Updated City Council financials

With less than a week to go until the General Election on April 5th, the candidates are trying to raise money for the final push. My analysis of the latest report will be broken into two parts: total money raised, and money raised since the initial reports were completed on February 23rd.

Total contributions to date:

  1. Muir Boda – $3,250
  2. Tim Spies – $3,010
  3. Terry Cohen – $2,836
  4. Orville Dryden – $2,750
  5. Laura Mitchell – $1,970
  6. Bruce Ford – $310

Since the first report – this shows contribution trends:

  1. Laura Mitchell – $1,820 from 31 contributors
  2. Muir Boda – $1,615 from 16 contributors
  3. Terry Cohen – $681 from 15 contributors
  4. Tim Spies – $650 from 13 contributors
  5. Orville Dryden – $650 from 6 contributors
  6. Bruce Ford – no contributions, aside from a loan to himself

Once again we have two groups of contributors giving to two separate candidates. Terry Cohen and Tim Spies are now the largest beneficiaries of this trend since eight of Spies’ 13 donors also gave to Cohen. Some key donors among them were Dana Kennan ($100 apiece), Scot Disharoon ($100 to Cohen), P.E. Bolte ($100 to Cohen), S.J. Disharoon ($100 to Spies), and Todd Smith ($100 to Spies). All are listed as a Salisbury address.

On the other hand, Muir Boda has broken away from Orville Dryden to some extent. While they were nearly joined at the hip on the first report, only five of Boda’s 16 contributors also gave to Dryden. Largest among them was the Maryland Realtors PAC, which gave the maximum $250 to both. Also maximizing their contributions to Boda were Deborah Anderson of Salisbury (Boda’s treasurer), Jonathan Boda of Santa Monica, California, and John Cannon of Salisbury. Jeffrey Benner of Salisbury also gave Boda $100.

Dryden received a major contribution from F.M. Young of Salisbury, who donated $150.

Perhaps the most “independent” candidate was Laura Mitchell, whose contribution list didn’t feature a single person who gave to another candidate. However, there were some well-known Democratic elected officials on the list – Trudy Andersen and Harry Basehart from the Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee, Delegate Rudy Cane, and Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton. Andersen and Basehart gave $115 and $140, respectively, so I would consider them “major” contributors. Others who fall into that category include Lynda Donaldson of Selbyville, Delaware ($125), Michael Weisner of Salisbury ($140), Sharon Barto of Parsonsburg ($100), R. Neill Carey of Salisbury ($100), and Patrick Bostian of Salisbury ($250).

This report also revealed that Mitchell had made $150 from 4 contributors prior to the last report, so she was correct in stating she didn’t meet the $600 threshold at that time.

Apparently Bruce Ford is self-financing his campaign at the moment, loaning his coffers the $494 in expenses he paid in the last reporting period. He reported no other contributions.

But Laura Mitchell seems to be the political flavor of the month – even opponent Muir Boda gave Mitchell a total of $45. Whether that will haunt him in the end remains to be seen, but the biggest money seems to be moving to the race between Mitchell and Boda for that number three slot – Cohen and Spies could be considered shoo-ins, while Dryden and Ford may be too far in arrears to have a good chance at leapfrogging two or three spots, respectively. The contributions seem to reflect that reality.

And what of the two who didn’t make it? Michael Taylor didn’t file a report, as presumably he didn’t raise or spend any money after the primary. But Joel Dixon spent the remaining $715.81 after paying his bills on a good cause, as he donated the remainder of his campaign account to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

As was the case before the primary, I should also send kudos to Brenda Colegrove, the Salisbury City Clerk, for making these reports available in a timely manner. It’s nice to get this information before the election to assist in this important decision.

And a note to Tim Spies: this time when you cite my information, print the whole thing.

The Leggs legacy

As most of my local readers know – unless they’ve just crawled out from under a rock seconds before they read this piece – Thomas Leggs confessed to killing Sarah Foxwell in 2009 as part of a plea deal which spared him the death penalty.

The reaction to this development seems to be one of bitter disbelief, but I’m going to look at this from a political standpoint. We have to fast forward to 2014, when both Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello and Sheriff Mike Lewis will presumably once again face the voters. If that comes to pass, Maciarello would be seeking a second term and Lewis a third.

Obviously the key question is: how long will voters’ memories be? Ramming through a series of tax increases in the first year of his term didn’t seem to hurt Martin O’Malley in 2010 as he defeated Bob Ehrlich for the second straight time and by a wider margin. But local elections are a little different.

We also have to assume that the Democratic Party won’t be in the historically bad straits they were in 2010. As it so happens, several of their existing longtime officeholders may decide not to seek another term so it’s worth believing that they will fill out ballot spaces three years hence – it’s doubtful Mike Lewis will get a free ride for sheriff next time, for example. Maciarello is already vulnerable, with some observers believing he got a great gift in the campaign with Davis Ruark losing a bitter primary fight on the Democratic side. (If Ruark were to try again, he would have to re-establish his registration as a Democrat; I believe he’s switched to unaffiliated since the election.) And surely there are a number of ambitious Democrat lawyers for what would be an open nomination process without Ruark.

Moreover, while Matt laid out his reasoning for taking the plea deal, many who demanded more will feel sold out. Certainly it will be an issue resurrected in 2014 by the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she is. Trust me.

On the other hand, Mike Lewis could be blamed if later digging reveals a weak evidence chain. However, the fallout shouldn’t be as severe for him as it will be for Maciarello – that will bring a sigh of relief to the local GOP brass.

