Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

Twinbrook hosts Bicycle Drive on Sat., June 11

wall-sport-green-bikeThe Rockville Bike Hub (RBH) will host a bicycle drive on Saturday, June 11, between 3 and 6 p.m., during the Bikes, Brews and Barbecue event outside Revolution Cycles at 5750 Fishers Lane adjacent to the Twinbrook Metro. All bikes will be accepted but the critical need is for bicycles for children in first through fifth grade. Adult bikes will be used for education and volunteer training or donated to Bikes for the World.

In partnership with the City of Rockville, the non-profit, RBH recently gave away more than 30 bicycles to local elementary school children as a reward for performing a small service project. “In general, a bike gives a child a sense of independence and freedom and the ability to broaden the area that they can explore in their neighborhoods,” said Rockville Bike Hub Board President Steve Andruski. “Our hope is that, it turns into a lifelong activity and they become connected to the bicycling community.”

In addition to collecting bikes, the Rockville Bike Hub will be Continue reading →

MoCo Beat Podcast Launched

podcastRockville residents Tom Moore and Dana Tofig recently launched MoCo Beat, a podcast about “the news, the politics, and the life of Montgomery County.” Moore is an attorney with the Federal Elections Commission and recently concluded four years of service on the Rockville City Council. Tofig works in the research arm of the US Department of Education was formerly the Public Information Officer with Montgomery County Public Schools.  Their first episode looks at the Rockville Pike Plan, the recently adopted Montgomery County budget, places to buy beer, and new restaurants in downtown Rockville.  The first podcast is just short of 40 minutes and looks like it might be a weekly production.

With the demise of the Gazette newspaper and spartan coverage by the Washington Post, it is difficult to locate news about Rockville but here are the ones I know: Continue reading →

Rockville Pike Traffic Solutions Appear Confusing, but 252′ Width Seems Right

Rockville Pike proposal for 252 feet.png

Rockville Planning Commission’s proposal for a 252′-wide ROW for the Rockville Pike.  It includes eight lanes for cars, two lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, four lanes for bikes, and two sidewalks for pedestrians along with landscaped medians and left-turn lanes.

On Monday, May 9, the Rockville Mayor and Council will continue its worksession on “Rockville’s Pike Neighborhood Plan.”  Along with building heights and pedestrian crossings, traffic congestion is a major controversy and the conversation has become terribly confusing:  widening or narrowing the road, keeping or eliminating the access roads, extending adjacent roads, increasing Metro service, and incorporating bus rapid transit (BRT).  Some of these solutions are beyond the control of the City (such as Metro service), some benefit one group versus another (such as businesses or nearby residents), and others are so expensive or far in the future that their feasibility is unclear (such as the BRT). What’s become incredibly confusing are Continue reading →

Fine Art Festival Comes to Rockville Town Square

 

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Craig English, a popular local artist specializing in silk-screen prints, will be part of Rockville’s fine arts festival.

The Fourth Annual A-RTS at Rockville Town Square Fine Art Festival will bring together more than 160 artists who are creating the most exceptional art found in America today.  A-RTS, a premier outdoor art festival, takes place Saturday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, May 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

 

The jury-selected artists from across the U.S. will exhibit in an outdoor art gallery brought to life on the streets of Rockville Town Square. All participants were selected based on the creativity, innovation, and exquisite execution of their original works. A list of artists is available at http://www.a-rts.org.

These acclaimed artists represent the country’s highest calibre of art in a wide range of media including ceramics, digital art, drawing, fiber, glass, graphics/printmaking, painting, photography, and sculpture, among others. Also highlighted are the wearable arts – from fashion to jewelry – perfect for last minute Mother’s Day or graduation gifts.

According to A-RTS Festival Director Robin Markowitz, who also heads the Bethesda Row Arts Festival, A-RTS is a rare opportunity to meet outstanding artists and discover their work first-hand. “We’ve created an extraordinary and accessible show – one that has something for everyone – from college students to moms, whimsical collectors to fine art patrons.”

New this year, visitors to A-RTS can sample creations of another kind – Maryland wines and distinctive craft beers – all served in commemorative glasses. Local food purveyors will offer artisanal foods from hand-made chocolates to olive oils. And, A-RTS starts and ends on a high note with live music from bands including the popular 19th Street Band.

