Community Toolbox

The Baltimore region was recently hit with a storm the likes of which they have not seen in some time.  We are finally starting to dig out from the nearly three feet of snow that headed our way. 

Among the most popular people in the aftermath of the storm were those walking around with snowblowers.  Whether they were a thoughtful neighbor looking out for others or for-hire vendors trying to make a few dollars, those with snowblowers were highly useful (and difficult to find) commodities in getting through the snow.  Snowblowers are also a resource that can cost between several hundred and over a thousand dollars — money that many families simply do not have access to. 

One innovative solution to making tools available more affordable and accessible is the ToolBank.  ToolBanks lend tools to their local charitable sectors to help them conduct their missions, performing tool lending, advocacy and maintenance in the process. 

The Baltimore Community Toolbank, for example, currently offers an inventory of tools that include shovels, rakes, drill and more that they loan out to nonprofits, faith organizations, schools and community groups. They support these organizations by renting equipment at pennies on the dollar of what it would cost to purchase needed tools. 

While these types of large Toolbanks can be useful for large-scale community projects like building a school playground or creating a church garden, such organizations are limited to help in circumstances such as the major storm that recently hit.  To that end, might individual communities benefit if there were a way to allow their respective neighborhood associations to create and develop their own Toolbank?  If your neighborhood association had a snowblower that could be used through the entire community, would that have been helpful? 

Local Toolbanks can be helpful in times beyond heavy snow.  Gardening, lawn care and even basic home maintenance could be more accessible and affordable for residents in addition to organizations if we found a way to make this model work more locally.  This might not just help when the next blizzard comes around, but around the year for residents of Baltimore County. 

Connecting with our leaders

The 2016 General Assembly session recently convened for its annual 90-day session.  One area where the state legislature has shown notable improvement is in public access to the legislative process.  Maryland, for example, now allows individuals to submit testimony electronically, audio stream sessions of the two houses of the General Assembly and even live video stream proceedings of House and Senate standing committees.  Access facilitates a more robust, participatory form of democracy — the kind of democratic governing that allows more citizens to play a role in decision-making and expands the range of people able to play such roles. 

Baltimore County, like our state government, also has made some important strides toward improving access for its citizens.  Recorded Baltimore County Council sessions are broadcast for the public.  Like the General Assembly, the Council invites residents to testify on legislation it is considering.  Unlike the Assembly, however, these sessions are not recorded.

Having access is important to citizens, especially when it comes to engaging with our government.  Meaningful access to the governing process keeps us connected and informed about the decisions being made on our behalf, and it helps keep elected officials informed about and focused on what we want.

While there are many things that our state and local governments do well to encourage this access, there remains more still that can be done.  For starters, the County Council could consider finding ways to record and broadcast their work sessions.  Doing so is an easy way for interested individuals to see the deliberations taking place on important pieces of county legislation.  The Assembly and Council could likewise consider changing when public hearings and work sessions are conducted.  Currently, these take place on weekday afternoons, making it difficult for working individuals to actively participate.  Even as a pilot, it would be interesting to see if and how these types of changes would continue improving access to our governments and if they would encourage more people to have an active role in important county decisions. 

BBC’s First Week

People come together every day to make a difference in communities across Baltimore County. Whether on a horse farm in the Hereford Zone, a stream bed in Essex or along Catonsville’s historic main street, these people are united by a desire to strengthen their neighborhoods and make Baltimore County a better place to live.

 I’ve worked with countless unsung heroes, people who make our county feel more like a community. I’ve learned that they always accomplish more by relying on each other than by going it alone.

 These unsung heroes inspired me to launch Better Baltimore County – a new platform for people to come together virtually to share their hopes and dreams, and for us to spotlight great work of innovators, entrepreneurs and civic leaders across the county.

 But Better Baltimore County only works if you’re involved:

 – Like Better Baltimore County on Facebook and follow BBC on Twitter (@BetterBaltoCo) to stay current on our updates and new stories. 

– Submit a video or email answering the question: “What does a better Baltimore County mean to me?”

– Tell us about the good work you or someone you know of is doing in and around Baltimore County. 

– Forward this email to your contact list and invite your friends and family to join this effort.

 

Thank you for everything you do to make our community great – and I look forward to seeing you around the county.

 

With Warm Regards,

Johnny