Vote4Rehman – Probably Not

Three and a half weeks ago, I saw on the State Board of Elections website that there was a second candidate for the non-partisan Howard County Board of Education: Saif Rehman. Saif Rehman was not a name I recognized, so I went to the campaign website listed on the Board of Elections website: I immediately noticed that the website was incomplete. Other than the blue and yellow “Elect Rehman” campaign sign logo there was little on the website about Saif Rehman or his campaign. It was hard to even find Rehman’s first name.

There were many template spots — “Candidate About Information Goes Here,” “INSERT SLOGAN HERE,” “IMAGE FOR ARTICLE GOES HERE   First 2-3 sentences go here,” and “INSERT AUTHORITY LINE HERE.”

Seif Rehman Home Page Incomplete

While Scott’s E Blog said that having the authority line on T-Shirts is always a good thing, having an authority line space that just says “Insert Authority Line Here” is a really bad thing. It also violates Maryland law. 

I also noticed how partisan the website appeared with photos of Governor Hogan,

Seif Rehman Hogan

a GOP Maryland Republican Party logo, and a Republican video.

Seif Rehman - News with MD Republcian

The register to vote link was also highly partisan taking the user not to the Howard County Board of Elections but to, a project of the Republican Governor’s Association and the Republican National Committee among other partisan organizations. The About page says in part that “The site is built on the .gop domain and serves as an example for the type of online organizing that takes place on the preferred domain for all Republicans on the web.”

Register to Vote GOP

This all seems rather curious for the non-partisan Howard County School Board race.

I also noticed the photos on the website; one looked a lot like Annapolis. This also seemed a strange choice for someone running for school board in Howard County.

Seif Rehman - Annapolis

After Scott Ewart posted the announcement of Saif Rehman’s candidacy, I began to realize that the photos of the candidate on the website was not Saif Rehman.

Seif Rehman - Issues

This was not the person on Saif Rehman’s Facebook page either. A Google image search showed what was really happening. Not only was the website an incomplete template which Rehman says on his Facebook to: “Stay tuned for the official launch of the Campaign website, social media sites and kickoff event” but Rehman stole the website from another candidate: Mike Pantelides, Republican Mayor of Annapolis. Now things made sense–the photos of Governor Hogan, the views of Annapolis, and the GOP links.

Pantelides Annapolis

So while it is one thing to use the same template campaign website builder as Pantelides, it quite another to lift a version of it and post it live for several weeks on the internet as your own website.

Is this site meant to be live? Does Rehman know? Why have none of friends and supporters told him? Most importantly, where are the donations from this incomplete website going? The donation page says that it “This campaign has raised 23% of its goal” with a background of a photo of an historic party convention. Really, it has said 23% for several weeks. Are campaign contributions going to the Rehman campaign and being accounted for properly?

Seif Rehman - Contribution Payment Page with Convention Background

Being a member of the School Board is a difficult job. There is a tremendous amount of information and complicated decisions to be made. The unawareness of an incomplete website raises questions about the ability to deal with the complex details in a budget approaching $1 billion or polygons and redistricting. Lifting someone else’s work sets a bad example for the students in regard to plagiarism. Not following the law in regard to the authority line sets a poor example for the students and raises questions about the ability to follow the law. Following the law by the Board and former superintendent has been a core of much of the conflict, lawsuits, and debate in the County regarding the school system the past several years.

On September 8, I reached out to Rehman on Facebook: ” I am drafting a blog about your website. When are you planning the official launch?” He replied, “give me till end of next week for official website and social media sites launch.” I did; he did not. After more than another week, there is still nothing substantive on his website, Facebook or Twitter. There are no posts about the issues with the school district particularly the hot topics of APFO, redistricting, and development. There is nothing about Rehman’s background. His logo says he has a PhD, but for all I know that could be in almost anything. His Facebook has photos of what appears to be a wife and children, but as seen above, photos on a campaign website do not have to have any relationship to the candidate. Rehman has not made a substantive post on Facebook since his campaign announcement on August 24–three and a half weeks ago. His friends wished him a happy birthday. Hey, “happy birthday,” but that says nothing about being a member of the school board.

There was no deadline for Saif Rehman to file for his candidacy last month. If the website and other social media were not ready Rehman could have waited until they were. Or the unfinished website could have had a message of “Under Construction” or “Coming Soon.” Or have no website at all. It has been noted that the Team 13 Delegation members do not have active campaign websites. These are better options than a totally poorly executed website that violates state law. You only have on chance to make a first impression, and I for one am not impressed. If a student turns in work that was not finished, they should expect a bad grade. The Vote4Rehman website premiere gets an F.













New Courthouse Alternative: Swap HoCo Bendix Road Site for HCPSS Marriottsville Road Site

The Howard County Executive has submitted a proposal to the Council to construct a new courthouse on the site of the Dorsey Building on Bendix Road. This site is a very poor choice of the location for a civic institution as important as a courthouse. However, the factors that make it a poor location for a courthouse, make it a good location for a middle school.

