Thursday, December 24, 2009

Committee Will Look at Snow Removal in January

Happy holidays, everyone. I know many of you are traveling around the holidays, so I wanted to offer a few words about snow.

Although overall, the County received good marks for its snow removal operations following a storm of this magnitude, I am concerned that some residents may not have received the level of service that they expected. I think a briefing from representatives of the County’s Department of Transportation on their general procedures—and what went right and what went wrong this past week—will help us understand the operation. I also think a briefing will help improve snow removal procedures throughout the County. Council Vice President Valerie Ervin and Councilmember Roger Berliner also have asked that we to look into how the County responded to the winter storm of Dec. 19-20. The storm dumped amounts of snow ranging from 16 to 24 inches around the region.

Therefore, I am going to invite County transportation officials to appear before the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee—which I chair—soon after the Council returns in January from our winter recess.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

County's Holiday Schedule

Have a happy holiday season, everyone. For your reference, here's the county's holiday schedule:

Montgomery County government will observe the following holiday schedule for Christmas Day on Friday, December 25 and New Year’s Day on Friday, January 1:
County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – closed
Ride On – Sunday schedule; (Christmas Eve – late evening service will be limited
to service departing before or at 10 p.m.)
Metrobus – Sunday schedule
Metrorail – Sunday schedule
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
Refuse/recycling pick-up – no collection*
Transfer Station – closed
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed
*collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stressing Priorities at Legislative Breakfast

Yesterday I spoke spoke at the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast. A virtual “who’s who” of state and local politics, the breakfast traditionally kicks off local preparations for the upcoming General Assembly.

I joined guest speakers Maryland House of Delegates’ Speaker Michael Busch, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, U.S. Congressmen Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, and County Executive Ike Leggett.

My remarks were as follows:

Thank you, Charles, for that warm and gracious introduction. Let me also give a shout out to our Master of Ceremonies, Henry Hailstock for your steadfast commitment to this community. Let’s give it up for Henry.

I am really honored to be standing here as the President of the Montgomery County Council, at such a critical juncture in our community’s history.

It is always moving to attend this breakfast where Montgomery County comes together to send a unified and decisive message to our representatives in Annapolis about our pressing priorities.

Let me personally thank Speaker Mike Busch for recognizing Montgomery County’s importance by being here today and giving us his insights on how next year’s challenging legislative session will unfold. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I strongly concur with our County Executive’s bold call for political action. We must aggressively step up our efforts in Annapolis, and with solidarity, we can become a powerful force for safeguarding our county’s fiscal future. And as public officials that should be our foremost obligation.

I am especially pleased to be here with my colleagues on the County Council—Council Vice President Valerie Ervin, George Leventhal, Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Nancy Navarro, Mike Knapp and Duchy Trachtenberg. Please will my colleagues—both members and staff please stand. I don’t think anyone in this room appreciates how hard Montgomery County Council members and their staffs work on behalf of the county.

I am extremely confident that working closely together in 2010 we will do everything as the front-line legislative body to safeguard our nearly 1 million residents and keep our county on track.

Every year it is essential that our voice be heard loudly in Annapolis, but this year it is paramount and exceedingly urgent that we all speak as one.

As you see every day across our diverse communities, our county is facing a stark reality check.

Like never before, our residents have much less with which to pay their bills, so we have much less revenue to pay for needed County services.

And this diminishing revenue cycle (call it a double-whammy) continues unabated. This is what scares us all!

Faced with these growing and severe fiscal constraints, we have extremely tough, almost unacceptable choices, to consider.

But in this painful process we will not lose sight of our community’s bedrock priorities.

We must keep our county’s economy stable and growing and ensure that it remains as the indispensable engine driving our state’s economy.

We must keep our school system strong and vibrant, now a model for the nation.

We must have a reliable transportation network that moves people today and will move future generations.

We must keep our families safe and secure and protect Montgomery County’s wonderful quality of life—the envy of so many.

And, finally, we must continue to provide a critical lifeline to our residents in need.

But first things first!

