Showing posts with label Montgomery County Council. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montgomery County Council. Show all posts

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Rent stabilization rally set for January 30 in Rockville

A rally to support passage of a rent stabilization law in Montgomery County has been scheduled for this Monday, January 30, 2023 at 12:30 PM in front of the Montgomery County Council Building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. "The Rent is Too Damn High" is being sponsored by the Maryland Poor People's Campaign, and the UFCW Local 1994 union, who say some on the County Council are trying to block efforts to make rent stabilization part of changes to housing policy in the county.

"Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) has assembled a hastily-scheduled panel of housing experts to discuss Montgomery County’s housing crisis — by invitation only," the event announcement says. "While the details are still not clear, we expect the speakers to be weighted towards opposing rent stabilization, despite studies and local evidence showing that rent stabilization works. You, the people, have been left out of this discussion. To re-center the conversation, we need you to join a large coalition of nonprofit and labor organizations fighting to center the County residents most impacted by housing policy. We will express our frustration that the people most affected by housing decisions do not have an equitable role in the conversation. We will also denounce the lack of transparency in the organization of the [Planning Housing and Parks Committee] meeting."

Participants are asked to assemble at the front steps of the Council building at 12:30 PM for a rally and press conference. Then the group will move inside for the Council committee session around 1:15 PM. Organizers recommend wearing an KN95-or-better mask inside the crowded hearing room, wearing a rent stabilization t-shirt (shirts will be available Monday if you don't have one), and to "prepare to make noise in support of rent stabilization." 

Interested participants can sign up to join the rally online, or just show up at 12:30 PM Monday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Montgomery County Council has forfeited its privilege to "power" over land-use and zoning authority structure

Montgomery County Councilmembers who call the attempt to examine the county's current structure of land-use authority "a power grab" are implicitly acknowledging they have been wielding that power through the current Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission structure. The disastrous results of the Council's exercise of that power speak for themselves. Their hand-picked five members of the Montgomery County Planning Board were forced to resign this fall, under accusations of consuming alcohol in their County office building and pressuring others to do so, creating a "toxic misogynistic and hostile workplace," repeated violations of the Open Meetings act, letting individual commissioners' grievances implode the board, and engaging in staff firings as retribution. Those five people, in the Council's judgement, were the five best who had applied. That says as much about the Council as about the disgraced commissioners themselves.

Those issues that led to a regional embarrassment for the County this fall were hardly the only ones to stain the Planning Board and County Council. The Board and Council have routinely passed master and sector plans over the outspoken objections of the communities the plans will guide growth policy and zoning in.

Thrive 2050 was only the most recent example, a "blow-up-single-family-home neighborhoods" plan and developer fever dream the Council rubber-stamped into law mere days after declaring that it had "no confidence" in the five commissioners who drafted and approved every word of it. Virtually all of the support for Thrive 2050 came from people who do not actually live in the single-family home neighborhoods the plan would bulldoze, developers, and Astro-turf "YIMBY" activists. The plan itself was neither novel nor innovative, but a hodgepodge document plagiarized from the few other jurisdictions around the country corrupt and crazy enough to end the single-family home zoning most consider to be the American Dream. Other than generating more developer profits, those earlier Thrive-style efforts elsewhere have failed to realize any of the false promises their advocates had touted.

M-NCPPC, the Planning Department and Planning Board have a horrific record on racial bias, particularly with the African-American community. The most prominent examples of this have been the Farm Road scandal, the desecration and attempted cover-up of the Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda, and the repeated calling of multiple armed police officers to silence or remove African-American protesters at Planning Board meetings. The Council had full knowledge of those events, and never exercised their self-proclaimed "power" to criticize, investigate or remove any employee, commissioner or chair involved in those well-documented racist actions. Not even after the summer of Black Lives Matter in 2020 did the Council revisit these transgressions.

Now that County Executive Marc Elrich and State Senator Ben Kramer are attempting to formulate a process to examine a reform or replacement of the current land-use authority structure, the Council is attempting to end the discussion before it starts. It's too late for that, because residents affected by the land-use decisions made over the last two decades have already been discussing it. That discussion has led to increasing calls to rein in M-NCPPC and the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. It's time to have this conversation, and explore the options.

Much like the County's outdated government monopoly on the sale of alcohol, the M-NCPPC is a highly-unusual arrangement for a land-use authority. It includes Montgomery and Prince George's County, two jurisdictions that just happen to have had many development-related scandals and outsized developer influence over the years. Those scandals - topped off last week by new questions about the ousted Planning Board's 2021 purchase of parcels in downtown Bethesda for $9.6 million for a park that now won't be built - have led us to the point that we need to look at how to make land-use decisions more accountable to all stakeholders, not just to those with the most money and power. 

The proposed commission, representing cooperation between county and state leaders, is a good starting point for this discussion. It's clear that those who have wielded the "power" in land-use and zoning decisions have abused that power, shown major errors in judgement, and failed to exercise their oversight role responsibly. They've lost their unearned privilege to continue to hold that power. 

Reforming the land-use authority structure could well mean transferring that power to others. It could also mean pulling Montgomery County out of the M-NCPPC. It should also mean restoring the Office of the People's Council and sector plan committees, and the creation of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions as Washington, D.C. has, to strengthen accountability to residents. We can't achieve reform until we take a hard look at the situation, through efforts such as the proposed commission.

A first step in being stripped of power is admitting you hold that power through a corrupt, antiquated and - on many occasions - racist structure of authority. The Council has made that admission loud and clear. Now is the time for adults in the room to chart a new way forward. If you openly state you have had the "power," you must also accept full responsibility for the wreckage that power is on the record as having caused, and not block the path to fixing it.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando added to Wes Moore steering committee

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D - At-Large) was added to the transition Steering Committee for the incoming administration of Maryland governor-elect Wes Moore (D), lieutenant governor-elect Aruna Miller (D) announced Thursday. Jawando, who was just reelected to a second term on the Council earlier this month, joins Maryland Business-Clergy Partnership Co-Chairman Joe Gaskins as the newest members of the committee. 

“Councilman Jawando and Joe Gaskins are critical additions to our transition team," Miller said in a statement. "We have so much work to do together to ensure that this is Maryland’s decade. I look forward to working closely with Councilman Jawando and Joe Gaskins, and our entire transition team, to lay the foundation for a stronger, healthier, and wealthier Maryland.”

"It's a honor to serve as we work towards a stronger and more equitable Maryland!" Jawando tweeted Thursday night. Jawando and Moore are both veterans of the administration of President Barack Obama.

