Friday, May 29, 2020

Hogan extends moratorium on utility shutoffs, allows breweries to serve in outdoor seating

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued two coronavirus-related executive orders this morning. First, he has extended the moratorium on utility shutoffs - including internet and phone service - until July 1, 2020. Secondly, he is allowing state-licensed breweries, wineries and distilleries to begin serving customers on-premises in outdoor seating only. Hogan's order also allows third-party shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Mass layoffs at Bed Bath & Beyond in Rockville

The fallout of coronavirus continues to crash down around Montgomery County, whose leaders were criticized by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday for not having begun to reopen. Bed Bath & Beyond at 1519 Rockville Pike has announced it will lay off 95 employees. Most of the chain's stores are expected to remain closed at least through May 30, the company has said.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Proposal to demolish historic Rockville home postponed at Historic District Commission

A review of a controversial proposal to demolish an historic home at 725 N. Horners Lane in Rockville has been "postponed until further notice" by the city's Historic District Commission. City staff had determined the home, which has importance to African-American history in Rockville and Lincoln Park, met several criteria for historic designation. The reason for the postponement was not discussed at the HDC's monthly meeting, but Chair Matthew Goguen said he anticipated the issue would return for review "at a later date."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Don't push the button!

Signs around Rockville Town Square warn pedestrians, "Don't push the button!" Walk signals are now programmed to activate automatically without having to press the button. The change is in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to provide "contactless crossing" of streets.

Launch Trampoline Park for sale in Rockville

Launch Trampoline Park in Randolph Hills is for sale, according to an online listing. The asking price is nearly $2 million. Under "reason for selling," the listing states, "Timing wrong and not the business for the investors." Speaking of wrong timing, coronavirus is now here, and a business like this will have to make significant adjustments to its operations for at least the next couple of years. The listing acknowledges that the financial numbers it provides do not take the impact of Covid-19 into account.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Coronavirus test now available at CVS Pharmacy on Rockville Pike

Starting this morning, you can be tested for Covid-19 at the CVS Pharmacy at 799 Rockville Pike, which is located in the Ritchie Center. To get your test, register first at

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Did Montgomery County really add 500 hospital beds for coronavirus patients?

A week after declaring surge 
capacity met, County now says 
there aren't enough beds to
reopen Montgomery County

Montgomery County officials attempted to address growing concerns over their lack of defined strategy for ending the coronavirus lockdown yesterday. In a streamed Zoom meeting, County Executive Marc Elrich said he thought the current statistics might point toward reopening the county in one or two weeks. But one number that Health Director Travis Gayles expressed concern about was ICU hospital bed capacity, and that four of the county's hospitals were at-capacity for ICU beds over the last week. This would make it difficult to handle a surge in new patients if a new wave of Covid-19 infections were to break out a few weeks after the Stay-at-Home order would be lifted.

Now, you may remember the county was 500 beds short of the projected need when the coronavirus pandemic began. On April 1, with great fanfare from their friends in the local media, the Montgomery County Council declared it was appropriating $10 million for county hospitals to add those 500 beds. Keep in mind, this is several hospitals' worth of beds.

To those more skeptical than our local press, this sounded like a hefty degree of magical thinking. If you know anything about construction, the regulatory hoops alone would have tied such expansion up for months. Permits would have to be processed, construction work would have to pass inspection. Not to mention that the work would have to be put out for bid, contractors selected, etc. The very expensive beds themselves - and all related equipment that is needed for each bed, particularly in an ICU setting - have to be ordered and shipped.

Just last week, Gayles told Bethesda Magazine in an email that - incredibly - this David Copperfield act had been magically pulled off. In only 41 days, Gayles wrote, Montgomery County hospitals had added all 500 beds. Interestingly, with all of the news cameras hanging out at local hospitals these days, we never saw footage of these new rooms or wings being opened on the TV news.

Ten days ago, we were told we had enough beds to handle a coronavirus surge. Yesterday, still under lockdown before any such surge has even taken place, we were told that a lack of bed capacity is now a primary reason the County cannot reopen its economy.

Something doesn't add up here.

Photo courtesy Hill-Rom

Strong-arm robbery on Rockville Pike

A strong-arm robbery on Rockville Pike was reported to Montgomery County police early yesterday morning. According to crime data, the victim was in a car in the 800 block of Rockville Pike around 1:48 AM.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

More Montgomery County ballots being mailed to deceased, non-residents

A few weeks after a man described how his deceased mother was shown to have voted in Montgomery County elections for a decade after her death, another case of an illegal ballot being issued has come to light. Attorney Robin Ficker, a Republican candidate for Maryland governor, reports that his son was mailed a ballot to his old Montgomery County address. Problem: Ficker's son hasn't lived in Montgomery County for 12 years. And as a "live" ballot, it could be illegally filled out and mailed back by someone else.

