Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

Follow the Money: Election Campaigns in Rockville

Rockville-Election-UpdateOctober 1 was the deadline for the first financial reports in this campaign season with the second one due October 26, just a few days before the November 3 election.  Financial reports are a result of unfair election tactics and political corruption, and indeed, while most voters feel that money has a bad influence on politics, fundraising is a crucial aspect of campaigning, even here in our hometown of Rockville.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the cost of a campaign is high, especially in mayoral races.

Rockville’s election code has a lengthy section on campaign financing that outlines the requirements for a treasurer and record-keeping; acceptable expenses, contributions, and loans; and restrictions on campaigning by people who are not candidates.  At times, these requirements and limitations seem onerous or archaic, such as prohibiting “payment for walk-around services.” Aren’t the days when thugs were paid to hustle people at the polls to gain a vote or to intimidate opponents long gone? Yet in 2003, the Maryland Court of Appeals reviewed a case that accused the Ehrlich/Steele gubernatorial campaign of hiring high school and college students along with 200 residents of a homeless shelter to “accost voters” outside the polls and urge a “voting preference.” The 2013 election campaign in Rockville involved several questionable tactics and since then the Board of Supervisors of Elections has clarified the Election Code to close some of these loop holes (e.g., no statements and materials may be distributed anonymously, even by individuals).

Campaign financial reports also reveal the name, address, and amount contributed to every candidate, which can suggest the shape and nature of a campaign (and the city).  For example, an analysis of the contributors Continue reading →

Rockville Candidates Missing the Forest and Trees for the Rocks

Last week, I received the following email message from Joe Jordan, who is closely associated with Bridget Newton‘s election campaign:

Max, there have been at least two occasions where Clark Reed has been seen wearing a handmade name tag that reads “Rockville City Council – Clark Reed”. It was pointed out to him at the MPT showing on Friday, yet he wore it again at RTS on Saturday. Recalling two years ago, I recall how you were concerned about integrity and propriety and following election guidelines, and while nametags may not be covered under them, I am sure you can see how misleading his nametag can be.

Can I be confident in the fact you will bring this to his and Sima [Osdoby]’s attention, and ask that, at a minimum, he and all slate candidates use the wording “candidate for” if they are not incumbents.

Thanks for your attention to this important matter.

Name badgesMr. Jordan is correct that name badges are not specifically addressed in Rockville’s election code (although it addresses nearly everything else: “any pamphlet, circular, card, sample ballot, dodger, poster, advertisement or any printed, multigraphed, photographed, typewritten or written matter or statement or any matter or statement which may be copied by any device”) and that I value transparency, honesty, and accuracy in government (and in business and personal relationships).  I’ve passed his message onto the candidates of Team Rockville, but just to clarify, each candidate that is part of the Team is responsible for his or her own campaign (I don’t manage individual campaigns, just the Team’s; and this blog is mine, not the Team’s).

More important, though, I am growing increasingly concerned with the topics deemed important in this election.  Richard Gottfried sent out the first campaign mailer of the season and accused his opponents of associating with “fat cat developers” without providing any evidence.  On the Twinbrook Listserv a couple weeks ago, Brigitta Mullican complained about the inaccuracies in my blog post (I said Beryl Feinberg worked in the county’s office of management and budget) and that she wasn’t allowed to post comments, then recruited Beryl Feinberg to pile on:
Continue reading →

Stanford Grill Opens Tomorrow in Rockville

Stanford Grill RestaurantThe Stanford Grill restaurant opens Monday, September 28 at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard (south of Wooton Parkway near I-270 in one of DC’s “healthiest buildings“) in Rockville.  This will be the second Stanford Grill for the Blue Ridge Restaurant Group, which also has four Copper Canyon Grill restaurants.  Lunch and dinner are served Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 10 pm, Friday through Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm with Sunday brunch served from 10 am to 2 pm and dinner until 10 pm. For more information or for reservations, call 240-582-1000.

The concept is “upscale casual” with a menu that emphasizes familiar comfort dishes including New York strip steak, pork chops, crabcakes, salmon, and chicken pot pie, along with a variety of sandwiches (burger, French dip, sauteed chicken) and salads (club, chicken, tuna, and steak).  It looks like they have a full bar but the wine list needs a rethinking. “Other interesting whites” includes Berginer’s white zinfandel and Dom Perignon is listed among the champagnes.  White zinfandel is not an interesting white and Dom Perignon is now such a cliche that it suggests they really didn’t think about their wine selections.  Looks like this restaurant might satisfy the executives whose offices line the 270 corridor but it won’t appeal to foodies.

