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Terps to the Big Ten?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling gobsmacked by the University of Maryland’s seemingly sudden decision to bail on the conference it helped found and emigrate over to the Big Ten.  It all happened so fast.

As I was a student athlete at Maryland in the 90’s, it hit especially close to home.  It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, but I couldn’t hold it in on this news.  I’m doing my best to keep an open mind about it as things develop.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how good or bad of a move this is.  We have no idea what the real state of our athletic program is, what other factors were involved, or what the future holds.  We can speculate and we can gnash our teeth, but it doesn’t really do any good, does it?  What’s done is done.

I have heard that the only sports programs that are making money are football and basketball; the rest are losing money.  That equation doesn’t work long-term.

I gained some respect for President Walt Loh after hearing him speak at the press conference yesterday (some great sound bytes here).  That’s as natural and earnest as I’ve ever seen him.  He didn’t use the P.R.-speak that we’ve come to expect at press conferences.  He didn’t say this was the best thing that’s ever happened and that God had blessed this union.  He didn’t pretend that everything was great and there was no uncertainty about anything.

He pretty much came out and said that they’d done what they had to do because, for one, their financial situation was so dire.  And, notably, he said that he his responsibility is to the school, not to “any conference.”  He’s right, and sometimes we forget that the sports program, while it may be a defining part of the school, is just that: a part of the school—it’s one piece of a larger institution that has its own priorities and concerns.

I got the feeling that Loh saw this as “taking one for the team” (pun intended) because he knew this was the only thing to do.  I give the guy a lot of credit for making and owning decision that he had to know would be unpopular, even upsetting, for a lot of people.

Another interesting moment was when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said, “You’re not joining a Midwestern conference. We’re moving here. We’re opening up offices on the East Coast. We’re not asking you to become us – we’re asking you to allow us to partner with you.”  What?!  Can you imagine anything even close to that coming from John Swofford or anyone at the ACC?  (Oh, and I loved Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s comment on a future relationship with Commissioner Swofford: “I believe there would be some awkwardness.” Yes, Kevin, there would be.)

Who knows how this will turn out?  We can only wait and see.  At the end of the day, though, I’m a Maryland fan no matter what.  I’ll still be watching and supporting and hoping for the best.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I know I haven’t written in a while, and I probably won’t once the holidays get started again!  I hope you all have an awesome holiday season.

– Brian


Howard County Gets a “AAA” Rating – Again

For the 14th year in a row, Howard County has received a AAA credit rating from all three national bond rating agencies.

Howard is one of fewer than 30 counties in the country to receive a AAA rating, the highest rating available, from Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Services.

“Howard County has a history of managing through difficult economic downturns; while this is the 14th consecutive year we have received the highest possible rating from all three agencies and it is gratifying, we never take that rating for granted,” County Executive Kenneth Ulman said in a statement Monday. “As we have for the past four years, we will continue to make tough financial decisions, remain conservative in our spending and find efficiencies throughout government.”

Full story here.

Congratulations to Ken! County Executive Now Leads MD Assoc. of Counties

I saw this piece in the Maryland Reporter the other day, about our County Executive, Ken Ulman, taking over as president of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association of Counties.  In this new position, he’ll work with and represent local officials from all around the state, advocating for county issues.  This is especially key right now, with budget cuts already straining local jurisdictions, and more looming on the horizon.  Known for his commitment to fiscal responsibility, he seems like a great fit to represent Maryland’s counties as they deal with these budget issues.

In a December interview, the 36-year-old Ulman said the top issues for counties are “budget, budget, budget. It’s all about future pension shifts and budget. We have some other issues, but that is the real issue.”

Another re-emerging debate surrounds Smart Growth.  We can’t think of a better person to speak to this issue at the state level than trail-blazer Ulman.  His leadership and first-hand experience in areas like this will provide inspiration and knowledge to other elected officials across Maryland.

