A potential power grab?

In 2004, Wicomico County voters adopted a system of government that would be led by a county executive, scrapping the former system where County Council had both legislative and executive powers. One reaction from this: all four of the incumbent Democratic members of County Council opted not to run for re-election in 2006; however, the first County Executive elected was Democrat Rick Pollitt.

In 2014, we had the first transfer of power between parties as GOP standard-bearer Bob Culver ousted Pollitt, who was running for a third term. At the same time, County Council maintained the 6-1 GOP edge it had received in 2010 – that was an increase from the 4-3 control they won in 2006 with only two members from the previous Council surviving the election.

So you can perhaps chalk it up to management style, or maybe the turnover on County Council over the last eight years has placed a crop of people on there who long for the old system, but Wicomico County voters are facing a bewildering array of issues on their ballot. So let’s start with the no-brainers.

Question 1 is a statewide issue that compels the Governor to appoint a new Comptroller or Attorney General from the same party as the one most recently elected and provides for a special election in a Presidential year if the vacancy occurs soon enough.

You’ll notice that this was never a problem until a Republican was elected to the governor’s chair. In fact, the last time the state had a Republican AG was in the term of Republican Governor Theodore McKeldin (1951-1959), who appointed Edward Rollins to the post to finish out the term of Hall Hammond, a Democrat elected in 1950 and promoted to the state Court of Appeals. As for Comptroller, it has exclusively been a Democrat’s position for well over a century. But maybe we could use a Libertarian as Comptroller or a Constitution Party member as Attorney General – until either can break the two-party duopoly, though, we would likely be stuck with liberal Democrats.

So because of the cynicism in addressing a problem (that really wasn’t) for strictly partisan reasons, I urge a vote AGAINST Question 1.

Question A, for Wicomico County voters, addresses the composition of the Wicomico County Board of Education. For years I have advocated for an elected school board, and after eliminating the political obstacles in the 2014 election, the path was cleared for voters to address the issue in the first three-way referendum in recent memory. Option 1 is to maintain the current appointed system, Option 2 is for a fully elected board, one each representing the five County Council districts and two at-large elected by all county residents (the same makeup as our current County Council), and Option 3 is for a hybrid board of five elected (one from each Council district) and two appointed by a locally-created board with confirmation from County Council.

Once again the cynical local Democrats have cast their lot with the fully-appointed Option 1, which provides no shortage of irony considering it’s the least democratic process. It seemed more logical that they would be for Option 3, which was the fallback position many preferred in the hearings conducted in the summer of 2015, before the enabling legislation passed earlier this year. But to maximize accountability, the best choice by far is Option 2 – a Wicomico County Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large.

Now it gets very confusing. There are nine county charter amendments on the ballot, and to me their net effect seems to be that of reducing the power of the county executive and shifting it to County Council. I wasn’t here for the 2004 vote, but it seems obvious to me that the county wanted a strong leader and a legislative County Council.

Let’s begin with Question B and its related cousin, Question D. Both would require a special election: Question B to fill a vacancy in the County Council, and Question D for the County Executive. However, either vacancy would only be filled in this manner if it occurred within the first year or so of the term, which seems to me a rather pointless change. Having gone through this process as a Central Committee member back in 2011 (to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Bob Caldwell) I can tell you that a special election would do no better and cost the taxpayers money to boot. Thus, the proper vote is AGAINST both Question B and Question D. (Editor’s note: Councilman Marc Kilmer clarifies the intent of these questions in comments below, but I still think the ballot language is misleading. Their idea of a “special election” coincides with the scheduled primary and general elections, which is not made completely clear in the ballot summary.)

Question C deals with vacancies as well, but it’s a common-sense measure to extend the time allotted for filling positions from 30 to 45 days and have them submitted at a legislative session. This extension makes sense as County Council only meets twice a month, and having gone through the Caldwell vacancy the extra time is good for getting things right. Vote FOR Question C.

Question E removes the authority of the County Executive to select a temporary successor and assigns the task automatically to the Director of Administration. While it’s likely he or she would do so anyway, the option should remain open for the head of our government to choose. We do not have a vice-executive here, so why create one? Vote AGAINST Question E.

Question F deals with the idea of “acting” appointments, and limits their term to 90 days unless Council chooses to re-appoint them. Since the idea of “acting” is that of being temporary, this proposal makes more sense than most of the others. Three months is generally suitable to find a permanent replacement, or determine that the “acting” head can handle the job, so go ahead and vote FOR Question F.

The final four questions seem to me very nit-picky, and obviously County Council’s reaction to not getting their way on various issues.

For example, Question G gives a specific definition to “reorganization” which is much more restrictive toward the County Executive. As I see it, this is a separation of powers issue and it’s strange that we went nearly ten years without ever having to deal with this problem. So I call on voters to say they are AGAINST Question G.

Questions H and I most likely are a reaction to the County Council’s desire to have its own lawyer. Currently the County Attorney represents both the County Council and County Executive, but Council wanted to change that. I see no reason to do so, nor do I see the logic behind forcing the County Executive to recognize a personnel system established by Council as authorized by this change. Thus, we should vote AGAINST Questions H and I. (Editor’s note: Again, see Kilmer’s comments below. By charter my assertion is correct in who the County Attorney represents; but in the county today there is an “acting” County Attorney while Council retains its own, which they are entitled to do. I see no reason to change the system if Question F is passed.)

Finally, we have Question J, and that’s the one I was most on the fence about. But what weighed my decision in the end was that the County Executive is responsible for the budget, so if County Council decides to cut something out it should be the County Executive’s call as to where the money goes rather than simply placed in a particular account. For that reason, a vote AGAINST Question J is the appropriate one.

