Baltimore Braces for Spread of Mosquito-Borne Zika

As mosquito season nears, the heads of Baltimore’s departments of health, housing, and public works unveiled efforts Tuesday to help prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, including Zika, which can lead to birth defects.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Led by Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, city officials outlined plans to try and keep Baltimore free of trash, clear storm drains and look for improper grading at the city’s public housing complexes that can lead to free-standing water where mosquitoes breed.

There are also efforts to educate residents about how to protect themselves from mosquito bites, the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. There is no cure for the disease, though scientists around the world are working on a vaccine.

Officials urged residents to use mosquito repellent and remove free-standing water from near their homes. A soda cap of water is enough for a mosquito to lay eggs, several said.

The Mayor’s Office of Human Services, Baltimore Housing, the Department of Public Works and the Johns Hopkins Center for Salud/Health and Opportunity for Latinos are involved in what was described as an all-hands-on-deck effort to prevent the spread of Zika.

There have been 119 Zika cases across the United States this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there have been 24 cases this year in Maryland and four in the Baltimore metro area. The CDC and the state report cases differently. The CDC only reports cases when people show symptoms, while the state also includes people who did not present symptoms.

There have been 15 cases in the Baltimore area since Zika was first detected in 2015, according to the city health department. All of the Maryland cases were travel-related and not contracted in the state.

No mosquitoes carrying Zika have reached the state. It is unclear if that will be the case this year, said Wen, adding that the city is preparing in case that changes.

“The situation with Zika is so quickly evolving,” Wen said. “It is hard for us to predict what will happen.”

Most people have mild or no obvious effects from the mosquito-borne illness, but Zika infections in pregnant women can result in major birth defects in their babies, including microcephaly, which stunts brain growth.

Wen, who is expecting a baby this summer, said that pregnant women should be careful about traveling to areas where Zika-infected mosquitoes have been found, including Puerto Rico, where 458 cases have been confirmed this year. Couples should use condoms after traveling to these areas because the disease has been found to be sexually transmitted

Research has also found that adults infected with Zika can suffer from heart problems, vision issues and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nervous system disorder that can lead to temporary paralysis.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Baltimore City Enacts Comprehensive Zika Plan

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Local Research Teams Win Funding to Combat Zika Virus

Allegany College Receives Grant for STEM Project

Allegany College of Maryland has been awarded a $67,300 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to prepare the regional workforce for STEM-related careers.

The Cumberland News-Times reports,

The funding, jointly announced Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.), will be matched by local money.

“ARC continues to deliver important federal investments for Allegany County,” Cardin said. “This federal investment in our students’ future is good news for Western Maryland and an example of what we should be doing across the country. A strong STEM education opens doors to good quality jobs and the know-how to move our economy forward.”

Equipment such as a chemistry spectrometer, a chemical hygiene cabinet and CO2 gas sensors will be purchased to help students better quantify data and improve scientific reasoning skills.

“Maryland’s success depends on the strength of every region of our state, and the Appalachian Regional Commission has been a vital source of job-creating investments in Western Maryland,” said Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committees. “This grant for Allegany College is a smart investment to equip our students with the skills they need for in-demand, high-tech jobs, and I will continue to fight against efforts by the Trump Administration to eliminate the ARC.”

Read the full article for more information.

Baltimore County School Board Names Verletta White as Interim Superintendent

The Baltimore County school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to name Verletta White, who has risen through the ranks from teacher to one of the top officials in the system, as interim superintendent.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

White, 49, will replace Dallas Dance, who resigned suddenly April 18. The school board decided to appoint an interim superintendent because it did not have sufficient time to do a national search for a permanent replacement by the time Dance leaves office at the end of June.

The one-year appointment is subject to approval by the state superintendent of schools. It will begin July 1.

No contract has been signed, and it is not known what White’s salary will be.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the board “made a wise choice selecting Chief Academic Officer Verletta White, who has 25 years of experience in the County school system, and will ensure continuation of our legacy of success.”

Abby Beytin, president of the county teachers union, also expressed her approval of the choice. “There is no one who knows the system better,” she said. “My feeling is that she will want us to move steadily.”

Dance voiced his approval of White’s selection. “I look forward to bright days ahead for TeamBCPS as she builds on the success of our system and make it even better,” he said.

White has been the chief academic officer since 2013, when Dance chose her shortly after he became superintendent.

She has stood behind all of Dance’s initiatives, even those that ran into opposition, such as a new grading policy instituted this school year.

Gilliss said the board can decide this year whether it will conduct a national search to find a permanent replacement.

The county will switch from an all-appointed board to a partially elected board after the 2018 elections.

