Monday, June 29, 2009

Good Bond Rating Not Always Good For Citizens

From time to time this blog features posts about "bonds", which many people will remember are secret tools of high finance that are given to people who are either (1) awarded an MBA or (2) sworn into public office.

The city, possessing access to these bonds, can periodically issue them for the purpose of raising money to pay for things. Since the bond is a loan from an investor, the city must repay the value of the bond plus interest in order to attract said investors.

So, how do we know how much interest is paid? One determinant is the city's bond rating, which is issued by Fitch's, a company that gets paid to come up with bond ratings. The city recently issued $26,970,000 in bonds, which were rated at AA+. (The highest rating is one level above this: AAA).

The city was quick to tout the AA+ rating, and the story is featured on the city website. From the whole report, the city selected some excerpts that they use to propagandize the public:
Fitch Ratings assigns an 'AA+' rating to Annapolis, Maryland. The 'AA+'
rating reflects the city's stable employment and tax base, strong financial
position, and moderate direct debt burden.

The city's financial condition is strong, characterized by ample
reserves in the general fund.

The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch's expectation that the city will
maintain a healthy level of financial flexibility through prudent fiscal
management, despite broader recessionary pressures and a softening real estate

Now, a higher bond rating typically means a lower interest rate that the taxpayers have to pay back to the investors, which is a good thing. And, the report points out several features of city finance that are indeed good. BUT, a good bond rating is not always a good thing!

A bond rating is solely a measure of the city's ability to repay its bondholders in the future. Potential investors can then use the rating to assess the default risk of a bond, and can determine the rate of return they need to receive to take on the risk of loaning money to the city. A bond rating is a pricing mechanism--it reflects certain financial practices of the city, BUT IT ALSO REFLECTS THE CITY'S ABILITY TO STICK IT TO THE TAXPAYERS. A spend-happy city could still receive a good rating if they've proven they are committed to raising more taxes. This could be accomplished through rising home values, higher tax rates, or development of new taxable properties. Take a look at some of Fitch's specific observations:
City efforts to expand and diversify the tax base through redevelopment and
periodic annexations have been successful, with the recent opening of the Park
Place mixed-use development, which includes a 225-room Westin hotel.

Long-term development prospects are constrained due to the limited land
area and the large portion of the city that is considered historic.

So, to maintain a good bond rating, the city's first option is to expand the tax base by allowing development. Is this a good thing for citizens? Many would say no--think 1901 West. As the land becomes more scarce, the city will be pressured to either reduce spending or raise the tax rate. Which do you think they will do?!

Beware the sound of one hand clapping.

Monday, June 22, 2009

City Council Public Hearing 6/22/09: Live Blog

Due to family obligations, I typically can't attend city council meetings, or anything else that happens on Monday nights. I can watch meetings on television and blog the telecast, but you might realize that at that point I would be blogging from my living room with no interaction with the underlying events, and perpetuating a stereotype that the International Bloggers Association, Local 505 has been trying to fight for some time now.

Much like George Washington, I have stepped up in a time of need. Showing great heroism, I bring you--back by popular demand--a great post--the people's post--a live blog!


The VIP section is already full and there aren't any chairs for Tony Evans. Effect on entertainment: -6.


There are a lot of people here, and I suspect they are not going to talk about anything on the public hearing agenda (ten year water and sewerage plan, the comprehensive plan, and support for the MD theatre for performing arts at park place). The Annapolis Business Association has been publicizing tonight as a chance to speak on R-47-09, which is a bill on first reader tonight that proposes to delay the implementation of new parking fees until August 1. I have been put on rumor alert that there may be an attempt to "fast track" the bill tonight, whereas "fast track" is defined as suspending the rules and voting on a bill all 3 times without a public hearing as would normally be required by, umm, the rules.


Breaking News! A member of the VIP crow--one who is actually a Mayoral candidate--just blackmailed me! He wouldn't let me plug in my laptop unless I updated him on an upcoming announcement from TV "reality" couple John and Kate (plus 8). They are getting divorced.


8 Minutes late so far. Effect on Entertainment: -4. However, there are a whole lot of people here, so the possible entertainment value could be high.


Just started. Standing room only crowd. There is somebody here talking about reusable grocery bags, for reasons known only to Sam Shropshire and Walter Williams*.

(*Walter Williams knows everything).


