Early Voting

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Earlier this week, Marisa and I cast our ballots at Sollers Point, one of the 9 early voting sites located in Baltimore County. As many of you know, early voting went into effect during the last presidential election cycle, in 2012. Fast forward four years later and our State is on pace to cast 800,000 ballots before November 8 – smashing the 2012 record significantly.

While this has been a difficult election season, mired in negativity, I firmly believe that one of our most important duties as citizens is to participate in the democratic process. I am proud that Maryland has created more opportunities for folks to be involved through early voting and on-site registration. I applaud the groups that organize voter registration drives and GOTV efforts, and appreciate the countless hours volunteers have spent on the phones and knocking doors to support their respective candidates and causes.

With one day left of early voting and Election Day around the corner, I hope you make a plan to get out and vote. I also hope you encourage a friend, spouse or family member to do so as well. And if you’re looking for information on early voting, or need to look up your polling location, please visit the Baltimore County Board of Elections HERE.

Thanks again for doing your part!

Real Development at Sparrows Point Site

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May 20, 1940 – The Sparrows Point Shipbuilding division of the Bethlehem Steel Company with the steel mill in the background. (Robert F. Kniesche/Baltimore Sun)

Most of us who have lived in Baltimore County for more than a few years (or for a life time) easily remember the days when many good paying manufacturing jobs for middle class workers existed on the east side of Baltimore County. We can still recall those glory days when thousands of our citizens worked at Bethlehem Steel, General Motors (no one will forgot the GM Astro van manufactured in Baltimore), Eastern Stainless Steel, and in airplane manufacturing near Martin’s State Airport.

Whether we like it or not, things constantly change and, if we are honest, not always for the better! Such change occurred when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt, resulting in several companies then buying the plant over a short period of time and each failing to produce many promised great things.

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Finally, we have experienced GOOD NEWS! The redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point is not only finally happening but appears to be based on a sound and truly transformational plan for the entire site. One only needs to look at a map showing the location of this former steel plant to understand the true potential that this strategic site has for all of Baltimore County and the rest of Maryland.

While the long-time presence of Bethlehem Steel, Sparrows Point is gone, the Point’s traditions and community significance is captured in the new entity doing this massive redevelopment project, TRADEPOINT ATLANTIC. TRADEPOINT purchased the entire 3,100 acre tired, old, polluted site in 2014 for $ 110 M.

TRADEPOINT has developed a detailed plan to create a vibrant 21st Century state of the art transportation and logistics facilities that is poised to become THE east coast destination for trade and related industries. Strategically developing and utilizing this site will allow businesses locating there to reach markets not only along the eastern seaboard of the United States and to also enhance our Port’s critical function as a vital gateway to many commercial markets in the midwest United States.

TRADEPOINT’s founders include several local investors (Redwood Capital Investments) with strong Maryland ties. The owners have assembled a first class core team to design and implement this redevelopment in a careful and thoughtful manner focused on achieving success.

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This team has already achieved much success in the remediation of acres of polluted soil, the demolition of many obsolete structures and the strengthening of existing infrastructure to properly position this site for effective marketing to a wide variety of potential business partners. These efforts have already resulted in success in reaching agreements with several new businesses that will be locating at TRADEPOINT, including:

a Fed Ex Distribution Hub with more than 300,000 square feet
a Harley Davidson Training Center
Pasha Automotive Services (shipment of vehicles)

Other activities that have already progressed beyond the planning stage, include:

– a retail center designed to provide products and services to the employees at the redeveloped site as well as clients and visitors
a massive Distribution Center that will be as large as 900,000 square feet

These initial activities and future plans are expected to result in the creation of 10,000 good jobs during the next 10 years at TRADEPOINT.

Our County’s citizens suffered a significant loss with the closing of Bethlehem Steel. However, with support from Baltimore County and Maryland, TRADEPOINT is well positioned to create a superb site that will continue to attract a great array of businesses that will create good jobs that will be an economic engine supporting the growth of our local economy. This will help ensure that the quality of life that we enjoy in Baltimore County will be further enhanced.
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Body Cameras coming to Baltimore County

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A recent barricade situation that led to the fatal shooting of a Randallstown woman by police officers who were attempting to serve arrest warrants has yet again ignited a discussion that involves law enforcement issues.

In many facets of life, technology is changing the way businesses operate.  Governments are slowly learning to adopt similar practices.  One such new technology that might have helped shed additional information on this and similar situations: police body cameras.