He’s already gotten a nice endorsement from Governor O’Malley:

“The MACo Board made the right choice by electing County Executive Ulman to lead the organization during these difficult economic times. I look forward to working with Ken and the entire MACo Board as we build on the accomplishments of the last four years and continue to move Maryland forward.”

Congratulations, Ken.

UPDATE: Video of Governor O’Malley announcing Ken as MACo president, and some words from our county executive:



Election Reflections: a little, tiny update

The primary is over.  No, we do not want to get into this again.  But we just noticed a comment on the site that was posted a while back, and felt compelled to respond, as we wouldn’t want our lack of response to be misconstrued as conceding the point.

A reader drew a comparison between Alan Klein’s run against Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and John Bailey’s challenge of Delegate Liz Bobo.  Such a comparison might seem valid to only the most casual, uninformed reader.  Anyone who has followed local politics for any length of time knows there is no comparison between these two candidates.

Alan Klein’s campaign was backed (and arguably created) by Liz Bobo, an entrenched and experienced politician, who created a slate with him so she could provide financial as well as tactical and political assistance, and get him ink.

John Bailey not only went out on his own with no help from the machine – financial or otherwise – but he actually started from scratch by switching parties just so he could run. This guy literally just started knocking on doors. And, unlike Klein, he didn’t have the money to do much – like mailers against his opponent that were full of lies, exaggerations, and hyperbole. But I digress. :)

We could expand on this almost infinitely in any number of ways, but suffice it to say: there is no comparison between these two candidates.

That said, we don’t want to discourage that reader or anyone else from engaging on our site.  The debate is what makes it fun!

Hands Off, Howard County!

Friday, October 1, marked the day the statewide law went into effect banning handheld cell phones. (Here’s the article from the Flier.)

What do you think?  Is this a good idea?  Our consensus was generally that, while it’s kind of a pain and seems inconvenient, it probably is safer for everyone to put down the phone and watch the road.  Most of us will agree that we’ve had a few seconds of distracted driving at one time or another that have resulted in almost drifting out of a lane or delayed reaction to a stop sign or red light.

Enforceability is another issue.  As it stands, the offense is merely a secondary one, so drivers can’t be pulled over just for talking on a cell phone.  The suspicion of a primary offense, like speeding, must be present first.

It will be interesting to see how this new law impacts statistics on accidents, etc., as officials attribute “some” of the 549 Maryland traffic deaths last year to cell phone use.  Stay tuned…

Tomorrow, Your Vote Decides Columbia’s Future

We have in our hands the opportunity to make our city – in our generation – the most livable, the most beautiful, and the most effective city in America.   – James Rouse

When elected officials do something good, they deserve re-election.  This Tuesday, our County Council must be re-elected.

In our view, the single most critical issue over the last few years has been the plan for the redevelopment Columbia’s downtown.  There are other important issues, but for many of us, the success or failure of downtown is emblematic of Columbia’s continued success – or its eventual failure.  And the results of that reverberate throughout Howard County.

Will the Columbia of our generation live up to the high hopes Jim Rouse had for it?  Or will it sink silently into lore now that its day has passed?

We don’t believe its day has passed!  And neither do the five members of our County Council. Earlier this year with the passage of the Downtown Plan, they unanimously voted a resounding “YES” to the future of Columbia and Howard County.  We applaud them for their faith in Columbia, for their vision and leadership.

Columbia 2.0 is proud to endorse Calvin Ball, Greg Fox, Mary Kay Sigaty, Jen Terrasa, and Courtney Watson for re-election to the Howard County Council. Columbia and Howard County owe them a debt of gratitude for making the whole community’s best interest their #1 priority, and for locking in a plan that embodies our core values.  The plan, born out of thousands of hours of work and including over 90 amendments, offers numerous arts and cultural opportunities, critical environmental restorations, and an innovative new self-funded full spectrum housing plan to make this opportunity available to everyone.

