Saturday, December 29, 2007

Whiskey Riots 1902 - When Laurel Had Two City Councils

The interregnum between the Christmas and New Year holidays provides quiet time for reading and relaxation.

Today the Laurel Connections Blog offers you a holiday rerun. It was originally printed in the Laurel Leader on Thursday April 22, 1993 on page A-1. This was the old broadsheet style, 50 cent Leader. I bought a dozen copies to send to relatives celebrating my first published article.

It's a long piece, but if you stick with it you'll get a taste of those good old days when Laurel politics was a contact sport. A number of famous old Laurel names are also in the story. They come from a time before these local names were only known as buildings or streets.

Happy New Year, rick

A time when elections weren’t boring

By Rick Wilson

City elections were not always the quiet, civilized, and poorly attended events we have come to expect.

In 1898, more than 72% of the registered voters turned out for a special Saturday election to decide if Laurel would become a dry town. The measure lost, much to the relief of a thirsty electorate.

After the 1902 election, an angry mob descended upon the city hall at Fifth and Montgomery streets, where the Armory is today, to watch two mayors and city councils argue over which had been legally elected by the people. With this kind of excitement, it’s no wonder that election participation averaged more than 80% over the 40 years from 1898 to 1938.

The Cast of Characters

The contested 1902 election was rife with intrigue, mud-slinging rhetoric and a colorful cast of characters right out of an 1890 melodrama:

- The opinionated newspaper publisher, James P. Curley, first owner and editor of the Leader. The Leader’s first masthead billed itself as “the only republican paper in Prince Georges County.” Curley and his partner, F.C. Dezendorf (son of a Virginia congressman) were also attorneys, real estate developers, brokers, bankers, insurance underwriters and merchants. Curley would later serve terms as mayor and state delegate.

- The much loved, seven-time mayor of Laurel, county commissioner and dry-goods merchant, Edward J. Phelps.

- Gustavus B. Timanus, superintendent of the Laurel Cotton Mills who had formerly served as mayor in 1894 and was the arch-rival of both Curley and Phelps.

Our Town

At the time Laurel was a town of retail businesses and commuters. Forty-six stores supported a population of nearly 3000, from Shaffers building supply at the depot to Phelps’ dry goods, groceries clothing and furniture clear across town at Ninth and Montgomery.

Thirty-four trains left Laurel’s depot at the east end of Main Street every day. It was boasted that a man could leave in the morning for Baltimore, transact business until noon, take a 45 minute train ride to Washington, work the afternoon at the capital and be home for a civilized supper at 6 p.m. It was a 10 cent fare each way.

In 1898 the city provided jobs in the cotton and shirt mills. A typical worker earned 45 cents a day. City lots (50 feet by 150 feet) could be purchased for $375 to $1,350.An advertisement in the Leader on March 25, 1898, described a seven-room house on Montgomery renting for $14 a month.

Laurel had eight churches and two schools. The new Maryland Agricultural college, just down the road at College Park, offered tuition, book, room, board and medical care for $154 per scholastic year.

Laurel also had a mayor and city council that worked diligently to keep the town from bankruptcy and from burning. Fire was a major threat.

The mayor and council met monthly to keep the town’s affairs in order. Fines for lawbreakers were levied and bills paid. Here is a peek at some of their tasks from the meeting of March 18, 1898:

- A five-year contract was awarded for 101 incandescent street lights at a cost of $12 per light per year. It was noted that “the lights must burn every night except those moonlit.”

- A bill was considered and approved for $21.50 for “road grading and repair of Montgomery Street above 10th.”

- A bill was approved for payment of “$15 to the deputy bailiff, Walter Robison, for salary.” Walter was grandfather of Laurel’s current mayor, Joseph Robison. A council meeting in 1899 approved a request for $2 to purchase a bicycle for the bailiff to use during night rounds.

- The possibility of establishing a park northwest of Montgomery Street was discussed. “The area is well shaded and watered. It would be good for fishing, boating or picnicking.”

Our Hero: Edward VII

As the 1902 election approached, Mayor Phelps was serving the last days of his seventh one-year term. He was called “Edward the VII” and was known for his large gray mare. Phelps had been born in Laurel in 1861 and attended local schools until age 14. He formed a mercantile partnership with Charles Shaffer in 1877. He was first elected to the City Council in 1888 at the age of 21. Then he was elected to the Prince George’s County Commission at 26 and was instrumental in getting three iron bridges erected over the Patuxent River at Laurel. (Iron bridges had only been in existence since 1872.) He became president of the County Commission in 1888 and mayor of Laurel in 1895, defeating his nemesis, G.B. Timanus.

Election Day, Monday, April 7, 1902.

The roads are muddy and deeply rutted from spring downpours. The polls open at city hall at 2 p.m. Mrs. Luther Brashears comes down the hill on Eighth Street in her wagon. As she negotiates the turn onto Montgomery Street, the wheels stick in the ruts. The wagon rolls over and the poor woman is thrown to the ground. The horse bolts up Montgomery Street past School No. 1 at Ninth Street. Miss Eliza Cronmiller, the principal, hurries some of the boys to harness the horse. The wagon is destroyed, but Mrs. Brashears suffers only superficial injuries to both body and pride.

The polls close at 7 p.m. The gathering crowd is told of an upset. Timanus defeats Phelps by 23 votes! The entire Timanus slate is elected. In one of the greatest turnouts in years, 427 registered voters participate.

But wait! Later in the week it is discovered that Timanus and his colleagues have failed to qualify within the proper time required by the town charter rules (the Leader is fuzzy on exactly what requirement is violated). The Timanus team, discounting the rules and calling for “the rule of the people to prevail,” shows up at city hall to take over city business.

They demand that the existing administration turn over city papers and ledgers. They constitute a council and elect officers. The bailiffs are retained only if they agree to honor the new council’s rule. The Laurel postmaster is ordered to deliver all mail to the new council.

Phelps refuses all of these requests and seeks legal advice. He is told that the only way out of the mess is a new election.

Phelps calls for the special election at the end of April and then makes his most surprising announcement. “In order to avoid expensive litigation that wastes the taxpayer’s money and causes unnecessary controversy, a special election will be held and furthermore, under no circumstances will I put forth my name for consideration.” In the end Phelps puts the town ahead of his own ambitions.

Timanus easily beats the hurriedly substituted W.E. Linn in the special election, 295-94. Phelps runs again against Timanus in 1903 and 1904. Both elections are heavily contested and full of controversy, but Phelps never again regains his office.


