MLK Day a Good Reminder of How Far Rockville Has Come

Today we’re remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his work on overcoming the racial divide in America.  Although he never visited Rockville, his values were affecting some of the people who lived here.  In 1963, the first African American family moved into Hungerford, which prompted fear in the neighborhood that property values would fall.  In response, the city and county increased police patrols to quell any potential violence, the local newspaper didn’t report on the event, and the City Council held a special meeting to determine the city’s role, including “its moral responsibility for bringing about the peaceful transition of the neighborhood.”

While some neighbors were gathering to get these new neighbors to move out, others were making them feel welcome and distributed a fact sheet to counter the rumors and local churches and businesses came forward to discourage protests and attacks against the African American family.  It took a couple weeks before the tension dissipated, but in the 1960s, it could have become a violent confrontation.  I’ve attached an article from the National Civic Review that provides more details.

Today, Rockvillians would be shocked to hear of events like this occurring in our community.  Racial and ethnic differences are certainly still present and cause concern in some residents and neighborhoods, but they are far less prevalent that those around class differences.  The fights about affordable housing are typically surrogates about keeping people in the working class out of professional class neighborhoods (remember Beall’s Grant II?).  As with African American moving into a neighborhood for the first time back in the 1960s, the arguments are surprisingly the same:  lower property values and increased crime.  Rockville has come a long way from the racial strife of the 1960s but we still have a long way to go.

Senator Kagan’s Kickoff List of Priorities for 2017

Cheryl KaganWith the State Senate and Assembly starting their annual legislative session soon, State Senator Cheryl Kagan outlined her priorities:

  • Enhancing our 9-1-1 Emergency System: Continuing the the work I began last year in memory of wonderful Rockville resident and activist Carl Henn to make our 9-1-1 system more reliable (this bill died in committee in a battle over security and accountability, alas)
  • Protecting Consumers: Prohibiting “bait and switch” at the gas pump and restricting the swiping and storing of personal data from our driver’s licenses.
  • Increasing Election Access and Transparency:  Modifying our election laws to provide for greater access and transparency.
  • Supporting Non-Profits:  Providing short term micro-loans to bridge funding gaps that many organizations experience.

Successes from her first year as the senator from our district include Language Access (the first bill of its kind in the nation!), “Fertility Parity,” informing voters about ‘closed’ primaries, and funding for worthy local projects (such as the Rockville Swim Center improvements). She provided an overview of her legislative agenda to Gaithersburg’s Mayor and Council on January 3, 2017 (YouTube, starting at 41:00).

I’ve just requested Delegates Kumar Barve, Jim Gilchrist, and Andrew Platt in District 18 for their legislative priorities for this year and will share them as soon as they’re available.

Rockville’s Zelda Fitzgerald featured in US Women’s Museum Report

Zelda Fitzgerald on National Women's Museum report.Philanthropist and novelist Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, is prominently featured in the new Report to Congress and the President of the United States on the American Museum of Women’s History. Few people know that Zelda and Scott are buried (should I say “sleeping”?) in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville (it’s even listed in the Atlas Obscura) and even fewer know that it was Zelda who insisted that Scott be buried in the family plot when he died in Hollywood in 1940.  Zelda was living at a sanitarium in Asheville, North Carolina, and too ill to attend his funeral but tragically, she would join him eight years later after dying in a fire at the sanitarium.  Because the Catholic church denied his burial at St. Mary’s, the Fitzgeralds were buried in the Rockville Cemetery in Twinbrook. They were moved to St. Mary’s in 1975.

As for the American Museum of Women’s History, the report recommends it become part of the Smithsonian Institution and present a “wide spectrum of American women’s experiences in a way that appeals to a diverse audience.” They’ve identified a fundraising goal of $150-$180 million from the private sector for construction but the museum is only feasible if there is public support to provide the land somewhere near the Mall (three locations were suggested) and that the government would operate and maintain the museum. I wonder how the new President and Congress will respond?

