Tuesday, July 18, 2006

City Council - Please Save My Marriage!

My lovely wife Joanne is beautiful and perfect in every way ... except for one tiny flaw. She is a pack rat that keeps just about everything.

Just last week she exclaimed, "Fondue is coming back in style and then who'll be happy that we have the complete, 16 pot, all electric, avocado colored, deluxe dipping set with 4o matching forks?

Simple physics was the only thing that kept me from going crazy from her collection obsession and leaving her. Once she filled up our house, the only way for her to add to her collection was by throwing something else out. We reached an ecological balance of sorts. But now those large temporary storage containers called PODS may signal the end of our marriage.

You see, Laurel City does not have an ordinance prohibiting or controlling these big white home wreckers. See Dan Schwind's story in the Leader.

Our crazy neighbors had a POD in their front yard for over six months last year. Joanne figures that she can legally fill our yard with dozens of the big white PODS and then she'll have almost unlimited space to store more stuff. She will never need to throw anything away ever again.

If the City Council doesn't pass a law to stop her, it will mean the end of our marriage. I can't take it any more and I'm betting the divorce court will agree with me.

A simple solution is available. Pass an ordinance that requires city residents to get a $5.00 permit to put a POD on their property --for no more than 30 days. This seems reasonable to me. Thirty days is plenty of time to accomplish a move or rehab a garage. Lots of cities across the USA are taking just this reasonable step to preserve family values.

City Council Members, Joanne and I have been married for 23 years. I'm putting the future of our marriage squarely in your hands.

Please regulate the PODS and save our marriage.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Mushroom Goes To The Woodshed

My previous post about voters being treated like mushrooms brought the swift response from Prince Georges County Council President Tom Dernoga at the bottom of this post.

He takes me to woodshed for complaining about the Liquor Board because he correctly explains that the State of Maryland really controls the Board, not the County. He also mildly rebukes me for incorrectly referring to the County as PG instead of Prince Georges.

I've also added my response to his email as a comment to this post. Mr. Dernoga agreed to let me to post his message to the blog.

I appreciate the opportunity to correct my errors and I appreciate even more that our hardworking Councilman took the time to set me straight on a holiday .

-rick

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From: Dernoga, Thomas E.
Sent: Tuesday, July 04, 2006 8:31 PM
Subject: PG County Govt

Rick:

I'm mildly offended by your recent emails. I agree with the basic premise -easy access to public information. I also agree that the County has been behind in getting its technology up to speed. The Council has pushed on this, but unfortunately, like too many things that are outside our direct control, we haven't gotten to where we need to be yet.

So... why am I mildly offended?

First, like many people, you ignore the fact that the County needs to do more with less. I don't have time right now to go through my spreadsheets of data that I have compiled; however, suffice it to say that 30 years of foolish development policies have left us with a County demographic that has less property value per capita, less income per capita, less wealth per capita and a lower educational level per capita than those surrounding jurisdictions who are doing so well with technology. Since Maryland bases its taxing system (and hence, its County's taxing systems) on wealth, our relative lack of wealth means substantially less tax revenue per person to use to perform the same governmental functions. While I am certain that there is adequate funding to provide the type of technological infrastructure to perform the type of functions you desire, I gather that other pressing needs distract focus from this issue and keep it from being an agency priority - that is, the County's Office of Information Technology.

Second, and really more important, the Board of License Commissioners is not really a "PG County" agency. Sure, its budget ends up under our County budget and we "approve" it. And, they have a County email address. However, the same is true of the Circuit and District Courts, the Sheriff and various other agencies created by State, the officials of which are appointed by the State, and the laws under which they operate are State laws. Neither the County Executive nor the County Council may direct the operations of the Board. Thus, when you blame "PG County" (known as Prince George's in some circles), for not having a web service to let you know when liquor license applications arise in 20707 or 20708, you presume that PG County has jurisdiction to order the Board around. Unfortunately not. The elected officials that you need to petition for action on this are named: Miller, Lawlah, Green, Pinsky, Giannetti, Currie, Exum and Britt. Since they enjoy the control that they have over liquor licenses, perhaps THEY "simply want to keep citizens out of the hearing process?"State law provides how many people we have to pay for in our Budget for the Board - the Chair, the Commissioners, the number of inspectors, their legal counsel, etc. I have appended at the bottom the State law discussing how Prince George's Board is staffed and its duties. I don't think you will find any similar rules under County law.

So.... you could argue that the Board is a County agency, but such argument would not be completely accurate. If you wish to blame "PG County" for the Board's failure to employ technology effectively, at least blame the responsible elected officials.

Regards.

Tom

Monday, July 03, 2006

Are We Just Voting Mushrooms?

I believe that our county leaders think we are mushrooms .... because they want to keep us in the dark and feed us bullcr%p.

I recently got an email from the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners, aka the liquor board, because I asked to be kept informed about upcoming hearings after the Club Amazon debacle.

Unfortunately, the staffer at the commissioner's office sent the email with every one's email address exposed in the to: line. It's really not her fault. The Prince George's County Government simply doesn't want to make information easily available to its citizens.

The email contained the entire docket for the next two hearings. It would be so much better if the PG County government would just let me subscribe to a simple web service that would inform me via email when any liquor license is under review in zipcode(s) of my choice.

This highlights a much bigger problem in Prince George's County. Have you ever tried to find useful county data? I mean something more useful than Jack Johnson's photo.

For example, who holds liquor licenses in the county? How many violations do they have? Can you easily cross reference the license holders and their affiliates to any campaign donors?

But it's not just liquor licenses. Just try to find the email address of a county official. I wanted to complain about this problem but I could not find the email address for Mr. Charles W. Wilson, the Director Office of Information Technology and Communications. We pay for their computers and blackberries, we should be able to send any county employee an email and expect a response. That is the policy in the City of Laurel.

It gets worse. Do you want to know how your precinct voted last election? Then you'll need to buy this information. It's ridiculous to buy information that your tax dollars already paid to collect!

It's time for our elected officials and candidates to demand that all public government information is made freely available via the web. The technology is here. All we need is a commitment to full electronic transparency in our government. The rule should be, when in doubt, put it out!

Oh by the way, I use the campaign websites of our local candidates to get an idea how well they understand how people use the internet to find information. It is an indicator of how well that they will demand full electronic transparency. Most of you who read this blog might feel the same way. Here are the factors I use to figure out if the campaign site is more than just an electronic billboard?

  • How current is the info?
  • Is it as easy to send them an email as it is to send them a contribution?
  • Do they answer the email promptly?
  • Or do they make you use a lame web form?
  • Do they have meaningful issue papers?
  • Do they have a blog?
  • Do they post regularly to their blog?
  • Can you subscribe to get tailored information?
  • Is the information relevant and timely for voters?
  • Do they have a Spanish language version? (This may be a pro or a con for you.)
  • Do they provide links to additional information sources?

Here are some local campaign sites for your review. You should be able to tell very quickly which candidates "get" the web. (I'm not associated with any campaign.)

Here are some additional useful sites that I found that cover PG County politics.

Write these candidates and tell them if you think their websites are lame or useful. Let them know that you believe that all publicly accessible government information should always be available via the internet.

The standard should be that if you can get the information in person, you should be able to get that same information via the web for free.

No more web manure!


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