Phelps writes about his accomplishments as mayor in April 1902. He mentions that an electric railroad will be coming to town in the fall. A fire department and water distribution system are forming to protect the city from calamity. A high school will soon be built. Roads are in good shape. The town library is growing and will soon need a paid librarian. A number of park projects show promise.

Phelps concludes with a call to the people of Laurel to heed the following advice, even when conditions decline and economies stumble: “When progress ceases, decay begins.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

NYT Visual Pollution Police Raid Laurel

26 Dec Update: We seem to have started a bit of an alienation rumble. Be sure to see the comments section below.

The Sunday New York Times today takes the Laurel Shopping Center to task for the crime of visual pollution. I think they take very cheap shots. Here is an excerpt:
'The Laurel Shopping Center: a seemingly endless concrete U of shops that curves around the dominant aesthetic offering of a massive parking lot, where our car is now anchored like a small vessel in an asphalt bay.

The store lights call out. Dress Barn. CVS. Marshalls. Chuck E. Cheese. Ruby Tuesday. H&R Block. And, yes, Subway.

Sitting here, suppressing the urge to flee, you begin to notice how the shopping center’s off-white walls and copper-colored top recall a minimum-security prison, and how readily the layout encourages acceptance of small absurdities. For example, people who leave the CVS with a desire to shop at Marshalls pretty much have to get back in their cars and drive across acres of parking lot.

“It’s not surprising that American society is so alienated,” Mr. Fry says.'

Read the NYT article.
Hear and see the slideshow.

What do you think? Is the Times right? Do you feel alienated by the visual clutter in Laurel? Please add your comments below.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

City Holiday Decorating Contest Winners

Please see the Mayor's post for details.

New Blogs of Note

If you've been visiting our pages for awhile you'll already know that I'm enthusiastic about using technology to grow strong connections in our community. We may have lost our porch sitting and bowling league habits over the last few decades. However, new technologies like blogs, wiki's, Flickr, podcasts and YouTube are fantastic community connecting tools.

Laurel City launched a new blog this week called Laurel Straight Up. Mayor Moe, City Administrator Kristie Mills and the Mayor's Special Assistant LouAnn Crook explain in their inaugural post that, "As we take better advantage of the technology that is available to us, we are moving forward to bring your local government closer to you and readily accessible."

This city blog is more than a billboard because it permits and encourages comments. The best blogs create opportunities for community conversation. Bravo to the city for initiating this groundbreaking service.

I also discovered this week that the First Baptist Church of Laurel is blogging. I hope that all of Laurel's faith communities will soon leverage the power of connection technologies. Beyond preaching to their own choir, blogs provide another way for churches, schools and service organizations to reach into the broader community. We need to take the Internet back from the money changers and put it to work connecting us closer together.

First daughter MB writes a "blahg" that is getting a bit of notice recently called Irregular Hours. MB has been interning at WFUV radio in the Bronx and she recently posted a radio essay on the art of Improv comedy called Follow the Fear. I think it's time for her old man to retire his keyboard and let a much more talented generation carry on.

Speaking of a seriously talented teenagers, William M. is still blogging almost about our local weather over at Maryland Weather Observation. He correctly nailed the forecast for last week's failed snow event. Although it was obvious that he was disappointed, this 10th grader was way out in front of the professionals by saying that the snow would be a no show.

I'm always looking for new local content. Please send me your favorite websites, blogs, Flickr photos, podcasts, or YouTube videos that have Laurel content or local connections. Links only please to g.rick.wilson at gmail dot com.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading, rick

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sixty Seconds To Tragedy

I can't imagine that the whole terrible incident lasted more than sixty seconds. It happened while driving home from work on familiar roads. It was dark. It had been raining. Then ... a terrible sound. A sickening realization. Panic, and then a bad decision that worsened an already gruesome tragedy. No more than sixty seconds.

I have no idea what really happened on the 25th of November. I do know that Ruth Ann Storm was killed on the 100 block of 7th street. She was walking home a little before 1 am on a Sunday morning. She was walking on the west side of 7th street as shown in this photo. The side without sidewalks. I also know that Ruth Ann Storm left a teen aged son, who is now an orphan because he recently lost his father. The
Laurel Leader provides more details.

Last week I learned that Rodolpho Esau Ramirez-Grijalva confessed to hitting Ruth Ann Storm. He confessed to fleeing the scene two and half weeks after concocting a false story saying that he was not driving his car that night. He was
arrested and charged with multiple violations including hit and run and lying to police officers. If he is convicted, he will likely go to jail. He will then leave his one month old child and his wife. His wife and some associates may also be charged for their attempts at helping him to cover up the crime.

Rodolpho Esau Ramirez-Grijalva has a valid Maryland driver's license. His car is properly registered. He has the state-required automobile insurance. He is also an illegal immigrant.

Laurel Deputy Police Chief Rich McLaughlin said at last week's press conference that if Ramirez-Grijalva had remained at the scene of the accident, his citizenship status would not have been questioned.

I was confused about the ability of an illegal alien obtaining a valid driver's license in Maryland. A quick call to our Maryland State
Delegate Ben Barnes set me straight. It also gave me a deeper appreciation of the issue. According to Delegate Barnes, Maryland's motor vehicle law does not require proof of citizenship. Maryland only requires proof of identity to get a driver's license.


Part of me wants to build tall fences, deport all the illegal immigrants, and get tough. We are a land of laws and these people have broken our laws. Part of me is appalled that my state would grant a driver's license to an illegal alien. That part of me wants to go to Annapolis and grab our delegation and shake them until they pass tough immigration laws that stop illegal aliens.

But there is another part of me that is more confused than indignant. Is illegal immigration responsible for this tragedy? Do I really want to make it impossible for illegals to get a license and car insurance? With a license, at least they will pass a driver's test and have enough insurance to pay for my crushed bumper or worse, for my medical bills. What good will come from making those protections impossible? Will it keep illegals from driving?

Most illegals immigrate to America for the same reasons as my own ancestors. To take the dirtiest, most dangerous, most unpleasant and exploitative jobs available, for the lowest wages. My ancestors plunged into Pennsylvania coal mines and stoked Youngstown's blast furnaces. They were happy for any job and hopeful for the opportunity of a better life for their children. If we want to stop immigration, we only need to make it impossible for illegals to get jobs.

But of course it's not the same. My ancestors arrived legally in America. But that's not the most important difference between then and now.

I think the most important difference today is that many immigrants are reluctant to assimilate. My ancestors wanted to become American. Their native language was Slovak. Learning English was demanded. Slovak was never spoken around the children, except to conceal "adult" discussions. Spanish speaking immigrants today don't seem to have the same desire or need to learn English.

