.

The aforementioned Small Business Administration is a government agency that already exists to do this very thing. They will even loan you money. Then you can waste the money and go into massive debt. Then you can write a blog in lieu of making money to repay that debt. For expert financial advice, you can call me at........

8. To periodically prepare forecasts of economic conditions in Annapolis.

The state already does this.

9. At the request of the Mayor or City Council, to analyze the impact of proposed legislation.

Instead of paying a couple hundred thousand dollars to a department to do this, budget an intern position for some starving grad student to do the very same analysis while working in the finance department.

10. Participate in the urban and regional planning activities of the City, Anne Arundel County, and the regional planning organizations consistent with the character of the City.

I am quite confused. We are talking about Economic Development, right? Are these organizations going to plan the economy?? Or are they just going to overlap duties with the existent Department of Planning and Zoning?

11. Serve as a liaison to the business community through membership and support of recognized business associations in the city including such efforts as providing technical assistance and information to the business community and its recognized associations.

Membership to these associations is not free. Do you support your tax money funding the city's application fee for the Parole Business Association?

12. Assist those who desire to hold special events in the City by providing a single point of contact for the city, advising of necessary permits and City requirements, and assisting in the development of the special event application and necessary permit applications and fees where appropriate.

Again, good idea, but do this in a different department. Perhaps the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, WHICH WAS CREATED FOR THIS EXACT PURPOSE! Whoops, I forgot, it was created to give a job to a crony.

13. Administer, promote, and financially manage the Annapolis Sister City Program.

Unbelievable.


14. To perform such other tasks as directed by the mayor.

We could all be so lucky.

Battle Lines Drawn For Sailing Hall Of Fame, Possible Legal Challenges Await

When The Capital reported on the possible start of construction for the Sailing Hall Of Fame, it paid a paltry lip service to possible objections from the historic preservationists:
Local Historian Greg Stiverson questioned what would happen with the house,
which he said is an important part of the city's maritime history.
But, if Mr. Stiverson's letter to The Baltimore Sun is any indication, the HOF has an uphill battle:

The question is not whether the circa 1890 house at 69 Prince George St.
should be moved or demolished to make way for the Sailing Hall of Fame but
whether either scenario is legal under state and federal law.

The section of the SHOF's feasibility study that is most relevant is
the historical summary by R.C. Goodwin. This section highlights the fact that
the building on the site is listed as a "contributing resource" to the Annapolis
Historic District (1969), the Annapolis National Register Historic District
(1984), and the Colonial Annapolis National Historic Landmark District
(1965).

The glory of Annapolis today is that a wide variety of buildings dating
from the 17th- through the mid-20th centuries, from humble to grand, have been
saved from willful destruction. All of these buildings -- not just the homes of
the wealthy -- make Annapolis a "museum without walls" that is unequaled in the
United States.

Changes to buildings within the Annapolis Historic District must
conform to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. These
standards have been adopted by the City of Annapolis and the Maryland Historical Trust.

Under these standards, removal or demolition of the building at 69
Prince George St. would have an "adverse effect" on both the historic building
and on the surrounding historic district.

It is the Maryland Historical Trust's responsibility to evaluate the value of the building at 69 Prince George St. and to decide whether it must be saved in place or whether it can be moved or demolished. Let us hope that the MHT is allowed to make its decision in a fair, equitable and transparent way, without undue political influence or favor.

The Mayor's actions have made her view on the matter clear. She pledged unbudgeted and unneeded money to the HOF, and will no doubt seek to impose her newest green building standards to the construction of the building. She seems unconcerned to lose a historic building, although admittedly and reportedly the existing building cannot be fitted for acceptable public use.

My only real concern with the HOF is that public money is not used to fund it. The developers claim that the site will 150,000 visitors per year, but I have to believe that the great majority of these people will be coming to Annapolis already, thus mitigating traffic/congestion concerns.

I also don't particularly care about the fate of the historic building, which is not to say that historic preservation is not a noble goal. The way to manage historic preservation is zoning requirements. Zone what you want, and let the private market adjust its pricing and strategy to adapt. If this doesn't work, as in the case of this building in question, the zoning should be changed, rather than public money spent to restore a property that the private market stays away from.

What Will Happen to 1901 West?

The 1901 West development has never quite gone according to plan. Technically referred to as "that monstrosity out there on the Johnson Lumber site", 1901 West had to scrap its initial plans to sell condominium units,
but has enjoyed modest gains in both commercial and residential occupancy.
_
In January, a spokesman for the development
predicted that all retail space would be filled in 6 months. Now nearly a year later, plans have just been announced for merely the 3rd retail tenant:
Modern Carpet One Floor and Home, a regional carpet and flooring company
with locations in Prince George's and Calvert counties, plans to open its third
store in February at 1901 West, a mixed-use complex in Annapolis.

The carpet company will be the third business to open in the vacant 1901
West space at the corner of West Street and Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis. Manpower, a national staffing firm, recently moved its Annapolis office into a
1,653-square-foot space at 1901. Starbucks opened last year.
Residential occupancy, level at 40% at this time last year, has doubled to 80%.
The fate of the residential apartments makes an interesting study. To be honest, I am surprised that the occupancy rate has doubled in the past year. The housing market today heavily favors buyers, with prices being slashed as much as 25%, perhaps even more. Applying the same interest rate that I just got on my mortgage, the cost of monthly rent at 1901 ($1300 or so) would buy you a $225,000 house, which could somewhat easily put a person in a decent townhouse.
_
If apartment demand in Annapolis is driven by tenants who do not have permanence in the city, then it would be less affected by the mortgage market. However, if renters are saving money or building credit for a home purchase in the near future, the apartment market may be set to take a hit. And since 1901 represents some of the most expensive apartments in the city, it would be one of the first to go.
_
Given a bad rental market, don't be surprised if 1901 switches to Section 8 housing. Any owner can elect to participate in the Section 8 program, which would make the unit(s) affordable to lower income families who would otherwise not qualify. The owner would receive a reduced rent from the tenants, along with a matching payment of some proportion from the government. I would guess that market-rate rent would be higher than rental income from Section 8 properties, but if you can't lease at market-rate, some money is better than nothing.
_
This phenomenon can already be seen in the MPDU (Moderately Priced Development Unit) program at 1901. A couple of years ago, the city passed the MPDU ordinance, requiring builders of rental units to avail 6% of all space to moderate pricing parameters. All such units at 1901 are leased, with market-rate units struggling to keep pace.
_
The back-of-your-mind question should be: is Annapolis prepared to envelop even more subsidized housing than it already has?

Is Anyone Surprised?

