A tale of two celebrations

May 31, 2010 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music, Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

It was a memorable Memorial Day weekend, and the many methods of celebration provided a contrast in styles.

Yesterday I found myself at an American Legion post outside Millsboro, Delaware for the Concert for a Random Soldier.

Just as the sign says, this is the Concert for a Random Soldier. A total of nine bands participated, with some players also doing some solo work.

From the reports given, this concert gets more participation and attendance each year.

It was a pretty full house under the pavilion at American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro, Delaware.

Some people got up and danced the day away. Later this week I’ll do a separate Weekend of Local Rock post, but here’s the reaction to one of the bands, 8 Track Flashback.

This couple enjoyed the oldies played by one of the participating bands, 8 Track Flashback.

It was a pretty day and venue.

Looking at the venue from the parking lot. The pavilion is about three years old and proved to be a fine venue on a sunny day.

Yet there was more to do than just listen to music. They had plenty of food for sale as well.

How about some bratwurst? This was just one of the things you could eat at the Concert for a Random Soldier.

Or you could take in the car show; this one was my personal favorite.

Aaaaah, the era before OPEC raised its ugly head. This is a sharp Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 convertible from 1972.

How about buying a shirt? Actually, this is what I wore today to the following subject of my post.

For a donation, you could buy an event shirt. The nice thing is having the band list to see who helped out.

The beneficiary foundation was named after a local soldier who was killed in action.

The foundation gets the money, but the proceeds from this event were going to a group called Guitars for Vets.

His mother, Terri Clifton, spearheaded the event after Chad was killed in 2005. From humble beginnings it’s grown over the last 4 years.

Event organizer and Gold Star Mother Terri Clifton.

In truth there were actually nine bands since one dropped at the last minute, but it made for a full day of music. Nor is this the only event the Chad Clifton Foundation holds.

A 5-K run in July might not be the first thing on my to-do list, but for those in military shape it should be a piece of cake.

The final picture in my Concert for a Random Soldier story is just because.

I just liked the picture of the tank and flag, that's all.

Perhaps it leads me into my description of this morning’s events at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Unlike the growth and change in the Concert for a Random Soldier over the last four years, Wicomico County’s commemoration ceremony changes little from year to year, even to the point of many participants being longtime veterans of the event itself. One example: Tony Sarbanes as master of ceremonies.

As has been the case each year, former County Councilman Tony Sarbanes served as master of ceremonies.

The Junior ROTC provides the manpower to lower the flags to half-staff.

JROTC cadets stand at attention after lowering the flags at the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

Unfortunately, the oppressive heat claimed one of their numbers as a casualty, but she was relieved quickly and the ceremony carried on without her. Seemingly the event is always held on a warm, muggy morning.

Those who are various members of the military are recognized, along with elected officials. We also get representatives from the offices of Maryland’s Senators and Congressman Frank Kratovil.

County Executive Richard Pollitt (center) looks on during the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

A group of county elected officials look on during the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony. From left is County Councilman David MacLeod, a man I cannot identify, County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich, County Councilman John Cannon, Sheriff Mike Lewis, and County Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman. County Councilman Joe Holloway, State's Attorney Davis Ruark, and Delegates Norm Conway and Jim Mathias were also present.

After prayers to represent each branch of the military, we moved on to the tolling of the Red Knights Memorial Bell and reading of the names of Wicomico County’s fallen. These tasks have always been done by John Lynch and Ed Tattersall, respectively.

John Lynch always doubts he'll see the next year's ceremony but he hasn't been right on that yet. He tolled the Red Knights Memorial Bell at the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

Ed Tattersall recites the names of nearly 190 Wicomico County citizens killed in war since World War I at the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

While Matthew Wallace plays ‘Amazing Grace’ a wreath is brought forth to a place of honor.

Matthew Wallace plays 'Amazing Grace' on his bagpipes during the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

The wreath used at Wicomico County's Memorial Day ceremony.

The Wicomico County Sheriff Department has a detail which handles the volley of arms.

The volley of arms is performed by a trio from the Wicomico County Sheriff's Department.

