Baltimore (or is it Balitmore?) OEM has a rough first day on Twitter

The Baltimore City of Emergency Management joined Twitter today. When I first saw them via the #mdhashtag I noticed this tweet:

I found it interesting that they just now start sending out Hurricane Irene tweets during the aftermath when a Twitter account takes little time to set up. I would have thought they would’ve had an account long before now - it looks like they were just reacting to all the other Twitter successes this weekend from various state and local agencies and decided, “We better get on Twitter.”

I sent out a tweet about their account and referenced it as @BaltimoreOEM without noticing they are actually @BalitmoreOEM. They made a big typo in setting their handle up. The information on the account says it is being run by Connor Scott in the OEM office:

They have since made a tweet in apparent response to our first tweet, and it basically says better late than never. However, if you’re going to be this late to the game, you might want to make sure you actually spell your city’s name right in the Twitter handle setup.

UPDATE: They have now changed it to @BaltimoreOEM. We knew they would - that’s why we have the above screen capture.

UPDATE 2: They also took Connor Scott’s name off the account and set the name to MOEM.


East County Times Plagiarizes

A story found in the June 9, 2011 edition of the East County Times bears a striking, almost word-for-word resemblance to a story and photo published earlier by the Perry Hall site.

Here’s the Times story (on page 21 if you have a hard copy or you’re using their website with the excruciatingly long 21-letter domain name):

Compare the copy above to the copy in this Patch story by Tyler Waldman and then compare the picture above to the picture in this Patch story by Waldman and Emily Kimball.

A source familiar with the Patch photo tells us it was a picture taken of a yearbook photo before being cropped and adjusted by a Patch reporter. It does bear a striking similarity to the photo in the Times’ story.

It’s not the first time the Times has been plagued with plagiarism accusations. Several years ago the Times was accused of lifting a story from The Dundalk Eagle about a fire station being built in Dundalk. The Times wrote an apology and chalked it up as being “inadvertent” due to a reporter not listing other sources in her notes. However, a story in the Avenue News reported that the material lifted from the Eagle story was obtained in private interviews with fire department officials by the Eagle reporter.

The East County Times is an independent publication with a weekly circulation of 45,000. George Wilbanks is their publisher.

Marks: Council Finishes the First of Three Milestones

Editor’s note: this post was submitted early last week. Due to technical issues, we just got it posted today.

By the end of the year, the County Council will have dealt with three major issues: the budget, redistricting, and rezoning. This week, the Council finished the first of these, deliberation of the Fiscal Year 2012 county budget.

The Council unanimously passed a $1.5 billion budget for Baltimore County that largely focuses on core priorities, such as education, public safety, and infrastructure.
There is no property tax rate increase and no income tax rate increase. By trimming unfilled positions, the county workforce is now the smallest in a quarter-century. By comparison, many other jurisdictions are raising taxes and furloughing employees.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect budget. Like many of my colleagues, I strongly opposed the Superintendent’s plan to cut teacher positions—but the Council can only delete, not add, to the budget request. I am also concerned about where we may find ourselves in two or three years. The budget dips into our reserves by $61 million. We don’t know when the state will shift teacher pension costs onto the counties, which will make matters worse.

But overall, I thought this was a fiscally disciplined budget that deserved support from the Council, and I applaud the County Executive for his emphasis on downsizing and efficiency.

The second major project for this Council is redistricting. As required by the charter, the Council created a commission to recommend changes to the lines of the seven districts. I expect the Council to receive a map in June, and for the whole process to be finished by August.

Once redistricting is over, the Council turns its attention to the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process. Rezoning is a Councilmember’s most important responsibility. A Councilmember can rezone any property in his or her district, and that decision affects all land use and development activity for the next four years.

I have been involved in four rezoning cycles. It is a difficult and often emotional process, one I take very seriously. I’ll be holding a meeting in June so residents and community leaders can understand the timetable for the 2012 rezoning cycle.

Baltimore City Police Profiling Legal Concealed Weapons Owners?

A Twitter discussion earlier tonight between our friends @eyeonannapolis, @baltospectator, and @justin_fenton pointed to @bob_smithey‘s Tumblr blog.

The blog post in question contains an image, found below at the bottom of this post, of an Intelligence Bulletin from the Baltimore PD’s Criminal Intelligence Division. The bulletin, dated May 31, 2011, shows a picture of a window decal (seen at the top of this post) sold by Legally Concealed, a company that also sells a line of clothing and accessories with this same logo on it.