I guess my long-term advice to our delegates is to continue to allow anyone in Maryland to get a driver's license without proof of citizenship. However, I do want to change the current law so that everyone must pass a written and spoken English language test at the 7th grade level before getting a license. I believe that this will not only make them safer drivers, it may help all immigrants more quickly assimilate, thereby increasing their opportunities for a better life for their children.


I keep putting myself in Ramirez-Grijalva's shoes. If I was an illegal immigrant, would I be frightened to talk to the police after an accident? Especially if I could not speak any English?

His panic was understandable but I'm not condoning his crime. He confessed to leaving the scene of an accident. He may have been able to provide aid. He lied to the police.

We will never know, but maybe if he spoke a little English his decision might have been different that night. Sixty seconds is a long time.

I know that this is an important issue and many of you have strong opinions. I welcome and encourage your comments.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

LPD Solves 25 November Hit & Run Case

Laurel Deputy Police Chief Rich McLaughlin announced this afternoon that Rodolpho Esau Ramirez-Grijalva was arrested and charged with multiple violations concerning hit and run fatality on 25th of November. Ruth Ann Storm was killed on the 100 block of 7th street while walking home .

Rameriz, 30, was also charged with making false statements to police officers after he confessed to concocting a story that someone else was driving his car.

Rameriz is an illegal alien who had a valid MD driver's license, insurance and proper registration on his vehicle.

Congratulations to the LPD on another great job!

Click here for the video of the press conference.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It's a Chili Night

It's been quiet on Laurel Ave on this beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. A pot of Chili is on the stove. The beer is getting cold.

I just finished reading Keith's post about "Renters, Skaters and Bus Riders" over at his Laurel2020 blog. Keith always makes a lot of sense concerning development in Laurel. I highly recommend his blog to you.



Friday, October 26, 2007

Slot Machine Madness

I think I'm going crazy. Listen to my hallucinations and then tell me I'm not as nutty as a West Laurelite at a pro development breakfast ...

Hallucination 1 - Maryland has enjoyed a decade of unprecedented growth. Property values and income levels are skyrocketing. So I think we should be in fat city. But I must be as mad as a dingo dog because they tell me we have a $2 billion dollar "structural" deficit.

Hallucination 2 - The Maryland General Assembly has a regular gig. They meet at the same time every year. They hang out in Annapolis from January to April and do the people's business. They write laws, go to dinners, find facts and other very intense things. Annapolis has been this way since lobbyists wore expensive powdered wigs.

But I must be nuts because I heard that the governor called for a special session next week. He must be crazier than me if he thinks Barbara Frush and Jim Rosapepe will roll over any easier on Halloween than on Valentine's Day.

Hallucination 3 - This is my big kahuna bad trip. Please follow me closely, because this is the raving of a lunatic.

  • Gambling is bad.
  • It's said to be addictive and hard on the poor.
  • But the state allows lotteries, keno, horse racing, and scratch offs because the state is addicted to money.
  • Slots are just another type of gambling.
  • But slots are banned in Maryland.
  • The governor says the state is now poor so he's in favor of slots.
  • The state is therefore poor and addicted to gambling.
  • People are fighting like hell to stop slots because slots are gambling and must be banned.
  • Nobody is fighting to get rid of the other forms of gambling.
  • Except barge fulls of lobbyists are grabbing fistfulls of money to lobby both sides.
  • Lobbyists are addicted to money.
  • Therefore lobbyists must be the same as gambling.
  • Maybe we should ban lobbyists?

Please help me.

Please take the Laurel Connections Poll on slots on the left side of this screen. I also encourage you to leave your questions, rants and raves in the comment section.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Urban Turkey Attack & Radar Moms

Astute readers may have noticed that the Laurel Connections Blog has been on hiatus since August. Astute readers with good taste have been quietly applauding.

While we had hoped to remain in hiding at an undisclosed location until after the upcoming special "bleed us dry" session of the Maryland General Assembly. More on the tax, tax, slot, slot, fizz, fizz session later, two news stories today simply begged for a Connections post.

Red Dawn with a Gobble

The Boston Globe reported today that flocks of wild turkeys are terrorizing Brookline, Mass.
"The turkey eyed Jean-Felix. Jean-Felix eyed the turkey. It gobbled. She gasped. Then the turkey proceeded to follow the Dorchester woman over the Green Line train tracks, across the street, through traffic, and all the way down the block, pecking at her backside as she went."

Wild turkey's are not strangers to Laurel. (No, not the 80 proof kind.) The Laurel Leader reported last April on an incident that city officials then considered a fluke ... but now we know it was a clever poultry reconnaissance mission. Before we are gobbled and pecked into submission we must prepare.

I recommend that our police officers and firefighters be issued shotguns. Billy Miles' freezers at the Meat Market should be readied as cold storage. (Thanksgiving is only 4 weeks away!) And because I'm sure that all our officials will want to help, we should issue turkey calls to all city, county and state elected representatives. N.B. Citizens are advised to avoid locations where shotgun toting fire fighters and turkey calling elected officials are known to congregate.

Smile, You Are on My Radar Sucker - Revenge of the Moms

Speeding was my most common complaint as city council member. Neighbors want the police to strictly enforce the 25 mph speed limit. Small police agencies can't be everywhere. A story reported in USA Today described a win-win solution to the problem.

Police departments across the country are loaning residents radar guns and turning them into neighborhood speed watchers. The volunteers radar gunslingers can't ticket the drivers but their reports can result in warning letters.
Laurel has used the "Drive 25" signs for quite awhile. Traffic calming experiments are now underway on a couple of streets. But talk to most mothers in Oldtown and you will get an earful about speeding on Fourth, Fifth and Montgomery Streets.

I say let's arm them with the technology they need. Give them a radar gun, a digital camera and a lawn chair and we'll have the speeding problem cleaned up before the ice melts at the corner lemonade stand . "Do you feel lucky, speeder?"

Monday, August 13, 2007

Laurel Lakes Townhouse Fire

WUSA-TV Channel 9's Dave Statter has video and still pictures from Sunday's terrible fire in Laurel Lakes.

Laurel's Lamplighters

Former Laurel Mayor and local historian Joe Robison responded to my previous post with the following story about lamplighters.

Joe explained that he was reading the Laurel City Council meeting minutes from the 1880's and he learned that care of gas street lamps was the responsibility of the nearest property owner. Joe learned that the nearest owner was required to light the gas lamp at dusk and douse it at sunrise. If an unreliable owner failed to do this, the street lamp would be physically moved to be in front of a more responsible property owner.

