Friday, March 22, 2019

Rockville Mayor & Council end process to fill vacant seat with no replacement

March 20, 2019 agenda shows no closed session,
no vote on candidates
Closed session vote was
not listed on agenda

The sudden end of what was otherwise a long process to fill a vacant Rockville City Council seat raises several questions, legal and otherwise. At a special meeting Wednesday night, the three finalists were again interviewed by the Mayor and Council. After the third interview was finished, the Mayor and Council abruptly went into closed session. When the public was let back into the room, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton announced there was no consensus among herself and the councilmembers sufficient to give any of the three candidates a majority. 

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg then made a motion to end the Council vacancy process, and leave the seat vacant for the remainder of this term, which ends in November. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, and passed unanimously. "The onus is now on this body to come together and serve this city as one for the remainder of the term," Newton said after the process fell apart. 

How the process ended was only the latest indication that appointments are not the way to fill Council seats. But it also left several questions about the legality of how it ended. There is a process on the books for filling this seat, as bad as it was. But it was not clear that the process could legally end with the seat remaining vacant.

Secondly, the public was not only reduced to spectator status in this process, but was not given public indication that a vote would take place Wednesday night. As the photo of the meeting agenda clearly shows, a vote was not shown on the agenda. Nor was a closed session indicated on the agenda. That does raise some question about the legality of the meeting under the Maryland Open Meetings Act, which states, "'Before meeting in an open session, the public body must make available to the public an agenda' that (1) contains 'known items of business or topics to be discussed at the portion of the meeting that is open' and (2) indicates 'whether the public body expects to close any portion of the meeting' under GP § 3-305." 

Third, the vote to select a new councilmember should have been held in an open session. 

And finally, one or more participants in the closed session leaked the proceedings of the session - including the number of votes each candidate received - following the meeting. Such leaks are illegal, and an elected official could be disciplined for leaking details of an executive session.

Ultimately, the outcome may be to the benefit of residents, as there is no majority to ram through any decisions on the future of RedGate golf course, or on adequate public facilities ordinance changes. Given past votes, it's unlikely the Mayor and Council would deadlock on the passage of the new budget, although other critical issues could wind up in a 2-2 tie. And with no members representing a specific district, the empty seat won't leave one area without representation.

If anyone was treated more unfairly in this process than residents, it was the applicants themselves. They clearly spent a great deal of time preparing written statements and for interviews - some for two or three interviews. To dedicate so many hours for a job that in the end does not even exist was a waste of everyone's time and energy. With voting by mail now the norm in Rockville, there's no reason this process can't be switched to a special election in the future.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ocado skips across the pond, and Montgomery County, in U.S. HQ search

Just months after Montgomery County's humiliating-but-self-inflicted defeat in the Amazon HQ 2 sweepstakes, even Amazon's enemies are passing on MoCo in favor of Northern Virginia. Ocado, a British partner of Kroger that specializes in online grocery sales systems, announced yesterday it will conduct its search for its future U.S. corporate headquarters from gleaming offices in beautiful and booming Tysons. CEO Luke Jensen said he was "delighted" with the Tysons choice, and that the office would open in April.

Ocado has a service called Prime Now, that delivers groceries you order online within 2 hours. If the order is small enough, it might be delivered by scooter. Kroger - which owns Harris Teeter and Ralph's - has partnered with Ocado to prepare for the increasingly-competitive world of online grocery shopping, where its greatest rival will be Crystal City's Amazon.

Northern Virginia is becoming a hub for so many things, it's hard for our super-low-energy Montgomery County Council to even keep track, much less compete. But grocery firms are one of the latest; Lidl chose Arlington County for its U.S. headquarters in the most recent example before this. One can reasonably predict the high-tax, low-energy grass of bedroom community Montgomery County won't exactly look greener from Ocado's offices high above the bustling streets of Tysons.

This is just the latest humiliation for Montgomery County officials this week. It follows another disastrous job growth report (there wasn't any), and Montgomery County's leading economic development official returning empty-handed from an expensive SXSW junket. What Montgomery's selling...they just don't want it. They just don't want it.

Robeks Juice, Olio Nails & Spa coming to Research Row in Rockville

The parking lots grow more full by the day at Rockville's newest shopping center, as Research Row continues to lease up after opening last year. Two new tenants are coming on-board. Robeks Juice is a smoothie shop that also features fresh juices and fruit bowls.

On the opposite side of the same building where Robeks is under construction will be Olio Nails & Spa. Robeks is still in the early stages of construction, while the interior fit-out of Olio Nails & Spa is much further along. Traffic at the property is currently dominated by tenants Chick-fil-A and Onelife Fitness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chico's relocates at Congressional Plaza

Chico's has relocated its Rockville store at Congressional Plaza. Their new location in the Federal Realty-owned shopping center is 1657 Rockville Pike, and is now open. The original Chico's location has been completely cleared out, as you can see in the photos below.

Moribund Montgomery iced out of ICEE HQ decision by Tennessee

Montgomery County has again been on the sidelines as dozens of major corporate headquarters have made relocation decisions in early 2019. Moribund MoCo, now at rock bottom in the D.C. region in virtually every economic development indicator, just got iced out of another one. While our corrupt elected officials were dozing at the switch, high-energy Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee closed a deal for the ICEE headquarters. The beloved frozen beverage firm is moving its California HQ to La Vergne, in Rutherford County Tennessee.