The Capital recently published an update regarding the tax hit that Marylanders will take next week, and shockingly, we are getting screwed:

(Note to readers: underlined italics signify sarcasm, an editing tactic that had to be used because tone of voice cannot be conveyed via this blog.)
Del. Steve Schuh, R-Gibson Island, sought to correct that by figuring out
how the total package will affect an average household making $64,300 a year.
The methodology was checked by both the state's non-partisan Department of
Legislative Services and free market economist John Lott, Jr., of the University
of Maryland, College Park.

The net result to the household will be $351 in additional taxes, according
to Mr. Schuh's study.

Under Mr. O'Malley's original plan, the family would have paid an
additional $290.

The Governor would have us believe that the worse-than-anticipated outcome was the result of the General Assembly making changes to his plan. The truth of the matter is much more maniacal. The special session, convened in the name of eliminating a structural deficit*, actually ADDED hundreds of millions of dollars in new health care spending--causing analysts to predict more deficits in the future.

(*There was not really a deficit, because there was no budget.)

Liberals like big government. The distinction between benevolent liberals who believe government can/should solve problems, and less altruistic liberals (or R's in some cases) who want to expand government to perpetuate their own hold of power, is rather meaningless. Expansion of government is generally bad, because the government has no competition, and consequently severely reduced accountability.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mayor Moyer Proposes Worst Idea Ever

We know that Mayor Moyer fancies shuttling herself to the far reaches of the contiguous country whilst climate crusading, and now we have a new manifestation of her green ideas:

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer is examining the future of training workers from the City’s at-risk neighborhoods in the rapidly growing “Green Collar” jobs
sector. While attending the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate
Protection Summit in Seattle, Mayor Moyer heard many speakers discuss the rapid growth of Green Industries. The sector is growing so fast, there is a critical shortage of entry-level workers.

The Mayor sees this need for workers in an expanding industry as a source of opportunity for those needing good jobs in the City,

“Unemployment is a serious problem in some City Neighborhoods. There is a real need for good jobs for low income residents,“said the Mayor.“Young people, adults
with limited skills or education, even those that have been incarcerated and are looking to get their lives back on back can all benefit from solid, living wage Green Collar jobs.”

Mayor Moyer has already met with Martha Smith, the President of the Anne Arundel Community College about the possibility of bringing some pilot Green Collar training programs to the City of Annapolis in 2008.The Mayor has also approached the Annapolis Community Foundation about raising scholarship funds for the proposed programs.

“During the conference, former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore
gave speeches encouraging American innovation in developing a green
economy of clean energy and improved efficiency,”said the Mayor. “Green Collar
job training will ensure that the City of Annapolis is part of that innovation and
will help our citizens benefit from this exciting new future. It will also continue our
longstanding commitment to sustaining and enhancing our environment. ” Green
Collar jobs are essentially blue collar jobs in green businesses.They are
usually manual labor jobs in businesses whose products and services directly
improve the environment. They are often well paying jobs with relatively low entry requirements.

A recent study from the City of Berkeley Office of Energy and Sustainable
Development University said, “Cultivating green collar jobs for people with barriers to employment can be an effective strategy to provide low-income men and women with access to good jobs - jobs that provide workers with meaningful, community serving work, living wages, benefits,and advancement opportunities.”

Mayor Moyer said the need for workers is growing,

“Demands for green building, green waste composting, green landscaping,
Non-toxic cleaning in residential and commercial buildings,recycling, solar
installation and overall new green technology create new workforce
opportunities everyday.”


The main reason why this is a bad idea is that the government should not assume such a role in economic distortion (or job creation if you rather), and the reason why it is the worst idea is the proposed industry of the job creation. I will provide the details in later posts.

Ward 2 Special Election Results--Victory: Fred Paone

In a display of absolute grit and heroism, Fred Paone tasted the thrill of victory in today's special election. The vote counts (as far as I can remember!) are as follows:

Fred Paone (R): 427
Debbie McKerrow (D): 358
Karen Jennings (G): 122

I am probably off but that's pretty close. There are only 17 absentee ballots, so the Paone victory is all but assured. The official count will not be completed until Friday.

I have to give great credit to the other 2 candidates. Karen Jennings ran a strong campaign, and truth be told, her votes likely split the democrat vote and allowed Fred to win. Debbie McKerrow ran a classy campaign, and this election cycle avoided the negativity seen in the last Ward 2 cycle. Debbie was so gracious as to come to the Paone reception after learning of his win.

So now, time to move on. Fred, your first agenda item is the budget! Sounds like a lot of fun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Hands On Deck For Holiday Patrols

This from a press release today:
Chief Johnson stressed that the Department is maintaining a greater police coverage
downtown during the Holiday Season, especially during the weekends.
The Annapolis Police Department has a longstanding policy requiring that
during the period from Thanksgiving through Christmas all Lieutenants and
above, including the Chief, patrol the business districts citywide, on foot, in an effort to deter crime.

Chief Johnson says that officers are patrolling both in cars and on foot. He also said
that there are undercover officers on the streets nearly 24 hours a day. He encouraged businesses, visitors and residents to take “commonsense” precautions.

“It is no secret that robberies increase during the holiday
season.Using common sense, keeping valuables in a safe place, locking car doors and keeping to well-trafficked areas will go a long way toward helping ensure public
safety.”

The answer to this question may very well be "no", but isn't it a good idea to have enough patrols on the street at all times during the year?

Ward 2 Special Election Right Now!

Today is the day--all of the candidates' hard work will go for all, or for naught, when the results roll in tonight around 8:30.

(Edit: Click here to see the results.)

As of an hour ago, about 600 people had voted, which is somewhat higher than the prevailing wisdom, although Ward 2 tends to show up to vote, so a turnout higher than the Ward 4 and 8 special elections (about 20%) was to be expected. If I had to guess, I would say that 850 people will vote by the time the polls close, putting turnout at around 25%.

The Paone campaign has reason for optimism--they/we raised a ton of money relatively speaking, and had a lot of hard work from a lot of people. Karen Jennings, the Green Party candidate, ran a good campaign, which will hopefully divide the environmentalist vote and help Fred sail to victory.

Stay tuned for results.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Study In Non Profit Deficit Financing

It has been widely reported (here/here/here) that the state Republican party has seen better days. Most soundbites sound something like this:

In the last year, the party has plunged deeper and deeper into debt.
The party has become less and less relevant in Maryland's political landscape.
We have completely inappropriate involvement of key GOP staffers in the removal
of a duly elected County GOP Chairman. We have a party that was virtually
absent during the most recent special session. And we have budget issues that
seem to be only the tip of the iceberg.

And things seem like they are only about to get worse. Sources tell me
that Jim Pelura has virtually cut off the entire Executive Committee from
the day-to-day operations of the party. They also tell me that Pelura is backed
only by a small fraction of Central Committee leaders.
The thought that any donations made to the party would be spent on debt service, rather than helping candidates, doesn't sit well with some Republicans. Jimmy Braswell has talked of organizing an entity to receive donations that would be entirely and directly allocated to candidates, and the maligned Citizens For Better Government PAC seeks to raise and disperse nearly half a million dollars for the next election cycle.