We specifically want to single out Mary Kay Sigaty for her hard work in leading the charge. She made no compromises.  She insisted on provisions for education and the arts, and – perhaps most important – made sure that the delivery of all these community benefits is enforceable by law.

Mary Kay has been endorsed by the Howard County Education Association, Howard County Professional Firefighters Association, Howard County Police Officers Association, AFL-CIO Baltimore Metropolitan Council, Columbia Democratic Club, and the Western Howard County Democratic Club.  She was endorsed TWICE by African Americans in Howard County.   She was also endorsed by County Executive Ken Ulman, Senator Jim Robey, Delegate Guy Guzzone, Delegate Shane Pendergrass, Delegate Frank Turner, the Columbia Flier, Howard County Times, and numerous local bloggers.

We add our endorsement to that long list along with a big “Thank You” to Mary Kay for all that she has done to make sure the next generation isn’t the last generation in Columbia.

In 2010, our County Council voted YES to our future.  On Tuesday, September 14th, vote YES to our County Council.

When Less is Not More

Mike Davis of New City Alliance contacted us yesterday after his Letter to the Editor appeared in the print version of the Columbia Flier.  He was disappointed at the edited version that appeared in print, which seems to be more about Kimco’s plans for the Wilde Lake Village Center, and less in support of Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty.

He explained that his intent was to respond to Mike Berla’s letter from August 5th, which Mike Davis, a longtime Wilde Lake resident who has followed the village center saga closely, took issue with.

(We remember Berla’s letter itself and were so amazed at how it misrepresented the facts, we’ve got to admit, we just rolled our eyes and moved on.)

So, Mike sent us both versions of his response, which appear below.  Draw your own conclusions.

Dear Editor:

The silly season is surely upon us, for nothing could have been more silly than Mike Berla’s letter about Kimco’s proposal for Wilde Lake Village Center (Flier, August 5th).  The premises set forth by Mr. Berla were so erroneous that no reasonable conclusion can be drawn from them.

First, Mary Kay Sigaty did not sponsor any legislation regarding the village centers. What she did do was to take a bill that was filed by Kimco and, working with the community and the other members of the County Council, help craft a bill that provided real and substantial community input into any significant redesign of a village center.  This opportunity for community input did not exist before.

Second, Kimco has at least two hurdles to jump before any construction can begin.  It must get approval from the village board’s architectural committee for covenant compliance, and it must satisfy the County’s requirements as set forth in the new legislation.  Should Kimco choose to ignore community input in this process, it does so at its own peril.

Third, the process that Kimco and the Wilde Lake Village Board are going through right now reflects how much community input there really is under the new legislation.  One evening session and three listening sessions have just been completed, providing residents the opportunity to give feedback, with more opportunities to come.

Finally, the proof must surely be in the pudding.  While everyone may not like the current design that has been rendered by Kimco, there is universal agreement that Kimco did incorporate community input into that design.

Building a case against Mary Kay Sigaty, as Mr. Berla has attempted to do, is difficult because Ms. Sigaty has done a tremendous job of representing her constituents in Wilde Lake and the rest of her district.  Maybe that’s why Mr. Berla must resort to twisting the facts to suit his purpose.

Michael W. Davis

Wilde Lake Village

UPDATE: last night, the Flier printed Mike’s letter in full in its online version.  You can see it here. Thanks, Flier!

Liz Bobo: Almost as bewildered as we are

On July 6, we read that Columbia Association officials have pushed back the start date on construction of a redeveloped Symphony Woods due to what they are calling the “difficulty of navigating the new county laws governing that plan.”  CA Board chair Cynthia Coyle couldn’t understand why CA would be held to the same planning process as everyone else.


Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, said she was unsure if pushing back the start date on the park would threaten the state funding, which was intended for “shovel-ready” projects.

Although she said she had never heard of bond money being withheld, she said the legislature, “was very precise about its criteria for bond bills. There weren’t that many because money is tight.”

Eligible projects, she said, were required to be planned and ready to begin, thus providing immediate jobs, and awarded matching funds from another source.