I’ve never been known for mincing my words. I try to call it as I see it. And this is how I see it.

We are going to have to engage in some very difficult and frank conversations at the federal, state and local level.

We “kicked the can down the road” on so many financial decisions that we have run out of road.

We must get our financial houses in order, in the state and right here in Montgomery County.

Every tax dollar we receive is an act of trust by our residents. How we spend that dollar defines whether we are worthy of that trust.

With the county facing a nearly 610 million dollar gap next year and the state contending with a 2 billion dollar shortfall, we will all be forced to make some tough calls.
Everything will be on the table.

That doesn’t even include the 64 million dollars Montgomery County will have to save out of our current budget to balance this year’s books. Nothing will be simple this year.


Without question, my top priority as County Council president will be to restart our economic engine and make sure it stays ignited.

Nothing else works without a dynamic and dependable economy. Right now our economy is stalled. If we don’t act now, we will face catastrophic consequences.

Here’s a startling fact: In the last 12 months, 14,000 Montgomery County residents have lost their jobs. Let me repeat: 14,000!

Our unemployment rate is higher than it has been in recorded history, and that number excludes those who have given up looking for a job or are underemployed.

This is a devastating blow, and it creates negative ripple effects across our county. We cannot afford to let jobs leave Montgomery County.

To keep our engine humming, we must find ways to attract and retain businesses that provide solid careers and good paying jobs for our residents. As part of the metropolitan Washington area, we’re competing with some top-notch jurisdictions for coveted industries.

You also may be stunned to hear: our county is next to last in the region in job growth this decade, while Fairfax County has added nearly 43,000 jobs since 2001. We have too many assets in our county to let Fairfax or any of our neighbors beat us when it comes to offering attractive job opportunities.

We have to become more competitive to entice the type of biotechnology, clean energy, defense, and government jobs, given our advantageous strategic location. That can stimulate our economy over the next few emergency years and establish vital business sectors for the long-term.

We currently have initiatives underway to address these unprecedented economic problems, much to the credit of the County Executive and his able Economic Development Director.

But many more aggressive steps need to be taken, across our economy and in full concert with our extraordinary business community.

That is why I am proposing that we create a completely new Economic Development Authority, on a magnitude and design that has not been aggressively pursued before in Montgomery County.

Dire times require bold solutions.

We need an infusion of new investments. We need to stabilize certain vital sectors, like retail and the construction industries. We need the banking community to reliably supply capital to small businesses.

We need to partner with the federal and state governments for building-block grants in such growth areas as health care, IT and energy. Our universities need to align their research and applied enterprises with the county’s long- term economic development priorities.

We have to formulate workable enterprise zones for maximizing the entrepreneurial spirit. And our scientific laboratories should be ahead of the curve in uncovering the next wave of cutting-edge and market-ready technology.

And of course we need new funds and creative incentives to effectively to do this, all configured within this Authority concept.

Fundamentally, I am talking about a uniquely public-private partnership, which leverages the best minds, resources and institutions--all aimed at spring boarding our economy forward.

For the Montgomery County Economic Development Authority to be successful we need to empower it with decisive capability and have it led by business leaders.

But all innovative ideas and best practices will be thoroughly examined. I will be meeting very soon with the Executive staff, my Council colleagues and leaders from our business community to develop the best approach.


Our future economic vitality depends in large part on our diversified and well-trained work force, and that is where our world-class school system enters the picture.

Montgomery County Public Schools has long been recognized as one of the best school systems in the nation.

The success our students are achieving is nothing short of remarkable. The graduation rate is tops in the nation, according to the reputable Education Week.

MCPS is focused on doing what it takes to get every child ready for college and the world of work. And we’re going to need every one of these children to keep our county strong.

This County Council and this community have been totally committed to the success of our students. We have always invested heavily in our schools. We know its money extremely well spent. Our commitment to public education will never change.

This year we’re facing the unfortunate reality that even funding a bare bones budget will be a real challenge.

We face an extraordinarily difficult problem with the “maintenance of effort” issue. I do not believe our school system – or the county government and its taxpayers – should face a stiff penalty because we failed to make “maintenance of effort” this year.

