Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rodgers Forge board elects officers, does not remove newly elected members

At the meeting tonight where the newly elected board gets together to vote on who will be president and who will hold other officer positions, board president Jennifer Helfrich said that before the vote could take place they needed to discuss an issue that had arisen at the annual meeting last week.

Nine board candidates signed onto a sort of statement of beliefs that basically said the board should act in an open and transparent way; four of those candidates won board seats.

Helfrich said this statement of beliefs could be seen as an alternate ballot and that it implied the current board is not open and transparent. She also said she had obtained a copy of an email between the candidates, and that the email showed they were working to affect the outcome of the election. She added that these actions meant the board technically could remove the four newly elected members from the board.

The board then went into closed session for 35 minutes to discuss "disciplinary matters." After the meeting was re-opened, the four newly elected members had not been removed from the board. I asked Helfrich after the meeting what rule they were thought to have broken, as I can't find anything in the bylaws that prevents them from signing a statement of beliefs or that prevents them from emailing each other prior to an election. She declined to discuss specific rules but said "there was an interpretation of rule breaking." She added that, "Everything was hashed out and worked out and there was no motion or formal action. We agreed to work together in a positive way and it really cleared the air and everything is fine."

She also said she is working on a proposal to amend the bylaws to clarify that the board can not extend members' terms.

During the open session later, the following board members were elected as officers for one-year terms; all positions were held by the same people last year with the exception of the job of vice president:

Jennifer Helfrich - president
Bryan Tillman - vice president
Janice Moore - treasurer
Jay Dunn - corresponding secretary
Carol Zielke - recording secretary

The board is looking for people to help fill its committees and reiterated the fact that you do not need to be on the board to serve on a committee. Committee assignments will be one of the topics on the agenda at the October 11 meeting.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Monday, September 19, 2011

Variance for sunroom denied by county

As with a recent variance hearing for a Hopkins Road home, an Administrative Law judge has denied homeowners' request for a variance in order to create a sun room in the back of their home on the 300 block of Murdock Road. The Rodgers Forge board's attorney testified against the homeowners, as did their next-door neighbor, who is also a board member. You can read the judge's ruling by clicking here.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Rodgers Forge sweep in progress

I ran into some inspectors this morning, who were very friendly. They were with two staff members from Councilman Marks' office. One of the inspectors said they are looking at all violations, not just those that are rat related. If you get a citation you have three weeks to fix the problem before getting fined.

Update: I talked to code enforcement and they said that any citations would be left on the property and also sent through the mail. So if you saw an inspector go past your house and he didn't leave a ticket behind, you should be good.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Change in Rodgers Forge board election results

When the preliminary results of the election were announced at the RFCA meeting on Wednesday, the board said it would double-check the votes to make sure the preliminary tallies were correct. Turns out there were some changes. Here is the revised list of candidates that won, per the RFCA blog:

Doug Campbell 
Jay Dunn 
Jill Fisher 
Bill Grothmann 
Andrew Hazlett 
Ayfer Hoffman*
Janice Moore 
Ruth Roberts* 
Janine Schofield 
Joe Segretti
Lawrence Swoboda 
Carol Zielke 
*not on preliminary list of winning candidates 

Note: Four of the successful candidates signed a statement of beliefs that was handed out at the meeting and is shown below (click image to enlarge):

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BCPS to recommend a new elementary school in Towson area

This is huge. On the agenda for the Baltimore County Board of Education meeting on September 20 is a recommendation from BCPS for a new 700-seat elementary school.

From the report that will be discussed at the meeting (which might be an interesting one to attend):

The 2010 system wide student enrollment (as of September 30, 2010) was 104,331. Student enrollment is projected to gradually increase over the next five years to 107,309 and then in ten years to 109,316. Within five years system wide available capacity as calculated by the Maryland State Department of Education State Rated Capacity (SRC) formula will be insufficient to meet projected enrollment needs at the elementary school level. There are currently 39 elementary schools that exceed 100% capacity. At the middle school level, total projected enrollment is expected to be within 80% of capacity and high schools within 92% of capacity. SRC does not include relocatable classroom units, which are utilized as part of the school system’s overall capacity relief program.