Photo courtesy Montgomery County Council website 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Montgomery County Council passes gun bill despite assurance of expensive court fight

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a gun control bill yesterday that will prevent lawful gun owners with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms within a massive swath of the jurisdiction. Because the bill designates so many types of common buildings and spaces as gun-free zones, and includes the area around them up to 100 yards, it renders the recently-affirmed right to carry a gun outside the home nearly impossible to exercise. Councilmembers may find themselves on the stand in a courtroom within the next year as a result. County taxpayers will pick up the tab to defend any legal challenge to the new law. 

The bill also adjusted language in the County's recent law on privately-manufactured firearms to match the new state restrictions on them. Despite Maryland having passed some of the most-restrictive gun laws in the nation in the previous decade, and the Council having passed a PMP bill last year, the Council acknowledged in a press release that the County is nevertheless still experiencing "an epidemic of gun violence." 

"I continue to believe that guns create immeasurably more problems, often with tragic outcomes, than they attempt to solve,” Council President Gabe Albornoz (D -At-Large) said in a statement. “This legislation will help to ensure that we do everything possible to minimize the number of guns in our public space." Albornoz led the effort to pass the PMP bill in 2021. 

"[T]his will go into effect very rapidly, and we’ll be moving in court, equally rapidly,” Mark Pennak, President of gun rights organization Maryland Shall Issue told DC News Now following the Council vote.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Montgomery County Council to vote on gun control bill today that may trigger a lawsuit

The Montgomery County Council will vote on a gun control bill during its 9:30 AM session this morning that is designed to stymie the right to carry a firearm in public, by designating an exhaustive number of places as gun-free zones. Bill 21-22 would make it illegal for concealed carry permit holders to carry a firearm over so much of the geographical area of the county, as to render that recently-Supreme Court-ruled right nearly impracticable to exercise. That will almost surely invite legal challenges, for which County taxpayers will pick up the tab.

Should the bill pass this morning, it would make it illegal to possess a firearm within 100 yards of any publicly or privately-owned 

  • park
  • place of worship
  • school
  • library
  • recreational facility
  • hospital
  • community health center, including any health care facility or community-based program licensed by the Maryland Department of Health
  • long-term facility, including any licensed nursing home, group home, or care home
  • multipurpose exhibition facility, such as a fairgrounds or conference center
  • childcare facility

Possession of firearms, even legally, would also become criminal inside the following buildings, which have now been defined to include the building's parking lot and grounds:

  • government building, including any place owned by or under the control of the County
  • polling place
  • courthouse
  • legislative assembly, and
  • a gathering of individuals to collectively express their constitutional right to protest or assemble

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Montgomery County election results and takeaways

Among the things Havana, Beijing and Montgomery County have in common? You know the results of a general election before a single vote is cast, at least since 2002. Once again, there were no bombshells or surprises - and no debates or media coverage of the general election campaigns in Montgomery County. Democratic incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich won in a blowout over Republican challenger Reardon "Sully" Sullivan, 71.40% to 28.04%. Every Democrat running for County Council won, as well.

Based on the current numbers, with further mail-in and provisional ballots remaining to be counted, the next County Council will consist of Andrew Friedson (D - District 1), Marilyn Balcombe (D - District 2), Sidney Katz (D - District 3), Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart (D - District 4), Kristin Mink (D - District 5), former Planning Board member Natali Fani Gonzalez (D - District 6), Dawn Luedtke (D - District 7), Gabe Albornoz (D - At-Large), Evan Glass (D - At-Large), Will Jawando (D - At-Large) and former Gaithersburg City Councilmember Laurie Anne Sayles (D - At-Large). 

Democrat John McCarthy was unopposed for State's Attorney, as were Democrats Karen Bushell for Clerk of the Circuit Court, Joseph M. Griffin for Register of Wills, and Maxwell Cornelius Uy for Sheriff.

Here's what we learned from Election Day 2022:

1. How The Washington Post Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marc Elrich

Marc Elrich is, by the numbers, the most popular politician in Montgomery County. Many residents like him. But The Washington Post, with its pro-developer and viciously anti-labor editorial board, hates Marc Elrich. They really hate Marc Elrich. And they spent months out of 2018 and 2022, and many acres of forest wood in paper, trying to defeat Marc Elrich.

The Post said Marc Elrich was the worst person in the world. They wrote that the sky was falling, and the world would end if Elrich were to win a second term. I am almost exaggerating. The County was going down the toilet under his leadership, and he had to be stopped. Montgomery County was the worst place in the world for business, and crime was rising (despite both of those problems worsening long before Elrich became executive in 2018). The Post and many others lied about Elrich's intentions and record on affordable housing. They advised Democrats to vote for David Blair.

Blair lost. By 32 votes.

And then...the Post went silent.

After spending half the year telling us there's no one worse than Marc Elrich, the Post's stated logic could only credibly stand if they endorsed his general election opponent, Sullivan. Instead, the Post made no endorsement. In fact, they made no endorsements for County Council, either. Their reporters, who are separate from the editorial board, did not cover the general election executive and council races. By contrast, the Post extensively covered the D.C. Mayor and Council races, and Arlington County board races. Why is that, by the way? That's a very interesting question we don't know the answer to.

But we do know that the Post decided Marc Elrich was not that bad, after all. They weren't alone. All of the groups who funded ads against Elrich during the primary folded up and disappeared, as well. 

This only makes Elrich's victory sweeter - he not only won, but he converted his biggest enemies and opponents into supporters. Silence is complicity, as they say. Will the Post remember it loves Elrich in 2026? Probably not. But a honeymoon period is clearly in progress.

2. A majority of voters supported the pandemic policy of closing businesses and schools 

The County's pandemic strategy of lockdowns, the closure of schools and businesses, was loved and loathed by different segments of the population. But among those who loathed it, opposition was loud and clear. Things became even more heated when County officials tried to extend school closure authority from public schools to private ones in the fall of 2020. Facebook groups were formed, protests held and letters written. "How do we recall Elrich and the Council?" many asked. Later, they vowed to vote out the incumbents in 2022.

In particular regard to school closures, there is now widespread agreement that the lost academic year of 2020-2021 was misguided, and had a disastrous impact on the education and mental health of the children impacted by it. Montgomery County officials, like President Biden, have since adopted Trump-DeSantis herd immunity strategies to handle COVID going forward.

Every incumbent who supported lockdowns cruised to victory last night. No great sums of money were put behind anti-lockdown challengers on yesterday's ballot. If another variant or virus emerge in the next four years, we will have business lockdowns and school closures again. This is not to say that this is a good or bad thing. Only that election results indicate that those policies were either supported, or not strongly-opposed, by a majority of voters in Montgomery County yesterday. 

3. Debates are a thing of the past in Montgomery County

Montgomery County was ahead of the national curve when it came to the phenomenon of no longer having debates during elections. The last general election Montgomery County Council debates were held in 2014. And at the final Council debate that year in Olney, all of the Democratic incumbents were no-shows. Organizers with the Greater Olney Civic Association were upset, to say the least, and a packed crowd of the Council's constituents were left feeling disrespected. 