The Mayor is making a point to tell everyone that there are 3 bills on the agenda for public hearing. This is important because she knows that EVERYONE is hear to talk about the parking fees, and she wants to let them know that they are out of order.

For the first bill on public hearing, O-25-09, nobody testifies.


Alderman Paone asked the Mayor to change the agenda to take parking fees, because he has sense. The Mayor refused, because she has power. Alderman Cordle seconded Alderman Paone's motion, and Alderman Paone's shoulders were tired (from carrying Alderman Cordle...get it!! Funny.)


Alderman Paone just referenced the "possible" suspension of rules that I talked about earlier. This is why Alderman Paone has a fan club and nobody else does. Actually, I think I created a fan club for 1 other person, but I will have to check the blog archives to see who it was.


Something just happened that represents everything that is wrong with the management of the city. Alderman Finlayson said "don't we have to operate under a balanced budget, meaning if we take away the parking fee money, don't we have to find another way to get the money?". A normal person might say "yes, just cut the freeking budget! we all have to sacrifice". Alderman Stankivic, however, said "we can do what we did in the past: ask the finance director to shimmy things down". ASK THE FINANCE DIRECTOR TO SHIMMY THINGS DOWN! THIS IS HOW CAREFULLY THEY ARE SPENDING YOUR MONEY.


Alderman Arnett: "I have not yet heard of a mechanism" to make up the money in the budget if we cut these fees.


The mayor just asked Bob Burden to review some parking law called "12-04" and come up with revisions to the law. Following suit, I called my mortgage broker and asked him to choose a color to paint my guest bedroom. Tomorrow I will call to tell him that I don't have a guest bedroom. I don't even like guests.


Mayor: "Certain city employees are like certain business employees and cannot park elsewhere...they are in and out, in and out." This is in reference to the point that nearly 200 spaces in the Hillman garage are taken up by (non-paying?) city employees, in addition to the monthly passes held by businesses (that pay for them).


It's hard for me to hear because (1) the PA system is not that good and (2) the VIP crowd in the back is mumbling things under our breaths as if we have a crystal ball and already know each and every correct course of action for the next 25 years.


Listening to the council (and listening to the person sitting next to me*, from whom I am about to steal this quote), the council ONLY CARES ABOUT THE MONEY. They could give two 'you-know-whats' about the affect on business.

(*not the same person that blackmailed me).


Ok, R-47-09 passed on first, second, and third readers with the following attributes:

1. an amendment saying they have to find another funding source OR cut spending to equal the money they are losing for delaying the fees one month.
2. WITHOUT public testimony.
3. WITH a suspension of the rules that prevents public testimony.
4. 9-0 unanimous vote.

Implementation of parking fees are delayed one month.


Back to public hearings, now concering the comprehensive plan (R-32-09).

Citizen: "expand Aris T Allen to 3 lanes and put a 3 lane traffic circle at Forest/Chinquapin Round Road."

Mayor: "Forest Dr. is a county road. We have no control."

Doug Smith: "Specific Goals: 1. relocate 30% of parking spaces off of city dock by 2013. 2. Find a possible tram route and acquisition of property in next 2 years."

Mayor: "For your information, this is already planned and looked at."

Me: "Specific goal number 3: create City Economist position and fill it with a qualified blogger/amateur economist".


Arnett just worked in a mention of the Rules Committee. Kudos for that.

McFall: "Reduce amount and density of development. Limit most buildings to 1-3 stories tall".


Alderman Paone has not said anything for a while. I suspect he is planning for a break-out moment. I am waiting for confirmation that Aldermen Hoyle and Finlayson have said anything all night....discretion is the better part of valor? Whatever. Also noteworthy, Alderman Sam has not yet addressed the viewing audience; tens of viewers remain neglected.

Alderman Stankivic (to McFall): "If I hear you correctly, we should not be considering the principles of smart growth?"

McFall: "nothing smart about level of development in the comp. plan".

Shropshire: just referenced 4.2 million tourists, but not the viewing public.

Citizen: "appalled at scale of development".

Wardour Improvement Association: "less density. limit of 3 stories tall in West Annapolis 'opportunity area'. no tall buildings on Rowe Blvd".

West Annapolis Civic Association: "my thunder was seriously stolen (by the Wardour guy)".


Whoops, Alderman Finlayson said something.