... Balancing enrollment among the elementary schools in this region is clearly not feasible because there is no sufficient capacity in any of the schools in the region to satisfy the need.

Therefore, as recommended in the FY13 Capital Improvement Plan, a 700 seat new elementary schools is proposed to meet the clear need for capacity among these schools. The Board of Education owns two school sites in the region that will be examined for suitability: Mays Chapel and Dulaney Springs.

Read the full report by clicking here. Or go here and select Exhibit D for the September 20 meeting.

This would mean massive redistricting, which could be contentious and hard on a lot of families. But at least BCPS is now on board with the idea that we can't just re-shuffle our way out of this overcrowding mess.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Recap of the Rodgers Forge annual meeting and election

At the Rodgers Forge annual meeting and election tonight, the association honored Don Gerding, who has served on the board for more than 40 years. Don is one of the stalwarts of Rodgers Forge and represents the neighborhood at Greater Towson meetings, knows everyone in government, and works very hard for residents. He was honored with a formal Baltimore County Council resolution signed by Councilman David Marks and given a plaque from the board for his “40 years of tireless service to the community.” His wife, Taffy, was also honored.

Among the achievements mentioned by board member Janice Moore were the fact that Gerding led the effort to preserve the green space behind the Giant grocery store on York Road, he worked to get the stoplight installed at York and Stevenson, and he stopped a cell phone tower from being erected in the neighborhood. And the list goes on. (To read more about Don’s accomplishments, courtesy of Janice Moore, click here.)

“It’s a labor of love,” Gerding told the crowd after his standing ovation was over. “You can’t beat Rodgers Forge. Where else can you go that has our kind of transportation, food, education, and hospitals? You can not find a better area to live in and raise your families and retire.” 

There was, of course, also an election. There were 19 candidates and 12 spots open. The winners were: 

Doug Campbell 
Jay Dunn 
Jill Fisher 
Bill Grothmann 
Andrew Hazlett 
Janice Moore 
Roxanne Rinehart 
Janine Schofield 
Joe Segretti
Lawrence Swoboda
Jeff Wible  
Carol Zielke 

The board is going to re-count the votes to make sure their totals are correct but that’s where things stood at the close of the meeting. (NOTE: THE ABOVE LIST WAS CHANGED AFTER RE-COUNTING THE VOTES. SEE THE NEW RESULTS HERE.)

Candidate Art Buist and some others in the audience objected to the term extensions given to seven incumbents and their objections were noted and the board reiterated its position that the extensions were within its rights. Amid a cacophony of voices and general confusion, there was a motion from a resident to table the issue of term extensions and have the newly elected board review the issue later. Ada Montessoro, who was appointed in 2010 and whose term was extended, told those who objected that she never saw them at any meetings and that they should be attending more often if they are not happy with board actions. Other board members also encouraged greater attendance at the meetings. (Note: You don't have to be on the board to serve on a committee and get involved.)

State Senator Jim Brochin also attended the meeting and told people there will be public hearings to look at BGE’s response to Hurricane Irene and he said he thinks schools should be one of their top priorities for getting electricity back on. I will post info about the hearings soon. 

Brochin also said that Baltimore County Pubic Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston’s contract is up in June and that he thinks “it’s time for a change.” Brochin said that if he were grading Hairston’s performance over the past several years he’d give Hairston a “C minus.” Brochin also reiterated his support for a hybrid school board (half elected, half appointed.) 

Residents brought up issues such as the need for a dog park, and a desire to have the community use its collective buying power to save money on roofing materials. It was also mentioned that the annual meeting conflicted with Dumbarton Middle’s Back to School Night, and board president Jennifer Helfrich said that issue should be investigated next year and that maybe the date of the annual meeting could be changed to make sure there isn’t such a conflict in the future. 