So this is the monoblogue-approved ballot for Wicomico County voters. We all face the same questions and issues.

  • For Presidentwrite in Darrell Castle/Scott Bradley
  • For U.S. SenatorKathy Szeliga
  • For Congress – I did not make a formal endorsement. If you like Andy Harris, vote for him; if not, vote for the Libertarian Matt Beers.
  • Judge – Based on the fact Dan Friedman was an O’Malley appointee, vote AGAINST his continuance in office.
  • Question 1 – AGAINST
  • Question A – Option 2, the fully elected school board
  • Question B – AGAINST
  • Question C – FOR
  • Question D – AGAINST
  • Question E – AGAINST
  • Question F – FOR
  • Question G – AGAINST
  • Question H – AGAINST
  • Question I – AGAINST
  • Question J – AGAINST

For those of you across the line in Delaware, I weighed in on your state races as well.

Before I wrap up, I just ask that you all pray we make the best choices. We all have to live with what we decide, so choose wisely. After the election, it will be time to create the understanding many among us lack when it comes to making these selections because, in a lot of cases, we all have botched the process badly.

A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

The seduction of good intentions

In yesterday’s Salisbury Independent, County Councilman Marc Kilmer discussed his concerns about a tuition assistance program proposed by community leaders and supported by County Executive Bob Culver. The aim of this Wor-Wic College proposal would be to assist Wicomico County high school students by supplementing their available financial aid, with an estimated cost once the program is underway of $665,000 annually.

One of the examples cited by the backers of the Wor-Wic Economic Impact Scholarship is that of Garrett County at the far western end of Maryland, which has a similar program. I’m sure those on County Council have seen this document, but the Garrett County Commissioners have produced a (somewhat dated) report on the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which they began way back in 2006 – so the 2014 report had several years’ worth of data to evaluate its success.

A couple things to bear in mind are that Garrett County is not one of the wealthier counties in Maryland, and in terms of its economic strength it would fit in well with the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. As the report authors note, the county is in a transition “from an economy traditionally based on agriculture, forest products, and mining to a more diversified economy based on tourism, commerce, light industry, and construction.” But it is also far smaller than Wicomico County in terms of population, with just over 30,000 people – imagine the city of Salisbury (but not the outskirts and densely populated nearby incorporated and unincorporated areas) spread out in a far larger geographic area, as Garrett is the second-largest county in the state when it comes to land area. It doesn’t have a large populated area, either, as the largest towns of Mountain Lake Park and Oakland (the county seat) hover around 2,000 residents apiece.

According to the commissioners’ report, between 1/3 and 2/5 of the eligible students in the county took advantage of the program, but in raw numbers the total was less impressive: from a fall 2008 peak of 138 recipients, the number declined over the next several years to a low of 79 in the fall of 2013 (the last year detailed by the report.) Yet the program comes with a significant cost due to some of its qualities: for FY2013 the price tag was $427,365 and for FY2017 the county has budgeted $500,000. However, the county also assists students who are dual-enrolled in one of its two high schools and Garrett College as well as a handful who are enrolled in non-degree certificate programs, as well as encouraging students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours to maintain eligibility. They pick up that tab.

While the programs as envisioned here in Wicomico County and the Garrett County program have somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison to them, I think it’s fair to say that the local proposal is probably going to cost more than envisioned. Expanding the Garrett scholarship to non-degree certificate programs, while a sound idea, is an example of the mission creep that often occurs with the government getting involved. It’s also worth pointing out a spike in costs came when Garrett College tuition increased significantly in 2009.

Unfortunately, the one relevant piece of data we don’t have is whether these scholarship recipients remained to take (or create) jobs in the Garrett County region. According to state records, though, the workforce in Garrett has actually declined from 15,666 to 14,475 over the last decade (April 2006 – April 2016) for a drop of 7.6%. Conversely, Wicomico County declined from 49,566 to 47,504 in that same period, for a decrease of 4.2% – so by that measure the Garrett County program may not be very successful. (Yet the Garrett unemployment rate has only risen from 4.7% to 5.7% in comparison to a jump from 3.7% to 6% in Wicomico.)

One way of expressing the cost of this program is to equate it to property taxes. For each penny of property tax, Wicomico County collects about $570,000 (this is assuming I am reading the budget correctly, of course. But it sounds about right based on my experience.) So this would be a little over a penny out of the 95 cents or so the county collects out of every $100 of property valuation. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $20 a year toward this goal. If that seems worth it to give students a break, then support the scholarship program.

But if I may make a couple suggestions: I think the total expenditure should be capped and given out on a first come, first served basis. I understand not everyone makes snap decisions well, but in order to be fiscally responsible we can’t let this mushroom beyond its small percentage of the county budget. I would also reserve a number of slots for certificate programs Wor-Wic offers, similar to that element of Garrett’s program. Since a P-TECH school is not yet in the cards for Wicomico County, this can be the next best thing if done correctly.

It’s not likely any member of my family will take advantage of the program, but Kilmer is right to be a little skeptical of it at this stage. The county did set aside the money to begin the program once the questions are answered, though, so it’s possible an upcoming high school class will be the first to have this option.

Playing chicken with local industry

After controversy about the prospect of large poultry operations with multiple chicken houses (up to a baker’s dozen in one case) as well as concern over the paleochannel that runs near the Salisbury area, County Executive Bob Culver organized a public meeting held earlier this evening to discuss some of these concerns with a number of state officials. Ten representatives, mainly from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) but also representing the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), were made available to answer questions from a large audience of onlookers.