"Election fraud?" Ficker asked in a Facebook post showing the improperly-mailed ballot. "How many of these ballots are being mailed by someone else?" Ficker isn't the only one asking questions. A watchdog group has successfully sued to receive the voter registration information of all Montgomery County voters, after it found there are more names registered to vote than there are eligible voters in the county.

In 2018, anomalous voting results were seen at dozens of precincts across Montgomery County in the County Council At-Large race, if not others. The voter universe in that election also increased by about 100,000 voters in only four years since 2014. Local media outlets have not challenged County officials about either issue so far.

Leaving ineligible names on the voter rolls is a key source of voter fraud. Anyone who has the names of deceased or non-resident voters can walk into the appropriate polling place, claim to be that person and provide the few details asked for by judges, and cast a ballot illegally using one of those many names. In this year's by-mail elections, these illegal ballots will be mailed out and ripe for the picking by any organized voter fraud operation, further underlining the urgency in cleaning up Montgomery County's dirty voter rolls.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Petition to create 9 Montgomery County Council districts can now be signed electronically online

An effort to create better representation for residents on the Montgomery County Council has gotten a new jolt of energy. Nine Districts for MoCo, a grassroots organization, has been collecting signatures to place a question on the November ballot that would eliminate the At-Large seats on the Council. Instead, the Council would have 9 seats that each represent a smaller district of the county. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Board of Elections has given the group permission to collect signatures online. Registered voters can now sign the petition electronically, through the organization's website.

The At-Large seats are seen as a way for developers and special interests to get 4 votes to override parochial neighborhood concerns. Needless to say, the Montgomery County political cartel is not pleased about the Nine Districts for MoCo effort. At one public hearing by the Charter Review Commission, four commissioners tried to prevent Nine Districts for MoCo Chair Kimblyn Persaud from testifying on a fictional technicality, before realizing they didn't have the votes to stop her from speaking.

I strongly endorse this effort. Unlike past proposals, this does not reduce the number of Council members in a County that is rapidly growing in population. What it does do is create smaller, more manageable districts, and Councilmembers who will literally be closer to their constituents and their neighborhood issues. 

Growing discontent over Montgomery County's data-free coronavirus reopening strategy

Montgomery County's "roadmap" for reopening
doesn't define any targets to be met
There has been growing concern over the last few days about Montgomery County's blueprint for reopening, after most of the state entered a phase one reopening last Friday, while the Montgomery County Council passed an indefinite extension of Stay-at-Home orders. Prominent business leaders like David Blair, business owners, and even some municipal elected officials have asked what Montgomery officials' precise plan and data measurements are. The issue is separate from the question of whether or not a continued lockdown is wise; the point of controversy for many is that there is currently no roadmap or metric for reopening the economy.

With a new wave of mass layoffs hitting the county, discontent with the rudderless direction is rising in many quarters. After receiving some blowback, Montgomery County Councilman Evan Glass posted a Powerpoint-style graphic (shown above) on Facebook and Twitter. "Here's the roadmap," Glass declared authoritatively. But the "roadmap" only gave a vague wishlist of trends, not the specific targets that would be met, nor the specific length of time those targets would have to be met to reopen. Five different "sustained decrease" trends are listed, but unlike federal and state plans, the time-span of "sustained" is only defined for one ("new cases in an environment of increased testing" - and what qualifies as "an enviroment of increased testing" is undefined).

Glass promised a dashboard of County-level coronavirus statistics heretofore withheld from the public would be online later this week. But that is a totally separate issue. Raw data doesn't tell us what the plan is, and what the data needs to show us in what timeframe, to reopen.

Again, that's not to say it is wise or unwise to reopen now. But it would be wise to have an actual plan with targets that can be met or not met. After all, we may be facing a devastating second wave of hospitalizations in about three weeks, if Gov. Larry Hogan was premature in loosening Stay-at-Home orders last Friday. Maryland did not meet all of the federal criteria for reopening, so there is a risk.

The future is uncertain. But we need leadership to tell us how we are going to tackle the problem, which is the only certainty we can have at this point.

Rockville hit by more coronavirus layoffs as lockdown continues

More Montgomery County employers are laying off workers as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown continues. In Bethesda, Uncle Julio's announced on Friday it will lay off 50 employees. Paper Source up the street is laying off 15 workers. And the Hyatt Regency Bethesda has just laid off 95 employees.