In 2018, none of the civic groups that historically held Council debates that included all candidates scheduled one. Three civic associations attempted to hold such debates that year, but were told behind the scenes to cancel them. One complied. The other two converted their debates at the last minute to happy hours, which favored the more-recognized incumbents.

There was a series of general election debates in the county executive race in 2018. But it turns out that may have only been because the Montgomery County political machine was trying to help independent candidate Nancy Floreen beat Marc Elrich. This year, there were zero debates in the general election executive and council races. 

Debates are one of the most fundamental fixtures of a democratic process. The town hall goes back to the beginning of our republic. The working class man in his flannel shirt and jacket standing up in the Norman Rockwell depiction of "Freedom of Speech." Citizens gathering to hear the positions and arguments of candidates on the issues before casting their votes. Imagine that.

You'll apparently have to continue imagining it, because there are no more general election debates in Montgomery County. Democracy died in darkness, and it is pitch black in Montgomery County, with the full and ironic support of the Post. Post reporter Bill Turque was the last to write about MoCo candidates dodging debates in 2014. The last intrepid reporter to cover Montgomery County for the Post, he moved on to The Kansas City Star in 2017. He is now Political Enterprise editor for The Sacramento Bee, after rankling officials in MoCo and D.C. for more than a decade with inconveniently-investigative reporting.  

4. A Council that is starting to look more like Montgomery County

An Asian-American will finally take a seat on the County Council next month. Despite having had one of the largest Asian communities in the D.C. region for years, Montgomery County has only this week elected a councilmember of Asian descent. Democrat Kristin Mink will represent District 5 on the Council, after winning nearly 80% of the vote there, with provisional ballots still to be counted. Attention will now turn to the 2023 Rockville City Council election. Rockville's Asian-American community, unbelievably,still has no representation on the Council, despite being a major contributor to the city's economic growth and success.

5. The new Council districts may be even worse-gerrymandered than the ones they replaced

Councilmember Evan Glass knew what he was doing when he drafted a poison pill ballot question to confuse voters in 2020 who wanted to expand representation on the Council by shrinking the size of the districts it represents into 9 compact areas. Glass put a similar-sounding question that would expand the number of seats on the Council, but avoid the downsizing of districts - and loss of at-large seats - that would make it difficult to choose his own voters. The Glass question passed, and the results are now in. 

It's bad. Really bad.

None of the Council race results were even close. These are among the worst-gerrymandered districts in the nation. Rural areas like Damascus remain lumped in with suburban and urban areas with different needs and priorities, and have gained no electoral power or representation at all. In fact, they appear to have lost power. Like the elimination of debates, this is anti-democratic and a disgrace. 

6. The incredible shrinking GOP

"Where are my choices?" asked many a voter flipping the pages of their ballot. The Republican party did not even bother to field a candidate for District 1 County Council, State Senator in Districts 16, 17, 20 and 39; Delegate in District 16, 20 and 39; State's Attorney, Register of Wills, Clerk of the Circuit Court or Sheriff. 

This is virtually unprecedented. It's bad enough when election results are as predictable as Cuba's, but even worse when the ballot looks like Cuba's.

It's no doubt getting more and more challenging to convince a Republican, Green or Libertarian to run when there are no debates, no press coverage, and every district is gerrymandered. But you can't let people run unopposed. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Montgomery County Council unanimously passes controversial Thrive 2050 plan

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to pass the controversial Thrive 2050 growth master plan this morning. A carbon copy of a plan being pushed nationwide by developers, Thrive 2050 will allow multifamily housing to be built in neighborhoods that are currently zoned for single-family homes over most of the county. The Council voted to approve the plan despite just having announced it had no confidence in, and demanding the resignations of, the five Planning Board commissioners who formulated and edited the plan.

Zillow home values for Minneapolis 2013-2022;
"Minneapolis 2040" (sound familiar?) was passed by
the Minneapolis City Council in 2018, and you can
see that prices have only surged further upward

Many residents expressed opposition to the plan, which will change the character of existing neighborhoods drastically. Among the concerns raised by residents were increased noise, loss of green space and tree canopy, insufficent street parking, school overcrowding, and gentrification that will force retired and lower-income homeowners out of their neighborhoods. The new housing allowed by Thrive 2050 will be luxury housing, not affordable housing. Rents and home values have only continued to rise in the few jurisdictions that have adopted the radical Thrive model, such as Minneapolis.

The Council was criticized for not only failing to reach out to people of color, but for ignoring their own diversity consulting firm, who had urged the Council not to rush to approve Thrive 2050 at the cost of equity for all residents. It was equally criticized in recent days for ramming the plan through before having an independent investigation of the many scandals surfacing in the planning apparatus that birthed it. On that front, the Council has so far received a free pass from local media, with The Washington Post editorial board going so far as to endorse the rushed passage of Thrive 2050. Surely, the money the Post receives from developers for real estate advertising played no role in that endorsement.

Some on the Council are term-limited. For those seeking office in the future, their vote for Thrive 2050 may come back to haunt them, once the impacts of the plan begin to be felt. A majority of residents are unaware of the plan, and have no idea what is happening. Thrive 2050 was largely rushed through during an international pandemic emergency that has tried the patience and mental health of people around the world. Virtually no one besides the Planning Board, the County Planning Department, the County Council, and their sugar daddies in the development community, was paying attention to land use and zoning issues at a time like this.

Today's vote will likely be looked back upon with regret. But it will also be remembered as the greatest victory of the Montgomery County cartel to date. The machine recognized that once they could beat the Columbia Country Club on the Purple Line, they could beat anybody, and they've certainly taken that realization to heart. They now control every elected office in the County, with the exception of County Executive. They control the local media. All opposition was utterly steamrolled by the Planning Board and County Council. That steamroller is now going to roll into neighborhoods across Montgomery County, demolishing homes, along with the suburban lifestyle our radical elected officials despise so much.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Montgomery County Council to defy Maryland law in Planning appointments, as Elrich warns Thrive 2050 is tainted by scandal

Thursday was another explosive day in the Montgomery County Planning Board scandal, as the County Council is poised to defy Maryland state law by illegally appointing 5 temporary board commissioners, without waiting the required three weeks after disclosing the list of candidates. The law is very clear, and is the only codified framework for appointing any individual to the Planning Board, resident Janis Sartucci told ABC 7 News. The list of candidates was made public on Wednesday, October 19, meaning that the appointments cannot legally be made until the next Council takes office after the November 8 election.

Sartucci said she would contact the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh if the Council were to appoint any commissioners before November 9. "We do have an attorney general's opinion that says when there's a vacancy in a public office, the law that's on the books is what controls the replacement process," Sartucci told ABC 7's Kevin Lewis. Several of the applicants for the interim positions are former Planning Board commissioners, meaning they could be under scrutiny themselves if a full investigation into planning scandals were carried out.