Culver assured the audience that there were “no predetermined outcomes from this forum,” stressing that the idea was to explore the impact these operations would have on groundwater and the paleochannel, along with the possibility of airborne toxins. Culver noted that a Daily Times editorial penned by local activist Judith Stribling called on us to be “determined to avoid polarization,” and the crowd inside complied.

Outside? Well, that was a different story.

I shared this on social media, noting the anti-poultry zealots had arrived. Yet that band of perhaps three dozen was no more than a fraction of those inside. And it’s a sure bet that many thousands more will be alerted to the results of this meeting on local media.

Needless to say, once moderator Greg Bassett of the Salisbury Independent opened up the questions, which were written by audience members and passed to the front of the room, we had a lot of queries about how the operations would affect the water supply as well as the disposition of the natural by-products of the poultry.

In fact, the first question out of the chute was on how the PMT regulations were affecting the capacity of the land to handle manure. Dave Mister of the Department of Agriculture told those gathered that “we feel there will be adequate land to apply manure.” One thing he didn’t add was that much of the lower Shore has reached its saturation point for phosphorus, so that waste would need to be transported.

But the main thrust of the questioners regarding the waste itself was the effects it would have on peoples’ health. There were no “cancer clusters” being caused by these operations, said Dr. Clifford Mitchell of DHMH. Asthma from airborne particulates could be an issue, but that depended more on the individual and poultry operations couldn’t be blamed as a blanket cause.

The only possible issue could be nitrates in the water supply, which is regulated by the federal EPA to prevent what’s called “blue baby syndrome.” There is no regulation for phosphorus, added John Grace of MDE.

Moreover, the panel agreed health or environmental issues shouldn’t be a problem as long as the operation is run according to permit requirements. The idea is “zero discharge,” said Gary Kelman of the MDE. “No discharge will occur…if the permit is adhered to,” Kelman added. We also learned that they inspect based on complaints, and “we have lots of eyes out there,” said Kelman. Operations are inspected every five years at the minimum, but more often if there are complaints.

This to me may be an Achilles heel for the industry, since those who want to stir up trouble can make it difficult for CAFOs (short for concentrated animal feeding operations) to survive a week without some inspection. (To be considered a CAFO, a grower has to deal with 37,500 or more birds.)

And while they couldn’t answer a question dealing with the carrying capacity of our local industry, Mister admitted the number of chickens being grown was probably increasing. “The industry is growing, and that’s a good thing,” said Mister. The industry has to expand to be successful.

It was interesting to me that one of the more asinine questions was what they would do to protect smaller farmers; a question that received a smattering of applause. Mister simply said that was “best answered by the industry.” But on a compliance basis, he noted that all farmers have issues yet they get “phenomenal” cooperation from growers when there are problems.

We went almost the first hour without getting a question about the paleochannel, but one finally came. And the consensus was that there was “little chance” the paleochannel would be affected by these operations because they were all under roof – even the mortality composters were protected from the elements. In the event of a catastrophic loss, there was also the option of using the manure storage shed. There seems to be a lot of redundancy in the operation as well as in the permitting process.

That process also was a concern of some questioners, who worried that there was an effort to “fast-track” approvals. But the idea was to process them as efficiently as possible, protested Hussein Alhija of MDE, who noted “my job is to improve the process.” Several different state entities have to work in conjunction to get these permits in order. It’s a “very complex process.” noted Mister, who added that education on permitting was important. Kelman chimed in by pointing out lenders need the permits in order to fund the operations.

Nor is the paleochannel in danger from the water usage required by these operations. Poultry growing uses “several orders of magnitude” less water than cropland operations, said Grace. In fact, there is “no declining water level” in the aquafers. “We’re okay as far as the water supply goes,” Grace assessed.

Yet while the answers seemed to be satisfactory regarding water quality and permitting, those who thought CAFOs could be eliminated from being adjacent to residential areas were likely disappointed. The only standard that applies as far as the state is concerned is that operations must be 1oo feet away from “waters of the state.” Otherwise, Kelman conceded that it “seems to be a local zoning issue.” Given that residential development is oftentimes adjacent to land zoned agricultural, that will be something the county would need to address.

And there will still be people who are aggravated, even with all the assurances from the state group.

Perhaps the creator of this sign is related to the late William Donald Schaefer, the onetime governor who called the Eastern Shore the “shithouse” of Maryland.

In about an hour and a half, though, we all got a little understanding about the permitting process prospective growers have to go through, and perhaps it’s the idea that dealing with one big farm and one permit rather than several operations that is making the large-scale farms the better business model.

In his introduction, Culver noted there are 2,300 employees of local poultry companies. That’s a decent percentage of the local workforce, and it doesn’t count the ancillary jobs created by the need for these employees to live their lives. If the supply chain of chicken dries up, there will be a significant impact to our local economy that low-impact tourism can’t replace.

Given the evidence that the state of Maryland is trying to be of assistance to growers in maintaining a clean environment, the only explanation for the opposition is that it’s being whipped up by Radical Green, with the paleochannel just an excuse to stop vital development. With the steps being taken to treat stormwater and precautions being taken to keep farm operations as environmentally friendly as possible, I think that chicken growers are trying to be the best neighbors they can – it’s the outside extremists who are trying to foul our economic nest.

A look ahead: 2016 in Wicomico County

After doing this the last two years one would think I would be an expert at dissecting what will go on over the course of a year, but in this case my crystal ball is a little bit cloudy. Perhaps that’s because things are looking up for a change.