The State Board of Education will do itself a huge disservice if it penalizes us for failing to spend money that was not needed by the school system.

Montgomery County schools are the model system for the entire state in so many ways. If you penalize us for being the leader and doing the right thing, what does that say to every other school system?


To strengthen our economy, we must invest in transportation infrastructure. Businesses can’t thrive in Montgomery County if their employees are stuck in traffic. This jeopardizes commerce, operations and productivity.

That means enhanced transit options and a better road network.

Working effectively with our federal and state representatives, we need maximum funds to build two of the best light rail systems in the country, the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line.

We are looking forward to increased economic opportunities and jobs from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s decision to merge Walter Reed and Naval Medical. But it will not be successful without commensurate infrastructure support.

We received good news last week about a 4.4 million dollar federal funding commitment to upgrade the roads around NIH and the Naval Medical Center. Thank you Members of Congress Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards and Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski.

We will also be vigilant and vocal in making sure Metro doesn’t fall into further disrepair. And similarly, we must move forward on widening I-270.

We feel so strongly about keeping people and commerce moving that Montgomery County took the unprecedented step of using millions of County dollars to keep several state transportation projects on schedule.

We can’t afford to keep doing this – not with the kind of red ink we are staring at for the foreseeable future.


We often take for granted our outstanding public safety forces in Montgomery County. Every day, the brave men and women who make up our police and fire rescue departments are keeping us safe and secure.

How confident we are when facing an emergency that with just a phone call help will instantly be on the way? That is a priceless security blanket. Even with these unsettling budget woes, our exemplary public safety services will be protected.

Our character as a community is often determined by how we care for our most needy and for our surrounding natural resources.

Few communities can match our dedication to building an underlying social service safety net for vulnerable residents.

And as stewards, we see the wisdom of pursuing strong environmental protections for future generations.
Yes, it true that we’ll likely see cuts across the board, but we are committed to these objectives.

As I close this morning, I ask you to consider these challenges and the opportunities before us.

We have always done our part in providing resources from Montgomery County to fund needs for other parts of the state. In fact, for every dollar we send to Annapolis, we only get back 18 cents.

That means the State’s success greatly depends on Montgomery County’s success. Solving our county’s budget crisis is in everyone’s best interest around the state.

Our county is resilient and we will emerge from this downturn poised for great achievements.

I look around this room.

I see successful people in business.

I see powerful advocates for residents and communities alike.

I see public officials who have made an enormous difference with their leadership.

I see so many of you who have overcome great challenges and are powerful success stories that make folks across this country proud.

Together, we are at a juncture when all of our extraordinary experiences, knowledge, talents, energy and fortitude must be focused on getting Montgomery County back on track.

I am inherently an optimist about the future ahead, and you should be too.

Winston Churchill said it best: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Won’t you join me in the Optimist’s Club?

Thank you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bringing Biotech to Montgomery

Today the Montgomery County Biosciences Task Force released its recommendations to position Montgomery County as a “globally recognized leader in advancing bioscience research and development, and in translating scientific discoveries into commercially available products that benefit human health.” It notes that Montgomery County is the region’s undisputed biotech leader, but that it is not growing at a rate commensurate with its inherent potential. It is time for that to change.

As the state’s economic engine, Montgomery County must attract and retain businesses that provide good jobs to our residents. As a part of the metropolitan Washington area, we’re competing with some top-notch jurisdictions for coveted industries—including and especially biotechnology. We need the industries that represent our economic future, and we’re going to have to fight hard to get them.

As the newly elected Council President, I’m making jobs my top priority. Fourteen thousand fewer Montgomery County residents have jobs right now than had jobs at this time last year. By putting our muscle behind biotechnology, we can not only get more jobs in the county, but we can get good jobs for our residents.

Conditions in the past have required us to look at different priorities other than economic development. But now, we’re putting economic development first in order to get Montgomery County back on track.

My hat is off to the Biosciences Task Force, and I’m looking forward to putting its good ideas to work.