Baltimore County has just begun phasing in their body camera program as of July 2016, equipping one officer in each of the 10 precincts across the county. 10 more officers will be trained each week until there are 150 officers with body cameras in the field.   Eventually, there will be 1,435 cameras in use – and these are expected to be in place by December of 2018. There are 1,900 officers in the Baltimore County Police Department.

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The program has an estimated annual operating costs of $1.6 million, most of which will be funded through revenue generated by the county’s speed and red-light cameras.  It will be governed by policies created by the county.

The County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger called this action a “positive first step for law enforcement and for the prosecution of criminal cases,” suggesting that “cases can only get better because of this footage[1].”  The footage of body camera video will be considered a matter of public record, subject to release as prescribed by the Maryland Public Information Act and similar requirements – enabling citizens to request and receive the footage under most circumstances.

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A report from the ACLU of Maryland detailed that five individuals died last year during encounters with police officers in Baltimore County – a number higher than anywhere in the state.  To that end, many believe that an effective body camera program will reduce negative interactions between the public and police, increase transparency and help with investigations.  Others have expressed concerns about privacy and how released footage might be used.

What do you think of the new police body camera plans in Baltimore County? Do you support outfitting the police force with them?

[1] http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/towson/bs-md-co-body-cameras-20160629-story.html

Staycation Ideas

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With the school year ending and summer in full swing, families across Maryland and here in Baltimore County are filling up their calendars with trips to the beach, weekend getaways, camps, and so much more.  While we tend to live in an age where over programming and packed schedules are the norm, for many hard working parents, the barriers to taking a vacation and enrolling the kids in programs – whether financial or other – is a difficult reality.

As community groups, non-profits and local governments across the country continue to work to provide more convenient and affordable opportunities for families, there is a tremendous resource available right at our fingertips:  The Maryland State Park System.

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the agency responsible for maintaining the 95,000+ acres that cover State parks, as well as other environmental areas, rail trails and State battlefields.

In Baltimore County alone, we boast 7 terrific and accessible parks, including:

Sometimes the best kept secret is where you least expect it. Consider taking advantage of the beautiful open spaces Baltimore County has to offer this summer.  Clear your mind, recharge the batteries, enjoy quality time with your partner, friends or with your kids and family.  And if you decide to take a hike, camp out or sail on the Chesapeake, be sure to share your pictures and stories with us on social media!

 

Quality Transportation in Baltimore County

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A quality transportation system is an important cornerstone to any vibrant city and region.

Examples of transportation systems that work well can be seen around us.  Perhaps one of the most popular transportation networks recently created in the Baltimore region is the Charm City Circulator.  The Charm City Circulator consists of 30 free shuttle buses that traverse four routes across Baltimore City, with buses arriving every 10 – 15 minutes at designated stops along each route.  The program started in 2010 and ridership has grown consistently over the years, boasting ridership numbers of several hundred thousand every month.

The Charm City Circulator has proven to be fairly successful, connecting riders to other bus routes, trains and commuter lots, in addition to proving to be a useful connection to parts of Baltimore all its own.  The network includes a phone application that provides mobile alerts and utilizes hybrid electric buses so that this transportation option is more environmentally-friendly than previous bus options.

In Baltimore County, some communities have begun to take note of the Circulator’s success.  Several Towson leaders, for example, have begun to push for a Towson Circulator pilot. As Towson-area Delegate Steve Laffery shares, “Transit’s got to be part of our future.”

This is true in Towson and beyond, so a Towson Circulator should just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conversations about improving transportation options for Baltimore County residents.  For starters, we should not only be considering ways in which Towson residents and visitors can have access to all the county seat offers, but also be contemplating similar within-neighborhood transportation connections.  There are some ripe opportunities to support our main streets and distinct neighborhoods throughout the County.

Perhaps even more importantly, there needs to be a serious conversation about the ways in which Baltimore County can better connect the many vibrant communities across our jurisdiction – and how we can thoughtfully create access to the greater Baltimore region with a more robust transportation network.  Considering how many employment opportunities are within the county and the many cultural, historic, and entertainment options around us (see one of our prior blogs on this), it makes sense that we create a plan to do more for Baltimore County residents on the transportation front.

A thoughtful transportation approach in Baltimore County can do more to create jobs, revitalize communities and connect residents to great opportunities – and each other.