I went to the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website and downloaded some figures which reflect great job creation news - particularly in the latter half of this year. Since June, Wicomico County employment figures are running between 1,300 and 1,800 jobs higher than the corresponding month of 2014. Conversely, in 2014 we never ran more than 753 jobs ahead of 2013 and by the end of last year we actually had fewer employed than the year prior. That downturn carried into this calendar year but by March we had turned the corner.

The growth in the latter half of the year was reminiscent of the boom period of 2004-06, when Wicomico County routinely gained 1,000 or more jobs in every month year-over-year.

So the question will be whether county revenues begin to increase. Unlike the boom of a decade ago, which was fueled by a rapid increase in property values that later translated into increased tax collections, this upturn doesn’t come with rapidly appreciating property values. And there are plenty of bills for the county to pay – two new schools with a third one now placed into the pipeline as well as new facilities for the Board of Elections, increased mandates for education spending and environmental cleanup from the state and federal governments, respectively, and a call from the city of Salisbury to assist them more with fire protection expenses through a more equitable revenue sharing. Certainly it appears that any new money has a number of hands reaching out for it.

Another question regards how well two relatively new leaders will work with each other. It’s fortunate that both County Executive Bob Culver and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day spent a little bit of time on the legislative side of things because it will help them understand the process the other has to go through to get things done. If there’s one thing we have learned from Culver, though, it’s that he’s a man of action who always seems to have a to-do list of improvements he’d like to see. It’s more autocratic than bureaucratic on the county side of the Government Office Building these days. Initial impressions of Day seem to be similar, although he’s made much less of an impact on taking office than Culver did insofar as personnel decisions are concerned.

But there are two key issues regarding education that will be out of Culver’s hands. One is the fate of the elected school board, which is now up to the Maryland General Assembly. The other is the new superintendent that will take over the county schools sometime in 2016. The Board of Education begins the selection process after the holidays – by the way, the county Republican Central Committee will be called upon to retain or replace two GOP members of that body this summer.

Getting around may become a little more difficult next fall as well, as the state will begin replacing 11 bridge decks on the U.S. 13 bypass. It’s a project that’s not supposed to impact summer traffic in 2017 but won’t be complete until 2018.

In comparison to previous years there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly contentious on the horizon - with the possible exception of the proposed large-scale chicken farms Radical Green is already up in arms against - which probably means we’re going to have an interesting year. If we can keep up the pace of job creation, though, eventually the local economy will get back to where it was a decade ago and prosperity takes care of a lot of problems.

Tomorrow I shift my focus to the state as a whole.

In the giving spirit

One nice thing about Salisbury elections is that money unspent in the campaigns is not carried over to the next election but is required to either be returned to contributors or given to another entity, normally a charity. (There are exceptions, though – stick with me, it’s called foreshadowing.) With the release of the final financial statements earlier this week, I was curious to see where all the money went.

I’ll begin with the City Council races and District 1, where defeated incumbent Shanie Shields distributed $959.48 to a number of organizations around her neighborhood. $500 went to the Chipman Foundation while smaller amounts were received by the Wesley Temple, Operation We Care, and two local elementary schools, West Salisbury and Pemberton. Meanwhile, the winner April Jackson donated her modest leftover sum of $26.82 to the Salisbury Advisory Council while Sarah Halcott closed out her books by donating $96.13 to the Art Institute and Gallery. That made sense given Halcott’s line of business as an artisan.

There wasn’t a lot of money left in District 2, as the only candidate to file a final statement was victor Muir Boda. Boda gave $39.61 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

District 3 winner Jack Heath had much more unspent, as he distributed $1,495.80 among four recipients: Lower Shore Enterprises, Operation We Care, the Salisbury Zoo, and the Joseph House. Amounts ranged from $325 to $500 for each. Neither of the other candidates had leftover funds at the end of the campaign.

Lots of money flowed into District 4, but not all of it was spent campaigning. Jim Ireton split the $399.96 remaining balance equally between the Wicomico High softball team, Tri-Community Mediation, and the Wicomico Public Library Homework Help Center. On the other hand, Roger Mazzullo had no money remaining.

Finally among the Council members, Laura Mitchell did not need to file a report. She was the lone unopposed Council candidate, as was Mayor Jake Day for his post. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

First of all, Day was two days late in filing his report because he has a discrepancy between his records and accounts of $764.85. I make no accusations as to funny business; most likely someone put a number in the wrong column or the bank messed up. There are any number of logical reasons for the error.

More importantly, though, Day had over $10,000 to distribute – getting contributions when running unopposed will tend to do that – and he chose to make two disbursements. Instead of charitable contributions, though, as of this week we have two brand new state political entities:

  • Jake Day for Maryland had an initial contribution of $6,000. Day serves as the chairman and his campaign treasurer Jordan Gilmore retains that role for the new entity.
  • The New Day for Maryland PAC got the remaining $4,075.89, with Day’s campaign manager Alison Pulcher serving as chair and Gilmore as treasurer.

Note that the PAC is not to be confused with the New Day MD PAC that former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar began in 2009. Lollar’s PAC, as of its 2015 report filed in January, has less than $250 to its name.

Naturally these new campaign finance entities make me wonder if Day is going to serve a full term unhindered by political aspirations or perhaps challenge Bob Culver in 2018. Heck, even Jim Ireton – who has strongly hinted about a Congressional run – didn’t move his city money to create a federal account. (Ireton’s had a state account for a few years, with just over $1,000 in it at last report back in January.) But the campaign entity can also serve as a warchest to stave off challengers in the next city election, too.

In the meantime, we should be proud that much of the leftover campaign cash will be doing good in the community. With the elections now set for November, the contributions came as a nice Christmas gift to several local entities. It will have to tide them over through 2019, though.

