Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

Best Places to Work in Rockville

Washingtonian-2015_NovThe November 2015 issue of Washingtonian features the 50 best places to work in the DC region, which means the “generous pay and benefits, flexible schedules, interesting work, and happy colleagues.”  According to the employees surveyed, they not only value good pay and benefits, but also a sane work/life balance, trust and automony, flexible hours, and opportunities to learn and grow.  And four of the companies that meet these values are based in Rockville:

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a nonprofit organization that supports audiologists and speech-language pathologists headquartered at 2200 Research Boulevard with 200 employees.
  • EASC (Enterprise Science and Computing), a 14-year old scientific and technical research and management firm at 11 North Washington Street with 45 employees.
  • Raffa Financial Services, a 15-year old consulting firm that focuses on finances and management at 1201 Seven Locks Road with 26 employees.
  • Redfin, a national real estate company based in Seattle with a local office at 1375 Piccard Drive in Rockville.

Think your office is a great place to work?  You can nominate it by emailing with the subject line”great place to work.”

This issue also includes a lengthy feature on Sophia Parker, a Rockville woman who has turned DSFederal at 11900 Parklawn Drive, her “young IT company into a contracting powerhouse–all while running it like a charity.”  They call her “one of Washington’s most altruistic CEOs.”

Wow! So happy to have people and companies like this in our community.


2015 Election Results will be Familiar

Rockville-Election-UpdateThe 2015 Rockville election will return Bridget Newton as Mayor and Beryl Feinberg, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Virginia Onley to Council for the next four years, beginning on November 16.  Of the 40,749 registered voters in Rockville, there was a total of 6,343 ballots cast (15.57 percent) including votes cast on early voting days, same-day registration at City Hall on Election Day and by absentee. That’s slightly lower that 2013, which had a participation rate of nearly 17 percent.

Rockville Election Results 2015

Although the results are preliminary until certified, which is expected by November 10, and the final expenses of the campaigns aren’t reported until January 2016, there are some patterns we can already discern.  In campaign tactics, Brigitta Mullican’s Continue reading →

Voting Today in Rockville with Pics!

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It’s a beautiful day to vote! Some polling places such as the Swim Center are buzzing with a steady stream of voters and supporters, while others are incredibly quiet (City Hall).  In visiting a couple polling places today, I was really impressed by the yard signs around King Farm that encouraged residents to vote–a great idea for other neighborhoods.

I’ve heard we’ll know the election results tonight by 9:30-10 pm on the City’s web site but in a way, I’m more interested to see the turnout.  In the last election (2013), 6,685 people (17%) voted out of 40,226 registered voters and I’m hoping it’s the same or better this year.  We had an outstanding turnout for Early Voting a couple weeks ago, so perhaps that bodes well for today.

While I care about who you vote for, I care more that you have voted. Please find the polling place near you to vote, or if you’re not registered, you can register and vote at the same time at Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Avenue (downtown).  Polls close at 8:00 pm.

Max’s Endorsements for Rockville Mayor and Council

IMG_4999_DxOPspWithout an independent newspaper with an investigative reporter, this year has been a particularly challenging one for both candidates and voters.  In the last election, we had the Gazette and Rockville Patch who were willing to investigate claims and counterclaims, serving as an informal arbiter of disputes.  With them gone, candidates have had to rely heavily on mail to reach voters and I’m guessing about 30 mailers have reached voters this season.  Of course, these mailers are biased towards the candidate who sent them and voters are unsure what to believe.  Blogs like this one are helping to fill the void.

It’s probably no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m endorsing Sima Osdoby for Mayor and Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed for City Council.  Please vote for them today to usher in a much-needed change in City Hall.  I’m supporting their campaigns because if I’m not going to run for office, I’ll help good people who will.  I choose candidates in the same way I select employees:  hire the best ones I can with the right qualifications and experience (ideally smarter than me), be sure they can work together to produce something better than any one of them could do individually, and then get out of their way.  They stand out from the other candidates because of their resumes and willingness to work together.