Political parties, PAC's, and other electoral organizations operate very similarly to the children's charities you see on television. You know, the ones that promise "$.85 of every dollar goes directly to our cause", and so forth. If the Maryland GOP had to make the same quote, it would be "$.06 of every dollar goes to funding political efforts"!

However, the mentality of how non-profits operate may need revision. Note an excerpt from a recent survey in The Economist:

Arguably the biggest problem is the way that foundations make grants
to organisations they support. Whereas Carnegie was willing to invest for the
long term, more recently foundations have tended to chop and change, says
Mr Fleischman. Melissa Berman of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors argues
that there is too much emphasis on funding individual programmes and too little
on the sustainability of the non-profit organisation running the
programme.Overheads are seen as a bad thing, and grants tend to be short-term.
The point to consider is the goal of such organizations--to maximize total philanthropy, not efficiency. Let's shift focus to the MD GOP. Pennies per dollar being spent on political activities may not be the best indicator of successful the party is. That said, 6 pennies per dollar is not a very favorable number at all.

So how do we fix it? The first step is to focus on the state party organization. The party has existing name recognition, infrastructure, and networks. Groups such as Citizens For Better Government are simply wasting resources by re-inventing the wheel and trying to persuade why their group is the proper conduit for electing Republican candidates. If we are unhappy with leadership, we need to change the leadership--not challenge the organization.

For the long term, the party would do well to adjust its mindset toward long-term thinking. Politics tend to be cyclical, and political donors fickle. Rather than spend all the money received, it would seem wise to invest that money for profit. Why not?! Defenders of the Republican party today argue that money is always going to be tight after such a sweeping political defeat. Yet, avoiding another sweeping defeat is contingent upon recruiting candidates for the next cycle. If the party could liquidate invested assets at times like these, thereby ensuring continuity in its efforts, the mission would be better served.

Mayor Moyer Seeks To Impose New Green Building Requirements

As reported, the mayor is seeking to impose new building requirements based on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system:
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer introduced a bill to City Council Monday
requiring all new construction and major renovations of any buildings greater
than 10,000 square feet meet green building standards set by the Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system. The move would make Annapolis one of the few areas in the region to demand such requirements.

Single-family homes also are included in the bill, requiring that all new
construction and major modifications to homes within the city meet at least the
lowest LEED standards, as well.

Folks, this stuff is expensive. First, home prices will go up, as will commercial rents, which we will pay for in the form of higher prices. Also, we will no doubt have to fund another inspector in city government to make sure all of the buildings are meeting the new green code.

Conservatives are wary of all government spending to begin with, but we certainly demand that our taxes are used to actually accomplish the stated goal. In the case of reducing our carbon footprint, there is absolutely no way to enjoy such a guarantee.

There is certainly not consensus about climate warming. The very measurements we use to determine climate patterns may not be reliable, and even given a pattern of warming, the link between human effect on this warming is debated. It takes a great deal of arrogance to accept that a couple of generations of humans can alter the cyclical climate patterns that have been going on for tens of thousands of years. Aren't we still coming out of an ice age? For a great post on this subject, click here.

Liberals, especially Mayor Moyer, disregard any debate on the issue and accept the responsibility of humans to challenge mother nature as their divine birthright. And we pay the price. Think of how many small businesses will shut down because they cannot afford to implement the new designs. Now think of how they will feel in 50 years when it is determined that the LEED designs have no impact on climate change!

Such issues deserve consideration when so much of our money is being thrown at the "problem".

Friday, December 14, 2007

We Must Live In A Boring World

I arrived home last night, whipped off my coat, slung my shoes into the closet, sneezed, and tore open The Capital in the hopes of reading something useful. Boy was I stupid! Here is what I saw as the main headline in the Arundel Report:

No consensus on weekend weather
But all agree that wintry precipitation is on the way

That was the headline. I'm not kidding.

This is not the first time The Capital told us something worthless about weather. About 6 weeks ago, we learned that rain causes accidents, and that we should drive carefully when it is raining.

Yesterday's article went on to clarify just how much is NOT known about the weather this weekend:
"There is a high level of uncertainty," said Meteorologist Andy Woodcock at the
National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "We are seeing several different
possibilities that could take place. There is definitely going to be
precipitation from Saturday into Sunday. The question is what form it will be
in."

Who cares? Newspapers should worry about things they DO know, things that DID happen, and how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop (I need to know). If you printed every issue on which there is no consensus, you'd have War and Peace delivered to 30.000 homes every afternoon.

Besides, it's not like they are trying to predict the end of the world--it's weather. Here is what you put in the paper for this weekend's weather:

COLD. WET. UGLY.

People will get the point.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Questionable Leopold Ethics

As reported today in The Capital:
Four days before County Executive John R. Leopold publicly threw his
support behind a bill to help a developer build a golf course, the developer
hosted a fundraiser that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the county
executive's campaign coffers.

After Mr. Leopold's senior staff testified in favor of the bill, the County
Council passed it. The bill exempts developer Albert Lord from having to pave a
mile-long road to the private golf course he's building in Harwood.

The criticism of Leopold here, as described by fellow Red Maryland contributor Brian Griffiths, is not that Leopold raised money, but that he continues to maintain that he is not in the pocket of developers:
If you look at the record of this administration of the past year, the record is
clear that I've stood up to the builders and developers where I thought it was
appropriate," Mr. Leopold said.

The county executive also promised increased transparency in government, which is (at the least) ignored in this case. Leopold is a shrewd politician, which is not to say he cannot accomplish good things, but such perspective is useful.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

City Needlessly Donks Off $250,000 On Sailing Hall Of Fame

This is going to be a good post.

So, we now know (click here/here) that plans for a Sailing Hall of Fame will go forward downtown, to be erected at the end of Dock St. near Phillip's and the Natural Resources Police:


View Larger Map

The leader of the effort is Dick Franyo, who is the President of the HOF's board of directors, and the owner of Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport. Oddly, the responsibility for assessing the feasibility of such a proposal rests with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which highlights cause for optimism:
The feasibility study released yesterday by the Maryland Stadium Authority says
the Hall of Fame would create 95 jobs and bring more than $320,000 annually in
new tax dollars to the area.

And Mr. Franyo seems enthused:
It's probably the most unique property of its kind in the country.

We have what we think will reaffirm Annapolis' position of sailing capital
of the nation, and really, (of) the world.

How, you might be asking yourself, could the city of Annapolis possibly mess up such a dandy scheme? Answer: by wasting a quarter of a million dollars.

