28 April 2010

2010 Census Update

The US Census Bureau has tallied the participant responses for the mail-in portion of the 2010 Census.  In addition, they have mapped the participation rates of most local areas.  Participation rates in the Columbia area are as follows:

A visual representation of the above data can be viewed by taking the following steps:

Click on the red "Census 2010" square in the Census widget to the right.
Click on light blue “view participation rates” box.
Enter Columbia zip code (i.e. 21045)
Click on “Find”
Click on “Local View”

27 April 2010

Increasing Village Voter Turnout might be a Bread and Butter (and Cheese) Issue

I bring this to the Compass Nation with only a smidgen of seriousness.

As the reporting on the Village Elections begins to trickle in, the issue of voter turnout comes up.  In Wilde Lake, a competitive CA Board election helped drive a healthy turnout of 24%.  Meanwhile in Hickory Ridge, the Columbia Flier/Explore Howard product reports that not enough people voted to reach a quorum.

In most years, voter turnout has been an issue and many villages employ different means to increase the numbers.  Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance allow for voting to occur over two days.  Kings Contrivance typically also sponsors a fish at the National Aquarium based on kids votes (I like that!). 

Oakland Mills has a houseplant sale.  Other villages hold flea markets.

Yesterday I came across a report that might be lightning in the electoral bottle, or it may be a flop.  It turns out that the same weekend that Columbia Village Elections were held was also an event-filled weekend – in Los Angeles.

The event that I speak of is none other than the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (Not a typo).  Reports indicate that thousands of people thronged the invitational to sample derivations on the grilled cheese theme, with accompanying soups.  I personally would like to try the mozzarella with tomato and basil grilled cheese (a grilled caprece?) with a side of Italian wedding soup. 

So, if a village held a grilled cheese invitational the same day as the election, maybe voter turnout would skyrocket.  Most people I know love the bread-butter-cheese comfort food and maybe we could get a local restaurant to help out.  Although sometimes hot, the normally cool and cloudy April election weather would be the optimum type of weather for melted, gooey, slightly slippery triangles.

And lastly, grilled cheese is one of those normalizing foods.  You just can’t get worked up about things when you have a grilled cheese sandwich in your hands.

In the words of the Los Angeles Grilled Cheese Invitational:


23 April 2010

Election Correction

For the last five years, the CA/Village Board elections in Wilde Lake have been what could be politely termed, a “spirited” event.  In recent years Wilde Lake residents have seen campaign literature dropped on their doorsteps and arrive in their mailboxes.  Prominent officials elected to state office have sent emails, dropped personal notes on doors, and personally called residents.  And this year, we have seen yard signs popping up around the neighborhood.

phil sign

linda sign

With this as a backdrop, we find in Thursday’s Columbia Flier a few letters to the editor endorsing either Phil Kirsch or Linda Odum in this year’s race for Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative.  These letters are often written by well meaning residents moved enough by the election issues to publicly espouse their support for one candidate or another.  Sometimes the letters portray the stance of a candidate in a negative light (as compared to the candidate of their choice).  For example, Wilde Lake resident Joyce Ardo takes incumbent Phil Kirsch to task regarding shoreline erosion on Wilde Lake.   However, those letters encouraging support for Phil Kirsch, published less than 100 hours before the polls open, raise some concerns.


Wilde Lake resident Ethel Hill authored the first letter of concern.  Ethel is a long tenured Wilde Lake resident and has a long history of public involvement.  She has served on many boards and is a former Wilde Lake Village Board Chair.  Her dedication to the community is well known and stands above most.  We are lucky to have people like Ethel living in Wilde Lake. 

For many years, Ethel Hill has advocated for the Columbia Association to institute a Montgomery Village style leaf collection program.  Ms. Hill believes this would benefit all Columbia residents, and in particular those residents that choose to age in place.  Under this program, residents would push fallen leaves into the street and have the Columbia Association collect the leaves for disposal. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I first became aware of Ethel Hill’s leaf collection idea in 2007.  In that year, I ran against Phil Kirsch for the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative position.  That spring Ethel penned a Columbia Flier letter to the editor that stated (in part):

For instance, some of the CA assessment could be used to provide sidewalk snow-removal services instead of opting to spend enormous sums to compete with better-positioned privately owned health clubs. For another, why not contract for leaf pickup, requiring only that residents sweep leaves to the sidewalk rather than bearing the onerous or impossible task (for some) of either bagging leaves or having the expense of paying someone to do it.

Three years later, her concerns still not addressed, Ethel Hill attended the Wilde Lake Candidates Night to again put the question to both Columbia Council Representative candidates.  Phil Kirsch, now addressing the question for the second time, expressed concern for Ethel’s plight and recalled a time when he was president of a group of single family homes in Bryant Woods.  He went on to say that by representing several houses in the community, he was able to obtain a favorable rate for leaf removal from a landscaping company.  Linda Odum responded by stating that there might be a greener, earth-friendly solution in that residents could, in cooperation with the county, establish leaf composting on their property; thereby eliminating the time and expense of bagging the leaves and also providing a source of nutrient rich compost product to be used by the property owner to fertilize existing shrubs and trees.