Rockville's Cambria Suites Hotel is laying off 25 people. That hits particularly close to home, as parent company Choice Hotels' world headquarters is diagonally across the street from the Cambria Suites. Also in Rockville, Miller's Ale House is laying off 74 employees.

Gaithersburg's new upscale movie theater, Cinepolis, is being hit as hard as every other shuttered cineplex as new Hollywood releases continue to be postponed. They have finally laid off 65 employees. And the Holiday Inn in Gaithersburg just laid off 57 team members.

With Covid-19 going nowhere, and with no solid medical evidence that surviving the virus gives a patient permanent or even temporary immunity, we're likely going to face continued economic pain for at least the next two years. Montgomery County's already-moribund, last-in-the-region economy is particularly hard hit, because the vast majority of what few jobs have been created here recently are in the restaurant and retail sectors.

Workers are smart enough to realize that they may want to move into sectors that won't be interrupted by this and future pandemics, or at least ones where they can be among those privileged to work from home. Expect a re-calibration of the labor market in that event, which will drive up wages for service jobs, and increase the pain further for our already-struggling restaurant and retail sectors.

Image via Federal Trade Commission

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rockville cancels July 4th fireworks; farmers market to return in June

The coronavirus pandemic continues to upend calendars and traditions across the globe and here in Rockville. Annual July 4th fireworks that were to have been held at Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in King Farm have been canceled. Hometown Holidays and the Memorial Day parade have also been canceled. On a brighter note, Rockville's Farmers Market will return to the parking lot at the corner of Route 28 and Monroe Street on June 6.

Coronavirus-related facilities closures have been extended through May 29, including City Hall. The City of Rockville’s tennis and pickleball courts, the dog park at King Farm, and all parks and trails are open. Playgrounds, athletic fields, bathrooms, fitness stations, basketball, Bankshot and volleyball courts will remain closed until further notice. City events, in-person classes, programs, rentals and activities are also canceled through May 29.

Most of the state of Maryland moved into Phase 1 of Gov. Larry Hogan's reopening plan Friday. Montgomery County declined to do so, and is remaining under a new Stay-at-Home lockdown order declared by the Montgomery County Council.

Photo via U.S. Department of Defense

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Montgomery County $5 million check program quietly doubles to $10M, court filing reveals

County in legal jeopardy over program 
it says has already disbursed $1M

Montgomery County officials told the public that they had appropriated $5 million to disburse as cash payouts to residents who do not qualify for federal coronavirus relief funds. But a new court filing shows that the program has quietly doubled to $10 million without public knowledge. The explosion in size of the check program has only come to light in a letter from County Attorney Marc P. Hansen filed yesterday in U.S. District Court. This letter was in response to the lawsuit right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch recently filed against the County, which alleges that the check program is in violation of federal law because Maryland has never passed legislation to allow Montgomery County to disburse cash payments to residents who are illegally present in the United States.

Hansen's letter states that "[i]t has come to our attention that the County has appropriated ten million dollars for the challenged EARP program." The County never publicly announced an appropriation of another $5 million for the program since its original press release. Hansen also confirms that "one million dollars has been disbursed as of this time." The money will be moving quickly out the door, according to Hansen: "It is anticipated that the balance of the appropriated funds will be distributed by the end of the first week of June," he writes to U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messite.

Photo via

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rockville Historic District Commission to consider demolition request for home built by prominent African-American family

The owner of 725 North Horners Lane in the Two Brothers subdivision in Rockville is seeking a ruling on whether a 1946 Cape Cod house on the property is historic, or can be demolished. Located across the street from the Lincoln Park Cemetery, the land was purchased in 1921 by an African-American man from the Olney-Sandy Spring area. Hilleary Hawkins was likely born into slavery, a Rockville Historic District Commission staff report suggests, because there is no official record of his birth, which was prior to the Civil War. Census records show his childhood home to be Washington, D.C., but family history says it was Brandywine, Maryland.

Hawkins' first two wives died, according to the staff report. His second wife, Alice Bowman, was forty years younger than Hilleary. She is believed to have died in the 1918 flu pandemic, and is buried in the the cemetery across the street, as is Hilleary himself. His grave was unmarked near a tree at the cemetery entrance. The staff report indicates its location was lost after "road improvements" disturbed the site. 

A prior home Hilleary Hawkins built on the property sometime after 1921 no longer stands. His son, Hazel, built the current home with his brother. The property was annexed by the City of Rockville in 1960, despite Hazel objecting to the city's move. Columbia Transfer, LLC, purchased the land in 2014 from Hilleary Hawkins' grandson, Paul. It has assembled several contiguous parcels for business use.

