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 →
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 →
If you stayed up until 11:00 pm last night to watch the election returns for Rockville, you know that Bridget Newton was elected Mayor and Julie Palakovich Carr, Virginia Onley, Tom Moore, and Beryl L. Feinberg were elected to City Council. Congratulations to each of them and I wish them all much success and wisdom as they lead Rockville during the next two years.
Although Mark Pierzchala was not elected Mayor, he created Team Rockville, “to ensure that voters would have diverse choices for their next Mayor and Council” and that Rockville would have “elected officials with experience and knowledge about the issues facing the City.” Most importantly, it would “lead the City in a transparent, respectful, and inclusive manner.” With four Team Rockville candidates elected, these values will be carried into the Council chambers and hopefully create a less divisive and argumentative atmosphere than we’ve had under Phyllis Marcuccio.
So where does that leave Bridget Newton, our new Mayor? Continue reading →
The second campaign finance reports for the Rockville Mayor and Council elections for the period October 1-27, 2013 were recently submitted and they reveal that Zip Code 20850 (includes Fallsgrove, West End, New Mark Commons, East Rockville, Lincoln Park, College Gardens, King Farm) still dominates the contributions and even increased their giving by 5 percent compared to September. The other Rockville Zip Codes fell far in the distance at 10 percent for 20854 (Horizon Hill, Fallsmead, Potomac Woods); 6 percent for 20851 (Twinbrook); and 5 percent for 20852 (Hungerford, Montrose, North Farm). For the entire election season, 20850 is tops at 63 percent, contributions outside the city come in at 21 percent, and the other three Zips stand at about 5 percent. Again, that roughly mimics the voting records for those regions and perhaps how much they Continue reading →
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 →
The first campaign finance reports for the Rockville Mayor and Council elections for the period ending September30, 2013 were recently submitted and they reveal that Zip Code 20850 (includes Fallsgrove, West End, New Mark Commons, East Rockville, Lincoln Park, College Gardens, King Farm) provides more than 60 percent of the funds, with other Rockville Zip Codes 20851 (Twinbrook), 20852 (Hungerford, Montrose, North Farm), and 20854 (Horizon Hill, Fallsmead, Potomac Woods) falling far in the distance with an average of 5 percent. That roughly mimics the voting records for those regions and perhaps how much they feel engaged with the larger Rockville community. For individual campaigns, the breakdown varies considerably and can signal how much a candidate has engaged with or is subject to influence by a particular neighborhood.
New candidates often have to rely on support from themselves, family, or friends and that’s the pattern seen with Hadley, Palakovich Carr, and Whittaker. Feinberg, on the other hand, has been able to obtain more than 95 percent of her supporters within Rockville, an impressive achievement for an experienced candidate and extraordinary for a newcomer. The mayoral candidates of Newton and Pierzchala, both current councilmembers, are relying heavily on residents within 20850 and from outsiders–donors outside of Rockville exceed 25 percent for both candidates. Feinberg and Palakovich Carr have gathered the broadest representation of supporters across Rockville’s four zip codes.
The number of donors seems to fall in three groups. Newtown and Pierzchala lead with about 80 supporters each, Feinberg and Palakovich Carr in the second batch with about Continue reading →
The election season is upon us and with it come a series of Forums hosted by various community groups around the city. Voters are welcome to attend any of the Forums, as well as meet the candidates and pick up their literature. Each Forum is different so attending one doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. The hosting community groups are independent and nonpartisan, do not endorse candidates, choose the moderator and format, and determine the questions.
Rockville Channel 11, the City’s cable television station, will air three of the Forums live in October on cable on Rockville Channel 11 or online at www.rockvillemd.gov/rockville11. They will also make them available on the City’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/cityofrockville.
- Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. – Rockville Community Coalition at the Social Hall at Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Dr. (televised by Rockville Channel 11)
- Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. – King Farm at the Saddle Ridge Community Center
- Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. – Twinbrook Citizens Association at Twinbrook Community Recreation Center, 12920 Twinbrook Pkwy. (televised by Rockville Channel 11)
- Tuesday, Oct. 15 – West End Citizens Association, time and location tbd.
- Thursday, Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m. – Chamber of Commerce at Montgomery County Media, 7548 Standish Place. Mayoral debate at 6 p.m.; Council debate at 7 p.m.
- Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 7:00 p.m. – League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Maryland at Thomas Farm Community Recreation Center, 700 Fallsgrove Dr. (televised by Rockville Channel 11)
- Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 1:00 p.m. – Senior Forum at the Senior Center in the Woodley Gardens neighborhood.