Yet there is one more person affected, and while he’s not exactly political he’s claimed to bring a lot of influence to the local political scene in the past. Why, it was way back in the 2006 campaign where one candidate claiming that local blogs were a “cancer” on the political scene placed him squarely in the limelight. I bet he found that spotlight a trifle harsh today after this diatribe.

Of course, he defended himself from the accusations – but who’s really going to write that book?

So it’s the classic case of he said/she said. Yet Joe Albero could come out of this with the popularity he so craves. While Roberta Wechsler stated a good case in her portion of the press conference, she laid it on way too thick and in a tone that was far too vindictive to a point where some may not take it seriously – certainly Matt Maciarello was caught off guard. Meanwhile, if the case goes to court guess who gets more publicity?

There’s no question that Albero has taken far too much advantage of what has been a tragic situation hanging over Delmarva’s head for the last 15 months – in fact I daresay this case took him away from what he used to do best, which was a somewhat passable version of investigative journalism. Sure, he used it just to take on his enemies but there were things which needed to be said and he said them.

But the bright lights of national attention stemming from the Foxwell case were going to be his ticket to respectability. I recall the frequent citation of Alexa numbers and claims to be ‘mainstream media’ in the immediate aftermath of the search for Sarah but both have faded from the front pages of his site. Certainly he’ll get a bounce from this latest development, but can he keep the audience or have we just seen another patented Albero trainwreck in living color? Only time will tell.

One may ask where this affects me. I didn’t follow the Foxwell story developments closely within these pages, choosing to allow others to do so. My beat is politics, which is why I started this post writing on the speculative angle.

But just like the case in 2006 with Ron Alessi, I know that this saga will affect all of us who toil daily trying to write useful content to a local or regional audience. Having that laundry list of accusations thrown at one Salisbury blogger is sure to reflect on the rest of us and it diminishes our influence.

I have used the content of my site – words I stand behind and would stack up against any other journalist in the media – to get other writing jobs, including Liberty Features Syndicate and the national website Pajamas Media. Certainly in some aspects I exist in a vacuum insofar as someone looking here on a national level isn’t going to care much about my so-called local competition. But I’ve found about 2/3 of my audience resides in the state of Maryland and half of that is local. A casual observer who goes to Joe’s site and is repelled by what he reads may not be as likely to give me or the rest of us locals a shot. There are some talented writers about, and others who make a good run at it. And while ads on monoblogue don’t bring me a lot of revenue – although I’m always willing to sell space – this effect can take food out of my mouth. (Maybe I don’t need that much to eat anyway, but the point remains.)

If Matt Maciarello and Mike Lewis aren’t reelected in 2014, it’s pretty likely they can find regular jobs in the private sector. We local bloggers have a little more difficult time rebuilding an audience when our reputation is tarnished from without, through no fault of our own.

Someday we will be far enough removed from the Foxwell saga that it will lie on the fringes of our collective memory. Thomas Leggs will rot in prison, probably never tasting another breath of freedom the rest of his days. But the words we write and the electronic images we make will live on for awhile. My fear is that our history will be defined by a man described as the leader of a ‘cultlike’ following while the truth is forgotten.

The winners write the history, so we have to make sure the truth ends up on the winning side.

WCRC meeting – March 2011

March 29, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – March 2011 

It wasn’t a particularly eventful meeting insofar as controversy went, but we got to hear from a rookie County Council member who shared his opinions on a lot of issues facing the county. That’s how the first new-look meeting went for Larry Dodd and the remaining WCRC officers. Perhaps the additional structure was nice, as Dodd asked me to compile an agenda and I made it fairly detailed. It did make the meeting run a little long, but not overly so.

After we took care of our normal business (Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, minutes, and Treasurer’s Report – unchanged from the last administration) we welcomed Bob Culver for his first WCRC speaking engagement as an elected official.

Bob told the assembled group that he “was having a great time” saying no to Rick Pollitt’s financial requests and that County Council has “jelled very well” since it took over.

He brought up three key issues County Council had addressed over the last few months; these issues included Bennett Middle School, an elected school board, and speed cameras.

Regarding Bennett Middle School, Bob informed us that the possibility of alternative financing would be more expensive to the county, which has as its goal paying off $10 million in bonding this year rather than borrowing. Culver asserted that the Board of Education had a “secretive” construction fund that wasn’t used, but any negotiations on its use should be conducted away from the press or county Public Information Officer. He also believed that we should attempt to bring other schools up rather than build anew, giving the example of water fountains which do not work at Beaver Run Elementary. An example of a good and comparatively inexpensive renovation project could be found at Stephen Decatur High School in Worcester County, said Bob.

Proposed changes to the elected school board bill by Delegate Norm Conway were “too confusing,” and Bob wanted a straight yes or no vote. Amendments to the bill were being pushed by Mary Ashanti of the NAACP – we need to “make the public know that Norm Conway owns this bill.”

Speed cameras were “a revenue thing,” Culver said, and he worried about both declining revenues as people adjusted to the cameras and using them as a backdoor way to fund the county’s LEOPS program as the town of Fruitland does.

“I represent the people…that’s the neat thing about it,” Bob concluded. He then opened the floor to questions. One surprising statement in his answers was his call for a provision to keep business within the county, citing a local company who lost out on a bid to provide tents for Pork in the Park by just a couple hundred dollars to a Queen Anne’s County firm. He also spoke about early retirement buyouts offered to county employees, stating that the big question about Obamacare’s effects hung over everyone’s heads.