The Hawkins family is prominent in Rockville and Lincoln Park history, and many of their descendants continue to live in the area, the staff report notes. This home "is an example of African-American vernacular residential architecture, built by two brothers on the edge of Lincoln Park, during the period of segregation," Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri writes. "The house is solidly built and has retained its integrity." As such, the house meets two of the required criteria for historic designation.

Staff is therefore recommending the house be considered for historic designation, rather than demolition. It must be said that the site does have a special appeal, with the rural setting largely retained, and the home having unique architectural character while having been extremely well built. We also have a tremendous amount of information about this family and their experiences over a broad stretch of American and Rockville history; it's quite remarkable, and adds to the historic appeal of the site. The HDC will consider the historic designation question at its virtual online meeting on May 21, 2020

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Montgomery County sued over $5 million check handout that group alleges violates federal law

Right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed suit against Montgomery County over its recently-announced plan to disburse $5 million-worth of checks to residents who do not qualify for coronavirus financial assistance from the federal government. While the County's official announcement nowhere mentions that the money will go to non-legal residents, it was widely recognized by advocates and opponents alike that the money was intended to go to residents who are here illegally. The initiative was seen by proponents as essential to the County's recovery, given the large number of undocumented immigrants in Montgomery County who would otherwise receive little financial relief during the pandemic.

Judicial Watch is seeking a restraining order against County Executive Marc Elrich and Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services Director Raymond L. Crowel on behalf of two Montgomery County taxpayers, Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena. The restraining order would prevent Elrich and Crowel from disbursing any of the $5 million to residents who are in the country illegally.

The group asserts that the County's plan, known as the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) program, violates federal law. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1621(a), a local government may only provide benefits to "unlawfully present aliens" if the state the jurisdiction is in enacts a law permitting it to do so. Judicial Watch argues that, because Maryland has never passed a law allowing Montgomery County to disburse cash payments directly to residents living here illegally, the EARP program itself is illegal.

“Montgomery County Executive Elrich and the Montgomery County Council have no legal authority on their own to spend taxpayer money for cash payments to illegal aliens,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The coronavirus challenge doesn’t give politicians a pass to violate the law. If they want to give cash payments to illegal aliens, they must be accountable and transparent, and, as federal law requires, pass a state law to do so.”

The group has filed a similar lawsuit in California, which is still pending there. Judicial Watch recently won a legal fight against Maryland, which resulted in a judge ordering the state to hand over all voter data from Montgomery County, after Judicial Watch found that there were more names registered to vote in MoCo than there are actual eligible voters in the county.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Armed robbery at Rockville hotel

City of Rockville police responded to a report of an armed robbery at a hotel yesterday around 3:36 PM. The hotel was in the 16000 block of Shady Grove Road, according to crime data. Preliminary information states that the weapon used was not a gun. An indecent exposure incident occurred at a hotel in the same block one week ago.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Another car stolen in Rockville

A car was reported stolen from the 1500 block of Templeton Place in Rockville early Tuesday morning. This was in the townhome community across Rockville Pike from Haverty's Furniture. The vehicle was taken sometime between Monday night and early Tuesday morning, according to crime data.

This is the third vehicle stolen in Rockville in the last week. Remember to lock your car, and to remove or hide all valuables in the cabin.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Car stolen in Rockville

A car was reported stolen to City of Rockville police on Saturday. The vehicle was taken from a residential driveway in the 700 block of Gaither Road around 6:00 PM, according to crime data.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Indecent exposure reported at Rockville hotel

A case of indecent exposure was reported from a hotel in the Shady Grove area on Wednesday. According to crime data, the incident was reported from a hotel in the 16000 block of Shady Grove Road around 6:04 AM. The call was responded to by the City of Rockville police.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Rio Lakefront polling residents on reopening

State and local governments around the country are planning how and when to reopen their communities and economies after the coronavirus lockdown. Businesses are also preparing, but the concerns and readiness of potential customers are a primary consideration in their own decisions. Peterson Cos., the owner of Downtown Silver Spring and Rio Lakefront, is reaching out to them directly with online surveys to gauge their feelings about the near future.

They are asking questions such as, how long after orders are lifted will they be ready to venture out to dine or shop. Which specific types of businesses they plan to patronize, and their attitudes about mask-wearing, are among other queries in the polls. Feelings about dining inside vs. outside are a central issue, as is the willingness to wait outside a restaurant due to reducing seating capacity.