One change comes in the duo playing “Taps.” This year it’s Isaiah Oakley and John Jochum doing the honors.

The mournful sound of 'Taps' being performed at the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony, May 31, 2010.

With that, we hear the benediction (as always, performed by the Reverend J. Harvey Dixon) and we move on.

Most linger a little while to catch up with old friends; sadly, in more and more cases each year’s ceremony is the last for a certain number of World War II and Korean War veterans, with Vietnam veterans not that far behind in getting older and grayer. Soon it will be up to those who have survived the wars of my generation fought in the Middle East to carry on the tradition – including those contemporaries of Chad Clifton.

They will inherit a tradition left in good hands by those who fought decades or even a half-century ago. But even they simply carried on a line of honor unbroken since the aftermath of the War Between the States and I’m faithful in my belief that the torch will passed on to yet another Greatest Generation. While a concert may break from a solemn tradition, it is one way to remember the fallen and a reminder that there’s no “right way” to honor those who served.

Congress vs. the oil industry

May 30, 2010 · Posted in Liberty Features Syndicate · 2 Comments 

It’s beyond question that the oil industry is down on its luck right now, and the black eye received from the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico is a shiner which will stay on its public face for quite awhile. And while radio host Stephanie Miller claimed the Gulf oil spill as proof that “God is a Democrat,” the Democrats who sit among us mere mortals in Congress are taking direct aim at what they sneeringly call “Big Oil” with two particularly punitive measures.

With Democrats’ first try at cap-and-trade (better known as Waxman-Markey) stalling in the Senate after a contentious House vote, last week Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman brought forth their version of energy legislation. Originally sponsorship crossed party lines when Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, agreed to back the bill, but Graham withdrew his support when Senate leader Harry Reid decided to press for passage of immigration reform rather than this measure.

That’s not to say Graham would be staunchly against the proposal. But the sticking point he sees is that, “problems created by the historic oil spill in the Gulf…have made it extremely difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and climate to garner bipartisan support at this time.” Predictably, Democrats representing waterfront states like Florida, New Jersey, and Maryland are already coming out dead set against the additional oil exploration included in Kerry-Lieberman, a tradeoff intended to get Republicans to support a bill which would levy taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and, as studies have concluded, be a net job loser.

Moreover, Kerry-Lieberman gives a rare nod to states’ rights from the liberal side, allowing affected states more liberty to curtail or cease oil exploration off their shores. It’s a complete turnaround in one month’s time – only a few weeks ago the oil industry was cautiously optimistic about the Obama Administration allowing exploration in certain leaseholds to go ahead beginning in 2012. Needless to say, those ambitious plans are on hold after White House adviser David Axelrod warned, “no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what has happened (with the Deepwater Horizon).”

A second Congressional attack on the energy industry in the accident’s aftermath comes from their bid to bolster a little-known federal fund called the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF). Created by Congress in 1986, the OSTLF lay dormant until 1990, when in the wake of the Exxon Valdez tanker accident a per barrel tax was levied on petroleum produced or imported into the United States. Currently oil companies pay eight cents per barrel toward this fund. In addition, there is a limitation on liability of $75 million per incident for economic damages – companies already have to shoulder the actual cleanup costs.

But a new proposal would devastate small- and mid-size oil companies, forcing them out of business by increasing the prospective liability to $10 billion. Naturally, the OSTLF would be increased as well through the possible fourfold increase of the per-barrel tax to 32 cents, but the additional revenue may not necessarily go to the OSTLF – proceeds could be spent on other projects Congress deems worthy of funding.

These are just two of the more egregious examples of how Congress wants to punish Big Oil for the sin of having a tragic accident occur on an offshore platform. The federal government has done its part to assist British Petroleum in coping with the accident and its aftermath, so there’s no need for Congress to exert another pound of flesh from an apologetic industry.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This piece was made available to LFS clients on May 20.

