Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hostile Takeover?

Ken Ulman is being unfairly criticized by some folks connected to the Howard County Soil Conservation District for trying to remove some redundancies. The redundancy in this case is the Howard County Soil Conservation District.

Ulman said the motivation behind moving the process of reviewing grading and sediment control plans to the county was nothing more than an attempt to trim costs in a tight budget year.

The change, he said, would eliminate two jobs at the Soil Conservation District.

Employees within the Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning and Zoning already do similar reviews, he said, and could absorb the work.

“When there’s areas of duplication, we try to root them out,” he said.

But Bob Ensor, district manager of the Soil Conservation District, said the people who handle the work have specialized knowledge.

“We provide an essential check and balance role,” Ensor added, noting that his employees are removed from the rest of the development approval process.


I like how the cost cutting move is being described as Ulman’s attempt to do a “hostile takeover”. That way, the conclusion that Ulman is the devil incarnate is conveyed with having to deal with the pesky fact that this move is likely to make taxpayers better off.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP73cK3GXdo

Let's vote: should he step aside?

Anonymous said...

This county needs more independent review of development plans not less. The recent change in Dep Director has accelerated DPZ efforts to push project approvals with impunity.

Freemarket said...

Independent of whom? The whole reason we have the DPZ is to protect the public from the "evil" developers. How is another group of government stooges approving something going to do anything positive for our built environment?

jim adams said...

We, the citizens, should keep a watchful eye, there are often times when the group reviewing becomes controled by the reviewed.
Example, Securities and Exchange Commission.

jim adams said...

I spoke with Bob Ensor yesterday, in Annapolis He mentioned it takes about two years to train an employee, and as we talked it became obvious, that Ulman would be creating a verticle line of management for himself, and there was in your posting the mention of the check and balance role, well this would not exist.

So I wondered, would the land reviewed and rejected by the Soil Conservation District for building homes on, be accepted by DPW, and PZ for home construction. If not while Ulman was in office, but at a future date.

The question of Developers and campaign donations could convince a change in thought. All the more reason to maintain the seperation and not over load the already overloaded DPW and PZ departments.

Freemarket said...

Two years to train an employee? That's absurd. There are obviously politics in play here, but it is just as thick on either side.

Anonymous said...

Politics at play, sure. But who started the game? It wasn't the Soil Conservation office. Yes it probably does take 2 years to train someone in the fine art of environmental protection. The responsibility should not be taken lightly or given to someone who really doesn't know what all the impacts of poor decisions can be.

John said...

Looking a previous posts from "freemarket" all he does it complain. i hope it makes him feel better. he apparently didn't have the willingness to stop by the office when it was open and talk to anyone. four vehicles for a staff of 13 (federal, state and county..remember, it is a "partnerhip" doesn't sound bad to me. and if ulman wants to save $200K he can do it in DPZ, or DPW there is no need to change state law to do it. Currently, unlike virtually all other agencies in county government, Soil Conservation does not charge a fee for their review of plans.

While I'm at it, check DP&Z's website and take a look at the number of waivers that allow environmental disturbances to occur...just doo a "search" for section 116, you'll find all of them have been approved. The Soil Conservation offers opinion on the disturbance but the final approval belongs to DP&Z. Funny, also, is the hiring of another person by Mr Ulman with the last name of Feldmark...go figure.

Anonymous said...

When is the last time a '116' environmental disturbance was denied?

jim adams said...

JOHN, I want to take issue with the remark that all Free Market does is complain. If he didn't bring issues up the way he has, there would be no dialogue. It is refreshing to hear an opposing point of view. I disgree with him more often than not, but he forces me to think about, and put into words why I oppose him. Also, more than I want to be, I am wrong with my point of view, or the way I state my argument, and so he gives me a chance to improve on the way i address an issue..

My complaint is with those who attack the person, and not the issue. I understand why, it's easy to attack an individual, it does not take much thought.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Mrs. Feldmark has worked for Ulman since before he was CE.

John said...

In FreeMarket's earlier post he called the Soil Conservation employeed "government stooges." I don't think I attacked him in any such way. ALL waivers that were applied for seeking exemption from section 116 were approved. Mrs. Feldmark is filling a newly created position under Mr. Ulman as is Mr. Feldmark.

