Del. Elizabeth Bobo's annual Town Hall meeting is a political phenomenon.
On a cold, cold Thursday night, about 100 people gathered in a chilly room at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice Village Center, hauled stacks of chairs out of the closet after the aerobic exercise class ended and arranged them in rows.
Then they sat down, listened to Bobo, a liberal Democrat and former Howard County executive and asked her questions about such things as ending the death penalty, gun control, the proposed Riverdale housing development, mass transit and pedestrian access in Columbia's Town Center, among other things.
In attendance were County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty; Joan Kennedy, the legislative liaison for County Executive Ken Ulman; Yale Stenzler, the retired former director of Maryland's school construction program; former Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Lancos; county Democratic Party Chairman Michael McPherson; and dozens of others less well-known but just as interested in what's up.
"I love it," Bobo said as she hurried in late, after spending 30 minutes stuck in traffic on the way back from a late committee voting session in Annapolis. "I love talking to them one-on-one. This little district I represent really likes to know what's going on."
Many are Columbia old-timers, including Phyllis Nash, who said she has lived in the town 38 years and campaigned for Bobo's husband, Lloyd Knowles, when he ran for the County Council in the 1970s. Nash is upset about Riverdale, a proposed housing project at Route 32 and Cedar Lane that critics say would have too many homes and further clog traffic.
Some are newer residents, such as Joyce Baer, who moved in two years ago but whose question about poor pedestrian access to a March 5 downtown Columbia planning session led General Growth Properties to provide a shuttle bus to the meeting.
Bobo talked about such things as voting machines and the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, but she had one overriding message for her constituents:
Don't sit home and stay silent, even if you think your elected representative sees things your way. The more messages and e-mail officials get, the more they know that people at home are watching and the more able they are to enlist help from colleagues.
"The Internet is a great equalizer," Bobo said. "We can match people with much more money." She urged people to contact legislators on committees considering bills they are interested in, and get their friends to contact others.
"It helps me to build my network. It's all grass roots," she said.
No quick decision
Don't look for a quick decision on who should be Howard County's permanent state's attorney.
Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, who heads the three-judge committee that will make the decision, said Thursday that the judges expect to interview the seven candidates April 1. No date for choosing the appointee has been set.
Timothy J. McCrone, who was elected the county's chief criminal prosecutor in 2006, resigned in December to accept a judicial appointment.
The three judges who will select his permanent replacement appointed Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino, 63, as interim state's attorney. He and McCrone's choice, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Lara C. Weathersbee, 39, have filed to be considered for the permanent job.
Also in the race are former Del. Neil F. Quinter, 45; Ellicott City attorney Gary Stewart Peklo, 61; Baltimore criminal defense attorney Domenic R. Iamele, 63; retired engineer and businessman Edward F. Dyer, 75, of North laurel; and Nakiya E. Whitaker, who declined to comment when asked by a reporter about her background and qualifications.
Blogging to India
A 15-hour flight across a string of time zones might leave many travelers barely functional.
But Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and two county government colleagues all but wore out their thumbs last week using Blackberrys to blog about their experiences on a trip to Bangalore, India.
Kevin Enright, the communications director, said Ulman, Chief of Staff Aaron Greenfield and Richard W. Story, the economic development chief, shared the blogging duties during the trip. Ulman edited the entries before shipping them into cyberspace, complete with photos.
The submissions, which were posted on the county government Web site, filled 14 printed pages.
In addition to details about the companies and executives they encountered, Ulman reported on the quirky, such as how his driver honked the horn 211 times on the way to one business appointment.
The delegation attended a news conference where, Ulman noted, twice as many media representatives showed up as usually attend new conferences in Howard County.
Planning began a year ago for the trip to the city in southern India, where the local time is 10 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
From the chaotic traffic to the menu at dinner to accounts of rapid development outstripping any attempt at planning, Ulman and his crew told about the businesses that they hope will come to or expand operations in Howard County.
Officials in India's version of Silicon Valley said trade missions from five other U.S. communities -- including Montgomery County and Fairfax, Va. -- have visited in the past six months.
Ulman said Bangalore's surrounding state, Karnataka, is a bit larger than Howard County. State officials told him they are planning five new suburban developments covering 63,000 acres. Each would be home to 750,000 people. Howard has fewer than 300,000 people.