The industry side

As you likely know, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy President Obama placed a halt on proposed oil exploration off the Virginia coast, among other places. While some shortsighted elected officials in Washington cheered the news, the actual producers of society were not as pleased. One example is Jack Gerard, President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute:

“We understand the concerns many people have about offshore drilling in the wake of this incident, and the frustration many feel toward oil companies. But this issue is much larger than the oil industry, since access to affordable energy impacts every sector of our economy, every state in our nation and every American family. Further, thousands of products – from toothpaste to iPods, cell phones to computers, and vitamins to vegetables – use oil and natural gas as a feedstock in the manufacturing process.

An extended moratorium on safely producing our oil and natural gas resources from the Gulf of Mexico would create a moratorium on economic growth and job creation – especially in the Gulf States whose people and economies have already been most affected by the oil spill – by undercutting our nation’s access to affordable, reliable, domestic sources of oil and natural gas.

Deepwater development is a key component of domestic energy security. In 2007, deepwater provided 70 percent of the oil and 36 percent of the natural gas from overall federal Gulf of Mexico production. The 20 most prolific producing blocks in the Gulf are located in deepwater.

Additional moves to curtail domestic production by postponing exploration and development off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia, as well as areas in the Gulf, have the potential to significantly erode our energy and economic security.

Decisions that impact the industry’s ability to produce the oil and natural gas this country needs in every sector of our economy and in every household in this country will affect the lives of every citizen, every day. We will encourage the administration and Congress to reconsider any decisions that would place previously available lease areas off limits, and to ensure that there is a process and a timeline for revisiting decisions that impact our energy and economic future.” (All emphasis in original.)

There’s no question that what happened to the Deepwater Horizon was unprecedented (not to mention tragic, as the 11 people who perished in the explosion seem to have become but collateral damage to the overall cause of killing the energy industry) and will be catastrophic for some time to the Gulf region. But on balance, the region has been helped more than hurt by the oil and natural gas industry for decades, and thousands of rigs have and continue to work safely despite the onset of hurricanes and shutdowns for routine maintenance for years. There’s 3,500 rigs out there in the Gulf.

In my view, this ban is akin to not rebuilding the city of Salisbury after the Great Fire of 1886 or abandoning the space program after the Challenger disaster. In both instances, we took a short pause to learn from the mistakes but redoubled our efforts for improvement. We didn’t simply throw in the towel and persuade ourselves that it can’t be done.

Yet, because the environmentalists want to preserve their precious ocean view and push drilling 50 miles or more offshore, the vast majority of the areas they allow oil exploration within will have these same issues of deepwater drilling. Two-thirds of the area off Virginia where Lease Sale 220 was to occur has ocean depths of 5,000 feet or more, similar to the Deepwater Horizon’s wellhead. (But they don’t complain as much about windmills which would be much closer to shore and tower close to 150 feet over the waterline as well – never mind their real threat to bird life.)

If President Obama and his minions use the Deepwater Horizon incident for a complete stoppage of oil exploration, not only would gasoline suddenly become more expensive but thousands of workers would be placed on the unemployment line. There’s no way we have nearly enough “green” jobs online for these specialized workers to take, but no one feels sorry for those future unemployed – especially in comparison to the sympathy being drummed up for the watermen along the Gulf coast. Certainly this is a tough row to hoe for those who make their living harvesting shrimp, but in many respects they are having the sort of year a farmer does when the skies don’t open up and pour rain on the crops.

One has to wonder what the true motivation is behind the reaction to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and ponder what other leaders would do in such a situation. If offshore drilling is such a bad deal, then perhaps it’s time to look at other methods of getting oil and natural gas like taking advantage of oil shale out west or even the natural gas from the nearby Marcellus formation which crosses the western edge of our very state. Streamline the processes for getting that done instead of putting up roadblocks.

Perhaps the most bitter irony about a Gulf drilling moratorium (should one occur) is that it won’t stop other players like Mexico or Cuba from exploring in their waters. In fact, they may exploit our hesitation to increase their efforts and they’re truly not going to care about the risk of environmental damage to nearly the extent we take care to prevent it.

Until April 20, the American oil industry in the Gulf had a stellar record of safety. Let’s allow them to get back on the horse and do what’s best for our economy.

