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

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.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Montgomery County Council approves FY-2022 budget with property tax increase

Property taxes will increase for almost all Montgomery County residents in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2021, under the $6 billion FY-2022 budget approved by the County Council yesterday. The tax hike comes at a time when many residents and businesses have been struggling during the pandemic's economic downturn. 

Also hitting residents' wallets in the budget: parking fee increases in Bethesda and Wheaton, and the expansion of parking enforcement hours in Silver Spring and Wheaton, which will begin in January 2022. All nine councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the budget and tax increase.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Montgomery County Council proposes property tax increase

The Montgomery County Council has proposed a property tax increase for the fiscal year beginning this July, according to an required announcement published in local newspapers. If approved as is, property taxes would rise 4.7% in FY-2022. 

The Council has raised property taxes every year except FY-2015, when the average homeowner received a meager $12 savings, in an election year budget. FY-2017 had the highest tax increase on record; while officially 9%, due to ever-increasing assessments, it was effectively a 10 to 11% tax increase for many Montgomery County homeowners.

A property tax increase amidst the pandemic is raising eyebrows among taxpayers aware of the proposal, and in the business community. The County economy has been moribund for over a decade, according to federal government statistics, with Montgomery at rock bottom in the region by every relevant economic development measure from job creation to business growth.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Montgomery County ban on movie concessions keeping theaters dark

Montgomery County lifted its order shuttering movie theaters several weeks ago, allowing audiences at limited capacities, but almost all cineplexes remain dark across the county. What's going on? The major sticking point is that the County Council forbid the sales of food and drink at all movie theaters, requiring patrons to remain masked throughout the screening with no refreshments. Theaters make the majority of their profits from these lobby concessions sales, not from the movie tickets themselves.

The announcement that ArcLight Cinemas is closing permanently at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda brought fresh attention to the state of cinema countywide yesterday. Marquees and screens are still dark, with the notable exception of AMC's theaters at Rio Lakefront and Wheaton Plaza. Major chain theaters like Regal Cinemas, iPic and Landmark are not joining them. 

A spokesperson for Cinépolis USA, which opened a theater in the Kentlands area of Gaithersburg only a month before the pandemic hit America, confirmed Tuesday that the County order remains the barrier to reopening. When the ban on food and drink sales is lifted, the Kentlands theater will reopen immediately, the spokesperson said.

It's a dark time, indeed, for movies in Montgomery County. Bethesda is in the worst situation of all. Thanks to the County Council's decision nearly a decade ago to approve demolition of the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 without requiring a replacement cineplex, the closures of Regal, ArcLight and AMC Mazza Gallerie give Bethesda the rare distinction of being a large American town without a mainstream cineplex (Landmark Bethesda Row - which also remains closed - does not screen mainstream blockbusters). Some say the age of a night at the movies is over, but Godzilla vs. Kong box office numbers showed interest in movie theaters remains strong nationally, and worldwide.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Montgomery County Council bucks state advice to lift covid restrictions on business

While most of Maryland reopened for business without restrictions yesterday, the Montgomery County Council resisted Gov. Larry Hogan's call to end restrictions on business. The Council met as the Board of Health Friday, after debating its authority to rebuff Hogan's statewide lifting of limits on retail and restaurants all week. Councilmembers ultimately chose not to lift capacity limits on indoor dining and shopping, which will remain at 25% capacity (although some large retailers have been able to get a waiver for the 25% cap for months), and only rise to 50% on March 26. The updated guidelines unanimously approved by the Council include the following:

As of yesterday at 5:00 PM:

  • removing local restrictions on capacity at child care facilities, which follow state requirements
  • increasing outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people
  • increasing indoor gatherings to a maximum of 25 people
  • eliminating the limit of one person per 200 square feet
  • eliminating alcohol limits on food-service facilities; alcohol can be sold after 10 pm
  • eliminating the restriction on buffet service for food-service facilities
  • increasing the capacity for religious facilities to 50%

The following changes will go into effect on March 26:

  • increasing the maximum capacity to 50% for indoor dining, retail shops, fitness centers and other businesses
  • permitting arts and entertainment facilities to open at 25% capacity, provided they do not sell or permit food for consumption in the facility

The guidelines for entertainment venues as written do not immediately appear to apply to movie theaters, which serve food. Only "theaters" that don't serve concessions may reopen at 25% as of March 26. Given that concessions are key to profits for cineplexes, it seems unlikely they would forgo sales of food just to reopen.

