Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Council's Semi-annual Meeting with MBDC Today

Tune in at 2:15 p.m. today for the Council's semi-annual meeting with the Montgomery Business Development Corporation. The board advises the County Executive and the Council on economic development and related matters. Robert Brewer, chair of MBDC's Board of Directors, and Holly Sears Sullivan, MBDC's president, will present an update on MBDC's current efforts related to business retention; marketing and communications; data and research; and career pathways. Don't worry if you can't catch the meeting live; you'll be able to get it on demand starting 24 hours after the meeting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Student Newspaper Reports on Electronic Cigarette Bill

Kudos to the countywide student newspaper, MoCo Student, for the great article on my bill to regulate the use of electronic cigarettes. Since the bill focuses largely on the use of e-cigarettes by minors, I'm glad to see student reporter, Isabelle Zhou, giving the subject this coverage. Ms. Zhou does a great job not only of getting the facts straight but also of including a youth perspective, noting "because e-cigarettes release vapor instead of smoke and leave no smell, it is easier for kids to conceal their use of these products from parents or guardians." Ms. Zhou also accurately reports that there is a public hearing on the bill on January 22. To testify, call 240-777-7803, and yes, we welcome testimony from students.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Holiday Schedule for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Here's our holiday schedule for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday, January 19:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – closed
  • Recreation – aquatics programs and facilities open; all other classes and programs canceled; Administrative office, senior centers and community centers closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are open. For operating schedules, including Brookside Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Modified holiday schedule
  • Metrobus – Saturday supplemental service
  • Metrorail – Saturday holiday schedule
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) -- closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection*
  • Transfer Station – closed
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed
*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

Tonight's Public Hearing on Pepco Merger to be Televised

Do you want to watch tonight's public hearing by the Maryland Public Service Commission on the proposed merger of Pepco Holdings and Chicago-based Exelon Corporation but don't want to go out in the cold? Good news. County Cable Montgomery will televise the hearing live starting at 6 p.m.

In April 2014, Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which owns Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., proposed a $6.8 billion merger with Pepco Holdings, which owns three electric and gas utilities (Pepco, Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power). Pepco serves customers in parts of Maryland in the District of Columbia.

The merger was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November, by the Virginia State Corporation Commission in October and by Pepco shareholders in September. However, the proposal still requires approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and public service commissions in Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and New Jersey.

The Maryland Public Service Commission can eventually approve the proposed merger, reject it or impose conditions.

The merger agreement has been unanimously approved by both companies' boards of directors.

If you plan to attend in person and would like to speak, you can sign up in the lobby of the Council Office Building prior to the hearing.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Attention Golden Shovel Awardees

Did you receive a Golden Shovel award from me, or did you nominate someone who did? If so, join me, along with County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Sidney Katz for a press event promoting the Safe Sidewalks campaign on Monday, January 5, at 10 a.m. on the front steps of the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville. The Safe Sidewalks campaign is designed to remind residents they are required by law to clear sidewalks in front of, and alongside, their properties within 24 hours of the end of a snowstorm. The campaign also asks residents to check up on older adults and vulnerable people who may live nearby and especially those who live alone. E-mail me at councilmember.floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov if you plan to attend.

Friday, December 19, 2014

When it Snows

Did you know that when it snows, 200 employees with 175 pieces of equipment spring into action? Here's a snapshot of the County's snow response plan:

When snow begins to cover roads, salt crews spread salt on all main County roads and emergency routes. When snow accumulates to three inches, plowing and salting crews continue to clear all main County roads and emergency routes. Once the snow stops, crews begin plowing neighborhood roads. Then crews complete plow routes and spread abrasives on hills, at intersections and on roads around schools.

Get all of your snow removal questions answered here.

What's In and What's Out for 2015

In – jobs:  With my proposal for a special appropriation for economic development, which the Council approved, we will substantially increase the number of challenge grants and prizes available for entrepreneurs and innovators through the Department of Economic Development. It also will allow additional spending on marketing and business development programs generally. With this special appropriation, we are stimulating the local economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation, and that's a good investment.

Out -- ambiguity:  Confused about zoning in Montgomery County? You’re not alone. Up until recently, only a select few understood the nuances of our 1,200-page zoning ordinance. But now, thanks to the newly overhauled code, zoning information in Montgomery County is clearer, more accessible and available online. That means residents will be able to participate more effectively in key land use decisions and that small businesses will be able to locate and expand in the county without having to untangle a complicated web of archaic rules.

In -- public campaign financing:  This year, the Council approved a voluntary public campaign financing system for candidates for County Council and County Executive. Beginning with the 2018 election, a candidate for Council or Executive may seek matching funds for small dollar contributions of $150 or less from a Public Election Fund.

Out -- nicotine:  I recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where traditional cigarette use is prohibited, including public buildings and restaurants.The bill also would prohibit use of electronic cigarettes by minors and would require child-resistant packaging for them. The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” has grown dramatically since the product’s introduction in 2007. The practice has become so commonplace that the Oxford Dictionary selected the word “vape” as its 2014 “Word of the Year.” Although electronic cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals.