Many readers liked the idea of a street lamp celebration. Ice cream, band music, and someone in a lamplighter costume to officiate. Sounds like a great time and a fitting celebration for all the hard work from the Mayor, City Council and the Public Works Department. I hope the Laurel Board of Trade and the Friends of Historic Main Street will take up the idea and sponsor it. Does anyone know a local Barbershop Quartet?

From the reliable source, rumor file - I've learned from that a bakery may be coming to Laurel in the near future. It might not be on Main Street, but if they have sticky buns and sourdough, I just won't care.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Six Things

Six things I'm thinking about on a relaxing Sunday evening stroll.

1. The great new street lamps have now been installed on the west end of Main Street from 4th to 7th. The picture on the right is near the Red, Hot and Blue Restaurant. I heard that Public Works Department is almost ready to turn them on. I suggest we do it right and have a lamp lighting celebration.

2. We need an honest to goodness bakery on Main Street. Artisan breads, fresh hard rolls, and sticky cinnamon buns are my favorites. I'd easily spend $20 dollars a week!

3. I hope you are following the comments section to the recent post about Laurel's Urban or Suburban Future. Bryon and Keith are sharing some thought provoking thoughts.

4. I hope you took a minute to vote in the poll on the left. It looks like Bethesda is tied with Mayberry as the preferred look for Laurel's future.

5. There are dark, budget busting clouds over Annapolis. The Mayor and City Council were wise to beef up Laurel's infrastructure during the last few years. I have a hunch that the budget salad days will soon be over for any state or county funding.

6. Speaking of salad ... I think it is time for a year-round, fresh produce business on Main Street that is open in the evenings and weekends. The Farmer's Market is good, but we need a business that caters to people that work during the day. Maybe the produce stand out on Gunpowder Road is looking for a new home. The thousands of young, wealthy, upwardly mobile, residents moving into all our new luxury apartment buildings will certainly want fresh fruits and vegetables. (and fresh bread too!)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

102 Posts

The Laurel Connections Blog was born 102 posts ago on February 13th, 2005. A bit of a landmark for me so I wanted to take a brief moment to thank all of you loyal readers. Your continuing visits here and your comments to me privately and publicly on the blog have made this little experiment in citizen journalism satisfying for me and I hope useful for you.

Since that first post in 2005, this blog has hosted over 11,746 visitors and 21,521 page views. My goal has been and remains to find post topics that are relevant to Laurel and that help make an already wonderful community just a tiny bit better. I also hope that you have found a little value and maybe a smile or two over the past 30 months.

I intend to continue the experiment. I hope to add new voices and guest bloggers. I'll also be adding more podcasts and introducing video and real-time interactive call-in technology to the blog in the future. See the neat new poll gadget that Blogger just introduced on the left column of this page. Internet production and delivery has matured so fast that I can't help but mix multimedia with citizen journalism just to see what happens.

Please let me know what works, what doesn't and what you would like to see, hear or read here the future. Please use the comments section or email to me: g dot rick dot wilson at gmail dot com. You'll need to replace the"dot" and "at" with "." and "@" and then moosh it all together.
Thanks again for visiting. - rick

Monday, August 06, 2007

Your Turn

Have you been following our recent development discussions? Would you like to know more about redevelopment, density, parking, traffic, or creating a more walkable Laurel? Do you have an opinion about the future of Laurel?

The City of Laurel Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the City’s proposed 2007 Master Plan in the Council Chambers of the Laurel Municipal Center next Tuesday, August 14th at 7:00 p.m.

It's your turn to speak out. Serious policy wonks will want to prepare by reading the entire 200+ page Master Plan here in Adobe Acrobat format.

I also want to draw your attention to Laurel2020's interesting article about a more walkable Laurel here.

What do you want? In 2020, Route 1 through Laurel should look like: a) Bethesda, b) Silver Spring, c) Mayberry, or d) the way it is today? Please share your opinions in the comments section.

Full disclosure: I served on the committee that produced the 2007 plan.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Laurel 2015: Urban or Suburban

The following article is also available in our enhanced Laurel Connections Podcast format. My thanks to Karen Lubieniecki , Marlene Frazier, Councilman Mike Leszcz, Jim McCeney, and Michael Dyer for participating in our podcast.

There was a meeting tonight at city hall to discuss a new development called Hawthorne Place. Please see the Leader’s excellent coverage of Hawthorne Place here.

update: Please also see Keith's take on the meeting at the Laurel2020 blog here.

Tonight’s meeting was typical in many ways. About twenty people attended. The group included bedrock members of the Laurel community. They listened as developers described their dream for Hawthorne Place. The community listened carefully and asked polite questions.

But in many ways I think the tonight’s meeting was far from typical. I think we will remember tonight as an important moment in the history of Laurel.

I say this because I think Hawthorne Place represents the first step towards a new Laurel. The profound question our community must answer is as follows:

In 2015 will Laurel’s commercial core be primarily suburban or urban?

Today Laurel is a suburban town with a suburban feel. We have Main Street and a commercial core along Route 1. Route 1 has a handful of commercial strip shopping centers, a mall undergoing massive revitalization, big box retail stores, and a couple of car lots. Today Laurel is very much like thousands of other suburban towns across America.

Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville are examples of town centers with a more urban feel. They have more intense development, high rise buildings, and parking garages. While not Washington’s K Street, or Manhattan’s East side, Hawthorne Place has more in common with them than with say … Columbia or Bowie, or Laurel as it is today.

Hawthorne Place will bring about 2000 residents and 150 thousand square feet of office space and plant it all on 11 acres. It will obviously bring traffic, but also an awesome new tax base to fuel the city.

Most importantly, Hawthorne Place will cause similar development. You can bet that if Hawthorne Place is approved as explained tonight, the market will drive Laurel to a more urban development pattern in the future.

The questions at tonight's meeting reflected these concerns. People asked the developers about the density stemming from 20 and 16 story apartment buildings.

While people seemed to focus on traffic and building height, I think the real debate is about coming to a community agreement on a vision for Laurel’s future. Will Laurel remain suburban or should we become more urban?

This is an important moment in Laurel’s history. We must continue this conversation. However, I suggest we focus our conversation on the fundamental question of wanting a suburban or urban feel in Laurel's commercial core. Building heights, density, or traffic at Hawthorne Place are all leading indicators of a more profound decision. I suggest we look past these specific decisions about the Hawthorne Place project to focus more broadly on Laurel’s future.

Please share your comments about Hawthorne Place and the future here.

Click here to hear voices from tonight’s meeting. I’m also looking for feedback on the podcast format. Please let me know if you find it useful. -rick

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dream Job - Connections Podcast

Imagine you grew up a baseball fan. Not just a mild root, root, root, for the home team kind of fan, but a stats loving, history of baseball touting fan.

