WalletHub named Rockville as the one of America’s most diverse cities in 2016 based on social class, ethnicity, economics, and households. It ranked 14 out of 301, being bested by our neighbors in Gaithersburg (#1), Silver Spring (#4), Germantown (#5), and Frederick (#8), but ranked higher than places usually lauded for their diversity, such as San Francisco (#20), Alexandria, VA (#45), Denver (#67), San Antonio (#119), and Seattle (#149).
On Monday, March 6, the Rockville Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing on the role of the City Police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Will Rockville’s diversity be celebrated or feared? Will immigrants be threatened or welcomed? Will the answers be quickly forthcoming or will they become mired in bureaucracy? It’s uncertain where the City of Rockville will land and I suspect it will be a tense and difficult conversation.
It’s a conversation that started shortly after the Presidential election. Mayor Newton read a statement at the start of the City Council meeting on November 14, 2016 to recognize that Rockville’s strengths are Continue reading →
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 →
The 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 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 →
This 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 →
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 email@example.com.
January 15, 2016 was the deadline for the latest financial reports for the 2015 campaign for Mayor and Council in Rockville, which covers the week before the November 3 election through the end of the year. Although this includes the hottest period of the campaign, it’s also assumed to be the quietest financially because most contributions and expenses have already been made. For the 2015 campaign, however, that short period represented 19 percent of the revenues and 38 percent of the expenditures so it wasn’t a fallow period.
More than $17,000 in contributions arrived in candidates’ bank accounts after October 26, including last-minute donations between candidates and from planning commissioners, creating a few more connections that weren’t apparent earlier. Expenses exceeded $60,000, most of it concentrated in the mayoral race between Bridget Newton and Sima Osdoby and the council campaign of Richard Gottfried. Gottfried spent an additional $9,715 for a campaign total of nearly $50,000—by comparison, the other Council candidates spent an average of $6,812 and mayoral candidates averaged $25,416.
For the 2015 Mayor and Council race, the eleven candidates raised $88,615 and spent $161,550 in total. The averages in this election are thrown off by Gottfried’s extraordinary campaign, so if we exclude him and the mayoral race (which is always much higher), the average amount raised by Council candidates was Continue reading →
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.
Without 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.
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.
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.