It's ok, it's ok...she meant to do it.

(still public hearing for comprehensive plan.)

Bowling: "What is the impact of growth on education?", "low density and short buildings on West St. gateway".


I just looked up a section of the city code for fun.


Halfway through I realized it was not as much fun as I had hoped.

Alderman Arnett just referenced the rules committee, again. Enough is enough.

Samaras: "Use Samaras property for mix of recreation, local business."

Liles Creighton: "one of the clearest comprehensive plans ever seen, if not agreed to."

Liles Creighton: "annex land on West St. and up Aris T. Allen Blvd."

Liles Creighton: "plan fails to recognize that city is part of a larger entity called Greater Annapolis"

Last Liles comment: smart.

LC: "forget rail transportation."

Alderman Shropshire: "During my college days, I worked in France for 4 summers and stayed in hostiles." 3 sentences later, Alderman Sam was talking about streetcars. Amazingly quick transition.

Mike Dye: "traffic affects me every day."


Shropshire (to Stankivic): "Let me talk, Can I talk?"

Stankivic: "You're talking"

Shropshire: "Well, cut the acting"


(still a public hearing on the comp. plan)

Citizen: "you will not find a single citizen who wants 4 story buildings."

Shropshire: "We need more section 8 housing."


One citizen has been testifying for, probably, 30 minutes. I stopped paying attention after 12 seconds, and I do not apologize for that.

Cohen: "What if transit funding is not there?"


Alderman Cordle just stepped out. Is he leaving? If I'm still here, he'd better be here.


He's back.

Arnett: "Transportation is lynch pin of this comprehensive plan."

Shropshire: "County needs to lift the tax cap." He suggests that the county give the city money for transportation after lifting the cap.

The hearing for the comp plan is over! Now, hearing for R-33-09: Support of the Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts at Park Place.

Bob Burdon: Yes.

Park Place Residents: Yes. "The theatre is the star attraction of the Park Place community."

Park Place Lawyer: Yes. "1200 seat facility will house all types of performances."

Scott Bowling: Yes.

Citizen: Yes.

Ok...I'm done with this hearing. I am leaving to go get some food.

Scott Bowling Hosts Successful Fundraiser

Scott Bowling, the Republican Aldermanic candidate in the Great Ward 3, hosted a successful fundraiser over the weekend at his home on Fairfax Rd. The fundraiser was billed as a "birthday bash", despite the fact that Scott's real birthday was some 2 weeks earlier! You see, all fundraisers use some level of trickery to attract people. The 2 main gimmicks are either to make the event itself sound really really fun, or to have a really really interesting person headlining the event. I suggested the Sidewalk Tax 1 Year Anniversary as the theme for this fundraiser, but was overruled by the planning committee.

The event was well attended, enjoying the presence of of several elected officials, including civic association presidents, central committee chairmen, and mayoral candidates from all 3 political affiliations. Braving oppressive humidity, Scott's remarks focused on Ward 3 and city-wide issues, with particular emphasis given to the importance of a council-city manager form of government. "The first bill I want to vote for as the new Alderman from Ward 3 is a charter amendment bringing a true City Manager to Annapolis" is something that Mr. Bowling may or may not have said.*

(*It's a blog...accurate quotes aren't important.....fine, don't worry, it's pretty close.)

Mrs. Politics attended the event with me, and in a stunning development, was identified by an event guest! This blog's security hasn't been that compromised since Tony Evans glanced over my shoulder while I was writing a live-blog at a recent city council meeting. Luckily, after verifying that Mrs. Politics was a real person and not some character I created to increase the blog's ratings, the guests had to leave and the threat was averted.

I hope you will join me in supporting Scott Bowling to bring a much needed change in vision to the council.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finlayson Makes Mindless Comment, Prompts Competition In Ward 4**

**The Second Part of this post's title is actually not true, but I've been told that there's such thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I'm out to test that hypothesis.

So, people know about the infamous parking fee increase that threatens to stifle any momentum that downtown businesses may have. In response to the concerns of businesses, the Economic Matters committee apparently held a hearing to discuss what they could do about the "problem". (Problem is in quotation marks because the city council really wants to do this, and only considers it a 'problem' because people are making complaints, which they have to hear.) At this hearing, Ward 4 Alderman Sheila Finlayson took the opportunity to say the most unfortunate comment of 2009:

"One mistake I think is we didn't get everybody to the table," said Alderwoman
Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4. "We really didn't take into consideration the
impact (the fee increases) had on residents."
My goodness.