“We certainly presented the (Symphony Woods) project as one that’s ready to go and I believe we were telling the truth,” she said of vetting the project in Annapolis last winter.  …

“Here they are, ready to go,” she said. “I’m bewildered by it.”

You’re bewildered, Liz?  Not as much as we are.

First, how could she call this project “shovel-ready” or “ready to go” when the deadline for proposals for landscape architecture, planning, and engineering services was just twelve days ago, on Thursday, July 29?

CA Website 7/28/10

Shovel ready?  The process has barely even begun.  Typically, between concept plan and “ready to go” is about six months: the actual design work ending in final, approved site plans; the bidding process; the awarding of the construction agreement(s); and – most important – the sometimes thorny process of regulatory approval, which includes approval through Planning and Zoning or Inspection Services.  For our park, this process is further complicated by a very sensitive environmental component.

Second, a look at the Bond Bill Fact Sheet reveals that construction was slated to begin in April 2011 – and to continue until summer of 2014, beginning with Phase 1 (a plaza and promenade), then onto Phase 2 (a fountain, parking lot, etc.), and, finally, “future phases” that include, among other things, a play area and small cafe.  So where is the holdup if the groundbreaking date hasn’t changed since the bill was passed, months before this article appeared?

2010 Bond Bill Fact Sheet

Third, the state deadline for spending the money is seven years away. This is typical, since capital dollars from the State are hardly required to be “shovel ready” like stimulus projects but rather are for community enhancement projects that take years to build.

Another fun fact: the total cost is estimated at $4,528,000.

Delegate Bobo says she told the state the project was ready to go four months ago.  In July, CA blamed the county for delaying its project.  And yet, twelve days ago, designers and planners for the project hadn’t even been hired, let alone begun the designing and planning process.

Furthermore, the delegate implies that the funds are being jeopardized because of this imaginary delay due to “very precise” state criteria about the readiness of the project.  This implication simply does not follow from a bill that allows seven years for the money to be spent and which includes “design” of the park in its description.

So: why so many discrepancies?  We are just bewildered.

UPDATE: HoCoRising and Wordbones have picked up this story with these respective postings: “Is CA doing a good job?” and “Careening out of Control” (which, incidentally, has quite a heated debate going on in the comments section!)  Get in on the discussion!

CA, why hide it? You’re making a good decision here!

The Columbia Association recently created a new Community Development Service Bureau, which, according to this article in the Flier, is “tasked with overseeing CA’s role in the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, as well as master planning and revitalization projects throughout Columbia.”   A little slow on the uptake here, as the redevelopment has been in the planning process for over five years, but kudos to CA for (eventually) doing something that makes sense.

The creation of the bureau includes a new position for Community Planner, which is where Jane Dembner comes in.  She seems to have the expertise and experience to do a great job.  As someone who rides her bike three miles to work on a regular basis, she says improved connectivity is one of her goals (which is fitting, since connectivity is a signature goal of the downtown redevelopment.)  She says, “Columbia was planned by a very visionary person.  CA hasn’t had this position before because it was a planned community. … I do think we have a great start. But how do we expand that?”

Our question is: what is the Community Development Service Bureau? For what seems like such a significant and timely new organization, we couldn’t really find out anything about it online, other than that Phil Nelson mentioned it back in February, and $350,000 was proposed for it every year in the budget back in January.  It is kind of strange that CA doesn’t have any more information about it available publicly, but maybe we are just missing something.  Does anyone have information on this?  E-mail us at if you do!

Seems like this could be a great opportunity for everyone.

UPDATE: Columbia Association’s Manager for Communications & Community Relations Division responded by e-mail to our post above.  Below is what she had to say.  (And thank you to her for the response!)

Thank you for your interest in CA’s Community Development Service Bureau.  We are enthused by the level of talent and passion that our two newest team members, Jane Dembner and John McCoy, will bring to the organization.

