Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Transition of Two Council Seats

In the final session of the 17th Council we said farewell to the shortest-term and longest-term members of the County Council--Cherri Branson and Phil Andrews, each of whom did not seek re-election to their seats.

We are extremely grateful to Cherri Branson for her willingness to serve District 5 when the need arose. Although her term lasted only one year, she made a huge contribution to the County and represented her constituents admirably.

Phil Andrews, who represents District 3 and concluded his 16th year on the Council, has been a strong and thoughtful leader respected by all. He is been best knows for his unflappable style and his ability to listen carefully to all viewpoints. He has been a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility, and Montgomery County has been lucky to have him in public service for four terms.

Newly elected Councilmembers Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz will join us right after their inauguration on December 1. Both have extensive experience in elected office, and I look forward to working with them.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bill to Regulate Electronic Cigarettes

This week I 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 (ages 18 and under) and would require child-resistant packaging for electronic cigarettes.

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. Children and teens are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction.

As elected officials, we at the County Council are stewards for public health. We know that teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and nicotine poisoning, as well as potentially graduating to harmful tobacco products. It is our responsibility to put some protections in place.

Twenty-four states, including Maryland, prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Municipalities including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago also have enacted restrictions. While the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering regulations to address electronic cigarettes, it is not clear when those regulations would be finalized or take effect.

A public hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on January 22. To sign up to testify, call 240-777-7803. You can also send you testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Inauguration for Local Elected Officials December 1

County Executive Ike Leggett and nine Councilmembers – two of them newly-elected – will take the oath of office for four-year terms at a ceremony taking place at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville next Monday, December 1. The event will begin at 11:15 a.m. and is free and open to the public. It will be videostreamed live via www.montgomerycountymd.gov and broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (Channel 6 for Comcast and RCN customers, Channel 30 for Verizon subscribers).

The swearing-in will be preceded by an Inaugural Inter-Faith Prayer Service at 8:45 a.m. on Monday at the Rockville United Church, 355 Linthicum Avenue in Rockville. It is also free and open to the public. Shuttles will return from the service to Richard Montgomery High School.

The Master of Ceremonies for the inaugural event will be journalist Derek McGinty.
Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice, Hans Riemer and I will be sworn into office by Clerk of the Circuit Court Barbara Meiklejohn.

County Executive Ike Leggett will be sworn in to his third term as County Executive by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Titus.

Council President Craig Rice and County Executive Leggett will deliver remarks.

Parking will not be available at Richard Montgomery High School itself (with the exception of disabled accessible). Parking will be available at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave.; the Board of Education, 850 Hungerford Drive; and at the Sandy Spring Bank and Marlo Furniture parking lots on Rockville Pike near the school. Shuttle buses will run from the Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street; the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue; and the Board of Education, 850 Hungerford Drive. They will run every 15 minutes starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 12:45 p.m.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Schedule for Thanksgiving

Here's our holiday schedule for Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 27:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – closed
  • Recreation – all programs and facilities are closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are closed on Thursday. For operating schedules on Friday, 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, November 20, 2014

Nonprofits: Important Information about Council Grants

Nonprofit organizations: get ready to apply for this year's council grants. Here is the Council President's message, including key dates:

Dear Community Partner:

The Montgomery County Council believes that a strong partnership with nonprofit organizations is critical to meeting the needs of our residents.  As in previous years, the Council will have a formal application process for nonprofit organizations that wish to request Fiscal Year 2016 grant funding.  As part of this process, the County Council will appoint a volunteer community Grants Advisory Group to review and evaluate applications. 

The Council will accept applications for programs and projects that advance the County’s services, goals, and objectives in areas such as health and human services, economic development, education, and recreation.  As in recent years, the Council is particularly interested in proposals that provide emergency and other assistance to the neediest members of our community.

Our nonprofits know all too well that Montgomery County was not spared from the recent deep recession, and that as a direct result there continues to be more poverty, hunger, and homelessness in our county.   While the County Council is committed to supporting the many valuable services your organizations provide to our residents, our local government also continues to face significant fiscal challenges.  In this coming year, we will again face rising needs with limited revenues.  

