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.

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.

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.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker Announces 2018 Gubernatorial Bid

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III announced Wednesday that he is running for governor, sending a video message to news outlets and supporters that explains why he believes he can emerge from a crowded field of Democrats to challenge Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s bid for a second term.

Baker, 58, is midway through his seventh year as leader of the state’s second-largest jurisdiction. He has focused on improving schools, streamlining county services, and stimulating economic growth.

The Washington Post reports,

A former state lawmaker with a law degree from Howard University, Baker would become Maryland’s first African American governor and the first county executive to serve in the role since Parris N. Glendening (D), also of Prince George’s, did from 1995 to 2003.

“Being county executive gives me a good vantage point to look at Maryland as a whole, because we are urban, suburban and rural,” Baker said in an interview before his campaign announcement.

“When I look at what we had to do in Prince George’s, given the circumstances we were in, and I look at the state, it’s not dissimilar,” he added.

The son of a U.S. Army Special Forces officer and a nurse’s aide, Baker was born in Georgia. His family moved frequently, including stints in Okinawa, Japan, before settling in Massachusetts, when he attended high school.

After law school, Baker worked on Capitol Hill, in the D.C. government and as legal counsel for a nonprofit community development and social services organization.

He married his college sweetheart, civil rights lawyer Christa Beverly, and settled in Prince George’s, where he forged ties with fellow black politicos, including Wayne K. Curry, the late county executive. In 1994, with Curry’s guidance, Baker won a seat in the House of Delegates representing Cheverly and parts of Bladensburg.

But Baker badly wanted to be county executive. He lost two primary races, the first while serving in the House of Delegates. In 2010, he tried again and defeated four other Democrats in the primary, later easily winning the general election. Days later, federal agents arrested outgoing county executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on corruption charges.

Baker has traveled the state for months, sharing his story of an economic and civic resurgence in Prince George’s County, the only majority-black jurisdiction in Maryland besides Baltimore City and one of the most affluent majority-black jurisdictions in the nation.

In addition to pushing through ethics reform and seizing partial control of the struggling school system, Baker has boosted development around Metro stations and shepherded major projects, including a regional medical center slated to break ground in the fall. He abandoned his initial opposition to gambling in the county and became a major supporter of the glittering MGM National Harbor casino, which opened to rave reviews in December.

Before launching his campaign, Baker said he had to decide whether he thought he could do a better job than Hogan. That was the standard that Baker’s wife, whom he calls the driving force in his political career, had set in his previous races.

Beverly was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2012. Her condition has deteriorated considerably, but the county executive still includes her — along with their three adult children — in campaign meetings and conversations.

Her illness, Baker said, has increased his awareness of “the issues facing working men and women” who juggle work and caretaking. It’s also made him impatient about implementing public policy.

“Time is a precious commodity,” Baker said. “People want to know what you can do now.

“And I understand it, because I don’t know what tomorrow is.”

Read the full article for more information.

Queen Anne’s Approves Kent Island Traffic Study

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners met Tuesday to finalize the details of a traffic study on Kent Island. The goal of the study is to gather enormous amounts of data to paint a better picture for the state of how the county is affected by the streams of vehicles passing through the county trying to reach the beach.

The Kent Island Bay Times reports,

Long an issue for Kent Island residents during the summer months, a lack of mobility for citizens and emergency responders has been at the forefront of the commission’s attempts to find relief from the constant congestion.

Commissioner Jim Moran introduced the idea of a study during the last budget work session of the year, and the commissioners allocated $100,000 in the fiscal 2018 budget to hire a company to do a comprehensive traffic study to rival the numbers the Maryland Transportation Authority has. The county has repeatedly said long-term traffic projections are short and do not take into account multiple road projects in the region that, when finished, will filter more vehicles through the area.

“Queen Anne’s County is basically in the middle between two raging wars — the western shore and Ocean City — and we are just the recipients of all this traffic that we do not generate,” Moran said.

Moran said gathering accurate traffic numbers now is essential so a baseline can be established before projects, such as the widening of U.S. 404 and the 301 Bypass in Delaware, are completed. Because some of the projections the state has given the county, which the county has questioned, Moran said the help the county needs from the state is becoming urgent.

Through monthly reports, the company can send hard data on traffic counts, including lane-specific traffic, car speeds and vehicle sizes, the county argues it will better be able to convince the state to take further action on creating a third span or a separate Chesapeake Bay crossing.