"I sold the business but one mistake I think I made was not telling my boss".

"I got a divorce but one mistake I think I made was not bringing my wife to the table. I really didn't take into consideration that she was part of the marriage".

"I write a blog claiming to be an economics savant but I really don't take into consideration the fact I was denied entrance into the University of Maryland PhD program in economics."


In typical city style, the Finance Committee wanted to glom on at the last minute, and tried to piggyback on the meeting that the E.M. committee was already having. Problem: even the guy who pays the bills didn't know about it:

Aldermen nearly broke state open-meetings rules last night as they debated
the fee increases.

The Finance Committee chairman, Alderwoman Classie Hoyle, D-Ward 3,
tried to schedule a joint meeting with the Economic Matters Committee last
night. City officials posted a notice about the Finance Committee's meeting on
the city Web site Sunday night.

State rules require elected officials to post public notice about pending
meeting at least 24 hours before the meeting is to convene.

Finance Director Tim Elliott, who returned from New York yesterday,
said he did not know of the Finance Committee meeting until yesterday morning.
He cautioned Hoyle that the Finance Committee would not be able to take any
action if members met last night.

Hoyle "can call a meeting if they want," he said. "They just can't make
any formal recommendation to the committee."

Two of the three members of the Finance Committee were unable to attend
the hearing anyway.

At first I thought that last sentence meant they had a meeting with only 1 person attending, but then I just figured that Hoyle sat in on the Economic Matters meeting. Maybe this time they can consider the residents.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Einhorn Is Finkle....FINKLE IS EINHORN!

Ten thousand (that's 10,000) awesome points to the first person that identifies the reference made in the title of this post. For those of you that may not know, awesome points are given out whimsically by me and can be redeemed for the following rewards:

--20,000 awesome points: You get an extra 30 seconds of time to testify at city council meetings, and can ignore the buzzer when it goes off. You will notice that many people redeem their awesome points in this fashion.

--40,000 awesome points: You get a spot in the 4th of July Parade AND an autographed copy of Sister Cities, a blog post by Mayor Moyer.

--60,000 awesome points: You get a spot in the Market House.

Now to the reason for this post: a letter to the editor. Original text is in bold, my comments are in normal font.

The platforms and issues of the Annapolis mayor's race are covered in detail in the Internet.


Every candidate in the race has a Web site and they are well done.

Also true.

It would be redundant for the paper to rehash what is already out there and available for free. However, we have just one place to go for local news and that's the paper. The accusations by a mid of a fourth degree sexual offense and assault by a City Council member is certainly newsworthy and deserving of coverage.

Now, I'm going to go along with him here. One could make a Leopold, a time-tested argument espoused by a politician that maintains an elected official's private life is none of the public's business. However, coverage of this event is warranted because (1) there is potentially a crime involved and we don't want our elected officials committing crimes and (2) it is a portrait of character and the character of a person is probably highly correlated with how well they can represent a group of people (constituents).

Lately we have seen a lot said and written in support of Sam Shropshire by Ellen Moyer and other City Council members. We have seen nothing written in defense of this midshipman. However, this is Annapolis. This is a Navy town. We all know what it takes to be a midshipman.

For those of you who don't know what it takes to be a midshipman, I have compiled a list:

1. recommendation of a Congressman
2. the things listed HERE
3. a massive disposition for chocolate milk (this is based on a year-long case study I conducted while working at Mangia's, a restaurant frequented by midshipmen)
4. above-average command of one or more of the following: self-discipline, leadership, intelligence, patriotism, physical fitness, and lactose tolerance

We all know that this young naval officer is worthy of our respect. We do not believe that after four years of hard work at the academy this young officer would throw it all away to level unprovoked baseless and spurious allegation against an Annapolis City Council member.

Now, I hesitated to write what I'm about to write, but decided to do so under this blog's 'devil's advocate' know what, I'm overruling that policy. Let's just hope we understand the facts as they exist.

I think the mid in question is believable and Mr. Shropshire has gotten our benefit of the doubt too many times.

This is an interesting point. The court of public opinion is forced to take sides between two entities that traditionally have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. Based on what you know, it's a matter of who you believe (until you know the facts).

