Date: Tue, May 24, 2022, 8:04 PM
Subject: BUDGET TESTIMONY
May 24, 2022
Attn. Howard County Council members
Liz Walsh, Opal Jones, Christiana Rigby, Deb Jung, David Yungmann
Re. Proposed FY 2023 Budget
Dear County Council Members,
I, on behalf of my community, draw your attention to certain objectionable items contained in the proposed FY 2023 budget, hereinafter the “budget”. Below is the result of a cursory review and is by no means complete.
Howard County residents are profoundly affected by your fiscal priorities; I ask you to reject this budget in its entirety. Please take note of our advocacy in favor of transparency and good faith in the administration of our government. We stand against back-room deals, developer influence, and a pay-to-play transactional means of governance.
The “budget” seems to reward (gift) County Executive Ball’s political allies with payments - cash and in-kind, grants, awards, and or appointments to offices (political posts), including access to the levers of power in government, while it deprives deserving charities which have served Howard County and its residents.
The [Howard] County appears to be run as a 'friend and family' network - see attached. The “budget” incentivizes organizations to give the County Executive and his allies a political platform in order to advance CE Calvin Ball’s election year goals. The proposed “budget” also appears to incentivize charities to engage in political promotion and electioneering in a manner that may potentially be illegal.
The [County Executive] Ball administration demonstrably rewards (his friends and family), the 'well connected' (charity operators and developers) financially and also with personal appointments to coveted official posts and commissions (See Inner Arbor Trust $850k (eight hundred fifty thousand dollars payment) and the appointment of Nina Basu (Inner Arbor Trust CEO) to the Human Rights Commission on April 21, 2022).
Other unexplained expenditures include a 20k (twenty thousand dollars) payment to Ball’s political allies - IONHOCO (Indian Origin Network of Howard County (see operating budget)), 375k (Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars) payment to CEI (Community Ecology Institute), and other examples, present in this budget (see non-departmental expense sheet of the budget). During inflationary times this is wasteful spending.
Please provide a clear explanation of these budget items - payments and/or political appointments and consider the following:
Interconnected political (hidden) challenges. Nina Basu, CEO of the Inner Arbor Trust AND the IONHOCO.
Ms. Basu is also one of the initial organizers of the Indian Origin Network of Howard County (IONHOCO). She is IONHOCO's registered agent (see attached). Nina is or has been a member of the Board of Directors of IONHOCO over the years and is possibly its legal counsel, certainly informal counsel.
The Inner Arbor Trust is a registered 501 (c)(3) charity operated by Nina Basu. Nina and the Inner-Arbor Trust, in clear defiance of the law as well as their own rules and regulations, have afforded special treatment to IONHOCO (not a charity), including free use of its facilities, and other favorable consideration(s), terms which are not afforded to other community members, i.e., similar (non 501 (c)(3) charitable organizations, over the years. This conduct is extralegal at best and potentially illegal at worst.
Both, the Inner Arbor Trust and IONHOCO, receive large payments (850k and 20k respectively) in this “budget”. Nina Basu was also coincidentally appointed to the Human Rights Commission on about 4/21/2022.
The Ball administration promotes this nexus with large payments in order to advance its political / election year objectives.
POLITICIZATION OF CHARITIES (a violation of their intended purpose):
BACKGROUND - Nina Basu and the Inner Arbor Trust intended to hold a Holi celebration at the Chrysalis on April 23, 2022, and desired the participation of community organizations including the Indian Cultural Association of Howard County (ICA) and whereas, the Indian Cultural Association of Howard County (ICA) - a 501(c)(3) charity (the largest cultural organization in the region with over 10,000 Facebook followers and over 30,000 members), and Nina Basu, with the Inner Arbor Trust, aka, together “Nina” came to an agreement for the development of the 4/23 - Holi program.
ICA’s precondition for participation in Nina’s program was that the program would be completely apolitical. It was clearly understood that without this, ICA would NOT participate.
“Nina” agreed to not politicize Holi, a distinctly Indian (Hindu) religious holiday, and to not allow any candidate for office in the upcoming elections in Howard County to take the stage at any time prior to, during, or after the program (it was agreed that there would be no speeches, no photo ops, no promotional or political activity of any sort) associated with the 4/23 Holi celebration.
This precondition was demanded by ICA and mutually agreed that the (April 23rd Holi) program at the Chrysalis would be completely apolitical. These conditions were agreed upon by “Nina” (as inducement) in order to secure ICA’s participation in the program.
Nina Basu and the Trust, in complete disregard of the “agreement” with ICA, possibly in exchange for money and other consideration received ($850,000 - eight hundred fifty thousand dollars), and Nina Basu’s appointment to the Human Rights Commission, on April 21, 2022), two days prior to the Holi celebration at the Chrysalis, transformed Holi into a promotional program for CE Ball and his delegation - the Ball reelection campaign at the Chrysalis. This has the appearance of impropriety in the least.
This is inexcusable and is potentially a misuse of their 501(c)(3) status.
If true, the Inner Arbor Trust, a 501(c)(3) charity, in violation of its charter, IRS rules, and Federal Election Commission regulations has been politicized by its operators.