Stay with me. The HOF is going to be an expensive proposition--they hope to raise $15-$20 million for the project, which would allow for adequate construction and even free admission to the site. How are they going to get such money? By pilfering it from rich sailors:
The group wants to build a $20 million museum at the site, which is
currently used by the state Department of Natural Resources Police, though the
agency is already planning to relocate. Hall of Fame President Dick Franyo said
he hopes to begin fundraising for the museum soon, with groundbreaking possible
by next year.

Franyo said the Hall of Fame could be built without public tax
money
.

"Fortunately there are people who have a passion for the sport who do have
means," he joked.

It sounds like they have plenty of money. Heck, Walter Kronkite (wealthy) and Ted Turner (mogul-grade wealth) are on the board, and they even had enough money to buy out a portion of Phillip's waterfront property. BUT,
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for the hall, including a
$260,000 grant from the city, Mr. Franyo said.

Unbelievable!!! Let's summarize. Several rich people want to build a sailing hall of fame with sailors' money. If that's not enough, they can chip in the rest personally. They proclaim publicly that they do not need public money. THE CITY OF ANNAPOLIS GIVES THEM PUBLIC MONEY.

Seriously.

But that's not all. The Capital reported the grant from the city to be $260,000; however, the city only budgeted for $250,000! This may not seem like a big deal, but it's actually breaking the law.

Here's how it works. The capital budget includes a "project" for non-profit grants. Once a year, dozens of non-profit agencies come to a city council meeting and beg the city to give them money, a process that I* have cleverly dubbed the 'beg-a-thon'. The approved amounts are recorded, and such becomes law, as the budget has to be passed in the form of a resolution by the city council.

(*with the help of my cronies)

The approved funding for the HOF looks like this:

prior years: $25,000
2008: $75,000
2009: $50,000
2010: $50,000
2011: $50,000

TOTAL: $250,000

The $10,000 difference is not a lot of money relatively speaking--just enough to prove that the city can use the written law as a "guideline" and can bend or break certain laws as they please.

This is total poppycock, first that the city would spend money when the non-profit declares they don't even need it, and second that it ignores its own law by giving a non-approved amount of money. In light of this information, the city council should immediately pass a budget revision pulling funding for this project.

Fred Paone To Speak Tomorrow Morning

...at the Wednesday Republican Breakfast Club:
Fred Paone is the Republican Candidate for Ward 2 in the Dec.19th Annapolis
Special Election to replace Mike Christman as Alderman. Please come by to help
with Fred's election to the City Council.

The WRBC meets each Wednesday at the Eastport Yacht Club, 317 First Street.
We salute the Flag at 07:30 AM Sharp.

Overall, the Paone campaign is going swell. He has adequate funding, and is approaching 200 yard sign locations.

The most important factor in the election will be the voter turnout, and if people who say they will vote, actually do.

With the election merely a week away, there is reason to be optimistic--but not complacent! I have spoken to several people specifically, and I will be making sure they vote! I encourage all of you to do the same, or face the consequences of the same leadership that we've had on the city council.

Monday, December 10, 2007

City Hall To Be Renovated With Other People's Money

Last year, pieces of the ceiling at City Hall eerily fell down, sparking a discussion on the level of extravagance that should be exercised in the renovation of the historic site.

Although no money has been spent on the renovations, the FY 2008 General Capital Budget allocates $1.2 million for the project.

How the city plans to get the money is an interesting proposition. Herb McMillan fancies quoting Ronald Reagan when discussing fiscal policy, professing that "government should be funded through the strength of the people". Let's take a look at how this applies.

The first $400,000 of the city hall renovations is to come from bond funds, which is fine by me. Renovations done now will certainly benefit future Annapolitans, and bond (term) financing is the classic way to make future generations pay their fair share.

The other $800,000 is what the fuss is about. The city plans to get the other $800,000 from "non city funds", meaning grants or transfers from other governmental jurisdictions. Annoyingly enough, City Hall does not enjoy the same National Historic Landmark Distinction as some other buildings within city limits:
"The irony of all ironies, is City Hall is not a designated building so we
didn't get a grant," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer about a recent application for
renovation funding. "So we're trying to secure historic designation for the
building and re-filing for the grant."

The hope is to qualify the city for a specific grant, but the lion's share of the funding is still uncertain. The Capital reports that only $55,000 of the $800,000 in grant money has been obtained, and I can't imagine that this particular grant will be much bigger.

While I appreciate the obvious need to have structurally sound government buildings, I question whether it would cost $1.2 million. And what if we can't get the grants--is the money just going to be collected from taxes? The city council seems to have now system for prioritizing which things are worthy of receiving millions of dollars in funding--they give the money for everything!

County Education Forum

Since I will be moving to a county address, I suppose I should try and pay more attention to county events. Luckily our councilman thinks that bloggers provide a valuable service, and has circulated the following flyer for dissemination.

Note: This event is tomorrow night.


Anne Arundel County
Councilman Josh Cohen

Invites Residents of Council District Six to a

Community Conversation
on
“Public Education in Anne Arundel County”
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
7:00-8:30 p.m.
Location: Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis
333 Dubois Road, Annapolis 21401
(Bestgate Rd. to N. Bestgate Rd. and Left on Dubois Rd.)

PANEL PARTICIPANTS
Michael Leahy, Board of Education Member
Don Lilley, Principal of Annapolis High School
Jeff Macris, Annapolis Cluster Citizens Advisory Committee

For Information: Call Gail Smith @ 410-222-1401

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ward 2 Candidates Forum Tonight

...7 p.m. Monday night at West Annapolis Elementary.

There is also a city council meeting. Agenda.

I will not be there, because it is Senor Politics' (Mrs. Politics' father's) birthday, and we are having a dinner at Macaroni Grill!

Anyone wishing to attend the forum and submit remarks for a guest post must first submit a written curriculum vitae for my review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ward 2 Candidates Forum

Scores of people sheltered their necks in scarves and braved the blustery, lip-chapping Monday night weather to attend the Ward 2 candidates forum sponsored by Paul Foer.

I thought the event went well, and the candidates did well to establish the themes of their candidacies:

Debbie McKerrow--Experience Counts.

Soundbite: In the last 12 years that I have lived in Admiral Heights, there has not been a Ward 2 related issue that I have not been involved in.

Mrs. McKerrow's mailers have emphasized here experience, and she wanted to hit that point at this forum. Debbie cataloged example after example of how she was active on issues from development of high-rises to construction of the stadium. This is all fine--good, even.* The general feeling is that there is no reason to dislike Debbie McKerrow.

(*Attention all "fair and balanced" people who have been mislead into believing that I should criticize or praise Republicans and Democrats equally: this one's for you.)

There is reason, however, to know she is not the right candidate. At one point in the evening, the candidates were asked how they felt about the Homestead Tax Credit. This is about property taxes, and goes something like this. If governments assessed property taxes based on appraised value, it would be highly detrimental to taxpayers, and highly difficult to plan budgets because tax revenue would vary widely with housing markets. The Homestead Tax Credit limits the growth of taxable property value at 10% each year. (I don't know why they call it a "credit"--I imagine it's because "credit" sounds better than "limit" and would get the creator re-elected). So, if you buy a house for $100,000, then you spend another $100,000 improving your house, for tax purposes it would be worth only $110,000.

