Mayor and Council to Choose Earmarks and Decide Upcoming Election Changes
At its Monday, February 27, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss proposed earmarks for the FY24 federal budget, requests from the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the preservation of public art, funding for the Rockcrest Ballet Center, Taste of Rockville agreement, and funding for the flood resilience master plan, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on operating budget and capital improvements budget for FY2024.
Yes, Congress is openly using earmarks again, “funds provided for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient.” For some, it’s simply another form of pork barrel politics but for others it’s a vital project. Perhaps the most famous earmark was by US Senator Ted Stevens to construct the Gravina Island Bridge or the “Bridge to Nowhere” for $250 million in 2002. But if you want federal funds for a specific project, the best way to ensure it is through earmarks. This year, the City of Rockville is considering several potential requests to Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, and Congressman Raskin, including the emergency operations center at 6 Taft Court, police radio equipment ($1.4 million!), storm drain improvements in Potomac Woods, security for the water treatment plant, and water main or sewer main rehabilitation in an “equity focused area” (not identified but somewhere in southeast Rockville).
Preparations for the 2023 Mayor and Council election are underway and candidate information packets should be ready by May 1—however, there is still lots to be done. The Board of Supervisors of Elections is waiting for approval from the Mayor and Council on several changes to the City Charter and City Code in limbo; proposed translation of outreach materials in Spanish, Chinese, and French; adding a second vote center at Thomas Farm and placing ballot drop boxes in Montrose, Lincoln Park, and the Rockville Senior Center. Indeed, if the minimum voting age is lowered from 18 years to 16 years and the deadline for submitting nomination petitions is increased from 60 to 90 days prior to the election, the City may have already missed its ability to implement these changes for the November 2023 election.
Discussion of the 30 recommendations by the Charter Review Commission continues, this time on a more “precise, open, transparent, and definitive administrative process” for filling a vacancy on the city council after two years; adding a “none of the above” option on election ballots; increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections; increasing the number of ballot drop-off boxes; lowering the voting age to 16; and limiting the number of consecutive terms of council members to three four-year terms (but allowing a person to serve 12 years as a councilmember and 12 years as mayor—really? 12 years is plenty, give other people a chance!).
More details in the 450-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02272023-6820.
Mayor and Council to Consider Changes to Mayor and Council
At its Monday, December 12, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY22 financial report and the FY24 budget priorities. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a dozen items, including easements, services, grant agreement, and the tenth amendment to the interim management agreement with Morguard for Rockville Town Square, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on priorities with the District 17 Delegation and recommendations from the 2020-22 Charter Review Commission.
The Charter Review Commission has developed recommendations for a wide variety of issues related to the City Charter (its constitution), including expanding the size of the City Council, term limits for councilmembers, alternative voting systems, translation of election materials, the scope and size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and increasing voter turnout. After forty meetings and interruptions due to the pandemic, the Commission is recommending that,
“the City maintain the status-quo on several topics (e.g., staggered Council terms and alternative methods of advertising elections), the Commission is also recommending bolder changes to City policy and operations in order to enhance accountability and transparency, increase voter turnout, and advance racial equity and social justice. Notably, the Commission is recommending such reforms as an increase in the size of the Council, implementation of term limits on the Mayor and Council, creation of representative districts, exploring changing the time of the election, and allowing residents who are not United States citizens and those at least 16 years of age to vote in municipal elections.”
More details in the 465-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12122022-6765.
Heard on the street: things are heating up in the West End neighborhood regarding design guidelines proposed by the West End Citizens Association. I suspect this is related to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A website opposed to WECA’s action can be found at PreserveTheWestEnd.com.
Board of Supervisors of Elections Recommends Lowering Voting Age to 16
At its Monday, October 24, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss creating RHE Scarborough Square (no staff report was available when the agenda was posted). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) is a license to KBSG to construct a 47-space parking lot at King Farm Farmstead Park, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports from the Board of Supervisors of Elections and the Traffic and Transportation Commission.