For instance, why does Mr. Shropshire represent himself as happily married with children when his wife and child have lived 4,600 miles away from him for the last 10 years? Why has Mr. Shropshire periodically used the alias "Jeff Collins"? What is he hiding from? He has never given us a believable answer to these questions. Why should we believe him now?

Ok, here is the Jeff Collins story as I know it. If any of you know it better, you can chime in. Alderman Sam was originally known as Sam Shropshire. When he moved to Annapolis, however, he was known as Jeff Collins. It was during this time that Alderman Sam worked as the director of the Love and Action Network. At some point Sam left his work with this organization, and laid low for a while. Upon his re-emergence Alderman Sam was again known as Sam Shropshire, a name that he had not before used while in Annapolis. To those who had known him as Jeff Collins, he explained that the name was an alias he used to avoid persecution from Czechoslovakia, where he had worked in the past and met his wife. Tired of keeping secrets, he had decided to assume his birth name.

Much of the speculation has arisen, as I understand, because the change of alias happened so coincidentally with Alderman Sam's political career. Up until 2005, through his time on the Democrat Central Committee, Alderman Sam was known as Jeff Collins. However, in July of 2005, a party was held to "retire" the name Jeff Collins, and re-establish the name Sam Shropshire. This was merely a few months before Sam became Alderman Sam, as he was elected Ward 7 Alderman in November of 2005. Although I wasn't not personally paying attention to that election, people who were recall confusion about who was running--they knew the face of Jeff Collins, but saw "Sam Shropshire" on the ballot. It seems that the confusion persists to this day.

We need the paper to tell us more not less when it comes to issues as important as this one.

Mr. Hennessy clearly has followed the situation closer than most. I checked the Republican National Committee mainframe to see if he was a certified Republican Operative, with no results. In any case, I would agree that the public interest would be served with a little more investigation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Markets Going Up Everywhere, Except The Market House

And by "everywhere", I mean in 2 more places. We recently learned that new farmers markets are starting in West Annapolis and in the parking lot of the Tawes building, which is across from the courthouse with the roman columns that hold up nothing.

I found in The Sun a convenient listing of some other farmers markets already in existence, and using that information, I have compiled a list of current known farmer's markets within like 15 minutes of the Market House:

-Downtown in the city valet parking lot (Does this still go on? I think so.)
-Tawes building
-West Annapolis
-Riva Road
-Ritchie Highway
-The Mall
-Piney Orchard

(Note to readers: there is no market in the Market House.)

Now, it would be best if the same market operated in the Market House everyday, because they wouldn't have to start from scratch every time they set up (since they would be there continuously). But, if that can't happen for some city-bureaucrat-red tape-related reason, why can't we find the people that already operate markets, and ask them to set up one day a week in the MH?

(Note #2 to readers: While writing this post, I forgot about the rice I was cooking. The water evaporated, and the pan starting smoking, setting off the smoke detector and bringing upon a call from the alarm company! To prevent them from dispatching the fire department, I had to give them my code, which was conveniently not the code I use on the alarm keypad to activate/deactivate the system. Cleverly, I stored the correct code in a secret bunker in my house known only to me and Dick Cheney, which I accessed to prevent the frivolous emergency activity. Now knowing that today was not a rice day, I substituted cous cous, which is just as good. All is well.)

So anyway, the Market House needs a market.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Appeal For City Manager Signatures

Below is the email being circulated by the organizers of the City Manager Petition, in conjunction with the letter published in yesterday's Capital.

Dear Annapolis Voter:

Thanks to a growing interest in our efforts to bring professional City Management to Annapolis, we are well on our way to reaching our goal of having this initiative appear on the November 2009 ballot.

Before that happens, however, we need to collect the signatures of 20% -- about 5,000 -- of the registered voters in the City of Annapolis. To that end, we have just mailed copies of the “Petition for Charter Amendment” to voters throughout the City, along with a letter explaining the need for a City Manager form of government and a letter of endorsement from most Aldermen,

Those letters and Petitions should be in your mail box soon and it is HERE that we need YOUR help.

Since many people have an e-mail list of friends, family and neighbors who live in the City of Annapolis, we are asking YOU TO, PLEASE, FORWARD this important message to City residents on your e-mail distribution list. Please try to notify your contacts in the next few days, if possible, so your message will be received about the time the Petition will be delivered.

