Last night, the Rockville Community Coalition held a forum on the proposed revisions to the Rockville City Charter, the city’s “constitution”. The Mayor and Council appointed a Charter Review Commission last year to review the charter and develop recommendations to increase voter participation. The commission suggested increasing the terms from 2 to 4 years, increasing the city council from 5 to 7 seats, and aligning the city election with the presidential election cycle. Those ideas were debated last night with lively comments, questions, and observations by the audience of about three dozen people, which included Councilmembers Hall, Moore, and Pierzchala. The City Council is currently considering whether any of these recommendations go to the ballot this fall as an advisory measure, or if they wish to take action immediately.
Good points were made for all positions and rather than share them here, I suggest you watch the forum on YouTube. It should be available in a week or so.
The JBG Companies, who are currently building a large complex of offices, residences, and stores around the Twinbrook Metro station, are also working on a portion of downtown Rockville that’s slated as phase two of the Town Center. The 2008 economic downturn slowed development considerably but is now picking up, as evidenced by the construction of the corporate headquarters of Choice Hotels. JBG owns the former Giant Grocery store at 275 North Washington Street (across from the Beall’s Grant Apartments) and has been exploring various uses for this vacant building and adjoining parking lot. Today, they shared the following plans:
New shopping, apartments and offices are slated for an overlooked city block in Rockville’s downtown, offering the opportunity to energize a long-vacant Giant grocery store site and adjoining tracts. The JBG Companies is proposing to demolish the grocery store and build new offices and shopping as a complement to busy Rockville Town Square next door. JBG has shared its plans with multiple audiences including neighbors, city officials, community groups and civic users.
“We are fortunate to have strong support from neighbors and businesses alike who have long been asking for renewed vigor in this part of downtown Rockville,” said Anthony Greenberg, a JBG official. “Redeveloping this property is an excellent opportunity to Continue reading →
On May 3, 2012, Councilmember Bridget Newton joined the the quarterly Rockville Community Coalition meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church to discuss various issues facing the City of Rockville, including:
Charter Review Commission: she supports opening the commission membership to applications from citizens and at the last Council meeting it was decided that each Councilmember could appoint one person and that together they would appoint another five, plus the Mayor would appoint the Chair. She doesn’t have any problems with the current charter, although she noted that a few years ago there were some discussions about whether to continue the Manager-Council form of government, but she had no issues with that. She also had no preconceived outcomes, such as a 7-member council, and wants the commission to be an independent group who would do their own research. She’s committed to holding a referendum on any changes to the Charter before Council makes a decision.
Council conflicts: she stated that her goal is to work together and there would no major/minority divisions. It’s not productive to have a divided Council and she looks forward to more 5-0 votes. Newton mentioned that when she first moved to Rockville, it seemed that despite the diverse perspectives and opinions, people got along but now discussions seem to be mean-spirited. She would like things to Continue reading →
At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business. She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago. As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit. She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise. Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees. She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.
During the discussion:
- she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere). She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
- she was unaware that the City didn’t collect Continue reading →
The City Council and community activists have often called for increased voter participation in Rockville’s elections with little success. Typical are the results from the November 2011 election, when 6,240 ballots were cast out of 36,840 registered voters in a city with 62,476 residents. If I pull out my calculator, that’s a voter turnout rate of 17 percent or put another way, ten percent of the residents are making the decisions for Mayor and Council. We may find that level of involvement low, but it’s much better than neighboring Gaithersburg, where the voter turnout rate is in the single digits. Nevertheless, every two years there’s a call to increase voter participation but not much happens.
Last night, I joined a committee of the Rockville Community Coalition to explore ways to actually work on this issue. We didn’t develop any strategies or start any campaigns, but we did identify that voters are motivated by issues, good candidates, and yes, money (the current Republican primaries are a great example). We’ll explore all three to see how this fledgling group can tackle these topics and we hope to be ready in plenty of time for the next City Council election!