Monday, December 8, 2008

City Council Meeting 12/8: Live Blog

My computer was recently attacked by a virus (probably a Democrat virus) that corrupted all of my hard drive beyond the point of repair. Cleverly, I was one step ahead of the attack and had backed up all of my files, which are now recovered. I did have to re-install my operating system, but that was a blessing in disguise! I got rid of all the useless programs, and can pick and choose which functions to bring back. Come to think of it, I am now an advocate of "computer-virus-style government reform".

7:26

The people arriving early to the meeting are greeted by a troop of bongo players, a drumming noise that is only equalled once a year when the Maritime Republic of Eastport brings their kids and their flags and everyone wishes they lived in Stevensville.

Today's meeting is a legislative meeting, which means that it starts at 7:30 instead of 7:00. All other distinctions between this and the 'public hearing' meeting have been frayed beyond recognition.

The Mayor is not here, but fear not, the brave Alderman Hoyle is the acting Mayor for tonight.

7:34

We are going to play a new game today. You can send to gillgrilling@hotmail.com your guesses for what time Alderman Shropshire will first address the masses watching on TV. The person who gets the time the closest to the correct time will receive a hidden camera and tape recorder, compliments of the blogger's guild.

7:38

Last meeting, I wore myself out. I'll admit it. None of that today! I am going to write what happens, along with anything funny that I think of. The rest of the time, I will surveying the VIP crowd for any insider information, and deciding what to have for dinner tonight.

7:42

The bongo players are here for a bailout, citing the dual facts that they are located in the above mentioned MRE and they will have to shut down if they don't get some city money.

7:43

Alderman Finlayson just addressed the people watching on television! Call Parker Bros.....we need more games....

7:44

There are more city manager bills than spyware on my computer. Fortunately, there is a chance that one or more of those will be voted down (and go away) today. If that happens, I'll eat a steak sandwich for dinner.

7:46

We now move into committee reports, which is the time during the meeting when the Aldermen promise that they are working hard even when they are not on TV, and inform the curious public when their various committees are meeting next, and/or why their various committees are postponing their next scheduled meeting. If you are lucky, you may also learn of a 'closed committee meeting; about legal matters, and that you cannot learn anymore about said meeting.

7:51

The Mayor is on her way, we have learned. Alderman Hoyle is not a speedy agenda reader, we have further learned. You learn something every day!

7:56

My main man Arthur came up to speak, informed us that he had 3 things to speak about, then informed us that he would be prioritizing these 3 things in the order: 1, 3, 2. He went on to tell a story, apparently in all seriousness, of how the APD broke into his house, dragged him outside with only one shoe on, took him to the hospital, drugged him heavily, then sent him to the psych ward--all while ignoring his recitation of a 1776 document on warrants. My God. His final statement: "I'm off to Salvation Army work in the midwest".

8:04

Tony Evans is speaking, which is pleasant, and he notes some important deficiencies in the renewal lease for the downtown Farmers Market (the lease is up for renewal on first reader). Alderman Paone, with the approval of Alderman Stankivic, points out that we might want to charge the market rent at least in the equivalent amount that would be taken by the parking meters that would otherwise be in operation at that location. Alderman Israel is piling on, noting that we now have a financial record of their first operating year and can identify if rent would be appropriate, particularly if (since) FreshFarm is a for-profit company.

8:07

Oops, Alderman Arnett just said that they are a non-profit company. He also just said that while looking through the boat show lease, they found that the boat shows have control of city property from May-November! Geez. Previous posts on this blog have suggested that the current boat-show fight is partly attributable to a desire from the Hartman conglomerate to control the city dock, and that lease would support that theory.

8:09

A member of the VIP crowd is setting Alderwoman Hoyle up for something regarding a closed meeting of the finance committee, which she chairs. She responds that this is not a time for interrogation. I sense something brewing. I will do some investigating.

8:14

Alderman Cordle just went on record as supporting a referendum on the city manager bills, suggesting that maybe they should repeal the bills until 'the public has spoken'. Political translation: he wants to delay decreasing the power of the mayor until he has a chance to be elected mayor.

8:15

Approximately 30% of the people here are going to run for mayor next year.

8:16

Ok, voting.

CA-01-08: The first city manager charter amendment. POSTPONED. (sigh)

CA-04-08: The next city manager charter amendment. POSTPONED. (another sigh).

CA-05-08: The next city manager charter amendment. PASSES. (first reader only).

CA-06-08: The next city manager charter amendment. PASSES. (first reader only).

8:20

O-33-08. See HERE for info. (energy policy). PASSES 7-1 (Stankivic).

R-36-08. Expanding Renewable Engergy. (motion to postpone fails). 6-1 (Cordle voted no, Stankivic abstained).

O-37-08. Appointment to Art In Public Places Commission. PASSES. 7-1 (Stankivic).

O-44-08: Protected Classes Subject To Fair Housing Requirements. PASSES on first reader.

O-45-08: Reclassifying the paralegal position to Civil Service. PASSES on first reader but only by a 6-2 vote (normally all bills are passed on first reader out of political courtesy and referred to committee, but Stankivic tried to kill it right away. Arnett was the other 'nay').

O-46-08: FreshFarm Farmers Market Lease. PASSES on first reader.

R-60-08: Wavier of Fees for Light House Shelter. PASSES on first reader.

8:31

Meeting is over, without Alderman Sam addressing the television audience. I guess I'm skipping dinner tonight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Shropshire Slasher

For those of you fun-loving political junkies (note: not an oxymoron) out there, you'll be excited to know that I am developing a drinking game based on Alderman Sam's council meeting exploits. Even though it took him until 11 pm last night to address the television audience (resulting in chugging a beer for every Nielson rating point the broadcast is getting at that time), Mr. Shropshire did not disappoint.

Evoking the memory of a 1956 Loony Tunes cartoon called "Deduce You This", Alderman Sam compared himself to the Shropshire Slasher (see left).

Much like the Slasher shakes the money out of Dorlock Holmes (Daffy Duck), Alderman Sam promises to shake the extra money out of next year's budget.

Later in the night, Alderman Sam had a chance to put his money where his mouth was. He went on record during a debate to solidify a city government position, declaring that we need to take due diligence in deciding to make such an impact on the personnel budget. He then said that he supported postponing the bill, but when the roll call came up, he voted not to postpone.

So to recap, Alderman Sam voted against what he gave a speech in favor of, and I had to leave the meeting in order to avoid slashing myself.

Monday, November 24, 2008

City Council Meeting 11/24: Live Blog

I'm here!

This is a public hearing, and man is it public. There are untold numbers of persons here to speak about the city manager stuff, and Ed Hartman has assembled an impressive stock of supporters for the lease giving him the rights to the boat show. I shoved my way to the front of the line, and was able to obtain my normal VIP seat with borrowed internet access, so here we are.

I can't see a darn thing, which is good, because it also means that anybody watching on tv cannot see the soy sauce stain that soiled my sweatshirt in the line of duty today. Mrs. Politics is at a Tina Turner concert, so you, the faithful readers, are all my dates tonight!

7:18

The public hearings are starting. The mayor has adopted the strategy of hearing the bills that nobody is here for first, so we are starting with O-38 (updating the recycling code). Tony Evans supports it. Also, Tony Evans supports a sense of humor, as he is sitting next to me and told me a funny joke no more than 4 minutes ago that made me chuckle out loud.

7:21

O-40-08: Lawn Fertilizer Regulation in the city. A man claiming he is the only person affected by the bill is testifying against it, because it will prevent him from even carrying fertilizer. He says the city should wait for the county and/or state to pass it. But, he supports an amendment that extends the process, I think. Tony Evans just stood up, so this guy might be in trouble.

7:23

Alderman Shropshire is addressing the masses, and just commended the above mentioned guy for.............getting rid of plastic bags. Then he just made a claim that was not true and the guy corrected him.

7:24

Tony Evans argument: "condoms and pornos are above the counter, but we can't display fertilizer?" Good argument.

7:26

R-62-07: Supporting the state-funded redevelopment of the Annapolis Gardens and Bowman Ct. housing projects. Eric Brown (the HACA pres.) is here supporting this, and is talking now. I have been informed that HACA is getting out of the property management business, and the private companies that are going to develop and manage the property are here with Mr. Brown. The housing authority would have the land, but not much responsibility, as I understand it. Even though the city's money is not on the hook, the state requires local support as part of their approval process.

Mr. Brown indicates that the CIQ (Cash In Question) here is around $20 million.

7:30

A big shout out to all my peeps reading this live feed, probably in posh, climate controlled, couch-filled abodes--the exact opposite of the conditions here.

7:32

The R-62 people are still making their case, which is probably a bit frivolous, because I don't expect many of the Aldermen to throw up any road blocks. In any case, it gives me some time to work on a proposal for an upcoming catering event that I have, for which the CIQ is only like 1000 bucks.

