“I know when that hotline bling, That can only mean one thing, I know when that hotline bling, That can only mean one thing”- Hotline Bling, Drake

This song doesn’t work with this post.  But, as I write this, it is the number 2 song on the Billboard Top 100 list (Hello, by Adele, is number one and I’ve already used that tune) and so Drake it is!  Plus, who doesn’t like this song?  And we’ve all laughed out loud at the video and subsequent memes.  (My favorite is the tennis one. So, so comical. And you know, the Serena thing. And I played tennis.  So yeah…)

Anyways.  Here we go!  My (with a little help from my friends) Most Fascinating People of Howard County-2015!

Oh..and as I said last year, this is not an endorsement announcement.  And this is in (kind of) alphabetical order. So keep it chill, Howard County.

Baltimore-  Of course I know that Baltimore is not in Howard County but I had to add the city to this list.  Most of you know that I started working in the city in April.  A few weeks before April 27th.  The unrest.  So I added Baltimore because it’s just so damn complicated…which makes it fascinating to me.  Such a beautiful place (with beautiful people!) scarred by a history of complex social issues.  As TS said, “bandaids won’t fix bullet holes” so let’s all pray for the next leader of B-more.  Oh..and thank God for all of the do-gooders who are working on those complex social issues..And special shoutout to the good police officers who work hard at making Baltimore safe.  I see you (wink).

Kathy Barnett- I have been friends with Kathy for a minute.  I have greatly appreciated her unselfish support of me through the years and I probably should tell her that more often.  (Sidebar- It’s amazing what women can do when they know other strong women support them!)  But she’s not on this list for just that.  She is here because, as one blog reader put it, she “…is out there improving STEM education opportunities for kids in interesting ways.”  If you haven’t seen her work with the Young Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County or with Girls Who Code, you’re missing out.  Get with it.  And go check her out.  #beyouhowardcounty

Towanda Brown- You may or may not know who Towanda is.  Well, if you don’t, let me tell you (If you do, you can still read this.).  Towanda is a member of The Council of Elders in Howard County and she runs the African American Community Roundtable Parent Academy.  But she made this list because of her relentless pursuit of information (suspension data, arrest statistics, GT/AP info, etc.) that she believes will help improve life for African American students in Howard County.  Towanda works hard on equity issues and is a tremendous advocate for children.

Kirsten Coombs, Mavis Ellis, Pravin Ponnuri, Robert Miller- Talk about stepping up to the plate! These four individuals are running for the board of education…and I’m not positive but I would guess that they made this huge decision to run for elected office after witnessing the current, very public education challenges in Howard County (correct me if I’m wrong).   It’s not easy to run for elected office (especially county wide elected office) but these brave souls decided to take the challenge.  I’ve either read about or talked with each of them re: their priorities for our school system and I think they are right on point.  Now can they beat any of the incumbents?  Only time will tell. #payattentionhoco #thisisasimportantasthepresidentialelection #yesseriously

Vicky Comer Cutroneo– I know a thing or two about community organizing.  Yes, sure, usually communities rally around some injustice or issue or concern.  And this was the case with the parents in the western part of Howard County who were concerned about mold in their schools.  I have never, however, seen a community organizer put together an effort quite like this.  It’s totally organized, has a great following, has engaged and educated the broader community, has encouraged folks to testify at public meetings (THIS IS HUGE), and has attracted the media.  And the leader of this effort, Vicky, deserves much kudos.  Now, will the folks who need to listen to the message, pay attention? #weshallsee

Scott Ewart- It’s not easy to leave the comfort of a full time job to venture out and start your own business but Scott did.  And his business is a cool one.  Yes, he’s a technology consultant but he also started a super cool social media scorecard for elected officials.  It’s kind of like a “one stop shop” with ratings for the social media pages of elected officials.  So..let’s say you want to know more about a board of education candidate?  You can go to ScottE Software’s blog and find the social media pages for all of the candidates who have one.  Super helpful.  (And see what I did there? #strategic. Lol.)

Stephanie Geddie– This fantastic Laurel Woods Elementary School teacher was a finalist for Maryland’s teacher of the year award.  She is well known as someone who builds relationships with her students, their families and the broader community.  And we all know that those are key ingredients for success in education.  I had the opportunity to listen to her speak at the AACR Education Forum back in September and she is the real deal.  But WHERE is her sign on Route 108??

Judy George- My relationship with Judy started some years ago (maybe 2008?) because she was by far my most difficult (in a good way) constituent  when I worked for HoCo Government.  Anyways, Judy became “my eyes” in the southern part of the county and we became friends.  Judy has great awareness of county challenges and opportunities and is not afraid to tell you her thoughts.  And if you need her to show up, she does.  Thanks, Judy, for helping me cultivate my constituent service skills.  Hope you’re working closely with the current administration.