You can take the survey for Downtown Silver Spring or Rio Lakefront yourself online. This certainly seems like a smart idea, rather than trying to guess whether your customers are ready, which goods and services they are ready to buy, and what inconveniences or changes they are willing to tolerate.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Salvation Army Family Store moves out in Rockville

The Salvation Army Family Store at 1590 Rockville Pike has permanently closed. Most thrift stores in the region had temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, including this one. But this store has now entirely moved out.

This retail center is going to be demolished to make way for the BF Saul Twinbrook Quarter development, which will be anchored by a Wegmans grocery store. BF Saul had wanted to break ground in the first quarter of this year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Car stolen from King Farm in Rockville

A car was reported stolen in King Farm on Saturday. According to crime data, the vehicle was reported stolen from the driveway of a home in the 600 block of Garden View Square around 8:00 PM that evening.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Montgomery County Councilman called out for violating MD Stay at Home order

Largely-Republican protesters rallying to defy their states' Stay-at-Home orders across the nation this weekend had an unlikely Democratic ally in Montgomery County. County Councilmember Evan Glass ventured far from his Silver Spring neighborhood to join a gathering of hundreds outside Suburban Hospital Saturday morning. The crowd was there to see a flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds that was actually meant to thank frontline medical personnel at the hospital, who watched from a hospital rooftop.

The gathering was not only in violation of Maryland's Stay at Home order, but the Pentagon had explicitly directed the public to watch the jets from their homes, and not to travel to the hospitals where pilots would fly over to thank healthcare professionals - not elected officials from Montgomery County. Councilmember Andrew Friedson was also in attendance, but said in a Facebook post that he remained on the other side of the hospital away from the crowd.
The Pentagon's official announcement explicitly told
the public to stay home, and "refrain from traveling
to see the flyover." (Photo: Chip Py/Facebook)
One constituent took Glass to task over his violation of the Stay at Home order on Facebook. "Council Members are putting others at risk by attending this non essential event that wasn’t supposed to be attended. Great example y’all," wrote Chip Py. "Guilty," Glass wrote in reply.

According to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's March 30 Stay at Home order, "no Maryland resident should leave their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason, such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes." In issuing his order, Hogan said, "This is a deadly public health crisis—we are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home, we are directing them to do so. No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes."

The Pentagon's own statement directed the public to "observe the flyover from the safety of their home quarantine...refrain from traveling to see the flyover. Stay home!"


The Councilmen put the health and lives of their constituents at risk by illegally traveling for starters, and then joining in an illegal gathering, despite being warned by Maryland and federal officials not to do so. Had police on the scene enforced Hogan's directive, Glass and Friedson could have faced "imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both," according to the text of the Stay-at-Home order.

Beyond the serious health and safety implications, there was the attempt to hijack a moment recognizing health heroes at Suburban Hospital for political gain by the Council. This was the doctors' and nurses' moment, not the Council's.

Interestingly but predictably, no local media reports pointed out the councilmen had broken the law by traveling to and attending the flyover gathering. The Montgomery County cartel's control of the local press again proves beneficial to elected officials convinced our laws don't apply to them. I must admit, the flyover wasn't anywhere close to as exciting for those of us who obeyed state and federal orders to watch from home as it was for our wayfaring County politicians.

Elected officials have to be held to a higher standard. Councilmembers breaking the Stay-at-Home order not only put themselves, Suburban's staff, and all of us at risk, but undermine the spirit of the public to continue to follow Stay-at-Home and social distancing guidelines. Covid-19 cases continued to rise steadily, a number of negative records were set, and Montgomery County went to Blue Alert with critical care beds "mostly filled" on the same weekend the Council crashed the Suburban flyover.

It turns out that having a bursting bag of developer campaign cash, and local media allies eager to amplify your imagined exploits in office, don't necessarily translate into possessing common sense or basic leadership skills.

Heckuva job, Brownie!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Coronavirus patient surge at hospitals puts Montgomery County on Blue Alert

Critical care beds
"mostly full" at all
County hospitals tonight

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed by the Maryland Health Department has continued on an upward track recently. Tonight, Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer confirmed that critical care beds at all county hospitals are "mostly full" this evening. This triggers a Blue Alert for MCFRS crews. County EMS supervisors are actively managing patient distribution countywide at this hour.

"All area hospitals are busy," Piringer said. As a result, patients may be transported to a hospital further away from their home until beds free up.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Strong-arm robbery in Twinbrook Metro station parking lot in Rockville

A strong-arm robbery in the Twinbrook Metro station parking lot at 1600 Chapman Avenue was reported to Montgomery County police Tuesday. The robbery took place around ten minutes before midnight, according to crime data.