7:33

Alderman Hoyle asks if we will lose any public housing units in this process, probably a fair question for people who are concerned with such issues. Answer: of 144 units being redeveloped, 6 will change from public housing to home-ownership opportunities. Also, if the state $$ doesn't cover the project, the developer will have to cover the shortage, and not Annapolis taxpayers.

7:37

Alderman Israel calls the idea of a public-private partnership an "experimental approach", perhaps suggesting that he supports public housing funded entirely by the taxpayer. He says that he would not be inclined to support any arrangement like this for the duration of his tenure on the council. I must say that I am surprised at his position.

7:38

The council doesn't seem to understand that the city has no financial obligation here--they just need to approve the idea in principle so the developer can get state money. As you might have discerned by now, the ownership and management responsibility for public housing is very confusing which is probably why nobody can figure out a good way to address the problems.

7:43

Boat show public hearings!! See my boat show post to understand the bills in question (O-35 and O-36). I have no idea how I am going to describe what are these people have to say.

I don't think that counting the number of people in support of each bill would be a fair representation of how many people (if given all the information) would be in support of each applicant. I can predict that more people here are in support of Ed Hartman.

7:47

The mayor suggests that she would entertain other bidders for the boat show, inviting "anybody else who might have a contract like this should come to the hearing". (Note: that is not an exact quote).

7:49

So far, the Dowling/Barthold crew (O-36) have had their supporters up first. Dowling is telling his story, which has not been told publicly (other than on this blog) before, and if you are watching on TV, pay attention because you might learn why much of the VIP crowd back here is supporting the D/B bid.

7:58

The first Hartman supporter says that changing the shows might be troublesome because international participants might be spooked. "If it ain't broke...", etc. His implicit claim is that the show is not broken, a claim that would be argued by the other lease applicants.

(By the way, "H" stands for Hartman and "D/B" stands for Dowling and Barthold.)

8:00

Ed Hartman is speaking right now, and claims that D/B are avoiding personal responsibility by creating a corporation, which is not really a critique because this is a common practice of people starting a business. I have Limited Liability Companies, but rest assured that it's my ass on the line if those corporations go bust. H is arguing that, even though he has a corporation too, his has a history and a financial background. He is positioning for the argument that his company is more financially equipped to handle the shows than the investors that D/B have put together. He is taking a long time to do what I just said in that last sentence.

8:04

Right now H is giving a visual presentation, complete with a laser pointer. The presentation is basically a laundry list of all the expensive S that has to be purchased to run the boat show. Again, this is simply an attempt to somehow show that D/B cannot afford this equipment, unless he is going somewhere that I don't anticipate.

(By the way, "S" stands for what you think it stands for.)

8:07

H got to his point, that he brings $4.4 million to the show. Not quite a logical argument, but he just asked the people in the audience that support him to raise their hand, and like everyone raised their hands. As someone promised me earlier, H puts on a good show.

8:08

H just made the "business needs continuity" argument, an argument that I have made in some of my economic development posts.

(Note to amateur bloggers: see how I just took a seemingly unrelated issue and used it to support an argument that I believe in? That's good stuff.)

H just said that he proposed and extra year on his lease (until 2014) because "my employees are asking me if they are going to have a job in 5 years...they are looking for a career", failing to establish the link between their careers and the requisite implicit approval from the taxpayers.

8:12

I was also alerted that H has the support of the 'Good Old Boy Sailing Crew', of Arnie Gay, Bert Jabin, Knut Aarsand (don't quote me on that one), and others. So far, so true--Rod Jabin is here in support. The implication was that a sense of entitlement has developed amongst people who feel they have created the sailing business in this city, an implication that I am too young and too landlocked to indulge further.

8:19

The H people are continuing the accusation that D/B are a "limited liability shell", where as the H corporation is not because it has declared assets. They also are hitting on the argument that the shows are not broken.

8:24

Alderman Israel's 4 factors for determining who gets the lease:
1. rent
2. financial backing
3. experience
4. management plan

He just said (not in so many words), "What are we going to do when Mr. Hartman dies"? He used the item #4 on his list to address this issue. To his credit, the H guy is answering well, saying that there is a good team in place that knows what to do.

There is also a bit of a side argument, in that the H corporation does other things, like wine festivals and the like. One side of the argument implies that it favors H, as they gain expertise, but the opposition says it favors D/B, because they are not distracted.

8:27

Alderman Paone points out the D/B were part of the team that the H guy just mentioned. B is now speaking, and the room is respectfully devoting their entire attention to paying attention.

8:31

I confused the start time of this meeting and didn't realize my error until like 20 minutes before the meeting started, and tragically I was prevented from having dinner or even coffee in preparation for this feat of blogging endurance. I hope some of these boat show people leave soon, because it's getting hot in here, and for reasons named above, I am cranky.

8:33

The boat show hearing is over. We will take a recess. Predicted time for restart: 8:42.

8:44

Back in business. 2 minutes off with my prediction. Time for the city manager parade. There are like infinity bills pertaining to city manager, or purporting to pertain to city manager, so I'm just going to cite certain points, I think.

8:49

On second thought, I am not going to pay much attention to the people testifying. Instead, I will now launch into a soliloquy as to where we are at this point.

The city manager idea was considered and rejected in Annapolis some time ago. In the past couple of years, the idea is gaining steam again. The idea is that city managers can manage operations, and elected people can make policy decisions. Right now, the mayor of Annapolis can do everything.

Probably in part because of the disappointment with the current mayor, the idea is being pushed by notable factions, namely Wards 1 and 8. The politics behind the idea is intriguing. Most aldermen who want to stay aldermen support it, because it would give them more power and more evenly divide power. The current Mayor opposes the idea, for reasons unknown, but probably related to the belief that the Mayor is important and should have the power. The Aldermen that want to run for Mayor, ignoring the ethical problem of voting for their future self-interest, also oppose the idea because they want to have that power when they get elected! In fact, I have heard that Cordle doesn't want to run for Mayor if City Manager Legislation passes. Josh Cohen seems to have a similar feeling, without having formally declared he is running for mayor!

The jumble of city manager legislation is the result of efforts from any number of politicians to support their positions. One of the bills is closest to the real city manager form of government, and others simply 'put lipstick on pigs' by changing a few words and calling it a city manager. In my estimation, a real city manager is defined as one who is hired/fired by a majority vote of the council, and is the operational manager of city employees, with the instruction to carry out the policy of the council. Whichever bill ends up getting closest to that is the one that I will support.

9:02

Alderman Shropshire just complained that a city manager would prevent him from going to a department head and telling them to do something for his ward. I guess that's what city employees do, but that just sounded weird to me.

9:04

A demand is made that the city manager issue be put to referendum, alluding to the oddity that is the city's failure to have all Charter Amendments go to a referendum. The only referendum procedure is through voter signatures on a petition.

9:08

Alderman Cordle just spoke for what I estimate to be the first time tonight, and he gave a mini campaign speech. I guarantee you that before the end of the night, Alderman Sam will one-up him with an inspirational speech of his own. I look forward to it, as well as the Polish sausage dinner that Alderman Sam has been promising me for some time now.

9:15

Note to readers: people are still talking about city managers.

9:15:20

Note to readers: I am still hungry, so if you have any Polish Sausage, put it in a reusable container and I will pick it up on my way home.

9:28

Josh Cohen is speaking about the philosophy of city managers. You'll remember that he is against, and the other Aldermen are challenging him a bit because they are more expert than him at this point in term regarding the specific terms of the legislation. Plus you learn in city council 101 to never miss an opportunity to challenge your county councilman when he has to debate in your forum.

9:34

Don't fall asleep or do anything fun! Keep reading because the council is scheduled to vote on the homestead credit tonight, which means lowering property taxes, which means you getting more money, which is hopefully important to you.

9:54

The mayor must be more bored than the rest of us, because she just left. Now Alderman Arnett is sitting in the important chair. FYI, Alderman Paone left like 20 minutes ago.

10:03

Ok, I did some snooping around, and found out that Alderman Paone is still here. Also, early word on the Homestead Credit bills is that the 102% (2%) bill is going down, but that Alderman Arnett is the swing vote on the 105% (5%) bill.

10:16

Alderman Sam gave the inspirational speech I was waiting for. "I wasn't elected by the people of Ward 7 to vote only on the easy issues".

10:18

Attendance Update:
Paone: here
Moyer: here
Cordle: just returned.

10:27

It's fair to say that most people here tonight support the "real" city manager idea that I described above. Nonetheless, people are still talking about it.

10:59

Alderman Sam addresses the people watching on TV! Yes!! Like clockwork.

The public hearing for a city manager ends.

There is a 6-3 vote to suspend the rules and consider f'ing legislation past 11:00.

11:01

Classie Hoyle just made the odd comment that there are like 6 potential mayors in the room, and that they should learn to ride in convertibles and wave because they are about to lose the power that the mayor has been privileged to have. That is weird.

The mayor just said you can reduce the homestead credit and reduce the tax rate if need be, but we have been the only jurisdiction to reduce the rate. It really doesn't matter. High popalorum or low popahirum.