The Board of Supervisors of Elections is recommending a “series of amendments to the City Charter and to Chapter 8 of the City Code,” including lowering the voting age to 16 years; increasing the deadline for submitting nominations for candidates to city council from 60 to 90 days prior to the election; prohibit campaigning within 50 feet of a ballot drop box; requiring electronic filing of all campaign finance reports; and limiting campaign committees (“slates”) to one election cycle. Some of these changes will be controversial.
The Traffic and Transportation Commission is requesting its scope of responsibilities be updated from its creation in the 1970s, including two ex-officio, non-voting seats from the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advocacy Committee; meetings be held quarterly; advise on “opportunities to advance a transportation and mobility network that is safe, equitable, convenient, fiscally resilient, and environmentally sustainable;” “approve the official names of newly constructed or reconstructed bridges” (but why not streets, turnpikes, highways, intersections, bus shelters, and parking lots?); and changing its name to the Transportation and Mobility Commission. So let me get this straight: there are three city commissions responsible for “transportation and mobility” in the city (Traffic and Transportation, Bicycle, and Pedestrian)? Seems like a lot more bureaucracy than needed for such a small city. Can’t they be combined with a balanced representation of all three interests? That might result in better solutions and more efficiency.
More details in the 109-page agenda packet (21 pages of which are devoted to proclamations) are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_10242022-6728.
Campaign Contribution Limits Unconstitutional
The City of Rockville recently determined that some of the campaign contribution limits in the Election Code are unconstitutional. It’s a bit confusing, so here’s the official notice from the City Clerk:
The Board of Supervisors of Elections wants to let you know that the Mayor and Council introduced an ordinance this past Monday, September 9, 2019, that, if adopted, would amend Section 8-78 of Chapter 8, “Elections,” of the City Code to delete the $2,000 limit on total contributions in an election cycle in subsections (d) and (e). A total contribution limit has been found by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. While the total contribution limit is unconstitutional, the limit of contributions to an individual or a campaign committee of $1,000 is constitutional and that limit remains in full force and effect. While the ordinance introduced by the Mayor and Council on September 9 has not yet been adopted, the Board wants you to know that the $2,000 total contribution limit is unenforceable and will not be enforced.Email from Sara Taylor-Ferrell, “Notice From Rockville Board of Supervisors of Elections – Contributions,” September 13, 2019.
For context, the Election Code reads (text recently eliminated is struck through) :Continue reading →
Rockville Violated Open Meeting Law, Says State Board
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 →
Is Rockville Moving Towards or Away from Transparency?
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 →
State Compliance Board Investigating City Meeting Records
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 Campaign Finance Reports Shows Plenty of Holes in the System
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 →
Rockville’s Government Transparency Score Earns Fs for Six Groups
In 2012, I reviewed Rockville’s boards and commissions to assess how openly they conducted their meetings during the previous year. It was a miserable showing, with about half not providing agendas or minutes. Four years later, it has improved and yet six “public bodies” received failing grades, including the Mayor and Council.
On September 1, 2015, I tallied the number of meetings and minutes posted on the City website for 2015 (that’s nine months from January 1, 2015 to August 31, 2015). By dividing the number of minutes by the number of meetings (cancelled meetings don’t count), I calculated a “government transparency score.” So if a commission had posted 9 minutes for 12 meetings, that would earn them a Minutes Score of 9/12 or 75%. The higher the score the better and anything lower than 60% is an F. Here’s how they fared: Continue reading →
Election Shenanigans Encourage Unethical and Illegal Behavior
In an effort to discourage the shenanigans that are occurring in the current Mayor and Council election, I’ve filed an official complaint with the City’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) this week. Last weekend, a couple people were distributing a flyer door-to-door in the King Farm neighborhood that called for the election of Bridget Newton, Don Hadley, and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker to the Rockville Mayor and Council for various reasons. That’s not a problem except it was anonymous, a tactic I find cowardly because the source is secret and isn’t accountable for their statements, but in Rockville, it’s also illegal. The City Code states that, “Every person who publishes or distributes or causes to be published or distributed any pamphlet, circular, card … relating to or concerning any candidate … shall include the name and address of the person, treasurer, or campaign committee responsible for the literature.” That’s why you always see Continue reading →