Now imagine that you’ve gone off to college and one day you decide to apply for a summer internship. To make this fantasy even better, imagine you’ve applied for an internship at the Baseball Hall of Fame during the same summer that Cal Ripken is going to be inducted into that same Hall of Fame.

Laurel’s own Andy Hoglund is that fan and he has that dream job. I called Andy Hoglund to ask him how things were going in Cooperstown this week.

Click here to hear the interview. Then click on the 128kbps Stream option for the best quality. I apologize that the sound quality of the phone connection is a little noisy. I spoke to Andy over his cell phone.

(Induction Day 2007, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York, Photo by Andrew Hoglund)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Community Building in New Orleans -Guest Commentary

Thanks to everyone who emailed about last week's Washington Post story on local bloggers. This week Laurel Connections is pleased to offer our blog space to Ms. Mary Wilson.

Rebuilding A City: Growing A Community

By Mary Wilson (New Orleans, June 2007)

Everything moves slower in New Orleans. People, conversation, metabolism—even the water trickles lazily down the gutter guards into the street. People saunter down streets swaying to some distant sound of music. A rail-thin man with legs like stilts, wearing a porkpie hat is on his way to nowhere special. A woman is walking a dog on a leash made from an old neck-tie. You can see the faint dark shadow of a tattoo on her left buttock through her cream linen dress.

I was born and raised in Laurel, and I suffered from small-town claustrophobia for a long time. So, I selected a college in New York City to live anonymously and unattached. But about a week ago, I went to New Orleans on a service trip with a group of 10 other Fordham University students.
New Orleans knocked the cocky independence right out of me, and ended my love affair with New York’s indifference. By the end of the week, my service team had forged the strongest sense of community I’ve ever known. The more it developed, the more it stood in stark contrast to our surroundings. As we worked with various hurricane relief efforts throughout the city, we saw what it looks like when communities are abandoned.

I’ll never forget riding into New Orleans for the first time. Seeing house after abandoned house spray-painted with “TFW”—shorthand for Toxic Flood Water. The huge “X” marked on every door in the most damaged neighborhoods, the bottom cavity of the cross reserved for a number to note how many dead bodies had been found inside. I met people whose homes were seized by the government because 30 days after the storm they were still in Texas or Georgia and hadn’t come back to claim their house. I passed countless schools, churches, storefronts that had been boarded up since August 2005.

The most dramatic devastation was due to Katrina, but the more insidious damage is because of the absence of community. It disappeared with the people, deserted by a government that cared only to ensure the safety of the city’s money-making attractions. One government official is quoted saying the storm did what the city never could: clear out the poorest parts of the city. The fear now is that the city will rebuild: right on top of the longstanding communities that need help coming home and getting back on their feet.

Seeing New Orleans reminded me of what I’ve always known to be true: that government must serve the community. And yet, by the end of the week, it was not the depressing state of the local government that stuck with me, but the hope I found in the local community.

Laurel is blessed with a strong community and an impressive city government that serves it at every opportunity. I have always taken it for granted. I finally see how important it is. We must cherish the community we have in Laurel and serve it when we can. We must continuously renew it to make it better.

We all have a stake in our local place--our community. But only if we stake our claim together do we stand a chance against the next storm that comes our way.

The author with her Global Outreach Team in New Orleans, (seated) Natasha Kayulu, Frank Rupp, Danielle Gasbarro, (standing) Sabina Antal, Mary Wilson, Jodey Ruthen, Sarah Cascone, Georgia Doremus, Ian Hayes, Fergus Scully, Brendan Sculley. Click photo to enlarge.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A New Laurel Tradition Is Born

(click picture to enlarge)

What do you get when you mix the following ingredients?

  • 40 children on bicycles
  • A few hundred yards of colored ribbons
  • Hundreds of balloons
  • Half a mile of tape
  • Lots of glue
  • 6 Laurel Police officers, half of them on super cool police bikes
  • 40 pounds of ice cream
  • A warm summer evening

You get a brand new Laurel tradition!

Laurel City Council member Gayle Snyder organized the first ever Laurel bike decorating contest, bike parade and ice cream social tonight. It was a great success and surely a brand new tradition for Laurel.

The kids decorated their bikes at the Laurel Armory and then paraded with a full police escort down the 400 block of Montgomery Street. Adults had a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors. Everyone had a great time enjoying Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream bars.

Kudos to Councilwoman Gayle Snyder and her team of helpers for a wonderful idea, beautifully executed. (I believe Mr. Fred Snyder deserves special thanks for collecting goodies all day.) Laurel Police Officers did a fantastic job keeping the parade route safe. Council Member Mike Leszcz, State Senator Jim Rosapepe and Mayor Craig Moe also took time out of hectic schedules to join in the fun. Joanne Wilson had the unenviable job of judging the bike decorating contest. But everyone was a winner tonight as a new Laurel tradition was born. Be sure to join Gayle next year on the first Friday in June for this annual event.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Convenient Debate

It's Memorial day weekend and we have the beginnings of an authentic, Laurel brouhaha. Here's what's cooking on the local grill.

Laurel City Councilmember Mike Sarich wants to show Al Gore's Oscar winning movie, " An Inconvenient Truth," at a Laurel Lakes flick and float night. Laurel City Parks Department screens free movies all summer at the Burton Memorial Stage at Gude Lake Park. Mike Sarich's idea is to tie the movie to a brief program elaborating on the condition of the Laurel Lakes and on-going efforts to improve the water quality.

Mayor Craig Moe and the Laurel City Council agreed and set the date for the screening for Friday, June 15, 2007. A brief program will begin at 7:45 p.m., followed by the film.

Sounds like a good, even educational idea, right? Not in Laurel. Maybe not anywhere.

I dutifully sent out the City's press release announcing the screening to a all the local email lists. That's when the global warming debate overheated and melted into Laurel Lakes.

Right after I sent the press release, Ken Winiecki quickly wrote back with this caution, "Sounds good, as long as it is accompanied by the BBC documentary, "The Great Global Warming swindle" I think people should always hear all sides of non definitive arguments. Unfortunately in this situation, neither side's arguments seem to lack for holes."

Mike Turner then wrote back to Ken and suggested that facts are often defined by the profit makers, "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change appears to me to be very scientifically analytical and critical in it's approach to a planet shifting climates. When we hear the large amount of science work that's gone into understanding what's happening be dismissed by naysayers, just remember to keep asking questions, like 'Who has an incentive to discredit our current rate of consumption of energy and the carbon it releases?'"