A-RTS will take place rain or shine. Sponsors include Bethesda Magazine, Rockville Town Square, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and Cambria Hotel & Suites Rockville.

Rockville Town Square, located in downtown Rockville between Hungerford (#355), Middle, Washington, and Beall streets, is within easy walking distance of the Rockville Metro Station. Parking is available at numerous garages located around the Festival site.

More information about A-RTS is available at http://www-a-rts.org or by visiting A-RTS on Facebook. More information about Rockville Town Square, one of the area’s most popular destinations for shopping and dining, is available at http://rockvilletownsquare.com.

Opposition to Carver Bus Depot Grows

The effort to stop the creation of a school bus depot at the Carver Center in Rockville continues to grow with community meetings, presentations at City Council meetings, collecting more than 1,700 signatures on petitions, and hiring an attorney.  Montgomery County Public Schools wants to consolidate several bus depots around the county that provide parking, equipment storage, and maintenance for school busses to one central location in Rockville.  It doesn’t make sense considering the size of the county—should 100+ busses come and go from Rockville to transport students in Poolesville and Silver Spring?

If you’d like to learn more:

  • Visit the Carver Coalition web site at CarverCoalition.org
  • Attend the Community Meeting on the plans for the depot hosted by Montgomery County Public Schools on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 pm at College Gardens Elementary School
  • Attend the Carver Coalition meeting on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:00 pm at the Rockville Unitarian Universalist Church at 100 Welsh Park Drive.
  • Read the latest flyer from the Carver Coalition.

There’s a bigger issue that continues to gnaw at me, however.  MCPS is one of the largest school districts in the country with a billion-dollar budget.  It’s considered one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, but does that mean it’s also well governed?  The school board seems to be continually tone-deaf when it comes to local issues, such as the bus depot, and the County Council seems to be unable to have any influence, despite being the major funder.  Is it time to split the school district into manageable parts and have more local control?

 

Rockville Violated Open Meeting Law, Says State Board

TransparencyThe Open Meetings Compliance Board for the State of Maryland has determined that the City of Rockville violated the Open Meetings Act, according to a seven-page opinion issued today to Lois Neuman, Chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections in the City of Rockville:

We have concluded that the [Mayor and] Council and the Elections Board did not timely adopt meeting minutes for meetings in 2015, and we have noted that the City will be adding staff to enable these public bodies to do that more quickly.  We have also concluded that the Elections Board’s practice of providing notice through its agendas did not always convey the required information reasonably in advance of each meeting.

All “public bodies” in Maryland, which includes most state, county, city, school, and other boards and commissions, should “hold their meetings in public, to give the public adequate notice of those meetings, and to allow the public to inspect meetings minutes” in order to “increase the public’s faith in government, ensure the accountability of government to the public, and enhance the public’s ability to participate effectively in our democracy.”

I’ve noted the inconsistency of minutes for city boards and commissions previously and it’s received attention at times by the City, but with the truly awful delays with the Board of Supervisors of Elections during an election year in 2015 (by the end of the year, missing minutes stretched back to March), I felt I needed to Continue reading →

Is Rockville Moving Towards or Away from Transparency?

TransparencyThis week the City of Rockville responsed to my complaint that the City held nearly two dozen meetings last year without documenting their decisions and sharing them with the public. Among my complaints was that the Board of Supervisors of Elections failed to post minutes on a regular basis since March 11, 2015 and the Mayor and Council failed to post minutes of a closed Executive Session on January 25, 2015.

The City approved most of the missing minutes last week, which meant that it’s taken more than a year to provide minutes for some meetings. (If you watched the March 21 Council meeting, you probably didn’t notice it because it was part of the Consent Agenda and approved with no discussion.)  That’s probably unacceptable under Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, which requires that minutes be provided “as soon as practicable.” The issue is now in the hands of Open Meetings Compliance Board, who is expected to announce their opinion next month. Although the Board doesn’t have the ability to compel the City to follow the law, it is incredibly embarrassing because it publicly and independently confirms that the City isn’t meeting openly and transparently, which is the basis for a genuine democracy.