Dave Parker gave the Central Committee report, noting the upcoming state convention in Ocean City and recommending that those interested in running for office or helping on campaigns make an effort to show up – it’s well worth the $50 for the training sessions.

We heard other brief reports from Shaun Jester, who had a twofer as Lower Shore Young Republican president and representative for Delegate Mike McDermott. Mark McIver chimed in with an update on Congressman Andy Harris and revealed that we should expect him in Salisbury at least one day a month to hear constituent concerns. McIver believed Andy’s most recent visit to the area was a success, as it included visits to manufacturing facilities in Princess Anne and Crisfield along with two townhall meetings, including one in Salisbury.

One departure from the norm will occur next month, as for the first time in recent years the Republican Club is taking a hiatus from the Salisbury Festival. But we will be back in 2012, and the Crab Feast will go on as usual August 27.

Two other pieces of business involved internal communications and voter registration. Our June meeting will be a working meeting in order to certify us for a registration push, which should be interesting.

In the meantime, we are considering a speaker for next month; most likely it will be Delegate Mike McDermott who will provide the annual legislative wrapup. See you on April 25th!

Thwart the Conway way

There’s a lot going on in Wicomico County right now, with the main headline being the rumored Thomas Leggs plea deal. (I’ll have more opinion on that in the next few days.)

But a significant step on another burning county issue was taken on Friday when the Maryland Senate approved SB981 by a 46-0 vote, as I expected. This is the legislation which authorizes the straw ballot next year for an elected Wicomico County school board, and I figured it would pass without objection because most members of the General Assembly practice local courtesy on such matters. In 2009 Caroline County had a similar measure passed with little opposition.

This becomes important as I’m hearing through the grapevine that Norm Conway, a Delegate firmly in the back pocket of the teacher’s union, is trying to change the House version of the bill (HB1324) to provide for a three-way vote, with the options being an all-elected school board, an all-appointed school board, or a hybrid of the two. Hatched with opponents of the concept like Wicomico County NAACP head Mary Ashanti – whose sole objection seems to be based on a specious argument of minority disenfrancisement – it seems to me that the intent is to confuse the public into throwing away their chance for input on a body which spends millions of our tax dollars every year but doesn’t answer to voters.

Let’s say a hybrid board passes of the sort they describe. In Caroline County the elected/appointed split will be 3 to 2, in Harford County it is 6 elected to 3 appointed. Here the most likely scenario is that 5 members would be elected (one from each County Council district) and 2 appointed. Presumably the governor would pick his local cronies as he does now; generally they cut their political teeth being bagmen for the teacher’s union. Since one Council district is generally a majority-minority district and usually votes the straight Democrat ticket, the liberals only need one smooth talker in another Council district to fool the voters and get on the board. (While it would be a non-partisan election, most people can easily ascertain who the Democrats are.)

Look, we are trying to scrap the patronage inherent in an appointed system, so let’s do it completely and be done with it. I trust the voters of Wicomico County to elect seven good leaders on the school board so why let Annapolis even have two, Norm?

But since SB981 passed without amendment, the House of Delegates has a chance to send a ‘clean’ bill on to the Governor without the confusion of multiple options. A simple ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ will do and the issue will be settled – I happen to think this question of approving an elected school board would pass easily by a better than 2:1 margin, which is why opponents are trying to muck it up and throw red herring options into the mix. If you split those supporting it while opponents stay firm, they may get a plurality.

Furthermore, if SB981 is amended there’s a chance that a conference committee could become necessary and a small bill like ours could get lost in the shuffle amongst the other pressing issues the state faces like a budget and holding the line on taxes. We don’t want to take that chance.

Don’t let Norm Conway and his state teacher’s union cronies mess with our local bill. Urge the House of Delegates to approve SB981 as is and send it on to Governor O’Malley.

Is there anything they won’t tax?

This just plain says it all, from the Maryland Senate Republican caucus:

For your full consideration, here is a condensed list of fees (which are the same as taxes) proposed by O’Malley and Democrat legislators to increase the tax burden of every Maryland citizen:

BUDGET RECONCILIATION & FINANCING ACT – O’MALLEY ADMINISTRATION

The BRFA of 2011 contains several fee increases where an assumption of additional special funds is accompanied by a general fund reduction.

·         Payroll garnishment fee of $2 per payroll transaction; $50,000 contingent general fund reduction
·         MHEC to charge fees to public and private institutions for academic program approvals; $253,208 contingent general fund reduction
·         Nursing facility quality assessment increase from 4.0 to 5.5% of revenue; fee generates $35.1 million — $11.8 million (matched with $11.8 million in federal funds) is used to hold nursing home providers harmless for that portion of the assessment based on revenue from serving Medicaid clients; $10.3 million (match with $10.3 million in federal funds) to support an estimated 1.6% reimbursement rate increase; and $13 million to offset a contingent general fund reduction

·         Hospital assessment increases – to support Medicaid expansion (averted uncompensated care) and for general Medicaid operations, expected to generate $254 million in additional revenues; a $225 million special fund appropriation in Medicaid is contingent on the BRFA

The BRFA also institutes new and increased fees which are simply general fund revenues:

·         Increase in the fee charged for the supervision of persons on probation (estimated by DLS to generate $2.8 million)
·         Repealing IWIF’s exemption from paying the premium tax (estimated by DLS to generate $1.9 million)
·         Levying a charge on drivers with a certain number of points against their license (estimated by DLS to generate $3.8 million)

O’Malley fee increases as “revenue enhancements” already assumed in the O’Malley budget:

·         Raising the cap on the user fees that are charged by the Health Services Cost Review Commission from $5.5 million to $7.0 million; the budget assumes an additional $0.4 million in spending in fiscal 2012
·         Raising fees for court costs; the budget for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund increases by $2.0 million accordingly.