Frank Monaldo then jumped into the warming waters and returned fire as follows: "I find it a little discouraging that debates surrounding the issue of climate change reduces to questioning the motivations of those involved -- on either side. I have written on this more extensively a few months ago. See 'Open Inquiry: A Casualty of the Climate Change Debate' "

All this controversy is going to make for a very interesting movie night at the Lake on the 15th. What do you think? Should the City Council sponsor such a controversial movie? Should all sides be heard? Please share your comments here.

Personally, I fall on the side of showing the movie. Sure it's controversial, but if it generates community discussion that is good. I also think the idea of linking the movie to the local plight of Laurel Lakes is inspired. Bravo Mike Sarich. Bravo Mayor Moe and the City Council for having the courage to take on a controversial subject.

There will be a Memorial Day service to honor Laurel's fallen heroes at Ivy Hill Cemetery on Sunday at 11 am. Your afternoon cookout will taste so much better if you take a little time in the morning to remember what Memorial Day is all about.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giant Food Abandons Commitment to Quality & Service?

Wow. The disappointment with Giant Food is not just a local Laurel problem. There are strong concerns expressed about Giant Food's service and quality in the comments section. Thanks to everyone for sharing their opinions on Giant Food Store 340.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Giant Disappointment

A neighborhood grocery store isn't just a place to buy yogurt. Most of us have long term relationships with our local store. I've been shopping at the Laurel Center Giant since 1980. It was the first store I dated when I moved to Laurel 27 years ago.

Over the years Giant 340 has deteriorated but I stuck with her. We all age and good friends are supposed to look the other way. Besides, I knew the people. I knew where to find the kidney beans. I was too comfortable with my Giant to see the growing problems.

I stuck with it during her big face lift a few years ago. I kept thinking that Giant's corporate leadership would reinvigorate store 340 after the renovation. But there has been no real improvement.

My last three visits were particularly worrisome. The parking lot and store entrance were in bad shape. Debris and dirt everywhere. Carts were all over the lot. Bags and papers blowing around the front of the store like tumbleweed. I tried to grab a hand basket at the front door but each was filled with the detritus of previous customers.

I wanted to buy a beefsteak but the selection in the meat counter looked, not just bad, but possibly dangerous. Long lines greeted me at the checkout. I like to use the self-serve check outs but only two worked. The other self serve machines have been broken for months. I don't think Giant loves me anymore.

The obvious problems are getting worse. There is no use trying to work it out this time. My 27 year relationship is over. Today was my last visit to Giant Foods store 340.

I'm back on the grocery dating circuit after 27 years. Do you have a store for me? It must be close to Oldtown and have a good selection of kidney beans. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Budget Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to the Budget Survey. You can see all of the results at this URL:

Twenty two people took the survey and the results are interesting and mixed.
  • Public safety is the number one priority in the budget with transportation and the hospital tied for second priority.

  • The respondents prefer user fees and/or phone taxes over property tax increases to generate revenue.

  • It is obvious that the county government suffers from a significant "trust gap." Responses suggest that the county government needs to get its own house in order.

The survey will be sent to our County Councilman Tom Dernoga, but there is nothing better than expressing your opinions in public. You have a chance this week to do just that.

A public hearing will be held this coming Tuesday, May 8th at 7:00pm at the County Council Hearing Room in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, Maryland 20772.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Prince George's County Budget Survey

County Councilman Tom Dernoga recently sent an email requesting constituent input on this year's budget. He provided a list of questions soliciting our opinions.

A public hearing was held yesterday and there will be another next Tuesday, May 8th at 7:00pm at the County Council Hearing Room in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, Maryland 20772.

I was happy to testify yesterday. However, because I know that many of you don't have the time to attend the hearing. So I created a quick survey for you.

The survey will take you less than 4 minutes to complete and is based on Tom Dernoga's email message. I added a few multiple choice questions for folks that have even less time. The survey is completely anonymous.

I'll post the answers here in a couple of days. I'm sure that the Council will appreciate your input.

If you have any questions about county services or budget priorities please call (301) 952-3887 or email Tom Dernoga at

If you have any questions or comments about the survey please contact me at g dot rick dot wilson @ gmail dot com or via the comments section.



Chili Con Comfort

There is nothing in the world better than a cold beer and a bowl of warm chili con queso. This isn't plain old nachos. It's the ultimate comfort food. Thick, rich, and spicy. Tippy's Taco on Gorman Ave. has the best Chili con queso on earth.

I have obtained their secret recipe for you. I can't say how I got it ... but I will testify that it was without the use of any enhanced interrogation techniques.

Make a double batch, buy plenty of Rolling Rock 7 ounce beers. Invite some friends over and enjoy.

Tippy's Chili con Comfort

1 t salt
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t red cayenne pepper
1/2 t black pepper
1 lb American cheese
2 T finely chopped onion
2-3 T strained canned tomatoes
3/4 C water1 can chopped green chiles

In a double boiler combine cheese, water, onion, chiles and tomatoes. Cook until cheese melts. Add 2 t of spice mixture at a time until you reach desired level. Cook until it gets to the correct dipping consistency.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Uniforms at Laurel High - Guest Commentary

Laurel Connections is pleased to turn over the blog today to Mr. Bob Bain. Bob offers his thoughts opposing the recent vote to make uniforms mandatory at Laurel High. (See Pete Pichaske and Dan Schwind's Leader Article for details. Please use the comments section or contact me at g dot rick dot wilson at if you would like to respond via this blog.)

Opposed to LHS Uniforms

By Bob Bain, Laurel MD

I noted with sadness that Laurel High will be going to uniforms in the fall. I was sad because when I was in High School I felt, and still feel, that HS aged students are almost adults, some reaching 18 prior to graduation, and should be treated as such. If an adult wishes a position requiring uniforms, they are free to accept or decline the position. These students are not allowed this freedom. I wonder why this is? As a matter of fact, many things about this policy make me wonder.

I wonder if the staff will also be asked to wear uniforms? If this policy is such a great idea, should not the staff set the example? I have had many jobs where uniforms were mandatory and all staff had to wear them, not just those powerless to object. I also wonder how this will effect the ROTC unit. Will they be allowed to violate this policy weekly? And what of the spirit days where the classes wear their class colors? Will the class colors be changed to the uniform colors only?

I also wonder about the voting itself. I wonder how, less than a year ago, with virtually the same parents participating, this issue was defeated. I was surprised to see in the article that the number of responses was left out. Why is this? Could it be that a small number of parents are making the decisions for the group?