On another note, I would like to call for an elevation of the tone of dialogue on The Forge Flyer. Things have gotten heated recently with the term-extension issue. While I tried to remain respectful, I probably could have done a better job -- and the responses I received from the board could have also been handled in a better way. The comments from readers could have been less biting. (As I said originally, I don’t think this was a good plan and I don’t think it was executed well, but I also said that I don’t believe it was done with malice or in bad faith.) I hate to censor comments unless they really cross the line, but on the other hand, perspectives could be shared in a more constructive manner. I hope people will take this to heart before hitting the “comment” button. 

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Statement by Rodgers Forge board candidate C. Rothbaum

I have lived in Rodgers Forge for nearly a quarter of a century.  I raised my daughters here; I maintained an attractive home here; I taught French to children here: Rodgers Forge is a big part of my life.

I fell in love with the place at first sight because it reminded me of my native Europe.  There are sidewalks and people walk on them - to school, to church, to shop, and to visit one another.  Holidays are participatory events in Rodgers Forge as they are in Belgium, and life here always felt safe and stable.

Too much stability, however, results in a condition known as hidebound, as evidenced by our present Board.

We currently have Board members who have been in office for several decades.  They have imposed such novelties as requiring candidates for the Board to sign what seems to be a loyalty oath.  Some have apparently sought to avoid replacement by extending their own terms in office for their own convenience.

They have turned residents away from participation in their community.  As residents feel alienated, they decide not to bother to pay dues to RFCA, which in-turn emboldens the present Board to do as it pleases, because it reduces the number of people elligible to vote.  Also, it diminishes the RFCA treasury.  The reduced revenues have been largely spent on legal fees to prevent myself and others from making improvements to our properties.

The best form of protest is to do what is necessary to vote, and to vote for candidates who will be responsive, and who want to be worthy of your vote.   With a responsible Board, people will willingly pay their dues and participate in Board activities.

I have never engaged in politics in my entire life, but I feel that someone must stand up to this.

I agree with L. Fogelson that :

·       Board activity should be open, transparent, and follow the bylaws.
·       The Board should undertake, through an open process, a reevaluation of priorities to help guide future actions to ensure that its limited human and financial resources are focused on the greatest needs.
·       The tone of RFCA, Officers, Board, and Committee members should be open, positive, helpful, and constructive.

Without enough voters coming to the meeting, I may not be elected to the Board; but I strongly believe it is important to make people aware of what the Board is doing, and to define what a responsible body such as this should do.

Christiane Rothbaum
300 Hopkins Road

Note: Other board candidates are also welcome to send in statements.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Statement from Rodgers Forge board candidate L. Fogelson

Rodgers Forge Board Candidate Statement
Larry Fogelson of 401 Murdock Rd.

Voting:  Wednesday September 14, 7:00 PM
(You must be a RF member with dues paid to vote)
Rodgers Forge Elementary School Cafetorium

I know this is long, but I hope you will agree it is worth a few minutes of your time to read.  I also recommend that you look at the RF Blog discussion regarding the extension of the terms of certain Board Members.

I am both a candidate for the Board and one of the dissatisfied residents referred to in a Karls blog post who has taken a walk on membership for the reasons he stated very well.  My unscientific sense from many of my neighbors on my block, whether members or not, tends to corroborate the views of that writer.  How sad.  I don’t know if I can contribute to improving things, but as one who shares many of their gripes, with some encouragement and more trepidation, I paid my $25, signed the loyalty oath (under protest) and am running for the Board.

I have two grown married children and two terminally cute granddaughters, one in Frederick and one in Brooklyn (NY that is).  I am a big Blues music fan and serve as Secretary of the Baltimore Blues Society, combining that passion with my photography hobby.

