I’ve just returned from the Boards and Commissions Task Force meeting in Rockville City Hall tonight and was surprised by two things:
- Although they lacked a quorum, they met for two hours to discuss a set of draft recommendations to reform the city’s boards and commissions.
- Two members of the task force openly endorsed Bridget Newton in the mayoral election (“I’ll be voting for her in the upcoming election”).
It seems ironic that a task force charged with reviewing and improving the city’s boards and commissions fails to follow some of the city’s and state’s existing policies and practices. Can you imagine other city boards discussing business without a quorum? If members of the planning commission or environment commission expressed their support for their candidates during one of their business meetings?
They also distributed a “dashboard” with their assessment of the city’s boards and found that significant improvement is needed in:
- diverse citizen input
- consistent internal communication
- a transparent and efficient process for identifying and appointing board and commission members
- Mayor and Council and city staff providing productive advice and direction to boards and commissions
The dashboard also revealed that NO areas were acceptable; all fell short in achieving the city’s goals. Rockville’s boards and commissions are entirely composed of community volunteers so this poor rating across the board is especially frustrating. How much worse does it need to become?
Despite these challenges, tonight’s discussion showed that the Task Force is reluctant to make any meaningful changes, especially in the process for identifying and appointing board and commission members. They admit there’s been a long-standing problem in filling vacancies, especially on Planning Commission and Historic District Commission, but are pleased to confine their tinkering to the edges, not at core—the exclusive power of the Mayor to nominate board and commission members. And yet, Mayor Newton is unwilling or unable to do her job—there are currently twenty-six (26!) vacancies (that’s more than five basketball teams). It seems we’ll be facing a civic version of insanity when their recommendations are released this fall: “keep trying the same thing expecting a different result.”
Here’s another kicker: the packet distributed at the meeting is not the same as what is available on the city website. I’ve attached the packet so you can have a better sense of what was discussed. Their next meeting is Tuesday, July 30 at 6:30 pm in the Black-Eyed Susan Room at Rockville City Hall.
WMATA is considering running more trains to its Rockville stations (that’s Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove) by eliminating the occasional “turn back” at the Grosvenor-Strathmore station—but needs convincing. For years during the morning and evening rush hours, WMATA stops every other train at Grosvenor-Strathmore so they can be returned to DC to reduce congestion inside the Beltway. In recent years, however, the population around the Rockville stations has grown and now it is common to find trains at standing-room-only capacity in Rockville at rush hour, even though they are located at the end of the Red Line.
In October 2017, County Executive Leggett suggested WMATA “conduct a pilot project using the current schedule of 15 trains per hour to Grosvenor, but extending all of these trains to Shady Grove.” In January 2018, sixteen state Delegates and Senators (but not Rockville representatives Senator Kagan nor Delegate Gilchrist) reminded WMATA about an agreement to eliminate the turnbacks by July 2018. In February 2018, the Montgomery County Council sent a letter asking WMATA to eliminate the turnbacks [according to WTOP but I could not confirm this on MoCo website] while Rockville Mayor Newton spoke at WMATA’s budget hearing to restore full service by summer.
Evidently, WMATA isn’t convinced either by their agreement or letters from elected officials at the city, county, or state level, and now are asking for the public’s comments. If you have an opinion on increasing the number of trains to Shady Grove during rush hour from every eight minutes to every four, complete WMATA’s online survey by Monday, May 21, 2018 by 5 p.m. Your responses will be shared with the WMATA Board of Directors at their July 2018 meeting (ironically, when they had already agreed to eliminate turnbacks at Grosvenor; the Metro Board desperately needs to be reformed).
On Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m., the Rockville Planning Commission will be considering three new development projects that could add two houses and 310 apartments to the city in downtown and Lincoln Park. Here’s what’s on the agenda:
1. 304 Frederick Avenue in Lincoln Park: JJ Realty of Bethesda proposes to create two residential lots from a 11,428-square foot lot, which will require a waiver to allow a minimum lot area below 6,000 square feet in a R-60 zone. Because this subdivision consists of fewer than 3 lots, it is exempt from the APFO.
2. 50 Monroe Place in Downtown Rockville (currently a vacant lot adjacent to the Americana Centre): RST Development proposes the development of an 81-foot-high/7-story building with 1300-sf restaurant, 8000-sf office for non-profit organizations, 70 apartments, and an underground garage on a half-acre of land located on the south side of Monroe Place, with a request to reduce the parking requirement from 91 to 40 spaces because of its proximity to public transit. The property is zoned Mixed Use Transit District (MXTD). A majority of the apartments will be 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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Choice Hotels International, Inc., headquartered in Rockville, celebrated the grand opening of its new Cambria Hotel & Suites on Monday night in downtown Rockville. Choice Hotels is one of the world’s largest lodging companies, with more than 6,300 hotels franchised in more than 35 countries and territories and 613 hotels in development, including Ascend Hotel, Comfort Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, and Rodeway Inn. The celebration included speeches by City of Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton; Steve Joyce, President and CEO of Choice Hotels; Michael Murphy, Senior Vice President of Upscale Brands at Choice Hotels; and Marc Dubick, President of Duball, LLC, as well as entertainment featuring clowns, jugglers, and an aerialist.
Built by Duball, LLC with institutional capital partner CIM Group, and operated by Crescent Hotels & Resorts, Cambria Hotel & Suites stands at 1 Helen Heneghan Way (recently named for a former beloved City Clerk) between the Regal Theater and the headquarters of Choice Hotels International. The 140-room hotel spans eight floors of the 15-story west tower, the first of two towers in the mixed-use high-rise complex. A parking garage is built into the building’s structure, giving guests a convenient place for parking and allowing all rooms to enjoy an exterior view. In addition to the Cambria Hotel, the complex will also be Continue reading →