Lyme Disease– Period.

Mickey Gomez- Mickey’s storytelling is elegant and beautiful.  I mean, we all feel like we knew Gram.  And we definitely know Shiloh and Sophie.  She also has a kindness about her that you just can’t put into words.  And she’s hilarious.  Just don’t let her near you in the kitchen.  Or a hotel room.  Well, or anywhere there are sharp knives. Or brushes. #theresastorythere

Elizabeth Kromm- Babies. So many babies.  That sums up 2014/15 for my friend, Elizabeth.  So her story goes like this:  After many tough years of trying to have a baby, Elizabeth, and hubby Jon, happily announced that their wonderful surrogate was pregnant and due in November, 2014.  Shortly after that announcement, she found out she was pregnant! Yay and wow!  But here’s the kicker:  Baby one (Linny) was born on Nov 1st and baby two (super baby Millie) was born eleven days later at 27 weeks.  ELEVEN DAYS LATER.  On the real, thus far, I have never been more happy about anyone else’s pregnancy.  Talk about a blessing!

PS- Both babies are doing exceptionally well!

Vivian Lawyer and Tracey Williams-  Service.  These two ladies are the definition of the word…service.  They are currently the presidents of the two largest black sororities in the county, Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha, but their commitment to service in our community goes much further than those positions.  On any given weekend, you can find them leading efforts to collect clothing or gifts for those who are less fortunate or helping folks with minor criminal offenses correct their records.  And that’s just two examples.  They are often bouncing around to support several service projects or programs.  They show up and get it done.  And they deserve recognition on lists that are far more reputable than this one.

Leonardo McClarty-  I’ll admit it.  I was really happy when I saw that the Chamber chose this gentleman as it’s leader this past year.  Not to be too critical but the Chamber’s record on diversity is a bit challenging. And we all know the importance of having different voices at the table (Well, some of us know…).  Well, Leonardo is fantastic.  He’s an engaging, committed, community minded, smart, talented family man with business acumen. And he’s a cheerleader for business in Howard County (check his Twitter page out if you don’t believe me…).  Oh..and, by the way, he’s working on that diversity challenge at the Chamber.  Looking forward to 2016!

Christine McComas-  Christine’s current story has a sad beginning.   In 2012, she lost her beautiful daughter, Grace, after “…an uninvestigated drug-assisted sexual assault by an older student, was followed by months of sexual harassment, bullying and cyber bullying…”.  Since then, she has fought to keep her daughter’s story in the hearts and minds of our community and has worked hard to have Grace’s Law passed in Maryland (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/ellicott-city/ph-ho-graces-law-passes-20130410-story.html) in 2013.

The reason Christine makes this list this year is for her passionate plea to access her daughter’s school records.  A plea that has gone unanswered thus far.

As a parent, I admire Christine’s fight.  As a community member, I support her request for her daughter’s school records.  Let’s hope that the people who can make this right choose to do so.  God bless you, Christine.

Todd Olsen and Mary Kay Sigaty-  A couple of months ago, Todd (as executive director) and Mary Kay (as a board member) came to an AACR board meeting to discuss the Columbia Festival of the Arts and it’s “rebirth” (as one of my blog readers called it…).  The presentation was great and we learned that the rebirth embodies a lot of cool things including a year round festival and a key focus on diversity.  Diversity like…soliciting input from minority arts lovers in our community.  Like partnering with African American organizations to offer diverse shows and plays.  Like listening to people who may not look like them.  YAS. #staytunedfolks

Wendy Royalty- I’m a Wendy fan.  Straight up.  Last year she bravely ran for Howard County Council (There’s a good story there too…) and then, in support of her family, packed up her bags and moved across the country to Seattle.  Brave.

The things I love most about Wendy?  Her ability to make anyone feel welcome, the way she sticks up for things/people/issues she believes in, and the fact that she turned me into a (sort of, kind of, maybe but not really) dog lover (RIP- cute Bailey).  #muah

Jurgis Ruckus and Ms. Frizz– I mean, who are you?  You anonymously tweet and blog with great awareness of our wonderful county.  And you’re both clever and funny.  So give it up in the ’16!  Let us know.  Or just let me know.  I won’t tell a soul. #shhh

Lisa Schlossnagle-  I don’t know Lisa very well.  I don’t even think I’ve ever met her.  But I read her blog and we are FB friends so I kinda know her, right?

And I don’t know the full story behind her packing up her family and leaving her comfort zone in Maple Lawn to travel the world but I love it!

