Shorebirds have stability at the top

January 31, 2011 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebirds have stability at the top 

This is a great item to ease readers into the work week, particularly one where winter weather is forecast.

The Orioles announced the coaching staffs for their minor league affiliates late last week and revealed that the top two coaches from last year will return – Ryan Minor stays as manager and Troy Mattes returns as the pitching coach.

We do have to wave goodbye to Mike Devereaux, who was promoted to coach at Frederick. He’s replaced by onetime big league shortstop Jose Hernandez. The well-traveled 2002 All-Star makes his Shorebird debut after a season coaching Oriole prospects in the Gulf Coast League.

Now that Shorebird fans are assured that these two fan favorites will return we can get excited for the upcoming season, which begins in just 64 days with their second annual exhibition game against Salisbury University on Tuesday, April 5th.

And not only will we host the South Atlantic League All-Star Game this season, I happen to know that there will also be exciting changes at the stadium this year. It’s also likely we may see one of the game’s top prospects don a Shorebirds jersey for a time, as Manny Machado (who hit .306 in 9 games split between the GCL Orioles and Aberdeen) is likely to be placed here. Otherwise, we’ll be pretty disappointed.

Are you ready for some…baseball? I know I am!

The sprinkler controversy

On Tuesday evening, Wicomico County Council will hold a public hearing and perhaps adopt an exemption to the fire sprinkler requirements now contained in the 2009 International Residential Code. While the state has adopted the 2009 IRC, counties are allowed to exempt themselves from portions therein and this is where the controversy lies.

The issue has pitted two sides which are normally allied against each other. TEA Party activists generally align themselves with those in the public safety industry, but part ways on this issue because of the added cost and regulations on new construction. (At this time, existing structures don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the code in question unless another type of building, such as a one-room schoolhouse, were to be converted to a single-family dwelling.)

I’ll admit my code knowledge has become a little bit rusty due to time away from the building industry, but in general the building code (now embodied in a series of International Codes; the former situation of three different code organizations has disappeared with their merger) has become more stringent over the years when it comes to life safety. (Conversely, though, they have tended to allow greater flexibility in achieving that goal.) The overarching concern of those who write the codes, though, remains in allowing those in peril to have the maximum opportunity to reach a place of safety – so they heavily stress maintaining the integrity of egress paths and use the tactic of separating larger spaces into smaller ones where a fire may be contained in order to shorten escape routes. These mostly occur in spaces where public occupancy is intended.

Yet the principles remain the same in residential dwellings, where the paramount concern is egress. In general, one doesn’t have nearly as far to travel to safety as they would in a public building; on the other hand, oftentimes they are much closer to the hazard of a fire. Occupants may have fewer exits to choose from as well, perhaps needing to resort to escaping through a window.

The idea behind sprinkers is obvious: eliminating the hazard of fire by having a system in place to neutralize it. While it’s not a foolproof strategy, dousing the fire to prevent its spread would gain occupants precious time in escaping the hazard.

The element of safety, though, comes at a price: it’s estimated that a sprinkler system would cost a new homeowner perhaps $10,000 to $20,000 in up-front costs. Granted, the cost could decrease somewhat as demand increases and additional players enter the market; still, in a market where new home prices can run as little as $100,000 that is a significant increase. Even without the requirenent, homeowners are free to add the system on their own.

But who else benefits? As I note above, the group coming out most strongly in favor of sprinklers are local firefighters, who ostensibly would have less to do if the work at a burning home is done for them by a sprinkler system. But they would still have to answer the service call, and it’s doubtful they’ll be asking for less monetary assistance from the county should they reject the idea of exempting themselves from this requirement.

Certainly insurance companies are foursquare behind this idea as well, since property damage would be limited in the instance of home-based sprinklers. Of course, the small break one would get on a premium pales in comparison, and just try getting a claim from water damage settled if the sprinkler system goes awry and douses your room full of electronic equipment.

It can even be argued that this promotes employment, since someone has to install the sprinklers and certainly those who are qualified to do so will see a spike in the demand for their services.

Even so, I think the exemption needs to be adopted. Yes, there are benefits to having a sprinkler system in one’s house, and the option is already available to the homeowner should he or she choose to adopt it and pay the extra cost.