Legislation:

O-31-08: 105% Homestead. POSTPONED. 5-4 vote to postpone (Israel, Paone, Cordle, Stankivic). The aldermen are actually really fighting about this and calling each other out. Alderman Paone, in particular, is on the warpath and called out the 5 people that voted to table this, calling them the same people responsible for the budget increases and higher taxes. "The present budget has more fat in it than a weight watchers convention", he said word for word.

O-32-08: City of Annapolis Exempt Service: PASSES. 6-3. (Paone, Cordle, Stankivic)

O-34-08: 102% Homestead: POSTPONED. (see above)

R-62-07: Support For Redevelopment of Public Housing: PASSES. 8-1. (Stankivic)

R-46-08: Reclassification of Transportation Positions: PASSES. 5-4. (Paone, Cordle, Stankivic, Arnett)

R-47-08: Stanton Center Recreation Manager: ?

R-48-08: Dance and Fitness Coordinator: ?.

R-49-08: Hispanic Community Liaison: ?.

R-50-08: Police External Affairs Officer: ?

R-58-08: Excepting Parking Fees At Park Place: ?.

R-59-08: Economic Affairs Advisory Commission: ?.

I had to leave because I couldn't take it anymore. I will try and call the city clerk to see if the rest of that stuff passed.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Live Blog...Sorry

At any given time there are like 3 people reading this blog, and since you are currently one of them, let me apologize for not being able to live-blog as advertised. The reason for my absence from the meeting can be analogized as a case of the Mondays.

If any of you are angry because you were expecting witty and insightful commentary, take a look at this pretty picture and hopefully it will calm you down:

Otherwise, tune in to channel 38* on Fios or 99* on Comcast to see the excitement**.

(*Channel listings may not be accurate.)

(**It might not be exciting.)

A Secret Bailout

Two posts ago, I said this:
First it was only banks that got special protection. Then investment banks.
Then an insurance company. Now maybe the auto industry. The list will stop when
the government stops sending good money to chase after bad.
And today, we have evidence that the government has no intention of stopping. (You may have seen this link on Drudge but I'm giving it to you anyway.) Today it is being reported that in addition to the $700 billion that we already know about, the Fed has loaned some $2 trillion--that's $2,000,000,000,000--to troubled firms, and is refusing to disclose who is getting the money:
The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2
trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the
central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in
September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a
$700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends
far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by
Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities
the banks are pledging in return.

Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time last week and has
risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the seven weeks since Fed governors
relaxed the collateral standards on Sept. 14. The difference includes a $788
billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other
lending, mostly through the central bank's purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac bonds.

Before Sept. 14, the Fed accepted mostly top-rated government and
asset-backed securities as collateral. After that date, the central bank widened
standards to accept other kinds of securities, some with lower ratings. The Fed
collects interest on all its loans.
The news agency (Bloomberg) that published this story has filed a FOIA lawsuit to obtain the lending records, but it's appalling that the government requires a lawsuit to disclose spending $2 trillion. In lieu of working this week, I predict that I will be adrift in daydreams, pondering reforms to the Federal Reserve System, and wondering what might have been if I hadn't been tragically denied admission into the graduate economic program at the University of Maryland.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cancel Your Plans On Monday Night

...because there is a city council meeting and I will be live-blogging. See the agenda. The meeting starts at 7:30, along with the live feed! There is also a work session that starts at 6 pm, the topic of which is to brainstorm ideas on how to get more money from sidewalks, since the last idea was unconstitutional.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Financial Crisis: The Government Failed In Many Places

I've decided that it doesn't make much sense to attempt an all-encompassing post on the current economic conditions--partly because it would take too much time and effort, and mostly because it would clearly be presumptuous of me to claim to be able to explain it all. But, there are things that people are failing to understand. This is from a Capital (online) letter writer:

Many firms on Wall Street and around the world ran up debt-to-equity ratios
larger than 30 to 1. That means they borrowed $30 for every $1 they actually
had. They didn't get to that point on the strength of mortgages to poor people.
They were playing a leverage casino far beyond the subprime market.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed, its ratio was 45 to 1. That is what is
causing Wall Street to collapse in less than a month, at our great expense. Our
government, including both political parties, have failed us by ignoring the
abuses and failing to exercise proper oversight of the financial industry. Let's
give credit where credit is due.


The stance of many, notably the Obama campaign, is that the blame for our financial crisis lies mainly in the failure of government regulators. I tend to believe that the regulators knew what was going on, but were powerless to do anything because their interests were in conflict with a more momentous political prerogative. Let's discuss!

Leverage is a great way to make money, and a great way to lose it really quick. It's important to understand that leverage is tied to the assets being leveraged (borrowed against). In this case, artificially easy credit and artificially high demand for homes eventually dried up, rendering the writer's leverage complaint valid.

For most people, their homes are their chief investment. Taking that a step further, securities that are tied to mortgages make up a huge pool of investments, and a huge pool of profit for the companies mentioned in the above letter. The government, via Fannie and Freddy, distorted the market for mortgage-backed securities, and essentially forced such risky behavior. Acting on the assumption that every family deserves to own a home--a notion that is much younger than some might think--Fannie and Freddy created demand for sub prime loans by buying them from mortgage lenders. Banks felt the need to participate, lest they lose ground to the competition. Bottom line: the fault does not lie with unregulated capitalism, it lies with the government's forced limitation of free-market principles.

Perhaps more alarming is the preferred method of bailing these companies out. In the late 1990's, a hedge fund named Long Term Capital Management was on the brink of bankruptcy. To put it in perspective, they were leveraged at least 30:1, and probably more--they were very secretive and nobody really knew where their money was or how much was at risk. A failure of LTCM was thought to have far-reaching effects, as many banks had significant stakes. After a bailout offer from Warren Buffet was rejected, the Fed was brought in. BUT, rather than bail the fund out themselves, the Fed merely acted as a mediator--orchestrating a $525 billion bailout from the fund's creditors, and not the taxpayers.

The contemporary method to bail out companies is direct investment or securitization from the government. Unlike the creditors or investors of a company, the government has significantly less expertise in monitoring the company, and significantly less incentive to recover its money (because the government doesn't have its own money, it has our money). And whereas investors only deal with their investments, the government has no clearly defined restraints. First it was only banks that got special protection. Then investment banks. Then an insurance company. Now maybe the auto industry. The list will stop when the government stops sending good money to chase after bad.

Monday, November 3, 2008

O-33-08: More Than Meets The Eye, But Maybe Not An Eyesore

When I first read O-33-08, my reaction was one of total confusion. I went so far as to ask for clarification from the sponsor of the bill, and found out that the effect of the bill will be much more than its language would suggest.

Let's compare. Here's the entirety of the bill:
A program is hereby established to encourage energy efficiency
improvements and or renewable energy production within the city.

City property owners who privately finance energy efficiency improvements
and or renewable energy production equipment, have the option to voluntarily
attach up to 100% of the privately finance amount to the subject's property tax
bill.

The Director of Finance is authorized, at the request of a City property
owner, to add up to 100% of the privately financed amount, amortized over a
specific number of years to the property's tax bill.

All policies governing management of the program shall be determined by the
Director of the Department of Neighborhoods and Environmental Programs in
collaboration with the Director of Finance. All fees collected under this
program shall be remitted to the financier along with remittance details.

At first glance, this seemed to say that people can voluntarily pay more taxes, a proposition that did not make sense to me, because I am rational. So, I asked Alderman Arnett (who is sponsoring the bill along with Shropshire and the Mayor) to explain this mystery.

Much to my disappointment, the program in fact does not call for people to voluntarily pay more taxes. Rather, any person borrowing money to invest in some green-related home improvements (bill is very vague on what qualifies) can employ the city as a middle man. Instead of taking and paying back a bank loan, the borrower can pay back the city with to-be-determined loan terms. The city will collect the money along with the property tax bill, and the city will pay the bank.

The bank involved in this arrangement is First Commerce. For them, it's a good deal as long as they are willing to make the loan in the first place--if so, they earn the interest and the city collects the money for them.

So, is it a good idea in general? Well, I would say it isn't horrible. I don't particularly like the idea of the city getting involved in such matters. If banks are willing to loan money to the private sector, let them deal with the logistics. On the other hand, the program just might work. The city has expertise in collecting taxes, and their ability to collect the money would probably not be any worse than a bank's. And as long as the city's loan terms (in the form of amortized property taxes) are more favorable than the bank's loan terms, the program benefits the citizen as well. Moreover, this bill came up for public hearing without opposition from other banks, which means that they are either unconcerned about a loss in business or unconvinced that the loans will be profitable--neither of which puts the city at risk.

I wouldn't mind if this program got a chance.

My Ballot

With the knowledge that this blog is very influential amongst voters who are easily influenced, I will concede that this post should have come a bit sooner. Nevertheless, for those of you seeking to confirm your worst fears or validate your truest convictions, here is the ballot I will be casting tomorrow.