The City says it wasn’t able to prepare the minutes because the City Clerk’s office prepares the minutes for both the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors of Elections and “the City Clerk’s Office has been extremely short staffed.” That begs the question, so why was the City Clerk’s office short staffed? It’s because Continue reading →

Hometown Holidays on Memorial Day Weekend Features 30 groups across 6 Blocks

More than 30 groups will take to four stages across six city blocks in Rockville Town Center for the city’s Hometown Holidays Music Fest on Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29, 2016. The weekend will once again feature favorite food from local restaurants at the Taste of Rockville, kids amusements and the 72nd Annual Memorial Day Ceremony and Parade on Monday, May 30.

Two hometown area bands will headline the 28th annual festival on Sunday. Baltimore’s Kelly Bell Band will play at 6:30 p.m. and then join the original “Bad Boys of Bethesda,” The Nighthawks, at 8:30 p.m. in the headlining slot on the Bud Light Stage. Other artists on the Bud Light Stage include:

  • Alternative band Knox Hamilton at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
  • Soul/rock band Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
  • Flow Tribe, playing funk, rock and psychedelic at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
  • “BluesAmericanaRock” artist Ted Garber at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Additional acts include rock band Radio Birds, reggae favorite Jah Works, the roots rock of The Alternate Routes, and the U.S. Navy Band Country Current, playing country and bluegrass. Find a full schedule of performances at www.rockvillemd.gov/hometownholidays.

The festival is just a five-minute walk from the Rockville Metro station. Festival-goers who drive or bike will find parking in the City Hall lots, Montgomery County Council office building garage on Fleet Street and the Metro station lots.

Learn more at http://www.rockvillemd.gov/hometownholidays or at “City of Rockville Hometown Holidays” on Facebook.

State Compliance Board Investigating City Meeting Records

Highlighted in red are meetings of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for 2015 that are missing minutes.

Highlighted in red are meetings of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for 2015 that are missing minutes.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board of the State of Maryland is investigating Rockville’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) for failing to maintain its meeting records in accordance with state law.  BOSE is a five-member body appointed by the mayor with the approval of the council and charged with the conduct of all City elections, the registration of voters and the keeping of records in connection with these functions. The state’s Open Meetings Act requires that all city boards and commissions provide either written minutes or a video recording of their meetings so that the public is aware of their actions and decisions.

Other city boards and commissions have had a spotty record over the past few years, but BOSE is exceptional. BOSE did not maintain records for nearly half of its meetings last year, with missing minutes stretching back to March 12, 2015 and no minutes available after October 21, which was the most intense and competitive period of the last Mayor and Council election.

BOSE has until mid-March to provide a written response to the Compliance Board, at which point they will render an opinion.  I’m not sure how BOSE will be able to review and approve so many minutes by the deadline, but even if they do, it suggests that the Supervisors of Elections need supervision as well. If you’re concerned, please let the Mayor and Council know at mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov.

What is Senator Kagan Doing in Annapolis?

Cheryl KaganThe Maryland General Assembly is about halfway through its 90-day annual grind through more than 2,500 pieces of legislation along with the State’s budgets.  State Senator Cheryl Kagan provides a regular email that lists her current activities, but it’s incomplete because so much is happening.  To see the entire picture, you have to visit the General Assembly website to discover that she’s shepherding 78 bills, 10 of which she is sponsoring and 67 she is co-sponsoring.  As a sponsor of a bill, she’s the one who introduced the legislation.  Sen. Kagan is the primary sponsor of the following bills but note that they are subject to numerous revisions in the legislative process (so what you read here may change):

SB0001: Health Insurance – In Vitro Fertilization – Use of Spouse’s Sperm – Exception. This bill alters the required conditions for health insurance coverage of in vitro fertilization (IVF) by creating an exception to the required use of the spouse’s sperm. For a patient whose spouse is of the opposite sex, the patient’s eggs must be fertilized with the spouse’s sperm, unless (1) the spouse is unable to produce and deliver sperm and (2) the inability does not
result from a vasectomy or other method of voluntary sterilization. According to the Department of Budget and Management, State plan expenditures increase by an estimated $216,310 in fiscal 2017, or approximately 0.025% of annual State plan spending. The State plan currently covers IVF. Expenditures reflect increased utilization of IVF and medical claims associated with the resulting pregnancies.

SB0028: State Government – Web Sites – Language Access. This bill requires specified State departments, agencies, and programs to take reasonable steps, beginning October 1, 2016, to operate and maintain, for Continue reading →