Meet the Candidates at a Community Forum near You

In preparation for Election Day on November 3, the candidates for Rockville Mayor and Council will be participating in the following community forums (aka debates):

Wednesday, October  7 at 7:00 pm
Thomas Farm Community Center, 700 Fallsgrove Drive
Hosted by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce (they typically focus on business issues)
(Will air live on Channel 11)

Wednesday, October 14 at 1:00 pm
Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive (Woodley Gardens neighborhood)
Hosted by the Rockville Senior Commission (they typically focus on senior issues)

Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 pm
Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive
Hosted by the Woodley Gardens and College Gardens Civic Associations (they typically tackle a wide range of issues)

Thursday, October 22 at 7:00 pm
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville Civic Center, 603 Edmonston Drive (Burgundy/Silver Rock/Twinbrook neighborhoods)
Hosted by the League of Women Voters (they typically tackle a wide range of issues)
(Will air live on Channel 11)

Tuesday, October 27 at 7:00 pm
King Farm Community Center, 300 Saddle Ridge Circle
Hosted by the King Farm Citizens’ Assembly (they typically focus on King Farm issues)
(Will air on Channel 11 on October 29)

The forums are free and open to the public; anyone is welcome to attend any or all of the forums.  You not only can hear candidates discuss various issues but also talk with them before and after to learn more.  If you support one of the candidates, they often have campaign literature or yard signs that you can take home or share with friends and neighbors.

Rockville Election Season Begins

Last Friday was the deadline for submitting petitions to be on the ballot for Mayor and Council, so the election season has officially begun in Rockville.  Candidates that will appear on the November 3, 2015 ballot are:


  • Bridget Newton.  Currently serving as Mayor, she is a homemaker and a resident of the West End. [no campaign website at this time]
  • Sima Osdoby.  Longtime resident of New Mark Commons, is active in many community and advocacy groups at the local and state level (such as Emerge Maryland), and an international consultant on governance and democratic elections.


  • Virginia Onley.  Currently serving on Council, is retired from IBM, and a resident of the Americana Centre.
  • Julie Palakovich Carr.  Currently serving on Council, she is a resident of East Rockville with a new-born baby boy and works for a non-profit public policy organization focused on biology.
  • Beryl Feinberg.  Currently serving on Council, she lives in Orchard Ridge and is the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of Montgomery County’s Department of General Services.
  • Richard Gottfried. A resident of Twinbrook, he is currently the president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association and owns a home-based accounting practice.
  • David Hill.  A soft-spoken analyst with Westat who lives in Hungerford and currently serves on the Planning Commission.
  • Brigitta Mullican.  A resident of Twinbrook who is president of Rockville Sister City and retired from Health and Human Services.
  • Mark Pierzchala. Formerly serving on Council, he is a resident of College Gardens and owns a consulting business in Rockville that focuses on statistical analysis.
  • Patrick Schoof. A resident of East Rockville, he is the CEO of a home-based non-profit organization, A Better World Foundation. [no campaign website at this time]
  • Clark Reed.  A resident of Twinbrook, he works for the Environmental Protection Agency and serves as chair of the Environment Commission.

This year’s election is more important than in previous years because terms have doubled from two to four years.  That means if a councilmember turns out to be a ding-dong, you’ll have to wait much longer to vote him or her out of office.  Your vote is more significant than ever this time around.

Five candidates—Sima Osdoby, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed—have joined together as Continue reading →

Rockville View Launches Community Water Cooler

RKView-logoCindy Cotte Griffiths, local resident and co-owner of the much-beloved (but long-gone) Rockville Central, has launched a new blog to cover local news called “Rockville View.””When The Gazette closed up shop, we lost balanced and professional coverage of our news and elected officials in Montgomery County,” says Cindy.  “Without a local paper, we need watchdogs in our community who can bring issues to light. I’m hoping members of the community will join me to provide this coverage and keep us all informed of the facts. Think about it as sharing around the Rockville ‘water cooler’.”  Some of you may know her from her years of service on the city’s Traffic and Transportation Commission and Human Service Advisory Commission or the PTSA at Richard Montgomery High School.  You can visit Rockville View to keep up on the news but you can also follow @Rockville on Twitter or subscribe to the Weekly View newsletter delivered to your inbox on Friday afternoons ($2/month, $10/six months, $20/year). Subscribers can also submit events to the calendar.

I’m delighted to have her join me again on the Internet Super Highway and expect her coding and writing skills will leave me in the dust.