But there are those groups (like Habitat for Humanity) who work to fill a void in the market at the low end, and adopting this requirement could price their clients out of the market. Certainly if you’re building a $400,000 house an extra $10,000 isn’t much of a hassle, but on an $80,000 budget sprinklers can be a deal-breaker. Builders already have to deal with a multitude of fees and red tape from local government, and this additional burden comes at a bad time.

And where does the nanny state stop? Perhaps the next edition of the IRC comes out and mandates a sprinkler system be installed with any major renovation to an existing dwelling. Obviously there’s an argument that requiring smoke alarms and detectors in single-family dwellings didn’t hurt anything, but for the most part those are relatively unobtrusive (except for the ear-splitting tone when you burn that steak in the broiler) and inexpensive. Retrofitting a sprinkler system is a much more dicey proposition.

There are compelling arguments to both sides, but with fire deaths in Maryland on a long-term downward trend the adoption of this ordinance seems to have a larger cost than benefit. Obviously one can’t dismiss the eight people who lost their lives in Wicomico County due to fire from 2004 to 2008 but we also don’t want to underestimate the negative impact such a move would have on the local economy, either.

It’s time to adopt the exemption. As I noted above, a homeowner or builder is free to install a system for their new homes – but I notice they rarely do. Since the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit to them, why should our county government allow the international code agency to put its thumb on the scale?

By the way, since I often take potshots at him, let me give kudos to County Executive Rick Pollitt for placing the exemption before County Council.

A reminder

January 29, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2011 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on A reminder 

This is something I’m looking forward to putting together.

So far two of the eight Salisbury City Council candidates have responded to my questionnaire, with a couple more promised over the weekend. My plan is to begin this series Tuesday and continue on a regular basis over the next couple weeks.

I’ll do two questions at a time, with the responses being published in the order they were received. One advantage to this is that I can link back to previous editions to include the response of latecomers.

So check back regularly to stay informed on the Salisbury City Council race.

Well, there goes my vote…

I haven’t updated my sidebar poll to reflect this, but last night Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana announced he would sit out the 2012 Presidential race. In a letter to supporters (and reposted at the Indianapolis Star website) Pence announced:

In the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana in some capacity, we choose Indiana. We will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

The “we” he is apparently referring to is his wife and family, but the decision by Pence will certainly dampen the spirits of at least a few people who were backing him on various Facebook groups and other conservative activists.

But in the long run, the decision makes sense. In our nation’s history, only three men have ran as a major candidate for President as a sitting member in the House, and just one succeeded (President James A. Garfield in 1880.) The last was Rep. John Anderson of Illinois in 1980, and he drew single-digit support as a breakaway Republican in President Reagan’s win. (By the way, Anderson ran as a centrist so you can see how well squishy moderates do against conservatives.) Aside from Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who had both ran for President on previous occasions, neither of the other 2008 candidates who ran as House members (Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo) lasted long in the process.

On the other hand, running from a Governor’s seat has launched the national political career of four of our last six Presidents – Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush are exceptions. Since Pence is only 51, he has plenty of time to learn to govern on an executive level and could benefit from his predecessor (and current Indiana governor) Mitch Daniels.

So it’s not a complete surprise that Pence sits this one out, although I’m disappointed that my vote in the poll (yes, I’m the lone Pence vote at the moment) is thrown away. But the field for the 2012 Republican nomination needs to begin to form and who’s taking a pass is just as important as who decides to jump in.

AFP joins forum barrage

January 28, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2011 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on AFP joins forum barrage 

If there’s an election, there must be a roster of forums and other gatherings where the public can listen to and interact with the candidates in question. The Wicomico County chapter of Americans for Prosperity is jumping into the fray with their own gathering at Brew River on Wednesday, February 23rd at 7:00 p.m.

Moderated by local radio personality Bill Reddish, the event promises to be somewhat of a counterpoint to the NAACP’s event held the following night. In any case, those who attend should be able to learn more about the candidates they’ll vote for the following Tuesday.

All general inquiries can be directed to State Political Director Nick Loffer 443-994-9395 or nick@afpmaryland.com. For event information, or if you are a candidate confirming, please contact Donna Ennis at 410-860-1008 or estrnshr45@gmail.com.

Is the MOM magic fading?

January 27, 2011 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

Ostensibly this was a picture taken during Martin O’Malley’s inauguration last week, with the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus (the group supplying the picture) helpfully pointing out that, “only one-quarter of the chairs stretching across Lawyer’s Mall were filled. If you subtract the police, military personnel and state staffers being paid to participate in the event, the attendance appeared to be barely 400 people.”

