Thursday, June 23, 2011

Queen Anne's Cronies

Last week, the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners appointed Jim Moran to the county's Planning Commission. The vote was 3-2. Commissioners Arentz, Dumenil and Olds voted to appoint Mr. Moran. Commissioners Dunmyer and Simmons opposed the appointment.

Jim Moran is the owner of Increte of Maryland (you can check them out here: Increte is a decorative concrete company out of Crofton. Jim and I served together on the Task Force on Government Sustainability this Winter and early Spring; he was always professional, thorough and well-prepared. He also had a clear agenda: the promotion of growth as the solution to the county's problems. It was by no means a secret that Jim Moran saw more roads, more houses, and more business parks as the solution to what ails Queen Anne's County. But we'll come back to that.

The County Commissioners had received several applications for appointment to the Planning Commission. This is where the problems start. Included in the packet of applications, was a professional architect with experience working in Queen Anne's County. Another application for appointment was from a professional planner, that's right, a professional planner, with an impeccable resume.

But neither of those two candidates, qualified as they might have been, were going to do much good for the likes of Arentz, Dumenil and Olds. No, they needed a known quantity, someone they could count on to be a solid vote for growth on the Planning Commission. So they turned down a certified planner, for Jim Moran.

This is a fairly predictable state of affairs; Arentz and his followers on the Board vote blindly for their friends without considering what's best for Queen Anne's County. They make no attempt to get Jim Moran's opinions on the Comprehensive Plan (which as a member of the Planning Commission he will be expected to implement) nor did they ask any questions of Jim about his vision for the county. At least not that the public knows of. In fact, the public doesn't know what the county commissioners asked any of the applicants, because over the objection of Commissioners Dunmyer and Simmons, the board's deliberation over the Planning Commission appointment was done in closed session.

Public appointments to public commissions should be made in public. But Arentz, Dumenil and Olds wanted to be able to discuss the applicants "candidly," without the glare of the public. It seems likely that Arentz knew the public would never stand for such an obvious and odious case of cronyism, so he made the anointment, err, appointment, behind closed doors. As far as I am concerned, this is a blatant abuse of powers, I prefer that a real estate agent, an insurance salesman and a retired firefighter not have the right to determine which discussions the public can be a part of, and which they should be excluded from. This is an outrage. Who are Steve Arentz, Phil Dumenil and Dave Olds to decide what the public needs to know?

Of course, Arentz and his cohorts are well aware of Moran's vision for the County, he couldn't have been any more clear about that during the Task Force. They also likely know that Moran shares their dim view of the comprehensive plan. This is the whole purpose for his appointment, he will be a rubber stamp for growth in any form.

If this keeps up, this appointing cronies to various commissions, it won't be long before these commissions cease to function properly. The Planning Commission serves an important role in Queen Anne's County, namely to make sure that proposed development meets the needs of all of our citizens, both now and in the future. The Planning Commission must serve as a backstop for landowner and developer desires, can Jim Moran be expected to fill this role?

All through the campaign of last summer, I had to sit through candidate forums and listen to Steve Arentz, Phil Dumenil, and Dave Olds say that they didn't want to pave the county. When a website called Pave Our County cropped up, Arentz, Dumenil and Olds were indignant that anyone would claim that was indeed their intention. Yet what better way to pave the county, than to appoint a paver to the Planning Commission?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Board of One

This statement was prepared and delivered today (June 14, 2011) by Commissioner David Dunmyer during a round table meeting of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. It is re-posted below without edit or commentary:

"Almost two weeks ago a meeting took place between Commissioners Arentz, Dumenil, County Administrator Todd and members of the governor's staff. The purpose of this meeting was to find areas of common ground, where we could work together. This meeting was requested by the governor's staff through contact with Administrator Todd. "

"Sounds great, right? I would have thought so too, had I known about it."

"Commissioner Arentz chose to hijack the process for his own political agenda by instructing Administrator Todd to withhold this meeting request from the other commissioners, namely Commissioners Simmons, myself, and maybe Commissioner Olds. I'm not certain if he knew of this, or played a part."