Update: Day responds:

Odds and ends number 75

It’s been almost three years since this was a regular feature on my site, but it appears I may have to bring this back to deal with all the stuff that I receive and deem to be somewhat newsworthy - just not enough to devote an entire post to. Ideally I can use it to clean out an e-mail box that gets too full of stuff that otherwise sits for awhile. As always, we’ll see how it goes but it’s been long enough that I had to go look up where I was in the series.

If you recall when I discussed the state convention last week, Maryland National Committeeman Louis Pope was pleased with the national GOP’s fiscal situation and it was also announced that the state party was finally out of debt. So it’s interesting to find out our national Democratic counterparts are doing what they do best: spending money they don’t have. Even with Martin O’Malley still in the race, they can’t just raise taxes to cover the difference.

It’s doubtful that Hillary’s campaign will be hurt, but Democrats are also salivating over retaking the Senate as the seats won by the GOP in the first TEA Party wave of 2010 come up for re-election in a Presidential year. That’s where a shortfall could come into play.

Speaking of the state convention, the sponsor of the amendment which actually stripped the voting rights of three auxiliary organizations now questions his own standing in introducing the amendment in the first place. It’s the ultimate in do-overs, but we have to ask whether he would have been as honest had the proposal passed.

Now Tony Campbell wants a special convention to right what was made wrong.

In discussing this with a former Chair, one thing that I learned is that seldom does an individual vote matter on the Executive Committee – there is rarely a time when a vote is close enough to make a difference. The only instance he could think of where a vote was close like that was the vote of no confidence in former Chair Jim Pelura back in 2009. That was still a relatively lopsided vote, 20 to 10, but the county chairs only voted 14 to 10. It was the six leadership and auxiliary votes that padded the margin.

(It’s also a rare time of late that I cite the balky and ad-bloated Red Maryland site, but you’ll notice the reason for the exception.)

So I think we should deal with this in due course. Perhaps we can do like we do for government “shutdowns” and give the auxiliary organizations their votes later as back votes once we rectify the situation, as I know we will.

Staying with the Maryland GOP, a few days back I received a list of 61 Republican leaders throughout the state who are backing Delegate Kathy Szeliga in her U.S. Senate bid. As you may expect, there are a lot of General Assembly members on the list: locally it includes Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Mary Beth Carozza, and Charles Otto as well as Senator Addie Eckardt and County Executive Bob Culver. 42 of 50 Republican Delegates and 13 of 14 GOP Senators are on the list. (George Edwards of western Maryland is the recalcitrant Senator.)

But I noticed one name among the local delegation was missing: it looks like Delegate Johnny Mautz has kept his powder dry for the moment. I can’t figure out if he just didn’t want to sign or if he’s backing someone else – with his Congressional staffer connections, he would be a logical backer of Richard Douglas. Just grist for the mill.

I haven’t even started to make my mind up on the race, but I will say Kathy has a long way to go to get my support – if only because her campaign website is still bare-bones a couple weeks after she jumped into the fray. That’s the type of lack of attention to detail that can sink a campaign.

Ethanol hasn’t been in the news much lately, but I thought it was worth pointing out that one of my favorite energy writers, Marita Noon, recently detailed how Ben Carson has moved to the right side of the issue. API’s Linda Rozett adds her two cents as well, making the case that dairy subsidies didn’t work out well so neither are ethanol carveouts creating the desired effects. Look, when we have plenty of oil there’s no real need to use food for fuel, despite what the corn growers who are enjoying the artificial price support may say.

Of course, people like me who believe food shouldn’t be used as fuel tend to fall into the category of climate change “deniers.” The folks at Organizing Against America For Action are excited about events in Paris. (Not the Friday the 13th ones, although this could be just as detrimental to millions.) In an e-mail exhorting supporters to “call out” skeptics, they say:

Remember when getting an elected official to even mention carbon pollution or climate change was a big deal? We’ve come a long way.

Today, the momentum for action has never been greater. Climate change denial in America is at an all-time low, and hundreds of companies have come out to support rules on power plant pollution. As if that wasn’t enough, religious leaders like Pope Francis are insisting that there is a moral obligation to address climate change.

In just two weeks, more than 160 nations, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s carbon pollution, are joining together for an international conference to tackle climate change, while we still can.

I dare them to call me out. YOU ARE A FRAUD. We’ve been holding steady on global temperature since the turn of the millennium, and if anything the indications are we are getting colder, not warmer. Throttling back the economies of the developed world will only weaken the rest of the planet.

Yet there are people talking common sense:

Climate change deniers are trying to spoil this big moment by undermining America’s commitment to act on climate change.

Some senators, like James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell, are going out of their way to undermine American commitments. Senator Inhofe, famous for bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof that climate change doesn’t exist, has committed to crash the talks and be a “one-man truth squad,” telling the international negotiators how little he believes in climate science.

Senator Inhofe isn’t alone. Back at home, climate change deniers in both chambers of Congress are working to overturn the carbon pollution standards for power plants.

Good. I hope they succeed in overturning the job-killing restrictions. Just call me the Republican uncle, except I can do more than recite talking points.

Killing – not of jobs, but of fellow public housing residents – may not be out of the realm of the 6,000 drug convicts the Obama administration is releasing, and thanks to Judicial Watch we also know that they will be welcomed into public housing. I will grant that probably 99% of them will be more or less model citizens, but that still leaves a few dozen miscreants to cause trouble. I think Judicial Watch has reason to be concerned, as do those residents who get them as neighbors. Perhaps the same sort of notice granted when sex offenders move nearby is in order, at least to start. Call it a probationary period.