I retired over two years ago after 38 years as a planner with the Maryland Department of Planning.  The joke on myself is:  I used to have more time, then I retired.  I do NOT have too much time on my hands.  I worked mostly on water resource, land use, and water infrastructure policy and program issues.  I love sewer and water systems and was an enthusiastic kibitzer during the recent sewer lining work in the neighborhood.  This was great stuff as are the new curbs and sidewalks, and I am anxiously waiting for the repaving that seems to be in the offing (does anyone know when?).  All of these projects are wonderful and it is wonderful to see our various taxes coming home; but I have always been puzzled why the community did not always seem to get or give really adequate notice of the impending work and schedules.

Not so thrilling is the rapid disappearance of our mature street trees for which I have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation from anyone.  This is an issue that, in my opinion, should be a priority for the Board.  This is no small matter; it dearly affects our property values and our environment.  My block has been decimated and, along with another neighbor, I am trying to encourage residents of the block to replant.  In another 70 years it will look just like it did when I moved in in 1993.  Can’t wait.

Not so thrilling, although some years ago, was the day the county showed up without any notice and started planting “No Parking” signs on every corner.  Maybe a good idea, but after 70 plus years the fire department suddenly decided that needed to be done?  Without any meaningful discussion that I was able to find out about with the Board at the time, 6 precious parking spaces disappeared on my intersection and probably on yours.

Not so thrilling is what I saw as I walked door to door as a volunteer for a political campaign.  Early signs of deterioration of paint, cement, drainage, etc.  This needs to be nipped in the bud.  Some parts of the neighborhood are more than 70 year old, and more attention needs to be focused on code enforcement, and helping people who, for whatever reason, may not have the physical or financial ability to maintain good standards.  I feel that this needs to become a higher priority.  I spent 2 years trying, and succeeding to a degree, to get the County to crack down on two of the four absentee property owners in my group to get their properties to meet codes.  I frankly became angry that the Board was almost totally unresponsive to my requests for support.

I could go on with the “not so thrilling," but enough griping.

The Board deserves great credit for finding funding for and succeeding in gaining National Historic Register designation for the community.  This is a big deal.  Much more could and should be done to publicize and educate residents about the benefits of this program (see the 9/7 Towson Times article about Anneslie‘s designation).  My latest information is that few if any RF residents have applied for the tax credits this designation enables.  It in no way restricts any exterior work that would be otherwise permitted.  It can put cash in the pockets of those who want to adhere to historic standards and incentivises retaining the historic look and feel of the community that is important to so many.

The principals I would advocate to guide the Board include:
  • Board activity should be open, transparent, and follow the bylaws.
  • The Board should undertake, through an open process, a reevaluation of priorities to help guide future actions to ensure that its limited human and financial resources are focused on the greatest needs.
  • The tone of RFCA, Officers, Board, and Committee members should be open, positive, helpful, and constructive.

I would hope other candidates and current board members would subscribe to these principals. Rodgers Forge is a wonderful place. It is the type of neighborhood design that is now called “neo-traditional” by planners. Communities all over the nation are trying to replicate what we have. We have the original.

However, I believe we also have to consider what people want and need in their homes today to enable our homes to retain their value.  I believe the design standards should be reviewed and can be updated, without sacrificing our look and feel, in ways that better meet the needs of both young families and seniors who want to age in place.

Most important of all, accomplishing these things will require more than a few Board Members making themselves crazy trying to do it all thanklessly.  It will require that the Board set a positive tone so that people with ideas and expertise in the neighborhood are made to feel welcome and needed and feel good and proud about being a member of the association.  It will require a membership drive to gain this involvement.  Everyone’s expertise and energy is needed on committees to address these and other issues of long term importance.  The brush fires will always make themselves known and will have to be dealt with, and the social events are important, but they should not detract from working to meet longer term priorities that result from an open priority setting process.

Note: Other board candidates are also welcome to send in letters for publication.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rodgers Forge board wants to hear from you about term extensions for incumbents

There is a new item on the official Rodgers Forge blog asking for residents’ comments about the fact that the board is giving seven incumbents an extra year on the board without having to stand for re-election. 