President

John McCain.

While not the perfect candidate to indulge all of my political views, McCain is much more likely to preserve individualism, economic freedom, and small government—the 3 of which I would describe as core political beliefs. I am not persuaded by the argument that McCain is too old, leaving an unqualified Palin as a likely successor. She is a Governor, which makes her roughly as qualified as any other Governor, and more qualified than Obama, who has never been an executive. I am also unpersuaded by Obama’s “hope” rhetoric, because he has not offered any policy that inspires me to be hopeful. Somebody told me that if Obama’s tax plans were combined with O’Malley’s taxes, that as a business owner I would be paying $.60 on the dollar in taxes, a claim that I did not attempt to verify for fear that it might be true.

U.S. Representative, District 3

Thomas Pinkston Harris.

I don’t know much about this one, so I’m using a combination of ‘party line’ and ‘anti-incumbent’ strategies. I’ve only seen Mr. Harris once, when he gave a speech at the state GOP annual dinner. He started his speech by saying “change”, then pausing for a minute while the crowd laughed at his mockery of political rhetoric. Good enough for my vote.

As an aside, I believe that there is value in party politics. Most people know what they believe, and why. Most people take the time to do some basic research on Presidential candidates, Gubernatorial candidates, and maybe some others. But beyond that, many people have neither the time nor the desire to become as politically educated as they need to be. I enjoy the political process, yet there are many things that I just don’t follow.

Enter political parties. All you have to do is take your beliefs and pick the party platform that is most reflective of your beliefs. Even if you don’t know much about a candidate, you can approximate that candidate’s compatibility with your beliefs by seeing his political party, and you can make a relatively non-ignorant choice about which candidate you really want. Now, I realize that this process is susceptible to many factors that taint its effectiveness, but it’s better than having every person campaign randomly and forcing the voter to choose without adequate information.

As another aside, discrimination is good. Discrimination is the process of using readily available information to discern facts that you do not have the resources to investigate. For example:

I believe in small government.
Republicans believe in small government.
Ray is running for office, but I know nothing about Ray except that he is a Republican.
I will vote for Ray because it is likely that he believes in small government.

Discrimination is not good when it is based on false information, which is called prejudice. For example:

I do not want to hire any dumb people.
Tall people are dumb.
I will only hire people under 5’ 5”.


The assumption that tall people are dumb is obviously invalid, which gives an incorrect result if someone were to use height as the proxy for intelligence. Throughout history, bad assumptions have been used as signals for other information, resulting in the negative connotation for “discrimination”. I came to this conclusion after reading some tidbits by Walter Williams, so if I’m not explaining it well, do a Google search for him and read more.

Enough with asides.

5th Circuit Court Judge:

Michael Wachs, because he is unopposed.

Board of Education At Large, Tricia Johnson, for continuance in office.

Yes, because I have no reason to vote ‘no’. Maybe that reason makes me a bad citizen, but it is my honest thought. I just have no idea.

Apply the above reasoning to:

-Deborah Eyler, Court of Special Appeals Judge
-Teresa Milio Birge, District 32 Board of Education
-Robert Zarnoch, Court of Special Appeals Judge


Question 1: Early Voting.

No.

There are enough problems with the logistics of election day. Finding the election judges and implementing the safeguards to ensure fair elections and prevent fraud for a 10-day voting period would be nearly impossible. Moreover, the locations of the early voting polls would be determined at the discretion of the legislative leadership, leaving it vulnerable to political gerrymandering. There is ample opportunity to vote as it is now, and the marginal improvement to the ability of every citizen to vote is outweighed by the risk of fraud created by early voting.

Question 2: Slots.

No.

See HERE.

Summary:

-language does not belong in Constitution
-would be hard to change if citizens changed their minds in the future
-validates wasteful spending by state government

Question A: Charter Amendment, Failure of Bills.

No.

This would effectively eliminate a ‘pocket veto’, and allow bills to become law without action from the County Executive after 10 days. I want to see action.

Question B: Charter Amendment, Nomination of Ethics Commission.

No.

Currently the county exec. nominates all positions, which are then approved by the county council. One member of the current council wants more power in this process, and has pushed this charter amendment. Having half of the commission nominated by the county exec and the other half nominated by the council (as this CA would do) does not appeal to me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McMillan: O'Malley's Slots Myths

Maryland Slots....Rewarding Fiscal Irresponsibility

We saw it during the Wall Street bailout. Fiscal irresponsibility. Political spin broadcast as fact by the media. Politicians using sweeteners and strong arm tactics to push a deal that's "good for everyone." Special Interests spending millions to promote their agenda. Doing "something" becoming more important than doing the right thing. What were the results? Fiscal irresponsibility was rewarded. Politicians got their deal, but ignored the policies that created the crisis. Special interests profited, and taxpayers got the bill. The same scenario is unfolding with Maryland's slots referendum. But before we reward Governor O'Malley's fiscal irresponsibility, before we accept his slots spin as fact, before we believe the false promise of more education funding, and before we give special interests another big payday, let's compare O'Malley's slots myths with the facts.

O'Malley Myth #1: "Maryland's budget has been cut by $1.8 billion. Even after a $1.5 billion tax increase, we need slots to avoid painful cuts in services." Fact: Maryland's budget increased from $30 to $31.2 billion after the Special Session. You can't make $1.8 billion in budget cuts, and simultaneously increase spending by $1.2 billion. It's no more possible than having your grass grow two inches while you're cutting the lawn. During the Special Session called to "fix" O'Malley's $1.7 billion deficit, spending on new or expanded programs nearly equaled spending reductions. Additionally, 40% of the $1.4 billion tax increase went to increased spending, not deficit reduction. Total spending wasn't cut. It was redistributed and increased. Most of O'Malley's recent "cuts" simply level fund programs, or eliminate vacant jobs. Only $156 million in ongoing annual spending was actually cut. State spending still grows by $800 million this year. The fiscal bottom line: Martin O'Malley blew a $1 billion surplus, raised taxes $1.5 billion, increased spending, and created a new $1.4 billion deficit. His reckless policies preceded the national economic downturn. Now O'Malley wants a slots bailout, not to avoid cuts in basic services, but to grow big government programs. Maryland can't tax and gamble its way to prosperity, or spend itself out of a deficit. Excessive spending and higher taxes are the root causes of Maryland's economic problems. Slots won't solve them. Slots will simply add fuel to the government's spending fire, while pulling $1.4 billion away from existing Maryland businesses. Slots, like tax increases, will hurt small businesses, kill jobs, and weaken our economy.

O'Malley Myth #2: Slots receipts will go to an Education Trust Fund, and used to increase education funding. Fact: 48.5% of the funds generated by slots will be earmarked for education. Gambling interests will receive 42.5%. The slots amendment doesn't guarantee any increase in education funding. It doesn't even protect education funding from cuts. The slots amendment only requires the state's slots revenue to be used as a source of education funding. It does not prohibit the state from shifting general fund dollars previously designated for education to other budget items, and replacing them with Education Trust Fund dollars. Sound tricky? These shell game shenanigans are business as usual. During the Special Session, legislation required $100 million of the sales tax increase go to the Transportation Trust Fund. This April, O'Malley shifted $50 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to balance the budget. Who are you going to believe when it comes to "trust" funds, Governor O'Malley, or your lying eyes?

O'Malley Myth #3: Those who supported Governor Ehrlich's slots proposal should support O'Malley's. Fact: Governor Ehrlich and many other slots supporters oppose the slots constitutional amendment because it's a bad deal. Governor O'Malley has radically changed the terms of Ehrlich's slots agenda. Under Ehrlich, slots and cuts instead of higher taxes were arguably the lesser of two evils. With O'Malley, slots after a record tax and spending increase are just an additional evil. During his first term, Governor Ronald Reagan faced with a budget shortfall. Legalized gambling was proposed as a solution. Reagan rejected the idea, stating, "The state should be funded from the strength of our people, not from their weaknesses." Reagan is right. There are no easy answers to our budget problems, but there are simple ones. The most obvious one is for government to spend no more than it receives. That's not much to ask on the heels of a $1.5 billion tax increase.

On November 4th, instead of rewarding fiscal irresponsibility, accepting another bad deal, and writing gambling interests another big check, let's tell Governor O'Malley that it's time for government to start living within its means, just like we do. Vote YES for fiscal responsibility, and vote NO on slots, Question #2.

Herb McMillan served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2003-2007 and is currently President of the Maryland Taxpayers Association. Budgetary data provided by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

Monday, October 27, 2008

City Council Meeting 10/27: Live Blog

Yes, live!

This is a public hearing meeting, which ironically means that there will probably be less public speaking than at a regular meeting, because at least at this meeting people have to talk about what's on the agenda.

7:01

Yikes, the Maritime Republic of Eastport is here. They have children, confirming the worst fears of mainland-ers that they are developing a youth indoctrination program. Their annual Declaration of (Tug Of) War will come be expressed in a battle on November 8.