Friday night videos – episode 34

May 28, 2010 · Posted in Campaign 2010, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Friday night videos – episode 34 

This oughta be an interesting one, kids. Let’s see what trouble I can dredge up this weekend as we ease into summer.

I’ll begin with an issue which is sure to be contentious this summer – the lack of fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C. The group is called “Bankrupting America” and the process of doing so is what Congress seems to be ignoring in favor of these pressing issues detailed. Call it fiddling while Rome burns.

But Newt Gingrich has some solutions to what ails us, does he not? Or is he just pimping his new book? You decide.

Yet there are others profiting on the other side. We had no idea public service could be so, well, self-serving. Check this out from Americans for Limited Government.

Then again, there are many in Maryland who would be happy just to have a job. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have a very business-friendly government as Americans for Prosperity points out.

Yeah, we lost that fight. But another is brewing over illegal immigration. As one example, check out the Center for Individual Freedom’s take on the Arizona immigration law, SB1070.Yet illegal immigration is a battleground for Maryland voters as well, as a 17 year old videographer suggests by her coverage of a rally of those who want the borders secured.

This time I’m going to wrap up, not with a song, but with a video Bob McCarty (a veteran himself) did about the preparations for Memorial Day at a cemetery not far from his Missouri home.

As for me, I’ll probably be at the Wicomico County observance Monday morning. Hopefully neither our aging veterans (nor the JROTC regulars who tend the flags) won’t wilt in the predicted heat.

With that, I’ll be back with more videos in a week or so.

Media, part 2: Wargotz on health care

May 28, 2010 · Posted in Wicomico County Examiner · Comments Off on Media, part 2: Wargotz on health care 

With the third in a continuing series of radio spots (playing in selected markets, I’m told WQMR-FM out of Ocean City is carrying the commercials,) U.S. Senate candidate Eric Wargotz looks at health care.

While the cutest line in the 60-second spot is, “Washington’s plan is about mandates and consequences, imposed by 16,000 new IRS agents. And the Internal Revenue Service is not known for having a compassionate bedside manner,” Wargotz stays with the fairly standard Republican and conservative prescriptions for change: medical savings accounts, the opening up of the insurance market by allowing sale of policies across state lines, policy portability and tort reform.

(Continued on my Examiner.com page…)

Kratovil joins bid to overturn ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

May 28, 2010 · Posted in Baltimore Examiner · Comments Off on Kratovil joins bid to overturn ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ 

While it wasn’t a strictly party-line vote outside of the Maryland delegation, Frank Kratovil joined his other six Democratic colleagues from the Free State in voting for an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to overturn the Clinton-era ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for gays in the military, with certain conditions.

(continued on my Examiner.com page…)

Shorebird of the Week – May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird of the Week – May 27, 2010 

Steve Bumbry shares a smile with some of his new teammates in this photo taken before an April 6 exhibition game.

Steve Bumbry takes a moment to gather his thoughts before stepping back in during this game in April. Photo by Kim Corkran.

Few people have as high of expectations placed on them as the son of a big league ballplayer. Add in the pressure of being drafted by your father’s former team and there’s no doubt that thousands of Oriole fans were expecting to hear the name Steve Bumbry in an Oriole lineup, most believing it would occur sooner rather than later.

But the younger Bumbry has a long way to go. Drafted out of Virginia Tech last year in the 12th round, thus far the fact that he was a Hokie during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting tragedy has drawn nearly as much attention as his exploits on the baseball field. Then again, hitting only .234/2/10 at Aberdeen in 45 games isn’t particularly noteworthy.

Steve has finally picked up his stride this year, though. Through nearly the same number of games (42 vs. 45) Bumbry has matched or exceeded almost all of his offensive numbers from 2009 – only his lack of home runs sticks out, but that will likely change as the weather warms and ball carries better. Carrying a .280 average through last night’s game, Steve has shown that he has some power potential with 11 doubles and 3 triples scattered among his 40 hits.

As with most young hitters, the keys to success for Bumbry will be having him cut down on strikeouts (54 so far) and perhaps becoming more observant as one quite familiar with his development noted on the Shorebirds blog. Since Steve just turned 22 right before the start of the season he’s nicely on pace with his development.