"I consider this action serious misconduct on the part of Commissioner Arentz and Administrator Todd. Are these actions of a commission working together to come up with solutions to move the county forward or are they sneaky, backhanded ways of push a developer-driven agenda?"

"When the state government contacts the County Administrator and requests a meeting with the commission, the commissioners who attend the meeting are now bound to represent the commission as a whole. Commissioner Simmons and I, and maybe Commissioner Olds, were deliberately left out of this process. Two commissioner representing the entire board illegally."

"I request that we have our county attorney come in at a future meeting and instruct the commission, in public, on the do's and don'ts of commissioner conduct and also to address the duties of the president of the commission versus the rest of the commissioners. I will not stand for being marginalized as a commissioner."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Why Wye? Part II: The Biotech Bust

Biotechnology. Anyone who has doubts about the development of Wye Mills is meant to be placated by that little-understood, but much-used word. Like a sweet lullaby, the mere mention of biotechnology is supposed to make Wye Mills skeptics sleep easy.

You see, the commercial development in Wye Mills is going to look different from the development every place else; it is going to be innocuous, barely noticeable, one might even say it will be additive to the rural landscape. Where the growth on Kent Island is offensive to the eye (and much else besides), development around Wye Mills is going to be bucolic.

Like a slick advertising campaign, the Wye Mills development plan comes across just a little too good to be true. But the sales pitch isn't being given by slick advertisers, but rather the same old 'any growth is good growth' crowd that now seems to have the ear of a majority of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. It's the folks that stand to make a buck or two when the bulldozers throttle up, and who tend not to concern themselves much beyond their own bottom lines.

They know their growth for growth's sake vision for the county won't sell to the general public, so they wrap it in buzzwords like "sustainable," "campus-setting," "the right kind of growth," even biotechnology has become a buzzword, offered up as a sort of fail proof economic savior for the county. There is a sporting chance that these advocates for growth at any cost don't even know what biotechnology means, they just know it sounds better, sounds higher-paying, sounds more fundamentally agreeable than just plain old growth.

The only problem is, the biotechnology idea requires an uncomfortably high level of faith. Queen Anne's County is not a biotechnology hot spot; in fact, there are several biotech centers on the Western Shore and in Delaware that Queen Anne's County's nascent biotech industry will have to compete with as it gets started. It is unlikely that Queen Anne's County currently has the human resources that such a facility would require, making the county something less than attractive to prospective biotech start-ups, who will not be interested in paying for employee relocation.

There is also the little matter that the biotech bubble, to which Queen Anne's County is not the first to hook it's Pollyannish economic dreams , has largely burst. An article from just a few months ago (link at the end of the blog) details the investment that the state of Florida put into a biotech center in a rural part of the state, to the tune of a billion and a half dollars. The biotech facility created 1100 jobs, or more than a million bucks per employee. Hardly the economic engine anyone predicted, rather a wasteful taxpayer funded jobs program. $1.5 billion is more than a decade of Queen Anne's County's total spending, and no one from the state government seems inclined to invest in this biotech pipe dream.

As good intentioned as the County Commissioners might be, and that is perhaps a debate for another blog post, they will not be the ones developing the Wye Mills parcels. All that the commissioners can realistically do is rezone the acres from agriculture to a more commercial designation; once that is done, the commissioners role in the development is largely over. And despite all the flowery language and "sustainable" growth talking points, it will quickly become apparent that biotechnology was the spoonful of sugar meant to help get the Castor oil of growth down the public throat.

The result of all this is that the development of still-rural Wye Mills will look just like the development of once-rural Kent Island. Fast food, gas stations, and other quick stop retail establishments for the reach-the-beach traffic will dominate; the kind of growth whose benefits to the citizens of Queen Anne's County never seem to catch up to the costs. By the time we realize we've had the wool pulled over our eyes, it will be decidedly too late, and Wye Mills will be nothing more than a congested intersection of redundant commercialism.

Link to the Florida biotech article:

Friday, June 03, 2011

Why Wye?

In 1998, President Bill Clinton hosted leaders from the Middle East in Wye Mills, Maryland, a small and historic village that takes its name from the river that flows not far away, south and west to the Chesapeake Bay. It was a summit meant like so many before it, and indeed after it, to broker peace in a region of the world where that word was little more than an abstraction.