Four trucks for Soil Cosnervation....one federal, one state, one federal car and two county trucks. one about a decade old.

and, again, if he truly wants to save the money, he does not need to change state law to do it. he has plenty of people working for the county over whom he has control and can lay off without changing state law. also, soil conservation can charge a plan review fee but the administration doesn't want this...more his exepsnve for is developer supporters?

DP&Z is under direct control of the county exec. he has created a third deputy director specifically to "move the plans along."

MDE, MDA, Maryland Asociation of Soil Conservation Districts, Patuxent River Commission, Patuxent River Keepers, Howard County Citizens Association all opposed the legislation.

Conspcious in their absence are developers. Could their absence be intentional so that the Administration doesn't look like it's trying to change a law that would favor developers? I think the answer a resounding yes.

Anonymous said...

John, you have no idea what you are talking about with repect to your comments about Feldmark. She is filling the vacantcy left by Aaron Greenfield when he left the county for a private employer.

John said...

Anonymous,
My apolgies for not being clear. the point, to me, isn't whether Aaron Greenfield had the job or Mrs. Feldmark now has the job or if Santa Claus has the job. The position of Chief of Staff was newly created under this administration as is the position that Joshua Feldmark currently holds. All other county agencies have a hiring freeze on and when people leave the positions are not being filled. except for Mrs. Feldmark who indeed did work for the exec as did joshua feldmark. If the exec is trying to save money why was a newly created position filled when other positions are not? and yet, he's trying to abolish the jobs of two people in Soil Conservation under the guise of trying to save money. If he's trying to save money, the Chief of Staff should have been left vacant.

The two jobs at Soil Conservation amount to less than thtree hundredths of one per cent of the county's budget and there has been no accounting for the money spent trying to change the law for the three hundredths of one percent.

It's not being done to save money. It's being done to make the development process "user friendly" I have several friends who work for DP&Z, and have been told this is the most developer friendly administration that Howard County has had to suffer through.

I hope this helps and, again, my apologies for not being as clear as I should have.

BettyD said...

My understanding is that the HSCD provides an independent, objective review of developer's and county's plans, to make sure they both follow regulations & standards to protect the environment.

DPZ is Executive's agency to help developers develop per county regulation & standards. DPZ is asked to "bend the rules" all the time via the waiver process, and they get them 97% of the time (see county's waiver decision page and count). And those do not even include the ones deemed "necessary" which bypass waiver process without public knowledge!

By giving the county sole review of environmental impacts is like giving EPA to the US Dept of Commerce, or giving MDE to Md Dept of Business & Economic Development.

If this strictly a money issue, then Ulman should drop the HSCD from his budget and let them charge developers fees like all the other district's do. He doesn't need to change state law to do that.

Oh, and if DPZ is duplicating HSCD's review then they need to STOP IT! And when they do stop it, perhaps there will be some folks with idle time that can be released, to save even more $$$ !

Freemarket said...

John- we are obviously going to disagree, but I have a couple of points to make:

1. I don’t care if the work stays with the Soil District or goes to DPZ, but there is a redundancy (at least in capacity) here that needs to be corrected. In this case, the County is the customer, so it would make sense that they would try to bring the work to their own shop. If I hire someone to cut my grass but I realize that I can save money by doing it myself in my free time, it makes sense to do it myself. In this case, that is essentially the decision that Ulman is making. It seems to me it should be an executive decision that does not need to involve a change in state law, but that just shows how bloated and completely absurd our government has become.

2. The Soil District does NOT provide any of their services for free. Do the employees work for free, or do they get paychecks? Is that office space donated? Were those cars donated? Just because the people who use services do not pay for them, that does not make those services free. When one person gets something they didn’t pay for, the rest of us paid for something that we didn’t get. I bring this up because you pointed out that “…unlike virtually all other agencies in county government, Soil Conservation does not charge a fee for their review of plans.”

3. How can you argue that speeding up the development approval process is a bad thing, when the same work is being done in a faster amount of time? That is called providing better customer service. In my experience in dealing with government, I have found that different agencies do not play well together. Putting an entire process under one umbrella will yield economies of scale in both reduced costs and level of service.