So, local jurisdictions can lower this rate if they want. Anne Arundel County has generously cut this rate to 2%. Annapolis, naturally, allows the full 10% annual increase in taxable property value, which is poppycock. People's incomes don't increase by 10% each year, but the city seems to think that its income should increase by at least that much. The idea that a government earns income in the first place is equally poppycock-ish.

Anyway, like I was saying, the candidates were asked how they felt about this. Fred said he's open to discussions (although I know from speaking with him that he doesn't like it), and Karen said something of the like. But here is what Debbie said:

We each have our bills. Food expenses go up. Electricity
expenses go up. Health insurance costs go up. The city has to pay a
fair salary to its employees--all of these things cost money.

I am concerned about cutting revenue to the city, and I am not in favor of
cutting back.

The problem with this line of thinking was eloquently articulated to me by a friend of mine, and I'll try to do the same here. Debbie enjoys fixing problems in her neighborhood. She is running for office because she thinks that government can do more good than harm--because she thinks that being an Alderman will give her a larger platform to solve problems. Sadly, such a view is fatally flawed.

Government does not spend its own money, and therefore must be held to a higher standard
in terms of efficiency. A major facet of conservatism is that in almost every circumstance, government is an inferior caretaker of money and producer of goods/services relative to private industry. This is not to even mention the equity issue--government takes money from everyone, and spends it on things that sometimes benefit everyone, but other times benefit only certain people. It is not the role of government to redistribute wealth, and Debbie's philosophy of government cannot ensure such restraint in the function of government.

Karen Jennings--The Environmental Candidate, An Independent Voice.

Soundbite: We need a candidate to think out of the box.

Ms. Jennings is an environmental consultant, and bills herself as the environmental candidate. She also made a point to mention that she is from a third party; that she would be an independent voice; and that she would be uninterested in earning political points.

Outside of that, I struggle to understand the reason she is running. If I had to characterize the other 2 candidates: Debbie is running to further and heighten her ability to help in the ward, and Fred is running to restore common sense, focus, and tackle crime. In Karen's remarks, she stressed the importance of a long-term, comprehensive perspective when considering issues, which I believe is part of the Green Party's general platform, but I would hesitate to attribute that as her motivation.



Fred Paone!

Soundbite: We need to focus on real guns, not toy guns.

The theme of Fred's campaign is 'Stop the Bullshit'. After this theme is filtered through the censors and approved by the bigwigs, we end up with "Common Sense Leadership".

An advantage for Mr. Paone is that he has 30 years of first hand experience with the issue that most Annapolitans list as most important: crime. He did a good job of exploiting this difference, at one point calling the crime suggestions of McKerrow and Jennings "balderdash", which the loyal readers of this blog will know is just a polite way to say bullshit. Mr. Paone emphasized the need to fill the vacancies in the police department, and cautioned that the unintended consequences of "revitalization" (as opposed to punishment, I think) are million dollar condos that force the former residents to the outskirts of town.

Fred is a lawyer, and his comfort with public speaking was apparent. Fred stood up and engaged the audience with every response, a technique that the other candidates mimicked to some extent as the forum went on.

"While the city council focused on plastic bags, toy guns, and the United States Navy's discipline of a former star quarterback, 8 young men were murdered on our streets, Fred pointed out. He promised to restore focus to the council and provide some much needed "adult supervision".

Questions asked by actual Ward 2 residents addressed crime, frustration with the justice system's failure to 'put away' suspected criminals, and the traffic congestion that overflows into ward 2 from both highway travelers and downtown patrons.

The next forum is on Monday, at 7 pm at West Annapolis Elementary.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Firefighting

I would like to talk about something of which I know nothing.

We all know that there are 'volunteer' fire departments. Can someone tell me what this means? Do they get paid? If not, why do volunteer firefighters exist at all--why don't they just get jobs with a city or county fire department?

Where do they get their fire trucks? Through fundraising? If so, they have the meanest bake sales in all the land.

What is the dynamic between volunteer and professional firefighters? Do they get along?

Does this confuse anyone else? Does anyone know these answers?

Beware The Vengeful Arm Of John Astle

It seems that Senator Astle is not taking kindly to the backlash stemming from his flip-flop during the special session.

I have been made aware of an attempt at personal destruction made by Senator Astle toward Dr. Ron Elfenbein, a former candidate for District 30, in response to this letter:

Ron Elfenbein, M.D.
7023 Chesapeake Harbour Dr. E
Annapolis, MD 21403
(410) 990-0036
November 15, 2007
Dear Senator Astle,

As a constituent I feel that I, and the rest of
District 30, am owed an explanation. How could you possibly vote against the
filibuster on the tax increase bill and then claim to be anti-tax merely by
voting against a bill (the largest tax increase in this state's
history) you already knew was going to pass (as Mike Miller proudly
exclaimed he had the votes to pass it)? You really cannot have it both ways sir.
If you did not believe in the tax bill, what was the
problem with voting for the filibuster? I called your office to
ask you to vote against the tax increase, just after the vote was cast (I had
the incorrect time of the vote down). I was informed by one of your secretaries
that you had, indeed, “voted against the tax increase.” Little did I know that
what I was being told, while technically true, was anything but in
reality.

John, I have to be honest with you. I used to have a lot
of respect for you and I always stood up for you when anyone would question your
motives or character. Now, your behavior during this special session has brought
that into doubt and made me question your integrity, honesty and frankly your
ability to be trusted.

Senator, stand-up, take a side, make a
decision and live by it. You cannot have it both ways. If you are for the tax
increase-fine, I respect that. I disagree with it but at least you made a
decision and I respect it. Trying to have it both ways, merely because you live
in a conservative district and want to be re-elected is downright dishonest and
you, and your 4 co-conspirators, should be ashamed of yourselves.
These sorts of back-door shenanigans are exactly what give politicians a bad
name-well deserved in this case!

I have lost a lot of respect for
you Senator and as a constituent I would like to hear your explanation of this
cowardly act and how you possibly could allow this tax increase to go
forward.

Sincerely Yours,

Dr. Ron Elfenbein
As you can see, the letter clearly represents the view of Dr. Ron, and nothing of his employer. Nonetheless, using a perversion of poetic license, Senator Astle employed the hospital letterhead on Dr. Ron's envelope to make his personal life a living hell, sending the letter immediately to Dr. Ron's boss in what can only be interpreted as an attempt to get Dr. Ron fired or reprimanded. Can anyone think of another explanation?
_
If you ask me, and by reading this post you have asked me, this was a punk maneuver by Mr. Astle. Instead of trying to involve Dr. Ron's employer in a dispute, Senator Astle should have replied in kind. In fact, here is what such a rebuttal letter would look like:
Dear Dr. Elfenbein,

Thank you for your continued interest in the welfare of Marylanders.
It is because of dedicated citizens like you, who take the time to run for
office, that our political system has any chance of working.