Sima Osdoby has lived in Rockville for 35 years and has extensive experience working around the globe helping Continue reading →

Rockville Solar Co-op Installs First House

Norman_Braveman-8.58kW-RockvilleNorman Braverman installed a solar array on his split-level house in Rockville last week, making him the first of fifty in Rockville’s Solar Cooperative.  Looks great on his house! (doesn’t he look like a proud homeowner?).  Before he’ll be able to collect solar energy, though, he’ll need to complete inspection by the County and permission to operate from Pepco.  More than 200 people are part of the co-op with 171 members seriously considering a proposal–it’s a major shift in attitude about energy and sustainability in Rockville.  Thanks again to the Rockville’s Environment Commission for making this happen! (disclosure: we’re going solar, too!).

Early Voting Exceeds Expectations in Rockville


"Early voters" in 2015 came from throughout Rockville.

This heat map of “early voters” in 2015 shows where they lived in Rockville.

For the first time in over twenty years, the City of Rockville offered early voting for the  Mayor and Council election.  Over the weekend of October 24 and 25, 613 residents voted ahead of November 3rd’s Election Day–that’s nearly ten percent of the people who voted in the 2013 election. Saturday was slightly busier than Sunday, but Saturday’s numbers kept falling throughout the day.  The first hour of the first day of Early Voting was the busiest with 75 people and Council candidate Brigitta Mullican cast the first vote.

Early voting attracted residents from throughout the city, although there was a bit more activity from downtown and the West End, as can be seen in the heat map (blue being lowest to red being highest).  Neighborhoods much further away, such as Montrose, Falls Grove, Twinbrook, and King Farm, participated significantly as well.  Anecdotal reports from poll workers suggests that these voters had firmly decided on their candidates, which suggests that Election Day will mostly consist of the undecided.

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Early voting, however, also introduced the County’s new voting machines, which were unable to accommodate the entire list of nine candidates for council on one screen. Candidates Patrick Schoof and Clark Reed were placed on a second separate screen, which could have been overlooked by voters.  Whether this will affect their outcomes is unknown at this time, but Rockville elections can be very close.  In 2013, out of 6,685 ballots cast, Virginia Onley and Tom Moore were separated by 28 votes (0.4% of the total) and Beryl Feinberg and Don Hadley by 88 votes (1.2%; Mrs. Feinberg was elected, Mr. Hadley was not).  Both Mr. Schoof and Mr. Reed have filed complaints with the Board of Supervisors of Elections.  These voting machines won’t be used on November 3, which will eliminate that potential problem, but it does make one wonder why the same process wasn’t used throughout the entire Mayor and Council election to remove as many variables as possible.  Indeed, the November 3 ballots will require voters to fill the bubbles properly to be counted, which could affect seniors who are unfamiliar with Scantron-like forms.  Let’s hope this Rockville election isn’t a repeat of Florida’s 2000 presidential election.

Following the Money in Rockville’s 2015 Election

Rockville-Election-UpdateAccording to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, political contributions to local elections are often overlooked. “Although these races often do not receive the headlines of their state and federal counterparts, the election results can have a great effect on people’s everyday lives. School curriculum, zoning, and local tax code are just some examples of policy determined by the elected local boards, councils, and executives who carry out local governance. Knowing who funded their campaigns is an essential component of maintaining an effective, accountable democracy.”

Armed with campaign finance reports from October 1 and 26, 2015 for the eleven candidates for Rockville’s Mayor and Council, I examined candidate’s claims about independence and the planning commission’s claim they are not political. Throughout this election season, several candidates emphasized their independence, positing it as an alternative to Team Rockville. Team Rockville is a campaign committee composed of Sima Osdoby for Mayor and Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed for Council who have publicly stated a shared vision for Rockville and that they are supporting each other and pooling resources (disclosure: I am the chair of Team Rockville). Examining the financial contributions among these candidates shows Continue reading →

Campaign Finance Reports Reveal Gottfried’s Extraordinary Campaign

Rockville-Election-UpdateThe candidates for the Rockville Mayor and Council submitted their second and last set of campaign finance statements before the November 3 election, giving voters an insight into the tactics of their campaigns.  So far, more than $70,000 has been contributed to the various candidates and more than $100,000 has been spent.  The $30,000 difference is due to personal loans or contributions that candidates make to their own campaigns–indeed, most of that is due to the extraordinary campaign of Richard Gottfried. His may be the most expensive campaign in this election and probably in the history of Rockville.