I am not a big traveller.  Mostly because every extra penny (I laughed when I type the word extra…) I have goes to something extra related to MJR.  And that’s not a whole lot of pennies.  But I find myself “living” through Lisa’s posts as she crisscrosses Europe and Asia.  So, thank you, Lisa B, Mrs. S.

Buffy Beaudoin Schwartz-  I first met Buffy when I worked for the Columbia Foundation (now the Community Foundation of Howard County) in 2006 and I learned quickly that Buffy gets community.  Whether it be through philanthropic efforts that support women and girls or consistent support of the institutions that drive progress (for everyone) in Howard County, Buffy just gets it.  For her continued support of our community and her kind, inclusive spirit, I nominated her for the Women’s Hall of Fame.  Come on Howard County Commission for Women, let’s get her in there! Please.

Frank Turner, Sr.– One of my favorite elected officials because he quietly handles his business while others shine in the limelight.  He has (almost) single handily advocated to get the Tubman School turned over to the community and this year, it happened. He (and Ken Ulman) told folks four years ago that we should examine the process by which people are elected to the board of education.  And now… well, you know.  He organized a bipartisan town hall meeting on education issues after hearing the many concerns of constituents in our community.  And he supports those who are less fortunate, all while co-chairing one of the most powerful committees in Annapolis.  But bet you don’t know all of that.  If you did, you’ve been paying attention because Frank probably would not tell you this.  You go, Frank.

Reverend Dr. Robert Turner-  First off, Rev. Turner is the best hugger in town.  You can be having a horrible day but then you get one of those hugs (and a blessing) and your day turns right around.  No, seriously.

Not only is Rev. Turner the dynamic pastor at St. John Baptist, but he is also a community activist extraordinaire.  He’s a member of PATH, the AACR, the AA Coalition, and probably some other groups that I’m forgetting.  He stands up for what is right and demands that others do the same.  We are lucky to have him in Howard County.

PS- With him, you also get his awesome wife, Kim, who I’m sure delivered some reader’s baby!  #powercouple

Victoria Gastro Pub/Manor Hill Brewing/Food Plenty–  So they already had me with Victoria’s.  Those damn fries, super cobb salad (sans the meat) and the good wine list.  Then the Marriner family started brewing beer on their farm in Ellicott City.  Now, I’m not a beer person but it’s local beer folks! And I’ve heard the stuff is good.  And now they are on track to open a restaurant in Clarksville in 2016!  A restaurant featuring farm and comfort food.  Uh..yum.  Can’t wait to eat there…and maybe I’ll get hooked on something besides those damn, addictive fries.

Jon Weinstein-  It’s no secret about who I supported in the D1 primary race in 2014.  But a couple of months ago, I sent Jon a note thanking him for his excellent work in the district that I live (and mostly play) in.  Someone wrote me and said, “Jon deserves a slot on your Most Fascinating list. Look at all the good work he’s doing on the Council!”  And I agree.  Whether it be co-signing Vanessa Atterbeary’s bill re: board of education elections, advocating for Elkridge folks who are downright pissed about noise from BWI-TM airport, or creating a fund to support after school activities, Jon has been on it.  And on it is what you want from your councilperson.

Special note:  

This is a little lazy but I think these two bills are important to mention again.  The following is from something I posted in November about two bills that have been filled to address some major community concerns related to education.

Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary’s bill would ensure geographic diversity on the Howard County Board of Education by electing five board of education members by district (the 5 council districts) and two at-large.  Currently only council districts 1,4,5 are represented on the school board and all seats are elected at large.  Shouldn’t all districts be represented?  Shouldn’t BoE members be accountable to the constituents in their general area while making decisions for the entire county?  Shouldn’t it be a bit easier to run a BoE campaign?  Yes.  Glad you agree (smile).

In a separate bill, Delegate Warren Miller is concerned about public access to information from the Howard County Public School System.  Warren and I generally are not lock step on things but this is good.  As someone who dealt with constituent concerns for seven years, timely access to information is important to the public.  Essentially, his bill places additional requirements on the school system to ensure that information is released timely and it requires the school system to consult with a court before choosing not to release interagency docs (this apparently is a huge issue).

Special shoutout to: my daughter, parents, brother and sister in law, nephew, nieces, Julie, Audra, Rebecca, Regina, Cynthia, Luzi, Sharon, Lindiwe, Kim, Lenaye, Cherisse, Angie, Larry, Rev. Turner, Calvin.  Hearts.  You keep a sister well.

So there you have it!  Let me know your thoughts.  Who did I miss?

“You used to call me on my cellphone…”

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