Last year when this issue was brought up at a PTA meeting, the meeting was crowded, loud, and, at least to me, strongly opposed to the policy. What has changed? I mean, if only 200 votes have been returned, then 163 parents (81.5% of respondents, according to the article) are making decisions that effect 1800 students. To use the math, less than 10% decide for the rest (9.06% to be more precise). Can this be considered fair?

A parent noted that uniforms would alleviate the need for trendy and expensive clothing to wear to school. Two things about this: 1. SAY NO TO THE TRENDY CLOTHING. 2. Do you actually think the kids won't still want to wear them after school? All this is doing is adding an expense for the uniforms, not removing the expense of the other clothes.

Left out of the Leader article was a clause I found in another publication. It seems that if 20% of parents sign a petition, then the whole issue is reevaluated. My question is: Is this 20% of the 1800 ballots mailed or 20% of those returned? It would seem unfair for the students and others who oppose this issue to need 360 signatures to counter 163 votes.

Finally, [the Leader] article mentioned two Elementary schools in Laurel who do not wear, and are not interested in, uniforms. How do these stack up against those that do require uniforms? Are their test scores lower or higher than the average of the others? And how does Laurel High disciplinary norms and test scores compare to schools in the county where uniforms are mandatory? More importantly, can any of these factors be attributed to clothing?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Westchester At Cherry Lane

May 1980
President Jimmy Carter’s hostage rescue attempt had recently failed in Iran. I had a new job, a 1976 Honda CB360T motorcycle and a full head of hair. I also had a one bedroom basement apartment at the Laurel Apartments for $220 dollars month. That price included all my utilities plus as much steam heat as I could stand from a stuck valve.

The Laurel Apartments were built in 1949 before anyone needed air conditioning. The steam valve stopped working correctly sometime during the Korean War. But Tippy’s Taco was across the street and there was a pretty girl named Joanne living two floors up.

April 2007
The new Westchester at Cherry Lane complex is open for leasing. This is the new Archstone-Smith property at 14720 Fourth Street. I played a very small part in approving this redevelopment project during my single term on the city council in 2004.

Leasing consultant Tia Snead showed me around. Tia took me to see a one bedroom apartment with a nice sized kitchen, a full size washer and dryer, a full bath that is bigger than my cubicle at work, a walk-in dressing room/closet, a breakfast bar, a balcony overlooking a huge pool and a second story loft office wired with Verizon’s fiber optic internet service.

Their parking garage lets you drive up to your third floor apartment and park within a few feet, making grocery toting a snap. It’s not open yet, but Tia explained that there will also be a complete gym, internet cafĂ© and big screen theatre room. If you lease soon, you can have all of this for about $1800 a month. Utilities are extra.

My advice is to sign a lease soon. You never know how a new apartment will change your life. I married that pretty girl upstairs. She is still with me even though I don’t have much hair or the motorcycle.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Psst, Hey Buddy Want to Score Some Light?

Want to get in on a sure fire money maker with me?

Australia recently decided to switch off Tom Edison's 125 year old incandescent miracle by 2015. California wants to trump them and switch off these global warmers by 2012.

Government do-gooders are turning on to the energy savings of compact fluorescent lamps or CFL's. CFL's are those spiral, anemic bulbs that make me look (dimly) like a cold, blue corpse. They also cost three times more than a Costco incandescent.

CFL's use 33% less energy and last 7 times longer than incandescents. I'm taking the kid's college fund and buying up all the existing incandescent light bulbs I can find. I'll corner the market on these bright beauties. I might even rent a PODS to store them. I'm going to be richer than a West Laurel land baron.

I plan on scoring bright 100 watters, workhorse 75 watters and even those sneaky 30 watters that live in your refrigerator.

I'm going to be rich because the government is hell bent on saving us from global warming. Anytime the government helps, someone makes money. This time it's going to be me.

Even WAL*MART, the corporate protector all things green, is turning on to CFL's. These Noble Knights Templar for protecting their employees from health care, have decided to sell 100 million CFL's and transform the light bulb business with their unmatched market power. All in name of green--as in the environment, not greed.

Even organized religions are joining the movement. The North American Federation of Temple Youth has created a national social justice program to kill the incandescent called, "How many Jews does it take to change a lightbulb?"

With all these governmental, religious, tree-hugger and corporate eco-terrorists joining the jihad against the faithful incandescent bulb, the People's Republic of Maryland can't be far behind. Do you here me Annapolis? Save us from ourselves and make the globe-killing incandescent illegal.

I'm going to filthy rich when the only way to buy an old fashioned incandescent bulb is in a Ziploc baggie. I'll be the Tony Soprano of Laurel Avenue. Baby boomers with weak eyes will be my biggest "customers." A few 100-watt a week habits and I can move to West Laurel.

I'm sending city councilmembers and the local cops a few 60 watters to look the other way. Anyone who wants to bankroll my incandescent initiative should let me know. It's all tax free.

I know a guy who knows a guy in Laurel Lakes who says he can help me score a couple cases of Hawaiian Halogens! I'm meeting him tonight in the back of Lowes. Pure Halogen Happiness. Timothy Leary was right: tune in, turn on and see the light!

(Get the real story on the benefits of buying CFL's here.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Free, Fast & Friendly

Eight o'clock on a bright Sunday morning. I wait briefly in a line of sixty pickup trucks idling alongside a country road just outside Upper Marlboro, Maryland. We all wanted the same thing. A massive pile of recycled yard waste mulch steams next to a "two-yard" front end loader. Friendly Prince Georges County personnel direct me into a fast moving line of other suburban cowboys with a smile and a nod.

The whump of 2 cubic yards of free mulch falling into my silver Ford 4 by 4. It smells like the forest, musty and fresh at the same time. Another smiling flag man directs me to the exit and wishes me a good day. On my way out of the yard, a laughing lady wearing an orange highway vest hands me a bag of recycling literature and two packages of herb seeds while another man loads a 50 pound bag of Leafgro compost on the top of the pile of mulch in my truck's bed. "Thanks buddy, have a great day."

I wave and grin back at them all. It is not just the $50 dollars of free mulch, but the more the efficiency and friendliness of these County employees that simply made my day. And I got the chance to help recycle material that would've clogged the landfill.