This simple process should help us maximize our efforts to reach – and encourage – as many people as possible to support this important initiative. It is also important for voters to know that signing the Petition NOW, is neither a vote “for” nor “against” City Management. It will simply allow the issue to be placed on the ballot and VOTED ON by the citizens of Annapolis. That is the essence of democracy.

Thank you, in advance, for your help and cooperation.

Bill Kardash and Doug Smith
Annapolitans for a Better Community
111 Annapolis Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mayor Seeks Sole Authority To Negotiate Market House Leases

At Monday's city council meeting, the Mayor is set to introduce R-44-09, which would give her sole authority to negotiate short-term leases with new Market House tenants. 'Short-term' is defined in the bill as expiring on or before January 3, 2010.

My favorite part of the bill's language is this bit:
Whereas, it is necessary for the Mayor to negotiate and execute short-term
leases with new Market House tenants to ensure successful operation of the
Market House.

Funny, since it was the Mayor's negotiation of a long-term lease that ensured the failure of the Market House, uncountable lawsuits, and a taxpayer-funded bailout of the city's interest in the property.

The city has, for obvious reasons, expressed interest in getting tenants into the Market House ASAP to accommodate the current tourist season. "We should not be delaying the visibility of the businesses even in the short-term", the mayor recently quipped, arriving at an epiphany. For this reason, don't be surprised if this bill gets the fast-track treatment. A normal bill would be passed on first reader, sent to committee, given a public hearing, then voted on--normally a 3-meeting process. I predict a suspension of the rules, and a passage of this bill on Monday night. After all, the Mayor needs to act quickly to save the Market House!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Polling Places Set For 2009....So What About Next Time?

From sources close to the situation, I understand that there have been some problems with the location of city polling places. Despite the strong educational (lobbying) ties enjoyed by a couple members of the council, most polling places located at public schools remain off limits.

I am going to publish a list of the new polling places now--not because I think you don't know, but because I foresee a need to reference this list, and I would much rather search for it on my own website as opposed to any other.

In parentheses are the previous locations.

Ward 1:
Maryland Hall (Bates Middle)
Parks and Rec Building on St. Mary's St. (Annapolis Elementary)

Ward 2:
Trinity United Methodist Church (Germantown Elementary)
Taylor Ave. Fire House (West Annapolis Elementary)

Ward 3:
Who Cares!
Just Kidding.
City Department of Transportation (Parole Elementary)
West St. Library (Same)

Ward 4:
Heritage Baptist Church (Same)
American Legion Building (Same)

Ward 5:
Salvation Army (Annapolis Middle)
Salvation Army (both precincts will vote here instead of just 1)

Ward 6:
Mt. Moriah AME Church (Tyler Heights Elementary)
Eastport Community Center (Same)

Ward 7:
Georgetown East Elementary (Same, apparently for both precincts, because no suitable location could be substituted and the law required the school's use)

Ward 8:
Eastport Fire Station (Same)
Eastport Fire Station (Eastport Elementary)

The mayor has been quoted as saying that the changes could cost the city $200,000. Special elections, which happen when sitting Aldermen leave their posts to run for other offices, cost the city something like $50,000 each I think. You may be sensing a need to explain why the city has elections in odd years.

I asked at least 1 person if they knew when or why the city started breaking with the election cycles of other jurisdictions, and that person didn't know. Since asking more than 1 person would make this blogging thing a profession rather than a hobby, I quickly ended my quest for this answer, and watched a rerun of Hey Dude.

Here are the reasons why it might be beneficial to keep the city elections on the same cycle:

-It's hard to change the process and nobody can agree on the way to do it.
-Having the city election as the only one going on at a particular time means people will pay more attention to it and it won't get lost in other campaigns.
-Voters are theoretically more educated because they are focusing only on one election.

And here are the reasons why the city might want to change the elections to align with the elections the county, state, and/or national government:

-It saves money because the county will already have to set up the polling places.
-We wouldn't have a problem finding polling guessed it, because they will already be in use.
-Elected officials looking to further their political career won't have to resign if they are elected (since the election won't be in the middle of their aldermanic term).
-Voter turnout would be higher and city officials will be elected by a higher percentage of the voters.

Hopefully I haven't missed any major reasons.