Meanwhile, County Executive Marc Elrich warned the Council about another rush job it is undertaking, to pass the controversial Thrive 2050 plan before the Council's term ends in the coming weeks. In a memo, Elrich said the Council cannot separate the Thrive plan from the scandals surrounding the commissioners and employees who drafted, edited and approved it. In addition to the question of who might have participated in ex parte discussions of Thrive over cocktails in Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson's government office as the plan was being drafted, Elrich noted that during the same period, "the Board broke significant rules with respect to the Open Meetings Law, the registration of lobbyists, and the use of the consent calendar. These violations impugn the Board's work product, and raise concerns that the Board, in search of a certain result, might have been willing to bend the rules on other occasions."

In fact, the Board has repeatedly engaged in such rule-breaking over the last decade. And only a handful of lobbyists - primarily development attorneys - have actually registered as lobbyists so far. Many who currently, actively lobby on behalf of the development industry before the Board and Council have yet to register as lobbyists. 

Elrich also advised the Council to halt its current course of "sweeping everything under the rug." He called on the Council to halt the Thrive approval process until an investigation of the planning scandals is completed, so that residents can have confidence the plan wasn't tainted by unethical and illegal actions by those drafting it.

The County Executive listed four major errors the Council has made in its last-minute push to ram through Thrive 2050. 

Error number one, Elrich wrote, was the Council adding three hastily-written chapters to the plan that have never been the subject of a public hearing. While ignoring his own and the public's comments on the plan this fall, Elrich added, the Council only addressed the comments of two representatives of developer-funded organizations that are lobbying for Thrive 2050. Elrich said that, at a minimum, the Council must hold a public hearing on the new last-minute chapters it added. He argued it would be best if the plan were sent back to a new Planning Board after the election.

Error number two, Elrich wrote, was to use an old map in the plan that pretends the County never added the Suburban Communities and Residential Wedge designations to its growth policy. Elrich brought this error to the Planning Board's attention in 2020, but they ignored his communication. He said there needs to be a new public hearing on how those two recognized land uses added in 1993 will be impacted by Thrive 2050. Elrich suggested the public "has a right to know what effect, if any, this change will have on their individual properties and on future growth in their neighborhood."

Of course, Thrive 2050 as currently written, will have massive, tectonic effects on both. Noise, overcrowding, lack of street parking, reduced school capacity, forced eviction of many residents through gentrification, loss of green space and tree canopy, and a complete change in neigborhood character are all built in to the Thrive plan.

The Council's third major error, Elrich wrote, is repeatedly misleading the public by claiming that passing the Thrive 2050 plan will not make zoning changes to their neighborhood. But the text of Thrive 2050 itself clearly states that such zoning changes may be required in order to implement the plan, and this admission was only added this month. He accused the Planning Board and Council of "withholding the information that a massive rezoning to urbanize most of the County could only take place after Thrive was enacted." The public has a right to know this, as well, Elrich said.

Error number 4, Elrich wrote, was removing quotes from the consultant hired by the Council that chastised the Council for not allowing enough time for substantive outreach to the BIPOC community, and for conducting what little outreach there was during the summer vacation season when it was harder to contact people. Elrich wrote that there must be further outreach to residents of color before Thrive 2050 is passed.

The Elrich memo makes the larger argument that the Council cannot simply state it has lost confidence in the Board and appoint a new one; it must disclose to the public the specifics of why it lost confidence, and conduct a full investigation of the many charges, claims and allegations that were made by whistleblowers inside the Planning Department. A complete dismissal of the Board has not cleared the way for passage of Thrive as the Council seems to think, Elrich concluded, but has "cast a shadow over the entirety of the Planning Board's actions."

Elrich's memo is well-written and on-point in every respect. There is no time factor or urgent need to pass Thrive 2050 this month. It is not even a unique or innovative plan. It's a carbon copy of the same "missing middle" plan that developers are attempting to ram through nationwide, including in Arlington County, using the same sham arguments. 

Thrive 2050 is nothing more than a wild, developer profit grab through a policy that would allow high-density, luxury multifamily growth on every acre of land in Montgomery County outside of the agricultural reserve - and that's on the menu next. We've learned since 2002 that all residential growth generates more cost in services than it generates in tax revenue for the County. Imagine what an even-more-unhinged growth policy like Thrive will do to a County budget already in a structural deficit, and carrying a debt so large that, if it were a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County government.

Assault in Montgomery County Council building parking garage in Rockville

Rockville City police responded to a report of a 2nd-degree assault in the parking garage at the Montgomery County Council Building at 100 Maryland Avenue Tuesday morning, October 18, 2022. The assault was reported at 10:40 AM Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Montgomery County community leaders ask U.S. Department of Justice to place M-NCPPC under receivership

The struggle between Montgomery County residents who are demanding an investigation of scandals within the County Planning Board and Planning Department, and a County Council who want to sweep those scandals under the rug and quickly install five new cronies on the Board, took another turn today with a protest at the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville. Multiple community and organizational leaders have signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking federal law enforcement to place the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (the umbrella entity that houses the board and Planning Department) under receivership. They've asked that it remain under receivership until a full, independent investigation of the scandals is completed, and that County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council be included as targets of the investigation.

"What is essential in this moment is not deliberate speed, but deliberation—with vigorous public input and oversight to ensure that any actor involved in the racism, sexism, corruption, and illegal activities is removed from Montgomery County office and is held responsible to the fullest extent of the law," the letter states. "In conclusion, Parks and Planning is broken. Expecting the County Council and Office of the Executive to solve a problem they had a hand in creating is not an effective solution. M-NCPPC needs fundamental change to address the systemic racism that has been baked into the commission since its inception. Those who are clamoring to fill Planning Board vacancies  must not be allowed to do so within the framework of a demonstratively racist, hostile, and opaque system—that they themselves have supported, condoned, and maintained."

The letter is signed by the Montgomery County Poor People’s Campaign, the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, the United Front for Justice, the Reverend Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Baptist Church in Bethesda, Empower DC, the Montgomery County Green Party, the Anti-Racist Bethesda Coalition, the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition, Bethesda resident Mr. James McGee, and Nancy Wallace, the gubernatorial candidate for the Green Party in Maryland. It has also been sent to members of the U.S. Congress, and the County Council.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Montgomery County Council tries to avoid investigation of Planning scandals - will they be allowed to succeed?

Montgomery County is in the midst of one of its most-embarrassing, and potentially most-earth-shaking, political scandals ever. But you wouldn't know it listening to the County Council. The Council has heard a barrage of rumors, accusations, explicit allegations - and even some admissions - of improper or illegal activity within the County Planning Board and Planning Department over the last several weeks. After initially taking no significant action, when the matter reached the verge of going nuclear, imploding the County political machine, and threatening the passage of the controversial Thrive 2050 plan, the Council stepped in and demanded the resignations of all five planning commissioners. According to the Council, that's the end of the story.