BettyD said...

Freemarket,

You are absolutely right, that "Putting an entire process under one umbrella will yield economies of scale in both reduced costs and level of service."

Without checks & balances, development would go so much faster. We could put all environmental agencies like FWS, EPA, MDE, SCD within DPZ-like agencies, think how much faster things would go. In fact let's put inspection there too. That way if there's any problems DPZ could allow the developer handle it the best way he/she sees fit.

In fact why have any agencies at all. A "Department of Everything" would be the most efficient of all. There would never be any complaints from the citizens because they would be fully promissed that the best solution was discussed and vetted, without dissent or record, for speedyness of course...Brilliant !

If you don't think developer's hold a slanted grip on county decision makers, you need some politics 101 courses. By the time you find out a waived or "overlooked" regulation effects you, your neighborhood, or your county, it's too late, it's a "done deal".

Freemarket said...

Betty, you need to do your homework. Have you even read any other post on this blog? You’re trying to defend regulation to someone who understands that the FDA kills people. If I could snap my fingers and make all gov't agencies go away, I'd do it in a second.

BettyD said...

Oh, I see,you're an anarchist.

Then I suggest you continue to trust no-one, start your own country in Antartica, and revive those bygone dog-eat-dog medieval days of history. Otherwise, you could be constructive and join the government or politics you so distrust, and help rout out all the evildoers.

The "government" is US, friend, dive in and participate !

jim adams said...

Betty, I like your thought, our government is "US", and I wish more people would dive in and participate.

John said...

Freemarket,

I enjoy your opposing views...it's what America is all about.

However wrong they may be. : )

Freemarket said...

Betty, there are few if any “evil doers” in government. I am sure that almost every politician out there believes that they are doing what is best for the community. The problem lies in the fact that selfish and greedy politicians are no nobler than selfish and greedy individuals pursuing their separate interests. A somewhat free market gave us the Madoff pyramid scheme. Government gave us a much larger and dangerous pyramid scheme called Social Security. Btw, participation in SS is mandatory. If you think the economy is in the crapper now, just wait until SS goes broke. Is government better than personal responsibility? I don’t think so at all.

Thanks, John. I enjoyed hearing your views as well.

jim adams said...

John, F.M.'s views are not wrong more often than not, and they stimulate thought and often interesting comments.

Didn't you feel the need to respond, as you did because of his posting, so there was a lot of right in what you felt was wrong.

John said...

Mr.Adams,

No, I don't agree with Free Market at all. That doesn't mean I have to respond to every one of his posts. Obviously, he and I are never going to agree. Which is fine. I enjoy the discussion. I just don't want to get caught in a "tit for tat."

For example,
let's go with the lawn mowing scheme Free Market presents.

You live in an HOA = Sub Regs. The Mortgage Company = The County Exec.
Free Market = DP&Z.

Your HOA says the entire lawn is to be mowed for the benefit of the entire neighborhood. Your mortgage company (County Exec) says, the economy is bad..awful so, therefore, Free Market (DP&Z) you will only cut half the lawn.

Because Free Market doesn't want to lose his job, he only cuts half the lawn. The HOA requires the lawn... all of it.. to be mowed.

The Soil Conservation District, as an independent unit of government, will make sure the entire lawn is mowed because they don't have to worry about payback from the Mortgage Company. So, now, the Morgage Company, is trying to get rid of the SCD so that only half of the lawn gets mowed regardless of what the HOA regs say or what is best for the community as a whole.

Betty D is correct, the Exec is not required to fund the District. If he wants to save $200,000 he can do so without changing the state law.

The District then could charge a fee for their work and only the people required to submit plans would be paying the fee.

And no, I don't think there is alot of right in what Free Market says, but I realize he and I will never agree and I think that's great. I think he presents that opposite viewpoint, which I'm happy to hear, but if I recognize we're never going to agree, why keep spending time trying to change the mind of someone, whose mind I can't change?

Maybe someday, there will be a valid reason to change the state law, but the reason the County Exec presents, is just not it.

jim adams said...

John, you have made a resonable argument. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Betty! Stick around. Great comments. John, ditto.