Of course, we lack the context of a photo taken during Parris Glendening’s 1998 inauguration, which was the last time a Maryland governor kicked off a second term. But it is interesting that, in a time when O’Malley’s job approval number surged to 58% in the latest Gonzales Research Maryland Poll released earlier this week – Gonzales may have to rethink that target in their logo, by the way – there was so little interest in his second inauguration. At the very least I would have expected a sea of purple shirts there as evidence of his most fervent backers.

One could even compare this to the mob scene which hit Washington two years ago last week as President Obama took office.

But my speculation and puzzlement occurs when I consider just how long Governor O’Malley will keep that solid 58% approval rating given some of the shenanigans he’s once again pulling to balance the budget.

As a few examples, the House Republican Caucus states that O’Malley’s proposed FY2012 budget will:

  • pull $120 million out of the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for non-transportation projects. Many Democrats in the General Assembly would like to fill that hole the only way they know how – by raising the gasoline tax by up to 15 cents per gallon.
  • transfer $90 million from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund to the General Fund, so your flush tax is being flushed down the drain of general state spending instead of cleaning up the Bay.
  • assume there’s $39 million to give state employees who qualify a $750 bonus and five days’ paid administrative leave.

And while O’Malley hasn’t openly pushed for any tax increases, it’s doubtful he’ll say no if increases – like a higher gasoline tax or the “dime a drink” alcohol tax – are pushed through the General Assembly. We’ll see what happens to O’Malley’s approval rating once these taxes begin hitting the working Maryland families he claims to care about.

In print: Debate should be over pace of reduction

I’ll give Susan Parker credit for changing the title (I like hers better) but otherwise pretty much leaving the piece alone. This is in today’s Daily Times.

As I write this on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address, it’s anticipated he’ll talk about competitiveness and investment as vehicles to get our moribund economy going. Some Congressmen will stand and applaud particular lines while it’s likely the majority will sit on their collective hands because they disagree.

Yet all of the posturing misses the point which the State of the Union address always seems to convey – the solutions to those things which ail us generally lie in adopting a larger, more oppressive government.

(continued at delmarvanow.com…)

Items of interest

January 25, 2011 · Posted in Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Items of interest 

For those of you budding TEA Party activists out there, you may be interested to know…

American Solutions is hosting a conference call with a TEA Party favorite, newly elected Rep. Allen West of Florida. The information is as follows:

C of C Conference Call with Rep. Allen West (FL-22)

Wednesday, January 26th, 8:00 PM EST

Dial-In Number: 712-432-0075 
Participant Code: 283031

If that’s not enough, the newly-formed Senate TEA Party Caucus is seeking public input at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. A local activist is putting together a caravan for the event, which would need to leave early Thursday morning. But if you can’t make the caravan or wish to depend on your own self for transportation, Julie Brewington at Right Coast has what you need to know.

(Bear in mind that inclement weather is predicted for Wednesday night into Thursday morning, so this event may end up being postponed.)

But there are opportunities aplenty for freedom-minded activists to get involved.

Thought for the day: To me, the ideal in government would be the opposite situation to that which we have presently: a scenario where one party decreases the size and scope of government slowly, with the other moving at a more marked pace. In either case, the cause of freedom advances rather than recedes.

(I was inspired this morning – it’s part of a longer piece I submitted to another outlet. But don’t expect such good thoughts every day.)

Three old hands, one newcomer dominate Salisbury Council poll

January 25, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2011 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on Three old hands, one newcomer dominate Salisbury Council poll 

While this is far from a scientific poll and it was possible to stack the deck, the best-known names tended to dominate my first Salisbury City Council survey. Here are the results:

  1. Tim Spies – 48 votes (19.28%)
  2. Orville Dryden, Jr. – 47 votes (18.88%)
  3. Muir Boda – 46 votes (18.47%)
  4. Terry Cohen – 46 votes (18.47%)
  5. Joel Dixon – 24 votes (9.64%)
  6. Bruce Ford – 17 votes (6.83%)
  7. Michael Taylor – 11 votes (4.42%)
  8. Laura Mitchell – 10 votes (4.02%)

Among the finishers, I wasn’t surprised to see the incumbent and previous candidates finishing in the top tier. But Dryden’s support was surprising and if he can parlay that into actual votes he’ll easily advance through the primary.