I would like this opportunity to explain my vote on the tax issue.
Throughout the entire special session, I was keenly aware of how many votes
would be needed to pass the "O'Malley Theft & Thuggery Act" of 2007.
The organizers of the special session were equally aware that there are zero
people in my district who wanted this bill to pass, and that I would need some
political cover.

I needed to be able to say that I was against the taxes, so
that when the taxes passed, I could pretend that I was sad about that. So
I came out against taxes! I made it known that my office was hearing all
of the opposition; heck, I even implied that I would look at cutting programs
rather than raising taxes
! AS IF!!

The problem was those pesky Republicans. They don't understand that
it is government's right to spend money, and tried to stop us. They
mounted a filibuster that would have stopped the whole thing, and I voted to
stop that filibuster to make sure that the tax bill got to the floor. You
are right--this is the vote that really mattered, because we Democrats had
precise control and knowledge of how the floor vote would come
out.

So, the vote came to the floor and I voted against it. Can you
believe that--I voted to allow the bill to get to the floor, but then voted
against the bill once it was on the floor! I got a good laugh that night
over at Harry Browne's. You see, I tried to make it look like I was against taxes, but
the truth is, I looked the other way when I had a chance to stop it. You
really have to appreciate our skill in doing this--we were so coordinated that
the final vote came down 24-23! AS IF! It really wasn't that
close--if there were more people whose votes we couldn't count on, there simply
would have been fewer of us who could enjoy political cover by voting for the
bill.

I'm sorry Ron--can I call you Ron?--this was a roundabout way to answer
your question. In short, I voted the way I did because it does not matter
to me what my constituents think. Six years ago, a relatively unknown Andy Smarick spent hardly any money and I beat him something like 53%-47%. Four years later, the juggernaut Herb McMillan campaign spent a quarter of a million dollars and got 1% more of the vote! It doesn't matter what I do--I will still be elected! I voted the way I did because I stay powerful by increasing the size of government, and do what the Governor and Senate President want.

If you'll excuse me, all of this legislating is cutting into my hunting
time.

Love,

Johnny Boy

Monday, December 3, 2007

O'Malley Corruption and Environmental Alarmism All In One

Fellow Red Marylander Mark Newgent has done some fine investigative work regarding a horrendous environmental plan of the O'Malley administration. In short, the state is contracting its environmental policy to an organization with blatantly wrong statistical analysis and documented political motives.

You can see the full post here, or read the following conclusions:
Through the MCCC and CCS Governor O’Malley has:

-Outsourced formulation of state climate policy to a blatant advocacy group
(with ties to a campaign contributor positioned to take advantage of CCS policy recommendations) and alarmist funding sources;

-Loaded the commission’s working groups with people who have substantial
political and financial stakes in implementing CCS policy recommendations, creating serious conflicts of interests and ethical questions;

-Appointed a commission chair (Tad Aburn), who refuses to obey Maryland’s Public
Information Act, by not releasing public documents concerning CCS’s contract with the state, and its relationship to the formation of the MCCC. Aburn himself, ordered
the Maryland Department of Environment compliance officer to withhold the
documents
. This is a delicious irony since O’Malley’s father-in-law, former Attorney General Joe Curran, wrote the book on the PIA;

-Set the stage to significantly increase the energy costs of working
families, further dampen the state's economy, and curtail individual
liberties.

Ward 2 Candidates Forum

Tonight 7 pm at the West Annapolis Fire Department (Taylor Ave. across from Graul's).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Unconvincing Naivete From Mayor Dixon


In today's Sun, Baltimore Mayor Shelia Dixon seems miffed as to why a city agency is being investigated by state prosecutors, despite being tied to questionable campaign contributions and possible gains for her sister. Her administration further refuses to turn over records for the Baltimore Development Corp, despite a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that the agency's records were public information. Dixon questions the motives of the prosecutors:

Dixon, who said she has done nothing wrong and who argued she did not
knowwhat the Maryland state prosecutor's office is looking into, said she
iscooperating with investigators but believes the probe could be
politicallymotivated.

"What would help me is if you go to the state's [prosecutors] and say,'Hey,
you've been working on this for this long, you haven't found anything, whydon't
you end it?'" Dixon told reporters at City Hall. "I don't know what it is[or]
why they're doing this witch hunt."
If history is any indication, we have every reason to be suspicious of the Baltimore government. Dixon is the ordained successor to the corruption of O'Malley, which has been well documented on this blog. The police department is known to fudge statistics, and yesterday the mayor herself admitted that there has been scandal in the fire department.

I, for one, do not believe in Mayor Dixon's befuddlement. In this matter she is either stupid, ignorant, or a liar. Take your pick.

Does Anyone Like What The Administration Is Doing With Crime?

With a record number of homicides in the city this year, and 2 shootings in the past 2 days, you may be wondering what is happening with hiring new officers. The answer is nothing:
We are bracing for as many as 6 or 7 retirements at the end of the year. One young officer will have his last day on Dec 9. he has been hired by a small PA dept. Still no hiring to speak of. In spite of what Will Scott said in the newspaper we are now 26
officers short. Most all officers have been placed back in patrol. The NET unit
is gone, Foot patrol is now gone and Special operations is left with 3 officers.
CID detectives are handling cases at a volume not seen before. Anne Arundel County has a homicide unit with about 10 officers. they have had about 13 homicides. APD does not have a homicide unit and just investigated the 9th homicide.I don't know what is keeping the officers that are still here.
Depending on who you ask, the responsibility for hiring police officers lies either with a particular officer in the police department, or with the human resources department. What is clear, is that there is little the city council can do about it.

Upon returning from a 6 week voyage to Europe to develop Annapolis' sister city program, the mayor made a series of proclamations that were presumably aimed at reducing crime. The glaring omission in the city's crime plan is the refusal to commit the resources necessary to hiring a full compliment of officers.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Breaking: Shooting

A non-fatal shooting took place tonight in Robinwood, a HACA community.


View Larger Map

On November 30, 2007 at approximately 8:34pm, the Annapolis Police Communications center received multiple calls for reported shots being fired in the 1300 block of Tyler Ave, off of Forest Dr. The first officers on the scene found a male victim on the ground, in the 1300block of Tyler Ave. The victim was shot twice in the lower extremities.The injuries appeared non-life threatening, but for precautions the male was flown by MSP Medevac to Baltimore Shock Trauma Center. There is no suspect(s) information at this time. The name of the victim is being withheld until suitable time for family notifications. Investigation is continuing.