But when you note that his dad was drafted in a similar round (11th round/1968)  and took several years to develop before he arrived in the bigs for good (1973 Rookie of the Year), it’s not out of the question that there may again be a Bumbry in the Orioles’ oufield (for the first time since 1984) in two to three seasons.

The Andy Harris ‘job interview’

…was cleverly disguised as an Americans for Prosperity meeting.

Last night over 100 people jammed into the back rooms of Brew River to have an opportunity to ask questions of the man who wants to be our next Congressman and avenge his close defeat by current Rep. Frank Kratovil.

This should give you an idea of how the rooms were packed once the meeting got rolling.

But first, we had to sit through some brief remarks by both AFP Wicomico co-chair Julie Brewington and chapter historian Eileen Lenehan to bring the newcomers (about 15 to 20) up to speed. In particular, Julie told those gathered that “2010 was game time” for those of us who believe in Constitutional, limited government. Eileen wanted us to ponder whether, “does (a candidate) believe God is in charge or man is in charge?” Those who believed in a higher power were more likely to favor limited government.

This billboard will greet travelers leaving Ocean City beginning next month.

Steve Lind of the Worcester chapter of AFP alerted us to a new billboard which Wicomico members helped to support. This will be located just west of the intersection of U.S. 50 and State Route 589 for those traveling westbound, away from Ocean City. Nothing like putting those already leaving a fun-filled vacation in a more serious state of mind.

The chapter is also holding a street party on July 3rd at the corner of U.S. 50 and State Route 611, with more details to follow.

As a warm-up to State Senator Harris, we heard from the newly filed for re-election Joe Holloway.

District 5 County Council member Joe Holloway gave us the rundown on county issues.

In recalling his 3-plus years on County Council, Holloway likened it to a “secret society” at times, but revealed that the people are his key source of information – his job was to determine how accurate the information was and act accordingly. Holloway vowed to continue to “work for the people of Wicomico County.”

Asked about the fate of the new library, Holloway said it was “dead” and was concerned that, “when something new is needed, something old is neglected.” (Perhaps Joe read the post I cited above.)

“We’re gonna get that done,” said Joe in response to a question about night meetings. And when asked about the relationship between the County Executive and County Council, Joe conceded, “there’s been some tension” but overall having a County Executive was, “good if we have the right one.” What we in Wicomico County, “need (is) a good dose of conservatism.”

State Senator and Congressional candidate Andy Harris speaks before the Americans for Prosperity meeting, May 26, 2010.

Andy Harris was given about 15 minutes to make opening remarks before the volley of questions began. In that time he chose to briefly touch on foreign policy, including the strife between the Koreas, the broken promise of a missile shield for Eastern Europe, and our allies in Brazil and Turkey assisting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Turning to domestic issues, Andy noted that his parents escaped communism in postwar Europe but have noticed some of the same things happening here. Washington has, “systematically dismantled in American Dream” in the last year and a half, but also noted that “if they (the 50% with no tax liability) work harder in this election, they win.”

Naturally, Andy derided the stimulus as an “incredibly bad move” since unemployment zoomed beyond the promised 8 percent total even with $500 billion or so spent. Andy proposed the remainder go toward an across-the-board tax cut to help the economy. It would allow average Americans to pick the winners and losers of our economy instead of the government doing so.

State Senator and Congressional candidate Andy Harris speaks before the Americans for Prosperity meeting, May 26, 2010.

The format had Andy speed through a number of upcoming issues such as cap-and-trade (“job creation for India and China”), Obamacare (a bill which “will eliminate private health insurance” and already influences capital decisions by hospitals), and pending financial regulations (“‘too big to fail’ should not be in our vocabulary.”) Andy concluded, “‘America the bankrupt’ is absolutely correct.”

A dozen people were fortunate enough to ask questions, and some of the best are detailed below. First out of the chute was a question on border security and illegal immigration.