"Not so fast," some are saying. In fact, that's an exact quote from just one critical voice opposing the Council's intention to sweep planning corruption under the rug, the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition. Their press release calls for something we needed years ago: an independent investigation of the current and past Planning Boards, and of the Planning Department itself. It cites a number of ways planning in Montgomery County has impacted African-American residents over decades, including its chief policy concern, the ongoing desecration of Moses African Cemetery by real estate interests since the 1960s, and the Planning Department's documented attempts to cover it up during the Westbard sector plan process.

BACC's response is an interesting place to start discussing the planning scandal, because so many of the controversies at the department have been racial in nature. Farm Road. The white Planning Board chair repeatedly calling in as many as eight police officers on protesters from a black church at multiple meetings, even after the phenomenon of whites calling the police on blacks had become a national discussion. 

What little we know about the latest controversies only adds to the impetus for further investigation. Who were all the individuals drinking with Chair Casey Anderson in his office bar? Were unreported ex parte communications a part of these happy hours? How much input on Thrive 2050 was offered over cocktails?

Incredibly, The Washington Post - The Washington Post!! - could not confirm this week where just-resigned Board commissioner Partap Verma is currently employed. That is a critical point, as this must be disclosed by every commissioner when they apply, and in ongoing filings. This does not mean Verma is up to something nefarious, but that there is a breakdown of ethical and accountability protocols at the department. If current employment could be hidden by commissioners, they could be working for a developer with business before the Board, and the public would have no idea.

That matter was raised by the Post after Verma was allegedly accused of violating the Hatch Act, and doing so to assist active nominees for County political offices on the November ballot. This is another area to be fully investigated.

County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement Wednesday correctly saying that "[t]his cannot be the end of the conversation on the dysfunction and structural issues at Planning." He cited some of the past transgressions of the Board, including violations of the Open Meetings Act. A vote on Thrive 2050's passage should be delayed until racial, equity and community feedback matters have been fully addressed, Elrich added. He endorsed the Council's own equity consultant's argument that “compressed timeframes are the enemy of equity.”

While the Council will likely appoint new commissioners from the same political stew - if allowed to by the press and others in positions of power - Elrich called for a sea change in how the board is composed. "It is clear that new people and new voices are needed on the Planning Board," Elrich wrote. "Park and Planning has been run by a group of insiders for far too long. There needs to be a respectful balance of the views of developers and those of the community. I hope that the new Planning Board appointees reflect the demographics of this community and are committed to our residents, community input, and an efficient and transparent process."

Elrich's Republican opponent in November's election, Reardon Sullivan, released a statement citing Planning Board misbehavior, and the lack of accountability. "Our unchecked County government officials have been unaccountable for far too long," Sullivan said. "The shameful history of the Planning Board includes public infighting, questionable behavior, and multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act. Furthermore, their expedited actions to push through Thrive 2050, without proper review and input from the community, is characteristic of this body that was nominated and approved by the leadership in Montgomery County."

"Is there something you don’t want us to know?" tweeted EPIC of MoCo, an organization of residents who oppose Thrive 2050. "If you’ve lost confidence in the Board, we deserve to know why and why you have confidence with [Thrive 2050], created by a flawed process in a hostile environment?" 

Perhaps the most informative response to the scandal, for those seeking to determine whether the Council should be allowed to consider the planning debacle closed, is an article by local political commentator and blogger Adam Pagnucco, on his new Montgomery Perspective blog. It's a perspective residents should familiarize themselves with quickly. 

A former County Council staff member, Pagnucco is as close to an official voice as you can get for the most powerful faction of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County. If you want to capture the zeitgeist of the day within the County political machine, you turn to Pagnucco. If you're a fan of Marc Elrich, and part of the most-progressive wing of the Democratic party, you do not. 

What makes Pagnucco's piece so valuable is not his blow-by-blow recounting of the Planning Board fiasco. It's the list of grievances and fears within the Montgomery County political cartel that he candidly reveals. It's a list that only compounds the need for a full investigation.

The undercurrents within Pagnucco's report are gushing and undeserved praise for a County Council that waited to act until the situation became the latest regional embarrassment for the County, and a hint of relief that the resignations will negate the need for further investigation of the Planning Board and Department, and allow for quick Council approval of Thrive 2050 later this month.

From this insider viewpoint, we can conclude that, for the Council and their campaign contributors, nothing can stand in the way of approval of Thrive 2050. And that the Council feels their eviction of the Planning Board commissioners ends this chapter, without any investigation of past transgressions by the Board and Planning Department, much less the many accusations reported or hinted at during the last few weeks.

The reality is, the public knows very little about Thrive 2050, a plan that would allow existing single-family home neighborhoods to be bulldozed, for the construction of duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings. It would destroy the neighborhood character homeowners paid good money for, reduce green space and increase pollution and runoff amidst an environmental crisis, jam streets with more cars than there is space to park, and multiply school overcrowding by as much as 4 times. But it will greatly profit the developers who fund the campaigns of the County Council.

Yet the Council is now in the untenable position of having to approve a Thrive 2050 plan that was developed by five people they just declared they have no confidence in. If you have no confidence in the authors of a plan, how can you have confidence in the plan they wrote or edited every single word of?

Most intriguing of all, is Pagnucco's discussion of another fear within the Council and real estate development community that I've never heard discussed before. Namely, that Elrich was supposedly plotting to seize control over the Planning Board's functions, folding them into his office's portfolio. I have never heard Elrich express this desire publicly, but I actually hope he was planning (pun intended) to do this, and acts to do it soon.

As Pagnucco explains, Montgomery and Prince George's County are outliers in delegating this planning authority to ostensibly-independent authorities like the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Both counties just happen to have a long history of planning scandals, and ultra-cozy ties between real estate developers and elected officials. Much like our County government liquor monopoly, we should not be surprised that an unusual, self-serving, and corrupt method of governance is delivering such poor results for the taxpayer and public good.

Elrich should step up, and step in, now. Pagnucco writes that the Council's fear is exactly that, and that Elrich would use the current scandal to justify such intervention. Well, Elrich would indeed be justified, and has the moral high ground. Whatever criticism there is of his policies, he is one of the most honest politicians in the County.

Regardless of whether Elrich acts in that direction, this can't be the end of the scandal. Certainly, The Washington Post and local television stations need to keep the heat on the Council, to explain why they think the resignations are the end to a decades-long and very sordid story. But an FBI investigation is long overdue, as well.