In -- White Oak:  The Council approved the much-anticipated White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, transforming the area on the east side of the County around the Route 29 corridor and the Food and Drug Administration into a community of vibrant mixed-use centers. With the passage of this plan, we are realizing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create the opportunity for robust employment and amenities in the eastern part of the County after a generation of moratoria.

In – pets:  The new Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center opened to the public last spring. The state-of-the-art facility is operated by the Montgomery County Police Department’s Animal Services Division and serves as the County’s only open-admissions animal shelter. Programs and services offered at the new Center include: adoptions, lost and found, pet licensing, field services, pet-owner and adopter support and foster and volunteer opportunities.

Out – congestion:  They say you never really learn to swear until you learn to drive, but now you may be able to save a few nickels from going in the curse jar, according to the most recent Mobility Assessment Report. The study conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Department shows stabilization and even improvement in congestion in several key areas, especially on roadways near the Intercounty Connector.

In -- Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road:  The long-awaited interchange project to replace the existing Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road signalized intersection in Glenmont is now underway. Residents stand to benefit not only from congestion relief but also improved traffic safety and enhanced economic development.

In – good neighbors:  Last winter, with the seemingly never-ending snow storms, I awarded Golden Shovels to a record 111 individuals. This award honors those who help their neighbors clear snow and ice after a storm and make their communities safer. We received an avalanche of nominations, demonstrating just how generous Montgomery County residents are.

In -- new faces:  The Council welcomes our newest members, Sidney Katz and Tom Hucker. While they are new to the Council, they aren't new to public service, and they already hit the ground running. I'm looking forward to serving as Council vice president this year while my friend and fellow fourth-term Councilmember, George Leventhal, serves as president.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Public Hearing on Development Ombudsman Position

Sign up now if you want to testify at the public hearing on Expedited Bill 58-14 that would create a new non-merit position of Development Ombudsman in the Office of the County Executive. The public hearing is scheduled for January 13 at 1:30 p.m.

The Development Ombudsman would act as a facilitator for commercial and residential development projects by working as an intermediary to address challenges, issues and concerns during development. The ombudsman would promote regulatory efficiency, accessibility, transparency, predictability and consistency across agencies and departments. He or she also would identify systemic challenges in the entitlement process, permitting and general regulatory procedures and would facilitate necessary changes that bring about tangible improvements that save both time and costs.
 
Call 240-777-7803 to sign up to speak. If you can't make the hearing, you can send your written testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

MBDC Matches Large Businesses with Small

The Montgomery Business Development Corporation knows that small business is big business. That's why they help larger employers link up with small businesses for their procurement needs. To learn more, see MBDC's new public service announcement.

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Remember to recycle your natural Christmas tree. First, remove the stand and all decorations--including lights, ornaments, tinsel and garlands. Be sure there is no metal attached to the tree. Then take the tree to the curb on your regular recycling day, and if you are like me, remove any ornaments you missed the first time around. You can also recycle branches and needles by placing them under trees and shrubs as a temporary winter mulch--or chop them up and add them to a compost pile. Many of the trees collected by the County get turned into mulch, therefore January and February are great months to get free mulch from the County. Bonus: The Christmas tree mulch smells fantastic.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Schedule for Christmas and New Year's Days

Here is our holiday schedule for Christmas Day on Thursday, December 25 and New Year’s Day, January 1:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed on December 25 and January 1; all branches will close at 6 p.m. on December 24 and 31
  • County liquor stores – closed
  • Recreation – all facilities closed December 25 and January 1; senior centers, community and neighborhood recreation centers will be closed December 25 through January 1; aquatics programs operating on a modified schedule, contact each facility directly
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are closed both days. For operating schedules during the holidays, including Brookside Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Sunday schedule
  • Metrobus – Sunday schedule
  • Metrorail – Sunday schedule
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) -- closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection*
  • Transfer Station – closed
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed
*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Safety Tips and Reminders

Unfortunately, “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most vulnerable time of the year. But, the possibility of becoming the victim of a crime or traffic/pedestrian collision can be greatly reduced by regularly following good safety practices.

Important Holiday Shopping Safety Tips include:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Lock you car doors and don’t leave anything of value within view.
  • If you take trips back to your vehicle to lighten your gift package load, move your car to a different parking space because potential thieves can be watching to see which vehicles contain gifts.
  • Don’t hide or store gifts in your trunk when you get home from shopping. Theft from vehicle is a prevalent crime.
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash.
  • Keep a list of credit cards at home, in case they are stolen.
  • Carry your closed purse in front of and close to your body.
  • Carry a wallet in a front jacket or pants pocket.
  • Don’t let your guard down because you are in a rush.
If someone does try to rob you, don’t resist. Give up your property; do not endanger your life. Report the crime to police as soon as possible, and try to describe the attacker as accurately as possible.