TRANSPORTATION TAXES/FEES

            Gas Tax

·         10¢ per gallon increase
·         Increases state gasoline tax from 23.5¢ to 33.5¢ per gallon, 38% increase
·         Indexes tax to Consumer Price Index (CPI) in 2013

            Vehicle Registration Fee

·         Doubles current vehicle registration fees
·         Car/Truck vehicle registration increase from $128 bi-annually to $178.50
·         Motorcycle registration increase from $97 bi-annually to $132.00

            Bad Driver Fees – O’MALLEY ADMINISTRATION

·         $1, 500 fine for driver convicted of driving 85mph or higher, twice in 2 yrs. This is in addition to the $1,080 already imposed for the same conviction.
·         $100 per point over 5 points, charged for three years
·         $500 additional charge per year for three years, for drunk driver convictions

Tolls – O’MALLEY ADMINISTRATION

·         MdTA has announced they will be raising fees on Maryland’s bridges, highways and tunnels by the end of the summer.

SIN TAXES

            Alcohol Tax

·         Tax on Beer: From .09 to $1.16 per gallon = 1,189% increase
·         Tax on Wine: From .40 to $2.96 per gallon = 640% increase
·         Tax on Spirits: From $1.50 to $10.03 per gallon = 569% increase

            Tobacco Tax

·         $1 increase on a pack of cigarettes from current tax of $2 to $3 per pack
·         $3 tax per cigar – a new tax

            Snack Tax

·         Expands State sales & use tax rate of 6% to snacks – Potato chips, Pretzels, Cheese Puffs, Corn Chips, Pork Rinds, Nuts & Seeds

ENVIRONMENTAL TAXES/FEES

            Wind Tax – O’MALLEY ADMINISTRATION

·         Monthly increase to residential and commercial electric customers between $1.44 & $8.70

            Electricity Tax

·         Charge per kilowatt for electricity consumption beyond 1000kwh
·         $2.99 additional charge for average consumption of 1,230 kwh per month

Bag Tax

·         5¢ per disposable carryout bag a store provides to customer
·         5¢ credit for each bag provided by the customer

This is pretty useful because it summarizes, for the most part, what the majority party in Annapolis is trying to do to all of us. It wouldn’t surprise me if the total impact wasn’t over $1,000 a year on a typical working Maryland family. And what is the money being spent on? Certainly not primary functions of government:

Schools aren’t safe and just because Maryland is considered the best school system in the country; well, being the best of a bad lot isn’t much to brag about.

The roads are falling apart and traffic is terrible in many parts of the state.

Crime is rampant, Salisbury is a prime example.

One has to ask why taxes need to be raised so much when we could take the opposite tack, cut taxes, and allow increased business and job development to create revenue. Seems to me that worked for some guy named Reagan about a quarter-century ago. Even when he raised taxes a bit (while having faith that the other side would enact spending cuts which never happened) we still prospered because we were still ahead of the curve.

This time O’Malley’s not calling for the Special Session, but didn’t we tell you that 2011 would be the year of tax raising? I think we did…remember, fees are taxes too.

Odds and ends number 27

March 27, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Local Music, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, Sports, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Odds and ends number 27 

I’m going to start out with the political but quickly swerve away. I know there’s a lot of talk about fees vs. taxes here in Maryland that I’ll cover more in depth tomorrow.

But there’s other items percolating out there.

You know my feelings on the ‘scameras’ that I expressed in the fight we had over them in Wicomico County. Oftentimes communities abuse the privilege they are given by the state, and I’m looking for Salisbury to do the same thing once they install theirs.

My blogging friend Bob McCarty documents another case of ‘scamera’ abuse regarding red-light cameras in Arizona, which got an innocent man sent to jail. As is normally the case, we have to follow the Benjamins here.

Isn’t that the usual role of government in this day and age – taking your money?

Okay, my political rant is over for the time being. Let’s look at sports.

As I write this I’m watching an Orioles spring training game. But there is another event going on which has drawn interest, and that’s the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Just for fun, several Red Maryland contributors and friends got together to hold their own bracket challenge, and it proved I’m a better baseball fan than basketball prognosticator. Out of 13 entries I’m sitting in 10th and, as is often the case when someone is to blame the Butler did it. Since I picked Florida to win it all their loss ended my chances of winning. I can finish no higher than 5th or lower than 11th.

But at least I’m ahead of a couple people, including Brian Griffiths, who created the group. (Update: I finished 10th of 13.)

Finally, as many dedicated readers know I had a weekend of local rock post yesterday and skipped Friday Night Videos on my most recent Friday. After some thought, I’ve come to a decision that I’m boxing myself in by holding political videos back until Friday; anymore they deserve the same kind of feedback and comment as press releases and news items because they’re replacing these more traditional items. If I see something worth commenting on I think the video needs to be placed up right away.

In the meantime, I’ve begun to pile up a number of good local music videos. With cellular phone and iPod technology coming to the point where the output is quite acceptable for public usage, I think there’s enough out there to make Friday Night Videos become what the original television series was – all music, all the time. Obviously this site will remain political but we’re getting to the time of year when other things like Shorebird of the Week and local bands get their share of pixels.