County Executive Marc Elrich cited the low percentage of Montgomery County residents who have received a coronavirus vaccination as a primary reason to not lift covid restrictions to the degree the state did Friday. "County leaders will continue focusing on what works, listening to our public health experts and acting based on the needs of our community because public health is the key to a sustained and robust recovery for all," Elrich said in a statement yesterday after the Council vote.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Gyuzo Japanese BBQ closes at Rockville Town Square until Montgomery County indoor dining ban ends

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved an executive order banning indoor dining yesterday. Interestingly, the Council did not put out a press release to trumpet their vote, a vote that angered many in the hospitality sector. In response, Gyuzo Japanese BBQ at Rockville Town Square was forced to immediately close for the duration of the ban, and to lay off employees ten days before Christmas. 

Due to the restaurant's concept of cooking food at your table, the impact is most severe at Gyuzo. Other restaurant tenants at RTS are soldiering on with tents and heaters, like Finnegan's Wake. Gyuzo is not alone in closing as a result of the indoor dining ban; Tastee Diner, a Bethesda institution for decades, also announced it was closing until the ban is lifted. That could potentially be spring at the earliest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Montgomery County Council passes massive developer tax cut, now wants to cut pay for cops, firefighters

The Montgomery County Council voted 7-2 yesterday to approve a massive property tax cut for developers, estimated to cost taxpayers from $400 million to upwards of a billion dollars over the next 15 years.After overturning County Executive Marc Elrich's veto of the developer tax cut, the Council is now seeking to cut hazard pay for police officers, firefighters, Ride On bus drivers and other frontline essential employees who are at high-risk of contracting Covid-19 daily during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday's vote continues two disturbing trends by the Montgomery County Council: a continued shift of the tax burden from developers (who contribute to all nine councilmembers' campaigns) to workers and homeowners, and the ongoing practice by the Council of breaking labor agreements. 

While property taxes on homeowners have risen each year except 2014 (in which the average homeowner got a $12 tax cut - gee, thanks!), large developers have enjoyed tax cut after tax cut on property and impact taxes over the last decade. It started with a $72 million developer tax cut in 2010. Remember how your energy taxes were hiked, and an ambulance fee levied, around the same time to make up for that developer giveaway? Yep.

Combined with the County's failure to attract high-wage jobs or a single major corporate headquarters in over 20 years, outsize spending by Council, and the flight of the rich due to record-high tax burdens, the developer pay-days have blown an atomic bomb-size hole in the County budget. The result is a structural budget deficit as far out as the forecasts go.

So we've known by the last decade that massive residential development results in a deficit, as the costs this new housing creates for services like schools, infrastructure and social spending far outstrips the revenue it generates. 

We also know there's little demand for luxury apartments, as a large percentage of the new units delivered since 2010 are filled with airbnb hotel guests, college students and corporate contract residents, none of whom pay full-freight rent. In fact, the Council admitted there's no demand for high-rise housing atop Metro stations when introducing the new tax cut - and they're going to bust the budget and hike your taxes to build something nobody wants, just so they and their developer sugar daddies can still make a profit on it.

And we've learned that the affordable housing "crisis" isn't actually a crisis, because the Housing Opportunities Commission was able to move hundreds of people out of The Ambassador apartments into vacant units elsewhere and demolish the building, while the owners of affordable Halpine View said they have no takers for their vacant units in Rockville. Whoops! 

The shift in revenue burden has also moved from the large, international development firms that contribute to the Councilmembers' campaigns to the mom-and-pop developers who live in the community and build or expand single-family homes. Not only did the Council hit them with new regulations and tax hikes like the recordation tax, but they've recently sought to levy an all-new "teardown tax" on these small building firms. When you know that the Council's long-term goal is to change zoning to allow urban development in existing single-family-home neighborhoods, you can understand why they're trying to clear the construction field for the big guys.

But the Council isn't done spreading the unfairness around!