There is also clarification about the way in which the board notified the community about the extensions

The board apparently posted a rationale for the term extensions on the bylaw page of its website one week prior to its vote, and then took it down a few days after the vote. Notice of the term extensions was never posted on the blog, and it was only mentioned in the newsletter in August (the vote on the extensions was in May). 

To recap: The board’s notification to the community about the term extensions consisted of posting it on an obscure page of their website for 12 days and then taking it down. Nothing on the blog, and nothing in the newsletter until August, three months after the vote that extended terms. 

The board’s post concludes by saying: “The RFCA’s goal was to make all actions open and transparent to the community. This year especially we have made changes to meet this goal. This blog, our updated website and numerous notices in the newsletter were used to bring this information to the community.”

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

A note from Rodgers Forge board candidate R. Roberts

Dear Neighbors:

This Wednesday, September 14th, at 7:00 pm, the Rodgers Forge Community Board will hold an election for new members. After many years of enjoying life in this community “for free,” I’ve decided it’s time I gave a bit of my time to help maintain the quality of life my family has experienced since moving here in 1997.

You only have to watch the evening news every day or scan the newspaper to realize that no matter how bad things might seem on any given day, we are so fortunate to live here. It’s green, it’s light, we have great schools and a very high standard of living. We are close to everything that Baltimore has to offer without many of the hassles city dwellers frequently face. In short, life is good here. Very good.

As a Board member, I believe that I will have a duty to all of my neighbors – not just the ones I know and share a fence with, but those I don’t know too. The ones who may only know me as a person who makes some of the decisions that impact their daily lives. I want to be a listener. I want to be fair and open-minded. And most of all, I want to help make the workings of the Board and the community a transparent process that everyone can access and understand. In this day of Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs and instant messaging, there is no reason that any resident should have doubts or confusion about the rules that govern our community.

In short, as a Board member, I want anyone who votes for me to understand that I work for YOU. Protecting the community is a door that swings both ways. We can preserve the rules that have governed the community since it was founded, but we can also make changes to ensure that Rodgers Forge keeps pace with the world in which we live today. There is room, and need, for both.

Please come out on September 14th and vote. Vote for me – I hope you will! – but most importantly, come out and vote. Be part of the process and let your opinion be heard.

Ruth Roberts

Note: Other board candidates are also welcome to send in letters for publication.

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rodgers Forge board candidate protests term extensions for incumbents

Here is a letter that Art Buist, a candidate for the Rodgers Forge board, has asked me to post on the Flyer. He also sent a copy to the board, and it was published in the Towson Times.

Some background: He is protesting the fact that the board has decided to extend the terms of seven of its members without having them stand for re-election at the annual meeting, which is September 14. The Rodgers Forge bylaws state that all board members will serve for a term of two years and then stand for re-election if they want to continue to serve. But this extension will allow seven board members to have a third year in office without having to be re-elected to serve that additional year.

The board members whose terms are set to be extended are:
- Ginny Allen
- Scott Carlson*
- Jean Duvall, head of the architecture committee
- Pat Foretich
- Jennifer Helfrich, board president
- Bryan Tillman
- Ada Montessoro, who was appointed to the board in December 2010 (when someone is appointed to fill a vacancy, as she was, they are to then stand for election at the next Annual Meeting, per the bylaws)

Here is a portion of the letter:
I write to shine a light on what can happen in a neighborhood when the power structure is so deeply entrenched, it forgets to represent its community.

Several members of the Rodgers Forge Board of Governors have been serving on the Board for 40 years or more; their dedication is laudable. We need people who will give their time; but the coming annual election reveals a Board that is obsessed with holding onto power rather than adapting to the world as it is.

