Gun Control

January 22, 2013

I don’t own guns but I have family members who hunt and like to shoot so I understand hunting and target shooting are sports people enjoy. At the same time, we’ve had close friends who have had family members killed by guns. In one case, a family close to us had a son who was shot to death at a party by a jealous boyfriend who knew his girlfriend kept a hand gun in her bureau drawer. We also lived in New Zealand for a number of years and it is a very rural country with many hunters. It’s laws are pretty liberal and don’t rely on registration nor do they ban most types of guns. Yet, the entire time we lived there – about three years – there were just a handful of murders using guns.

We live in a rural area where hunting and gun ownership is likely more common than other areas of the county. Hunting is an important sport I suspect in the Ag Reserve. The Governor is planning a pretty aggressive legislative program regarding gun ownership including tighter restrictions on who can own guns. The Vice President just finished submitting to the President a series of recommendations about gun ownership. Yet, it appears that very little research was done into the effectiveness of any of these proposals. And as I noted in New Zealand, a country with pretty liberal gun ownership laws, there have been relatively few incidents of shootings and certainly no mass shootings in recent years.

I’m not sure what to think. What do you think about the issue? Is it important to you? What should be done?

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A Life in Our Town

January 8, 2013

As is so often the case in our wonderful community, we both know many people well and know other people only through the organizations that make our community so strong. In the latter case, such as at our churches, we brush shoulders often with other people and their families. We work with them at church functions, we see them in church sitting with their families, we pass them in the aisles of our local stores or see them at community functions. We don’t always “know” many of these families but through our brief contacts, through other friends we do know well who know these families, and due to the many times we see them interact with their families at church or in schools, we know these families in a sense too.

That was the case for me with regard to the Poes. My family has gone to the Catholic Church in Barnesville for a very long time. We saw the Poes every Sunday we went to church, usually sitting in the same pews near the front of the church on the right side as you face he alter. We usually sat farther back so we often saw them sitting together, saw the parents interacting with their children, saw their three boys grow from small children to older boys, teens and in the case of Michael a man. We did not know the Poes well as we do other families but we certainly came to know of their devotion to family and to their religion. We knew they were devoted parents from the way they treated their sons and the their obvious commitment to teaching them their faith. Whether you believe in a God or not, good parents strive to pass on to their children good habits and values including consideration for others. It was clear to us that the Poes were committed to doing that with their children.

Good parents and good families don’t just teach children how to live responsibly. They sent examples for others. Without saying a word, the Poes did that every time I saw them together. They demonstrated love and commitment to each other and they showed they cared about the broader world around them. They, and many other families like them, are a blessing to our world and our community.

I did not know Michael Poe but I know a lot about the family he is a part of. That is why it is especially heart wrenching to know of his untimely passing. He was undoubtedly a very fine young man, raised as he was in a loving and committed family. I have three children and three grandchildren. I know how much they are intertwined with my heart and my world. Having to part with any of them would be devastating and I know Michael’s parents must be grief stricken. I know their religion and their commitment to each other helps but in the end nothing any of us can say or do will provide a great deal of solace. But I do want them to know that I am sure that Michael made a difference in his far too shortened life. The example his family set was surely reflected in his dealings with others and all of us have been touched.

Poolesville in 2010 Versus 2000

December 29, 2012

A comparison of the Town of Poolesville based on the 2010 Census numbers versus 2000 is interesting. Here is a link to a comparative table. What is most striking is the reduction in the size of the town’s population according to the latest comparison. The census was actually completed several years ago so it likely does not reflect people moving into the new developments but it is still an interesting statistic I don’t hear discussed much. The lack of diversity in the town is also notable although that has been a factor for a while. The town budget for 2013 does include these figures and projects growth in population for the out years moving over the population high of a few years back within the next several years. These numbers matter when it comes to economic growth of course.

Christmas Day

December 25, 2012

It is near the end of the year and on Christmas Day, most of us think about family and gathering together. But it has been a very difficult year in many ways, especially with the many mass shootings, the “fiscal cliff”, and the continuing economic troubles. Just yesterday, an ex-con apparently lured firefighters to a home he had set on fire and shot some of them. I never thought I would see something like that.

It is sobering to think of the many problems we had this past year, not to mention a political campaign that did not seem to really come to grips with the problems the country faces or come up with real solutions.

I constantly am reminded though, in them midst of all of this, that life remains wonderful in so many ways. If you have grandkids, for example, their innocence and the wonder they have about life is a constant reminder of how lucky we are in many ways. It is trite to say it but none of us is guaranteed another day of life. I was reminded of this not too long ago at a funeral of a friend’s wife. I remember greeting people as I typically do “Nice to see you.” And then I paused, remembering my friend’s wife, and that phrase took on new meaning. I now attach much more meaning to this simple greeting.