There are a number of benefits to be achieved by swapping the Bendix Road site owned by Howard County with the Marriottsville Road Land Bank site being held by the HCPSS for a new middle school. The Marriottsville Road could be used to construct the new courthouse. However, because this location is not ideal for a courthouse, the property could be sold to finance the purchase of other properties–perhaps closer to the County Detention Center.

Maryland does not appear to have suggested criteria for selecting a location for a courthouse; however other states and federal agencies do have  elements to be considered in site selection. The Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines states:

“A major consideration should be the impact that a move will have on the public and client populations. How accessible is the new location? Is public transportation available? Is there sufficient parking? Another factor to be considered is the affect that a move will have on the movement of in-custody defendants and how transportation costs will be affected.”

The Virginia Guidelines list other criteria that should be considered. Among these are prominence of the site, proximity to other public buildings, and ease of public access.

Prominence of site.  A courthouse on Bendix Road will have no prominence. The building will NOT be visible from Route 108. It is tucked away behind other buildings and treed lots.

It is this lack of prominence that helps make the site well-suited for a middle school.

Proximity of other public buildings. There are no other public buildings currently near the Dorsey Building. The long-term plans for the Bendix Road site other than the courthouse, have not been announced. On the other hand, a middle school does not need any other buildings to function.

Ease of public access. The primary access to the Bendix site is from Route 108. The secondary access is an indirect route past homes in the Columbia Hills Meadowbrook Farms neighborhood. The residents would probably not welcome traffic cutting through the neighborhood from the Meadowbrook Park along 100 to get to the courthouse. Yet, such traffic from their own neighborhood would be welcome to go to a nearby middle school.

At nearly 29 acres, the Bendix site meets the requirements of an 800-900 seat school. Located in the southeast corner of the Northern Region it meets the need expressed in the Feasibility Study to “ultimately relieve crowding in the Northern and Columbia West Regions.” The location along the Route 108 Corridor, is well-suited to serve neighborhoods currently attending Harpers Choice and Wilde Lake Middle Schools. This will free up seats to accommodate the growth in Downtown Columbia.




columbia-east-middle-schoolsOn the other hand, the Marriottsville Road land bank site held by the HCPSS in the northeastern end of the Western Region is not adjacent to the confluence of the Northern, Northeast, Columbia West and Columbia East Regions where the major growth is occurring. The Marriottsville Road site also does not meet the requirements of Policy 6000 with its elongated and extreme shape with an approximately 100 foot wide choke point in the middle of the parcel. While the parcel is listed in the Feasibility Study as 41 acres, it is really two parcels of approximately 13 and 28 acres divided by the choke point. The site also has a hilly topography and wetland and drainage issues especially along the Marriottsville Road side.

Marriottsville Road Land Bank – Frontage on Route 40

Swapping the Bendix site is not a new idea. In 2004, County Executive Robey considered a proposal to sell the Dorsey Building to help finance the construction of a new courthouse.  Constructing a middle school on Bendix Road and selling the Marriottsville Road property could be the best verdict for the HCPSS and Howard County and a new courthouse.

School Board Reform 101: Change is Coming Regardless in 2018

Change is coming to the Howard County Schools with the elections in 2018–if not before.  Currently there is of course the petition to not renew Superintendent  Renee Foose’s contract.  And there is the state bill to change from an at-large election of School Board Members to one with districts.

Yet, the political landscape in Howard County will be wide open in the 2018 election.  Changing to district school board elections at that time might not be a prudent addition for the voters in Howard County.

To understand what might happen in 2018, one must first look to the Atterbeary/Weinstein proposed state bill to have Howard County School Board Members elected by County Council Districts.  The bill proposes electing seven members: one from each of the Councilmanic Districts and two at-large members.  The terms will no longer be staggered. Therefore, under the bill some candidates will probably consider running for both a district seat and the at-large seats and only decide which seat to seek after they gauge their competition and determine which candidacy will be most advantageous to them.

Now add to this what will be happening with the County Council.  Four of the five members will be term-limited after serving three terms: Calvin Ball, Jen Terresa, Mary Kay Sigaty and Greg Fox will all be moving on.  Only Jon Weinstein will be eligible for reelection.

Some of the members of the School Board will probably run for these open seats on the County Council.  Courtney Watson and Mary Kay Sigaty both served on the School Board before moving on to the County Council. Former School Board Candidate Zaneb Beams might decide to run again for Council as she did in 2010. If the School Board Members decide to run for Council this will in itself leave several open seats on the School Board.

Yet, in the candidacy process, it seems conceivable that some candidates would consider running for three positions: County Council, School Board District and School Board At-Large seats (And they might even run for Columbia Council or Columbia Village seats too.) and then withdraw from two of the races after they see what the election landscape looks like and who their opponents will be and decide which candidacy will be most advantageous to them.  Such election games might be unseemly to some. Consider for example when Janet and Nayab Siddiqui were both running for Delegate in 2014 or when Reg Avery ran for Council and for Oakland Mills Columbia Council Representative.

Thus, while such gameplaying might happen anyway, should the State of Maryland encourage it my making all of the elective seats in Howard County open at the same time so that prospective candidates really having no other alternative but to consider all of their options and wait to see what happens on the filing deadline day?  The line at the Board of Elections might be quite long as the clock clicks down to closing time.