This year’s Mayor and Council election in Rockville is extraordinary not only because Election Day has turned into Election Month due to vote-by-mail, but also because so many new, unusual, and strange campaigning is happening. You’ve probably noticed a few of them but when you bring them all together, you realize this election is very different from its predecessors.
The number of candidates is the largest in recent memory and I’m not sure what’s prompting it. Running for office is grueling and costly. Maybe there’s a gut feeling that the city is being pulled in several directions and people are jumping in to influence the outcome or that there are two slates (which was common twenty years ago) plus the usual unaffiliated candidates.
We’re now at the time of the campaign when yard signs become a point of contention. During the day, fanatics will confront homeowners who have signs of their opponents or in the dead of night, steal signs and blame it on teenagers. This election is different because many homes have motion-activated security cameras, making it easier to catch misbehavior on video. Recently posted on Twinbrook Neighbors, a camera caught a person tucking candidate literature into the door who also seemed to go through the resident’s mailbox. And he wasn’t a teenager.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.
The message on Facebook asked readers to “Please support our member Kuan Lee who is running for the City Council of Rockville. Also, please join/renew the Rockville Sister City Corporation (RSCC) membership to show your support.”
What? Rockville Sister City is endorsing a candidate? Not only is RSCC part of the City of Rockville, it’s incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization—endorsing a candidate not only would sever its ties with the City but also jeopardize its status with the IRS.
RSCC President Drew Powell assured me that Rockville Sister City did NOT endorse Kuan Lee, nor would it endorse any candidate for elected office. It remains confusing, however, because Kuan Lee is a member of the RSCC board, the Facebook post urges support for RSCC, and Drew Powell is a longtime vocal supporter of Bridget Newton, Lee’s campaign colleague. RSCC can’t control what other people say or imply about them, but I suspect they will have a heated discussion to sort this out and clarify their role in the election and this debacle at their next meeting.
In the meantime, a closer look reveals that the Facebook post was made by the Rockville-Yilan City Corporation. Never heard of it? It was incorporated in Maryland in 2017 by…wait for it…Kuan Lee and operates from his home in Rockville. Yup, Kuan Lee endorsed himself in the disguise of a charitable organization.
There are so many things wrong with this, but let’s just list a few that are most important to Rockville voters: Continue reading →
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 →