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.
According to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, political contributions to local elections are often overlooked. “Although these races often do not receive the headlines of their state and federal counterparts, the election results can have a great effect on people’s everyday lives. School curriculum, zoning, and local tax code are just some examples of policy determined by the elected local boards, councils, and executives who carry out local governance. Knowing who funded their campaigns is an essential component of maintaining an effective, accountable democracy.”
Armed with campaign finance reports from October 1 and 26, 2015 for the eleven candidates for Rockville’s Mayor and Council, I examined candidate’s claims about independence and the planning commission’s claim they are not political. Throughout this election season, several candidates emphasized their independence, positing it as an alternative to Team Rockville. Team Rockville is a campaign committee composed of Sima Osdoby for Mayor and Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed for Council who have publicly stated a shared vision for Rockville and that they are supporting each other and pooling resources (disclosure: I am the chair of Team Rockville). Examining the financial contributions among these candidates shows Continue reading →
The candidates for the Rockville Mayor and Council submitted their second and last set of campaign finance statements before the November 3 election, giving voters an insight into the tactics of their campaigns. So far, more than $70,000 has been contributed to the various candidates and more than $100,000 has been spent. The $30,000 difference is due to personal loans or contributions that candidates make to their own campaigns–indeed, most of that is due to the extraordinary campaign of Richard Gottfried. His may be the most expensive campaign in this election and probably in the history of Rockville.
So far, Mr. Gottfried has received contributions of $1,880, the least of all candidates, yet has spent $39,617, the most of all candidates. He has loaned himself the difference and spent most of it on direct mail and campaign materials. By sending out at least four direct mail pieces, the first long before anyone else, and using what appears to be paid political consultants, he may be signaling a change in the way campaigns will be run in Rockville.
Without a widely distributed local newspaper, getting the attention and support of voters will have to rely on tactics in addition to the traditions of yard signs and precinct walking. For the moment, direct mail assures candidates that they can reach every voter but it’s also very expensive. Printing and postage are the biggest expense, but design and messaging are incredibly important as well. Most candidates don’t have that expertise and have to rely on outside professionals, often at a cost. As we are finding in state and federal elections, campaigning is as much about appearances and marketing as it is about issues and ideas, and that public image needs to be continually reinforced with an electorate that is bombarded by information and has a short attention span.
If this trend continues, how will Rockville voters distinguish among candidates in the future? Or will they simply withdraw from the sea of sound bites and slick mailers?
For some voters, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) serve as a litmus test for candidates for the upcoming Mayor and Council election on November 3. This past year the Rockville City Council debated revisions to the APFS, including a change in school capacity from 110% to 120% to match the county’s standards. Development must meet these Standards, unless they receive a waiver from the City, and went into effect on June 1, 2015 (among other changes to the APFS) with the support of Councilmembers Moore, Onley, and Palakovich Carr and over the objections of Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg. At the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Forum on October 7, several candidates stated their opinions on these new Standards, with Richard Gottfried and Patrick Schoof stating they would overturn them if elected; Brigitta Mullican stating that we need to get out of this discussion because the City has no control over schools; and Mark Pierzchala noting that the APFO failed to prevent school overcrowding and that the city needs a new approach focused at the county level. Beryl Feinberg confirmed her opposition to the APFS changes and went into detail by stating:
As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the adequate public facilities changing. What we have seen since the change has been an influx of almost one thousand different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure, notably in transportation. One area has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community* as well as an EYA proposal off Preserve Parkway with about 350 units.** Both of those will be on Wooton Parkway.
Her claim of “an influx of almost one thousand different units” since June 1, 2015 caught my ears. By coincidence, the city staff completed a study for the Planning Commission on October 7 (same day as the forum) that summarized residential development activity since the modifications to the APFS on June 1, 2015. It turns out that Feinberg’s claims are Continue reading →
The candidates for Rockville Mayor and Council will square off again this week two more times, giving voters more opportunities to size them up before Early Voting over the weekend. These forums will probably focus on different topics, although there should be some overlap.
Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 pm at the Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive. The College Gardens Civic Association and the Woodley Gardens Civic Association are teaming up to host this debate, which will most likely focus on issues important to residential neighborhoods. The debate will be moderated by Maryland State Senator Cheryl Kagan, who’s been known to add questions of her own.