With regard to the actual grants process, we are pleased to announce that this year, the county implemented a new online One-Stop Grants Portal to manage the submission and review of both County Council and County Executive Grants.  As a result, you must now submit applications for both grants programs through the new online process.  Please note that for FY 2016, the Council and County Executive will be accepting applications only through its new online grants portal, which you can access at:  www.montgomerycounty.fluidreview.com.  For future reference, you may access the application portal by clicking the Grants icon located at the bottom of the Council Home Page.

Important dates to remember:

  • December 4, 2014 -- Grants Workshops
     o   1:30 at the East County Regional Services Center
          3300 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring,  or
     o   7:00 p.m. in the 3rd floor Council Hearing Room of the Council Office Building
          100 Maryland Ave., Rockville   
           The content will be the same at both workshops.  Each will cover the grants process for both
           Council and County Executive Grants and provide a brief introduction to the new application
           process.  We strongly encourage you to send a representative to one of the workshops.

  • January 13, 2015 -- Application Deadline
    Please note that no applications will be accepted after that date.
  •  February/March -- The Grants Advisory Group will review and evaluate applications.
  •  April 24, 2015 -- the Grants Advisory Group is scheduled to issue its report.
  • Mid-Late May -- the County Council will make funding decisions as part of the FY2016 Operating Budget.  Proposals that are selected for funding will be effective after July 1, 2015.
  • Funds will become available approximately 60-120 days after July 1, 2015, after execution of a required contract with the Montgomery County Government that includes reporting and other requirements.  The grant application provides further details.
If you have questions, please contact Joan Schaffer, Council Grants Manager, at council.grants@montgomerycountymd.gov or 240-777-7935.  For your information, the Council web site has a section on Council Grant Information at: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/grants/council_grants.html

Thank you for the contributions you and others in the nonprofit community make to a better future for all our residents.  

Sincerely,

Craig Rice
Council President

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Can Montgomery County be a Hunger Free Zone?

As we approach Thanksgiving, we are reminded that hunger remains a problem for many of our residents. Here are some startling facts about hunger right here in Montgomery County:

  • 51,842 children in Montgomery County live in food insecure households, uncertain where their next meal is coming from.
  • More than one in three Montgomery County Public School students qualify for Free and Reduced Meals. That totals more students than there are enrolled in the DC Public School system.
  • 8,060 County seniors live below the poverty line--up 29.5 percent from 2009--and that number is expected to continue to increase.
Learn more about hunger in Montgomery County and how you can help.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Holiday Schedule for Veterans Day

Here's our holiday schedule for Veterans Day on Tuesday, November 11:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – open regular hours
  • Recreation – aquatic and community centers are open as scheduled. Classes and programs will meet as scheduled. All other classes, administrative offices, senior centers and all senior programs will be closed.
  • Montgomery Parks – for holiday operating schedule on Parks’ facilities, including Brookside Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Special modified holiday schedule (www.rideonbus.com), click on “Holidays” to see specific schedules
  • Metrobus – Saturday schedule with supplemental service
  • Metrorail – Saturday holiday schedule
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) – closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection*
  • Transfer Station – open
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – open
  • State offices & courts – closed 
*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Live, Local Election Coverage Tonight

Get live, local election coverage on any of the six stations that are members in the Montgomery County PEG (Public / Education / Government) organization of community cable stations tonight starting at 9 p.m. See coverage of races you won't get anywhere else, including county government, the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, governor and other statewide races. The stations will broadcast live throughout the evening, immediately posting results made available by the County’s Board of Elections.

Election night 2014 coverage will be simulcast by:

  • County Cable Montgomery (CCM: Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon)
  • Montgomery Community Media (Channel 21 on Comcast, RCN and Verizon)
  • Montgomery County Public Schools Television (MCPS TV: Channel 34 on Comcast; Channel 89 on RCN; Channel 36 on Verizon)
  • Montgomery College TV (MCTV: Channel 10 on Comcast, RCN and Verizon)
  • Rockville 11 (Rockville 11: Channel 11 on Comcast, RCN and Verizon)
  • Takoma Park City TV (Takoma City TV: Channel 13 on Comcast; Channel 13 on RCN; Channel 28 on Verizon)
Internet streaming video coverage of the broadcast will be available at:
The polls are scheduled to close at 8 p.m. tonight. Election night television coverage will begin at 9 p.m. and will continue through 11 p.m. A special election focus show will be broadcast from 8:30-9 p.m. Results of early voting—held from Oct. 23-30—are expected to be available at approximately 8:30 p.m. After the show ends at 11 p.m., results will continue to be updated and broadcast on CCM. Those results will run overnight and into the morning hours, with morning updates.