But I can use a little help in that regard. If you’re a local band member or supporter reading this and want a little exposure for your video, just send me a link. Ideally FNV would run about 30 minutes, which works out to 6 or 8 videos per week. I KNOW there are more than 6 or 8 talented bands around here playing more than 6 or 8 shows a week (not to mention a pretty sizeable backlog of stuff.)

So look for those changes, which may actually make my life a little easier too.

Weekend of local rock volume 37

March 26, 2011 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Weekend of local rock volume 37 

It’s really too bad that the 9th Annual Spring Luau didn’t occur one week later because I think it would have been a swell way to celebrate Human Achievement Hour, which came and went earlier tonight. (So did that worthless cause of Earth Hour, which happens to be the same time.) Cranking out hundreds of watts of loud rock n’ roll tends to be a pretty much ‘in your face’ response to those who would have us sit in the dark. (They were probably behind that horrible period when bands decided to go ‘unplugged’ as well. I definitely prefer ‘plugged.’)

But in the several years I’ve been going to and covering the Spring Luau (2010, 2009, 2008) some things have been constant and some haven’t. For example, the venue has changed a number of times – I remember in the pre-WOLR days going to the Monkey Barrel in Salisbury to check it out. It’s also been at The Steer Inn and the ill-fated Cowboyz in Ocean City, too.

This year there were nine bands, as there were last year. First up was a band new to me called Project X.

Since I arrived a few minutes after the start of the show and decided to eat before I went up front, I am probably giving Project X less than they deserve. I was actually pretty impressed with their opening act and hope they play more of Skip Dixxon’s events. Either they were doing all originals or they were covering songs I wasn’t too familiar with, but it was all good.

You’ll also see most of these guys again down the line since they helped out elsewhere as needed.

Monkee Paw was act number two.

I’ve heard Monkee Paw on one previous occasion, but they seem to be gathering a following which enjoys their renditions of classic rock songs. They were the band that started getting people up to the dance floor.

Skip Dixxon noted that he’d been trying to get 7 Days Wasted to his events for some time, but this was the first time they had an opening.

They were pretty much worth the wait, playing mostly hard-rock covers but tossing in an original composition as well.

A group that’s becoming a staple of Skip’s events is Witches Brew, who plays a variety of cover songs ranging from the psychedelic (‘White Rabbit’) to the boundaries of hard rock (like Nirvana or AC/DC.)

Their lead singer was the most active of the bunch, extending her stage to wherever the microphone cord allowed. She’d be at the bar if she were wireless.

Speaking of staple Skip Dixxon acts, I have not been to a Spring Luau where Semiblind wasn’t a featured band.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear they were placing originals back in their set – the audience was treated to three to go with four covers.

I added this shot because I thought it was cool. Once Jim gets jamming he has to throw his hair back and this was mid-throw.

Another frequent Spring Luau presence is Jason Lee of Crookedfinger. They were supposed to do a full-band set but several members were sick. So Jason started out solo.

But eventually he got a little help, first on the drums…

Then a bassist joined in as well…

Even the host jumped in for a song on the skins.

All in all, Jason’s act came across like an open-mike night in the middle of the show. The only problem was that it precluded Crookedfinger originals from being played, since there’s a couple I like.

I threw this in for effect. Dig that demonic look.

Another regular at Skip’s shows is the Phantom Limbs.

I’m going to elaborate on one description of their music and ask you to picture Dick Dale and Minor Threat having a love child raised by Alice Cooper. Yeah, something like that.

And they do get down – literally.

Gravitate isn’t quite that way, but they show a heavy alternative influence in song selection and styling. The bongos are a nice touch too.

They were the second-to-last band, and they suffered a bit from technical issues and a thinning crowd.

So it was the diehards who stuck around to watch the hard-rockin’ Lethal Dose.

I think I would have appreciated them more had the sound been a little better – somehow once Monkee Paw took the stage the mix wasn’t as crisp. It was a little worse with each band, and almost to the point of bad once Lethal Dose finally made it up there. They played the hard stuff, although they actually ended on a strange note with a rap song when their guitarist broke a string and one member of the audience busted out some rhymes with the bass and drums as beats (the last picture above.) You had to be there.

So there you have it – nine bands in eight hours. It was a nice pace, allowing bands to play seven or eight songs apiece rather than the five or so of past years.

And thanks to Skip Dixxon for putting on another good show (aside from the sound issues.)

Andy’s Salisbury townhall

Finally, I get a chance to reflect on Monday’s townhall meeting with a suitable multimedia presentation.

On Monday our Congressman, Andy Harris, culminated a day spent on the Lower Shore with a public townhall meeting at Chef Fred’s in Salisbury. Several dozen constituents took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions of Andy and otherwise say their piece.

His presentation began with a PowerPoint show which illustrated his main point of the evening: we have been “misled” for 20 to 30 years financially. Slides that showed the “reckless spending spree,” “tidal wave of debt,” “what drives our debt?,” and a comparison between the state we currently find ourselves in and the one in Greece before the EU bailout dominated his early remarks. One particularly interesting (and troubling) statistic: the foreign ownership that was just 5% back in 1970 is now 47 percent, with China the largest holder.

Against that stark backdrop, Harris told the group the aim of the House was to bring that debt under control. We “can’t be competitive with that amount of foreign debt,” he added. Their three-pronged approach was to trim spending without raising taxes – “increasing taxes is not the solution,” Andy said – and cutting regulation to “common sense” levels.

However, those cuts couldn’t just slash entitlement programs. “We have to establish a Social Security and Medicare system that’s viable,” stated Andy.