 

Is Montgomery College President Abusing Sensible Travel Policies?

montgomery-collegeFollowing several staff complaints, NBCWashington investigated the travel expenses for Dr. DeRionne Pollard, the president of Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.  In addition to a $280,000 annual salary and $3,000 monthly housing allowance, the school’s Board of Trustees agreed to pay for all work-related travel for the president and her partner.  That’s resulted in more than $70,000 for travel to Napa, California, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and almost 40 other destinations since 2013, an average of 13 trips per year, including $6,000 to upgrade seats, $3,700 for extra and overweight baggage, and stays at the Four Seasons.  The college also pays for her $850 for her monthly lease for an Infiniti Q70, plus gas, maintenance, parking, and insurance, plus $10,000 per month for an SUV chauffeured by an off-duty police officer. Why all that travel to promote the school when it’s packed to the gills? Why promote it out of state when it’s a local community college? Why is the college president receiving such luxuries when most of her students are at the other end of the wage scale?

The Board of Trustee‘s response:   Continue reading →

WSSC Provides Details on Water Main Replacements in Twinbrook

Residents listen to Tasfai Gieorgis of WSSC explain the upcoming water main replacement project in Twinbrook.

Residents listen to Tasfai Gieorgis of WSSC explain the upcoming water main replacement project in Twinbrook.

A dozen residents attended an information session on the replacement of water mains in the Twinbrook neighborhood of Rockville last night to learn more about the extent and impact of construction during the next two years.  The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, one of the largest the water and sewer utilities in the nation, serves portions of Rockville and will be replacing the nearly 8 miles of water mains and installing 0.18 miles of new sewer lines in the area roughly bounded by McAullife, Linthicum, Marcia, and Meadow Hall with sections out Tweed Street and Twinbrook Parkway to Viers Mill Road (that’s 332 homes; see map below for details).  The post-war neighborhood of Twinbrook is now passing the 50-year threshold, which means that the lifespan of the water system is coming to an end, a situation that’s Continue reading →

Is Rockville Mayor Exploiting Loophole to Keep Friends on Board?

Red bars show expired terms for members of three key Rockville commissions.

Red bars show expired terms for members of three key Rockville commissions from January 2015 to October 2016.

Is political patronage motivating Mayor Bridget Newton to exploit a loophole in the law to keep friends on influential city boards and commissions, or is it merely bungling?  Right now more than half of the Planning Commission is serving on expired terms and one commissioner’s term expired more than a year ago—and it’s hard to figure out the reason.

The city code (Chapter 1, Article III) states that “Boards and commissions shall consist of members that may include alternate members, appointed by the Mayor subject to confirmation by the Council” and that “Each member shall serve for the term set by law or resolution or until a successor takes office.”  But what happens when the Mayor is unwilling or unable to appoint a successor? It’s created an unfortunate loophole for good government. If these members vacated their seats when their terms expired, the Planning Commission would now be unable to conduct business.  Instead, they’ve continued to serve for months, but in the process have secured a silent appointment to a board without the approval of Mayor and Council.

The Mayor and Council is well aware of vacancies years before they expire, so this clogged situation could only be a result of: Continue reading →

How Will County’s Plans for Bus Rapid Transit Affect Rockville?

Bus Rapid Transit corridors for Montgomery County under consideration in 2016.

Bus Rapid Transit corridors for Montgomery County under consideration in 2016.

Plans for a BRT (bus rapid transit) system in Montgomery County will affect Rockville in two ways:  Rockville Pike (Clarksburg to Bethesda) and Veirs Mill Road (Rockville to Wheaton).  On Wednesday, September 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, the Maryland State Highway Administration will hold a public meeting in the cafeteria of the Montgomery County Executive Office Building (EOB), 101 Monroe Street in Rockville. Parking available in the garage underneath the EOB.  The meeting will provide information and gather public comments on the alternatives for BRT service between Rockville and Wheaton. The proposed MD 586/Veirs Mill Road BRT Corridor Study extends approximately 6.7 miles from the Rockville Metrorail Station to the Wheaton Metrorail Station in Montgomery County, Maryland.  This study also includes the extension of enhanced bus service from the Rockville Metrorail Station, north in mixed traffic along MD 355, an additional 1.5 miles to Montgomery College.  There will not be a formal presentation, so you can drop by anytime to learn about the alternatives, operations, environmental impacts, and cost estimates from representatives from both the county and state departments of transportation. A draft of the recently completed Continue reading →

MoCo Board of Education Candidates’ Forum on Sept. 28

Montgomery County Board of Education, 2016.

Montgomery County Board of Education, 2016.

