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Gov. Hogan Taps New Members of State Education Board

Governor Larry Hogan announced Thursday he has tapped four new members of the Maryland State Board of Education.

The Washington Post reports,

Hogan’s picks included David Steiner, executive director for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and a professor of education at Hopkins, and Michael Phillips, senior pastor of the Kingdom Life Church in Baltimore and founder of the Better Life Community Development Corp.

The governor also appointed Justin Hartings, president of Biaera Technologies of Hagerstown and a former member of the Washington County Board of Education in western Maryland, and Kyle Smith, a student at North Point High School in Charles County. Smith, who becomes the state board’s student member, was recommended by the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

“These talented individuals represent our administration’s continued commitment to ensuring that our already strong education system continues to improve while providing a world-class education for all Maryland students,” Hogan (R) said in a statement.

The new members, who must be confirmed by the state Senate, join a board predominantly appointed by Hogan. Two of the board’s 12 members were appointed by former governor Martin O’Malley (D)–Guffrie Smith and Madhu Sidhu.

 A spokeswoman for Hogan said Hartings and Phillips were appointed May 22. Steiner, previously dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and New York state’s commissioner of education, was named April 20.
Read the full article for more information.

Are You Ready For #MACoCon? VR!

This year’s Maryland Association of Counties Conference will feature a Tech Expo and two special sessions focused on technology themes, including one on social media and virtual reality.

Headsets On: Get Ready for Virtual Reality and the Social Shake-Up

Jason Michael Perry, VP of Engineering at Mindgrub, will be speaking at MACo’s Summer Conference.

Virtual reality is one of the hottest and most mysterious types of tech and its tempting serum, poured over snowballing social media use, could turn the way that government interfaces with the public into one heck of a snow cone. VR applications for county governments already include tourism, economic development, and information science, with more to come.

MACo’s social media and virtual reality session will feature Jason Perry of Mindgrub. With over 16 years of experience as an engineer and consultant, Mindgrub’s Vice President of Engineering Jason Michael Perry keeps the train on time, oversees the web and mobile engineering teams, and provides technical direction. Jason is a veteran of multiple business sectors and has strong experience working on Drupal, Javascript, and mobile application development. Before joining Mindgrub Jason was a partner in a New Orleans based web consulting firm that did work for Michael Jackson, the City of New Orleans, and Dillard University.

A New Orleans native, Jason studied Marketing and Computer Science at University of New Orleans and is currently pursuing an Executive MBA from Villanova University.

Join this session to hear more about the opportunities presented by virtual reality and its integration with county services.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:


Calvert Commissioners OK Funds for License Plate Readers

The Calvert County Commissioners Tuesday approved a Sheriff’s Office request for over $215,000 for the purchase of two license plate readers (LPRs). The money is coming from the county government’s Safety Camera Revenue Account.

The Bay Net reports,

The Safety Camera Revenue Account, a component of the Safety for Students Act, is funded by money realized from fines levied against drivers who exceed the speed limit in school zones where the cameras are set up. Another portion of the account is being used to purchase body cameras for several deputies. That allocation is within the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget, which takes effect July 1.

The request for the purchase of two LPRs was made last month by Sheriff Mike Evans [R]. “The LPRs will effectively capture license plate information of all vehicles entering and exiting via routes 260 and 4, which is important because a majority of bank robberies and armed robberies of businesses have historically occurred in Northern Calvert County,” Assistant Sheriff Lt. Colonel Dave McDowell stated in a memo to the commissioners. “This is part of the sheriff’s plan to use the Safety for Students program revenue source to purchase one-time, high priority expenditures for equipment and other operational needs.”

No member of the public spoke at the public hearing, however, a few of the commissioners had plenty to say prior to a final vote. Despite assurances from McDowell and Evans that data recorded by the LPRs was not to be used for nefarious purposes, Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2] indicated he was opposed to the plan. “I don’t want to end up in ‘big brother’ syndrome—that’s where America is headed,” said Nutter, a retire sheriff’s deputy.

Evans stated that the county already has LPRs and “they have been a great tool.” The sheriff declared have the LPRs in place at the county’s north border would help address a serious public safety issue. “We are only looking for people who are breaking the law,” said Evans.

Commissioners’ Vice President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R – District 3] stated that the LPRs were “the electronic version” of human eyewitnesses.

“Most people move here for the quality of life,” said Commissioner Mike Hart [R – District 1], adding that public safety contributed to the quality. “I would like to expand it [LPR program]. This is going to give police so many more pairs of eyes.

Still, Nutter argued that have motor vehicle license plates observed and recorded was compromising an individual’s privacy. “There’s no privacy, Pat. It’s just a part of life,” said Commissioners’ President Tom Hejl [R – At large], who is also a law enforcement veteran.