In Wye Mills, peace is anything but an abstraction. A community that straddles the border of Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, it is not a difficult place to miss. Like so many Eastern Shore towns, it appears at first glance to be little more than a place where the speed limit abruptly slows, and then gradually rises again to accomodate the pace of life of those just passing through.

Wye Mills has been a quaint hub of rural industry little changed in three centuries. When Washington took his troops across the Delaware, the mill turned. When 600,000 Americans lay dead or dying on homegrown battlefields north and south, the mill turned. When American boys stormed the beaches of Normandy, thousands of miles away the mill quietly turned. As Richard Nixon prepared to give his resignation speech in front of an unforgiving camera in the Oval Office, just across Chesapeake Bay from Washington the mill, as always, turned. When terrorists brought our world to a halt in 2001, Wye Mills turned still. For more than three hundred years, the mill has turned, marking the passage of time; serving as a symbol to the world at large that the river of life runs on. Perhaps the reason it has remained virtually unchanged is because change is not always necessary.

Nothing is sacred.

Drastic change may be headed for sleepy Wye Mills. Predictably, the effort comes from nearby landowners; they'd like to disregard the county comprehensive plan and take advantage of a generally pro-growth board of county commissioners by having their agricultural land rezoned for commerical use. What are now fields of crops would assuredly become seas of concrete; towers of brick and mortar would rise to meet the sun and the rain, in a place where, for as long as anyone can or cares to remember, only corn, wheat and beans greeted the weather. The character of Wye Mills, unashamedly rural for time immemorial, would be forever altered.

Little makes sense in this plan, except possibly the thinly veiled personal greed. It is contemptable to listen to land speculators carry on about the county's need for jobs and commerical revenue as they attempt to justify their own real estate conniving. Let's not pretend anyone is offering their land for sacrifice to the great consumptive commercial machine for the sake of Queen Anne's County and her citizens; that demeans everyone. No, the landowners are simply in the money making business, and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as we call it what it truly is.

The trouble with this plan is that its tough to see how it does anything but cost Queen Anne's County in both the short run, and the long. There is no sewer capacity in Wye Mills for extensive new development, which means that a wastewater treatment facility would have to be built and sewer lines run to the properities in question, costing the county millions. The development would take place on diagonal corners of Routes 50 and 213, further tying up an already jammed stop light that forces drivers to slow and stop quickly from high cruising speeds, often on their way to the beaches. The traffic situation would surely devolve further, eventually requiring an expensive overpass that would mean years of construction and further millions of state and county road dollars, dollars that neither the state nor the county currently have.

But the more serious problem for the people of Queen Anne's County is a little more difficult to see. It was, however, explicitly stated in the June 2nd Record Observer, by the attorney for one of the landowners in question. His logic made the rezoning seem as natural and inevitable as the Wye River tide itself. You see, the reason we need to rezone and develop these two agricultural parcels is simple in his estimation: the other two corners of 50/213 are already developed. This is obviously true, one corner boasts a gas station, the other the campus of Chesapeake College. Following this logic a little further however, one finds doom for the rural Eastern Shore. For it is the very definition of sprawl, a growth begets growth recipe for lining the Route 50 corridor with endless commercial development, from Wye Mills west to the Bay Bridge, and eventually north up Route 213 to Centreville. In the article the attorney says that his client is not trying to develop the rural hinterlands, but this is a damnable step in that very direction.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

From the pages of the NY Times

Friedman hits the nail on the head:

"In America, President George W. Bush used the post-9/11 economic dip to push through a second tax cut we could not afford. He followed that with a Medicare prescription drug entitlement we cannot afford and started two wars in the wake of 9/11 without raising taxes to pay for them — all at a time when we should have been saving money in anticipation of the baby boomers’ imminent retirement. As such, our nation’s fiscal hole is deeper than ever and Republicans and Democrats — rather than coming together and generating the political authority needed for us to take our castor oil to compensate for our binge — are just demonizing one another."

Find the full article here: http://