Now it wants to take hazard pay away from first responders and frontline employees that is in already-negotiated labor agreements. While the Council hides at home on Zoom meetings, these police officers and firefighters are responding to calls and speaking with often-unmasked citizens on a daily basis. Ride On drivers are helping similarly-essential personnel get to work, and low-income residents get to medical appointments, while exposing themselves to the virus on every shift. 

The same Council didn't even give our police officers a sufficient supply of PPE and hand sanitizer. How interesting that the same councilmembers - Hans Riemer (D - At-Large) and Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) spearheading the $1 billion tax cut for developers yesterday are also leading the charge to cut hazard pay for cops and firefighters. 

Now, even as the councilmembers' own $140,000 paychecks increase year after year, they want to again renege on labor agreements. County employees are counting on these agreements when planning the financial future of their families. The Council wants to take food off their tables during a pandemic, and turn it into cash for their campaign donors - and into future campaign checks for themselves.

It's outrageous.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Montgomery County Council using taxpayer funds to campaign against citizen ballot questions

October 13 email sent from Montgomery County Council
government email system urging recipients to vote against
citizen-proposed ballot questions

Montgomery County residents have been receiving frequent emails from County Council members in recent weeks urging them to vote against ballot questions proposed by County residents. Just one problem: these spam political campaign emails are paid for by you, the taxpayer. If a politician wishes to campaign against a ballot question, they can form a new campaign entity or use their own campaign funds, but they cannot use taxpayer funds. This use of taxpayer-funded government email systems for political campaigning should be reviewed by the Maryland Board of Elections, and the Inspector General's office.

I personally have received two of these emails in just the last two days from Councilmembers Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) and Hans Riemer (D - At-Large). I've previously received several emails from their same government accounts, which also urged me to vote against Questions B and D. The shady and illegal tactic is simply one more reason voters should vote FOR Questions B and D, and AGAINST Questions A and C.
The October 13 County government-sent email illegally urges
recipients to vote a certain way on ballot questions

The taxpayer-funded spam email blitz is only the newest unethical tactic the Council has deployed against citizen efforts to chip away at its authoritarian power. While the citizen-petitioned ballot questions each received the support of nearly 20,000 Montgomery County residents who signed the petitions, the Montgomery County Council placed its own deceptive ballot questions with no public, democratic process. 

Content in years past to wage expensive campaigns against citizen ballot questions, the Council upped the ante and the corruption this year. With no advance warning or public process, the Council simply gaveled two identically-worded poison pill questions onto the ballot at a virtual online meeting. The scheme is intended to fool voters into voting "Yes" on all four. Legal experts have advised that if all four ballot questions are approved, they will cancel each other out, and none of the changes citizens sought will take place.
Fine print at bottom of email confirms it
was sent "on behalf of Montgomery County, Maryland Government"

Question B would eliminate the Council's ability to override the existing property tax cap, as they did in 2016 to slam homeowners with a 9% property tax increase, to cover for their mismanagement of the County budget. Question D would eliminate the At-Large seats on the Council, and reorder the Council into 9 smaller districts. Questions A and C are the Council's poison pill questions that mimic the language of B and D. 
Fine print also declares the email "is part of
the Council's newsletter software," a taxpayer-funded
government communications platform

Making taxpayers fund their corrupt schemes is nothing new for the Montgomery County Council. My investigation in 2018 found that Councilmember Hans Riemer was charging taxpayers to fund both a political website (even though each councilmember already gets a free, taxpayer-funded website on the Council's website), and to pay for his gas when he traveled to private meetings with his campaign donors.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Montgomery County Council proposes creating its own illegal police force to pull you over

Proposal is illegal under
federal and state law

The Montgomery County Council is proposing to create its own police force, to replace the Montgomery County Police Department's role in traffic enforcement. This would be illegal under both federal and Maryland law, but that's not deterring them from trying to quietly move forward. Councilmembers have floated the idea with two local reporters in recent weeks, resulting in two low-key articles, one in The Washington Post and one on NBC Washington's website. Those, and a virtual town hall being held by one councilmember tonight, have largely evaded public attention.

Who would make up this new police force remains unclear. The Post article made vague references to "civilians" somehow gaining the authority to pull over and detain motorists. NBC Washington reports that it could be County bureaucratic employees who somehow gain this authority. Unfortunately for the Council, neither group can engage in such activity under the law. Which is why such a ridiculous idea isn't currently allowed anywhere in America.