Sensing there might not be an end to the discussion, Hejl called for a vote. The board voted 4-to-1, with Nutter opposed, to closing the public record and approving the budget resolution.

Read the full article for more information.

Howard Schools, University of Maryland Partner to Find Most Efficient Bus Routes

Transportation officials with Howard County public schools revealed plans Thursday to maximize school bus efficiency, using a mathematical modeling program developed by University of Maryland students to determine the best bus routes should schools start and dismissal times change in the coming year.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Last week, the Board of Education motioned to delay any changes to start and dismissal times until at least the 2018-19 school year to give administrators, staff and parents time to prepare for schedule adjustments.

While any potential changes to the start and dismissal times will not be implemented next year, school system director of transportation David Ramsay said transportation is a major factor in the decision-making process. Alternative start and dismissal times could not only increase the number of general and specialized bus fleets needed, but also increase overall costs.

“Transportation has, historically, been the area in which there are cost implications with adjusting bell times,” Ramsay said. “The tools that we had weren’t sufficient to the degree that we were happy with to really analyze this problem.”

Haghani, a Fulton resident, said the tool uses a mathematical optimization model that can minimize or maximize a particular function. In this case, he said, the goal was to minimize the total number of buses as well as the deadhead time, the time when buses are running without any students onboard.

“A solution that is 1 percent worse can lead to three or four more buses,” Haghani said.

Using data provided by the school system, Haghani said students used the bus start and end times, location and order of stops and the deadhead distance in the program.

“The optimization model tries to match up these routes together in a way that as many routes as possible are served by one bus,” he said. “We had a working model in about a month, but when we ran it, it took a long time.”

Five months later, Haghani said, results for each given scenario were available in under a minute.

While Haghani said the model was free-of-charge to the school system, Ramsay added that the school system paid $5,000 toward the QUEST program’s involvement and an additional $24,800 for consultation with Haghani. Other vendor price quotes for developing a model had exceeded $50,000, Ramsay said.

Once the school board makes a decision on school start and dismissal times, Ramsay said they will give Haghani a spreadsheet outlining the proposal to calculate the most efficient bus routes for the county’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Read the full article for more information.

Bay “Dead Zone” Predicted to Be Larger Than Average This Year

After the Chesapeake Bay enjoyed the highest levels of dissolved oxygen in decades last year, a Bay Journal blog article (2017-06-15) reported that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are predicting the Bay’s oxygen-starved “dead zone” will be larger than in recent years – growing to 1.9 cubic miles. The article indicated that weather was a key factor in the growth of the dead zone. From the article:

“The forecast is a reminder that the improvements such as we saw last year are subject to reversal depending on weather conditions—two steps forward, one step back,” said UMCES President Donald F. Boesch. …

This spring, scientists say, heavy rains fell in Pennsylvania and New York, which flushed an above-average amount of nitrogen down the Susquehanna River. …

“Although the higher forecasts for this summer seem to buck a recent trend toward lower anoxic volumes in Chesapeake Bay, they are consistent with known links between high river flows and oxygen depletion,” said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

The article noted that despite the dead zone forecast, overall Bay health has shown signs of long-term improvement based on the restoration and pollution reduction efforts undertaken by the federal government, states, and local governments.

“Despite this year’s forecast, we’ve made great strides in reducing nutrient pollution from various sources entering the Chesapeake Bay, and we are starting to see positive long-term signs,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “However, more work needs to be done to address non-point nutrient pollution from farms and other developed lands, to make the Bay cleaner for its communities and economic interests.”

The article also discussed the importance of continued federal funding for Bay restoration efforts.


State Climate Change Commission Moving Ahead With Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plans

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) met on June 21, 2017, and re-committed to the continuation of its climate change goals, including the State’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030.

Maryland’s Position on Climate Change at State and National Levels 

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles reiterated that Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland will be moving forward with the State’s climate change action plan and is encouraging other states to participate in REGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). Grumbles also noted that the State is reviewing the newly formed United States Climate Alliance but has not yet decided whether it will participate.

Maryland Senator Paul Pinsky stressed the importance of remaining in the Paris Climate Accord and that the Climate Alliance represented a key opportunity to continue United States participation. (Previously President Donald Trump had announced the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Accords but intended to rejoin after renegotiating participation terms.) Grumbles responded that the Governor has stated the importance of the United States participating in the Accord but that Maryland’s participation in the Alliance is still under review and there could be other equally effective methods of encouraging climate change.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network founder and director Mike Tidwell argued that participating in the Alliance sent an important message and that strengthening REGGI (particularly the cap) was also critical. Grumbles agreed that REGGI could be improved and did not rule out Maryland’s ultimate participation in the Alliance.

