February 6, 2010

Montgomery County snowfall from 18" in Olney to 32" in Clarksburg

... Montgomery County...
   2 NE Clarksburg 32.0 1200 PM 2/06
   1 SSW Montgomery vil 30.0 250 PM 2/06
   Montgomery Village 30.0 311 PM 2/06 snowfall
   2 ESE Germantown 29.5 508 PM 2/06
   Poolesville 28.0 457 PM 2/06 sn depth
   2 WSW Damascus 28.0 1230 PM 2/06 co-op
   2 N Bethesda 27.0 311 PM 2/06 snow depth
   Germantown 26.1 1230 PM 2/06
   1 N Four Corners 25.0 300 PM 2/06
   1 SSW Rockville 23.5 1200 PM 2/06
   2 WNW Olney 18.0 500 PM 2/06 

SOURCE: http://www.wunderground.com/US/DC/001.html#PUB

M & T Bank robbed in Bethesda

BETHESDA, Md. - Montgomery County detectives are investigating a bank robbery that happened Friday afternoon in Bethesda. At approximately 2:07 p.m., an armed robbery was reported at the M&T Bank, located at 7700 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. Police say the suspect entered the bank, showed a handgun, demanded money, and got an undisclosed amount of money. He fled on foot through the shopping plaza to the rear of the bank. No one was injured during the robbery.

The suspect is described as a black male, 27 to 30 years old, approximately 5'7" to 5'9" tall, and having a medium build. He had a mustache and facial hair. He also wore a black baseball cap with a white logo, a dark-colored coat, black jeans, and black gloves. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call 240-773-5100 or Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-8477. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment.

 SOURCE: http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0210/703495.html

Pepco power outage map

For those of you wondering where the power outages are, here is Pepco's emergency web link: Pepco emergency.

Of course, if your power is out, then you probably don't have internet access, but at least this is a start. Currently, in the region there are 866 outages, with 89,562 customers affected.

Potomac students hack computer; Benz still ponders decision

A Montgomery County high school has begun disciplinary action against seven students who were allegedly involved in a computer-hacking scheme in which grades were changed, according to a letter sent home Friday by the school's principal.

Teachers at Churchill High School noticed last week that some students' grades had been changed in the school's online record system.

"We believe there is sufficient cause to move forward with disciplinary action," wrote Principal Joan C. Benz. She said further action against others may be taken as the investigation proceeds.

Benz said that the school in Potomac would hold a community meeting "in the coming weeks" to discuss the incident. She said that the Montgomery County state's attorney would decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the students.

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Public Schools, said that specifics about the charges and the punishment could not be released because of privacy laws. But the school system's rules say that computer abuse is punished with a minimum of loss of computer privileges and a maximum of expulsion and a police referral. Punishments for academic dishonesty range from a conference to expulsion.

SOURCE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/05/AR2010020502356.html

February 5, 2010

Bethesda not zoned for sex parties?!?

Oh, it's good to get a laugh from the news. I just read Paul Duggan's story about sex parties in a Bethesda neighborhood that are causing a stir. These are apparently pretty edgy sex parties, (and, really, aren't they all?) being hosted by one resident at his home. And who stepped in to put a halt to them? A guy from the zoning department!
Police said they couldn't do anything about the parties, but zoning Inspector Frank De Lange handed the host, Paul Pickthorne, a written warning that he could be fined for operating a commercial establishment, because Pickthorne accepted donations from his guests. The county can't really dictate what types of party games one plays in one's own home, but accepting cash at the door is a no-no in a residential neighborhood.
It's like busting Al Capone for not paying his taxes.
Now, a house party can tax the patience of any neighborhood, especially when dozens of people show up, like at these Bethesda soirees. Guests monopolize parking. They can be noisy. It's a disruption. But these very special parties must cause a whole 'nother level of neighborhood distraction. If Pickthorne were my neighbor you can bet I'd be glued to the window, wondering if I recognize any of his guests. (No doubt neighborhood kids are full of questions.) What would I say to old Paul if we hauled our recycling bins to the curb at the same time? "So, who do you like in the Super Bowl, Paul?"
I laugh as the mind wanders, but I'm grateful this is not happening in my neighborhood. At least, if it is, it hasn't been disruptive enough to catch my attention. Maybe that's the message for Mr. Entertainment in Bethesda: If your party is big enough to disturb the neighbors, you need to invite them. Otherwise, maybe you oughta stick to the old-fashioned definition of an intimate party.