Andy didn’t think they’d be crazy enough to take up amnesty in this edition of Congress, but noted that our system is “the worst of all systems” by limiting people who would be productive but rewarding those who were a net drain. States should be following Arizona’s lead.

Which agencies would Andy work to abolish? The Department of Education, Andy emphatically stated, and it might not be a bad thing to eliminate it at the state level, either. His point: education guidance should be local since it’s closest to the parent and student. Perhaps the Department of Energy could go, too, or at least be downsized.

On the union pension bailout, Andy would vote no even as part of a larger bill. But the bill may not have enough votes to pass anyway. Harris decried it as another effort to have the government pick winners and losers, and revealed that only 5% of the families in the First District were union families – they just happen to be among the most politically active.

Is the government governing against the will of the people? The framers of the Constitution understood human nature perfectly, so they allowed the people to have their say on a frequent basis. Andy did say that, “once we get to July 4th we can breathe a sigh of relief” because of the nearness of the election. But he also warned us to watch out for the lame-duck session after the election.

State Senator and Congressional candidate Andy Harris speaks before the Americans for Prosperity meeting, May 26, 2010.

When asked about the decline of America, Andy retorted that we’re “still the best country on the planet” and we just “need to return to our blueprint.” Again, the “Constitution was about human nature.”

Perhaps the biggest “trap” question was one Andy answered neatly. When asked “why can’t we get Obama out” Andy simply said, “we made a mistake” but we can “change the country the old-fashioned way – at the ballot box.”

We also found out that Andy would’ve voted to audit the Federal Reserve, would “absolutely support a flat tax” and back the FairTax if the 16th Amendment were repealed first – with a sales tax “everyone has skin in the game” and, the questioner added, it encourages savings.

Besides a number of local bloggers including yours truly, the mainstream media was out to get remarks from Andy as well.

One interesting Constitutional query: is a social safety net legitimate under the Constitution? Andy didn’t answer the question directly but advocated ways to make them “actuarily sound.” Perhaps Social Security could be made a defined contribution system at some later date; otherwise Andy’s 26-year-old son is convinced he’ll get no Social Security. (I’m 45 and convinced I won’t either.) Harris related how he tried to get the state’s General Assembly pension system switched from defined benefit to defined contribution and was called to Mike Miller’s office about it. (The amendment failed on a party-line vote.)

After Harris finished (and actually pretty close to schedule), we were briefed on next month’s meeting. Bill Satterfield of Delmarva Poultry Industry will speak on (what else?) the poultry industry.

We were also alerted to a national event, the Defending the Dream Summit, to be held in Washington, D.C. August 27 and 28.

Another rising phenomenon is the number of candidates coming to the meetings, attempting to entice the conservative vote. Besides the two candidates who spoke, seen were Council hopefuls Gail Bartkovich and Ryan Hohman, County Executive aspirant Joe Ollinger, and District 37A candidate Bob McCarroll.

Wonder if this is why we didn't have the meeting outside?

And perhaps I found out why we have the meetings at Brew River now. The next one is June 23rd.

State bails out Wicomico County (for now)

May 26, 2010 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on State bails out Wicomico County (for now) 

First the release:

Following a 9:30 A.M. appearance (yesterday) by Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt, Jr. and Director of Finance Patricia Petersen before the Maryland State Board of Education in Baltimore, the Board voted 8-to-4 in favor of granting a waiver on the county’s Maintenance of Effort requirement for education funding. The Wicomico County Board of Education will now receive an additional $1.5 Million in state funds.

Upon receiving the news of the positive vote, Mr. Pollitt said, “Against all odds, we were able to persuade the Board that Wicomico County would not be able to provide its required share of funding to our K-12 school children in next year’s budget.  I suggested to them that they could mitigate the impact of county cuts somewhat by granting the waiver.  We are delighted that the State Board agreed and that our school program will receive the extra funding.”

Of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, only Wicomico and Montgomery counties sought the MOE waiver.

But the long-term answer isn’t going to begging hat in hand to the state because as you may recall the waiver was denied last year – luckily the BoE “found” the money to keep itself running with its full budget. Instead, we need to adopt a two-pronged solution to addressing this problem long-term.