One has to wonder what friends in high places in federal law enforcement the County's political cartel has, that we've avoided an FBI investigation all these years. The Bureau usually steps in after just one scandal breaks, believing correctly that such matters may be the mere tip of the corruption iceberg in a local government. But through a non-profit's inability to account for $900,000 in taxpayer money, the embezzlement of more than $6 million from the County government by at least one employee, Farm Road, the Department of Liquor Control scandals, and the cover-ups in the Westbard sector plan process, Burt Macklin and his colleagues have yet to show up on the doorsteps of County facilities. If only we had such friends in the Pentagon, maybe we wouldn't have been so royally steamrolled by BRAC in Bethesda.

Now isn't the time to sweep dirt under the rug. It's time to start turning rocks over. All of them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Every member of the Montgomery County Planning Board has resigned

Montgomery County has no planning authority at this hour. A scandal that began with Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson has ended today with every commissioner, including Anderson, resigning. The County Council announced the resignations of Anderson, Partap Verma, Carol Rubin, Gerald Cichy, and Tina Patterson in a press release this afternoon.

Despite a series of scandals over the last decade, ranging from Farm Road to the Westbard sector plan, it was a full cocktail bar in Anderson's government office that ended up taking out the board. The County Council initially gave a light slap-on-the-wrist "reprimand" to Anderson and Commissioners Partap Verma and Carol Rubin, for their roles in BarGate. Planning Director Gwen Wright was then fired by the Board, after defending Anderson in press interviews. 

New rumors and leaks about additional bad behavior by commissioners, and an embarrassing article in The Washington Post this week, led the Council to belatedly reconsider its bizarrely-weak initial response. It then announced the resignations today. 

Anderson and the Board should have been removed years ago, over the issues I mentioned above, and for consistently operating under the thumb of developers. All commissioners serve at the pleasure of the Council. But the Council only acted today, after the County had been humiliated for several weeks by the clownish behavior of the commissioners. Only after the situation had become completely untenable, did the Council take action.

 “The Council has lost confidence in the Montgomery County Planning Board and accepted these resignations to reset operations," Council President Gabe Albornoz (D - At-Large) said in a statement. "We are acting with deliberate speed to appoint new commissioners to move Montgomery County forward. We thank the commissioners for their service to our County.”

The Council plans to appoint temporary commissioners by October 25. Montgomery County residents who are interested in filling these temporary acting positions should apply to the Council by October 18 at 5:00 PM. One can only hope that some of those impacted by the scandal will be inspired to share with law enforcement what they know of the inner workings of planning and zoning in Montgomery County.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Montgomery County Council "reprimands" Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, 2 commissioners in alcohol controversy

The Montgomery County Council met in closed session yesterday, to discuss recent revelations in a Maryland-National Capital Park And Planning Commission's Office of the Inspector General report that Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson had kept a full bar in his government office. A whistleblower told the OIG that Anderson had pressured others to drink in his office after working hours, a charge Anderson strongly denied. The OIG investigation determined that some commissioners on the Planning Board had also consumed alcohol on the premises. This morning, the Council announced it would be taking a light touch in addressing the alleged behavior, which occurred in a department that has terminated rank-and-file employees in the past for alcohol policy offenses.

A Council press release states that it has chosen to reprimand Anderson, and Planning Board commissioners Carol Rubin and Partap Verma. The Council statement vaguely refers to the OIG report, but does not explicitly mention alcohol, or what the officials are being specifically penalized for. Anderson has previously issued an apology for his actions, stating that he has disposed of the alcohol in his office, and that he only drank after business hours.

This morning's press release states that "the Council has issued reprimands that will result in Chair Anderson losing four weeks of his salary and Vice Chair Verma and Commissioner Rubin each losing one day of their respective salaries. The three commissioners also must attend Employee Assistance Program counseling which is consistent with the Commission’s protocol.”

The press release goes on to say that the “Council is extremely disappointed in the violations of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) policy by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, as detailed in an advisory memorandum from M-NCPPC’s inspector general. The memorandum also found violations of Commission policy by Vice Chair Partap Verma and Planning Board Commissioner Carol Rubin."

Anderson is one of the most powerful public figures in the county, and serves at the pleasure of the Council. Extraordinary legislative steps were taken to allow Anderson to serve an unprecedented third term as chair, at a record salary for the position. Planning Board commissioners also are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the County Council. 

The Council has stated that it will not say anything publicly about the case because it is a personnel matter. That assertion is patently false, because the individuals involved are political appointees holding public offices, not career employees. 

Miller's Ale House has closed in Rockville

Miller's Ale House
has closed at 1471 Rockville Pike. The restaurant and bar operated there for a decade.  Miller's had a 4.1 out of 5 rating on Google and Facebook, a 3.5 on TripAdvisor and 3 stars on Yelp, so they weren't exactly run out of town. Its closure really is the end of an era, in a way.

When Miller's Ale House opened in 2012, it looked like a new age of nightlife might be upon us in Rockville. Bar Louie and American Tap Room had also just opened at Rockville Town Square. And there were old standbys like Gordon Biersch and Hooters. Look around in 2022, and every single one of those businesses is gone.

This may simply be Rockville's chapter in the larger book of Montgomery County nightlife being slammed shut over the last decade. The county had a good number of bars and nightclubs around 2010, and certainly was positioned to improve with the right policies at the county level. Just the opposite ended up happening.

It started with a major hike in the County energy tax, one that saw businesses like Target and Magruder's having to dim their lighting, posting apologetic signs explaining it was due to the energy tax. A series of other anti-business votes were taken by the Council in the ensuing years, over the objections of business owners.

Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland warned councilmembers in 2016 that Montgomery County's restaurant sector had gone flat since 2012. In contrast, Thompson noted, Fairfax County's restaurant sector had grown by 6% in the previous year alone. Frederick County's had jumped 5.4% over the same period. The Council ignored Thompson, and passed more taxes (including a whopping 9% property tax increase), more regulations, and a $15 minimum wage. 

At the same time, the Council also lashed out at food trucks. Part of the bubbling up of a potentially vibrant new era of nightlife was the new phenomenon of food trucks, which would park in legal parking spots in busy areas at lunchtime in Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring. Some would also park in nightlife areas later, to serve patrons emerging after bars closed for the night. 

The Council banned such mobile food operations, limiting food trucks to private property. Trucks - the majority of which were based in Washington, D.C. - retreated over the Maryland border into the District. Office workers in Friendship Heights had a clear view of trucks still working the lunch hour just over the line in D.C. Montgomery County's food truck scene was gone, with the exception of those who were invited to cater private events, or to park on private property like gas stations.