In the bottom half, Dixon and Ford did a little better than Taylor and Mitchell yet lagged far behind the top four. That’s a trend which tends to occur in Salisbury races – while six advance, the winners have generally come from the top four. It’s tough for the #5 and #6 finishers to leap over two or three others to win, although it could conceivably occur in a close race. If this poll reflects the actual results, though, I would peg the contest as one of four people seeking three spots.

I’ll probably do another survey in the latter half of February – in the meantime I’m awaiting answers to my questions from a number of candidates. So far only Muir Boda and Bruce Ford have replied, so the other six better get cracking! How about reminding them, readers?

WCRC meeting – January 2011

January 24, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – January 2011 

It’s a new year, but many of the same cast of characters met at the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce building to kick off the beginning of a new election cycle.

We first did the usual recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, then went over minutes from both the October and November meetings. Following that was the Treasurer’s Report, although the treasury was increasing by the minute as members paid their 2011 dues.

Our speaker for the evening was County Council Vice-President Joe Holloway, who wanted to speak about the capital improvement budget but was prodded by questions and comments into a more general discussion. After being a skeptic about the concept when he first came into office, Joe now believes the recent MACo conference was “very informative.” A lot of interesting things were uttered there as well, said Joe. (I’m not at liberty to repeat them.)

Joe also told us that the latter half of 2010 was sparse as far as legislation went, but this year promised to be different. He cited a number of issues County Council may address: residential sprinklers for new single-family dwellings (which Joe was leaning against requiring,) speed cameras, which Joe stated had “a lot of work to do on them,” the prospect of an elected school board, the comprehensive plan, and the monetary issues of our operating and capital budgets.

The capital budget drew attention from the group as the prospect of taking $14 million in principal and interest from the operating budget usually does, particularly when the County Executive wants to borrow $16 million more. Also on the radar screen is the possible adoption of “special taxing districts” to replace revenue – as Joe said, “you can special tax district anything.” For example, a volunteer fire department could have the benefits of a special taxing district but would risk a loss in donations since it would be assumed the tax would cover all their expenses.

With the asking of a question regarding the wisdom of building the new Bennett Middle School now, the tenor of Holloway’s presentation changed. For him, that would be a “tough call” as he’d have to weigh the current low interest and construction costs vs. the declining revenues we’re receiving. (In fact, the newest batch of assessments are running about 25% lower than the last cycle three years ago.)

Another question regarding school construction which came up was the status of intersection improvements near the new Bennett High School, which was a case of the city perhaps not being ready for the school to be finished a year ahead of schedule. But the questioner called the situation there “a fatal accident waiting to happen.”

Yet a different quandary piqued the interest of a number of people – could the county do without the inventory tax? (This is also referred to as the personal property tax, and apparently we are the lone county in the state charging one.) Obviously the question would be that of how to replace the revenue gained, but quite honestly the onus would be on the County Executive to make do should that barrier be removed. (In the FY2011 budget, the total revenue from the personal property tax is estimated at about $9.7 million.) Meanwhile, Holloway brought up the fact that the county’s budget had increased by $34 million between 2002 and 2008 – they spent plenty during the boom times.

A question of a different sort awaited the group after Holloway finished – did any of them wish to step up and become club officers for 2011? Hearing no willing volunteers, it appears the slate will be as follows:

  • President: Larry Dodd
  • 1st VP: Dustin Mills
  • 2nd VP: Marc Kilmer
  • 3rd VP: Carl Kurten
  • 4th VP: Deb Okerblom
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz
  • Treasurer: Tom Hughes

Of the group, most are already officers. Larry Dodd starts at the top, with Kilmer taking my old spot as 2nd Vice-President. I’m stepping into Dave Parker’s longtime job as Secretary – if I do half as well as he, I would do a decent job. Dave will be a challenge to top.

The aforementioned Parker gave the Central Committee report, putting out the welcome mat for visitors. He went over our advocation of an elected school board, adventures at the Martin Luther King dinner, and the upcoming Lincoln Day Dinner where Congressman Andy Harris and state Party 3rd Vice-Chair Eric Grannon would be featured speakers.

Mark Biehl gave a short Lower Shore Young Republican report, a group where he’d turned leadership over to Shawn Jester. They were taking a bit of a hiatus after a busy election season, not meeting again until April 13. But they would do their annual canned food drive during the late spring.