Seasonal Home Safety Tips include:
  • If your Christmas tree can be seen through a window, do not display presents under the tree where they can also be seen by potential burglars.
  • Make sure to lock all doors and windows.
  • If you are going away for the holiday, let a neighbor know that your home will not be occupied and have someone keep an eye on your home. Stop delivery, or ask someone to pick up your mail and newspapers.
  • Place your lights on timers to give the appearance that the home is occupied.
  • After the holidays, be sure to break down cardboard gift boxes for recycling so that a potential burglar does not know your home has a new computer, TV, video game system, etc.
Special note from the National Crime Prevention Council:

The holidays are a good time to update or create your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, and list descriptions and serial numbers. If your home is burglarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file. Make sure items like TVs, VCRs, cameras, camcorders, cell phones, major sports equipment, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment and power tools are on the list. Be sure to store this information in a cloud-based program, so that if your computer is stolen, you’ll still be able to access it.

Reminders from the Fire and Rescue Service include:
  • Tree: Make freshness a priority. Check needles to make sure they are green and difficult to pull back from the branches. If the tree has been freshly cut, the needles should not break. Tap the tree on the ground several times. If several needles fall off, the tree is probably dried out.
  • Lights: Use only lights that have been tested by an approved testing laboratory for safety. Inspect them for frayed wires, bare spots, broken or cracked sockets, excessive kinking or wear before plugging them in. Avoid stringing more than three light strands together. Always turn off tree lights, indoors or outdoors, when leaving the house and before going to sleep.
  • Fireplace ashes: If possible, allow all ashes to cool in place for several days. For disposal, place ashes in an approved metal ash bucket with a tight-fitting metal lid, and wet them down. Store the container outside, away from structures, decks, fences, wood piles or other combustible materials. Never use a vacuum cleaner to pick up ashes. Don’t dispose of ashes outside on a windy day. Wind can whip up what may have seemed like cool embers, making them fiery hot and sending them traveling to ignite nearby combustibles.
  • Candles: Don’t leave burning candles unattended or place candles too close to holiday decorations. Keep candles in secure holders and on a safe surface away from children and pets. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials recommend the use of battery-powered flashlights or lanterns in the event of a power outage.
  • Extension Cords: Make sure that an extension cord is suitable for the electrical “load” needed. Do not place cords under furniture or rugs and do not plug two extension cords together to increase the total length. If too much power is demanded from an extension cord, overheating and fire may result. Read all packaging and instructions and ensure it is UL listed.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Apply Now to Public Election Fund Committee

The Montgomery County Council is seeking applicants for positions on the recently established Committee to Recommend Funding for the Public Election Fund. Letters of interest must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 4.

The Council recently enacted Bill 16-14 that established a voluntary public campaign financing system for candidates for County Council and County Executive. Beginning with the 2018 election, a candidate for Council or Executive may seek matching funds for small dollar contributions of $150 or less from a Public Election Fund. The Council must appropriate funds for the Public Election Fund as part of the annual County government operating budget.

The legislation created the Committee to Recommend Funding for the Public Election Fund to estimate the funds necessary to implement the public campaign finance system and recommend an annual appropriation by the Council to the Public Election Fund.

The Public Election Fund Committee will be composed of five County residents appointed by the County Council for four-year terms beginning on May 1 of the first year of the Council’s term of office. The term of this committee will begin on May 1, 2015, and end April 30, 2019.  No more than three members can be from the same political party. The Council will designate the chair and vice chair. The committee must issue its report to the Council on or before March 1 each year.

All five positions are up for appointment. There is no compensation for members of the commission, but members may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. The committee, once it is formed, will determine how often it will need to meet.  Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President George Leventhal, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850.  Applications can also be submitted via email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Appropriation to Stimulate Entrepreneurship

Last week the Council unanimously approved my proposal for a special appropriation for economic development. This additional funding will substantially increase the number of challenge grants and prizes available for entrepreneurs and innovators through the Department of Economic Development. It will also allow additional spending on marketing and business development programs generally and require the Department to submit a report in January outlining how the money will be spent.

We need this $150,000 increase because the regional economy is lagging. In fact, after years of strong performance relative to the nation, the metro area economy is lacking relative to other regions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Washington, D.C.metropolitan area ranked 330th out of all U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of percentage change in real gross domestic product in 2013. In the second quarter of 2014, Maryland ranked 47th in terms of percentage change in personal income from the previous quarter. With this special appropriation, we are stimulating the local economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation, and that's a good investment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Council Officers Elected

I'm looking forward to serving as Council vice president this year while my friend and fellow fourth-term Councilmember, George Leventhal, serves as president. George and I have had a great working relationship for a long time, and I have high expectations for this term. Also today, we welcomed our newest members, Sidney Katz and Tom Hucker. While they are new to the Council, they aren't new to public service, and they hit the ground running.