Over the last decade, at least 21 nightspots closed in downtown Bethesda alone. Incredibly, all of those closures followed the Council's 2012 "Nighttime Economy Initiative." Hyped to the max by some local media outlets at the time, the initiative - along with the rest of the misguided Council actions of the last decade - ended up tanking the nighttime economy countywide. The demise of Miller's is only the latest example of that collapse.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Montgomery County Executive, Civic Federation call on County Council to disapprove Thrive 2050 plan

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and the Montgomery County Civic Federation have both asked the County Council to disapprove the controversial Thrive 2050 growth plan. Elrich wrote in a memo to councilmembers that a new consultant report underscored his previous concern that there was insufficient outreach to residents of color, and of lower-income levels. He also noted that a survey touted by Thrive 2050 proponents used deceptive questions that referred to end goals of the plan, without disclosing the new zoning changes that would be implemented to achieve them.

Elrich advised the Council to put its political interests in passing Thrive 2050 before the November election aside, in favor of more outreach, and incorporation of more than 65 changes recommended by the consultant to prevent gentrification and displacement of residents of color and lower incomes. These proposed changes include Community Benefit Agreements, rent-to-own programs, and constructing more parks in areas that fit those demographics. Elrich said disapproving the current plan would also allow time for further public hearings.

A major complaint of Thrive 2050 detractors from the beginning has been the impression that the plan was rammed through by the County Planning Board while the general public was distracted by the pandemic. The most controversial aspect is that the plan would allow construction of multifamily housing in existing single-family home neighborhoods. This would drastically change the character of those neighborhoods, while the resulting attached housing units would be too expensive to help address the perceived lack of affordable housing in the county. 

Thousands of new housing units have come online countywide since 2014, but that surge in inventory has had no downward effect on prices. As volume increases, home prices and rents have only gone upward, creating skepticism that Thrive 2050's massive construction scheme will make housing affordable. In fact, based on the data of the last decade, it would likely only jack up prices further. If new townhomes sell for over $1 million in an industrial area of 20816, how much would a new larger duplex unit sell for in the same desirable zip code? Not less.

The resolution passed by the Civic Federation addressed many of the same concerns Elrich raised, as well as environmental sustainability and the need for broad community support for master plans. Thrive 2050 supporters have dismissed that idea, arguing that despite their six-and-seven figure investments in a SFH-neighborhood environment, County home buyers should have no say or leverage in the zoning or development of any property besides their own. 

New chapters should be added on each of the topics that the consulting team determined were shortchanged in the current draft, the Federation advised, including environmental, racial equity and social justice issues. A new public hearing should be held on each of those new chapters, its resolution added. The Federation also opposes universal upzoning and by-right zoning changes implemented through the controversial Zoning Text Amendment process, and notes that the consultant report suggests that a legitimate process to address the areas of concern it identified would take at least one year.

Other concerns that have been expressed throughout the Thrive 2050 process have included school overcrowding, loss of green space and tree canopy, inadequate parking spaces for the higher neighborhood densities proposed, and whether the existing infrastructure such as water and sewer can handle such a population increase in existing neighborhoods. 

The Council currently has planned to vote on the Thrive 2050 plan by October 25.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Montgomery County slow to react to Bethesda church attacks

Montgomery County government initially kept quiet about the first two arson and vandalism attacks at Bethesda churches early Saturday, and County leaders have been slow to react to the third yesterday morning. County officials made no public announcement of several fires being set at North Bethesda United Methodist Church, and of the cemetery being vandalized at the Wildwood Baptist Church next door Saturday until late the next morning, about 10 hours after a third attack at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church. Arson and property damage at St. Jane's was significant enough that Sunday Masses had to be relocated to a gymnasium.

Coverage of the church attacks by local media has not yet delved into why the public was not informed Saturday of the first attacks. No report I've seen so far challenges County leaders as to why they did not make the initial two attacks public until more than 24 hours later. Had they been announced, perhaps other houses of worship and the public could have been on heightened alert; there's no evidence Montgomery County itself stepped up protection of nearby churches, as the arson Sunday morning would seem to confirm.

County elected officials' reaction to the weekend church attacks has been slow, underwhelming or non-existent. County Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D), who represents the area where all three houses of worship were vandalized, did not weigh in on the matter until very late Sunday evening on Twitter. Councilmembers Will Jawando (D -At-Large) and Gabe Albornoz (D - At-Large) tweeted at about the same time late Sunday. So far, no County elected official has outlined any actions they are taking in response.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) had still not issued a formal press release on the County website as of this writing, and had not commented on Twitter or Facebook. Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen (D) has been silent on the attacks, despite a media event this past March at which he said, "It is a sad sign of the times that we have to be protecting places of worship, but it is a reality of the times.” His colleague, Ben Cardin (D), hasn't spoken out, either. Congressman Jamie Raskin (D), who represents Bethesda, hasn't issued a press release or social media statement as of this hour.

No press release yet from
Montgomery County police

Attacks of this nature are hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism. But as of this morning, there is no press release from Montgomery County police on these high-profile crimes.

No visible police patrols or presence were
seen at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
in downtown Bethesda on the "night of rage"
two weeks ago, nor last night following this
weekend's attacks at other Bethesda churches

The tepid response by Montgomery County to these events is not new this summer. In the evening and early morning following the controversial Supreme Court decision two weeks ago, there was no visible sign of stepped-up patrols at any Catholic churches I went by in the County. That was despite a warning of a "night of rage" by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to parishes nationwide, which said domestic terror incidents could be expected at Catholic churches. That night - and last night, following the disturbing events of the weekend - there was no visible sign of law enforcement outside of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in downtown Bethesda.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Al Carr enters District 4 County Council contest as map changes shake up district Council races

Maryland House Delegate Al Carr (D - District 18) withdrew from his reelection race last evening, and filed to run for the Montgomery County Council District 4 seat. That move just before last night's filing deadline, and last-minute map changes, shook up district contests across the county, as well as the District 18 House race Carr exited.

The County Democratic Central Committee can appoint a Democrat to fill the empty ballot spot left by Carr in the District 18 race. But other seismic shifts on the election game board Friday will affect the 2022 Election through the July primary and beyond.

Carr brings name recognition and a lengthy resume in public service to the District 4 race. Prior to last night, Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart was the only high-profile elected official in the Democratic primary for that reshaped district, which now stretches from south Rockville to Stewart's home base. Carr served on the Kensington Town Council prior to his three terms in the House of Delegates. Amy Ginsburg, who is known for her leadership of the Friends of White Flint; Troy Murtha; and John F. Zittrauer are also running in the District 4 Democratic contest.

Stewart got off to a strong start in her first mayoral term, and political observers have expected her to be a formidable candidate for higher offices as a result. She couldn't entirely avoid controversy as leader of the most politically-active area of Montgomery County, the Takoma Junction uproar and her defense of a city screening of a documentary that many considered anti-Semitic chief among them. But executive experience is always a strong selling point in elections, and Stewart has spent seven years running a high-profile municipality, with all of the responsbilities that entails.