“I’m having a ball.” Those were the words of newly appointed lower Eastern Shore liaison Mark McIver, so designated by Congressman Andy Harris. “We’ll really be strong on constituent services,” promised Mark, who also revealed that Harris will serve on three House committees: Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Space, Science, and Technology. (But I still want to know if Andy will be on both the Republican Study Committee and TEA Party Caucus.)

Greg Belcher made mention of an upcoming Senate TEA Party caucus event on Thursday, with an effort to carpool to the event from here. (I’ll have more on this tomorrow.)

Joe Collins announced the AFP would meet Wednesday, and they were looking for new leadership as he had to step aside for various reasons.

Upcoming speakers and guests were the subject of suggestions by both John Palmer and Cynthia Williams. Palmer suggested we hear from the County’s internal auditor, Steve Roser, while Williams believed that we should allow Salisbury City Council candidates to speak their piece. (I noted our next meeting was on the eve of the primary, though.)

That next meeting will be February 28, with our speaker scheduled to be County Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman.

Isn’t it a bit early for this?

Well, regardless of the fact the survivor of the process won’t know the final result for another 21 1/2 months, the polls have begun for the GOP nomination in 2012, with the winner most likely taking on President Obama that November.

Today Rasmussen released a poll which showed Mitt Romney has the early lead for the GOP nomination, with 24 percent replying they prefer Mitt at this nascent stage. Sarah Palin netted 19% while Mike Huckabee picked up 17 percent. The top contender who didn’t run in 2008, Newt Gingrich, had 11 percent while national newcomer Tim Pawlenty finished under the “undecided” (10%) with a 6% score. Ron Paul and Mitch Daniels rounded out the field.

One weakness in the Rasmussen Poll is that they somewhat arbitrarily picked the seven contenders, yet they point out that the leaders at this stage rarely end up with the nomination. As I recall, at this time four years ago we were supposed to have a rematch of the abortive 2000 New York Senate race between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Hillary was the last person standing between Barack Obama and the 2008 Democratic nomination, but Rudy was an early casualty in the GOP race.

This is notable about the methodology, though:

The survey of 1,000 Likely GOP Primary Voters was conducted on January 18, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. Likely GOP Primary Voters include both Republicans and unaffiliated voters likely to vote in a GOP Primary.

In other words, they rely on an open primary of sorts. More tellingly:

Romney, Palin and Huckabee are essentially in a three-way tie among voters who describe themselves as very conservative. Those who characterize themselves as somewhat conservative and moderate/liberal have a clear preference for Romney.

Yet Palin has the lead among TEA Partiers, and there’s no real way of knowing just how much influence they’ll have over the GOP nominating process in states with both open and closed primaries.

New Hampshire is a state with an open primary, and a straw poll was conducted there over the weekend – 273 Granite State Republicans scattered their votes among a total of 20 candidates. It’s not particularly surprising that Mitt Romney won, but 35 percent isn’t all that overwhelming considering he comes from a neighboring state and is a name well-known to “establishment” Republicans. Ron Paul was a distant second with 11 percent.

However, if you look at the candidates who could be considered the “darlings” of the TEA Party (Paul, Palin, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Herman Cain, Mike Pence, and Gary Johnson) you get just as much support as Romney drew – they add up to 37 percent. Once the TEA Party can coalesce around one or two candiates, the race will be joined. 

It’s pretty amazing to think that only one of those mentioned (Herman Cain) has even taken the step to form an exploratory committee – the rest are still considering if and when to jump in. But surely over the next few months the final field will emerge, and it will be fun to see how the race shakes out.

Borrowing an idea

As many readers know, I’ve done the monoblogue Accountability Project since 2008, covering the entire 2007-10 term of the Maryland General Assembly. It now appears I may have some help, and they’ll have a similar conservative perspective as mine. (Blue Ridge Forum has coverage.)

An offshoot of the recent Maryland CAN conference, Maryland Vote Watch only asks volunteers to watch the voting patterns (in both committee and floor votes) of a small group of General Assembly members – for example, I would keep tabs on the Delegates and Senator from District 38, which is my home district here. Chances are that most issues and votes will be relatively non-controversial, but there are usually about 30 to 50 votes which separate liberals from moderates, and moderates from conservatives.

So I’m happy to help out the cause, which actually may make my job easier later this spring when I compile this year’s edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project. We all should watch our elected officials like a hawk, so I encourage my far-flung readers to adopt their own district or a neighboring one.

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