The bulletin points out in big red letters that:

All officers should be familiar with this symbol especially when dealing with the public or conducting traffic stops.  While the individual who is displaying the symbol may not be armed , the presence of the symbol provides an early warning indicator that you MAY be about to encounter an armed individual.

As noted on the bulletin, and pointed out by Fenton on Twitter, the source of the information in this bulletin is the WRTAC. That acroynym stands for the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center, which provides a daily open source intelligence briefing. The Washington Post discussed the WRTAC in their heralded investigative series Top Secret America.

Legally Concealed appears to be a part of the National Rifle Association’s Business Alliance and has no appearance of being a fringe website at all. It is interesting that the WRATC and Baltimore PD find this information newsworthy enough to inform law enforcement officers about it. As the son of a career police officer, I would hope smart officers would go into every traffic stop thinking about the possibility of there being a gun in the car.

In fact, people who have gone to the trouble of going through all the legal process and have standards to meet and maintain to hold on to that concealed weapons permit are, in almost every case, the least of the worries of a police officer in Baltimore City. Additionally, as someone who took a concealed weapons training course in another state, there was instruction given on interactions with law enforcement. I specifically remember being told to verbally tell the officer and hand over your concealed permit along with your license, registration and insurance information when stopped.

The city police department in  Baltimore at times seems obsessed on how many guns they’ve taken off the streets rather than criminals who possess those guns illegally. Those are the people the law enforcement officers needs to worry about far more than law-abiding concealed weapons holders. This may not be intended as profiling of concealed weapons permit holders, but it certainly smacks of that very thing. I have to assume the WRTAC has been passing this information on to law enforcement officers in the whole Mid-Atlantic region and I’m sure law enforcement in Maryland might not be as accustomed to this type of thing since Maryland does not have “shall issue” weapons permits like other states. The Maryland law is the old system (I saw it with a family member getting a permit in another state that now has shall issue) where political favoritism and law enforcement cronyism are the only reliable way to get a permit to protect yourself.

I would expect all the brainpower assembled in the original Twitter conversation, especially Justin Fenton, might get to the bottom of this as well as anybody might in the coming days. Maybe it is just a well-intentioned, but misguided, effort to keep law enforcement informed but, to reiterate something I already said, the firearms owned by a concealed weapons permit holder are probably the last firearms a Baltimore City Police Officer has a major cause for concern over. Specifically, the smaller number of permits out there due to the state not being shall issue cuts down on the numbers of permit holders in addition to the unlikely possibility of a permit holder being a threat. What’s next - an intelligence bulletin telling officers to watch out for people with NRA stickers on their cars?

The image of the intelligence bulletin provided by @bob_smithey is below. (Continue reading…)

Marks: No Easy Answers with Traffic and Transportation

My professional career has been in the transportation industry. Before I was elected to the County Council, I worked for 14 years at the state and federal departments of transportation.

I have always enjoyed the transportation sector because it is among the least partisan areas of public policy, and because the results are so tangible—a highway project or a transit line, for example, is visible evidence of something that improves people’s lives.

That doesn’t mean that there are sometimes hard choices to be made.

At the local level, transportation can be a very difficult issue.

In the Towson area, many engineers and community leaders want to divert traffic from York Road onto Bosley Avenue. That alleviates congestion in the Towson core, but it funnels traffic closer to the Southland Hills and West Towson neighborhoods.

In Loch Raven, the Maryland Transit Administration wants to put a bus line on Joppa Road, which they claim will service the businesses and neighborhoods near North Plaza Mall. Many residents, however, complain this would worsen congestion as cars back up behind the buses.

In Carney, the biggest local issue is the faltering intersection at Joppa and Harford Roads—an intersection many claim is worsened by new development.

And in Perry Hall, county engineers want a 70-foot right-of-way along Forge Road—an overly ambitious project I will downsize so it more appropriately reflects the character of this area.

Every transportation project represents a trade-off. There are no easy answers, and the final decision represents a balancing of public and private interests. Speed bumps slow down traffic, but they limit mobility. A road may be needed for the community’s benefit, but private property will likely have to be secured.

Equally difficult is the debate over how to finance transportation projects. The money isn’t there anymore. There is less gasoline tax revenue because cars are more fuel efficient, and because people are altering their driving as gasoline prices go up. At the same time, it costs more to build projects because asphalt, steel, and concrete are all made from petroleum. But how in the world can we ask people to pay higher gasoline taxes right now?

As a County Councilman, I have no say over federal and state gasoline taxes. My goal is to prioritize our limited funding so we are building the right projects to improve mobility and enhance our neighborhoods.

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