Appearing on Political Pulse

Tune in to the Political Pulse talk show on t.v. channel 16 this weekend. I’ll talk about the recent election of County Council president; the County’s budget deficit; transportation and traffic issues; and the County’s plan to attract new employers.

Air times:
Thurs, December 10th, at 9:00 p.m.
Fri-Sun, December 11th-December 13th, at 6:00 p.m.
Tues, December 15th, at 9:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Appearing on Kojo Nnamdi's Politics Hour

Tune in to Kojo Nnamdi’s Politics Hour tomorrow at noon. I will talk about my vision as the newly elected Council President, including our budget challenges, master plans and jobs. The show airs on WAMU 88.5 FM at 12:00. I’m the second guest, so you’ll hear me around 12:30.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Priorities for the Coming Year

I'm humbled and gratified by having been elected Council President yesterday. With Valerie Ervin as Vice President, this is the first time since the 1995-96 term that the Council has had two female officers. I was sworn in immediately after the vote and will serve for one year.

I plan to focus on the economy as my top priority, as the County now faces a reality check. Our unemployment rate is higher than it has been in our recorded history. Our citizens have less with which to pay their bills, so we have less revenue to pay the County's bills. Anybody who balances a checkbook knows that we must make sacrifices and tighten our belts.

To achieve that, I will focus on three priorities this year. First, we need the County Executive to send us an aggressive cost cutting plan for the rest of the fiscal year. We have wonderful programs, but we can only provide those that the taxpayers, our bosses, can pay for. Second, I ask all of my colleagues to make sure that for every piece of legislation we consider, we carefully examine its fiscal costs and the economic impact on our residents. No new regulation is "free" or without some burden on taxpayers. Third, we need to engage in a full court press on advancing the County 's economic development goals.

At the entrance to my office, I keep a plaque with my favorite Winston Churchill quote, "Never, never, never give up." That speaks to me of the spirit and guts that our citizens bring to their lives every day. But Churchill was not just tough. He was also smart. So I pledge to follow another one of his observations, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

On that note, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts as we move into the new year. You can e-mail me at Yes, our challenges are big this year, but they aren't bigger than our commitment and our ability to solve them if we all work together. I know we can keep Montgomery County on track as the great place it is to live and work.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

H1N1 Clinic for Young Children

I know everyone is really thinking about turkey, but I wanted to take a moment to alert you to another upcoming H1N1 clinic. I've pasted the press release below. Happy Thanksgiving.

County to Hold Upcoming H1N1 Clinic for Very Young Children; Limited Doses Available by Appointment Only for Clinic on Wednesday, December 2
Mass Vaccination Clinic Planned for Sunday, December 20

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services will offer an H1N1 clinic for very young children, ages six months to 35 months, by appointment only on Wednesday, December 2. Both nasal spray and injectable vaccine will be available, and vaccinations are free. The location of the clinic will be given when appointments are made. Appointments can be made on Monday, November 30 between 3 and 4 p.m. by calling 240-777-4040. Callers will be asked for name, phone number and doctor’s name when making an appointment.

Montgomery County, in cooperation with Montgomery College, will also hold a vaccination clinic on Sunday, December 20 at Montgomery College, Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The clinic will target those individuals in the high risk groups, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:Children and young adults ages six months to 24 years; Pregnant women; Adults 25 to 64 years with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or cancer; Adults who are caretakers of infants younger than six months of age, and Health care and emergency medical services workers.

Both nasal spray and injectable vaccine will be available. Vaccinations are free. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be 5,000 doses available. The clinic will be located in the Physical Education Center ( for directions) located on the North Campus Drive side of the Rockville Campus. Residents are encouraged to dress warmly and bring a chair, snack and activities for children, as the waiting line will be partially outdoors.Check Montgomery County’s website,, for up-to-date information about vaccine availability and sign up for email updates about H1N1 by clicking on the “Public Health Alerts” icon. The Flu

Information Line # 240-777-4200 is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another H1N1 Vaccination Opportunity

This one is different from the one I posted on Wednesday. The clinic is Sunday, so don't wait to read the details below.

Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will hold an H1N1 vaccination clinic on Sunday, Nov. 22nd, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The clinic is limited only to the following target groups: Children ages 6 months to 24 years; Pregnant women; Parents/Caregivers of children less than 6 months of age; adults 25 to 64 with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease; and Health care workers and emergency medical service workers. The clinic is located at the Physical Education Building, Montgomery College, Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville, MD 20850. Vaccine is available on a walk in basis to the first 5000 individuals listed above. You should dress appropriately for the weather as waiting will be outdoors. Families can assign one person to wait in line, while others wait in the car.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

County Thanksgiving Schedule

Here's the County's schedule for Thanksgiving Day(Thursday, November 26):
County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – closed
Ride On – Sunday schedule
Metrobus – Sunday schedule
Metrorail – Sunday schedule
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
Refuse/recycling pick-up – no collection*
Transfer Station – closed
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

*collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

H1N1 Shots for Adults with Chronic Illness

If you are an adult 18 to 64 years old who has a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or cancer, you can get your H1N1 shot on Tuesday, November 24 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. You must make an appointment. Call 240-777-4040 on Monday, November 23 between 3 and 4 p.m. Call takers will ask you for your name, phone number and your doctor’s name, and they will provide you with the location of the clinic.

You can get more information at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services website. The Flu Information Line is 240-777-4200.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our Views on the Proposed ICC Tolls

They are too high! We urge changes to the proposed toll structure for the Intercounty Connector in order to achieve its primary purpose--relieving congestion on nearby local streets. Today, my colleagues unanimously supported the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee’s three recommendations.

First, we believe the tolls should be lower than the proposed range of $0.25 to $0.35 per mile for peak periods and $0.20 to $0.30 per mile for off peak periods. We also think that phasing in the rates, rather than implementing the full toll once the first segment opens, will encourage drivers to start using the highway right away, and will help ease the pain.

Second, we encourage the State to offer a discount pass for frequent users, as is the case with other toll facilities in Maryland. Again, making the ICC a truly viable option for commuters and other heavy users is our best bet for congestion relief on our arterial roads.

Finally, we request that tolls be set so that exiting the highway at Georgia Avenue or Layhill Road will cost the same amount. This will discourage through-traffic in Longmead Crossing.

Representatives from the SHA attended today’s Council meeting and heard our recommendations. We will follow up with a formal letter to the SHA stressing our desire to make maximum use of the ICC and our recommendations for making that happen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Appearing at the Literary Luncheon Series

When I got married 35 years ago, I never imagined that my husband, David Stewart, and I would appear together to discuss our lives as an author, an elected official and a couple. But that’s just what we're going to do at the Friends of the Library's Literary Luncheon Series on November 19 at the Mansion at Strathmore.

David, a constitutional lawyer turned author, has published two books and is working on a third. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggle at the Philadelphia Convention to create the world's first constitutional democracy, while Impeached explores the fiery story of the first presidential impeachment in 1868. What's he working on now? Come to the lecture to find out.

David says of our life together, “It probably helps that we fell in love long before she became a politician and I started writing books.” Maybe he's right, but I like to think our demanding careers give us some really interesting things to talk about at the dinner table. To register for the lecture, luncheon and book signing, visit the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Keep Seniors Safe

Seniors already have enough to worry about. Health, finances, and grandchildren are just a few. Our seniors shouldn’t have to worry about being the victim of a scam. Recently, the Montgomery County Police documented a number of scams targeting seniors. These types of crimes against seniors occur more often in elevators of buildings housing medical offices and grocery stores, but can happen anywhere and do not discriminate on whether the victim is male or female.

Usually, but not always, scammers will work with an accomplice to distract the victim by asking for help, or physically bumping into the victim while the other pickpockets the victim’s wallet or purse. In grocery stores, the victims are predominately female, but the scam works the same way. For instance, someone posing as a shopper may ask you to help read a label because they are allergic to peanuts. While you’re distracted by reading the label, the scammer has swiped your wallet or even the whole purse. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to keep you and your family safe:

Men should carry wallets inside a coat or in a front pocket, not the back pocket. Wrapping a couple heavy rubber bands around it will make it more difficult for a pickpocket to extract.

