City Council Campaign On Its Way with Ten Candidates
The 2023 campaign for Rockville Mayor and Council officially started on May 11 when the Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) certified the petitions of Mark Pierzchala for Mayor and Izola Shaw for Council. As of May 25, there are currently two candidates for Mayor and eight candidates for Council—a total of ten people running for office.
- Candidates for the Office of Mayor
- Monique Ashton (currently on Council)
- Mark Pierzchala (currently on Council)
- Candidates for the Office of Council
- Kate Fulton
- Barry Jackson
- Ricky Mui
- David Myles (currently on Council)
- Paul Scott
- Izola Shaw
- Marissa Valeri
- Adam Van Grack
That’s low compared to 2019 (13 people) and 2015 (11 people), so I suspect more candidates will be added, especially with the number of seats on Council increasing from four to six. Indeed, Harold Hodges’ petition for Council is expected to be certified in June but I’m guessing that incumbents Bridget Newton or Beryl Feinberg won’t run again if they haven’t already submitted petitions. The deadline to submit petitions is Friday, September 8. If you want the latest information, the City Clerk’s office is maintaining a list online (BOSE meeting minutes and videos are not always available).
The big challenge for the candidates is getting the attention of voters. Yard signs and direct mail will be essential, but it is incredibly expensive (especially as postage rates increase on July 9) and can create a campaign budget that easily crosses the $10,000 line—which can discourage good candidates for office. Candidate for Council David Myles demonstrates the tenacity required when running for office nowadays. In the last election, he knocked on the doors of every voter at least twice. Last week, he already dropped off a brochure at my house.
The big challenge for voters is sorting through the candidates’ slogans and platitudes (lower taxes!, fight crime! end government waste! stop overcrowded schools!—if you hear any of these, choose someone else who understands the issues better). With no local newspaper covering Rockville on a regular basis to provide an independent perspective, voters will have to rely on what the candidates say (hmm, sounds mighty biased to me). It will be the candidate’s postcard in the mail, one of the three candidate forums, meeting candidates as they walk the neighborhood, the Rockville 11 special broadcast, or the City’s voter’s guide. I’ll try to do my part in navigating the noise, so check back regularly. Comments and suggestions are welcome.
The election for Mayor and six Councilmembers to four-year terms will be on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Rockville will conduct its second vote-by-mail election with ballots mailed to all registered voters who live within Rockville city limits by October 13. Ballots must be returned via an official drop box, by mail to City Hall, or in person on Election Day at City Hall and Thomas Farm Community Center. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. More details at Voting and Elections on the city website.
Rockville City Manager Faces Performance Improvement Plan in Surprise Session
In an extraordinary last-minute Closed Session held on Thursday morning, May 11, 2023, the Rockville City Council put the City Manager Rob DiSpirito into a three-month Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for reasons unknown. Improvement Plan (PIP) is a formal, structured process designed to help underperforming employees identify and overcome performance issues. It outlines specific goals, expectations, and timelines for improvement, along with support, resources, and regular progress evaluations to facilitate success and growth.
When the Council came out of Closed Session, Councilmember Monique Ashton quickly moved for the PIP and was supported by Councilmember Beryl Feinberg. Mayor Bridget Newtown rushed for a vote without a discussion, but was interrupted by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala to note that, “I don’t know how the sequence of events unrolled but I’m not going to vote for it. I think things have moved past the point where a performance improvement plan is going to be effective. So I’m gonna vote against it. I had asked to make the first motion but that was not allowed, apparently. I’m not sure where that came from. Thank you.” The motion passed 4-1 with Councilmember Pierzchala voting against. A brief three-minute video is available at https://youtu.be/fIu7e9cHhoo, but of course, the closed session portion is held in secret and it’s unclear how long they debated the issue.
I typically discourage Closed Sessions because they are secret and prevent voters from knowing what’s happening—and Closed Sessions usually deal with major issues. Fortunately, Maryland has an Open Meetings Act to keep council and board meetings available to the public so they can be “in the room where it happens.” A quick introduction is available as FAQs, but here are a fundamentals:
- The Maryland Open Meeting Act lists 15 topics that the City Counci) may choose to discuss behind closed doors under specific conditions. These topics or “exceptions,” include personnel discussions about particular individuals, the receipt of legal advice from the public body’s attorney, and subjects that must be kept confidential under other laws. A discussion on “the appointment, employment, assignment, promotion, discipline, demotion, compensation, removal, resignation, or performance evaluation of an employee over whom the Mayor and Council has jurisdiction” is an appropriate reason for the Closed Session on May 11.
- Public bodies must make an agenda available before each meeting, either when notice is posted, if the items of business are known then, or as soon as practicable, but no later than 24 hours before the meeting. There is an exception for meetings held in response to emergencies. This Closed Session was not publicized as an emergency and the the agenda was posted on the city website on May 10 at 5:20 pm, that’s less than 18 hours in advance, so is in violation of the Act. Furthermore, it was not sent out as an email to those who subscribe to the City Council’s agendas (thanks to a blog reader who alerted me to this meeting).
- This meeting was not publicized an emergency, so why the rush? Two councilmembers had difficulties attending in person. Councilmember Myles was absent at the start of the meeting and showed up virtually later. Councilmember Ashton started the meeting virtually and joined in-person by the end. How much of the Closed Session discussion did they miss? Councilmember Ashton didn’t even notice that the vote to go into Closed Session occurred.