Today is a white Christmas, a beautiful day. We have not had one of those in a long time and the beauty it brings is another reminder of how much we all have to be thankful for. So sobering as the news can be, as this editorial from the Washington Post ably notes, I am happy to be here once again typing out this note, looking out the window at the snow covered trees. I hope all of you have a wonderful day.

The Board of Appeals and the House of Poolesville

December 17, 2012

By Ralph Hitchens

A disclaimer: I’m a member of the Board of Appeals, which adjudicates requests for zoning variances within the town. But I was asked and readily agreed to recuse myself for the case involving the House of Poolesville (known around town as “AHOP”), as my home in Tama shares a property line with AHOP. I attended both hearings on this case, and gave some testimony on one of AHOP’s two variance requests — for a rear property line easement reduction, which was ultimately dropped because the Town attorney discovered through closer examination of the Town Code that AHOP’s parking spaces at the rear of their property were actually clear of the permitted easement. That left the other variance sought by AHOP — to reduce the required number of parking spaces from 78 to 31, the latter being the number actually available at present. But this was really not so much the issue as a springboard for testimony concerning AHOP itself, which began as an Asian restaurant — replacing the old and beloved Meadowlark — but which recently reinvented itself as a bar, with Asian food as a distinct sideline. And it quickly became a bar with a somewhat dubious reputation. It was loud, with live music blaring at a volume high enough to disturb Tama residents, some of whom came to the hearing to testify against AHOP. And there’s no denying that for a while, in 2011 at least, the county police had justifiable suspicion that AHOP was serving alcohol to underage youth, and in conversation with police officers one heard rumors about drug deals happening on the premises. I know that undercover police officers occasionally frequented AHOP on weekend evenings.

Still, in fairness, there is perception and reality and often the former weighs heavier than the latter. AHOP seems to be making a concerted effort to improve its image through more involvement in the community — the owners recently moved into Poolesville — and support for our favorite local activities and charitable causes. The second Board of Appeals hearing last Thursday evening saw a near-packed house overwhelmingly filled with AHOP supporters. Only one critic of the House of Poolesville testified that evening, more or less a repeat performance of his testimony at the first hearing two weeks ago. Yes, there is sometimes a lot of noise coming from AHOP that we in Tama and other neighborhoods may hear, but it’s also true — as AHOP’s representative, local land use planner Josh Maisel pointed out — noise from other locations drifts surprising distances around town. We in Tama often hear noise from the PHS football stadium, almost a mile further away from our home than AHOP, so it’s a less-compelling argument to blame offensive noise on them. The House of Poolesville has also made a concerted effort to improve its premises with fences, lights in the parking lot, and a relocated outside smoking area away from the Tama-side of their property.

There’s no denying that they have built up a supportive clientele. We used to complain, back in the day, that there was no place to go in Poolesville — that they rolled up the sidewalks after dark. OK, it’s still true for teenagers, we might argue, but there are now three active bars in town, all apparently thriving. AHOP is one of them, and the owners are making a sincere effort to build a good reputation, so I was ready to see the Board of Appeals let them off lightly with their parking variance request. After considerable discussion the Board voted 2-1 to grant a variance at 38 parking spaces instead of the 31 they now have. Josh Masiel submitted on AHOP’s behalf a document he described as a “gentleman’s agreement” between the restaurant and its neighbor, Dr. Timothy Pike DDS, for use of his 7 parking spaces when his office is closed. This agreement was rejected by the Town attorney on technical grounds, but it merely needs to be re-executed in proper format to be accepted, putting the AHOP parking issue to rest.

This, I hope, will be the end of the story. No one wants to close down a local business if it is making a good faith effort to erase an unsavory reputation and become a respectable contributor to the economic and social welfare of Poolesville. As a Tama resident I can live with some occasional noise, and I certainly welcome the opportunity to eat sushi and Peking duck that are not readily available elsewhere in town.

First Friday Holiday Lighting Event — What a town we live in!

December 11, 2012

by Ralph Hitchens

I’m telling you, everyone was there! We had to park way down by Selby’s, as all the other lots in close proximity to Whalen Commons were packed. This town, for sure, can bring out a crowd to celebrate not only a magical holiday season, but also the magic of living in a community that is the unquestioned jewel of western Montgomery County.

After milling around the bandstand, listening to and singing along with Christmas favorites, bumping into innumerable friends, and checking out the ice sculptor at work, we walked down Fisher Avenue and dropped into the three splendid antique stores, all doing a lively business, a couple of them serving some classy snacks. More friends and neighbors, more catching up from days, weeks, or months ago (usually no further back than Poolesville Day, however). Oh, yes, the tree got lit, Santa listened patiently to the desires of an infinite number of children, WUMCO collected gifts for the needy, hot cider and fried dough was consumed, while the sounds of the season, both cheerful and spiritually moving, kept us all in the right frame of mind.