Watch out for jostling and physical and/or verbal distractions that may be staged.

If you’re aware that you’ve been targeted, don’t be afraid to yell out or call for help!

Women shouldn’t leave their purses in a shopping cart. Always carry your purse with you and make sure it is buckled or clasped.

Set up fraud protection with your credit card companies so they can alert you of suspicious usage if a theft occurs.

Make copies of both sides of your cards and keep them in a safe place at home so you have the information available if they are stolen.

If you are a victim of a scam, call 911 immediately!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What’s the Story with the Lights?

Unbelievable. I’ve scheduled a committee meeting on the morning (9:30) of December 6 to look at the causes, impacts and lessons learned regarding last week’s failure of the central computer responsible for the timing of more than 700 traffic signals. Very few of us avoided the frustration of being stuck in the mess created by off-peak signal timing.

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee wants to know how a new $35 million upgrade will affect reliability in the future. Can we accelerate the project, and in this economy, how can we pay for the quicker pace of implementation? We’ll also look into whether the County’s response, including the free Ride On bus service and the frequency of public updates, was adequate to the problem.
Join us for the briefing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Volunteering at the Ear

Have you heard about the Metropolitan Washington Ear? I recently volunteered to read aloud for the non-profit’s dial-in service that enables visually and physically disabled individuals to “read” (hear) the morning paper.

The Ear’s free services strive to substitute hearing for seeing, improving the lives of people with limited or no vision by allowing them to be well-informed, fully productive members of their families, their communities and the working world. In addition to the dial-in service, the organization offers radio reading and web-cast, audio description, tactile large print atlases and look-up service.

I wasn’t sure what some of these services entailed until I volunteered. I enjoyed my time at the Ear, and I encourage you to pass the information along to anyone you know who could use the services. Better yet, volunteer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Support for the Equal Benefits Bill

Yesterday, I was proud to stand with a majority of my colleagues in support of Councilmember Navarro’s Bill that will extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of County contractors and subcontractors. Montgomery County has a longstanding practice of extending equal benefits to same-sex partners of County employees, and it’s only right that the partners of those who work for us get the same rights too. The benefits extended include bereavement leave, family medical leave, sick leave, health benefits, dental benefits, disability insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits.

Montgomery County is made up of so many different types of families, including same-sex couples and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals. It’s our diversity that makes this County so great. Unfortunately, LGBT Marylanders are too often left behind. My colleagues and I stood together yesterday to show our support for full equality under the law for all people, including our LGBT friends and neighbors. This Bill is good for the individual, but it is even better for working families struggling through these tough times. I hope that in the future we can all work together so that every Marylander will enjoy the same equal rights. A public hearing for Bill 37-09 is scheduled for December 1, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Do You Think?--Transit Safety

Here's an excerpt from Tunnel Talk With Jed Millard which will appear in my November newsletter. Let me know what you think.

Sometimes it seems like crime is everywhere, but it may not be as bad as you think. National research indicates that the public perceives a greater likelihood of crime on public transit than actually occurs. This October, the Public Safety Committee held a work session on a report conducted by Montgomery County's Office of Legislative Oversight on transit-related crime. Transit-related crime is defined as crimes that occur: on public transit vehicles; at public transit stops; and in public transit parking facilities.

The most reported transit-related crimes in the County are larceny and robbery, making up over 80 percent of serious reported crimes. Destruction of property and simple assault are the most commonly reported lesser crimes, and make up approximately 75 percent of total crimes reported throughout the entire transit system. Data was also broken down by location of where the crimes were committed with 41 percentat bus stops, 37 percent in Metro parking lots, 14 percentin Metro parking garages, seven percent in Metro stations, and less than one percent on Metro trains.