Finally, let’s end on a happier note. I wrote about a similar event last year, but over the weekend we were encouraged to participate in the Made in the USA Christmas Challenge by the Patriot Voices advocacy group. While most of the electronics we use are made overseas, it is possible to purchase gifts made in America. (One familiar group has some suggestions.)

It’s worth noting, though – as of this writing, just 116 have signed up at Patriot Voices. That’s not very many patriots, so hopefully more people than that are conscious of the advantages of supporting our businesses.

So there you have it – you are more informed and I have a clean inbox. I love it when a plan comes together.

WCRC meeting – October 2015

After a delay of a month caused by a trial that resulted in a conviction, we got to hear from Matt Maciarello tonight as our featured speaker. So we did the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and roster of distinguished guests before received the treasurer’s report.

Matt went over the two key issues we’re having – juvenile crime and the opioid epidemic. Most of his time was spent talking about the latter, although he noted specific information on overdoses was hard to come by due to HIPAA restrictions. It was possible to deduce this information from other factors, though.

Noting that “you can’t arrest your way out of the problem,”  Maciarello pointed out that the county had what he described as an “opioid reduction officer,” who was tasked with, among other things, figuring out what other states were doing. One example Matt used was the TROSA program in North Carolina, where rehabbing addicts were both treated and taught one of five trades.

Closer to home Matt wanted to see a 24-hour call center established so those in need could be connected to resources like available treatment beds. He also wanted to differentiate the legal approach to those who sold heroin for profit as opposed to those who sold it to feed their habits, although the idea was to get both off the streets. He also advocated for better coordination of treatment, explaining that support shouldn’t end when a patient leaves the center. Many people need methadone treatment for months or even years afterward, he added.

Yet there was a compassionate side to the approach. Matt believed we needed to “take away the shame from opioid addiction” because it’s touched a lot of lives and people shouldn’t be discouraged from getting help. Many times the problem began with over-prescription of legal drugs or kids accessing their parents’ medication, Eventually this can lead to heroin addiction, which is dangerous because of how the drug is “cut” with other compounds.

Juveniles were also a concern for Maciarello, who noted we have “a critical mass of anti-social teens.”  Matt seemed a little frustrated with the current juvenile system, which he had “broad philosophical issues” with. A different path he spent some time encouraging was that of mentoring, for which there is a critical need based on a lengthy waiting list of youth looking for one. Even an hour a week can make a difference, said Matt! and he encouraged the club to be a leader in that regard. We were pleased to learn County Executive Bob Culver was on board with this idea, as Culver revealed some employee policy changes to accommodate the need were in the works.

Opioids accounted for about 70 percent of the crime problem, but overall Matt’s goal was “to set the model for the state” on reversing the problem.

All that was a tough act for City Council candidate Roger Mazzullo to follow, so he stuck more to his pro-business agenda. He wanted to work with the new mayor on bringing jobs and industry to the city through incentives; however, he also mentioned the desire to address youth crime through more activities for the youth. As a neophyte politician, Roger was “impressed” with the cooperation between law enforcement and the community; in turn, Maciarello praised Mazzullo for being the one candidate to meet with him and raise “thoughtful questions.”

One thing I asked, based on the marketing experience he touted, was what strengths he could use to sell Salisbury. He emphasized the rural feel of the area, but the subject somehow came atound to specific stores like Harris Teeter or Redner’s, specifically to fill the old Giant/Super Fresh location near the north Walmart. (Personally I think Redner’s would be the better fit there but I could envision either.) And you can count Mazzullo among those who want a Cracker Barrel. Still, he added “I believe in local (business),” adding he was less than impressed with his opponent’s business record as mayor.

After all that, the reports were fairly anti-climactic. On behalf of the Central Committee, Mark McIver reminded us the Lincoln Day Dinner was in less than two weeks, and we were looking for silent auction items. Thus, we secured a one-hour tennis lesson courtesy of Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (who as I recall played collegiately) and a surfing lesson from Matt Maciarello. Delegate Carl Anderton didn’t have a lesson to give, but a guided tour of the State House was a good substitute.

Alison Pulcher spoke on behalf of HERO Day, which will also occur on November 7. The main events are a 5k run and dog walk, but other events and speakers would also liven up the festivities.

I gave a brief synopsis of the fall festivals, taking the time to thank my volunteers, and also reminded the group we will need to establish a Nominations Committee by next month to select possible officers for next year. Finally, Joe Ollingrr asked if we could resume getting registration reports from the Board of Elections.

Truly, it was one of our more informative meetings of the year. The next one is slated for November 23, the Monday before Thanksgiving. It will be the final WCRC meeting of 2015.

2015 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

October 13, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

For six consecutive years I’ve been a part of the Good Beer Festival. After getting its legs under it and enduring a couple years of subpar weather in 2013 and 2014, the hopes were high for a banner event.

They didn’t take credit for the weather, but as always a number of local politicians crowded around the ribbon cutting. Accompanied by the fine folks of Wicomico County’s Recreation and Parks were (from left to right) County Councilman Marc Kilmer, County Council President John Cannon, County Executive Bob Culver, Senator Jim Mathias (in back), Delegates Carl Anderton (in back), Christopher Adams, and Sheree Sample-Hughes, and County Councilman John Hall.

One thing I liked was the schedule boards they added to alert those who came to the GBF to the various events going on that day. The event is focusing more and more on the home brewers, so the talks from local brewers were popular with that set.

As usual, Saturday drew the larger crowd. I took the photos at 1:30 and 3:30.

It didn’t seem quite as busy as last year, but not for lack of trying. Ever try human foosball?