In the case of civilians, the Council may have been inspired by an idea proposed in the District to have civilians be able to use an app to enforce traffic laws in Washington, D.C. One can only imagine the potential abuses of an army of "Karens" wielding a Stasi-style reporting app, but that was largely the goal, as yet another way to harass people committing the horrific offense of continuing to drive private automobiles.

Now, imagine Karen or a random bureaucrat empowered to pull you over and issue tickets and other penalties, with no way to defend yourself against any preposterous allegation designed to fill the County's dwindling coffers. Your crime might be your race, as if racism is somehow only found among sworn police officers, or a particular religious or political bumper sticker displayed on your vehicle. Let's not forget, it was our white County Planning Board chair who repeatedly called in police officers on members of a black church peacefully protesting at board meetings.

Having non-sworn civilians pulling people over in traffic would not only be a violation of federal and Maryland law, but it would also be a danger to those making the traffic stops. Who would pull over for a non-police vehicle, especially when a non-sworn bureaucrat would have no authority to make a stop? What happens if the driver detained is a criminal and has a violent response? How would tourists know non-police could pull them over in our jurisdiction? How many accidents will be caused by the confusion of non-police vehicles trying to pull over drivers on busy roads? And traffic stops are inherently very dangerous to make, as the number of police officers hit by vehicles while making such stops each year indicates.

Montgomery County has one of the most professional and highly-trained police forces in the nation. These men and women are prepared physically and mentally for one of the most difficult and demanding jobs in the world. Bureaucrats would not have anywhere close to the same preparation and judgement as these officers possess. And if they did, why and how would taxpayers fund what essentially would be a duplicative police academy and police department?

The bottom line is that what the Council is proposing is illegal. They've offered no details on their proposal, nothing is mentioned about it on the Council website, and there is so far no public process through which we the People can yet comment on this.

If you are concerned about your Constitutional rights and tax dollars, you may want to sign up for Councilmember Will Jawando's little-advertised "virtual town hall" tonight at 7:00 PM. Given the hush-hush nature of the event beyond the Montgomery County political cartel, it's unlikely he's expecting your virtual attendance.
Would you turn to your lawyer or hairdresser to perform emergency heart surgery? Likewise, most of the general public is more comfortable with professional police officers enforcing the law than with random bureaucrats. It's about time we also had a professional County Council. Maoist fever dreams like a personal police force are yet another distraction from the Council's failure to address the multiple crises they've created over the last two decades.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Loudoun County leader blasts Montgomery County for failure of understaffed 911 call center in teen's death

Montgomery County Council has
failed to fully-fund 911 call center staffing,
leaving 54 positions vacant

The Montgomery County Council has failed to adequately staff the county's 911 call center for years, leading to call takers working overtime, and being stressed and exhausted. In recent weeks, the call center has been criticized for its response to a 911 call from the Loudoun side of the Potomac River. By the time the first rescue unit arrived at the correct location, 36 minutes had passed.

"I am baffled by how poorly Montgomery County handled this," Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said, according to the Washington Post. "How do you wait 17 minutes and then keep waiving Loudoun off, and saying, 'We're taking this call?' They need to work on their 911 center."

But the Post reports that the Montgomery County Council has not only failed to fully staff the 911 center, but is now dragging its feet in investigating the 911 center's failures in the drowning incident in which a 16-year-old family friend of Randall's died. Loudoun has already completed an investigation, and developed a 77-page report. Montgomery County? A Council "briefing is expected later this month," the Post's Dan Morse reported.

It's mind-boggling to consider the tens-of-billions of dollars in wasteful spending and kickbacks to its campaign donors the Council has approved over the last decade. They also managed to have $6.7 million in taxpayer funds vanish, in an embezzlement scheme that has yet to be investigated by the FBI. 

Let's not forget Council expenditures like the $900,000 over-budget Glen Echo Heights sewer pipe, or paying $22,000 for a security camera system that costs less than $1000 retail. And countless extraneous new executive-level positions with six-figure salaries, often filled by political allies of the Council. 

Yet they've failed to spend the necessary funds to staff the 911 call center - where the 911 system itself has experienced two outages in recent years. 