Rockville Campaign Finances 2015 October

So far, Mr. Gottfried has received contributions of $1,880, the least of all candidates, yet has spent $39,617, the most of all candidates.  He has loaned himself the difference and spent most of it on direct mail and campaign materials.  By sending out at least four direct mail pieces, the first long before anyone else, and using what appears to be paid political consultants, he may be signaling a change in the way campaigns will be run in Rockville.

Without a widely distributed local newspaper, getting the attention and support of voters will have to rely on tactics in addition to the traditions of yard signs and precinct walking. For the moment, direct mail assures candidates that they can reach every voter but it’s also very expensive. Printing and postage are the biggest expense, but design and messaging are incredibly important as well.  Most candidates don’t have that expertise and have to rely on outside professionals, often at a cost.  As we are finding in state and federal elections, campaigning is as much about appearances and marketing as it is about issues and ideas, and that public image needs to be continually reinforced with an electorate that is bombarded by information and has a short attention span.

If this trend continues, how will Rockville voters distinguish among candidates in the future? Or will they simply withdraw from the sea of sound bites and slick mailers?

Where the Golden Colors of Fall Really Shine

Pumpkins at Comus Market.Rockville is at peak fall color right now so it’s a great time to get out and fill your day with orange, yellow, and red.  My two favorite places are:

Comus Market in northern Montgomery County, about a 20-30 minute drive north of Rockville.  At the corner of Old Hundred Road (109) and Comus Road across from the Comus Inn is a small shed surrounded by tables and bins filled all sorts of strange and wonderful pumpkins and winter squashes, like Blue Hubbard, Sweet Dumpling, or Long Island Cheese.  Although these unusual varieties are now appearing in grocery stores like Trader Joes, what you don’t experience is the drive out in the country and a chance to meet David Heisler, the farmer that grows them. A bit further up Comus Road is Sugarloaf Mountain (a short hike for a family) and Sugarloaf Winery (bring a picnic).

Lake Bernard Frank on Avery Road on the east side of Rockville. It’s actually a water reservoir that feeds into Rock Creek but it’s also a park for walkers and hikers. One side of the lake is a paved trail and on the other an unpaved one. Even on Sunday afternoons it’s so quiet that you might only encounter a dozen people.  No playgrounds, playing fields, boating, or restrooms but there are picnic tables near the parking lot.

Many of my friends love visiting Butler’s Orchard in Germantown because they have children who like the pick-you-own experience. Apples, tomatoes, raspberries, cherries, peas, potatoes, and flowers have passed but you can still pick you own pumpkins and enjoy a dozen different pies from their bakery (including such unusual flavors as apple caramel walnut, blueberry lemon bucket, and strawberry mango).  Weekends gets far too busy for me but your kids will love it.

If you have a favorite place where you enjoy fall in or around Rockville, please share it in the comments below.

Has the Revised APFS Launched a Thousand Houses?

constructionFor some voters, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) serve as a litmus test for candidates for the upcoming Mayor and Council election on November 3.  This past year the Rockville City Council debated revisions to the APFS, including a change in school capacity from 110% to 120% to match the county’s standards.  Development must meet these Standards, unless they receive a waiver from the City, and went into effect on June 1, 2015 (among other changes to the APFS) with the support of Councilmembers Moore, Onley, and Palakovich Carr and over the objections of Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg.  At the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Forum on October 7, several candidates stated their opinions on these new Standards, with Richard Gottfried and Patrick Schoof stating they would overturn them if elected; Brigitta Mullican stating that we need to get out of this discussion because the City has no control over schools; and Mark Pierzchala noting that the APFO failed to prevent school overcrowding and that the city needs a new approach focused at the county level.  Beryl Feinberg confirmed her opposition to the APFS changes and went into detail by stating:

As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the adequate public facilities changing. What we have seen since the change has been an influx of almost one thousand different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure, notably in transportation. One area has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community* as well as an EYA proposal off Preserve Parkway with about 350 units.** Both of those will be on Wooton Parkway.

Her claim of “an influx of almost one thousand different units” since June 1, 2015 caught my ears. By coincidence, the city staff completed a study for the Planning Commission on October 7 (same day as the forum) that summarized residential development activity since the modifications to the APFS on June 1, 2015. It turns out that Feinberg’s claims are   Continue reading →


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