Maryland law requires superintendents to work under four-year contracts that run from July 1 to June 30. It is unusual for an interim superintendent to remain in place for two years, but it has happened recently in Montgomery County.

White’s education career began in 1992 after she graduated from Towson University.

She taught second, third and fourth grades at Garrett Heights Elementary School in Baltimore City then moved to Summit Park Elementary in Pikesville to teach third grade.

She was a teacher mentor, then became an assistant principal and finally a principal of Seneca Elementary School in Bowleys Quarters in 2000.

She rose through the ranks quickly under the former superintendent, Joe Hairston, holding a variety of administrative jobs before being named assistant superintendent of schools in 2009.

She holds a master’s degree in leadership in teaching from Notre Dame of Maryland University and is currently a doctoral candidate at Morgan State University.

White lives in northern Baltimore County.

Dance will leave with three years remaining on a four-year contract. At the time of his resignation, he said he did not have a new job, but had job prospects.

Superintendents usually tell their school boards in the fall if they are leaving in order to give the board time to do a national search and hire a replacement.

Since he was hired, Dance had the support of the majority of the board. More recently, however, several board members have voted against his proposals.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Dallas Dance Resigns as Baltimore County Schools Superintendent

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Baltimore County School Board to Start Search for Interim Superintendent

Dorchester County Schools Names Mitchell New Superintendent

The Dorchester County Board of Education announced Monday the appointment of Dr. Diana Mitchell to a four year term as Superintendent of Dorchester County Public Schools. The retirement of current Superintendent Dr. Henry V. Wagner will be effective Saturday, July 1, a decision he announced Dec. 15, 2016.

According to a DCPS press release,

Dr. Mitchell was appointed by a unanimous roll call vote on Monday, May 22, 2017. In commenting on the appointment, President Glenn Bramble said:

The Board of Education adhered to all of the processes recommended by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education throughout this four-month search. Additionally, the Board considered community input from a wide variety of sources as part of their deliberations. We are delighted to welcome a professional of Dr. Mitchell’s caliber and look forward to her leadership of DCPS. We are confident that she will build on our progress of the last ten years.

Current Superintendent Dr. Henry Wagner was called upon for comment and made the following statement:

First, I would like to repeat a statement I made in this month’s staff bulletin, published on May 1st, in the section entitled Superintendent Selection Process Updates. “In keeping with MABE’s model and our own protocols, I have had no involvement in the processes that have taken place since my retirement announcement on December 15. However, I am very much looking forward to working with my successor in order to effect a smooth transition.”

Now that Dr. Mitchell has been appointed, she has my full support, and I look forward to assisting her with this transition in any way that I can. And I urge everyone to do the same, as a matter of principle, and for the benefit of the children of Dorchester County Public Schools.

Thank you!

Dr. Mitchell’s four-year term begins on July 1, 2017.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Dorchester BOE Announces Superintendent Finalists

DCPS Press Release

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Approve Land Preservation Funds

Using state grants and matching funds, Queen Anne’s County Commissioners voted May 9, to allocate about $500,000 of county earmarked funds for preservation assistance — which will result in a total of $2.5 million to preserve farmland in the county.

The Kent Island Bay Times reports,

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation will match each county dollar with two state dollars to prevent, forever, farmland from being converted to residential or commercial use. Created by the General Assembly in 1977, the MALPF purchases agricultural preservation easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland and has permanently preserved land in Maryland.

Donna Landis-Smith of the Queen Anne’s County Soil Conservation District told the commissioners that the maximum they could invest was $1.3 million; however, the funds budgeted for MALPF were just shy of half of a million dollars. That half a million dollars of county funds currently earmarked for MALPF coverts to about $2.5 million. Smith said that there are eight properties in the county in the current easement cycle that was submitted to the state to participate in MALPF.

Commissioner Jim Moran said by using the budgeted amount — much of which comes from agricultural transfer taxes — the county could probably fund four or five of the applicants.

According to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation FY16 Annual Report, more than 300,000 acres statewide have permanently been preserved. Queen Anne’s County has 166 easements totaling 28,464 acres of preserved farmland and ranks third in the state for total acres preserved.

Read the full article for more information.

Names of Candidates for Washington County Board of Education Vacancy Released

The field of candidates seeking a vacant seat on the Washington County Board of Education includes several names that previously have appeared on ballots for local office.

The Herald-Mail reports,

The Washington County School Board Nominating Commission met for the second time Monday afternoon, opening the eight applications received by Friday’s deadline.