7:10

The city just received a grant that will allow them to buy yarn. I'm sure I'm leaving out some relevant information but that's what struck me.

7:11

We are now being treated to a presentation on the Legacy of Slavery in Annapolis. There is a screen, and a projector--likely causes of "a case of the Mondays" for the MIT department. The right side of the room must now move to the left side, because the screen is set up on the right side of the room. Lesson: when looking for factual information, always look to the right.*

(*Political pun!!)

7:15

The presentation has come to a halt because the presenter tried to access a web page and it says "page cannot be displayed". Finally, vindication!! Presenter: if you are reading this right now, I will sell you the secrets of my internet "borrowing" for $5, payable in $.05 installments for however long it takes.

7:17

As an aside, the pre-meeting conversation included the nature of the whereabouts of former city attorney Shaem Spencer, who is now a district court judge in Glen Burnie. I was informed that an unofficial city delegation was sent to heckle the honorable magistrate, a field trip that I imagine to be hilarious.

7:20

I noticed that Alderman Paone is drinking a diet coke--an endurance technique that I pioneered some 18 months ago when this blog first began. Well done, sir.

7:36

The presentation is over. I believe that now the public will be heard.

Bill: O-05-08, to correct a technical error in the code regarding free standing signs.
-P/Z director John Arason gives a brief.
-nobody speaks for or against.

Bill: O-18-08, more technical changes to.....wait for it......sign regulations!
-Arason testifies again.
-I dare say that the public is again, ambivalent. Alderman Arnett seems to know the deal.

7:42

I will send $2 to anybody who writes a comment while I am writing this blog. You only pay the $4.95 shipping and handling.

7:42:30

Of shipping and handling, which is the more expensive undertaking?

7:42:38

Handling!

7:44

My goodness, I think it's easier to make yourself a criminal in this town by putting up an illegal sign than anything else. If I were the Downdown Dictator (one of my pet name's for the office of mayor), the sign code would read like this:

15.535.9525 Signs:
If you put up a sign, we will grab 20 random people who passed by your sign. If none of those people say "that is a dumb-ass sign", or "who thought this would be OK?", then you can keep the sign.

7:50

Alan Hyatt, a local mogul, is representing Shopper's Food Warehouse--who apparently have been aggrieved via signs.

7:52

For the record, my favorite signs are THIS ONE (watch for immigrants cross the road!), and THIS ONE (not overly wordy, yet you understand completely the choice you have to make.)

7:54

Classie Hoyle, whose ward this concerns, has not commented at all during this exchange.

7:56

Bill: O-30-08, clarifying the duties of DNEP and the Public Works Administration.

-an unidentified employee is testifying.

-small government tip of the day: if two government departments can't figure out who does what, maybe one of those departments doesn't need to be there

-since when was Public Works an 'Administration' and not a 'Department'?

-a man with a briefcase is talking about sprinklers. I don't know why this is relevant, but then again I haven't read this bill, and he just referenced the bill, so he is probably making a valid point.

8:16

I haven't stopped blogging, I've just stopped paying attention to the meeting. I plan to be interested soon.

8:23

Ok, I read O-30, and there is a provision that changes the requirement to install sprinklers from a renovation that exceeds 50% of the market value of a house to a renovation that increases living space by more than 50%. I don't know if this is the first time this came up, but people are really focused on it.

8:30

Bills: O-31-08 and O-34-08, reducing the Homestead Credit to either 1o5% or 102% depending on which bill you like

-Doug Smith: reduce it to 102%

-Mayor Moyer suggests that the 110% level is necessary to achieve the level of services that the citizens have come to expect.

-Randy Landis (who gets called "Gimpy" by the mayor on the way up to the podium): also likes both proposals, likes the reduction to 102% better

-fyi, for the purposes of this bill, 102% means that the tax-assessed value of your house cannot increase by more than 2% each year. currently, it can increase by 10% (or 110% using the semantics of this bill)

-Mayor Moyer applauds herself for reducing the property tax rate, a statement that doesn't
matter

-Mike Dye: in favor of both, don't care which percentage is chosen as long as any effort is made to lower the percentage. the real purpose of this is transparency (because if the Homestead Credit is low, then you can only increase taxes through the rate, and everybody knows about it). Mike is taking some direct shots at the mayor on this because she let the credit be 10% then claimed to lower taxes because she lowered the rate.

-Brian Gill: the transparency argument is a good argument.

-Mike Dye: "I have heard a host of excuses!". Brilliant! The Mayor keeps saying "don't just complain to us, because the state and the county do it to", and Mike says "right now, I'm worried about the city". Very awesome.

8:47

I lost track of where we are because a luminary came to speak with me.

Ok, nobody spoke about O-32-08 (City of Annapolis Exempt Service) or O-33-08, a confusing bill that I will post about soon.

8:51

Legislative Action!

O-24-07: Sandwich Board Signs!! Specifically where and when they are allowed. WITHDRAWN.

R-45-08, job description and pay grade for elections board position. PASSES. 9-0 vote.

R-52-08, creating a historic West St. gateway committee.

-Alderman Stankivic proposes an amendment that there should be a person from each ward on the committee, and somebody who may or may not work for the city is at the podium arguing against this. So, the city is arguing with itself on this amendment.

-The above mentioned person just named like 300 people who are already on the committee, and Alderman Paone just said "well, it sounds like you have everybody represented but the residents", and I just upgraded to the platinum membership to the Alderman Paone fan club.

-Alderman Cordle: this is a moot point because the state owns part of the road.

-The '1 person from every ward' amendment passes (I think).

-bill PASSES. 9-0 vote.

9:06

Alderman Stankivic excuses herself.

R-54-08 (first reader), Establishment of a Council Compensation Commission. passes/referred to committee. Rules suspended and this bill PASSES on second and third readers. 9-0 vote.

9:08

Adjourned.

Boat Show Update

At the September legislative meeting, two separate proposals were introduced to renew the lease of the boat show. After receiving a flurry of 2 emails, I broke new ground by doing actual research on the issue. And this week, flying in the face of everything blogs are supposed to be, I actually participated in a face-to-face meeting with representatives from one of the interested parties. This is their story.

(Note to readers: In a moment of fear that I was coming dangerously close to journalism, I threw away the notes that I took at the meeting. But, my memory will be close enough.)

The idea for the Boat Show apparently started in the 1960's with a man named Jerry Wood. Seeing that shows had been successful in convention centers, Mr. Wood thought the next step was to take the boats to the water, seemingly their natural place. Mr. Wood successfully secured 2 silent investors in the new venture: Ed Hartman, and Bennet Crain.

For the next 30 years, the Boat Shows grew quite successfully, purportedly the result of Mr. Wood's endeavours, and not those of the silent investors. And for those 30 years, many locals became involved in the production of the show.

A number of years ago, Mr. Wood died, and left the rights to the show to his wife, Kathy. She lived for a few more years, then also passed. The rights to the show were then split between the 2 silent investors--for a few years until Crain passed, leaving sole rights to Ed Hartman.

Now, before we go any further, let me tell you that most of the story can be found in The Capital's article. So, I am going to try and provide some elaborations on the story.

I met with Tim Dowling, the owner of Annapolis Sailing School, who ran the production of the show for Mr. Wood. Tim has worked on the show for some 15 years, and his operations partner, Jim Barthold, has worked on the show for 35 years. Both of these men have decided to leave the old operation and start a competing interest, which begs the question of why.

The two men point to Hartman. Having had little more involvement than receiving a check up until the death of the other stakeholders, Hartman had little experience in making the boat show run. Dowling and Barthold were put off not only by their own exclusion from the process--Dowling's contract was cancelled by Hartman through a legal loophole--but also that of other local businesses, including the company that had driven the piles for the last 30 years. Mr Dowling also has a different overall vision for the show. The show should be a part of downtown commerce, he said, as opposed to its current isolationist feel that happens when you try and keep tens of thousands of people inside of a chain link fence--and away from area businesses.

Mr Hartman responds by saying "talk is cheap", and suggesting that the shows under his watch have given increasing revenues to the city.

So, who is right? I must say that Mr. Dowling, having worked in the local bar industry, automatically received a +8 favorability rating from me for having such an important component of character in common with me. In fact, one of Mr. Dowling's staffers taught me how to tie a trash bag around a trash can on my first day of ever working in a restaurant, thereby spawning a quasi-lucrative career that has culminated in my ability to buy the laptop that I am using to write these words right now.

With the expectation you will not be persuaded by the above, let's try and take a more objective look. The winner, in my opinion, should be the party that best satisfies the following 3 conditions:
1. Keep it local.
2. Build on successes from the past/keep doing what has been happening.
3. Maximize long-term revenue to city and businesses.

Who you side with depends on who you believe. The choice is between a company owner who thinks he knows best, and the (former) actual operational employees of that company who think they know best. I can tell you from owning a business that employees often think they know better than the boss--sometimes they don't, but sometimes they do. I am inclined to support Mr. Dowling, but that's based at this time on little more than I believe what he's saying.