It's a County Council that cannot execute the most basic functions of government. Now, competing jurisdictions aren't only whipping Montgomery County's posterior in economic development, infrastructure and schools, they're also starting to call out its incompetent and feckless elected officials. Considering the local press won't, it's about time someone did.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Nine Districts for MoCo is on the ballot - and so is a poison pill from the Montgomery County Council

“The government closest to 
the people serves 
the people best” 
- Thomas Jefferson

The citizen group Nine Districts for MoCo's petitions have been approved by the Montgomery County Board of Elections, meaning that voters will have the chance in the November election to vote to change the structure of the Council from 5 district and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Two key reasons the proposed question received strong support from residents were the oversized, gerrymandered districts that sprawl across the County, and that a majority of the Council all live in the same vicinity of Takoma Park, leaving upcounty voters in particular with less representation on the Council. Fearing the ballot question would be approved, the Montgomery County Council ginned up its own ballot question on the Council structure in the dark of night, to serve as a poison pill if voters approve the Nine Districts Question D.

The Council's Question C proposes to keep the Council as it is, but add an additional two district seats, at great additional annual cost for staff and operations. On its face, it would appear to be merely a selfish attempt by the current members to preserve their seats. And it certainly is that. But the Council above all seeks to sabotage the voters' will through Question C, just as it infamously did with the ambulance fee.

Even the order of the questions has been rigged by the corrupt Council. Note that its undemocratic ballot question, which was rammed through at the end of a session with no public process, input or comment, was placed before the citizen-endorsed Nine Districts Question D on the November ballot.

The farther down the ballot an office, question or referendum is, the less likely it is to be voted upon by less diligent voters. But the Council isn't merely hoping you'll tire out before you to get to Question D.

In fact, they're not worried if you vote for both - because if their poison pill Question C and the Nine Districts Question D both get approved by a majority of voters, likely out of confusion, the matter of changing the Council structure would then go to the courts. And we all know the Montgomery County cartel almost never loses in any court within the borders of Maryland.

This is why it's essential, if you are dissatisfied with the current Council, to vote FOR Question D and AGAINST Question C.

We all know that even if the Nine Districts Question D passes, that the Council will try its darnedest to once again gerrymander the districts to ensure that only one party can possibly win. They may be shaped even more absurdly than the wacky ones splattered across the map today.

But even these gerrymandered nine new districts would, by the rules of mathematics, have to be geographically smaller. Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest thinkers in human history, said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” No longer would one tiny area within the downcounty have the power to control up to six out of the nine seats on the Council. And it would be far less likely for seven of the nine councilmembers to live downcounty, as they do now.

It's virtually unprecedented in County history to have a poison pill ballot question designed to sabotage another, where a victory by both sends the entire matter into legal oblivion. But then this Council increasingly has fought an unprecedented ideological war against the very constituents it represents.

So unpopular are its policies that residents approved term limits. And when energetic protesting of Council actions (and inaction) became too embarrassing in 2016-17, the Council literally locked its constituents out of the Council building permanently, turning 100 Maryland Avenue into a secure fortress. A Council of the People, a Council not suffering from paranoia and megalomania, doesn't have to lock out the public.

If locking the People out wasn't enough, the Council took another unprecedented step - it refused to engage in the all-American, democratic process of debating its political opponents in the last election. Civic associations were successfully pressured by the Montgomery County cartel to cancel all of their general election debates in 2018. Washington Post reporters Jennifer Barrios and Robert McCartney were fully aware of this, but chose not to cover it. In fact, they mysteriously never wrote a single sentence about the general election Council races in 2018.

Democracy dies in darkness, indeed.

It is once again time for the citizens to shine a light into that corrupt darkness, by voting FOR Question D to create nine compact districts, and AGAINST Question C.

The Council is again attempting to sabotage an election, this time by confusion. Just remember this handy guide to defeat them: "D" stands for democracy. "C" stands for corruption. Vote FOR Democracy and AGAINST Corruption, by voting FOR D and AGAINST C.