It appears as if Nina and the“Trust”, were rewarded (with cash and in-kind inducement) to take sides in the upcoming election, not only giving the County Executive and his delegation a political platform, but potentially a) representing an attempt to hand one side a political advantage over the other, and b) constitutes a political endorsement by the Trust and Nina Basu, of Calvin Ball for Howard County Executive. 501(c)(3) charities are prohibited from endorsing candidates for elected office and engaging in political promotion of candidates.
The Council must work to preserve the separation of the State from charitable activity. These expenditures represent a corruption of the public good.
The work of each charity and funding thereof should be assessed based on their performance, their programming, the number of Howard County residents impacted, and the cost associated with each.
Organizations that are not bonafide 501(c)3 charities are funded in this budget potentially for their support of the administration in upcoming elections. These groups collude to work together to create a political nexus to advance the political agenda of the Ball administration and its candidate(s) for office.
Please examine the interlinkages between IonHoCo, Inner Arbor Trust, and Nina Basu, above and provide a clear justification of payments to both of these entities. We would like you to quantify how many people each charity funded serves “free” of cost to justify such large payments from the County. Kindly include a cost per person impacted by their programming. Furthermore, according to Nina Basu, she charges for the majority of her events and makes money from liquor sales*.
We have initiated a PIA request under the Freedom of Information Act provisions of the law to ascertain the facts. We are also initiating complaints with the Howard County Office of Ethics and Law, the Federal Election Commission, other regulatory bodies, and are considering other legal action to remedy this situation and for the recovery of the damages caused to us. I remain committed to the well-being of the “poor” and those considered the working poor in Howard County. These families lack representation.
One-third (1/3rd) of Howard County families struggle with hunger. One in Four (1/4) children in Howard County are hungry. Twenty-three (23%) of kids in Howard County are enrolled in the FARM - Federal Free and Reduced Meals) program. Please also take note that 40% of the food produced is wasted.
ICA has distributed over 2.5 million pounds of food to struggling families in our community (without County support) and remains committed to solving the problem of hunger in our community. With over 200 pop-up food distributions, it is a shame that Calvin Ball has not visited once or had a single conversation with ICA to find out about the state of hunger in Howard County given the fact that ICA has become one of the key food distribution channels in Howard County. The last time he reached out to me was when he needed money for his campaign.
The County’s refusal to solve the problem of hunger perpetuates a cycle of poverty and lifelong struggle. A hungry child cannot learn. I am advocating for the 1/3rd of Howard County which is poor and is forgotten, the segment of our society which does not have a voice in this administration.
Kindly also provide an explanation for the following:
Blue Star families received only $2,000 (two thousand dollars). This group appears to be underfunded. Blue Star families need our support and unwavering gratitude. $2,000 can’t buy baby formula for families in need. Please consider increasing this funding.
CEI (Community Ecology Institute) - Community Ecology Institute is slated to receive $375,000 in the County’s operating budget for the purchase of land.
Two questions arise - 1) purchase of land is not an operating expense. Why is this (375k) expenditure a part of the operating budget? And
(2) in a time of national crisis when families can’t afford food, baby formula and gasoline to get to/from work, why are we buying land for a CE Ball’s political ally?
Additional item of concern - IonHoCo was one of the principal organizers of the debate held on Saturday, May 14, 2022 afternoon between candidates for office in Howard County, including County Executive Ball. Twenty thousand ($20,000) dollars seems to be a large payment to one of the organizers. This is profoundly unethical and warrants a thorough investigation.
Central LIBRARY - Expenditures for a new library
It is our understanding the current library is to be torn down despite recent renovations at a cost of millions of dollars. At a time of national crisis - out of control inflation (overall rise in prices) and inability of a substantial portion of our population to afford basic necessities, such wasteful spending must be STOPPED.
It is the taxpayers' money you are spending. Please consider a tax rebate for Howard County taxpayers.
ALL unnecessary expenditures must be curtailed.
ICA’S BID FOR THE PURCHASE OF THE COLUMBIA FLIER BUILDING
ICA offered $1,000,000 (one million dollars) for the purchase of the Columbia Flier building. The project included a commercial kitchen (to help feed hungry children), educational services (to improve academic performance of the underprivileged), equity and diversity programming, and other, for the benefit of the community.
It is our understanding that our proposal for the purchase of the Columbia Flier Building (1 of 5 proposals which included a gas station, retail space, Chick-Fil-A, etc.), was never presented by County Executive Ball to the County Council for consideration.
I am troubled that the Columbia Flier building was potentially gifted to a political ally, in addition to massive funding over the years. CCC - Columbia Community Care is due to get $30,000 in the FY23 budget.
We would like full transparency and the terms of any transactions related to the Columbia Flier building and the other budget items.
ICA has worked tirelessly to bring positive change in Howard County. The budget under consideration promotes division, racism, and nepotism in an attempt to buy votes, and is not in the interest of Howard County. This budget rewards the rich and connected while penalizing the poor (majority-minority) of Howard County.
THIS BUDGET MUST BE REJECTED AND SENT BACK FOR REVISIONS.
I also wanted to share with you that we are forming a PAC - political action committee. I hope to share more with you in the days and weeks to come.
cc. County Executive
Encl. As stated