Discussion on “40 by 30” Goal

The bi-partisan Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016 (SB 323) requires Maryland to achieve a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from their 2006 levels by 2030. The legislation also includes some economic and job protections as the State works to achieve the reduction goal. Maryland is on track to meet a prior emission reduction goal of 25% by 2025.

The new 40 by 30 draft plan is due by end of 2018 and a final plan is due by the end of 2019. There is a mid-point review in 2022 and the Act must be reauthorized through legislation in 2023.  The plan must reduce 57 to 61 metric tons of greenhouse gases to account for existing pollution sources and anticipated population and pollution growth.

The current 2025 plan will get the State a good portion of the way, but will leave a gap that must be addressed. Programs for more fuel efficient cars and aircraft and electric vehicles should help. The State is developing better data on carbon sequestration by wetlands and trees.

Pinsky raised concerns about the accuracy of some of the assumed greenhouse gas emission and reduction assumptions and that other policy options, such as a carbon tax, must be at least discussed. Grumbles noted that the assumptions are based on modeled and need further refinement and that the discussed programs were not necessarily the only programs that could be considered.

The MCCC decided to have a further discussion on the issue through its workgroups and at future meetings. It was also noted that the plan needs to consider what will need to be done beyond 2030, even though future goals have not yet been set.

New Climate Change Commission Website

MCCC has just launched a new and more user-friendly website. The website will be further refined over time to ensure ease of use and public accessibility.

2017 MCCC Annual Report

The deadline of the 2017 MCCC Annual Report is November 15, 2017.

Other Actions

MCCC also received an update on the climate change activities of various State agencies, approved a series of one-page climate change handouts for final review, and reviewed the activities of its four work groups.

Useful Links

MCCC Website

Debate Continues Over Frederick Hotel & Conference Center

State funding for a hotel and conference center in downtown Frederick sparked a controversial floor debate in the Maryland Senate this past session.  The state approved granting $4 million for the Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center, leading to Frederick County’s own Senator Michael Hough voting “nay,” alone, on the entire capital budget.

Michael Dresser reports in today’s Baltimore Sun that the public funding for the project – $31 million in total, including state, county and city sources – still requires a number of state and local approvals, including sign-off by the State Board of Public Works. It appears the debate over the project is far from over. From the article:

State Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Frederick County Democrat, said the project is a priority for the city’s growing high-tech and biotech business sector.

“They think they can do international conferences here. They need a first-class hotel,” he said. “It’ll definitely spark other businesses in the area.”

But to others, the project is a colossal boondoggle. These opponents say it’s a textbook example of crony capitalism — a subsidy for wealthy developers. They say it would be out of scale in the historic downtown and would require the demolition of at least one historic building.

State Sen. Michael J. Hough, Frederick County’s other senator, compares the project to the Rocky Gap resort in Western Maryland and the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge — two money-losing ventures in which the state invested two decades ago.

“I’m not exactly sure why the state is still investing in hotels, given our track record,” the Republican lawmaker said. Rocky Gap lost money for years before casino gambling was permitted there under new ownership. The Cambridge resort continues to lose money, according to the Department of Legislative Services, but the state was repaid in 2006 and local officials insist it has stimulated growth in that Eastern Shore city.

A majority of the Frederick County delegation to the General Assembly opposed spending state money on the hotel project, but Young persuaded his fellow Senate Democrats to insert the expenditure in the capital budget. The Senate prevailed in negotiations with the House, and Gov. Larry Hogan did not contest the decision.

Even without most of the delegation, the project has powerful local support. The city government, led by Republican Mayor Randy McClement, is on board. The county executive, Democrat Jan Gardner, backs it. The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups have it on their wish lists.

“We believe it’s the next real game-changer for our community — not a boondoggle,” said John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. He said accommodations downtown are limited; the few bed and breakfasts are always full.

The Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research and education organization whose mission is “to formulate and promote public policies at all levels of government based on principles of free enterprise, limited government, and civil society,” penned a not-too-positive report on the potential deal last September.

The Institute reports that the deal would distort the hospitality market in the Frederick area; raise hotel taxes on other hotels; “rewards political skill, not business acumen”; may violate the state law giving the county the authority to impose the hotel tax; provides full-service hotel benefits that jeopardize business opportunities for neighboring eating, drinking and other service establishments; and gives too much administrative authority to the county tourism council, which it reports is “a trade group comprising some 300 members engaged in visitor businesses.”