Here are 5 things to consider when choosing your position.

1. Many of the current Aldermen ran on a platform of transparency and fairness in government. Having a competitive bidding process for such an important event would be a good way to prove their commitment to that goal.

2. There are almost certainly 'good old boy' politics at work. Mayor Moyer's support is alarmingly overwhelming, and her overwhelming support of business negotiations has famously led to such results as the Market House, the pension lawsuit, the police station lawsuit, etc.

3. The Sailing HOF, as far as I can tell, is not involved. However, their position has relevance to Hartman. The Hartman family's interest in the city dock is not limited to the boat show--it also includes Watermark Cruises/Chesapeake Marine Tours. The sailing HOF, as we know, has its own plans of territorial dominance of that area. If the two camps butted heads, it would not shock me to learn that the Hartman camp originated the rumor that Dowling/Barthold were allied with the HOF folks. Public opinion is a good ally to have.

4. Hartman has been doing some crafty legal work. Any of the following names now apply to the boat shows*: United States Yacht Shows, Annapolis Boat Shows, United States Powerboat Show, and United States Sailboat Show. The renewal leases would be given to those last 2 corporations, which seem from the legal documents to be newly formed. If Hartman wants to build on the previous success of the show, if he wants to keep the shows in Annapolis, if he wants to hold on to them for the long-term and not sell to someone else--why all the maneuvering?

(*I can't follow the progression of legal changes. If you want to try, click here, and search for the above names.

5. The investors for Dowling and Barthold referenced in the newspaper article are Jib Edwards (Severn Companies), Alex Corckran (Corckran Investments), and Aden King (local businessman).

6. Here is the lease comparison emphasizing benefits to the city (as provided by Dowling):

Money to City:

Hartman: greater of 50% of gross ticket sales or $375,950.

Dowling/Barthold: greater of 50% of gross ticket sales or $500,000.

Fee Money to City:

Hartman: $3000 for Edgewood Rd. property, $25,750 for public safety and public services. No additional fee money.

D/B: $3000 for Edgewood Rd. property, $30,000 for public safety and services, additional flat fee of $100 per 'for profit' vendor space.

Civic Benefits to Community:

Hartman: none in recent history.

D/B: will pledge support and $10,000 to local charities. Will establish 'First Source Employment' program with good faith efforts to give city residents employment preference and establish an on-the-job vocational training program.

Experience:

Hartman: 2008 will be the 3rd year of actively running shows, and the first year of doing the in-water set-up.

D/B: Barthold has been GM for 30 years. Dowling has run the water set-up for 15 years.

Misc. Business Attributes:

Hartman: sole proprietor, established financial credibility.

D/B. Financial backing from diverse group of 5 local residents who aim to keep shows local, financial credibility established by M&T bank.

Monday, October 13, 2008

City Council Meeting 10/13/08: Live Blog

For the second consecutive time, I have been able to access the internet, and can bring you the fun proceedings for the night. The reason that I know that tonight will be fun is because Arthur Kungle, a local historian, handed me a piece of paper as soon as I walked in, and that paper contained the phrase "quad erat demonstrat". No place to go from here, but up.

I am going to try to give descriptions of the bills that are voted on, because I didn't have time to do it during my preview post.

7:36

Alderman Shropshire is absent, but everyone else is here. The mayor unveils a surprise! It is a replica of the Thomas Point Lighthouse. The management of the lighthouse is loaning the replica to the city.

7:46

The "regular" meeting begins with committee reports. The Rules committee is reviewing charter amendments. I once was on a committee--it wasn't very productive.

7:49

The other committees report that they are indeed still having meetings.

7:51

My prediction about the closed meeting statement was accurate, and the mayor fulfilled her legal obligation by informing us that no action was taken as a result of a closed meeting about the Market House lawsuit.

7:52

******SISTER CITY UPDATE*********We have a sister city in Canada (Annapolis Royal), and today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada! We learned that the purpose of Thanksgiving Day in Canada is to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from an illness.

7:53

The mayor is quoting herself from a Baltimore Sun article.

7:54

At 7:27, Brian Gill was able to access the internet, and is bringing you tonight's fun proceedings.

7:55

********SISTER CITY UPDATE #2***********The city just got done entertaining the Mayor from another one of our sister cities: Richmond (England, I think).

8:05

Karen Jennings, a former candidate for Alderman in the great 2nd Ward, is making the environmental argument that I will mention later in this post. You don't know that I will mention it later, but I do.

8:10

The aforementioned Arthur is saying many things. The most entertaining among them, and I'm paraphrasing, "And then you've got the Annapolis Town Center that's not even in the City Of Annapolis! We need to sue them for fraud, boycott their stores, or do something. The fact that they are using the name 'Annapolis' is appalling--this only helps rich white men and hurts poor black women, not to mention the pollution." He's so entertainment that even Tony Evans is laughing approvingly.

8:15

Tony Evans now can speak, and admits defeat, declaring "That's a hard act to follow". Arthur humbly offers that he will never be Tony Evans. Now he's hitting the good points. He says "be careful of how you tinker with the lease, because the boat show could move". Translation: don't be surprised at what happens if you take the rights for the boat show away from its creator and give them to the Sailing HOF cronies.

8:18

Mockingly, Tony looks forward to the "high-tech treasure hunt" that is the geocache trail (see below). Arthur applauds. "Bravo". All is well.

8:19

Legislative action is about to begin.

CA-01-08: To revise the duties of the city administrator. The original intent of this bill was to address the issue of a powerful mayor. While the CA gave the city administrator more power, it still left the position to be appointed by the Mayor, which misses the boat. This bill has been challenged by CA-03-08*, and R-39-08. It has been postponed multiple times before, and is apparently postponed again without a vote, which is apparently allowed under the 120 day rule.

(*On first reader, contrary to the information in the preview post.)

8:22

Apparently there is a technicality that charter amendments cannot be revised until 2nd reader, which is inconveniently when the bill is voted on. So, Alderman Arnett replaces CA-03 revised (which would have been on first reader tonight), with CA-04, to be introduced at the next legislative meeting. I believe another public hearing will occur on this issue, whatever the bill numbering is. Alderman Hoyle is confused about the process, but in fairness, so is everyone else. I believe that someone could get elected parliamentarian, even though would require that person first convince the public and the election board that such a position even exists, which it does not.

8:27

O-11-08: Prohibited parking on unpaved surfaces in residential zones. This bill ran into opposition from environmentalists, who pointed out the incentive to pave over land. Others objected to the bill’s alleged ‘back-door’ attempt to stick it to illegal immigrants, who are perhaps thought to overcrowd houses and park their cars everywhere. BILL WITHDRAWN (along with R-21). UNANIMOUS VOTE.

8:29

O-14-08: Establishing standards for funding grants to non-profits. Proposed by Alderman Stankivic, this bill begins to address that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can come before the council and ask for grant money. The bell sets some guidelines for who can receive money, but the standards are vague, and would probably only exclude Tom from the above trio.

There are amendments offered right now that assign points to the criteria named for determining worth recipients, presumably to attempt to quantify the selection process. Aldermen are slowly pointing out that standards are good, but this bill is not. BILL PASSES, 5-3 VOTE (Hoyle, Finlayson, Arnett), WITH AMENDMENTS.

8:43

O-23-08: Quarterly financial reporting by organizations that receive grant money, sponsored by Alderman Cordle. PASSES, 7-1 VOTE (Paone).

8:48

O-26-08: Same thing as above but substitute semi-annually and Shropshire. WITHDRAWN.

8:50

Voting on ordinances is done. All ordinances listed on the preview post were passed and referred to committee. Let's vote on resolutions!

R-32-08: Expansion of programs for the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Folks, I can’t make this up…the purpose of this bill is “that the City Council of the City of Annapolis hereby expresses its approval of the Project “Hand-Tossed Salad CafĂ©”. PASSES, UNANIMOUS VOTE.

R-39-08: Blue Ribbon Commission on forms of city government. This bad boy comes from Alderman Finlayson, perhaps at the behest of the other pro-powerful-mayor folk, and challenges CA-03 which is the product of Aldermen Israel and Arnett. Essentially, with CA-03, Israel and Arnett have already answered the question of which form of government is the best, and they assert that it is a city manager. POSTPONED.

8:57

A reader of this live blog has cleverly just asked me if Alderman Shropshire is absent because he is attending a seminar on ethics.


The real voting is now finished, and so is the blogging. I am going to risk my credibility and assume that all of the resolutions in the preview post will pass on first reader, despite the occasional objection from Alderman Stankivic. If not, I have some high-quality informants in attendance right now, and I trust that they will provide me with any information that I miss, on the off-chance that I am wrong.

9:06

Ok, I think I'm wrong. I think that they have been suspending the rules to have a final vote on some things that are on first reader. Alderman Cordle raises on objection that these spending measures are being pushed through. Nonetheless, I'll have to look at it tomorrow, because the blogging is done, as I mentioned.