One part would be to minimize the budget where possible, starting with lopping off a top-heavy administration. Perhaps the idea of lengthening the school day but shortening the school week so fewer bus trips are required is worth exploring. And I don’t think increasing the class size is a bad idea, either. Why not see where private schools succeed while public schools fail?

But the second part of the solution lies in the state of Maryland. Someone needs to stand up to the court which dictated the funding formula to our state (and led to the Thornton Commission law) and ask the plaintiffs (a group which included ACORN) to prove that more money equals a better result. Put them on the defensive because their “stunning victory” is burying the average taxpayer.

The problem with having to deal with Maintenance of Effort (as I understand it) is that education spending can NEVER go down – the amount of money required is equal to the previous year’s. In cases where funding for the next year is dependent on the spending for this one, nine times out of ten (and maybe even 99 of 100) the agency or bureau will spend money at the end of the fiscal year on wasteful items just for the sake of spending it and not losing its allocation.

As we’ve proven with this recession, throwing money at a problem does little to solve it but instead discourages innovative thinking. Yes, Wicomico County dodged a bullet this time but the long-term solution is to disarm those who are robbing the taxpayers blind.

MDGOP overreaches on oil spill criticism

May 26, 2010 · Posted in Baltimore Examiner · Comments Off on MDGOP overreaches on oil spill criticism 

Playing on the emotion of the Gulf oil spill, the Maryland Republican Party blasted Governor O’Malley for raiding money from the state’s Oil Disaster Clean Up Fund. Out of $4.8 million in the ODCU fund, O’Malley sought to move $2.2 million before the General Assembly cut the transfer to an even $1 million.

In reading the release, one may think of a primordial black ooze seeping onto the beaches of Assateague and Ocean City when in reality we may see a few stray tar balls, according to a University of Maryland researcher. 

Certainly it’s acceptable for the state to have money on hand for such a cleanup, particularly when nasty spills have occurred in the fairly recent past.

(continued on my Examiner.com page…)

Living with our library

May 25, 2010 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · 2 Comments 

In a post last week, I detailed how the Wicomico Public Library put its plans for a new main branch on hold. While there’s a segment of the population who would dearly like to see a new library – to many of them, preferably located in downtown Salisbury – the reality finally struck that economic conditions aren’t conducive to Wicomico County putting themselves another $30 million or so in debt.

Via communication with WPL Director Tom Hehman, I received a copy of the evaluation done on the main library building downtown a couple years back. Bethesda-based Grimm+Parker Architects (couldn’t a local firm be found?) did the study and looked at three options: renovating and adding to the existing library, replacing the library with a new building on the same site, and building a new facility on a remote site.

The first bone of contention is that: 

Library space needs should be based upon a nationally recognized standard of providing between a minimum of .8 sf to 1 sf of library space per capita.

It doesn’t say whose standard that is – it could be the standard made up by someone who wants every library to be the Cadillac of libraries. Even so, the number arrived at by Grimm+Parker came out to 72,361 square feet if the existing building is renovated, where the existing library building is 55,175 square feet. So a simple renovation wouldn’t be enough.

One piece of the puzzle I wasn’t aware of (not being native to Salisbury) is that the main WPL building itself is comprised of two pieces – the original armory building which dates from 1917 (renovated to become the library in 1969) and an addition built in 1979. Newcomers like me wouldn’t realize that the old armory was included because the 1979 addition encompassed almost all of the original armory, which comprises just under half the space.

The major deficiencies found by the Grimm+Parker study were:

  • a structural system insufficient to meet modern code demands for library stack space
  • outmoded HVAC systems (for the most part installed with the 1979 renovation)
  • lack of compliance to ADA and accessibility codes

Obviously the architects of the 1979 renovation would have built the library per the codes in place at the time, a time which preceded the advent of combined, international building codes stressing energy efficiency and handicapped accessibility. This is the deceiving part of the study – while the building certainly shows its age (just by looking at it I could tell it was a building from the 1970’s without knowing its history) there’s little chance of a catastrophic structural disaster occurring in the next 5 to 10 years since building codes have always factored a margin of safety in with the calculations done to write them. If the structure currently shows no outward signs of failure the building should remain serviceable (if not the utmost in efficient) for the next decade.