I was back home on Laurel Avenue by nine. Now where is my shovel? Thanks DER.
The Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources (DER) held its annual, free Mulch Giveaway for county citizens and residents on Sunday, April 22, 2007.
The one-day event lasted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Western Branch Composting Facility located at 6601 S.E. Crain Highway in Upper Marlboro (from Crain Highway, proceed on Maude Savoy Brown Road and follow the Visitors' Center signs to the Facility). In addition to receiving free mulch, participants may tour the Visitors' Center to learn more about the composting process and the county's recycling programs.
"DER received an overwhelming response to the Mulch Giveaway held last spring," stated Charles W. Wilson, Acting Director of DER. "More than 200 vehicles visited the site to pick up over 270 cubic yards of mulch."
The Mulch Giveaway is restricted to non-commercial vehicles, ¾ ton maximum weight. A skid loader is available to load mulch into residents' pickup trucks. Residents loading mulch into their cars will need to bring their own containers and tools.
For more information on the Mulch Giveaway, contact the Waste Management Division at (301) 883-5045.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Arrest, Judgement and Repentance?

For a map of this location, see here.


The Mayor and City Council will introduce a resolution at the April 9, 2007 meeting that will authorize the Mayor to proceed with negotiations and financing to purchase First Baptist Church, located at 811 Fifth Street, for the purpose of relocating the Laurel Police Department. Mayor Moe is asking that public hearings be held on this purchase on April 9, April 16, and on April 23, 2007. Approval of the purchase could occur at the April 23, 2007 meeting.

Mayor Moe advised that the only response to the City’s November 27, 2006 announcement seeking proposals from the development community to provide the City with a new police facility of at least 25,000 square feet was received from Ms. Barbara Maher, legal counsel representing the Contract Purchasers of First Baptist Church. The Contract Purchasers were seeking to partner with the City for the entire First Baptist Church Fifth Street holdings, which include the church structure and adjoining school, its parking lots, apartments located at Fifth Street and Gorman Avenue, and other Fifth Street properties directly across from the church. In this arrangement, the City would purchase the church structure and the adjacent north and south parking lots for renovation to become a police station. The Contract Purchasers have revitalization development plans for the remaining portions of the property.

Mayor Moe stated that identifying property that would be suitable for a police department has long been the challenge in the goal to provide a new facility. He stated that First Baptist Church is more centrally located and it is expected that the size of the facility will accommodate growth of the department for the next 15 to 20 years or longer. The church property is also very conducive to accommodating the current Police Department outreach programs, i.e. PAL, Citizens Police Academy and its Alumni Association, Police Explorers, Police Auxiliary, and the Department’s efforts for future expansion of outreach programs.

Mayor Moe stated the purchase price for the City’s portion of the property is $2.5 million. It is estimated that an additional $3 million will be needed for renovations. There is still much work to be done in building design and construction, if the purchase is approved. It is anticipated that it will be eighteen months to two years from purchase to completion of construction before the Police Department will be fully operational at the Fifth Street location. Mayor Moe noted that the $5.5 million for purchase and renovation is far less than the approximately $7 million presented in the City’s Capital Improvements Program.

Mayor Moe explained that time is of the essence if this opportunity is to move forward. His office and staff have done an exhaustive four-month review to determine the viability and suitability of this property for use as a police station. He noted that the City has an excellent track record with the adaptive reuse of older structures, adding that the existing police station was originally built for use as a grocery store. He further noted that the Municipal Center is a former junior high school, and that the Department of Parks and Recreation had been headquartered in the Anderson-Murphy Armory Community Center before relocating to the Municipal Center.

Mayor Moe shared that he is looking forward to public input and participation in the consideration of this purchase. He added that he is excited about this opportunity to provide a centrally located facility that will serve the City’s police needs and the citizens’ expectation for quality police service for many years to come. Chief David Crawford expressed his excitement at the prospect of a new, modern facility for the men and women of the Laurel Police Department in their service to the citizens and businesses of Laurel.

Persons interested in receiving a package of prior press releases on this matter, and a copy of the CIP project page, may contact the City Administrator’s Office at 301-725-5300, Ext. 203.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Maryland Public Affairs Radio

Local news and public radio are two of my lifelong passions. That explains this Laurel Connections Blog and also my recent experiments with producing audio podcasts here.
Last night Joanne and I joined a large and happily eating crowd at St. Vincent Pallotti High School's annual Bull & Oyster Roast fundraiser where we met Sheilah Kast.

Sheilah Kast is one of public radio's most accomplished reporters and she recently began hosting a new local public affairs show called Maryland Morning on WYPR (88.1 FM). Maryland Morning is heard from 9 to 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with interviews about Maryland news, arts, politics, science, and history.

The only other source of Maryland public affairs radio is Kojo Nnamdi's Maryland Politics Hour on WAMU (88.5 FM). Unfortunately, Kojo's Maryland show only airs a couple of times a month. Kojo visited Laurel last March and he had the courage to provide me with a microphone.

The addition of Sheilah's Maryland Morning to the local affairs radio spectrum provides our community with new opportunities for local news and information. However, there is a problem receiving WYPR's signal here in Laurel. I can only get their signal on my radio on the second floor of my home or in my car.

But this is not really a problem in the information age because Maryland Morning is available via the web. You can always listen live via streaming media at 9 AM. Or simply point your browser at one of their recorded shows and listen at your convenience.

Joanne and I enjoyed the Pallotti event and it was a real pleasure meeting Sheilah Kast. I forgot to mention that Sheilah's escort for the evening was a tall, good looking fellow named Jim Rosapepe, her husband and Laurel's very own 21st District State Senator and all around good guy. Good luck to them both.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Conversation with Police Chief Dave Crawford

Last week three people robbed a homeowner on 6th Street in Laurel. Two people talked their way into the home and while they distracted the owners, a third person snuck in and stole cash. Laurel's police chief Dave Crawford discusses this case in today's podcast. We also asked him about himself and his vision for public safety in Laurel.

Click here to listen: or here. You may need to click the play button a couple of times. Please post your questions and comments for the Chief in the comments section below.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Best Dentist - "Absolutely" the Best Dentist

Holly Hoglund, my good friend and neighbor, has patiently explained the teaching business to me over the past dozen years of shared dinners, back yard picnics and front porch seminars.

I'm a recovering engineer who was inclined to believe that any "system" can be quantified and all defects removed via central planning.

Holly was the first teacher that made me question my opinions about our US education system. Maybe schools and students are not widgets to be measured, manufactured and costed. Holly recently forwarded me the story below.

Good teachers inspire their students. The very best teachers arrive in their classroom every morning convinced that they will change the world in spite of ineffective government policies. My sincere appreciation to Holly and all of her tireless colleagues. - rw

The Best Dentist - "Absolutely" the Best Dentist

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great. "Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said. "No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?" "It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry." "Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control? For example," he said, "I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem and I don't get to do much preventive work."

"Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay."

"To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job. "I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't' get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist.

They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'...I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said." Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly. "You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

"I'm going to write my representatives and senators," he said. "I'll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.