Most management leaders will emphasize that employees are the organization’s most important assets so how well are these assets being managed in the City of Rockville? Most of the current councilmembers lack significant experience in supervising employees and the City Council has a poor record of managing its most senior staff. The City Manager, City Attorney, and City Clerk have each been dismissed during Mayor Newton’s tenure. After a while, the only common denominator to these problems is the City Council.
The City Council needs to provide a better explanation for this decision and how they handle Closed Sessions. Or it’s time to rethink their privilege to serve.
May 21, 2023: This post was corrected to show a vote of 4-1 in the caption of the photo.
Mayor and Council to Receive Final Public Comments on FY24 Budget
At its Monday, April 17, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss FY 2024 budget (public hearing). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are no items. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on no items.
This is the third and final public hearing related to the FY 2024 budget, with more than 100 suggestions received at the March 29 public hearing (lots of requests for community gardens and a new entrance to the senior center from Gude Drive, but many were boiler-plate requests which I tend to ignore). The FY 2024 operating budget totals $156.4 million for the City’s ten operating funds. This represents an overall increase of 5.1 percent from the FY 2023 adopted budget. The total number of full time equivalent (FTE) positions in the FY 2024 operating budget equals 642.7, a net increase of 4.1 FTEs from the FY 2023 adopted level. The FY 2024 proposed budget includes an additional 4.0 regular FTEs over the FY 2023 adopted budget.
The proposed Capital Improvements Program will receive $35.2 million in new funding in FY 2024. The CIP is organized by program area and provides:
- $10 million to the Recreation and Parks program area, which includes funding for the outdoor recreation pool renovations and the design of the dance/fitness studio and multi-purpose space proposed for the King Farm farmstead;
- $7.5 million to the Transportation program area, which includes funding for roadways, sidewalks, and ongoing LED streetlight conversions;
- $10 million to the Utilities program area, which includes funding for water main and sewer rehabilitation;
- $2.4 million to the Stormwater Management program area, which includes funding for stream restoration projects, storm drain analysis and spot repairs, and improvements to City stormwater facilities;
- $5.2 million to the General Government program area, which includes funding for data center and disaster recovery infrastructure and improvements at the city’s Maintenance and Emergency Operations Facility.
A few council members had questions about the budget, which were answered by staff. For Councilmember David Myles, see page 251+, 268+, and 272+. For Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, see page 257+ and 272+. For Councilmember Beryl Feinberg, see page 266 (just one question!), page 269 (two more!), and 277+ (lots, looks like she finally studied the budget by March 20). For Councilmember Monique Ashton, see page 266+ and 274+. For Mayor Bridget Newton, see page 273+ and page 285. If you’re running for council (or really want to know which council members are thoughtful and informed), you’ll want to review this section.
More details in the 294-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_04172023-6873.
Mayor and Council to Design Rockville Metro, Spend $6 Million in Federal Funds, and Battle over the Budget on December 13
At its Monday, December 13, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss three design concepts for Rockville Metro station, use of nearly $6 million in ARPA funds, and determine 2023 budget priorities. This is a worksession and will not offer public hearings or a community forum, but it will be streamed live if you are interested in these topics.Continue reading →
Welcome the Mayor and Council for 2019-2023
Congratulations to Bridget Donnell Newton, Monique Ashton, Beryl L. Feinberg, David Myles and Mark Pierzchala, who were elected as Rockville’s Mayor and Council for 2019-2023. Ashton and Myles will bring new perspectives to the Council, both being under 50 years old and people of color.
Just as important is the tremendous turnout for the election. A total of 12,213 ballots were cast in this election, versus 6,468 cast in 2015. The number of votes cast increased by 88.82% between 2015 and 2019. It validates the efforts by the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) to increase turnout and reverse the downward trend of previous elections by adopting vote-by-mail. Although used in many other states, this is the first time this type of voting has been adopted in Maryland, so I’m sure many other jurisdictions will be asking Rockville for more information. A big thanks to BOSE, the City Clerk’s office, and the city’s Communications department for planning and executing this complex project.
An inauguration ceremony for the new Mayor and Council will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 17 at F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive. The inauguration is free and open to the public.
The first meeting of the new Mayor and Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, November 18 at City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave.
Rockville Voters Grow Younger; Will It Matter?
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.
Will Rockville Choose Diversity or Bureaucracy?
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 →
Max’s Endorsements for Rockville Mayor and Council
Without an independent newspaper with an investigative reporter, this year has been a particularly challenging one for both candidates and voters. In the last election, we had the Gazette and Rockville Patch who were willing to investigate claims and counterclaims, serving as an informal arbiter of disputes. With them gone, candidates have had to rely heavily on mail to reach voters and I’m guessing about 30 mailers have reached voters this season. Of course, these mailers are biased towards the candidate who sent them and voters are unsure what to believe. Blogs like this one are helping to fill the void.
It’s probably no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m endorsing Sima Osdoby for Mayor and Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed for City Council. Please vote for them today to usher in a much-needed change in City Hall. I’m supporting their campaigns because if I’m not going to run for office, I’ll help good people who will. I choose candidates in the same way I select employees: hire the best ones I can with the right qualifications and experience (ideally smarter than me), be sure they can work together to produce something better than any one of them could do individually, and then get out of their way. They stand out from the other candidates because of their resumes and willingness to work together.
Sima Osdoby has lived in Rockville for 35 years and has extensive experience working around the globe helping Continue reading →
Has the Revised APFS Launched a Thousand Houses?
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 →
Cambria Hotel Opens in Downtown Rockville
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 →