Since about 1971, All Traffic Solutions has worked throughout Maryland with jurisdictions collecting traffic data, David Nelson, president, told commissioners. The company has completed work for Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Baltimore and a few Eastern Shore counties, he said, as well as worked with the State Highway Administration.

Nelson said the company has a lot of credibility with SHA.

“I think that gives us the ability when we collect the data we give it to you, it’s something that really shouldn’t be questioned by anyone,” he said.

Nelson said the device that collects the data runs on solar power and transmits the information to a cloud where engineers can compile and create reports. Though not finalized, Nelson suggested putting two devices, about three feet in length that would attach to something, on both sides of U.S. 50 near the Bay Bridge to collect traffic volumes going in both directions.

“It’s a really solid solution for what the county is looking for,” Nelson said.

By putting up multiple devices, Nelson said backups can be detected as vehicle speeds is one data-set that can be captured. Commission President Steve Wilson mentioned how once drivers get to Castle Marina Road many get off U.S. 50 and begin to clog up the backroads.

Though the state has taken steps in finding a long-term traffic solution to traffic volume going over the bridge by studying the feasibility, location and environmental factors associated with creating another Bay-crossing, any outcome would be years down the road.

Moran said the state is going to conduct another study that checks traffic one week in the summer and winter. Moran listed points that could alter the state’s numbers during a one-week stretch of collection, such as weather and regional events, and said creating projections on a week’s worth of data can be inaccurate.

“The only way we’re going to be able to protect the citizens of Queen Anne’s County is if we invest some money, do the counting and have hard numbers,” Moran said.

Read the full article for more information.

Baltimore City Overdose Antidote Demand Outpacing Supply

An article in The Baltimore Sun reports how in the face of increased demand for and an increase of costs of naloxone, the Baltimore City Health Department is running low on supplies of the medication.

Demand for naloxone, an opioid antagonist that helps reverse an overdose, has increased as measures have been put into place to ease access to the medication in an effort to get it into the hands of those best situated to provide help during an overdose. Costs for the medication have risen along side demand.

Dr. Leana Wen, the city health commissioner, said demand has jumped significantly along with the drug epidemic and the health department needs funding for more supplies.

“We are rationing,” she said. “We’re deciding who is at the highest risk and giving it to them.”

The city has about 4,000 doses left to last until next May. The department will distribute them, two at a time, to residents, including IV drug users encountered by the city’s needle exchange vans or by outreach workers in “hotspots,” areas where a spate of overdoses recently occurred.

“If I had 10,000 doses and gave them to everyone who requested them, I’d run out in about two weeks,” Wen said.

Naloxone has become the cornerstone of the public health community’s emergency response to skyrocketing fatalities from opioids that include prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, a powerful drug commonly mixed into heroin without the users knowledge. The goal is to keep opioid users alive long enough to get them into treatment.

And though Wen has more units on hand than she’s had in some recent years, she said it’s not enough to keep pace with rising needs.

Maryland health officials recently reported that 2,089 people fatally overdosed in the state in 2016, up 66 percent from 2015. About a third of the overall deaths, 694, were in Baltimore and the shares were higher for heroin and fentanyl. There are an estimated 21,000 active heroin users in Baltimore.

For more information read The Baltimore Sun

Delegate Aumann Bows out of Md. Senate race, Re-Election Bid

Delegate Susan Aumann, Courtesy of Maryland Manual Online

Baltimore County state Del. Susan Aumann is leaving elected office after four terms, the Republican confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

“Serving in the General Assembly is an incredible honor. To help our communities and to have had many successes over the last fifteen years has been an experience of a lifetime,” Aumann said.

WBAL reports,

Aumann represents District 42B, which includes much of northern Baltimore County. She was floated as a contender for Democrat Jim Brochin’s 42nd district state Senate seat. Brochin is considering a run for county executive in 2018.

“This past year has been challenging on a personal level with health concerns and deaths in my family that have required more time and focus,” Aumann said. “I want you to know that I will not be seeking election to either the House or Senate in 2018 so I may dedicate more attention to my family.”

The Daily Record, which broke the story of Aumann’s exit, reports she’s leaving elected office to care for her 90-year-old mother. She will complete the rest of her term.

She highlighted achievements of her time in office, including improvements at Towson University, air conditioning at Ridgely Middle School and restrictions on off-track betting at Timonium Fairgrounds.

“I am truly grateful to work on your behalf through these projects and others, too many to list,” Aumann said. “Thank you for your trust in me.”

Read the full article for more information.