Thursday, October 22 at 7:00 pm at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive (in the Rockville Civic Center adjacent to the Twinbrook/Silver Rock/Burgundy neighborhoods). The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County is hosting this forum, which will most likely focus on issues of city-wide concern. It will also be televised live and rebroadcast on Rockville Channel 11.
This weekend you can cast your votes early on Saturday and Sunday, October 24-25 from 10 am-8 pmat City Hall, 111 Maryland Avenue (downtown near the courthouses). Same-day registration and voting is available to eligible individuals (bring a valid photo ID and proof of residency) at City Hall only on early voting days and Election Day, November 3.
The election is now two weeks away and last week all registered voters should have received a sample ballot in the mail. If you did not receive it, you probably need to register with the City Clerk’s Office at City Hall. For more information, visit www.rockvillemd.gov/election, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-314-8286.
Absentee ballot applications, for voters who cannot make it to a location, are available in English or Spanish at City Hall and at www.rockvillemd.gov/election. The last day the city will mail absentee ballots is Monday, October 26. After October 26, absentee ballots must be picked up at the City Clerk’s Office. Ballots must be dropped off or received by mail at the City Clerk’s Office, City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850 no later than 8 pm on Tuesday, November 3. Ballots received after 8 pm on November 3 will not be counted in the election.
In elections, taxes are often a hot-button issue and that’s no different in the current Rockville Mayor and Council campaign. Taxes are are the largest source of government revenue and directly affect most residents and businesses, but they aren’t the only source. For Rockville, those sources include fees, permits, fines, licenses, investments, and overhead. As you can see in the chart from the City’s FY2016 adopted budget, property taxes contribute 51 percent and “Other Gov’t” (which consists of highway user taxes and income taxes) is 25 percent.
Property taxes not only represent the largest share of general fund revenues at $38 million but they are also expected to grow more than 5 percent in 2016 compared to last year. That’s not because of increased rates, but increased property values. Although I always grumble when I receive my property tax bill, I’m slightly mollified by knowing that the value of my house has also increased (and that I’m helping pay for those things I value in my community, such as roads, parks, police, libraries, schools, etc. etc.). In chatting with others in the community, they also grumble about property taxes but place most of the blame on the City of Rockville, but it should actually be aimed at Continue reading →
Senior Citizens Commission Candidates’ Forum on Wednesday afternoon, October 14, 2015 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at the Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive. This debate will address specific issues affecting seniors, in addition to some questions of general interest, as time allows, with the final hour reserved for one-on-one conversations with those attending.
West End Citizens Association (WECA) on Thursday evening, October 15, 2015 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Rockville Presbyterian Church, 215 W. Montgomery Avenue. Most likely this forum will focus on issues that affect the West End, such as traffic, development, commercial/residential balance, historic preservation, and pedestrian safety, which may be similar to other residential neighborhoods.
Both forums are free and open to the public, and no reservations are needed.
Last week about seventy people gathered at the Thomas Farm Community Center to watch the first candidate forum (watch on YouTube). Hosted by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, the questions focused on issues that were important to the business community, such as the impact of the new developments on the north (Crown) and south (Pike and Rose), the future of the APFO, building heights and street widths on the Rockville Pike, and if the non-residential tax base should grow to support city services. This was the community’s first chance to see all the candidates together and assess how they handled a variety of questions in a very controlled environment. If anyone expected sparks to fly, the minute-long responses don’t lend themselves to much content that generates controversy. Many fell to vague pat answers such as Continue reading →
The Rockville Chamber of Commerce will host the first Mayor and Council debate of this campaign season tonight, October 7, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Thomas Farm Community Center at 700 Fallsgrove Drive in Rockville (west of I-270, where West Gude Drive, West Montgomery Avenue/MD-28, and Fallsgrove Drive meet). The event is free for everyone regardless of chamber membership. Attend in person and you’ll have a chance to meet the candidates, pick up their literature, and carry home a yard sign. It will also be televised live on Rockville Channel 11, streamed live at www.rockvillemd.gov/Rockville11, and can be viewed later on the city’s YouTube channel. Only three of the half dozen debates will be broadcast by Rockville 11.
Recently added to the roster of debates is one being hosted by the West End Citizen’s Association on Thursday, October 15 from 7 to 9 pm at the Rockville Presbyterian Church. This debate isn’t listed yet on their web site, but I assume it will be open to the public.