Carr has the advantage of having been engaged on neighborhood and pocketbook issues over a larger geographic area in recent years. His efforts to assist Maryland residents facing exorbitant EZ-Pass late fees, while cracking down on out-of-state toll scofflaws, made national news last year. Carr also introduced a bill to increase transparency at the increasingly-controversial Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County.

The lone Republican in the District 4 race, Cheryl Riley, only finds herself there now due to the new district map boundaries. Riley's sorting into District 4 now leaves District 1 without a Republican challenger to incumbent Andrew Friedson. If the County GOP Central Committee doesn't nominate a Republican, Friedson will be unopposed in the November election. An appointee will also be needed for the fourth spot in the Republican primary race for County Council At-Large.

There are Republicans in all the other Council district races, though. Dan Cuda is running in District 2, George Hernandez in District 3, Riley in District 4, Kate Woody in District 5, Viet Doan in District 6, and Harold Maldonado in District 7. If Doan were victorious in November, he would be the first Asian-American to be elected to the County Council.

District 4 now joins District 6 as the contests-to-watch for politics addicts. Just as the District 4 race includes two prominent elected officials, District 6 Democratic candidates include former County Planning Board commissioner Natali Fani-Gonzalez and former Maryland Delegate MaricĂ© Morales. Both former public officials also have resumes beyond public service. Fani-Gonzalez worked for CASA de Maryland and SEIU Local 32BJ, and now is an executive with the Matea Group. Morales is an attorney with a law practice in Rockville, and also serves on the boards of Montgomery College and Emerge Maryland.

Another high-profile member of the community running as a Democrat in District 6 is Omar Lazo, owner of the popular Los Chorros restaurant in Wheaton. Lazo is also on the Board of Trustees of Montgomery College, as well as serving on the Board of the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce, the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Democratic Club, and on the Board of the Fund for Montgomery. 

Kemp Mill resident Brit Siman-Tov was driven to enter the District 6 race this month by the Council's pandemic business closures and mask policies, and the councilmembers' brief flirtation with the idea of a vaccine mandate. Former WTEM 980 radio producer and personality and current podcaster Steve Solomon is also in the District 6 contest. Republican Doan and Democrats Christa Tichy, Mark Trullinger and Vicki Vergagni round out the candidates in District 6.

The new District 6 includes Aspen Hill, Forest Glen, Glenmont, Kemp Mill, Kensington Heights, parts of Rockville, and Wheaton.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Tom Hucker withdraws from Montgomery County Executive race to run for County Council At-Large

The Montgomery County Executive race saw a dramatic turn of events as the candidate filing deadline passed Friday night. According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D - District 5) has withdrawn from the County Executive race, and has filed to run for County Council At-Large instead. Hucker was eligible to run for one more term in District 5, under the County term limits law.

Hucker's exit probably benefits incumbent executive Marc Elrich the most, as Hucker was - in relative terms - the closest aligned with Elrich on a Council that has an often-contentious relationship with the executive office. County Councilmember Hans Riemer may get a boost as well, from progressives who oppose Elrich and wanted someone new. Hucker's entry into the executive race never made much sense anyway, as he had a safe seat for one more term, and Elrich and Riemer were already blocking both of his ideological lanes in the Democratic primary.

Photo via Montgomery County Council

Friday, June 11, 2021

Montgomery County police union trolls elected officials on social media for defunding police amid crime wave

Montgomery County's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 criticized County elected officials on social media Thursday for "defunding MoCo police" amid a crime wave. The posts on Facebook and Twitter called out County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council for eliminating 27 police officer positions in the budget. They also cited violent crimes in the county that made area headlines in the last few days.

"3 carjackings in 2 days (2 @ gunpoint, 1 w/ serious injuries) when is @MontCoExec and @MoCoCouncilMD going to get their priorities straight and stop defunding MoCo police?" the posts asked. Officers have reported that morale on the force and officer recruiting efforts are both trending downward.

"Just because of the, so much of the anti-police sentiment, not being treated well," County Officer Petr Speight told CBS' Ted Koppel in a report aired Sunday. "Those kind of things are just discouraging people from wanting to stick around. Things have just changed, the way people view us, and the way they view our role in society and our jobs."

While anti-police sentiment has markedly increased after the death of George Floyd, declining police morale has actually been trending in Montgomery County for more than a decade, based on what officers have told me over that time period. The County Council tried to slash disability benefits for officers in 2009, approving a modified version of that plan in 2011. Councilmembers, and the Washington Post editorial board, falsely characterized officers seeking disability benefits as schemers and scam artists without evidence to back up those claims. Both have publicly criticized County police on a regular basis for a variety of grievances since that opening move.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Rockville gun dealer, others sue Montgomery County over new ghost gun law

Montgomery County is being sued in County Circuit Court over its recently-passed ghost gun law. Bill 4-21, passed by the Montgomery County Council on April 6, restricts the possession, use, sale, and transfer of ghost guns, undetectable guns, and certain other firearms within 100 yards of places of public assembly; restricts the possession, use, sale, and transfer of ghost guns, undetectable guns, and certain other firearms with respect to minors; and requires the Montgomery County Police Department to submit an annual report to the County Executive and the County Council regarding the availability and use of ghost guns and undetectable guns in the county. The new law is scheduled to go into effect July 16. But a new lawsuit says the law violates Article XI–E, § 3 of the Maryland Constitution, as well as other statutes on the books.

Maryland Shall Issue, Inc., a leading 2nd Amendment rights organization in the state, gun retailers, and several Montgomery County residents are plaintiffs in the suit. They seek to overturn the law, and to be compensated for damages and legal fees. 

The new law's provision on software designs for ghost guns violates the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the suit alleges. A recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, said the 1st Amendment protects such computer code. New restrictions on possession and business transactions, as well as the overall "vague language" of the law, violate the Maryland Takings Clause (Article III § 40) and the Due Process Clause (Article 24)  of the Maryland Declaration of Rights 

Engage Armament, a gun retailer in Rockville, is one of the plaintiffs in the case. Its owner says the new County law prevents some transactions the store has been able to complete under existing federal and state laws, such as the sale of legal firearm components for assembly, and of computer code for such assembly. The store also falls within 100 yards of a place of public assembly as defined by the County Council, and has until now been able to legally make a firearm sale in the presence of a minor who is accompanied by a parent.

The lawsuit being filed also alleges the new ghost gun law violates the Maryland Express Powers Act, noting that Montgomery County cannot pass laws in conflict with existing state law. Montgomery County is attempting to redefine public gathering places as any ordinary private property that has current or future potential as a public gathering space, the suit alleges. Maryland law regarding the transfer of firearms preempts new restrictions being passed by local governments, it further notes. The suit is Maryland Shall Issue, Inc., et al vs. Montgomery County, Maryland.