In her letter to the editor, Ethel recounts the exchange as follows:

Unfortunately, however, the Columbia Association remains stuck on attracting and providing for the interests and needs of younger residents and are ignoring quality-of-life issues important to "seasoned" people, especially those of us who are homeowners.
If you suspect there is a bee in my bonnet, you are absolutely right. One of them is the huge cost we incur for leaf removal alone. The least residents should be able to expect for the lien assessment we pay is a system whereby the leaves can be raked to the sidewalk for pickup. This is how it's done in Montgomery Village. If CA would behave like the homeowner's association it is intended to be, perhaps it wouldn't be so difficult to identify the resources to fund such relief.
When I raised this issue with Linda Odum, Phil's opponent in the race, she basically ignored my concern by responding that we should fix up our houses to sell because lots of young families are interested in buying them. Linda, I don't want to move!

I cannot in my mind reconcile how Ms. Hill leapt from “composting” to “fix up our houses to sell because lots of young families are interested in buying them.”  In the end, I appreciate that Ethel Hill took the time to write a letter to the editor.  It speaks to the resident-based activism that is alive and well in Wilde Lake.  With respect to the content, I am saddened that Ethel missed the point of Linda’s response.


In a second letter to the editor, Wilde Lake resident Valerie Montague Gonlin also endorses Phil Kirsch.  Valerie is also a well-respected member community.  She has been active in the Downtown Columbia discussion and is the former President of the Wilde Lake High School PTSA.  As with other letters to the editor, Valerie builds the case for Phil Kirsch with supportive statements.  Toward the end of the letter, Valerie states:

Phil is a low-key, pragmatic leader who works steadfastly on our behalf, even in the face of criticism from some with vested interests. He made sure CA adopted a plan that will protect Symphony Woods and ensure that Columbia has a community park that is an attractive year-round gathering place. In contrast, his opponent has called for high-rises in that space.

Once again, the comments regarding Phil’s opponent are inconsistent with the record.  I have never heard anyone say that they wanted high-rise buildings in Symphony Woods.  I am pretty sure there is 100% opposition to high-rise buildings in Symphony Woods.  Moreover, no one has ever suggested high-rises in Symphony Woods, until Valerie suggested it.

Like Ethel Hill, it is great to hear Valerie’s voice this election season.  However, to include statements that were never made, and attributing them to Linda Odum is wrong.  It is my hope that Valerie will submit another letter to the editor stating that she had bad information and did not have the time to check it out before making outrageous statements.

As many of the Compass faithful know, I am currently a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board, and I am a candidate to be on next year’s board.  If you scroll way, way, way down to the bottom of the blog, you will find my disclaimer.  Over the years, I have made a conscientious effort to keep Wilde Lake business off of these pages.  In the end, I think both Linda and Phil care deeply about Wilde Lake and Columbia, and I look forward to working with the election winner.

What brought me to write this blog post, at this time, was that I felt it was unfair to attribute statements that were never said.  One of the key factors for me was I asked myself, “Would I write this post if these types of letters were written about people in another village election?”  My answer to that is unequivocally “Yes.”  The fact that I know all the people involved in this post makes it difficult, and painful.

It is up to the Wilde Lake electorate to find the differences in these two candidates and make an educated decision based on what was actually said by the candidates.  It is my hope that this blog post will help clear the air so that can happen.

16 April 2010

Bloggers Making News in the Region

Over in Montgomery County, the Planning Department hosted an evening with five local bloggers as part of their “ReThink Montgomery”  series.  The topic of conversation was as follows:

Technology is changing the way we communicate.  Our news sources are shifting from print journalism to blogging. How does this transformation affect the field of planning?  Does blogging help bring in a broader pool of participants and ideals? Does it make planning more accessible and equitable? Join five local bloggers as we ReThink the way knowledge is shared in Montgomery County.

The bloggers featured in this discussion were:

Cindy Cotte Griffiths, Rockville Central
Eric Robbins, Thayer Avenue

Each has a great blog and had great insight into the topic of discussion.  In fact, many othe topics discussed do translate well to the discussions we have here in Howard County.  If you have some time I would encourage everyone to click over to the Mongomery County website and watch the meeting.

Yesterday, Kojo Nnamdi had three Prince George’s County bloggers on to talk about blogging in their neighborhood:

It's one of the most dynamic suburban counties in our region-- home to diverse neighborhoods and the largest African American middle class community in the country. But Prince George's County doesn't always make it into the headlines of local newscasts and papers. We talk with local bloggers about their communities.

Audio of the show can be streamed here.  Again, the conversation was stimulating and the featured bloggers were impressive.  The PG Bloggers were:

David Daddio, Rethink College Park
Charles Andrews, CHV Blog (Cheverly, MD)

As with most local bloggers, I work hard on my blog and I hold my fellow Howard County bloggers in very high esteem.  I believe that Howard County has one of the liveliest, thoughtful, intelligent and diverse blogging communities in Maryland, if not the United States.Hopefully, these types of discussions between bloggers, local government and the established media can be replicated in Howard County.  

12 April 2010

Changing the View

I have been working on functionality here.  Notice the new picture in the banner, the Twitter feed, and I'm working on integrating Facebook.  I am also proud to note that I am the first blog in Howard County to track the 2010 US Census participation rate (c'mon Howard Countians! Carroll County is ahead of us as of 4/12/10!).