I know other towns do this, but I like to think we do it as well or better than most. Our community has a grip on us, it’s undeniable — one could see it and feel it last Friday night. Let the magic last into the New Year!

Here are some pictures below.

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New Study of Traffic Patterns Suggests Renewed Efforts for a Bridge Across the Potomac

December 4, 2012

Recent comments about a new study by the State of Virginia about traffic growth in the next few decades are worrisome. Govenor McDonnell has been pushing for a long time for new bridges across the Potomac. While Virginia says it is not “prejudging anything”, they clearly want another bridge and many studies in the past have shown it would like be built somewhere in the vicinity of Whites Ferry. I don’t think the idea of loads of new traffic coming by Poolesville is a great one. We should all stay tuned on this issue. It is important.

Drama! The Midnight Players bring it with “The People vs. Maxine Lowe,” and an Emeritus Midnight Player brings it over at MC in “The Skin of Our Teeth”

November 25, 2012

by Ralph Hitchens

As the self-appointed theater critic of this blog I sometimes question the production choices of the Midnight Players’ legendary director, Gail Howard. I blogged my doubts about “The Madwoman of Chaillot” last year, and sometimes even the classics fail to resonate. “South Pacific” was notable for the astonishing performance of a young male vocalist in one of the lead roles, but it sure looked to me like Gail’s tech director “mailed it in,” and of course — like most high school drama troupes — the imbalance between girls and boys (in favor of the former) makes it hard to pull off a wartime musical like that, where some of those singing “There is nothing like a Dame” are dames themselves. These overreaches are balanced by some undeniable hits, like the bizarre but compelling “Worm Girl,” the energetic “Footloose” (made for high school actors), “Suessical the Musical,” and probably their biggest hit of recent years, “Beauty and the Beast” — an all-around triumph of acting, singing, choreography, costuming, and stage design.

So where does “The People vs. Maxine Lowe” fit on this continuum? It hit where it aimed, as a fast-moving courtroom drama set in a bygone era (the late 1940s) that took pardonable liberties with trial procedures in the great state of Illinois — liberties more noticeable to a TV-educated audience raised on “Law and Order.” However, it was well-acted with some fine excursions by a couple of talented actresses into both subtle brilliance and wonderfully refreshing scenery-chewing. Sophomore Susanna Fincher, in her first outing as a Midnight Player, was convincingly understated as an ostensible Swedish maid who was later revealed to be anything but, and senior Linsey D’Anna did her formidable best to steal the show as a showgirl, which she delightfully overacted (with a marvelous working-class accent) in a role the likes of which every actor hopes to get someday. Refreshingly, there was a lot of young talent in this show — freshmen and sophomores — which bodes well for the Midnight Players’ future performances.

Sliding over to Montgomery College on Sunday, I watched a distinguished PHS Midnight Players alumnus, Claire Jones, do a stunning job in the lead role in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Let me disclaim by saying up front that I’m a lifelong fan of Wilder; his novels The Ides of March and The Eighth Day are neglected masterpieces of American literature, and your drama critic himself, in his youth, trod the boards in “Our Town” in the supporting role of the Stage Manager. Somehow, “The Skin of Our Teeth” was a bullet I’d dodged for these many decades, and quite a revelation it was. Wilder’s fatalistic streak was certainly in evidence, but I hardly expected that farce would surface in his oeuvre. But surface it did, with a vengeance — Thornton Wilder’s crazed reaction to the globe-shaking events of early 1942, when the quiet America of “Our Town” scattered into a million fragments. For young Claire Jones, a polymath majoring in theater and dance and, who knows, probably nuclear physics as well, the role of Sabina — housemaid, beauty queen, warrior queen, then back to housemaid — was demanding. The amount of dialog she had to master was staggering, but her presence on stage was seemingly effortless and utterly convincing. A great future, she has. I believe we will see her in a few weeks, dancing in the Hope Garden Ballet’s holiday production of “A Christmas Carol.” Hope Garden, like the Midnight Players, is another local treasure that all loyal Poolesvillians should avidly support.

Welcome Mr. President

November 23, 2012

Not THAT President, the President of the Poolesville Commission. Jim Brown, my old friend and colleague, has become the new President of the Commission. The commission style of government is a very different animal from a traditional mayor and council. Once an election has occurred, all of the Commissioners vote on who will become the new President or leader of the Commission. This is not a ceremonial job. It is very important and Jim will have his hands full.

What does the President do? The job is not defined in detail but at a minimum the President sets the agenda for each meeting, prepares the annual draft budget for consideration by the other Commissioners, and acts as the general overseer on an ongoing basis of town operations. A very important job that the President fulfills is to represent the Town in dealings with officials in other levels of government. It is not well recognized but this is a very important duty. The Town is often affected by budget and policy decisions made in Annapolis or Rockville and ensuring that the needs of our community are heard is a very important role of the President.