For me, the city should share an election cycle. Political apathy is no doubt a problem, but the reduction in that problem is outweighed by the new problems created by an off-year election. And if any Aldermen are reading this, you can't try and extend the term you are already serving.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Letters To The Editor!

One of my favorite blog formats involves letters to the editor, generally submitted to The Capital. I reproduce the text of the letter, then provide accurate, witty, and insightful commentary in response to the points the letter writers are trying to make. The benefits of such are a format are twofold:

1. I can engage in a debate without giving the person I am debating a chance to respond, which makes it much less stressful for me.

2. Letter writers feel compelled to write about a variety of issues, which gives me the chance to comment on many issues that would otherwise be irrelevant.

Today, we have 2 letters. Let's begin!

I noticed gasoline prices are slowly climbing up again, a few cents more every few days.

I recently noticed Mrs. Politics was slowly taking more and more pennies out of my piggy bank, but you don't see me complaining.

On Sunday night the gasoline was $2.39 and on Monday morning the same gas station had changed it to $2.45. I cannot understand why gasoline would go up from a Sunday night to a Monday morning by 6 cents.

I have a bad feeling about where this letter is going. As one former Ward 1 Alderman infamously said, 'I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.'

When I asked the Maryland Department of Energy (Director Woolf) this question I was transferred four times to a different phone line, and after that I received no answer.

My goodness. OVERREACTION. Even if you assume that the state department of energy knew why a single gas station raised it prices, and even if you further assume that they could do something about it, a gas price increase of 2.5% justify a call to a government agency when gas prices have famously been up and down to the order of 100% in 1 year? (Answer: no.)

It seems that nobody can explain to me why the gas is going up again in the past few weeks. All I wanted was a simple explanation. I tried asking the gas station owner, and everyone gives you a different answer.
KATHY, Annapolis

For everything you might want to know about gas prices, click HERE. But, Kathy, you asked for a simple explanation, so I'm going to give it to you. There are only 2 possible reasons why the price of gas might have changed:

1. supply
2. demand

Retail gas stations are one of the most awesome studies in capitalism one could want. There are basically an unlimited amount of places that could sell you gas, all of those places sell the same thing, and the price of that thing is posted on a huge sign. The risk of collusion amongst gas station owners, as well as the risk of arbitrary or predatory pricing, is low. If one gas station raises the price, you can go to another station, and the original gas station will not make any money.

So, why specifically may the price have gone up? Here are some possible reasons:

-increased demand for Memorial Day Weekend
-increased demand due to summer/vacation traveling
-increase in the price gas stations have to pay to get the gasoline

I suspect if you look at recent economic news you will find evidence suggesting some combination of those things is at work.

And on to the next letter.

On the night of May 29, I was astonished to see the platoon of local police and state troopers loitering the Dock Street area.

Do platoons exist in police forces? Also, it is not so astonishing to see police officers on patrol near a crowded area.

The officers, who were decked out in their tactical body armor as if an invasion was imminent,..

an imminent invasion?

..blatantly parked their cruisers in the middle of the street. While the officers focused their attention to the pretty women waiting to get inside the bar, vehicular traffic was forced to zig-zag around their cruisers.

I get the feeling that this guy really doesn't like the police. So far he has characterized them as being in a military unit and wearing body armor, all the while chatting up bar-going ladies. I often wear body armor when talking to women, for reasons I wish not to reveal.

The scene immediately reminded me of the Gestapo during World War II or the Berlin border of 1985.

Ah yes, I remember that the main complaint against the Gestapo was their disruption of traffic patterns.

At what point did the city of Annapolis sacrifice freedom for security? I completely understand the importance of projecting an image of security for the people of Annapolis. This method projected fear, not security.
ANTONIO, Annapolis

Allright. First of all, it sounds like they were actually providing security, rather than "projecting an image of security". If people were waiting in line to get into a bar, as you mention, that means the time of day was nighttime. Having police near the bars at nighttime seems like a very reasonable police practice.

And on to what I really wanted to talk about: freedom vs. security. I believe that security always comes before freedom, provided the decrease in freedom really does provide an increase in security. 'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' are famously listed as unalienable rights, but life comes before liberty both in the wording of the Declaration, and logically.