This took about the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the meeting. Most of the next two hours were spent answering questions on a number of subjects: among them the Federal Reserve, jobs and the economy, education, the PATRIOT Act, the Fourteenth Amendment, energy policy, and Medicare.

Perhaps my favorite question of the group was the one on education, which was asked as part of a soliloquy from a local teacher. It was a story from the front lines that lamented the amount of regulation placed on teachers, and Harris agreed that there was no federal role necessary in education.

I also thought Andy’s view on foreign aid was valid – we should require a country-by-country vote on foreign aid. This was friendly allies would be rewarded while those who oppose us would be first in line for cuts. Among those Harris favored retaining at least the present amount of aid for was Israel, our “staunchest ally” in the Middle East.

Andy also had a long explanation of his beliefs on the PATRIOT Act, a question asked by fellow blogger Julie Brewington of Right Coast. The process of resolving the act was “complicated” because of provisions which expired at different times and being of the belief that some parts of the PATRIOT Act were useful.

Of course, I asked a question, too. In short, what is wrong with the leadership?

Andy also revealed he’s a co-sponsor of a bill to clarify the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t apply to “anchor babies,” which makes sense because the parents aren’t under our jurisdiction as non-citizens.

Quite a bit of the discussion focused on government health care.

As a medical practicioner, Andy eaasily explained some of the factors which allowed drug companies to sell drugs cheaply to Canadians as opposed to here in America. Technically, purchasing drugs from Canada enables drug companies to flout Canadian law, but the reason drugs are cheaper there is the formulary they use – in other words, their selection is far less than ours. Later, there was a question about Medicare doctor reimbursements where Andy made the point that cutting the payments to doctors was a form of “backdoor rationing” because limiting Medicare payments to doctors forced them to stop accepting Medicare patients. (How many people would willingly take a 30 percent pay cut for doing the same amount of work? That’s what they are asking doctors to do, as I understand it.) A more desirable effect could be had by increasing competition between insurance companies, Andy concluded.

There was a questioner who asked about the cuts to job services, but Andy reminded her that there were 47 programs out there which still had $1.5 billion to spend this fiscal year. Meanwhile, due to overregulation, the poultry industry was “on the brink of leaving the country.” We have the workforce to bring light manufacturing to the area, but needed to have a government which would allow businesses to thrive.

Term limits? Andy is a co-sponsor of a term limits bill. I also recall in 2008 he said he’d serve no more than 12 years.

NASA was a good program, but in a time of limited budget flexibility they needed to prioritize their missions.

“Energy independence has to be one of our top priorities,” opined Andy. I couldn’t agree more. He pointed out the Marcellus Shale formation under portions of Maryland and other neighboring states as a key untapped resource.

But, it can’t be an Andy Harris event without somebody protesting, whether in a chicken suit or not.

Mike Calpino, the Libertarian candidate for a County Council seat last year, mildly protested the direction the two principal parties had led the country by holding this sign out front before the event. However, no one disrupted the proceedings inside. Aside from an admitted RINO who thought the Republican Party needed to jettison its right wing, the dialogue was relatively friendly.

Two final quotes from the meeting:

Referring to our financial situation: “(There is) an unwillingness in Washington to face the music.”

“My philosophy is, that if we reduce the size of government, we free up capital and our American entrepreneurship to create jobs and business, to be the best in the world.” That was a reply to the self-described RINO.

Needless to say, the Congressman encourages input from constituents. His district office is downtown at 212 W. Main Street, right inside the Gallery Building.

Trying to bag the bag tax

I get the most interesting e-mail sometimes, and it helps to give me ideas for topics to write about in situations like this where my other commitments keep me from writing more lengthy, in-depth articles like the Harris townhall story now set for tomorrow.

About a week ago I received an e-mail from Claudia Holwill, who works for Edelman, a communications firm in Washington, D.C. I have a nodding familiarity with them because the good folks at API also apparently use them – most items from my friend Jane Van Ryan are also copied to a different Edelman employee. Holwill wrote me because, in part, her company must follow my website or at least is familiar with the group of sites covering Maryland politics:

I am writing because I saw your recent post about continuing efforts to raise taxes in Maryland, and wanted to reach out regarding the proposed legislation to tax plastic bags that you mentioned, and to see if you would be interested in meeting with an executive from Hilex in DC next week. 

Sadly, my previous commitments this week precluded me from that meeting, but it’s understandable that Hilex Poly, the company in question here, would be very interested in the prospect of a tax given that they are a plastic bag producer. And it’s no different than any of the several sources who pitch story ideas, meetings, conference calls, etc. to me given my position as a somewhat influential political blogger who can give them free pixels. And, of course, I don’t like tax increases any more than the next guy.

But there’s something else in the mix here as well. Think back to the days before you had the choice of “paper or plastic.”

Paper bags have a number of inherent weaknesses: they can tear easily, don’t stand up well to water or grease, and aren’t that convenient to carry. Obviously someone saw the opportunity to create a better bag and plastic bags are now the norm because they addressed these issues and more. Of course, they’re not environmentally correct because they’re not biodegradable like paper is, so the environmentalist wackos want to tax plastic bags and encourage the use of cloth bags. (But you have to carry them through the store to do your shopping. Wouldn’t that promote shoplifting?)

Bag makers play up their recycling angle. Another item Holwill sent me was this from Advance Polybag:

Advance Polybag, Inc., an Elkridge manufacturer of plastic bags, could see its jobs threatened if state lawmakers pass a five cent tax on grocery bags this legislative session. Passage of the bill would affect 140 people and their families.