Of the eight received, seven candidates will be considered by the commission moving forward because one application wasn’t received before the deadline at the required location, according to a statement released after Monday’s meeting.

The seven candidates, in alphabetical order, are as follows:

  • Denise D. Fry, a former head of the Washington County Teachers Association
  • Edwin M. Hayes, a former school board member
  • Alfred E. Martin, a former school board candidate
  • Linda Murray, a former school board candidate
  • Peter Perini, a former school board candidate
  • Carlos Reyes, a former candidate for Hagerstown City Council
  • David R. Shuster, director of operations and compliance at Horizon-Goodwill Industries

The successful appointee will fulfill the term of former board member Karen Harshman, who was removed from office April 25.

Her term was set to expire in late 2018.

Read the full article for more information.

Appeals Court Strikes Down Drone Regulation Law

An appeals court on Friday struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required owners of drones used for recreation to register their craft.

The ruling was a victory for hobbyists and a setback for the FAA, which cited safety concerns as it tried to tighten regulation of the fast-growing army of drone operators.

Some pilots of commercial airliners have reported close calls with drones flying near airports.

Popular Mechanics reports,

About 760,000 hobbyists have registered more than 1.6 million drones since 2015, and sales have skyrocketed. The FAA estimates that hobbyists will buy 2.3 million drones this year and 13 million by the end of 2020. Commercial operators from photographers to oil pipeline and cellphone tower owners were forecast to buy another 10 million through 2020.

The FAA decided in 2015 to require hobbyists to register their drones, or model aircraft. Violators could be sentenced to prison.

The registration requirement was challenged by John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist in the Washington, D.C., area.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Taylor, saying that a law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 barred the FAA from imposing new regulations on model aircraft.

The three-judge panel said that safety was obviously important and making hobbyists register “may well help further that goal to some degree,” but it was up to Congress to repeal the ban on FAA rules for model aircraft.

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency was reviewing the decision.

The ruling demonstrated the schism in the drone world. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, whose members include big commercial drone operators and manufacturers, expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling. The group’s president, Brian Wynne, said registration “helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior.” He vowed to seek a legislative fix in Congress.

Some model aircraft enthusiasts had complained that the registration requirement was too burdensome.

“On balance this is probably a good thing,” said Vic Moss, a commercial photographer and drone operator in Colorado. “The FAA definitely overstepped their boundaries with the registration, and the fact that they called it an emergency action didn’t help them look good.”

Moss was worried, however, that the issue was so contentious that the FAA might successfully lobby Congress for clear authority to regulate hobbyists.

Registration cost $5 and had to be renewed every three years. It required owners to mark aircraft with an identification number and imposed civil and criminal penalties on those who did not comply.

Taylor also challenged FAA restrictions on where drones can operate in the Washington area. The court said that appeal was filed too late.

Legislation enacted in 2015 made Maryland one of only three states to grant the state government exclusive power to regulate drone usage, preempting municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances. MACo opposed this legislation as a preemption of county authority, and was able to secure an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation.

MACo, along with the Maryland State Police, are among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry expands in the years ahead. The stakeholder group will report its findings to the governor in 2018.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Drones Must be Registered Under New Federal Rule

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: General Assembly Passes Drone Bill With Study Amendment

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: To Detect, Deter, & Stop Unsafe Drone Use

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes…from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

For more news and information:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

Fun Fact: Did You Know that America’s First Umbrellas Were Produced in Baltimore?

Question: Did you know that America’s first umbrellas were produced in Baltimore?

It’s true! Baltimore can lay claim to the nation’s first umbrella factory, established by William Beehler in 1828. The company’s motto: “Born in Baltimore, raised everywhere.”

According to Katherine Morris Lester and Bess Viola Derke in ”Accessories of Dress” (Charles A. Bennett Company, 1954), the umbrella was ”perpetually rediscovered” in England, ”heard of in the 17th century and early in the 18th, and yet Jonas Hanway, who died in 1786, has the reputation of having introduced the umbrella into England,” which he had seen in the East. He was criticized ”for defying the heavenly purpose of rain, which obviously was to make people wet.”

Despite such accusations of sacrilege, umbrella manufacture began in England in 1787. Then acorns were widely used decorations, because of an old superstition that oak trees were sacred to the god of thunder. Elaborate handles were fashioned of rare woods, leather, ivory and precious metals, even encrusted with jewels.

Although in basic form umbrellas have changed little over time, advances have been made in folding mechanisms, ribs and fabric coverings. In 1806 the uncovered whalebone frame weighed 10 pounds. By 1826 this was down to one and a half pounds, and in 1852 whalebone was replaced by a frame made of steel. Covers were of oiled and waxed silk and linen, with oiled paper common in the Far East then as now.