This is the best information I have available and is subject to change. Please confirm with the hosting organization for last minute changes (the televised Forums are confirmed because of the equipment required; the others are less certain). If you are aware of changes or corrections, you’re welcome to post them in the comments below.
City of Rockville elections are held every two years, at which time the mayor and four council seats are up for election. There are two candidates running for Mayor and six candidates running for four Council seats. The November 5 ballot will also include three advisory questions on changes to the election cycle, council seats, and council terms.
Candidates for Mayor:
- Bridget Newton
- Mark Pierzchala
Candidates for Council:
- Beryl L. Feinberg
- Don Hadley
- Tom Moore
- Virginia Onley
- Julie Palakovich Carr
- Claire Marcuccio Whitaker
Although the signatures still need to be certified, Claire Whitaker and Don Hadley submitted their petitions for candidacy for Rockville City Council by the filing deadline last Friday, September 6. Let’s assume their petitions are certified, the ballot on November 5 would look like:
- Bridget Newton
- Mark Pierzchala
- Beryl L. Feinberg
- Don Hadley
- Tom Moore
- Virginia Onley
- Julie Palakovich Carr
- Claire Whitaker
That’s eight candidates, which is one or two persons fewer than previous years (there were 11 candidates on the ballot in 2011, although one withdrew before the election but his name remained). Given how late in the game the last two candidates entered the race, it does cause me to pause whether the City Council should be increased from 5 to 7 persons, a question that also comes on November’s ballot.
I’ll be exploring various aspects of the election in the next two months, but one that’s quite obvious is that four of the eight candidates are from the West End neighborhood, indeed two live so close to each other they could hit each other’s homes with a baseball. The map shows the location of each candidate’s homes (click the map to enlarge: mayoral candidates in blue, council candidates in red). It also means that four of the five seats on the City Council could be captured by the West End, which has been one of the most politically vocal and active neighborhoods in Rockville. But it’s also been one of the city’s most divided neighborhoods with strong feelings on both sides (perhaps you heard about the rancor at their last election), so it’s unclear how these West End candidates represent this neighborhood.
After Mark Pierzchala, Tom Moore, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Beryl Feinberg announced in March their intentions to run as a slate (Team Rockville) for Rockville’s City Council, it’s been exceedingly quiet. Bridget Newton’s announcement last month raised the temperatures a bit, but not as much as I hoped. Phyllis Marcuccio and John Hall gave her mild endorsements and she wasn’t able to assemble a full slate to compete. Nevertheless, with Marcuccio’s departure as Mayor, the absence of an incumbent will make the contest between the two Council members for the Mayor’s seat much more interesting.
Strangely, the four Council seats are unopposed with Moore, Onley, Palakovich Carr, and Feinberg as the only candidates (four seats, four candidates). This Friday, September 6 is the last day for residents to submit their petitions for candidacy so that situation could easily change. I’ve heard that Richard Gottfried (a previous candidate), Claire Whitaker (Phyllis Marcuccio’s sister), and Don Hadley (planning commissioner) are circulating petitions, so perhaps we will once again have the usual 9 to 11 candidates on the ballot.
No matter who runs, I hope it’s a much cleaner, issue-focused, and transparent election than the last time. The campaign between Phyllis Marcuccio and Piotr Gajewski was both heated and close, which unfortunately brought out poor decisions and bad behavior from both camps. The City’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BSE) spent more than a year after the election reviewing complaints, determining penalties, patching holes in the financial report forms, figuring out the voter rolls, and revising the election code. Their recommendations, though, weren’t heard by Mayor and Council until February 11, 2013–just six months ago and nearly 22 months after the election. Ugh. Lots of hard feelings remain in the community, and I am concerned that that the shenanigans will return. I hope not. The 2011 campaign left an especially bad taste and I don’t want to experience it again. I witnessed illegal and unethical behavior during that campaign and went through the official process of filing a complaint with the BSE, but it was never answered despite repeated requests. This year I won’t wait for the BSE (or Patch, Gazette, or Sentinel) and plan to throw a flag and raise an eyebrow more publicly to stop underhandedness and bad behavior in its tracks. So I’ll start with some transparency right from the start: I am supporting Team Rockville and working closely with Mark Pierzchala on his campaign for Mayor. Of course, that will bias my opinions but everyone has biases–at least you know what mine are from the start. And if you have opinions or thoughts, you’re welcome to share them in the comments (I won’t edit or censor them unless they really get out of hand). The more people talk about the issues facing the community, the better it will become.
Just a reminder, Election Day is Tuesday, November 5, 2013. Put it on your calendar (me too! I accidentally wrote November 6).