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Why High School 13 Should be Built in Jessup

Rick Kohn

A fitting analogy to the question of where to build the next high school is found in the game of soccer. A player learns to pass the ball to where his teammate is going; not to where she is when the ball is passed.

When planning where to build the next high school, we need to consider where we will be in five years and beyond. We should build it where it will positively impact growth into the future.

The following factors should influence the decision to locate the next high school in Jessup.

  1. Our county is overcrowded in the northeast and the southeast;
  2. Our schools are segregated with low-income schools concentrated in the southeast, and school and neighborhood integration must be a priority; and
  3. It is time we finally pay attention to the southeast and its needs.
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How Developer Influence Impacts the County in Two Testimonies

Hiruy Hadgu

Earlier this month, the County Council voted on the much debated bill to update the adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO). During the debate, many proponents of a weaker APFO claimed that the unmitigated growth is not a problem.

But we know this is not true. Schools and roads cost money. If the revenue from construction of each additional home is not more than the cost it incurs by way of new school construction, road expansion or other expenses, the county loses money.

Within a few days of the vote, I testified in two different topics that illustrated how unmitigated growth and low impact fees, as well as the practice of providing tax increment financing (TIF) hurts the county's taxpayer.

Take a listen to these two short testimonies to learn more.

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Garbage in, Garbage out: The Special Interest Hit Piece Report against APFO Reform

Hiruy Hadgu

After the APFO bill the County Council passed in November of 2017 was declared invalid, the special interests who oppose any meaningful growth management process commissioned a report that "studied" the legislation's "Economic and Fiscal impacts" on the County.

The report has one specific goal. It wants to serve as a hit-piece and sow confusion on the debate, to then cause the delay of passage of legislation. Timing is important considering the need to raise school and road impact fees through State-enabling legislation.

If the County Council buys the argument that there are too many uncertainties, it will cause the State delegation to delay passage of its own bill that raises school and road impact fees until 2019 or longer.

Based on the content of the report as well as its timing it is not hard to conclude that a completely biased report that shows calamitous outcome was prepared. It further states that it is only "high level" because adequate time was not available to prepare a thorough review, even though the APFO legislation was first proposed in July of 2017.

As a result, it suggests more time is given for such a thorough review. This would stop the progress of APFO, prevent passage of State-enabling legislation, and help maintain the status-quo.

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Howard County, CR10-2018 Rule Change, County Council Hearing

Hiruy Hadgu

On January 16th 2018, the County Council held a hearing on a resolution to reduce the testimony time allowed to representatives of a group to three minutes instead of the current five minutes in order to make meetings “efficient”. I think it will have the reverse effect and aggravate groups.

Check out the video of my testimony here.

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Howard County, CB01-2018 Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, County Council Hearing

Hiruy Hadgu

The County Council introduced legislation to modify the County’s adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) earlier in January. I testified at the public hearing that was held on January 16th and urged the Council to not allow developers' interests take precedent over that of school children. Check out the video of my testimony here.

We all need to be there on Monday, January 22nd at 4:30pm for the work session and combat any attempt to use the misleading HCEDA report as well as the "faux" affordable housing advocacy.

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Howard County's Older Adults Deserve Better than Gimmicky Zoning Solutions

Hiruy Hadgu

Gimmicky zone types such as community enhancement floating (CEFs) only serve as ways to facilitate high density development, without the attendant mitigation requirements.

Going by the track record of impacts on infrastructure of existing development, there is no telling how costly will be the expansion of the planned service area (PSA).

By 2035, nearly 22% of the population in Howard County will be aged 65 or older and 11% will be 75 and older. Many will be on fixed income who seek to age-in-place or downsize.

Instead of meeting those needs, the county is entertaining proposals that:

  1. Spend millions of dollars to expand the PSA and appease the whims of the developer,
  2. Create questionable zoning categories to serve as a Trojan horse for density (CEF), and
  3. Call the "improvements" that the proposal itself would require as an enhancement to justify the rezoning.
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Three Ways that Howard County Can Save Money and Reduce Debt

Hiruy Hadgu

On December 11th, the County Executive held a hearing on the FY2019 budget.

I testified at the hearing and shared my concerns that the County’s ability to deliver quality services is diminishing while the risk of higher County debt is increasing because:

The County is not charging market-based school surcharge fees.

The County is giving free money to developers such as the Columbia TIF.

The County is proposing the Savage Mills parkland swap that will give public land to a developer for private use.

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An Optimization Model for School Redistricting

Rick Kohn

The process that was recently used to develop school districts in Howard County is inherently inequitable and unfair. Those who have the resources, time, and connections to organize a response to those plans are able to ensure that their neighborhoods are not adversely affected while those without resources cannot do the same. 

In contrast, using quantitative statistical measures would enable development of optimal plans for the county in general. The discussion herein demonstrates that it is possible to simultaneously balance for capacity utilization, income, and distance, through computer optimization.

