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 →

Impromptu Mini Farmers Market on Feb. 20

Apples and pears at the impromptu farmers market in Rockville in January.

Apples and pears at the impromptu farmers market in Rockville in January.

Winter is rarely a time for a farmers market but a couple of farms have returned to the corner of Jefferson and Monroe in downtown Rockville on Saturday morning to share the produce they have available, such as apples and squash held over from fall or young root crops, such as beets or carrots, that are growing in greenhouses.  On January 9, a couple farmers arrived with little notice and yet most of their produce was gone by noon.  This Saturday, February 13 was planned for another informal market but I was just notified it will be postponed to next Saturday, February 20 due to the cold weather.  I’ll post an update if there’s a change in plans. If you’re looking for a larger winter market, visit the Olney Farmers and Artists Market on Sunday mornings.

Best Restaurants in Rockville 2016

 

2015-09-07 16.32.10

Peter Chang Restaurant in Rockville, one of the 100 Very Best Restaurants of 2016.

The February 2016 issue of Washingtonian magazine features their ever-popular list of the 100 very best restaurants in the region, which is led by Fiola Mare, Komi, and Little Serow. The full list—which is ranked from 1 to 100 and includes reviews, favorite dishes of the year, and more—is on newsstands now. It also includes several restaurants in or near Rockville, all moderately priced:

 

#97. Black Market Bistro, 4600 Waverly Avenue in Garrett Park. American. “Jeff and Barbara Black’s bistro isn’t far from Bethesda, but it has an out-in-the-country vibe. And though it’s a neighborhood gathering spot, it’s also a destination for those seeking a tete-a-tete rather than a scene, along with easy-to-like food. Crackly-crust pizzas (the mushroom-pecorino  is terrific) share space with Modern American plates such as a chew-in-a-good-way hanger steak with chimichurri. Cake lovers will find their happy place—especially if the blackout cake is on the menu. Even though it’s mated with Chantilly cream and chocolate sauce, we amp it up with ice cream.” If you miss Addie’s, here’s the next closest restaurant owned by the same family.

#44. Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana, 12207 Darnestown Road in Gaithersburg. Italian. “What’s a three-star chef doing running a pizza joint in a Gaithersburg shopping plaza? Having a blast. Tony Conte may have abandoned Continue reading →

2015 Campaign Finance Reports Shows Plenty of Holes in the System

Rockville-Election-UpdateJanuary 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.

2015 Rockville Campaign Expenses for the period ending December 31, 2015.

2015 Rockville Campaign Expenses for the period ending December 31, 2015. Patrick Schoof’s data is incomplete.

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 →

Blizzard 2016 Report from Twinbrook

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Blizzard of 2016 has left the Mid-Atlantic and for the next few days we’ll be digging ourselves out of nearly two feet of snow (although with the winds, there are drifts that are much higher).  The Twinbrook neighborhood has crews of shovelers and blowers working to clear homes and cars and City of Rockville crews are plowing streets.  The major streets in Twinbrook, such as Twinbrook Parkway and Viers Mill Road, are open to one or two lanes but they’re not back to normal and I wouldn’t venture outfor another day unless it’s an emergency.  Minor streets vary significantly–some have a passable lane, others were plowed yesterday and now have a layer of snow. But even if you could get out, there isn’t any place to go.  Most stores and restaurants remain closed because their parking lots need to be cleared and they’ll soon be faced with the problem of figuring out where to put all that snow. After 2010’s blizzard, I remember a mountain of snow at Trader Joes that didn’t disappear until late March–becoming ever dirtier over time that by the end, it looked like coal.

It’s difficult to get local information and the best source I’ve found is Twitter.  To see what’s happening, use hashtags #blizzard2016, #Rockville, or #RKV or follow @Rockville411, @MontgomeryCoMD, @MDSHA, @WMATA, or @DrGridlock.

If you want to take your kids sledding, you’ll probably want to walk to your nearest park if it has a hill (Rockville Central produced a Google Map with suggestions ages ago).  The best one is at the Rockville Civic Center, which has a famous sledding hill near Glenview Mansion.  Montgomery County Parks has a list of approved sledding sites in their parks.

A couple reminders from the City of Rockville: Continue reading →