Until next time, stay hungry Annapolis.

City Council Meeting 10/13/08: Preview

Much like air quality and terror threats, the best way to describe the amount of free time in any given week is by arbitrarily citing a color. This week is code yellow, which means that there is time to write blog posts, but no time to putz around trying to come up with clever commentary. So, here is what will be discussed at tonight's meeting, at which I will attempt to live-blog.

AGENDA.

Normally the prayers and pledge of allegiance are led by a random alderman, but today the Mayor has all of those duties. She then will issue something called a "Close Session Statement". I have never seen this before, but I do know that the council goes into closed session to talk about who is suing them, so perhaps this is a lawsuit update. Perhaps we will learn that "they started it!" is the city's defense for the tens of millions of dollars currently at risk in the legal arena.

Things To Be Voted On For Good Tonight, Unless They Get Postponed, Or Unless Someone Else Brings Them Up Again In The Future:

(Note to readers: the free-time index has just been upgraded to a color called "sunflower fields", which means that there is no time to link to or analyze the bills on second reader. Tune into the live blog for that analysis.)

CA-01-08: Old city administrator charter amendment.

CA-03-08: New city manager charter amendment that would nullify CA-01.

O-11-08: Prohibited parking on unpaved surfaces, a.k.a. the crackdown on illegal immigrants with too many people living in one house.

O-14-08: Establishing standards for grant giving to non-profits. This bill is in a proverbial threesome with the next two bills on this list.

O-23-08: Requiring non-profits to report financials quarterly.

O-26-08: Requiring non-profits to report financials semi-annually.

R-21-09: Fees/fines resolution that travels with O-11.

R-32-08: Enhancing program offerings at the Chesapeake Children's Museum.

R-39-08: Establishing a Blue Ribbon Commission to evaluate various forms of government, even though 2 charter amendments to change the form of government are also on second reader today. Good timing.

Things That Are On The Agenda For The First Time And Will Pass On First Reader and Be Referred To Committee, Unless Someone Filibusters, Or The Power Goes Out, Or The Bill Is So Obnoxious As To Not Receive A Second:

(There are a ton of bills on first reader.)

O-37-08: Appointment procedures for the Art In Public Places Commission.

O-38-08: Updating the city recycling code.

O-39-08: Later closing hours for wine bars in the MX zone.

O-40-08: Change in effective day for the lawn fertilizer disclosure act that they already passed.

O-41-08: Rules for bed-and-breakfasts.

R-41-08: Proclaiming October as 'National Arts and Humanities Month' in Annapolis.

R-42-08: Supporting the Maryland Municipal League Geocache Trail.

R-43-08: Authorization for filing a transportation grant.

R-44-08: Re-designating Clay Street as a Community Legacy Area.

R-45-08: Approving new elections board job in the office of law.

R-46-08: Reclassifying grant-writing job in the DOT.

R-47-08: Transfer a contractual position to a civil service position of Stanton Center Recreational Director.

R-48-08: Approve position of dance coordinator.

R-49-08: Approve position of Hispanic Community liaison.

R-50-08: Approve position of external affairs officer in police department.

R-51-08: Establishing fees for barge houses.

R-52-08: Creating a committee to provide a comprehensive analysis of the $10 million Outer West Street Gateway. In other words, a committee is now being created to study the feasibility of a project that has already been approved.

R-53-08: Creating a task force to examine the impact of art and culture on the local economy.

Also, there are 4 appointments and 7 budget changes, for which I will attempt to gain information from the VIP crowd in the back of the room.

Tailgating will begin at 6:15 in the Hillman Garage. Please bring a covered dish or sparkling fruit punch.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fun With Wine

I am happy to bring you not one, but two wine-related stories as we head into this weekend. The first comes from the notorious 1st Ward, and Alderman Israel, who is proposing to change the permitted operating hours for wine bars in the MX zone, specifically to allow them to stay open until midnight 7 days a week.

The first thing that strikes me is that I only know of 1 wine bar in the MX district: The Purple Tooth. Catchy name, good cheese, old fire station, fine by me. I just don't like the specificity of the bill--instead of writing a bill for one constituent, how about relaxing the Ward 1 Superiority Doctrine and allowing the rest of the city to operate under the same rule. I think it's a bit of a stretch to compare this bill to Alderman Israel's stance on the 2 a.m. issue, but it's interesting to see how Alderman Israel is willing to extend the business hours for 1 wine bar in his district, yet favors reducing the business hours for the regular bars that comprise the majority of hospitality business in his ward.

The second wine story comes from a letter writer to The Capital. For the ever-increasing new readers of this blog, I enjoy having debates with these letter writers for 2 reasons:

1. These letters writers are either more fanatical, or less fanatical, than me.
2. They cannot debate back.

I have not done one of these in a while. A couple of months ago I cancelled my subscription to The Capital, the result of a joint collaboration of this blog's "save-the-blog-publisher-money" and "stick-it-to-the-man" initiatives. However, I have located a gem on the internet version.

The original text of the letter writer appears in bold, with my uncontested commentary in regular font.

Open letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley:

Since you could not be bothered to attend the Maryland State Wine Festival and present "The Governor's Cup" in person for the second year in a row, I can't be bothered to support you on slots, or for any re-election attempt you may make.

Sadly, I have never won the Governor's Cup. However, I have won the Mayor's Cup, a fictional award that my fictional social club has awarded itself for the past 20 years, in recognition of having the best float in the city's 4th of July parade.

By the way, what an insignificant reason to drop your support for someone!

Dear John McCain: In these troubling economic times with major world issues, I cannot support you on anything because when you had hair, you parted your hair to the right and I part mine to the lef. Dear Gov. O'Malley: I cannot support you, for many other reasons.

Wine production in Maryland is a growing and thriving business. As such it brings in an increasing amount of revenue to this state, which you say is much needed to make up for the shortfall that your tax increases did not bring in.

What O'Malley says about the budget shortfall cannot be believed. He spent us into a deficit by withdrawing $1 billion from the rainy day fund and increasing spending, then "solved" that problem with a special session that raised taxes AND ADDED $600 million or so in new spending, but now there is a deficit again, so O'Malley calls for cuts, but also doesn't call for cuts. Got it?

Many liberals do not understand that raising taxes can actually have a negative effect on total taxes collected, a relationship suggested by the Laffer curve. Not always, not immediately, but eventually. Raising taxes depresses total business output, and encourages businesses to move to lesser taxing jurisdictions (think India, offshore bank accounts, etc.), meaning that the government loses income and payroll taxes. The evidence is too vast for me to enumerate here (mainly because I have a doctor's appointment in an hour), but if commenters press me on the issue, I may be forced to comply.

However, I have noticed that you and your band can play every pub and bar in Baltimore.

Do they take requests?

So I can assume that you're not personally opposed to the sale or consumption of alcohol by adults, just opposed to supporting the entire state instead of just one city.

Have you ever considered a career in politics?

RHONDA RYAN
Gambrills


Dear Rhonda,

I live a maverick's life outside of Annapolis, which is near Gambrills. Please send the wine you set aside for Gov. O'Malley to "The Fourth Most Popular Political and Economic Blog In the General Vicinity of The Annapolis Mall, Annapolis, MD, 21401", so I can surprise Mrs. Politics with a fancy dinner.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Alderman Sam's Event Is Still On, And So Is The City's Arrogance

On Monday I posted about a campaign event being held by Alderman Shropshire that has taken heat for being a partisan campaign event held on city premises. The initial reaction that I heard was that the event's location was being moved. When this didn't happen, several Aldermen became upset, and at least 5 of the Aldermen want this event stopped.

The Mayor is out of town, so we can't get her feelings. We know Alderman Sam's view, so let's not count him. Of the remaining 7 Aldermen, 5 steadfastly oppose it. Were this a city council meeting, the meeting would fail. But since this is a unilaterally organized function not requiring votes, majority opposition doesn't matter, and neither does the fact that city code prevents using public office for personal gain.

In the wake of such stunning opposition, the event has been moved............nowhere! Alderman Sam sent out a "revised" email, where the specific solicitation for campaign money was removed.

Classie Hoyle is the acting Mayor, and therefore can assumedly issue an 'event veto'. Perhaps I should say the pretend Mayor, because I'm quite sure she is not going to act on this issue. The event will go on, despite it inappropriateness. The city's position on this is that since similar events have taken place, this one will be allowed.

The same themes continue to pervade city government: lack of accountability, mismanagement, and arrogance to think that they don't have to follow the law.

I suspect that a formal ethics complaint will not be the end of this issue.

Breaking: The City's Public Works Building Is On Fire

--UPDATE--

The fire is out and Spa Rd. will be opened by 10!

---

I received this alert from the city
Annapolis Fire is on the scene of a fire at the City's Public Works Complex
in the 900 Block of Spa Road Spa Road is closed from Hilltop Lane to Smithville
Street, unknown for how long. This is a major route and traffic may be severely
affected, not only in that area, but city - wide, as usual Spa Road
motorists take alternate routes.