The show will include a variety of political insiders looking at the chief issues voters had to consider and analyzing results as they come in. Guests scheduled include current County Councilmembers Phil Andrews and Cherri Branson, both of whom are not seeking election; former County Councilmember Mike Knapp; Gaithersburg City Councilmember Ryan Spiegel; Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin; Casey Aiken, host of the 21 this Week political talk show on MCM; Charles Duffy, host of Political Pulse on the Montgomery Municipal Channel; long-time political insiders Steve Simon and David Dublin; local blogger Dan Reed, author of Just Up the Pike; and Marilyn Balcombe, president/CEO, of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

Sonya Burke and Susan Kenedy will anchor the two hours of studio coverage. Lorna Virgili and Michael Bruen will provide live on-the-scene coverage from various locations around the County. In addition, there will be live phone conversations with many of the candidates throughout the show.

The results will focus on election results in races for County Executive, the County Council and the County delegation to the State House of Delegates and the State Senate. Results also will be included in the election for Montgomery Board of Education, Governor, state attorney general and for the three Congressional districts that represent Montgomery County.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election Results to be Posted Online

Visit the Board of Elections' website for election results beginning right after the polls close on on November 4. Votes cast during early voting will be counted on election day and released shortly after 8:00 p.m. Results from election day will be available beginning at 9:20 p.m. and will be updated every 20 minutes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zoning Code Enters the 21st Century

Confused about zoning in Montgomery County? You’re not alone. Up until now, 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 will be 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. The updated version took effect today.

The new code encourages community engagement. Who has time to sift through ten pounds of paper to find the relevant footnote? An exclusive club of land use attorneys, maybe, but certainly not the average resident. Soon, everyone will be able to access comprehensive information about every property in the county as the new code becomes available in an interactive, online format. Add to this the soon-to-be-launched electronic plans, which will allow residents to access project plans with the click of a mouse, and the mysteries unravel almost entirely.


The County Council, Planning Board and staff at both agencies spent about five years reviewing and streamlining more than 400 land use categories and 123 zones that were originally established in 1977 and augmented piecemeal over the following decades. The new zoning code does away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific use and employs more flexible zones designed to spur economic development in our communities.


Some folks have expressed concerns that the new code will lead to more development, but I say the new code will lead to better development. With more predictability in the system, businesses will be able to act more nimbly and be more responsive to community concerns. That’s good news in a county that has long been criticized for failing to support job creation.


The modernized zoning code does not change our fundamental commitment to the master plan process. It just simplifies and clarifies the rules for achieving these plans, which increasingly focus development near transit and encourage urban hubs there while preserving agricultural lands and existing communities.


In Montgomery County we are always striving toward efficiency, transparency and openness. The new zoning code goes a long way toward achieving all these goals. What’s more, it fosters innovation, small business and community involvement. I’d call that a win all the way around.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Phyllis Campbell Newsome Award

I’m honored to be selected by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement for the Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award. Not only am I pleased to be recognized by such a venerable organization as the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, but I’m also proud to be associated with our many outstanding nonprofits that make Montgomery County such a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Most of all, I’m humbled to receive an award that honors my friend and outstanding activist, Phyllis Campbell Newsome. She enriched countless lives in Montgomery County and throughout the region, and she inspired so many of us to try to make our community a better place.

The Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award recognizes the work of elected and non-elected officials who work to build a stronger nonprofit sector and a more vibrant community. Each year the Center recognizes four public officials for the award, one for each of the jurisdictions it supports. I will receive the Montgomery County award, and awards also will be given to honorees from the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County.