In our country, when a Baltimore shopkeeper ventured out with the first umbrella seen in America in 1772, the Lester and Derke book recounts, ”pedestrians stood transfixed, women were frightened, horses ran away, and naughty children threw stones. Finally the town watch was called out to quiet the disturbance.”

Do you have a fun fact to share about your county? If so, please send it to Kevin Kinnally to be featured in MACo’s weekly Fun Fact on Conduit Street.

Counties Provide the Local Lens for Infrastructure Package

It’s Infrastructure Week in the nation’s capital and across the country as local governments and others make the case for renewed federal investment in our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit. Of course, the elephant in the room is what may emerge from the Trump administration or Congress on this front.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has long stressed the importance of modernizing the nation’s infrastructure system, especially because counties own and maintain the largest share of public road miles – 46 percent of the total nationwide, 230,000 bridges – or four out of every ten nationwide, and are involved in the operation of a third of the nation’s airports and public transportation systems.

In Maryland, counties own and maintain 74 percent of the public roads. Local governments own and maintain 83 percent of our transportation network.

According to Route Fifty,

These facts make it clear that counties can offer important insights into prioritizing transportation infrastructure needs—through the local lens where people live and work. Although we’ve made significant progress locally, we can’t do it alone. We need a strong partnership with states and the federal government to accomplish our transportation infrastructure goals.

When it comes to roads, our nation’s infrastructure program has long depended on the federal gasoline tax. Since 1993, consumers paid 18.4 cents per gallon toward the Highway Trust Fund, the main federal funding mechanism for road and bridge improvement and construction projects. While inflation has risen 65 percent since then, the gas tax has seen no increase.

What else has changed? In 1993, cars were not getting over 30 miles per gallon, and the idea of a viable hybrid was in its infancy. Today, hybrids are more mainstream, using the roads without consuming much gas and contributing to the gas tax. Electric vehicles with no gas tank also share our roads without contributing to the gas tax. Combine this with inflation and increased construction costs, and it’s easy to see that the American infrastructure funding model has been stuck in neutral for over two decades. It’s time to kick things into high gear.

Congress has shown no appetite to raise the federal gas tax, both sides of the aisle fearing political repercussions at the ballot box. Meanwhile, our roads have deteriorated and our airports have become overly congested. While Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation to aid our infrastructure network since 2000, no real infusion of funds was conceived until the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as “the stimulus.” This provided over $103 billion toward infrastructure improvements.

Fast forward to 2017 and a new presidential administration. President Trump has declared infrastructure investment as one of his top domestic priorities. Leaders on both sides of the aisle are receptive to an infrastructure package, with the trillion-dollar question being: How are we going to pay for it? Tax credits? Public-Private Partnerships? Municipal bonds? A federal infrastructure bank? A pot of money at the end of the rainbow?

Depending on whom you ask, the answers will yield different opinions. The real answer, however, is all of the above.

Tax credits, while incentivizing industry to undertake projects, will not be viable across our vast topography. P3s, while having a proven record of success, will not benefit our most rural and remote communities, where it’s nearly impossible to attract private-sector investments. Nor do they work for small and medium-sized projects due to their high transaction costs. Therefore, the administration and Congress must make available every tool in the toolbox and include all the options listed above.

Airport improvements may provide an easier solution. According to the United States Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines in 2015 profited almost $4 billion from checked bags alone, allowing for a newer and more efficient fleet. Airports, on the other hand, generate revenue from the Airport Improvement Fund and what is called the passenger facilities charge (PFC), included on each ticket at $4.50. The RSMeans Construction Cost Indexes indicates that the current value of the maximum $4.50 PFC is worth roughly half of what it was when it was implemented in 2000. Raising this fee, even nominally, would allow our airports to expand capacity, invite greater competition among airlines and provide for a better traveler experience. Additionally, it would reduce the reliance on the federal government for airport funds, freeing up that money for other infrastructure projects.

Counties are pleased with the prospect of a new infrastructure package and regulatory reform that could streamline projects. We stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to improve our roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure that keeps our nation moving forward.

From the big urban areas, majestic mountains, rural landscapes and everything in between, all of America needs a transportation facelift. It would provide jobs, improve quality of life and increase safety. Ensuring that no communities are left behind will be paramount and the true measure of success.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Will Favor States, Localities With Money Lined Up, Chao Says

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: President’s Budget No Boon for Local Infrastructure

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: U.S. Infrastructure Gets “D+”; 24% of MD Roads in Poor Condition