Monday, November 20, 2017

Exclusion of Rockville City Clerk from closed Mayor & Council session raising questions

A closed session by the Mayor and Council at last Monday's meeting was preceded by a debate over whether to include City Clerk and Director of Council Operations Kathleen A. Conway in the confidential session. The closed session was advertised in the meeting agenda as one to "consider the
acquisition of real property for a public purpose and matters directly related to the acquisition; 2) to obtain legal advice and consult with staff, consultants, or other individuals about potential litigation related to a land use matter."

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton noted that the wording on the agenda didn't match that of the earlier request for the closed session, which came after a meeting among Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, City Manager Rob DiSpirito, and City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel. "This is accurate language," Daniel replied. Newton then took issue with Pierzchala's proposed exclusion of Conway from the closed session. Pierzchala said there was a "particular invitation list to this closed session, and it does not include the City Clerk." He suggested that if anyone had a problem with that, to bring the matter up separately from the vote to go into closed session.

"No," Newton objected, "as the wording of this pertains to official City business, we need to have the official keeper of the record there." Pierzchala responded that due to the "very sensitive information" being discussed in the closed session, he only wanted to "have the two people privy to the facts of this" in attendance.

"You have included [Deputy City Attorney] Cindy Walters and [Deputy City Manager] Jenny Kimball....but I don't understand what their purpose is there," Newton said. "Their purpose is to take the notes," Pierzchala replied. "I'm requesting that we have the official record keeper, the City Clerk, Director of Council the person who keeps the official notes," Newton said, "if there should ever be any question of what happened" in the closed session. "Kathleen Conway does not have any purpose in the meeting," Pierzchala retorted. "We have someone who will take the notes."

"I am very concerned about what is going on, and what is not being said," Newton said. She added that the Mayor and City Clerk "have to legally attest to" the accuracy of the minutes of a meeting." Daniel disputed that, saying there is no legal requirement for those officials to sign off on the minutes. "But it's been a longstanding practice in the City, has it not?" Newton asked.  "My understanding is that it started under Mayor [Phyllis] Marcuccio," Daniel replied.

Newton asked her colleagues to weigh in, and their responses split along factional lines: independent Councilmember Beryl Feinberg said she thought it would be proper to include Conway, and that Conway could be trusted with confidential information as much as Walters and Kimball. She and Newton were outnumbered by the Team Rockville faction on the Council, with Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr siding with Pierzchala. "Not that we don't trust Ms. Conway," Onley explained, "but it's not necessary for her to attend this meeting."

Realizing the votes were not there to include Conway, Newton then called for a vote to go into closed session. But the matter didn't end there for some residents following the meeting. Not only did the exclusion of Conway increase speculation as to which land-use matter the closed session was about, but also what message the Council was sending to the City Clerk, and even potential violations of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

"It leads one to believe there was more going on than what was indicated by the reasons given for going into a closed meeting," Rockville resident Joe Jordan wrote to the Mayor and Council by email. "If anything outside those reasons was discussed, you would be in violation of the OMA." Saying the behavior of Team Rockville members "may have hit a new low for this council," Jordan urged them to improve their working relationship in the final two years of their term.

Photo: City of Rockville

Friday, November 17, 2017

Montgomery County Council clueless in meeting with Maryland transportation official

Another clueless performance by the Montgomery County Council in a transportation meeting yesterday has many in the business community questioning their fitness for office. In a failed attempt to dress down Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's transportation secretary Pete Rahn, their politically-motivated meeting ended up instead exposing how poorly-informed the Council is on the basics of modern infrastructure, its operation, and financing.

Councilmembers repeatedly demanded "transit" be part of Hogan's massive Express Lanes plan for the Capital Beltway, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. They were unaware that it is standard practice for regular and rapid buses to use Express Lanes on highways.

Council President Roger Berliner asked Rahn if he could "fold in" the stalled Corridor Cities Transitway BRT project into the $9 billion dollar Express Lanes project. This was patently absurd for two reasons: The CCT runs on a completely different route than I-270, for starters. And the CCT, like all bus and rail service, will be a money-loser; transit does not generate profits like Express Lanes. What sane private corporation would try to combine the potentially-narrow profit margin of these particular Express Lanes with a surefire money drain like the CCT?

Finally, Councilmember George Leventhal showed how out of touch he is with his constituents when he advised Rahn that the more transit is part of the Express Lanes plan, "the more it will be easier (sic) to assuage our constituents." Huh? His constituents, tired of being stuck in traffic, want the popular Express Lanes plan proposed by Hogan. Leventhal should listen to voices beyond the yes-men in his office before daring to speak on behalf of his constituents.

Rahn, in contrast, demonstrated he has his finger on the pulse of frustrated Maryland drivers. His only misstep was waffling on how much the project might end up costing taxpayers, off-message with Hogan's promise that private companies would take on the financial burden.