"It's such a business-friendly spot," ICEE President Dan Fachner said of La Vergne, according to the local Daily News Journal. The deal also includes a distribution center, and a requirement to create 207 additional jobs with an average salary of $60,152 within the coming five years. In exchange for a relatively-paltry $690,275 tax break, La Vergne, Rutherford County and Tennessee will get a $10.3 million project, and all of the tax revenue and collateral economic benefits.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R)
"ICEE's decision to bring its corporate headquarters to La Vergne highlights how Tennessee's low taxes, skilled workforce and quality of life continue to attract world-class businesses, said Bob Rolfe, the commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development," the Daily News Journal reported.

Once again, transportation infrastructure also played a big role in the decision. While not mentioned in media coverage of the ICEE deal, the City of La Vergne upgraded Mason Road and its utilities near Bain Drive during the year-long ICEE HQ decision process in 2018. And what do you know? That's exactly where ICEE is going to locate its HQ and distribution center.

Contrast that show of infrastructure investment and goodwill by Tennessee to the moronic decision by the Montgomery County Council to cancel the biggest infrastructure project in White Flint on the very day that Amazon executives were touring White Flint for their HQ 2 search. Along with the enablers in our obsequious and apologist local media, it couldn't be more clear why Montgomery has lost every single major corporate headquarters contest over the last two decades.
Google Maps image shows 13-minute trip to
the closest airport from the future ICEE site
The La Vergne site also sits right off of Interstate 24, and along a major rail line. Smyrna Airport is only 13 minutes away from the future ICEE property, and the major Nashville International Airport is only 18 minutes away, according to Google Maps. Meanwhile, Montgomery County officials have actively blocked any attempt to build a new Potomac River crossing that would provide direct access to Dulles International Airport, leaving all major airports a long, congested drive for busy executives - which is one reason those executives always pass over MoCo in location decisions. In fact, Montgomery lost the Discovery HQ to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Discovery chose a site with similar direct airport and interstate access.
The brain freeze of an ICEE isn't nearly
as cold as the one you'll get from the latest
Montgomery County Council tax increase
this year
While Montgomery County's corrupt, developer-controlled Council and Planning Board were busy converting MoCo's office parks to residential housing for their developer sugar daddies, Tennessee state and local officials were readying theirs for household-name tenants and success. While states like Tennessee and Virginia add highway capacity (and high-wage jobs and corporations follow), Montgomery County politicians in Rockville and Annapolis are aggressively fighting Gov. Larry Hogan's Express Lanes plan for the Beltway and I-270.
An ICEE chill settles over Montgomery County,
now the moribund bedroom community for booming
job centers elsewhere in the D.C. region
“With our top-rated school district, affordable cost of living and strong local economy, companies like The ICEE Company are choosing to relocate and put down roots in our community,” Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said in a statement. Contrast that with Montgomery County's rapidly-declining public schools, high cost of living and record-high taxes, and moribund local economy. It's not a winning formula, to say the least.
The clock runs out on the
Montgomery County cartel
The ICEE victory again shows how attracting one major employer has a multiplier effect. Attracting Nissan to that same part of Tennessee decades ago fueled explosive economic growth in the area. Having traveled to Nashville many, many times as a professional musician, I've been surprised at how many people I've encountered there over the years are employed by Nissan or Nissan-related businesses. Some of them live in wonderful, new suburban neighborhoods developed as a result of the Nissan facilities. 520 new Nissan-related auto parts manufacturing jobs have been added in Smyrna in the last year alone, the Daily News Journal reported. Nashville also recently became home to the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr,. another corporate HQ that MoCo didn't even compete for.

We won't attract that first breakthrough corporate headquarters with the super-low-energy, Berzerkley-inspired, anti-business "new" County Council that took office just over three months ago. They haven't acted on a single one of the major crises Montgomery County faces in the many weeks since. Their press release output in recent weeks features no Bill Lee-style announcements of new high-wage jobs, but instead highlights an "Islamophobia" resolution, an outdoor patio smoking ban, and a "Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy."

Res ipsa loquitur, indeed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sweetgreen Rockville opens at Pike & Rose

Sweetgreen opened yesterday at Pike & Rose in Rockville. The upscale, fast casual salad restaurant donated the proceeds of the grand opening sales to the non-profit FoodCorps. Some lucky patrons received free baked goods from Sweetgreen's future next-door neighbor, Sunday Morning Bakehouse. Sweetgreen is located at 11875 Grand Park Avenue.

Rockville construction update: BBQ Chicken & Beer (Photos)

BBQ Chicken & Beer has installed a permanent sign on the facade of their storefront at 9712 Traville Gateway Drive in Rockville. Work continues on the interior of the restaurant, which is taking over the vacant Quench space.

If you're interested in working here, they are currently hiring kitchen staff, servers and a bartender. Get a sneak preview of the BBQ Chicken & Beer Rockville menu by checking out the menu from their existing Centreville location.