“Rockville officials are considering a new use for the closed RedGate Golf Course — a second state veterans home,” reports Bethesda Beat. Furthermore, “The veterans home is one of the most popular suggestions, endorsed by County Executive Marc Elrich and supported by many city officials. [Rockville Councilmember] Pierzchala said he told advocates that the home was a ‘done deal’ — just as soon as the city worked out the specifics of the project.”
So far, the discussion of the veterans home (a euphemism for a skilled nursing facility or assisted living facility) has yet to be officially discussed at a Mayor and Council meeting, and it should certainly require a public hearing if it donates 25 acres of the former golf course site. While it sounds like a good patriotic gesture by elected officials, we should put the idea in context.
In Maryland, there are 427,068 veterans and nearly 40 percent are 65 years or older. But the cohorts that follow them are significantly smaller, in other words, the number of veterans that would be eligible to live in a veterans home would be smaller with each passing decade. Will there be sufficient demand for this facility in 10-20 years? Fifteen miles away, the Armed Services Retirement Home in Washington, DC (one of two in the nation) has shuttered or demolished several residential buildings in recent years due to declining demand and to reduce costs.Continue reading →
Beryl Feinberg is holding a sign opposing the widening of I-270, in Asian costume, with students holding certificates, cleaning up a stream, and talking with a Latino man and an African American woman. What do these images mean? That voters need to re-elect her to Rockville City Council because she’ll “preserve Rockville’s character” and “embrace Rockville’s future.” But her campaign postcard is deceiving.
Michelle Whittaker would know—she’s the African American woman shown in Feinberg’s mailer. She doesn’t support Feinberg’s candidacy for city council and ironically is the campaign manager for Virginia Onley for Mayor, one of her opponents. So why is she in the shown in Feinberg’s campaign literature?
Obviously, Feinberg used the photo to assure voters that she supports diversity and inclusion—gosh, look at all the people of color in her mailer! But we’re now aware it’s a dishonest portrayal. Indeed, it continues Feinberg’s insensitivity around diversity and inclusion. A year ago, the NAACP accused Feinberg of racism in her deliberations over the hiring of an African American woman for City Clerk.
Feinberg isn’t alone in her insensitivity around race and ethnicity. David Myles, a pediatrician, Navy veteran, and Yale graduate who is also running for City Council, has had Rockville residents call the police as he was walking door to door to meet voters. They probably couldn’t tell he was a pediatrician and Navy veteran, just that he was African American man in their white neighborhood. He was out of place, didn’t belong, a stranger. Yup, in 2019.Continue reading →
An analysis of Rockville’s registered voters shows that they are dominated by Millennials, those born in the 1980s and 1990s and are now in their 20s and 30s. I suspect much of this is due to voter registration at the DMV, but the bigger question is if they will actually vote. In past city elections, reliable voters were over 50 years old but with the introduction with Vote-by-Mail, this will probably change. Without waiting for Election Day or spending time at the polls, there’s an expectation that younger voters will put their ballots in the mail in greater numbers.
The challenge for candidates is finding issues that will resonate with voters under 40. Their interests are different from older voters. Millennials value diversity and equal rights, are less affiliated with political parties (although they tend to lean liberal), support more government services (such as health care), support the legalization of marijuana, and believe immigrants strengthen the country (see Pew’s “The Generation Gap in American Politics“).
The debates on Rockville’s Mayor and Council reveal these generational differences as well, although they’re not always on generational lines. In June 2017, on a split vote, they adopted the Fostering Community Trust Act, which prohibits city staff (including police officers) from arresting or discriminating against any person on the basis of citizenship or requesting a person’s immigration status when providing city services. It was supported by Councilmembers Onley, Palakovich Carr, and Pierzchala, opposed by Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg and . The differences are stark: one side aligns with the older generation, the other side thinks younger, and led by a mayor that’s unsure where to go. In the meeting, not only did Feinberg vote against the ordinance, she attempted to weaken the City’s position by making it a policy posted on the city website, rather than an ordinance published in the city code. Newton waffled and revealed her indecisiveness by abstaining from the vote on the amendments that clarified federal and city roles in law enforcement (how is it possible for someone to abstain on this topic?).
Had Newton and Feinberg prevailed, city officials, staff, and officers would be allowed to ask residents for proof of citizenship. If you called the police to report a crime, the officer could ask if you are a citizen. Before you register for a recreation class, the staff could ask for proof of citizenship. If you talked with a foreign accent at a Mayor and Council meeting, a councilmember could ask if you were a citizen.