SOURCE: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/local-address/2010/02/sex_parties_bethesda_is_not_zo.html

Gaithersburg dad, 18, sentenced for killing son

Portrayed as both an unremorseful child-killer and as a too-young-father consumed by guilt and caught up "in a calamity of issues," the 18-year-old Gaithersburg man blamed for his son's death last year will spend the next 20 years in prison, possibly at the state's psychiatric facility.
Darryl Eugene Powell, of the 9400 block of Merust Lane, pleaded guilty three months ago to one count of child abuse resulting in death for his role in the January 2009 death of his son, Zjaire Williams, 2. He was originally charged with first-degree murder.
Maternal and paternal family members attended Powell's sentencing Jan. 27 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Zjaire's mother's family were upset that Powell has yet to express any remorse, and bristled at his public defender's suggestion that Powell was trying to be a better father after contesting his paternity in 2008.
"Darryl Powell was not a father to that child — maybe just in name, your honor, maybe just in name," said Cynthia Brown, Zjaire's great-great-aunt. "But even that, what kind of father is that? Most animals protect their young — you get rats who protect their young. What manner of ungodly human being would beat an innocent 2-year-old baby to death and then not have the decency not to say ‘I'm sorry'?"
PHOTO CREDIT: Family photo
Zjaire Williams, 2, died after being beaten by his father, Darryl Eugene Powell, 18, in January 2009. Powell was sentenced to 30 years — with 10 years suspended. A judge recommended that he enter the state's psychiatric prison in Patuxent.
SOURCE: http://www.gazette.net/stories/02032010/gaitnew220628_32548.php

Paris Essoumba of Blair High School remembered after suicide

Blair senior Paris Essoumba committed suicide Monday evening at his home in Silver Spring. He was 17 years old. Crisis management teams will be available this week to help students and staff cope with the news of his death, according to Acting Principal Myriam Rogers.

Senior Paris Essoumba, a passionate musician and football player, died Monday evening. Alex Joseph
Senior Paris Essoumba, a passionate musician and football player, died Monday evening.
Second period teachers read a message to classes on Tuesday morning informing students of Essoumba's death. Rogers did not have any specific information as to why Essoumba took his own life. "People describe him as a very happy person," she said. "It kind of came out of nowhere." News of Essoumba's death was first made public on Facebook on Monday.

Counselors followed Essoumba's schedule to be present for students in those classes, according to Rogers. Psychologists, Blair counselors, counselors from local schools and pupil personnel workers from Montgomery County Public Schools were also available on Tuesday to provide grief support.

Essoumba was a member of the varsity football team and the hip-hop group Those Guys. An avid rapper, he regularly performed at SGR Spectacular and Silver Quill open mic events. "His mom described that he would spend hours at his friend's recording studio," Rogers said.

Essoumba's friends described him as a lover of poetry and music whose sense of humor made him stand out in a crowd. "He always made me laugh," senior Imani Pierre said. "We'd exchange big cute smiles back and forth in the hallways."

SOURCE: http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/9847

WASHINGTON POST: Montgomery County teachers union has toxic influence

MOST CANDIDATES for local office in Montgomery County covet the endorsement of the county teachers union more than any other, and all of them know the drill: Appear at union events, fill out the union questionnaire, submit tothe union interview. The union, representing 11,000 teachers, helpfully provides a road map to candidates seeking its blessing, including 11 criteria spelled out in painstaking detail online. Just one thing is missing from this handy guide: Candidates who receive the union's stamp of approval are also then expected to pay.

As far as we know, this arrangement is unique; in elections elsewhere, unions and other special interests contribute to candidates, not vice versa. But such is the overweening power of the teachers union in Montgomery that the usual rules are turned upside down. And it's no coincidence that the union's toxic influence in local elections is matched by its success in squeezing unaffordable concessions from the county in contract negotiations -- at taxpayers' expense.

In the latest elections for the Montgomery County Council, in 2006, most candidates on the union-approved (and trademarked) "Apple Ballot" coughed up the maximum contribution allowed by state law, $6,000, to a PAC run by the Montgomery County Education Association, as the teachers union is known. Union-backed candidates for the Board of Education also paid handsomely. Supposedly, these funds covered the cost of the union's mailings to constituents and other activities on behalf of its anointed candidates -- although there is no real accounting on a campaign-by-campaign basis. In theory, these contributions are voluntary. In fact, several sources told us that the MCEA's chief political strategist, Jon Gerson, made it clear that he expected candidates, once endorsed, to pay what they "owed" for the union's campaign on their behalf. One candidate, asked to explain the decision to pay, answered concisely: "Fear."

This distorts and perverts the political process. A case in point is Nancy Floreen, the current County Council president, who suggested, during a budget crunch in 2003, that the union make some concessions on compensation. That probably cost her the MCEA endorsement in the 2006 primaries, in which she barely managed to retain her council seat. This year, facing reelection and even more dire budgetary circumstances, Ms. Floreen has been quiet as a mouse on the subject of union concessions, even though negotiations on a new contract for teachers are underway.

And no wonder. In addition to its multiple and targeted mailings in the last elections, the MCEA planted yard signs, bought advertising on the radio and at Metro stations and deployed teachers to every key county polling station, where they handed voters sample "Apple Ballots" of endorsed candidates bearing the words "Teacher Recommended." Of the 47 "Apple Ballot" candidates in 2006, 42 won their races for county and state legislative offices.

Some MCEA-backed candidates, and the union, portray this as a win-win arrangement whereby teachers and the candidates who support them help one another out. As Mr. Gerson put it to us: "Everybody would like to do this, and others have said they'd like to try, but what you have to have is a product that someone says they'd like to invest in."