The four Montgomery County Metro stations with the highest number of reported crimes are: Shady Grove, 20 percent; Silver Spring, 15 percent; Wheaton, 13 percent; and Glenmont 12 percent. It is important to note that transit-related crimes comprise only a small fraction of the approximately 70,000 crimes reported in the County each year. Will this information affect your use of the transit system?

Friday, October 23, 2009

GreenerLiving Workshops

My friends at Bethesda Green are hosting a series of four interactive workshops where you can learn, discuss and practice concrete, practical steps for saving energy in your home from certified experts in the field. A limited number of free spaces are available, so check out the GreenerLiving Workshops.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Water Quality Working Group Named

Yesterday we named ten knowledgeable and committed people to the ad hoc Water Quality Working Group which will monitor environmental issues in Clarksburg as development continues in that emerging part of the county. The group will collect information on all new and pending state and federal regulations regarding water quality, stormwater management and sediment control to analyze how these new requirements will impact future development in Clarksburg. The group also will make recommendations to improve development procedures to ensure minimal impact on the area’s water quality, formulating a report to the Council by Feb. 1, 2010.

They are going to have a challenging task because the world of water quality is changing rapidly. As chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, I know that water quality issues as a whole are complicated and are in the process of evolving further, so it is great that these folks will be able to focus their attention on working though the complexities. I’m convinced this group of experts and advocates in the environmental/water quality field will provide us with meaningful insights for our decision-making going forward.

I offer my thanks and congratulations to these newly appointed members:

Rick Brush of the Department of Permitting Services
Diane Cameron of Stormwater Partners
Irene Carrato, a civil engineer
John Cook, a Clarksburg environmental activist
Carl Elefane, a sustainability architect
Keith Levchenko, an analyst on environmental issues for the County Council
Mark Pfefferle of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
Dusty Rood, an environmental specialist and vice chair of the Montgomery County Water Quality Advisory Committee
Steve Shofar of the Department of Environmental Protection
Richard Thometz, a residential home energy consultant

Friday, October 16, 2009

Learn More About Master Plans

Do you want to know more about what master plans mean to you? This week at our twice annual update, the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission reminded us that planners will happily visit civic and homeowner associations to explain how the revision process works, how you can participate, and what it will mean to the future of your community.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Foreclosure Show Airing This Week

Watch Council Close Up on County Cable Montgomery this week. My guests and I discuss options for people who are facing foreclosure or who are trying to prevent a financial crisis. Rick Nelson from the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Phil Robinson from the County’s Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection as well as Henry Williams and Richard Allen from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference join me on the program, The Face of Foreclosure.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Property Tax Credit Deadline Extended--Apply Now

I get a lot of calls in my office about low-income and senior homeowner property tax credits, so I want to be sure everyone knows that the deadline to apply for the credits has been extended to November 2. Here's some more information about the County and State programs:

The State of Maryland has a program that gives a credit against the homeowner’s property tax bill if the property taxes exceed a fixed percentage of the household income. In other words, it sets a limit on the amount of property taxes any homeowner must pay, based on his or her income. Montgomery County offers two supplemental tax credit programs. You can apply for all three programs with one application. The deadline to apply for credits has been extended to Monday, Nov. 2.

The tax credit programs available are:
• Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Program
• Montgomery County Supplemental Property Tax Credit
• Montgomery County Senior Property Tax Credit

Who is Eligible?
Even if you have applied for a tax credit previously and been denied, you are encouraged to apply again since the tax credit programs have changed and been improved over the years.
You may be eligible for the Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit and the County Supplemental Property Tax Credit if:

• Your annual household income is about $64,000 or less
• You own and live in your home in Montgomery County
• You have lived in that home for at least six months, or will live in it for six of the next 12 months
• The combined net worth of everyone in your household must not exceed $200,000. This does not include the value of your principal residence or the cash value of any qualified retirement savings or individual retirement accounts. It does include any other real estate or investments you own.
• Only the first $300,000 of your home’s assessed value counts toward these credits
• The cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville provide additional tax credits to their homeowners under similar programs

If you are at least 70 years of age, you will automatically receive the Montgomery County Senior Property Tax Credit if you receive either or both of the Maryland and Montgomery County Tax Credits.