The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Montgomery County Council of PTAs, Montgomery County Branch of NAACP, and the Montgomery County Interbranch Council of AAUW (whew!) are hosting a Candidates’ Forum for the Montgomery County Board of Education on Wednesday, September 28 from 7:00-8:45 pm at Kennedy High School, 1901 Randolph Road in Silver Spring.  For more information, visit lwvmocomd.org.

Tracie Potts of NBC4 will moderate the discussion among At-Large candidates Jeanette Dixon and Phil Kauffman, District 2 candidates Brandon Rippeon and Rebecca Smondrowski, and District 4 candidates Shebra Evans and Anjali Reed Phukan.  If elected, these persons will not only be responsible for the education of children in the county but also more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds.  Choose wisely!

In Montgomery County, a Board of Education district means a geographic area in which an elected member of the Board must live. In Montgomery County there are five resident-district members and two at-large members of the Board; however, all Board members are elected by the county as a whole.

Three Ways the City of Rockville Can Improve Its Public Meetings

TransparencyThe Open Meetings Compliance Board of the State of Maryland has rendered another opinion that the City of Rockville once again failed to meet the Open Meetings Act. They determined that Rockville’s Board of Supervisors of Elections did not provide adequate notice for its meeting of February 6, 2016 and that it did not adopt minutes in a timely manner.  In their official opinion, you can detect a sigh in their voice: we discussed similar issues back in May, we have nothing to add, so please Rockville, just get your act together.

With this second opinion from the State of Maryland, it’s clear that Rockville’s Boards and Commissions have difficulties achieving basic standards for transparency and accountability.  This isn’t a one-time aberration or a difference of opinions, it’s an on-going problem that isn’t being resolved on its own and it’s caught the attention of the Attorney General’s office—again.

It’s time that the Mayor and Council stop forgiving the problem because commissioners are volunteers or they believe the work isn’t important.  We should treat our twenty-seven boards and commissions professionally and regard them as a serious contribution to the City, otherwise, we should thank them for their service and close them up.  Secondly, the Mayor and Council should stop shifting the blame. The Boards and Commissions report directly to the Mayor and Council, so they shouldn’t find a scapegoat among staff or point fingers at each other.  They’ve appointed every member of every commission so if they don’t do their jobs correctly, the Mayor and Council needs to step in.  Here are three ways to start: Continue reading →

The Domino Effect of the New Safeway on Rockville Pike

Former Safeway grocery store in the Twinbrook Shopping Center.

Former Safeway grocery store in the Twinbrook Shopping Center.

The new and larger 24-hour Safeway store that opened in December on Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro in Rockville is having a domino effect on other businesses in the area.  When it opened, it made the Safeway in the Twinbrook Shopping Center at 2200 Viers Mills Road redundant, so it closed a couple months ago and left another empty store in the shopping center. Recent rumors suggest that it soon be filled by Lotte Mart, a South Korean market chain with more than 200 stores worldwide, including Gaithersburg and Wheaton, but its arrival won’t be welcomed by everyone—the nearby small Asian Market will close, leaving another hole in the shopping center.

As the owner of Asian Market explained, “between the increased rent and the new competition [Lotte Mart], I can’t stay in business. It’s already hard enough to make a profit while working 16 hour days, so I’ll be closing at the end of August and looking for a job working for someone else.”  Although it’s small store with just three aisles, it represented a wide range of culinary cultures, including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Cambodian, Korean, Philipino, and Indonesian, that are not typically found in the larger Lotte Mart or Great Wall.  To clear out its inventory, it is selling its bottled, canned, and dry goods (except rice) at a 20 percent discount.  The soy sauce and sambals are all gone, but there still was plenty of Thai curry, coconut milk, and noodles on the shelves when I visited a couple days ago.

The former Safeway store, just like the Twinbrook Library, is on a parcel that is owned separately from the rest of the shopping center but serve as anchors that attract customers. The building is almost twenty years old but still serviceable, but too small for today’s major grocery, department, or hardware stores.  An Asian or Hispanic grocery store seems to be the most likely candidate, especially with the demographics of the neighborhood, and when it comes in, it too will have a domino effect on the rest of the shopping center.  Whether it will be good or bad remains to be seen. It’s pushed one business out but could attract others—and it badly needs to fill the half dozen stores that are empty.