Looked like fun, although it was a little cutthroat. On the other hand, the VIP tent seemed like it needed a little something – like people.

The local beer area is always a favorite, though. It features the ever-amusing chalkboards.

So went Saturday. As you may have noticed, Sunday was a clear, lovely day. But the crowd was far smaller.

Granted, I took these photos a little later in the day, but the attendance was probably half or less. Personally, I liked not having to deal with the larger crowds.

As long as they stopped by our tent…

…and participated in our corn poll.

Those who had the fullest Mason jars were Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

This was the perspective we had, as the sun was setting on another edition of the GBF.

So I close with this photo, just because I liked it.

In a few days I’ll do my look at the bands of the GBF.

Rent stabilization shot down in flames

Well, that went over like a lead balloon.

Susan Canfora at the Salisbury Independent did a nice job wrapping up what seems like a one-sided hearing on the rent stabilization matter.

But the question from Councilman Tim Spies deserves an answer – why did this come up weeks before the election? I have a couple theories on this, one involving the immediate future election and one three years hence.

In the immediate election, he needs to make sure he has turnout among his base. A significant portion of Ireton’s district is either in minority areas or lives in rental housing so he has an issue he can bring up on the campaign trail.

But the real payoff, I feel, is in 2018. Jim needs to stand behind a progressive agenda to contrast him with his likely opponent, Delegate Carl Anderton. I’m not saying the agenda has to be enacted, just proposed.

And Jim’s now in a good position to blame failures on someone else while taking credit for successes. For example, if downtown revitalization continues under the Day administration, he’ll be quick to say he got the ball rolling but if things go south Jim can toss the new mayor under the bus. (This also holds true if Jim decides to square off with County Executive Bob Culver, but I think Delegate is the more likely play.) I think this is the best explanation why Jim didn’t seek another mayoral term – if he thought he had the record to beat Jake Day he would have.

There were a lot of holes in Ireton’s rental plan; for starters it only affected single dwelling units and not multi-family complexes. It would also put landlords in the perverse position of arguing for a higher assessment in order to be able to charge more rent.

So now this goes on the “mayor’s list.” That is interesting because that’s Ireton’s list for another few weeks before Day gets it. I’m not sure how long of a list he has, but let’s not cross that one off as an accomplishment anytime soon.

WCRC Crab Feast 2015 in pictures and text

Subtitled, the year of the monsoon.

I found this year I took very few pictures compared to past years. Some of that was the weather, where the skies gushed forth just before our slated 1 p.m. start. It forced us all under the pavilion but those on the outside rows were still soaked.

This also meant the silent auction was ruined. We ended up with a live auction later.

Yet the pouring rain didn’t spoil everything. We made a special presentation to Jim Jester, our club’s volunteer of the year. A plaque is one thing, but a fine cigar can be quite another. Both were kept dry.

And the crabs apparently were good because we had to do a quick order for another three or four bushels. (The crab eaters at my table gave them good reviews.) The corn also went fast, but at least some of the produce was donated.

While the elected officials didn’t speak formally, most made the rounds of the event. Being early in the term, they didn’t need to campaign, but the awareness group We Decide Wicomico had a number of yard signs.

There were a lot of elected officials there, but I think the award for coming the farthest goes to Johnny Mautz. I grabbed the photo from Julie Brewington since she tagged me in it.

We also had Senator Addie Eckardt, Delegates Carl Anderton, Mary Beth Carozza, and Charles Otto, and a host of local pols from County Executive Bob Culver on down. But the most surprising no-show to me was Congressional candidate Mike Smigiel, who I figured would drop by. Granted, a Congressional district has a lot going on during any given Saturday but there was nothing I noticed on his calendar except a missed opportunity.

Hopefully the 2016 version will avoid the monsoon and make a lot of money for the club. Once the rain left, it wasn’t a bad afternoon and some people ventured to the outside tables. Let’s if we can’t fill the outside tables as we have before and have a lucrative silent auction.

WCRC meeting – August 2015

It was via a roundabout route, but we finally heard from the man who’s presumptively Salisbury’s next mayor, Jake Day. Because Jake had another place to be this evening – the Salisbury City Council meeting that he ran as their president – we had a succession of speakers to fill the time. It was interesting to note that several of these speakers dropped in as our meeting was going on, which told me they were looking forward to hearing what Jake had to say.

But we began as we always do, with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, all done by our first vice-president Muir Boda, who filled in for our under-the-weather president Shawn Jester. We then did the swearing in of new second vice-president Dave Snyder, who pledged to be “a very good listener” and work to recruit 100 new GOP voters and new club members.

I took a little time to thank people for helping out at the Wicomico County Fair, as did Dave. My one suggestion was to perhaps look into a spot for outside next year.

In a Central Committee report, Mark McIver called the elected school board “one of the biggest things on our plate.” He added there was a new initiative called “We Decide” that was a non-partisan group to back an all-elected school board, and related the urging from County Council that we should participate in these hearings. It was going to be “an 8-week push.”

Mark Edney added his two cents, informing us that there will be an initiative this fall to address the issue of vacancies in the General Assembly through the state party’s bylaws. Noting the issues faced by Carroll County, Edney intoned that it was “important that we get this right” because members of both parties in the General Assembly sought to take away the power local Central Committees had to choose successors.

Joe Ollinger updated us on the Crab Feast, which had most of the items in place except a silent auction coordinator. It’s still on schedule for September 12 at Schumaker Park.

Speaking of food, Muir Boda announced his own, more modest event this Saturday at Doverdale Park. His community barbecue was slated for 3-5 p.m. but volunteers could show up at 2:00. Boda remarked he had three opponents in the election, so getting out the vote was paramount.

