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Monday •  October 3, 2022

Safety from HCPSS Redistricting for Sale?  Revisiting the Record-Setting “Polygon 147” Campaign Contributions to The Calvin Ball Team

By Steven Keller

Election campaign contributions from a particular Ellicott City neighborhood (“Polygon 147”) to Calvin Ball have plummeted from a staggering $80,700 last election cycle to $0 in the current election cycle.  Why?


Last election cycle, approximately 60 individuals from 30 households in the Centennial Overlook neighborhood of “Polygon 147” (polygon being defined as a set of neighborhoods used during HCPSS redistricting for assigning school attendance area boundaries) contributed at least $1,500 per individual (and as high as $11,000 from a single household) to The Calvin Ball team, mostly on the same two dates (12/26/17 and 1/6/18), totaling over $80,000. 


The cumulative sum of contributions from this neighborhood over the timeframe of just a few weeks amounted to over 5 times as much as the contributions made by any other HCPSS polygon/neighborhood to the election campaign of either County Executive candidate and accounted for over 15% of the ~$531,000 that The Calvin Ball Team had received in total contributions from individual donors between January 2014 and December 2018.


Details on this concerning situation and the specific contributions made were originally reported in this October 2019 Facebook post and in this 2019 HCPSS redistricting-focused report.

What was the impetus that caused such a massive, one-time influx of coordinated campaign contributions from a single neighborhood to The Calvin Ball Team last election cycle?  Here is what is known:


Back in late Fall 2017 — one year prior to the election and immediately following the contentious 2017 HCPSS redistricting that Polygon 147 residents had vigorously opposed — representatives from this neighborhood requested meetings with both County Executive candidates (Allan Kittleman and Calvin Ball).


According to multiple parties involved in these meetings, representatives from this neighborhood privately asked each County Executive candidate whether they could ensure that their HCPSS polygon would not be redistricted in the future.


ThenCounty Executive Allan Kittleman allegedly told them that as County Executive he would not have purview over redistricting.  This was not the answer that these prospective donors wanted to hear.


When Calvin Ball and his team were asked this same question, however, the residents were allegedly “told what they wanted to hear”, with the residents walking away from their meeting with Ball’s team fully convinced that if they made sizable contributions to help Ball become elected as the next Howard County Executive, their HCPSS polygon would be safe from redistricting for the foreseeable future.


Within weeks of these meetings, households from this Polygon 147 neighborhood proceeded to contribute heavily to Ball’s campaign, predominantly on two dates in December 2017 and January 2018, using their own residential addresses, their business addresses and even addresses of nebulous out-of-state entitiesEach household contributed at least $1,500 (with many of the contributions conspicuously being *exactly* this amount), and the grand total ultimately exceeded $80,000 in less than two weeks.


Months later, these extremely generous, coordinated neighborhood contributors were stunned to discover from discussions with other government representatives the fact that indeed the Howard County Executive and the County Council *should not* have any purview over HCPSS redistricting and that then County Councilman Ball had apparently assured them of something that he technically shouldn’t be able to deliver (safety from future redistricting).


The words “distressed”, “deceived”“swindled” and “misled” have been used to describe the feelings of many of these Polygon 147 residents about this concerning situation when this discovery was made. 


While the Centennial Overlook neighborhood did quickly receive a partial safeguard against future redistricting courtesy of special walking paths through Centennial Park that the County established for them (giving them “walker” status to Centennial High School), it remains unclear if any special treatment ever was received either directly or indirectly from the Ball Administration as a result of their contributions to his election campaign.


During the controversial 2019 HCPSS redistricting, Polygon 147 was conspicuously left unaffected despite the fact that Centennial High School was at 117% capacity utilization.  Polygon 147 was one of the closest-distance (less than 4 miles) to Wilde Lake High School, which had capacity to spare.  Just two years earlier, during the 2017 HCPSS redistricting that they vocally and successfully opposed, Polygon 147 was slated to be redistricted from Centennial HS to Wilde Lake HS for this very reason.

Instead, the 2019 redistricting plan proposed to redistrict further-away polygons (Polygons 3176 and 1185 ) from River Hill High School to Wilde Lake High School, despite the fact that River Hill High School was only at 93% capacity utilization, Polygon 1185 was right across the street from its currently-assigned school, and each of these Polygons was 5-7 miles away from Wilde Lake HS.

The glaring problems with this proposed plan coupled with the now-public knowledge that Polygon 147 had contributed so heavily to County Executive Ball’s election campaign led community members and even a Board member to question this situation:

While Polygon 147’s newly-acquired “walker” status could have been the singular reason that it remained untouched during the 2019 HCPSS redistricting that disrupted so many other neighborhoods, the fact remains that the final 2019 redistricting plan ultimately moved other “walker” Polygons to further away schools.


Despite the fact that the proposed 2019 HCPSS plan and process was making national news as the most disruptive and most controversial that Howard County has ever faced, County Executive Ball went significantly out of his way to publicly distance himself it, releasing a public statement that was generally supportive of the Superintendent, the Board of Education and the ongoing process


Recently, however, Ball has proven that as County Executive, he is not averse to vocally advocating for or against certain proposed redistricting plans, especially when his most loyal supporters oppose it.  In early September 2022, Ball released a formal letter jointly with County Councilman Opel Jones to emphatically oppose Superintendent Martirano’s proposed 2022 redistricting plan.


County Executive Ball has never addressed the details of his team’s 2017 meeting with Polygon 147 residents or the highly unusual campaign contributions that he subsequently received from them. Instead, after initial reports of this concerning situation surfaced in 2019, the Ball team and his supporters attempted to brush it off as “conspiracy theory”.  


Was this a simple misunderstanding?  Was it a quid-pro-quo gone wrong (…or possibly even a successful one)?  The neighborhood contributors themselves have been tight-lipped about it since 2018, allegedly out of fear and feelings of being misled by Ball.


However, firsthand accounts from those involved in these meetings paint a clear picture and the latest campaign contribution numbers are hard to ignore: A total of ZERO Polygon 147 households that contributed heavily to Calvin Ball’s campaign last election cycle have contributed to his campaign this election cycle.  From over $80,000 to $0.

Will this situation ever get the publicity and scrutiny it deserves?


Will Calvin Ball and his campaign team ever be held accountable for whatever was said (whether accidentally or intentionally) that misleadingly motivated these naïve HCPSS redistricting-focused county residents to make record-setting one-time coordinated contributions to his election campaign?


Safety from HCPSS redistricting should never be for sale.  Considering that Ball used the $80,000+ received from this situation to be elected as County Executive, and, once in office, proceeded to engage in overtly unethical activities such as personally authorizing 10 years worth of pay raises in just 3 years for his underqualified sister-in-law while she wrongfully denied the public release of evidence of backroom deals and broken law by Ball’s Administration , it would be an exceptional community service for one or more residents of Polygon 147 to publicly share the full story of this situation and help to bring full accountability for the potentially unethical election campaign practices that they apparently fell prey to.

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