Teachers are a bedrock of any community, and they deserve good salaries and benefits for doing a tough and important job. The problem in Montgomery is not its teachers. Rather, it is that the MCEA, the largest union in the county, is in effect hiring its own bosses -- members of the school board, who vote on the teachers' contract, and County Council members, who approve the overall county budget -- and is getting paid for it in the bargain. This twisted system has fueled skyrocketing payroll costs -- including a 23 percent pay raise for a typical teacher over the past three years, plus extraordinary health and retirement benefits -- even as private-sector wages have stagnated.

Most elected officials, too fearful of the union to object, rubber-stamp the teachers' contract and the county budget, thereby repaying the union for its backing. Other big public employees unions in the county, jealous at the terms extracted by the MCEA, use the teachers' contract as a benchmark for their own negotiations, creating a self-perpetuating spiral of unaffordable concessions by the county. Little wonder that the county is facing staggering deficits -- $600 million on a budget of $4.3 billion in the fiscal year starting this summer. And it's no surprise either that despite the county's severe budget problems, the MCEA is still demanding raises in the current contract negotiations. As the teachers union gears up to make endorsements in this fall's elections, county taxpayers should clutch their wallets tightly.

SOURCE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/04/AR2010020404421.html

District Court construction in Rockville on time, budget

The new District Courthouse in Rockville is more than halfway completed and is on time and on budget, state officials say. The $59.9 million project sits on the site of the former Rockville Library at the corner of Jefferson Street and Maryland Avenue in the heart of the city.

At 167,072 total square feet and six stories tall, it will contain nine courtrooms and four hearing rooms, court room holding areas, offices for judicial administration, court clerks, commissioners, advocate services, public defender offices, Parole and Probation and the Drunk Driver Monitoring Program, according to state officials. It is being built because the current courthouse is overcrowded and in need of renovations, state officials have said.

Area residents fought the project being built at the site, saying the location was inappropriate because the massive structure would tower over City Hall, located across the street, and a nearby church, school and houses.

"At the end of December [2009] it was 54 percent complete," said Burt Thomas, the acting assistant secretary in the Maryland Department of General Services. "Everything is falling into place."

Eleven weather days could be used and the project would still be considered on schedule, Thomas said. The expected completion date is Dec. 3, or Dec. 14 if the weather days are used, he said.

SOURCE: http://www.gazette.net/stories/02032010/damanew231225_32559.php

With snow approaching, Washington area officials wonder how to pay for plowing

As the second major snowstorm of the winter bears down on Washington this weekend, the budgets that keep the plows rolling are as exhausted as the crews who drive them. Even before a surprise storm swept in last weekend, Maryland, Virginia and the District had spent millions more than their annual budgets allowed. That blast, and an overnight snowfall that ended Wednesday, sank budgets deeper into the red with weeks of winter weather still ahead.

Although it has snowed as late as April in the Washington region, the season generally ends in March. If that's the case this year, Maryland and Virginia will have three months remaining in their fiscal year to find money to close the budget gap caused by snow. The District follows the federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

"What non-safety-critical things can we cut back on -- line striping, litter pickup, nonessential signs, mowing?" asked David Buck of Maryland'sState Highway Administration. "We're going to be approaching $50 million pretty soon, though it's still a moving target. It's already been spectacular, and we've got a lot of winter left."

The need to find millions more to pay for snow removal comes at a time when the legislatures in Richmond and Annapolis are grappling with dire revenue shortfalls for the budget year that begins July 1. The additional tens of millions for snow plowing in the current fiscal year will probably necessitate cuts in other areas.

"In the past, we've gotten budget amendments to pay these bills," Buck said. "This time around, the long and short of it is that the money's just not there. We knew that going into this winter."
Budgeting for snow removal requires a crystal ball and, in lean financial years, the guts to bet against the wrath of Mother Nature.

The average annual cost of snow removal in Maryland has been just short of $45 million. This year's budget was pegged at $26 million. Before last weekend's storm and Wednesday's sub-six inches (depths varied), the tally was already more than $36 million.

"It's safe to say that it will be several million more for last weekend," Buck said.
The storm predicted to begin Friday and continue until late Saturday will be the third weekend snowfall of the season.

Overtime is a bigger issue in Maryland, where about 35 percent of the Highway Administration crews are state workers who receive overtime, than in Northern Virginia, where 90 percent of the work is handled by contractors.

SOURCE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/04/AR2010020403074.html?hpid=topnews

February 4, 2010

Major Nor'easter to Slam Mid-Atlantic and DC

Let's get right to it.

What? A major nor'easter will strike the Mid-Atlantic states producing major snow accumulations and strong winds.

When? Storm begins around midday Friday and lasts through the majority of Saturday.

Where? High-populated areas of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania will likely all experience big snow totals.  Washington, DC and Baltimore could experience foot plus snow totals.

How much snow?  I'll let the map do the talking.  This map takes us out to 48 hours.  This map will update automatically with new forecast totals as the event approaches in time and as forecasts are tweaked.

SOURCE: http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/major-noreaster-mid-atlantic-february_2010-02-04