Today, Rex Varn, Executive Vice President of Advance Polybag, released the following statement:

“We’re speaking out on this issue because we have an obligation to defend the 140 people who work at our plant in Elkridge and the numerous local businesses that support our operation. The bill the Maryland Legislature is considering will put these jobs at risk.

It will tax people at a time when the state is already struggling with 220,000 unemployed. No other state has implemented such a policy, and in fact, states that have tried, have rejected such proposals – instead opting to promote recycling efforts – a more effective solution to litter.

We are interested in having a productive dialogue to find more common sense solutions. Instead of a tax, we support promoting bag recycling – an approach that creates jobs and preserves consumer freedom and convenience. Many do not realize that plastic bags are safe, clean and 100 percent recyclable. They are made from natural gas, not oil; nine out of ten bags are re-used by consumers; and, when recycled, they create new materials.

We are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure that, as an industry, we provide the safest, most energy-efficient alternative at checkout.”

One thing Advance also pointed out is that the tax would create “a 500 percent levy on the good,” all for about $2 million in revenue over the next five years. They may call it the “Clean the Streams and Beautify the Bay Act of 2011” but it’s not about the Bay – it’s about the Benjamins.

Is it possible to have a useful product anymore without some do-gooder trying to get rid of it, tax it to death, or both? Let’s hope the plastic bag tax meets the same fate last year’s attempt does.

Testimony for HB1324/SB981

This was presented today when the bill to allow a straw ballot in November, 2012 to determine whether we should elect our school board in Wicomico County had its hearing. I wrote this on behalf of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, although their imput led to a minor change from my original.

Testimony in favor of HB1324/SB981:
Wicomico County – Board of Education – Selection of Members – Straw Ballot

Presented by: Members of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee
March 23, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen of the House and Senate:

We, the undersigned members of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, rise in support of allowing the voters of Wicomico County to determine who best represents them when it comes to educational matters.

In our view, having the Governor appoint members of a board which oversees nearly half of all County operating expenditures – not to mention millions more tax dollars supplied by the state and federal governments – is a relic of the past and not suitable for Wicomico County’s needs. While we as a Central Committee are involved in the current system as part of the selection process and take this task seriously, we would willfully give up that portion of our duties in order to let a much larger group of citizens decide who best could represent their wishes on a future Wicomico County school board.

Over the last several years, we on the Central Committee have made an effort to convince our County Council that the present system needs to be revamped. Finally, in February, the Wicomico County Council listened, agreed, and asked our local representatives to bring forth a bill addressing this to the General Assembly. Now that the bill is a reality, we would like to thank this bipartisan group of sponsors for placing HB1324/SB981 onto the General Assembly’s docket. Its passage would allow our county to take another step down the road to joining nineteen other Maryland jurisdictions and thousands of others nationwide where the will of the people is expressed, in part, by those who they elect to their school board.

Opponents of an elected board make a good point about the prospect of a lack of diversity on the board. We share their concerns about its makeup, and believe that a system reflective of the current Wicomico County Council makeup – with five districts, including one majority-minority district, and two at-large seats – would alleviate their concerns about certain groups not having a place at the table.

Moreover, it is our belief that the school board elections should be non-partisan, which will allow greater participation among those unaffiliated with either of the two principal parties.

While these details lie beyond the scope of the legislation presented today, we believe that passing this bill this year will allow the maximum time for all those involved to hash out a solution which addresses the concerns of groups both in favor of keeping the current system and those who desire change, while remaining consistent with the county charter.

The General Assembly involves itself in education in countless ways – everything from helping to determine per-pupil funding and setting standards to figuring out how to satisfy the concerns of teachers who stormed Lawyers Mall last week to ask their pensions remain intact. By many accounts, the educational system you have helped to create is considered among the best in the nation.

But with that responsibility comes accountability. Every four years, the members of the General Assembly have to pass a test of their own, with the voters turning in the final grade on whether members are worthy of being re-elected. And while it’s obvious our side has its differences with the majority of those who sit in this room today, the bipartisan support of our local delegation shows that the same model of accountability reflected in both the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates could be present in our school board if Wicomico County voters wish it to be.

It is with this in mind that we humbly ask that HB1324/SB981 be passed and sent to Governor O’Malley for approval this year. Give us the best chance possible to do right by the children of Wicomico County.

Respectfully submitted,

Members of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee:

Dave Parker, Chair
Joe Collins, Vice-Chair
Bob Laun, Treasurer
Michael Swartz, Secretary
Dave Goslee, Sr.
W. Blan Harcum, Sr.
Mark McIver
John Palmer
Ann Suthowski

Programming note

March 22, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Maryland Politics, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on Programming note 

Well, the people at The Hard Times should be pleased with their extra half-day atop my site. My intention was to do a post about the Andy Harris townhall meeting today, but I was called away by other duties.

So that will appear sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening (nope, probably Friday) along with an update on the Wicomico elected school board issue. It happens to the best of us, but I didn’t want people to think I had ignored the Harris town hall meeting since I was there.

‘Hard Times’ are good times for two local entrepreneurs

March 21, 2011 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Local Music · 1 Comment 

Back around the first of the year, my significant other and I decided to spend a rare evening to ourselves going out to dinner at Station 7 Restaurant in Pittsville. Since we had a little bit of a wait, Kim picked up a newspaper which happened to feature some friends of ours on the cover.