He also commented that the proposed city curfew was a “big issue” but questioned whether it would be enforceable given current resources and the spread-out geography of Salisbury. By itself, a curfew “won’t solve youth crime,” Muir said.

Senator Addie Eckardt, who had arrived after we began, spoke briefly about her upcoming annual bike ride through the district that will cover Wicomico County on Thursday. She also praised Governor Hogan, who has “put a great team together.” It would help government become, as she put it, more responsive and cost-effective.

Delegate Christopher Adams remarked about his attendance at the defund Planned Parenthood rally in Easton as well as a stop last week at Wallops Island in Virginia. They were expecting to resume launches at the pad damaged in an explosion last fall by March, he said.

Looking forward, though, he wanted to concentrate on regulatory reform, as some needed changes could be done more easily through that avenue than through the legislative process.

Fellow Delegate Johnny Mautz predicted “a really busy session” next year but expressed his disappointment in getting a low 25% score from the League of Conservation Voters. I looked up the floor votes they scored: two were anti-fracking measures and the other was the “repeal” of the rain tax sponsored by Mike Miller. So pro-business was not going to meet pro-environmnet with the LCV.

Bunky Luffman stood in for Delegate Carl Anderton, commenting to an earlier point made about regulation by bringing up the sprinkler mandate that is halting construction locally. One local developer lost a builder who refused to build more dwellings – they weren’t able to make money with the mandate and additional costs.

Most of the legislators had come late to hear Jake Day, who spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 20. Apologizing both for being late and a lack of sleep as a new dad, Day told us he was “very excited” about becoming mayor. As a Council member he was pursuing a pro-business agenda, but noted “I have found a roadblock in the current administration.” Like the state of Maryland, his effort would be to attract business: “I want us to be competitive,” said Day, citing Delaware under Jack Markell as a “more friendly and welcoming environment.” Perdue’s decision to move some of its corporate operations to Delaware “sent a message,” said Jake. “The economy will be first and foremost on my mind each day.” His idea was to grow jobs “locally and organically,”

One area he saw as a job creator was downtown, for which revitalization was important to Jake. It’s “part of the renaissance” of Salisbury, said Day. He criticized the “lack of active leadership from the top” and sought a City Council that was cordial, but aggressive. He also announced the intention to continue divesting the city’s surface parking lots, believing successful downtowns do better with infill rather than surface parking.

Crime was another top issue. Day observed that criminal activity was starting at a younger and younger age, so the city could have to “pick up where the parents left off.”

It was an enlightening address, but the questions were good, too. The first one out of the chute was about the “rain tax.” Jake disagreed with the state mandate, but believed it was necessary for a city which had ignored the issue for over a century. He was willing, though, to reduce property tax rates and scrap the city’s inventory tax to help even things out.

And when I asked why the city couldn’t use its water and sewer fund surplus, Day said the surplus was being depleted too quickly. Basically the relief would be short-term at best.

Corollary to that initial question was a discussion about the closing of Labinal, which will cost the city hundreds of jobs. While the popular opinion was that the state’s difficult business climate drove them away, Day said the answer was more simple: Texas (and Mexico) were closer to their main customer base, and Salisbury mainly served military clients whose contracts were winding down.

A second concern was the issue with fire service. Rather than the “big mistake” of giving ultimatums through the media, Jake was working closely with county officials in coming up with a long-term solution. He conceded it probably wouldn’t be all the city wanted, but noted that he and County Executive Bob Culver were “working well together.” The key was making things more fair in a way that doesn’t alienate non-city residents.

Our wastewater treatment plant was the subject of a question. Calling its saga “a scar on Salisbury’s history,” Day announced the next phase of renovations would begin in October. Bunky Luffman, who formerly worked at the plant, pointed out it had reduced the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorou, but not enough to meet more stringent state standards that changed midstream.

A final questioner tested Day on his “number one challenge – is my (business) location safe?” Crime was a concern for local businesses, and “a lot of solutions to our challenges are economic,” Jake said. He vowed to show leadership and compile more data on the current conditions.

We finally let Jake go, so that Boda could announce our next meeting would be September 28. Hopefully it will be as chock-full of information as this one was.

Upping the ante

May 12, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

At our Central Committee meeting last night we had the pleasure of hearing from Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver. One thing we touched upon in the meeting was the aspect of public hearings for gauging public support of an elected school board in Wicomico County, at the behest of Senator Jim Mathias. We learned that none of these sessions had been planned yet, so I’m going to throw out the first ideas on this.

I don’t think anyone would say that there can be too few public hearings but I think that there can be too many. Sooner or later people would lose interest so I think the optimum number would be five.

To me, five is the fairest number because we could base one in each County Council district – important because the proposal would use those same boundaries for school board districts. As far as timing, I think August is the best month although September is acceptable as well. This has more to do with the availability of facilities than anything else, because in most cases schools would be the ideal location for these public hearings. Specifically, I think the hearings should be sited in the following facilities, all of which lie within that Council district.

  • District 1: West Salisbury Elementary School
  • District 2: Mardela Middle’High School
  • District 3: Wicomico Youth and Civic Center
  • District 4: Bennett High School
  • District 5: Pittsville Elementary/Middle School

These locations are somewhat spread through the county, although by necessity most are in the Salisbury area.

Obviously elected officials may not be able to make each of these hearings, and the idea is to hear from as many voices as possible. But if the respective County Council members can act as hosts and facilitators, the process should be satisfactory to all involved.

Then we can get to the business of passing this bill in next year’s session. The people’s voice delayed should not be the people’s voice denied.

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