Business leaders watching the hearing - and Montgomery's moribund private-sector economy and plunging wealth numbers - were reminded of a similar amateur-hour performance by the Council earlier this fall. In a worksession on autonomous vehicles, councilmembers showed a laughable lack-of-knowledge of the basic nuts-and-bolts of this now-arriving technology.  Many referred to autonomous vehicles as a futuristic fantasy, apparently unaware that Tesla vehicles on the road right now have fully-autonomous capability. The Council also didn't know how the cars might be insured. As more evidence that the Council hadn't even done the most basic research ahead of the session, they didn't know Volvo had just announced it would take on drivers' insurance liability itself.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

CAVA Grill to open in Upper Rock today...with free lunch

Your first meal at the new CAVA Grill in the Upper Rock area of Rockville will be free today. CAVA is opening its newest area location at 28 Upper Rock Circle today at noon. Lunch will be free from noon until 2:00 PM. Share the spirit of generosity by making an optional donation to City Blossoms, a D.C. non-proft that helps connect kids with green space in areas that lack them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wheaton murder suspect was detained by police twice in Rockville before allegedly killing woman

A Wheaton woman might still be alive today, but for Montgomery County's sanctuary county immigration policies. According to Maryland court records, Elmer Marilan Campos-Martinez - who has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Wheaton mother and KFC employee Dania Mendez de Guerra - was detained in traffic stops twice by police since 2012. Because officers are forbidden to ask about the immigration status of those they stop, Campos-Martinez was put back on the streets, despite being in the country illegally.

Case records indicate that Campos-Martinez was pulled over by Montgomery County police on October 7, 2012 at 11:46 PM. He was cited for operating a motor scooter without a license on Veirs Mill Road at Parkland Drive. On April 23, 2013, Campos-Martinez paid a $50 fine and $33 in court fees. Without a check of his citizenship status, he was a free man.

While still living on N. Horners Lane in Rockville, Campos-Martinez was pulled over yet again by Rockville City police on April 20, 2014 at 11:13 PM. Driving an actual car this time, he was cited for driving without a license on Veirs Mill Road at First Street in Rockville.  Once again, the officer was not allowed to check his immigration status. In this case, Campos-Martinez did not even have to pay a fine or court fees. The prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi, meaning the State would not pursue the case, and the charges were thereby dropped.

Three-and-a-half years later, Campos-Martinez - now living in the Woods Edge Apartments on Cove Lane in Rockville - was working alongside de Guerra at the KFC at 2119 University Boulevard West in Wheaton. Leaving work, he laid in wait for the 21-year-old de Guerra to walk home to her husband and child on Amherst Avenue, police allege. Four days later, her body was found behind the CVS Pharmacy across a parking lot from her apartment.

Of course, he wouldn't have been there to lay in wait, had he been deported in 2012 after his first scooter misadventure (by the way, do you believe you would have avoided a fine and court fees if you were caught driving without a license? Is there now a separate law for non-citizens?). In fact, Campos-Martinez was deported in 1994. But the sanctuary policies of Montgomery County kept him coming back.
The victim, Dania Mendez de Guerra
If the murder allegations by police are true, those policies cost Dania Mendez de Guerra her life, and her family a wife and mother.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Suspect in Wheaton homicide was deported in 1994, returned to Rockville

Elmer Marilan Campos-Martinez, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Wheaton mother and KFC employee Dania Mendez de Guerra, is in the country illegally, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has confirmed. ICE issued a detainer against Campos-Martinez Saturday.

In a statement, ICE also confirmed that Campos-Martinez was already deported once to his native El Salvador, in 1994. They say he illegally crossed the border again, and made his way to Rockville, where he has been residing on Cove Lane.

Campos-Martinez continues to be held without bond, as the District Court judge in his case declared him a flight risk, due to his immigration status.

Monday, November 13, 2017

SunTrust Bank coming to Rockville Town Square

Well, if you were hoping for another interesting restaurant to open in the corner space at Gibbs Street and E. Middle Lane, you're bound to be disappointed by this turn of events. SunTrust Bank will be the new tenant there. Of course, there was a bank there before, if I remember correctly.

Friday, November 10, 2017

2 stabbed on N. Horners Lane in Rockville last night

Two people were stabbed last night in the 400 block of N. Horners Lane around 10:15 PM. Rockville police found the two victims and a third person outside a home. The third person retreated into the home, saying he had a gun. Montgomery County police assisted with an Emergency Response Team, getting the man to come out of the home and surrender.

He is identified as Dakota Shaynne Jones (DOB: 3/19/1988), of the 300 block of Howard Ave., in Rockville. Jones was arrested and charged with the following:

Second-degree attempted murder.
First-degree assault.
Reckless endangerment. 

The two stabbing victims were taken to a local hospital; their injuries were non-life-threatening, police say.

Anyone with information about this incident should call the Rockville City Police Department's Criminal Investigations Unit at 240-314-8938.

L.L. Bean opens today at Pike & Rose (Video + Photos)

L.L. Bean will open their newest store this morning at Pike & Rose. Located at 925 Rose Avenue, it is the only L.L. Bean location in the state of Maryland right now.

CLICK HERE: WATCH: L.L. Bean store tour

An invitation-only event was held yesterday for L.L. Bean fans, who were able to shop the two-level store before the general public. On hand for the event was L.L. Bean retail store Senior Vice-President Ken Kacere, who presented a $5000 donation to local chapters of the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Also spotted on the premises were Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz, and the famous L.L. Bean Bootmobile, which attracted cellphone camera users passing through Rose Park in front of the store.
Kacere thanked property owner Federal Realty, noting that it had taken the Maine-based firm over a decade to find the ideal location for a store in this area. He said Pike & Rose not only wanted L.L. Bean, but that the youth of the development meant they would have the opportunity to build exactly the store design they wanted. There will be activities and giveaways all weekend at the new store.

Montgomery County Councilmember
Sidney Katz (left) stopped by

L.L. Bean Senior VP Ken Kacere (second from left)
presents local Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders with
a $5000 contribution

The L.L. Bean Bootmobile,
inspired by the company's first
product, had Pike & Rose patrons
pulling out their cellphones for a photo