Shhhhh: Don't Tell The Mayor

The Capital today sadistically featured alternative police vehicles, a measure certain to tempt the mayor's fancy for such things:



You will be tempted to yield to the argument: "You see? This other jurisdiction was smart enough to get these vehicles. Annapolis should too."

Not so fast!

"It's another tool we can use. It's great for crowd control," said Officer Matt Warehime of the Department of General Services Police. "You can get out to different areas you can't get to in a car."

Likewise, Officer William Jackson said the Segways are good for crowd control
and have the added benefit of being able to go inside buildings.

Mr. Collins said the solar cart, Segways and bikes allow his officers to do a
better job keeping the government complex secure. And they have the added
benefit of being good for the environment.

When was the last time you heard someone say "man, if only we could control those crowds in the public housing, our city would be so much better"? Umm, never. Let's do stuff that fights drugs and violent crime, like filling police officer vacancies.

Shock: This Blog To Move Outside Of City!

Displaying shrewd tact and keen foresight, I have entered into arrangements to purchase and occupy a single family home in Rolling Knolls. Such a maneuver prevents me from running for city office in the near future, but sets the stage for a triumphant homecoming if/when I sell the new house and return to containment within the city limits.

The result is that myself, my immediate possessions, and this blog will be leaving the friendly confines of Ward 5 for the ceremonially dubbed friendly confines of "Ward 9".

So, from January 31 on, I will be bringing you "an outsider's look" of the politics of the city of Annapolis, and the continued insider's look of everything else.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Economics Of Bid Pricing

I haven't participated in any mono-logical debates with letter writers recently, nor have I recently talked about economics. In fact, I haven't talked about much of anything recently. Well, of that is about to change.

In case you've forgotten, or are new to this blog, the deal is this:
-Original words appearing in letter to the editor: bold
-My excellent, omni-brilliant commentary: normal font. Because I'm a normal guy.

The "worth Repeating" feature quoted Mayor Ellon O. Moyer as saying that "No crystal ball revealed that our low bid minority contractor (for the expansion of the city police station) would deliver such an inferior product."

What is the deal with the middle initial always included with the mayor's name? We freekin' know who it is....how many Mayor Ellen Moyers are there?

By the way, to know what this person is talking about, click here.

What about "low bid" does the mayor not understand? The architectural firm responsible for the fiasco at the Market House was probably the low bidder also.

Ha! Excellent. Not unlike myself, the letter writer has nothing to lose since his/her writing is not the source of any income nor subject to any professional obligation. Translation: bring on the baseless accusations!

I understand that government wants to get fair value for its money, but invariably the requirement that the low bid be taken means inferior design and workmanship. In many instances the decision-makers look only at the price and do not compare apples with apples, but apples with oranges.

Or coconuts!

Moving on, let's address the claim that taking the low bid invites inferior design and workmanship. The most basic of economic theory is predicated upon 'perfect competition' in the market. A perfectly competitive market is characterized by several things, notably:

-many competing firms
-homogeneous (the same) products/services
-no barriers to entry (meaning any new business can easily start up)

Given a market for contractors with these characteristics, you would always take the low bid. But very few markets are perfectly competitive*. And when you introduce elements of imperfect competition, complications arise and the decision of which bid to take becomes less clear.

(*Agriculture and gas stations are probably as close as you're going to get.)

The most common way that a market becomes imperfectly competitive is differentiated products. For example, you may think that fast food is a perfectly competitive market, but people do choose Wendy's over McDonald's because the spicy chicken sandwich is better. The point is, if you thought this way, you would not buy a chicken sandwich at McDonald's just because it's cheaper, as the only place you can get the product you want is at Wendy's.

Now consider contractors. Not all are the same--some have different expertise in different things. So right off the bat, you should be thinking about soliciting a contractor who can do what you want, not just the lowest price. And once you find the ones that can do what you want, you still have a problem: adverse selection.

Adverse selection roughly means the following problem: the people competing for your business are precisely NOT the people you want to be dealing with. For example: banks want to loan money to people with stable finances. But, people with stable finances don't need loans! So, if someone needs a loan, the bank knows that they are probably not so good at handling money, and will take great precaution to make sure they get paid back.

Again, consider contractors. You want to pay the lowest amount, but the contractors willing to work for the lowest amount are probably the ones with the least skills. After all, the labor market rewards value, and in the absence of a market distortion, a person who does a better job will be rewarded with the ability to command a higher salary.

Ok, enough already. Let's get to the point. Taking a low bid contract is appropriate only if you believe the low price is the result of a comparative advantage in productivity enjoyed by the low-bidding firm. In other words, if a company knows how to do something better, quicker, or using fewer people, they can make the same amount of profit while charging less money. This is when you take the low bid. If not, their bid is 'artificially' low; you are actually buying a differentiated product--and that difference is usually lower quality, or hidden costs elsewhere.

I believe that I was analyzing a letter........

So now, for the police station project, there is the cost of the lawsuit against the insurance firm, the already-lengthy delays in opening the station, and the need for additional remedial work. This could have been avoided.

The cost of the lawsuit is a perfect example of the hidden costs that I was just talking about, albeit an extreme example. The usable life of the work is another--which would you rather do: pay $5 million in 2007 for construction and another $5 million in 2010 when it breaks, or pay $7 million to have it done right the first time, and it lasts until 2020?**

(**Answer: $7 million once.)

I, too, am a minority contractor. My company has never once won a low bid contract. My company prides itself on supplying products and workmanship of the highest quality. This cannot be accomplished when you have to be the lowest bidder. You really do get what you pay for.
U.G. ALLISON, Severna Park

As the writer alludes to, the real question is why the bid is lower. Certainly some companies are smarter and more efficient, and their prices will be better for it. However, many companies try to offer a lower price at the beginning to gain the initial contract, figuring that when things go wrong, the customer will say "Geez, this company is already familiar with the project, let's just give them more money to finish the job."***

(***For more on this phenomenon, do a search on this blog for 'market house air conditioner'.)

Hopefully the new central services director can prevent this in the future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Police Station Woes Continue

In response to the lawsuit filed by the city against the Police Station contractor, J.G. concrete is set to seek its own legal recourse:
With its renovation of the Annapolis police station under fire and an $8
million lawsuit already filed against the company that guaranteed its work,
Hyattsville-based J.G. Garcete is suing the city for $2.3 million for breach of
contract.

In the lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in the county's Circuit Court, the
construction company claims the city was to blame for many of the deficiencies
at the police station and is now refusing to pay for work done. Among other
things, the lawsuit claims the city did not obtain the necessary permits on
time, failed to address existing waterproofing problems in the design phase and
neglected to provide a "proper set of construction drawings".

It's hard to know what to believe. I find it fully plausible that the construction company screwed up, possibly because the city selected the lowest bidder and got what they paid for. I also find fully plausible the contention that city inspectors were horribly overburdened and brushed things under the rug.