In fact, the impetus which almost compels the county to eventually build a new library isn’t the condition of the old building but the fact that the county is boxed in by those very building codes which keep pushing the envelope farther in terms of energy efficiency, accessibility, and structural requirements. The Grimm+Parker study comes to this conclusion:

Any renovation that attempts to resolve serious building code or programmatic deficiencies will require full compliance with the 2006 IBC. The existing structures were designed to the building codes in place at that time and as such they were fine at that time. However, building codes have evolved significantly. IBC 2006 requires that the library structure be brought up to contemporary structural codes which require the building structure to withstand lateral and seismic forces that it was not originally designed to withstand.

Remedial structural reinforcement will be extensive throughout the structure and disruptive within the spaces because it will be adding on to an existing structure that will need to be reinforced to carry the new loads.

(Note: since the study was done in 2008 the 2009 IBC was released; the library will have to comply with whatever edition has been adopted by the state of Maryland when the building permit is applied for.)

In the meantime, the library will have to make do with what it has, with the extent of renovations which are possible being dictated by the building codes in place. They establish a line the library cannot step beyond without creating the requirement for full compliance.

Since we will eventually be forced into building a new library facility, it leads to two questions.

One, what will a new library really cost?

One recent example of new library construction I found was in the city of Novi, Michigan which is just wrapping up construction on a $10.1 million, 55,000 square foot facility on land they already owned. Perhaps I’m comparing apples and oranges to an extent, but $185 or so per square foot for a 73,000 square foot building is a LOT less than $30 million. (Extrapolated out, that comes up to a shade over $13.5 million.)

Wicomico County doesn’t need a Taj Mahal for a library, just a serviceable, attractive, and energy efficient building to house the library and associated administrative functions. We’re pretty unassuming folks here who like to be wise with our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, unless a suitably large single-story retail space becomes available for the library’s temporary relocation (something perhaps along the lines of the former Giant/Super Fresh adjacent to the North Pointe Walmart) it’s likely the library will be forced to move from its current location.

The second question then: what happens to the old building?

Some have speculated the City of Salisbury has its eye on it for office space, allowing them to vacate the Government Office Building it shares with Wicomico County. Obviously this usage would not be as taxing structurally as the old functions were, but the building would still need to be brought up to code in a number of other areas and may not be the inexpensive alternative the city may think it has by making such a move. (I like the idea of streamlining government operations to fit the building they have myself.) In essence, they trade one set of problems for another since the buildings are of similar age and presumably upkeep.

If the library building was torn down, though, what could be placed at the site? Obviously it’s a pretty lucrative piece of property with a partial river view. Those who prefer open space would likely envision it as a small park but the smarter play could be residential (assuming there’s a market for it) or an entertainment venue along the lines of Brew River if a suitable amount of parking can be found. In either case, it could help transform that part of downtown away from a 9 to 5 usage to more of a 24-hour development and has the added benefit of returning a piece of property to taxable status.

All these plans will probably have to wait until the latter part of this decade for fruition, though. For better or worse, the Wicomico Public Library will have to coast in neutral until economic conditions dictate construction of their new facility. While they can complain about that which they have, the truth is that most basic functions a library serves can be carried out in their existing facility and it’s only external forces which compel new construction.

McDonough: Middleton resolution ‘clueless’

May 25, 2010 · Posted in Baltimore Examiner · Comments Off on McDonough: Middleton resolution ‘clueless’ 

The colorful Pat McDonough, who considered a run for Governor but instead will bid to retain his seat in the House of Delegates, is using his bully pulpit to blast a resolution to be introduced by Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton.

McDonough’s staunch opposition to illegal immigration extends to a pledge to introduce a bill similar to Arizona’s SB1070 if re-elected to the General Assembly next year. In contrast, Middleton’s proposal codifies the City of Baltimore’s opposition to the law.

(continued on my Examiner.com page…)

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