Rockville’s Government Transparency Score Earns Fs for Six Groups

gradesIn 2012, I reviewed Rockville’s boards and commissions to assess how openly they conducted their meetings during the previous year.  It was a miserable showing, with about half not providing agendas or minutes.  Four years later, it has improved and yet six “public bodies” received failing grades, including the Mayor and Council.

On September 1, 2015, I tallied the number of meetings and minutes posted on the City website for 2015 (that’s nine months from January 1, 2015 to August 31, 2015).   By dividing the number of minutes by the number of meetings (cancelled meetings don’t count), I calculated a “government transparency score.” So if a commission had posted 9 minutes for 12 meetings, that would earn them a Minutes Score of 9/12 or 75%. The higher the score the better and anything lower than 60% is an F.  Here’s how they fared: Continue reading →

The Rockville Pike Plan Is Out of Control

Car tracks on road out of control.When the Rockville Mayor and Council set out to update the 1989 Rockville Pike Plan in 2007, Apple released the first iPhone and the New Horizons space probe was passing Saturn.  In 2015, Apple is working on the iPhone 6s and New Horizons just passed Pluto–but the Rockville Pike Plan is still incomplete. It’s a complex area but something is definitely wrong with the planning process in the City of Rockville if it takes eight years to revise a plan for an area of 410 acres.  What happens when Rockville tackles the Comprehensive Plan for the 14 square miles of the City of Rockville?  Will it meet the state deadline to update that plan every ten years?


When you look at the timeline for the project, it’s pretty clear that the Pike Plan is languishing with the Planning Commission.   A closer looks shows they’ve held six public hearings, 32 work sessions, and formed two sub-committees and they’re still not done.  In contrast, the Mayor and Council have held five public hearings and one work session.  Looks like the Planning Commission is suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”

What is extremely puzzling is that the Planning Commission is taking as much time or more than Continue reading →

Rockville Solar Co-op Begins First Project

Maryland SunThe Rockville Solar Co-op has selected Sustainable Energy Systems (Frederick) and Standard Energy Solutions (Rockville) as the two firms who are eligible to bid on projects for the 128 members of the group.  They’re now scheduling site visits for homeowners and preparing proposals.  So far, 26 members have been contacted to set up a site visit; 16 members have had a site visit scheduled or completed; 9 members have received their proposal; and 1 member has signed a contract and is going solar!

Sign-ups continue to be open for the Rockville group through Labor Day. Know anyone who wants to go solar in Montgomery County? They can join the group at


Months of Meeting Minutes Missing for City of Rockville

Rockville City Council meeting minutes missing since March 2015.

Rockville City Council meeting minutes missing since March 2015.

Years ago, the working of city council and major boards in the City of Rockville became more transparent with the broadcast of its meetings over cable channel 11 (Rockville 11) and online.  This year, however, we’ve taken a big step back by failing to provide written minutes of meetings in a timely manner.  The Mayor and Council haven’t provided minutes since March 2015 (about a dozen meetings) and the Planning Commission hasn’t provided minutes since May 2015 (about a half-dozen meetings).

That means if you want to know what’s being discussed or decided, you have to watch the meeting, which can last three to six hours.  Reading the meeting minutes is a much faster way to find out what’s going on (you can scan minutes in minutes), plus it’s a better way to record decisions (no worries about interpreting inaudible words and paper survives much longer than digital recordings).  You can rely on the local newspaper to report on what’s happening, but well, we really don’t have a local paper that provides that coverage reliably.  Sounds like the old-fashioned way of producing written minutes of a meeting in time for the next meeting seems to look better and better.

Rockville Planning Commission is missing minutes and video.

Rockville Planning Commission is missing minutes and video.

Strangely, the Open Meetings Act for the State of Maryland (excerpted below) allows local government to skip the written minutes if they provide video (although it looks like the Planning Commission failed on both counts because a few meetings weren’t recorded nor have minutes, so you really can’t know what happened).  It’s a bad idea if the goal is opening up the workings of government, especially when the requirements for minutes is minimal (list each item considered, action taken, and votes).  Secondly, local governments only need to retain minutes for a year, after which they can be tossed.  Really? What business or organization in America operates this way?  Obviously, the Open Meeting Act needs to be desperately revised if we want to fully understand what’s happening in government (looks like a job for Senator Cheryl Kagan).  In the meantime, the City of Rockville should establish better standards and practices for providing minutes of its meetings of the Mayor and Council and its boards and commissions.

Annotated Code of the State of Maryland, § 3-306

(b) Minutes required. — Continue reading →


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