Additionally, it cites:

Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas, San Antonio who specializes in hotels and convention centers, says upscale, full-service conference center hotels almost never make financial sense in the downtown of small cities like Frederick. The extra costs involved, both in capital expenditure and operations, just aren’t justified by any extra revenue they generate. The many activities involved in a full-service hotel are also very difficult to manage, he says. However, the bigger problem for Frederick is that the hotel’s anticipated top customer, the federal government, limits “per diem” lodging rates to about $100 and mandates that they will only be paid if the lodging is at least 50 miles from employees’ workplaces. The proposed upscale hotel is aiming at $160 per night rooms, and Frederick is a scant 43 miles from the White House.

The Baltimore Sun refers to the City of Frederick’s economic development director:

Richard Griffin, economic development director for the city, said the opposition to the hotel, “although very expressive,” is small. He said the project is expected to bring 280 jobs and have $26 million in annual economic impact.

Griffin said public-private partnerships are typical for such projects. He pointed to a Marriott hotel-conference center built in North Bethesda with state help and regarded as a success.

“Everyone’s waiting for this project to get going so they can jump in and begin the process of the full realization of the east side of downtown,” he said.

Open Meetings Compliance Board – Annual Meeting August 3rd

Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board will hold its annual meeting at 11:00 a.m. on August 3, 2017, in Room 161 of the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert Street, Annapolis, Maryland. The public is invited to attend.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Ms. Janice Clark or call 410-576-7033 so that we may make the necessary arrangements. An agenda will be available in July when determined, and will be posted on the Compliance Board’s website.

Valued Purchasing Officers, Better Purchasing Value

Procurement is an area requiring greater attention from government leaders, reports Route Fiftyin summarizing a survey conducted by Seattle-based business intelligence company Onvia of 668 state and local government procurement staff. Issues with response agility, customer service and reputation all led to an overall decrease in procurement agencies’ overall effectiveness, according to the report.

“Smart governments recognize that strategic investments in their procurement teams translate into more value for the citizens they serve,” said Ben Vaught, Onvia for Government director, in a statement.

Successful procurement teams saw their funding increased, engaged better with stakeholders, used more efficient purchasing methods, and adopted some form of e-Procurement. Nearly 40 percent of government procurement professionals has implemented e-Procurement to cut down on processing times, according to the report.

Time-constrained buyers require more information on purchasing processes up front.

Four out of every 10 agencies reported failing to attract enough bids, a slight improvement on last year. But it remains an area requiring greater state and local government attention.

Transportation’s Transformation: NACo Webinar Today At 2pm

Transportation is undergoing a transformation – its starkest one since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, argues Stephen Goldsmith for Governing.  How should counties adapt? The National Association of Counties (NACO) is hosting a free webinar today at 2 p.m. on this very subject – and it’s not too late to register.

Opportunities to share rides, cars and bikes already dramatically change the local transportation landscape, and we have yet to see what impact driverless vehicles will bring. Meanwhile, jurisdictions have miles to go in ensuring that transportation infrastructure accommodates those low- and middle-skill workers who are only able to reach about one quarter of their jobs within a 90-minute commute, according to BrookingsFrom Governing:

With more and better data available now than ever before, we need to think in terms of true mobility management. …

In the new data-enabled, service-oriented model, mayors and urban county executives will appoint mobility managers to enhance convenience and remove the transit deserts that plague many individuals who cannot afford cars and for whom inconveniently located bus routes provide little relief. These mobility managers will help smooth transitions between public, private and shared transportation services. Individuals will be able to plan and pay for trips all in one place. Gone will be the days of chasing after the bus — the bus will come to you right when you expect it.

[A government’s] goal … should be to improve mobility for all of its residents, creating a seamless system of transportation from what once were discrete components. Mobility managers should not be in the business of protecting any given transportation mode but should instead focus on creating value and reducing inefficiencies and inequities for the commuters they serve. ….

In a time when trust in the government is very low, improving mobility offers a great opportunity …. [A]ny improvements we can make to mobility will be felt quickly and broadly. The bus is leaving the station.

NACo’s webinar this afternoon, “Keeping Counties Moving: Innovations in Infrastructure, Goods Movement and Vehicle Technologies,” features Gary Piotrowicz, PE, PTOE, Deputy Managing Director/County Highway Engineer, Oakland County Road Commission, Michigan, and Andy Alden, Group Leader for Eco-Transportation and Alternative Technology, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and Executive Director of the I-81 Corridor Coalition. About the webinar:

Join us on this interactive webinar to learn how counties are improving transportations systems by working within and across megaregions to leverage technological innovations. Transportation experts will discuss national trends and current county projects in regional planning & autonomous and connected vehicle research, development and deployment.  This discussion will provide county elected officials and staff members a clearer picture of where the field of transportation is heading in the face of rapidly evolving freight infrastructure and vehicle technologies.