How the generational gap will affect the election is unknown—most voters aren’t aware of what’s happening in City Hall and rely on their day-to-day experiences to decide whether to keep or change elected officials. We’ll find out in a month.
This blog post was updated on October 12, 2019 to correct information about the votes on June 19, 2017 and its consequences.
Dear Candidate for Rockville City Council,
With thirteen people running for a city council seat in Rockville this year, it’ll be more crowded than ever. You’ll have to work harder to get your voice heard because voters will have difficulty telling you all apart (which one is Bridget Mullican?). My advice is to be distinctive and avoid the shallow promises to lower taxes, fight crime, be inclusive, preserve green space, attract business, or modernize city services. Yawn. Everyone will be saying those things, so learn about the particular needs and interests of the various communities in Rockville and how you will you go about addressing them. Solutions are nice, but often issues are so complex that a good process is more important (has anyone mentioned the APFO to you?).Continue reading →
Bill Truque, the Washington Post reporter covering Montgomery County government and politics, is leaving the paper, according to David Lublin of Seventh State. Turque has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star. As noted in The Seventh State, the blog that covers Maryland politics (especially Montgomery County), this is a significant blow for keeping local government honest:
Politicians in MoCo had it easy from the Post until Turque showed up. His two predecessors on the MoCo beat were Mike Laris, who wrote one or two articles a month, and Victor Zapana, who was fresh out of college. Neither knew a lot about the county. Turque, in contrast, was a long-time resident who quickly learned the history and the players. Before long, inconvenient stories began appearing in the paper. Politicians began longing for the days of scanty coverage!
How to pick the Best of Turque? There are so many articles to choose from. There’s the time when he outed a union-linked operative as the author of an anonymous attack website targeting former Council Member Valerie Ervin. Then there was the article in which he called out the County Council for violating its own law on Public Information Act disclosure in taking down email addresses from the county’s website. Council Member Marc Elrich, who has long said he turns away developer money, was caught by Turque taking money from an attorney who represents developers. Council Member George Leventhal has yet to recover from Turque’s posting a video of his berating budget director Jennifer Hughes from the dais which was cited in Bethesda Magazine’s coverage of his Executive campaign launch. And then there’s the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco, the subject of countless Turque articles up to his flaying the county for getting fleeced by lawyers and experts. Years ago, a Leggett administration official complained to me about Turque’s relentless coverage of the transit center. Your author replied, “You can’t blame the wolf for liking the taste of meat!”
Incredibly, Rockville and Montgomery County find it hard to attract journalists to adequately cover what’s happening locally, despite its significant influence on Maryland and Washington DC. The only newspaper, The Sentinel, is distributed weekly and covers Rockville weakly, focusing mostly on high school sports and legal notices. Bethesda is working hard to cover the news through its bimonthly magazine and blog, but it’s mostly focused on the southern end of the county. Rockville Nights, Rockville View, and my own Max for Rockville blog are produced by volunteers. Rockville Reports and Montgomery County’s Paperless Airplane are government-sponsored sources and aren’t about to announce bad news. Ever since the Gazette folded, news became incredibly sparse in Rockville and a serious threat to keeping citizens and voters informed. The Washington Post hasn’t announced a successor to Bill Turque, but as subscriptions soar and its newsroom expands, I hope they’ll pay more attention to Rockville.
For homeowners in Rockville, July brings the annual property tax bill. I’m guessing that most people simply look at the bottom line and grumble that it’s higher than last year, blaming it on the government. But we’re the government, so we can and should tell our elected officials when it’s okay to be taxed and how we want those funds spent. Which elected officials should we blame? That’s where it can get confusing and far too often I’ve seen the wrong people blamed for the actions of others. Indeed, the Rockville Mayor and Council too often is unfairly blamed for high taxes, when it’s usually the fault of the Montgomery County Council. Take a look at the breakdown for my property taxes, which will be roughly equivalent to all other homes in Rockville because we pay the same percentage of taxes according to the assessed value of the property. As you can see in the pie chart, Montgomery County collects nearly two-thirds of the property tax (blue), Rockville about a quarter (orange), and the State of Maryland about ten percent (green). Rockville collects another ten percent for trash and stormwater management (light orange) but Continue reading →
The Rockville Mayor and Council recently engaged the Novak Consulting Group (who aided in the search for the new city manager) to help refine their list of 23 priorities created in 2016—far too many to get things done. As a result, the Mayor and Council identified the priorities among their priorities, coming up with a list of twelve which are overwhelmingly focused on city planning and development, and may just be wishful thinking: Continue reading →
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 →