This plan implemented the mathematical modeling methodology described in the scientific literature previously prepared for Howard County Schools (AI Magazine, 2007, Volume 28)

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The Kangaroo Court of Howard County

Hiruy Hadgu

The Howard County Planning Board held hearings on the Settlement at Savage over five different days and a total of 16 hours.

In the end, it took the Board the most of 40 minutes of work-session to decide a case that took 16 hours and five days to present. It spent 2.5 minutes for every hour of case testimony. Thousands of pages of evidence was presented and none of these pages were considered during the work-session.

None of it mattered.

In the end, the vote was 4-0 for the developer.

It turns out that the community had NO chance because it was a predetermined outcome. It left me speechless as the Board voted. None of the issues raised during the trial proceedings were raised. At all. The Board took less time to decide the case than it would to make a selection from a dinner menu.

It was all a show.

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Areas to Address in a Potential Redistricting Reform

Rick Kohn

 If any redistricting reform is proposed here are some areas for improvement:

  • First, the data that were provided for development and evaluation of plans were flawed. 
  • Second, the process was flawed. The Attendance Area Committee (AAC) did not have diverse membership and could not reflect on issues of importance to the entire community.
  • Third, the process to obtain input from members of the community was flawed and caused the input to be substantially biased.
  • Fourth, the initial plan outlined in the Feasibility Study increased segregation by income and race, in some cases, and underestimated the degree of segregation that was being proposed through the use of biased FARM data. 
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My Typical Week as a Candidate for County Council

Hiruy Hadgu

It has been four months since I launched my campaign. It would be an understatement to say that this has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. It has also been one of the most fulfilling. While I love data and dealing with policy, some of the issues can be arcane and require consultation of various resources. The most importation resources have been the numerous community leaders and activists I have spoken with.

Over the last four months, my campaign has focused on the issues. My discussion with several community leaders brought to my attention the issue of adequate public facilities and its impact on quality of life. Building on the hard work of many activists, we talked about the issues of segregation in the county. Specifically, the impact that zoning laws have on creating and maintaining segregated neighborhoods.

I have taken a hard stance against special interest. I am more than willing to compromise and collaborate to solve problems, but it will be with those who have good intentions for the county and consider themselves stakeholders. We need to restore trust in government.

I think a true progressive movement will not conflate the need for access to quality education, affordable housing, and welcoming community with the sort of out-of-control development taking place. When things get tough and financial hardships ensue, the people who get hurt are those we purport to help.

My campaign is evolving as I learn more about county issues. Over the next few months, I will share with you what I call "The Preferred Future". In short, it is a government that has an integrated approach to growth planning,  makes data based decisions, with compassion and empathy.

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Why The Downtown Columbia Plan Needs a Massive Audit

Hiruy Hadgu

We need to audit this massive deal, including the process, deliberations and other aspects. The TIF is just a fraction of the whole project. There were major changes to the county's zoning laws specifically to favor one developer.

Not only will the county pay for the financing and the servicing of the TIF, the developer gets to build a projection of profitability with free money. On top of that we pay the developer a fee for taking the TIF as well.

The county passed the TIF under the guise of building parking garages. Now the county is bending over backwards by making facilities that we deemed unqualified to be qualified in order to keep the TIF. This is daylight robbery of taxpayer money and some on the county council as well as the administration are aiding this theft.

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Howard County, Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force, County Council Hearing

Hiruy Hadgu

On Monday, September 18th, 2017, I testified in front of the County Council to support the creation of the Economic Prosperity and Opportunity Task force.

I pointed to two major threats that local economies, including Howard County face - massive job losses due to automation and major infrastructure destruction due to climate change disasters.

I suggested that the task force look into using debt-free college programs as an incentive to steer the future workforce into clean and green technology related jobs.

I also stated that the increase of the minimum wage is long overdue. The increase of the minimum wage could be tied to programs that steer the future workforce into jobs that are value-add, automation proof, and offshore proof.

The county can leverage its great schools, its highly educated residents, and public and private organizations to help solve these challenges.

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Howard County, Columbia Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Repeal, County Council Hearing

Hiruy Hadgu

On Monday, September 18th, 2017, I testified in front of the County Council to support the repeal of the Columbia tax increment financing (TIF - definition).

The TIF authorized the county to issue a $90 million tax increment financing for the construction of a public parking garage, roads, and intersection improvements in Downtown Columbia.

Here is substance of my testimony as well as the video of the testimony.

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School Redistricting has Increased Segregation in Howard County schools

Rick Kohn

Continuing with this campaign's goal of advocating for equity in county policies, here, we focus on high school district segregation by race and income.

Certain school districts have much higher concentrations of low-income students than neighboring school districts. Given the strong correlation between race and income, those districts are also segregated by race and ethnicity.

The resulting distribution of students on Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) for five different redistricting plans are compared.

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