We will keep you updated, but for now, it is best to avoid the area if
possible.

I would ask my battalion of beat reporters to take a digital picture and send it to me so I can post it for the world.

...not sure if this is related to neglect in any way, but I want to be at the emergency funding meeting when they try and figure out how to pay for a new building/repairs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Slots Referendum Is Not The Answer

Opposition to the slots referendum is beginning to emerge from conservatives, but it hasn't come as easily as you might expect. Red Maryland has come out against slots, despite ample disagreement amongst its contributors.

Here is what the Maryland Taxpayers Association had to say:

The Maryland Taxpayers Association (MTA) announced its strong opposition to a
Constitutional Amendment legalizing slot machine gambling at a press conference
in Annapolis today.

MTA President Herb McMillan reminded fiscal
conservatives that, “Maryland can’t tax and gamble its way to prosperity, or
spend itself out of a deficit. Excessive spending and higher taxes are the root
causes of Maryland’s economic problems. Slots will not solve these problems.
Slots will simply add fuel to the government’s spending fire, while pulling 1.4
billion away from existing Maryland businesses. Slots, like tax increases, hurt
small businesses, kill jobs, and weaken our economy. It’s time for government to
tighten its belt and live within its means, just like we do.”

MTA Chairman Dee Hodges added that, “Taxpayers cannot trust Governor O’Malley with their money. Within one year, Governor O’Malley and his spendthrift friends in
the General Assembly blew a billion dollar surplus, pushed through the largest
tax hike in Maryland history, and then increased state spending by a billion
dollars. Now we have yet another billion dollar deficit. Money burns a hole in
Governor O’Malley’s pocket, and fiscal conservatives shouldn’t enable his
spending addiction.”

Mr. McMillan pointed out that, “Despite his claims
to the contrary, Governor O’Malley hasn’t cut any spending. State spending
increased by one billion last year. Governor O’Malley isn’t using higher taxes
and slots to avoid spending cuts. He’s using them to increase spending and
expand government entitlement programs.”

In closing, Mr. McMillan called on fiscally conservative Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to unite against slots. “For years, fiscal conservatives were divided over slots, but Governor O’Malley has radically changed the terms of the debate. Slots and cuts instead of higher taxes were arguably the lesser of two evils. Slots after a record tax and spending increase are just an additional evil.”
In a little known secret meeting at the Republican National Convention, I was elected spokesperson for all Conservatives living maverick-ly outside of Annapolis city limits. Speaking for them, I can say that anti-gambling fervor is not the main reason of opposition for slots. Neither is the motivation to screw O'Malley like the Dem's screwed Ehrlich's plan. Here are the reasons (some better than others) to oppose this slots package.

1. Such specific language should not be in the Constitution. Since the measure appears as a ballot referendum, if passed it will appear in the Constitution of Maryland. The details of slots should be codified by statute.

2. It makes it very hard for Marylanders to change their mind. Let's say that we adopt slots, then find out slot machines create genetic deficiencies in small children that make them all want to become economists when they grow up. How horrible! With a Constitutional mandate in place, it would be very hard to repeal or even change slots--especially with the people who make money from it lining up in defense.

3. Slots are being used to avoid fiscal responsibility. This is the crux of Mr. McMillan's argument. Let's start with not raising new taxes at a special session, then maybe we can talk slots.

4. Political cowardice. I have heard some people criticize the legislature for passing the buck to the voters and not taking a stand themselves. I tend to think that there are more shrewd tactics at work, but it's an argument nonetheless.

5. The government will have more money to spend/waste. No explanation needed.

For me, there are better ways to do this, and better places to start saving/raising money.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Alderman Shropshire To Face Ethics Inquiry

I have been tipped of that the Honorable Alderman from the Great 7th Ward, Sam Shropshire, will be the subject of a formal ethics complaint that will be filed tomorrow morning with the city law office.


The problem is a political campaign event that is being hosted at City Hall:
I know that this is hard to read, and there is nothing I can do about it. But let me assure you of 2 things: first, that the event is being held in City Hall, and second, that is is organized by Alderman Sam's campaign committee, Friends Of Sam.
The City's ethics edicts are found in section 2.08 of the code. Feel free to pour over it if you like, but I think the most relevant portion is found in the opening policy statement:
The proper operation of representative government requires that public officials
and employees be independent, impartial, and responsive to the general public
whom they represent; that public office not be used to advance personal gain;
and that the public maintain a high degree of trust in their public officials
and employees.
There are no specific guidelines regarding what constitutes a person 'using their public office for personal gain'. Possible ethics violations are subject to interpretation, and one concerned citizen has interpreted Alderman Sam's event as a violation.
Scott Bowling will submit a formal complaint, the text of which reads as follows:
Rex S. Caldwell III, Esq.
Acting Chair
City of Annapolis Ethics Commission
c/o Office of the City Attorney
145 Gorman Street 3rd Floor
Annapolis, MD 21401

Mr. Caldwell:

I am writing to formally request that the City of
Annapolis Ethics Commission look into the recent actions of Alderman Sam
Shropshire as they specifically pertain to an event he is sponsoring and plans
to hold in the Council Chambers of City Hall on the evening of October 1, 2008,
as well as the e-mail sent by the Alderman to an undetermined number of
recipients inviting them to participate in this event, asking them to share it
with their friends and neighbors, and soliciting campaign
contributions.

I believe that Alderman Shropshire utilized the
prestige of his office to secure a meeting space in City Hall which is otherwise
not offered or available to members of the general public. Upon receiving
this e-mail, I called City Hall and spoke with a staff member in the Mayor’s
Office and inquired about reserving either the Council Chambers or a small
conference room in City Hall for a meeting of our neighborhood association
(Fairfax Road Community Association). I was promptly told that
unfortunately no space in City Hall was available for use or rental by community
groups or individuals, and was referred to the Department of Parks and
Recreation who offered to fax me a list of locations to
contact.

I find it is highly inappropriate for a meeting
which has no relevance to City issues and is political in nature to be held in a
public building which is operated and maintained with taxpayer funds. It
is evident that this event is political in nature by not only the invitation
that Alderman Shropshire sent out, (which requests campaign contributions), but
also by the profile of the guest speaker and his foundation that was included
immediately underneath. This event has no relevance to issues affecting
our City, nor does it provide any constituent services or meet any needs related
to the residents of Ward 7 or the City of Annapolis as a whole. I
have never heard or known of any Alderman utilizing City Hall for meetings that
involved more than a small group of individual constituents. In fact,
Alderman Shropshire has held numerous community meetings prior to this, and they have all been at locations other than City Hall. Why is this one different?

I would like to further note that the above referenced
e-mail was created and authorized by “Friends of Sam”, Alderman Shropshire’s
campaign committee. It not only announces and promotes the event in
question, but also requests and tells you to whom and where to mail
contributions for his campaign. Is it ethically appropriate for the City
of Annapolis to be making In-kind campaign contributions to an Alderman or any
candidate for political office?

In concluding, I would like to
state for the record, that I am writing this letter as an Individual and
concerned taxpayer of the City of Annapolis. It does not reflect the
views, nor have any relevance to groups or committees for which I may sit or am
affiliated with within the City. As some members of your Commission are
aware, I take the ethical standards of our City very seriously, and this is not
the first issue I have brought before you. Whether this event is
ultimately held at City Hall or not, I believe the issues outlined above need to
be looked into and addressed by the Ethics Commission, as there certainly
appears to be some acts here which are not only inappropriate, but more
importantly, are un-ethical.

I thank you and the members of the
Ethics Commission in advance for your time and consideration of this matter, and
look forward to your timely response. I can be reached by phone at (443)
822-3170 or via e-mail at mscottbowling@verizon.net with any
immediate questions you may have of me.

Respectfully,
M. Scott Bowling

First things first. Esquire Caldwell, apparently the acting chair of the Ethics Commission, is my personal lawyer. In a ironic twist, I have attempted to bribe him to rule controversially on this issue, so that I may continue to follow this story and the popularity of this blog will soar.

There are 2 trends at work that make this transgression noteworthy. The first is a familiar theme--lack of oversight. Certainly somebody knew about this event, and certainly that it was inappropriate.

The second trend is specific to Alderman Sam: the arrogance that derives from his continued disregard of the law. You will remember that he was the only candidate to fail to file a financial report on time, only recently filing it--some 2 months late. Now he is using council chambers--and therefore taxpayer money--for what amounts to a campaign event. Without fear of condemnation, Alderman Sam sent this flyer to an untold amount of people through a mass email.

My read is that Alderman Sam has no fear of punishment because he votes with the Mayor on every issue, and therefore has her protection. Consider this: according to research by Mr. Bowling, the guest speaker at this event has apparent ties to communism, and his speech is being advertised as a lecture on "community organizing"--a clear reference to Senator Obama. Imagine how many ethics complaints would be filed if Alderman Cordle invited Sarah Palin to give a lecture in City Hall on how to organize anti-abortion rallies.