Photo via National Archives

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Montgomery County Council's progressive credentials on the line in Defund the Police debate

Day 1 of the Montgomery County Council tackling the nationwide call of progressive activists to Defund the Police found the Council looking out of touch with the moment to some observers. Shortly after Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) became the first elected official to publicly state he was reviewing correspondence on the topic, the Council released a public statement about their plans regarding police reform. Their specific 3-point platform of "set a higher standard for use of force by police, outlaw certain deadly tactics such as chokeholds, and require police officers to intervene if a fellow officer is committing a crime or violating department policy," fell flat with many of their progressive constituents.

For a Council that touts itself on the cutting edge of progressive policy, many saw the proposal as being years behind the current hot topic that has arisen out of the nationwide protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder case: defunding or abolishing the police. A Zoom meeting held by several councilmembers later Monday evening was criticized by some for having the formal announced panel dominated by elected and appointed public officials. Meanwhile, residents opposed to defunding the police warned of crime surges, chaos, higher gun sales, and the prospect of fleeing Montgomery County altogether if the Council were to defund the police.

Monday was also a day that some high-level Democrats nationwide began to express second thoughts about the Defund the Police slogan. "Joe Biden does not believe that police should be defunded," a Biden campaign spokesperson said in a statement. Prominent progressives countered that phrases once considered extreme have become mainstream in a short time. "Not long ago, 'Black Lives Matter' was *also* a rallying cry for justice that politicians worried polled too poorly, was too 'divisive' & required 'too much explanation,'" U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D - NY-14) tweeted. "Now Mitt Romney is saying it. Progress is a process. It’s normal to work through discomfort along the way."

It will be interesting to see which way the Council breaks on the issue. Montgomery County has clearly broken far to the left of establishment Democrats like Joe Biden in recent elections. Twitter was not low-volume in providing feedback to the Council on Day 1.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Montgomery County Council weighs defunding the police

A day after the Minneapolis City Council vowed to dissolve its police department, the Montgomery County Council is now examining whether it should "defund the police." Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) says the Council has received almost 700 emails from constituents "advocating for defunding police, reforming police, reallocating resources to mental health services, housing initiatives, restorative justice, and more." The Councilman said on Facebook that "[w]e have many important conversations ahead."

The all-Democrat Council has been mostly silent on the nationwide issues of dissolving the police or defunding the police to this point. Progressives in Minneapolis quickly turned against very progressive Mayor Jacob Frey, who has pressed through radical reforms like ending single-family-home neighborhood zoning, when he declined to support the City Council plan to abolish its police department Saturday. With Montgomery County and Maryland veering sharply left in the last decade, it will be interesting to see how the County Council addresses these issues with progressive voters, who are now the decisive factor in Democratic primaries.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Judge denies restraining order for Montgomery County check program, but orders 25% of funds frozen until he rules on merits

A U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland judge has denied Montgomery County residents' request for a temporary restraining order to stop the County's controversial Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) cash distribution program that primarily benefits illegal immigrants. But Judge Peter J. Messitte said plaintiffs Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena are still likely to succeed on the strong merits of their case. For that reason, Messitte has ordered the County to freeze 25% of the $10 million in the EARP fund until he can rule on the merits of the case.

Messitte wrote in his opinion that Bauer and Jurgena are likely to prevail on the question of whether the County Council violated federal law, which states that illegal immigrants are not eligible for any state or local public benefit that is not authorized by a law passed by the state legislature. He said Montgomery County does not deny, and that no one could credibly argue, that the EARP payments are not a public benefit.

Bauer and Jurgena will also suffer irreparable harm from the EARP program, Messitte agreed. He said that the County has distributed the EARP checks so quickly to recipients that there is virtually no way to recover those funds. Messitte said the cost could end up raising the property taxes of Bauer and Jurgena, and that the court can provide no relief or compensation to offset their higher taxes.

Messitte did find that the EARP program is in "the public interest." Based on Montgomery County's description of the program, he wrote, the beneficiaries are in severe financial distress due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Messitte said the funds are likely to go to urgent needs like food and housing.

The judge will rule on the merits of the case at a later date. But under his preliminary opinion,  the County cannot spend the remaining 25% of the $10 million fund until Messitte issues his ruling in the case. That fund became even more controversial after the County Council quietly appropriated an additional $5 million more than the public was notified of in the beginning. 

The case was brought by right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch, and is Sharon Bauer, et al v. Marc Elrich et al.

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