What we happened upon was the first rendition of a new monthly magazine that delves into the local art and music scene. It may seem apt, given our trying economic times, that the edition was dubbed The Hard Times Magazine, but co-founder Katie Jacobson explained the notion behind the name in a recent interview.

The Hard Times was born out of hard times, but we also chose the name for it’s double meaning. We think it reflects the edginess of the paper more than a time of desperation. If you read it, it’s really not about the economy.  Also, even if the economy does make a rebound, the idea of ‘hard times’ is something that everyone can still relate to, at some point.”

Continued Katie, “The other reason we chose the name is because we didn’t want to be strictly a tourist rag, or simply a paper for local news. There are dozens of papers out that build their model around being a beach magazine. We didn’t want to choose a title with beach, shore, ocean, surf, or anything else in it that might imply that were another BeachComber. Not that there’s anything wrong with those other papers, just that they already exist and we didn’t feel like there was room for another one.”

Obviously there’s room for The Hard Times. That first edition, which debuted December 1 with a 10,000 copy run, had its cost and overhead expenses covered by advertisers before the paper hit one of its many distribution points running from Salisbury east to Ocean City. That number of outlets has grown to over 100, and next up for the duo of Jacobson and co-founder Jeremy Bohall is promoting the paper to the Ocean City summer market and making a push northward into Delaware. They predict circulation will run between 150,000 and 200,000 copies in 2011, and a goal is to begin selling subscriptions later this year. Meanwhile, the associated Hard Times website has grown to a point where it attracts upwards of 300 unique visitors a day.

From the humble beginnings of spending most of November going door-to-door selling ads, Katie revealed that now the advertisers are coming to them. Still, they want to keep the operation small. “A lot of other newspapers are struggling to pay a mortgage and a staff of people…(operating small) allows us to be less expensive than anyone else.” 

When pressed to describe the magazine, Jacobson said, “we are really like a hybrid between a City Paper and Maxim Magazine, without the half-naked women.” Their most recent March issue has a feature on a ‘crabby old fart’ (look it up,) local rockers The Phantom Limbs, a profile of local artist Nate Britko, and a “brew review,” among other items. “Our goal is to entertain first and inform second,” she added.

Yet another Hard Times distinction is their website. Unlike most print media, which uses their website as an adjunct to the print edition, their publication uses the print edition as a teaser for the website, which is chock full of additional multimedia content based on features from the print edition.

“We produce original video content to go with many of our stories, and we try to write about things that others don’t,” said Jacobson. “In the future you will see smart phone aps, and even some flash games added to the website. Even if you read the print version there is always a reason to also visit the website.” So if you want to see some video of their featured musical artist, it’s right there on the site, along with additional pictures from their featured artist, links to their websites, and other content print simply can’t provide.

With all that occurring over the space of just a few short months, it was no wonder that Hard Times sponsored a “Release Party” earlier this month at JC’s Northside Pub in Ocean City. (Of course, JC’s is one of their key sponsors.)

So I asked Katie: why a party now, several months in?

“We just hope to get the name out there…the more people who read our publication, the better for our advertisers,” said Jacobson. Nor will this party be the last.

“We will be sponsoring Rods and Rockers at the Steer Inn over Car Show weekend (and) plan to sponsor at least one art show and one music event over the summer,” Katie told me. “We are always thinking of new fun stuff that we could do to help promote not only the magazine but all the great businesses that have supported us! I would think of it as an additional draw for our sponsors as well, people working with us can benefit from the promotion of these events.”

And that synergy between advertisers, sponsors, and featured performers extended to the entertainment and even the charitable cause at their Release Party.

The Kaleb Brown Reggae Band (above) made an appearance in the January edition as featured musicians, while Michele and Jim Hogsett (below) represented December’s featured musicians, Semiblind.

And, ever the resourceful group, you can see that Hard Times was recording the musical segments for future use – the video camera is being manned by the gentleman in black just left of the center of the picture. People were having a good time.

There was a charitable element as well, again tied to the magazine. Its February cover features Eva Paxton of the Salisbury Roller Girls, who were featured in the January issue. Eva made the cover in February, her bald head – the result of her chemotherapy – providing a contrast to the posture of strength she was assuming. Between the preparation of the piece for the January issue and its actual publication Eva was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; thus the 50-50 raffle Eva particpated in at the Release Party was to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

All in all, one thing seems certain: Bohall and Jacobson seem quite willing to put in the time and effort needed to make this magazine a go. It straddles a fine line between alternative and mainstream, with the true test of that balance being how it will be accepted over the summer by Ocean City tourists. Hopefully The Hard Times will provide a service to those throngs by introducing them to what makes our area unique.

Katie closed her note to me by wanting to thank those who made The Hard Times possible.

“I would also like to make sure I mention that we could never have done this without the overwhelming support of our readers. We have picked up 3 or 4 interns, and 5 or 6 writers who discovered our paper and just wanted to help and be a part of it. We have also received support from several local businesses like Jeffrey Auxer Design, Chauncey’s, Bungalow Love, DePietros Pizza, The Berlin Coffee House, Furious Fitness, Little Chico and Black Cobra Tattoo, and a bunch of other people who were good enough to take a chance on us when we really didn’t have a lot to show them. We really are very grateful to everyone!”

And those of us who enjoy all the things which make our little corner of the world unique would like to thank Katie Jacobson and Jeremy Bohall for bringing these bands, artists, and all else that makes this place so great to our attention. Hopefully The Hard Times will let us in on the good times we can have if we just get a little bit out of our comfort zone.

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