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement is celebrating its 35th year of service. Its mission is to strengthen, promote and represent nonprofit organizations in the metropolitan Washington area in order to help them better meet the diverse needs of their communities. The Center for Nonprofit Advancement, founded in 1979 and originally called the Washington Council of Agencies, currently serves nearly 1,000 organizational members.

The Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award was named in honor of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s former director of advocacy and community relations after her untimely passing in 2002 at age 40.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Apply Now for Two Task Forces on Procurement Process

Apply now for positions on two recently established task forces to study potential reforms of the County procurement system. The task forces the Council established are the Minority Owned and Local Small Business Task Force and the Procurement Policies and Regulations Task Force.

Get your letter and resume in by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3 and make sure you indicate which task force you are interested in or whether you would be willing to serve on either one.

Each task force will consist of nine members (at least seven on each must be County residents) appointed by the Council. The Council will designate one member of each group as its respective chair. The task forces must solicit suggestions for potential reforms of the County procurement system from elected officials, County residents, business and community leaders, County and agency employees and other stakeholders.

The task forces must submit final reports to the County Council by September 15, 2015.

The Minority Owned and Local Small Business Task Force was established to provide options for reform of the County programs for minority owned businesses and local, small businesses to ensure that the procurement process is open to all vendors without regard to race, gender, national origin, disability or size of organization. The County’s Minority/Female/Disabled and Local Small Business Reserve programs are designed to eliminate the effects of discrimination in the marketplace on the award of County procurement contracts.

The Procurement Policies and Regulations Task Force was established to provide options for the reform of the County procurement system.  Simplifying the procurement process would increase the number of vendors who seek to do business with the County, resulting in better value and lower prices.

The task forces will be composed of members who are experienced in government, business or non-profit service delivery, or who otherwise have experience and expertise in government contracting. A person appointed to the task forces must not be employed by County government or any County-funded agency.

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President Craig Rice, 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.

Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3.  Letters of application and resumes are made public as part of the appointment process and are available for public review. After the closing date, the Council will review the applications and resumes for designation to the task forces.  The Council anticipates making the appointments by January 20.


New Zoning Code Takes Effect Thursday

On the day before Halloween we will say "rest in peace" to the old zoning code. Council President Craig Rice, Councilmember Cherri Branson and I will join with County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, Planning Board members and staff at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at a park next to Park and Planning Headquarters in Silver Spring for ceremonies to “bury” the County’s Zoning Ordinance that was originally established in 1977. Earlier this year, we approved the first major revision to the ordinance in 37 years. The new regulations go into effect on October 30.

After we bury a copy of the hefty original zoning ordinance in Royce Hanson Park, we will unveil the slimmer, easier-to-navigate new ordinance in an interactive presentation.
           
We will celebrate the modernized code’s clarity and ease of use, which will encourage community engagement and foster innovation. Previously, only experts in land use generally could navigate the zoning ordinance, but now it will be easier for more people to get comprehensive information about every County property in an interactive, online format.

Since its establishment in 1977, the zoning ordinance has undergone more than three decades of piecemeal changes—all of which combined to create a disjointed system where antiquated, complicated rules made the zoning process difficult for individuals to understand. In a coordinated effort to address these issues, the Council, the Planning Board and staff members have spent about five years reviewing, streamlining and overhauling more than 400 land use categories, 123 zones and 1,200 pages of rules.

With more predictability in the system, businesses will be able to act more nimbly and be more responsive to community concerns. That’s good news in a County that has long been criticized for failing to support job creation.

The new zoning code has broader land use categories that are inclusive of an ever evolving marketplace. The rules help to promote smart growth principles with more density allowed in and around transit. In addition, residential uses are generally permitted in commercial zones, which will create more mixed-use developments.

The zoning code rewrite is one example of how the County’s land use evolution is entering an exciting stage of development. The current Council has devoted considerable time to land use issues, and during its four-year term has approved more master and sector plans than any other Council in recent memory.

In addressing master and sector plans around the County, the Council has focused on creating cutting-edge centers for innovation in areas that have historically been underutilized, like the White Oak area.

The revised zoning ordinance is now available at:
www.montgomeryplanning.org/development/zoning/documents/FULLCh_59withzta9.30.14_000.pdf .