Center Stage in Baltimore County

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Center Stage describes itself as “an artistically driven institution committed to engaging, entertaining, and enriching audiences of today and tomorrow though joyous and bold performances.”  Their work includes a mix of new and classic theatre, hosting over 100,000 visitors annually in their historic theatre located in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Now in its 51st season, Center Stage, the State Theatre of Maryland, reaches out to the region not only through its performances but also through community programming and educational efforts.

Baltimore County joins the Maryland State Arts Council and countless corporate and individual sponsors to support the work of Center Stage.  Last year alone, residents of the County visited Baltimore City art and cultural attractions nearly 700,000 times. The County’s support of Center Stage is part of an overall $2.8 million of grant funding offered to the arts, sciences and humanities non-profit efforts around the Baltimore region.  This type of funding and support recognizes the unique and robust set of regional resources available to us all, regardless of which jurisdiction residents of the Baltimore region live in.

In addition to funding for Center Stage, Baltimore County grants awards to The Walters, the National Aquarium and the Baltimore Symphony.  The County even has a website dedicated to “arts just down the road,” which can be accessed at http://www.enjoybaltimorecounty.com/baltimorearts.html.  More recently, the regional partnership between Baltimore County and Center Stage was strengthened even further as Center Stage has embarked upon a $32 million renovation to overhaul their lobby and theatre space while adding to their Calvert Street building – the first major revamp of their facilities in 25 years.

During this renovation, scheduled to be complete around the beginning of 2017, Center Stage found itself in need of a new theatre location to conduct their performances – the show, after all, must go on.  Highlighting yet again the regional approach between Baltimore County and Center Stage, it was encouraging and innovative to see a partnership develop between the theatre and Towson University.  Towson University, previously highlighted by Better Baltimore County, is playing host to a significant portion of the 2015-2016 Center Stage season – the entire production has moved from North Calvert Street in Baltimore to York Road in the County.

It’s these types of investments and innovative partnerships that will create enrichment opportunities for Baltimore County residents and that will allow that County to be a regional leader well into the future.

Starting the day with a healthy breakfast

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

Hopkins reminds us that breakfast provides the energy and nutrients that lead to increased classroom concentration, can be important in maintaining body weight, and helps to avoid mid-morning slumps.  Breakfast is important to us all, but it is especially critical for our children to have a healthy start to their day.  In Baltimore County, our school system currently offers “traditional breakfasts to students each day at eligible school sites according to specific age/grade groups.” 

To the system’s credit, they have adopted the in-classroom breakfast model, which serves students in classrooms before school starts every day. 

No Kid Hungry shares research suggesting that this model is, by far, the most successful of school breakfast approaches, with rates as high as 98 percent of school enrollment participation in the in-classroom approach to providing school breakfast. 

If there is a downside to the County approach, it’s that it only applies to eligible sites — meaning that, while the approach is ideal, the program is not available to all students. 

To keep making progress, we need to find a way to make Baltimore County’s in-classroom school breakfast approach universal, offering breakfast to all of our students at no charge, regardless of their income status. 

Universal breakfast works for a multitude of reasons.  It significantly increases the participation of students on free and reduced meals by taking away the stigma of school breakfast as something “only poor students do.” It also enables working families not eligible for free or reduced price meals a flexible way to ensure that their children are also getting the nourishment vital to thriving in the school environment. 

The biggest hurdle to universal breakfast is cost.  The good news is that there are a multitude of ways that Baltimore County can fund such an approach.  One way would be leveraging existing federal funding for the free and reduced lunch grants.  Federal Provision 2 schools, for example, allows all students to receive free meals, regardless of their family incomes. Schools are also able to eliminate reduced-price breakfasts and serve them free, instead.  While the system would only claim reimbursement for the numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunches, there would be a natural surge in participation by taking away the cost barrier for students typically in the reduced-price program. 

There are also a number of grant resources that can be brought to bear in this area.  These include other federal government funding opportunities, the got breakfast?  Foundation, Fuel up to Play 60 and Share Our Strength, to name a few. 

To the extent funding gaps remain, state and local governments can and should step up to fill the void.  Considering the vital role that a healthy school breakfast plays in the life of a child, there should be little debate about providing this to ALL children in Baltimore County.  

Resources: 

http://www.jhsph.edu/offices-and-services/student-affairs/_documents/Breakfast

https://www.bcps.org/offices/ofns/misc/childNutritionPrograms.html#breakfast

https://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/school-breakfast/increasing-school-breakfast-participation