In January 2010, CA’s organizational structure was modified to better address the needs of our internal and external stakeholders. This concept, titled the “Service Bureau Model,” was designed to encourage CA divisions and departments to work together, combining knowledge, expertise and resources. Committees comprised of team members representing various divisions within the organization are often formed to collaborate and exchange ideas on major projects and initiatives.  One component in this reorganization was the creation of a Community Development Service Bureau (now the Community Development/Sustainability Service Bureau). This was created largely in response to the overwhelming feedback we got from the Villages who requested assistance with Master Planning and zoning issues.  Recently, we expanded the scope of this service bureau to encompass both Community Development and Sustainability in response to the citizen-driven request for a Watershed Manager and CA’s strategic direction in sustainable operations and programs.  The Watershed Manager is responsible for implementing the programs and projects in the Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan and furthering that work beyond the present initiatives in that plan for future sustainable water quality initiatives, improving the quality of all water bodies in Columbia.

The Service Bureau is also responsible for leading CA’s going green program; acting as the liaison to the county, state and federal government for CA’s Emergency Preparedness and resiliency programs; and coordinating CA’s Capital Improvements Program including our aging infrastructure.  All of this is performed by existing experienced professional CA team members, along with Jane Dembner, our new Director of Community Planning, and John McCoy, our new Watershed Manager who form the core of this Service Bureau.

While we are working to make this information even more accessible on the main CA website,, we do have a robust web site devoted to our watershed efforts,  As the bureau continues to develop and CA strengthens its going green-sustainability and community planning efforts, we look forward to updating our site with additional content on a regular basis.

A Unilateral Plan

Columbia is characterized as being created from the very best community planning processes available. Our county’s planning process has been a thorough one, from Jim Rouse’s original, painstaking planning of this first community of its kind, to the five-year process we’ve just completed for the revitalization of Columbia’s downtown. Indeed, this most recent planning process was one of the most extensive planning processes in the history of Maryland. We are proud of our planning process, which is meant to ensure that nothing is rushed through, that every perspective is given equal consideration.

Some of the most vocal advocates of an extended planning process sit on the CA Board, including at least two members who collected signatures in an effort to take our downtown plan to a referendum by voters after it had been passed unanimously by the County Council with overwhelming public support. Time and time again, the folks on that side made unsubstantiated arguments that the process was being circumvented or hurried along and that the county was giving the developer special treatment.

Now, in a sudden rush to redevelop Symphony Woods – which the CA Board has neglected for decades – these members of the CA Board are expressing surprise that they, too, should held to the standards established in our community’s planning process – the same standards they so vigorously upheld when applied to someone else.  The Board is asking to skip certain steps in the planning process, while pointing fingers at the county for “holding up” its rush plan.

Previously, the Board had opted out of the opportunity to participate with the community and the county during the planning of downtown, which included funding from the developer for special projects just like this. Instead, CA procured $250,000 in taxpayer money, and an equal amount in anonymous private funds, to draft its own plan with minimal, if any, community input. It is not clear yet how the remainder of the *$2 million plan will be funded, nor is it clear who exactly formed the consensus on the plan aside from, presumably, the eleven members of the board.

Why does the CA Board think it is exempt from the planning process?

*UPDATE: CA’s plan for Symphony Woods is budgeted at $4.5 million.

Symphony Woods: a difference in perspective

Last week I read with amusement the portrayal of Symphony Woods as “open-space parkland” in a letter to the editor in the Columbia Flier.  That description is a little far-fetched for a place that has become basically a walk-through to Merriweather and hosts one community event a year.  It may be open space, but it’s not a park.  A park implies people.  There are almost no people in Symphony Woods.  For most of the year, it’s neglected and it’s empty.  Take a look at the video (below) my sister and I made last year.  It says it all.

Brian Dunn

Update on GGP

Analysts say a post-bankruptcy General Growth will have “significantly lower debt that is better capitalized and more focused. It’s going to be back to business as usual.”

Full Story (Baltimore Sun) here