The President normally is also responsible for ongoing oversight of the Town staff. That does not mean he manages Town operations, assigns and disciplines staff, or plans daily operations. That role falls to the Town Manager. But he or she does have responsibility for keeping in close touch with the Town Manager to ensure that those elected to ensure the Town works well – the Commissioners – are kept informed of and can help make decisions where necessary on Town programs.

Because no one is elected by the citizens to be the leader of the “executive branch” of a commission government, the President is still the equal of the other Commissioners in most respects. The other Commissioners can and do contact government officials at other levels of government for example and do represent the Town on many occasions at outside meetings.

But the President is elected by his fellow Commissioners to run the “executive branch” of the Town and in that sense he or she is vested with more responsibility than the other members of the Commission. It is an important position and the person in it can help provide a strong sense of direction for the Town.

Jim is a good man and in my view a great choice to be the President. He is caring, committed and most of all in my view humble. He reaches out to others frequently and is well connected to many organizations in Town. I wish Jim well and compliment the Commissioners on their choice. It is no easy task being President but I know Jim is up to the task.

The Armchair Quarterback gives thanks for a winning season…. for the Falcons and Barack Obama

November 12, 2012

By Ralph Hitchens

Our boys closed out the regular season with another win a week ago Friday, pounding hapless Rockville 28-7. The young man of the hour once again was Nikolay Henze, who gained an incredible 217 yards on 31 carries, scoring three touchdowns. That’s 15 touchdowns for the season, 1,240 rushing yards averaging an even five yards per carry – statistically he’s the fifth best running back in Montgomery County. The Falcons’ other consistent performer was quarterback Kirby Carmack, who hit 9 out of 15 passes for 89 yards against Rockville, with one TD pass and one pick. On the season he completed 74 of 125 passes – a very respectable 59% – for 839 yards with 12 TDs and 7 interceptions. On the ground he gained another 258 yards on 76 rushes, scoring three touchdowns, proving his total offense credentials with 1,097 yards.

Meanwhile, one B. H. Obama also came through last week with a significant victory of his own. Obama’s numbers may not be as striking as Henze’s, but the man deserves credit for quiet perseverance in the face of heavy criticism and vociferous ridicule from those riding the bench on the other side of the field. According to the Washington Post, “victory begins with a strong ground game and ends with a perfect storm.” Wouldn’t it have been great to see all that in the Maryland 2A playoffs, where the Falcons’ first winning season in oh, so many years, brought us?

Alas, it was not to be. In the first (semifinal) round of the 2A playoffs we faced off against the formidable Walkersville Lions, sporting a 9-1 record and unbeaten until their final regular-season game. How tough are these guys? Until they stumbled against Middletown in their last game, seven of their nine victories were blowouts, racking up more than 40 or 50 points. Their scoring differential is a staggering 398-146, while the Falcons didn’t quite break even at 216-227 for the year. The Lions had a triple-threat quarterback in Brady Policelli, who runs often, throws with good success (3,389 total passing yards in his three years as a starter), and kicked a whole lot of PATs this year. They also had Frederick County’s leading rusher, Avery Ezell, who racked up an amazing 1,817 yards this season. Walkersville had dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage, fielding a very tough offensive line and a parsimonious defense. The Gazette sportswriters were once again unanimous in predicting a Falcon defeat, and sadly, this time they did not err. After giving up an early TD and then coming back to tie the game with a Kirby Carmack TD pass, still in the first quarter, the Falcons went down in a 49-7 blowout. The aforementioned Avery Ezell was untouchable, gaining 293 yards on 27 carries and scoring five touchdowns. Our own workhorse, Nikolay Henze, eked out 57 hard yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Kirby Carmack hit 6 of 11 passes but only picked up 27 yards against a defensive secondary that swarmed all too well. This was a classic case of a good team running into a better one, a team that is on the same sort of historic winning streak (20-3 over the last two seasons) that Poolesville once enjoyed, back in the Larry Hurd days. Walkersville goes on to the 2A finals against its bitter rival Middletown, the only team to beat them (3 times!) in the past two years, including a 31-6 thrashing in the final regular season game as well as a decisive win in last season’s 2A championship. The Lions may have beat up on us pretty hard last Friday, but they have their own monkey on their back.

The Armchair Quarterback is resigned and philosophical these days, and now gives himself over to the BCS madness of the next two months. The 2012 Poolesville Falcons proved to be a better team than many expected, and justified our hopes and prayers this season. A 7-4 record deserves respect. From Coach Will Gant down to the lowliest third-stringer with a clean jersey, everyone on the team can be proud of what they’ve accomplished.