Thursday, October 23, 2014

County Maintains AAA Bond Rating

Great news. Here's the full press release:

County Executive Ike Leggett today announced that Montgomery County has maintained its Triple-A bond rating from three Wall Street bond rating agencies, just a week after Leggett led a group of County officials, including Council President Craig Rice, to meet with the agencies to brief Wall Street on the County’s fiscal situation and future plans.

Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s all affirmed the “AAA” rating – the highest achievable -- for the County. They all termed the outlook for Montgomery County as “stable.”

The Triple-A bond rating enables Montgomery County to sell long-term bonds at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bonds. The rating also serves as a benchmark for numerous other financial transactions, ensuring the lowest possible costs in those areas as well.

“What is remarkable about this is that Montgomery County has continued to receive a Triple-A bond rating from all three bond rating agencies even during these past few years when other jurisdictions – including the federal government – were seeing downgrades and despite federal shutdowns, budget sequestrations and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” said Leggett.

“Our ability to maintain our coveted Triple-A rating affirms my approach to putting the County’s fiscal house in order and reducing unsustainable increases in County spending, while investing in making government more effective and creating opportunities for the growth of good jobs in the future.

“We have boosted our reserves to the most ever, closed nearly $3 billion in budget gaps, made tough choices on spending, and saved millions for taxpayers with changes in County health and retirement benefits. Montgomery County has weathered the downturn and the investments we made during the toughest of times are enabling us to create more jobs and opportunity.”

“Working together in partnership, the County Executive and the County Council have made sure of strong County fiscal stewardship,” said Council President Craig Rice. “That is the foundation upon which we are building an even brighter future.”

The bond rating agencies underlined the County’s successful approach.

“Despite the 2013 federal government shutdown and sequestration, we note that the county did not experience significant disruptions to its financial performance due to, what we consider the diversity of its revenue base and its strong management practices,” wrote Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.

“Montgomery County continues to exhibit a very impressive economic profile,” wrote Fitch Ratings. “The County has gained employment each year between 2010 and 2013…Montgomery County has a sophisticated management team that uses conservative budgeting and established debt and reserve policies that have resulted in healthy reserve and liquidity levels.”

“The stable outlook reflects the county’s improved financial position that is supported by structurally balanced budgets and increased reserves,” wrote Moody’s.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Find Local Events with Visit Montgomery County

Visit Montgomery County just launched a local advertising campaign promoting its new county-wide calendar of events. The campaign includes Ride On bus ads, print and online advertisements in Recreation News, The Gazette, The Washington Post Express and an on-air campaign with All the Hits 107.3. Although Visit Montgomery invests more than $450,000 in advertising each year, this is the first time they are advertising in the local market.

In late August, Visit Montgomery County launched a new Web site, www.VisitMontgomery.com, with updated features like a county-wide calendar of events, interactive map and a trip builder. Visitors can subscribe to an event-specific feed, such as “family fun” or “outdoor adventures” and have the events automatically appear on their Outlook, iCal or Gmail calendar. The event calendar is always in the top five pageviews on the Visit Montgomery website, and that number continues to grow as popular events occur. During the first week of September, the pageviews for the Silver Spring Jazz Festival increased by more than 1,000 from the previous week.

I advocated for creating and funding the new Web site because I thought we needed one Web site with all events in Montgomery County. In 2013, I introduced Bill 36-12, which increased the allocation of the hotel tax to Visit Montgomery from 3.5% to 7%. The Council passed the bill and the funding increase began on July 1, 2013.

Visit Montgomery County encourages local organizations to post their events on the new online calendar of events free of charge. The guidelines are that the event occurs in Montgomery County and would be of interest to a tourist or resident. The goal is to be a one-stop shop for all events in Montgomery County.

The mission of Visit Montgomery County is to enthusiastically promote, market and sell Montgomery County as a destination for meetings, conventions and individual travelers, fostering economic development and benefiting and supporting members and the overall business community. It is Visit Montgomery County's goal to show leadership and be regarded as a quality organization of experts and advocates of its members, partnering with local, county and state organizations and government officials in an effort to further these goals.