... [T]he most troubling issue is this: The Board has decided to extend the terms of many of its own members, without having them stand for re-election. The Board says this is necessary because of bylaw changes which it passed earlier this year changing the composition of Board. Previously, eleven Board positions were elected as one-year term ‘District’ representatives, and twelve positions were elected as ‘At-Large’ representatives for staggered two-year terms. The recent bylaw change means 18 of the 23 positions on the Board will expire in 2011. The current Board majority has decided to simply extend the terms of six of its members.

The bylaws do say “approximately one-half of the At-large Members are up for election each year.” But, there is no authority under the bylaws or the law for Board Members to arbitrarily extend their own terms. Those, whose terms expire in 2011, must stand for election in 2011.

There are other ways in which the Board could ensure staggered terms under the bylaws. For example, some Board members could volunteer to serve only one year, instead of two; but they can't just extend their own terms for a year! ... (Read his full letter here.)

It was not clear to me if he was concerned over the term extensions themselves, or the fact that the board didn't alert people ahead of the vote approving them, as outlined in the bylaws. (Read the procedure for amending the bylaws here.)

Here is his response: "Had they taken the time to fully follow the notice requirements of the amendment process, those amendments would have been out in the public to be fully vetted by the public, and anyone with concerns could have raised them with Board Members. This is the purpose of notice requirements. Had this been done, the Board would be in a stronger position, because they could point to a specific bylaw provision.

On the other hand, the action of extending the terms would still be under a cloud. A legitimate question could be raised as to whether, even with authority of bylaws, a board can extend its own term. Lincoln put the country under Martial Law during the Civil War, but still stood for election in 1864. Also, as you are well-aware, when ever the subject of a pay raise for government representatives comes up, the pay raise is for those elected in future terms. They don’t vote to raise their own pay, unless there is an election before the pay raise goes into effect. I hope this provides the clarification you sought."

I contacted the Maryland Homeowners' Association and asked them to comment on the situation; the RFCA is not technically a homeowners' association, but I wanted them to give some perspective to readers. Here is what they said: "MHA agrees that it is not right for members of the [board] to extend their term of office. As a temporary measure, it would seem better to have an election and have everyone run for staggered terms with the person having the most votes having the longest term, etc."

The board president declined to comment for this post. In her response to Buist she said, "The RFCA made decisions amending the by-laws in a very thorough heavily discussed meeting. Perhaps if you attended the meeting, or any subsequent ones, you would have more insight as to the motives for the changes. The RFCA in no way violated its by-laws or acted in bad faith. The intent was to be able to go forward doing board business in a simpler and more efficient way and to make board membership equal in service and duty. ...

I am sure if you made your concerns known to the RFCA board at the time the changes were published on our website, our blog and in our newsletter, or anytime after that before the month of the election, the board would have discussed your objections at a meeting. ..." (Read the full response here.)

This is a little confusing because the board actually never posted its plan for extendeding terms on its website or blog, and the only time it was mentioned publicly was in the August newsletter mentioned in the newsletter was in August. So it's not clear how he, or anyone else, would have known to contact the board with concerns prior to the vote authorizing this change (which happened in May).

[Clarification: Apparently the board posted notice of the extensions on the bylaw page of its website on May 3. The vote was May 11 and then the notice was taken down May 14. It was not posted on the blog prior to September 9 and it was not mentioned in the newsletter until August.]

*My husband, Scott Carlson, is one of the members whose terms would be extended and he was head of the bylaw committee that approved the plan. The committee member who came up with the idea of extending terms, Janice Moore, is not among those getting a bonus third year in office. So while I don’t believe this was a case of someone rigging the system in order to stay in power, it does appear that, for whatever reason, the community was not notified of this change at the proper time in the proper way. 

And there is still the question of whether this is the right thing to do at all. Board members do more than plan picnics and organize Dumpster Day (both of which are much appreciated.) They also tell residents what they can and can’t do to their homes, they occasionally sue residents, and they testify against them at variance hearings. So having a say in who is leading us is not an insignificant thing. 

What do you think? Post or read comments here: Comments