True to form, the city has failed to sucessfully problem-solve through collaboration. The relationship between the city and the contractors is irreperably harmed, and the police station will sit in disrepair while the courts sort this out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Public Hearing Tonight

There is a public hearing tonight, and it starts at 7 pm. To see the agenda click here.

I will not be able to attend, as I have a campaign meeting for Fred Paone at the same time.

I would be interested to hear what people have to say about the Race Across America, which has been renamed by this blog as "The Triathlon Part 2, Except 5 Days Long". That's a long time to avoid downtown.

I sort of wish I was going, because I smell something quirky, if not fishy, regarding O-11-07. I thought that this was the ordinance that travels with the charter amendment establishing the Department of Economic Development, but now they are calling it the Department of Economic Affairs, which leads me to believe that this was a way around some law or provision that would otherwise ensure our safety.

We shall see.

Who Will Run For Mayor

Here are the up-to-the-minute odds for anyone and everyone that I have heard mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor. All city council members are ceremonially included. The person's odds for running are first, followed by their odds of winning (if given the fact that they run).

Arnett, Ross (D) 20-1 to run. 15-1 to win.

Cohen, Josh (D). 1-1000 to run. 3-2 to win.

Cordle, Dave (R) off the board to run. 15-1 to win.

Finlayson, Sheila (D) 18-1 to run. 30-1 to win.

Fox, Chris (I). 1-10,000 to run. 1-100 to win.

Flyntz, Frank (R). 1-1000 to run. 100-1 to win.

Hoyle, Classie (D) 52-1 to run. 40-1 to win.

Isreal, Dick (D) 10,000-1. to run. 29-1 to win.

Johnson, Dean (R). 23-1 to run. 18-1 to win.

McFall, Trudy (D) Running. 8-1 to win.

McMillan, Herb (R) 100-1 to run. 5-2 to win.

Moyer, Ellen (D), for an illegal 3rd term. 1,000,000-1. ("So, you're telling me there's a chance?")

Pantelides, Mike (R). 2-1 to run. 31-1 to win.

Paone, Fred (R) 42-1 to run. 30-1 to win.

Pierre, Zina (D). 1-200 to run. 60-1 to win.

Renault, Gilbert (D). 17-1 to run (as a Dem), 40-1 to win.

Shropshire, Sam (D) Running. 19-1 to win.

Stankivic, Julie (R) 91-1 to run. 22-1 to win.

Taylor, Wayne (D) 34-1 to run. 63-8 to win.

Weikel, Chuck (D) 1-55 to run. 5-1 to win.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Paone Ward 2 Endorsement

This from Joyce Thomann, President of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County:

Dear Friends:
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 we have an OPPORTUNITY to elect another REPUBLICAN to the Annapolis City Council. Frederick M. Paone (Fred Paone) REPUBLICAN is running for the now vacant Ward 2 Annapolis City Council seat!

To get another Republican elected to the Annapolis City Council, we need to get some $$$$ going to Fred’s campaign. Fred is a bit behind in fundraising because he would not begin to raise money while serving as the Assistant State’s Attorney – UNTIL he received permission from the Ethics Commission to do so. In short, Fred did what was right – because it was the right thing to do!

I hope you will send a contribution to: Friends of Fred Paone, 47 Williams Drive, Annapolis, MD 21401. Any amount will be deeply appreciated. (It goes without saying that the more you can send the better his chances will be.)

First, you may want to know more about Fred Paone –

The Paone name is very well known in Annapolis. His father, Rocco Paone, was a long-time and well loved Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. Fred Paone grew up in a home that sponsored USNA Midshipmen – one of them was Roger Staubach.

Fred Paone is a 56-year old Assistant State’s Attorney from Admiral Heights. His campaign Treasurer is the former Republican Mayor of Annapolis Dean Johnson. An article in the Capital Newspaper observed that “Although he has never run for public office, Fred Paone has been involved with the city on a volunteer basis since 1985, serving as the organizer of the July 4th fireworks show for nearly 20 years before handing over the job to Jon Hodgson.”

Fred Paone started out as a Democrat (so did President Ronald W. Reagan) but has switched to the Republican Party. (Like President Reagan, Fred didn’t leave the Democrat Party – it left him!)

Fred has stated that “on a local level, there is much more of an opportunity to vote for the individual anyway. I was born and raised in this city. I look around and see eight young men who have been murdered this year, traffic and congestion is way too much, development has run amuck and I think the citizens of Ward 2 need a strong voice.”

Fred Paone believes that crime is the NUMBER ONE issue throughout Annapolis. As Assistant State’s Attorney Fred Paone believes he is in a good position to help address the problem.

Fred Paone, like his father, is also a teacher. The December 2003 edition of The Barrister, the official newsletter of the Anne Arundel Bar Association reported, “Fred Paone has been teaching at the Community College for approximately five years. Not only does Fred teach Criminal Law and Evidence, he also has had occasion to teach Business Law. Fred finds teaching thoroughly enjoyable, particularly because it gives him a chance to work with eager young minds.”

Fred Paone also serves as the Chairman of the Annapolis City’s Ethics Committee.

Second, you may want to know more about the race –

Because only one candidate for each party had timely filed, there was NO PRIMARY. On the December 19th General Election Ballot will be:
Frederick M. Paone, Republican
Debbie McKerrow, Democrat (who lost to Mike Christman-R by 44 votes in the last election.)
Karen L. Jennings – Green Party candidate and co-chairman of the Anne Arundel Green Party. She is an organizer of the Chesapeake Pride Festival and a participant in Mayor Ellen Moyer’s book club about community development.

The present make-up of the 8 member Annapolis City Council is: 1 Republican = Dave Cordle; 5 Democrats; 1 Unaffiliated member – Julie Stankivic (Ward 6) and the one vacant Ward 2 seat.

Dave Cordle does a great job – but he needs another REPUBLICAN on that Council! (Hold on Dave – help IS on the way!)

To find out what Ward 2 looks like, go to the official City of Annapolis web site: http://www.ci.annapolis.md.us, click on the City Government Tab which will bring up a link to “Ward Map.” Think generally of the USNA Stadium, West Annapolis and Taylor Avenue areas.

We are SO FORTUNATE TO HAVE A SMART, ETHICAL, (tall, nice looking) REPUBLICAN RUNNING! If you don’t live in Annapolis – your contribution can still help. If you know anyone who does live in Annapolis – particularly in the Ward 2 area – contact them and ask them to vote for Fred Paone. You’ll be glad you did – Dave Cordle will be glad you did –we all will be glad you did! Remember – Fred Paone can’t win without our help!

Best personal regards. Joyce

P.S. & FYI -- RWAAC has contributed $500.00 to the Friends of Fred Paone!