Now, this doesn't mean that our rights can be infringed upon cart blanche based on a vague correlation to a public safety danger. I have devised some examples:

-having money involuntarily taken from you (taxes) and used to fund a national military: acceptable.
-being confined to your home by the government to prevent possible spread of cold virus: unacceptable.
-having to zig-zag around police cars so officers can address possible problems with late night bar patrons: acceptable.
-being involuntarily drafted into military service: ehh, ??
-allowing warrantless wire taps to prevent terrorist attacks: ehh, ??

There is much room for debate. However, if the abridgement of rights is justified by an increase in safety, then we should be ready to sacrifice some freedom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Market House

I promised myself I would write a blog post over the weekend, but since there aren't any consequences for breaking a promise to yourself, I decided to update my strategy for what I would do if I won the lottery in lieu of blogging about politics.

I did not attend the Market House Charette, mainly because I thought 'charette' was a made-up word. I later learned that 'charette' was a common word in the design/construction community, and basically means a brainstorming session about designing/building. For the 3 of you that were wondering, 'charette' comes from the French word for 'chariot'. Apparently, French design students would often make intense last-minute revisions to their projects while riding on their chariots to class. I prefer taking my chariot only on trips to the pharmacy, but I suppose having it on campus makes you the envy of all your classmates.

The Market House has to serve a variety of interests: local residents, tourists, students from nearby schools, Midshipmen (which are distinguished from other students due to their unusually high consumption of chocolate milk), and boaters. First of all, there's gotta be a market component. Selling meat, produce, dairy, and bread in grocery form would appeal to residents and boaters. And no doubt, there's gotta be a vending component. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it for you, and having someone make food for you in a historical building on the water sounds great. Maybe something like this would be appropriate.

I was speaking with somebody who actually attended the forum, and he brought up the idea of closing a portion of that area to cars, laying down bricks, and having a pedestrian-only area to accentuate the attraction of visiting the Market House. I thought to myself:

-Do I like to sit down when I'm eating? Affirmative.
-Is there room inside the Market House for tables and chairs? Negative.
-Are there a bunch of tables outside for people to sit at? Negative.

After those 3 thoughts, I began to like the idea of eliminating some of the vehicle traffic in that area. Let's take a look at the map.

......Damn it, the Google map isn't working and it crashed my internet explorer 3 times, so to see the map I'm about to talk about you have to click here.

Ok, we know that Randall St. (between MH and water) has to stay open for cars. People need to get down Dock St. and to the Naval Academy. So, we must consider closing all or portions of Market Space, which is the area in between the MH and City Dock Coffee, Federal House, etc. There are 3 streets that connect with that area: Pinkney St. going away from the MH, and Fleet and Cornhill streets, which flow towards the water. In my view, the elimination of vehicle traffic would have to follow the following model:

-leave Pinkney St. the way it is, maintaining vehicle traffic that passes between McGarvey's and Maria's
-close Market Space to vehicle traffic from Maria's to Buddy's, effectively making all of Market Space available only to pedestrian traffic
-change the traffic pattern of Fleet St. to go away from the MH

I think that could actually work. That area of downtown would become much more appealing to people, and it seems to me that traffic would flow better. An astute observer would note that the elimination of parking spaces downtown is not prudent; however, there are certainly ideas that can be implemented to increase parking downtown and make up for the lost spaces.

The issue concerning the MH that I struggle with is that of the management structure. Typically, I would say that the government lacks the expertise to be a private landlord, that the space should be professionally managed, and the tenants subject to market forces. But, we have seen how that works. Market forces lead to market results: speculation, risk-taking, and high turnover. Moreover, since the city would never conceivably cede ownership of the building to a private entity, there would always be a struggle between the management company and the city with regards to infrastructure improvements.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Market House is special--that it must enjoy special treatment and favor in order to maintain its viability and therefore also maintain the image of the city. There is precedent in the city, such as the Boat Show, where the city is responsible for the decision of which business will best serve the interests of the city. For the Market House tenants, the same process should be applied. There is, however, in important part of this process: market rent. Tenants would be selected, presumably, on the basis of historical success and contribution to the community. Once the worthiness of the tenants is established, they must pay the market level of rent to maintain competitive equivalence with the other businesses that are not in the MH.

Almost every city resident mentions the Market House as an embarrassment to the city. Having the MH operated by the city, and therefore giving citizens their due opportunity to prevent any future embarrassment, seems like the way to go.