For more information, call the Tax Credits Telephone Service at 410-767-4433 or 1-800-944-7403 (toll free in Maryland).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Green Incubator

Last week’s grand opening of Bethesda Green’s Business Incubator was really terrific. What an innovative way of bringing high-quality green jobs and services to the County.

Through a partnership between Bethesda Green and the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, the new incubator will provide workspace and support for several start-up companies focused on sustainable solutions, including a rain barrel manufacturer, two software companies, a community-supported agriculture farm and an energy cooperative. Space is still available, so contact Bethesda Green if your company is interested in the incubator.

Bethesda Green owes its success to its committed team of community and business volunteers that has been raising the green standard for over a year. In addition to the incubator, the organization offers an array of programs, services and opportunities for businesses and individuals, so take a look.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

County Sponsors First H1N1 Flu Clinic Friday

If you are in a priority group, you can get the FluMist on Friday. If you're not in a priority group, you will have opportunities in the near future. Montgomery County Health and Human Services will offer its first H1N1 vaccination clinic on Friday, October 9 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring.

The County has received 2500 doses of the intranasal H1N1 vaccine (nasal spray), which will offered at this clinic. The County expects to receive injectable flu vaccine (flu shots) in the next several weeks. There will continue to be deliveries of both types of flu vaccine in the coming weeks and months.

The nasal spray form of the vaccine contains a live-but-weakened form of the H1N1 influenza virus. It is licensed for the vaccination of healthy individuals between the ages of two and 49. However, it is not licensed for use in pregnant women or children and adults with chronic illnesses. Health officials expect to begin receiving injectable vaccine shortly. This clinic will be focused on the following priority groups: healthy children from ages two to 18; healthy adults up to age 49 who are caretakers of infants younger than six months of age; and healthy health care workers up to age 49.

The intranasal flu vaccine may NOT be given to pregnant women or children or adults with chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.

If adults or children received the FluMist form of the seasonal flu vaccination, they must wait 28 days before receiving the intranasal H1N1 vaccine. If the seasonal flu vaccine was given in injectable form (flu shot), there is NO waiting period.

Health officials recommend that everyone consider receiving an H1N1 vaccination when ample supplies become available at a later date.

In addition to local health departments, retail locations and some private physicians will be receiving the H1N1 vaccine as well. For updated information, check the County’s website at or call the flu hotline at 240-777-4200. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Enjoy to Your Arts Content

Visit Strathmore at the intersection of art and life. The non-profit arts center right here in the heart of Montgomery County presents a lively and diverse program of art exhibitions, concerts and performing arts programs as well as literary lectures and events. There truly is something for everyone. I say this not just as a board member but also as a frequent visitor. I particularly enjoy events in the concert hall and look forward to Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder this month. If this concert isn’t your thing, check out the rest of the concert schedule or try some of the programs and events by Strathmore’s resident partnersBaltimore Symphony Orchestra, National Philharmonic, Washington Performing Arts Society, Levine School of Music, CityDance Ensemble, Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra and interPLAY. Remember, it's easy to take Metro to Strathmore.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Businesses Put Economic Indicators in Real Terms

In today’s regular update on economic indicators, we learned that the County’s resident employment was 489,000 in July—a decline of nearly 14,000 from July 2008. Also, the value of new construction starts for residential projects is below $158 million to date in 2009 compared to nearly $210 million over the same period last year.

At my invitation, representatives from the business community joined us to explain what these and other indicators mean in real-life terms. Our guests told us that their small and mid-sized businesses were continuing to see revenue losses of up to 40%. While business owners continue to try to avoid layoffs, they asked the Council to consider the fiscal impact of legislation on businesses. Indeed, we need to do just that, and I am continuing to meet regularly with the business community to try to find solutions as we all work our way through the troubled economy.

The full discussion will be re-broadcast on CCM channels Comcast 6, RCN 6 and Verizon 30 on October 2 at 7 p.m., or you can find it online at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Do You Think?--The Courage of Planning

In his September 19 Washington Post article, The Courage of Planning, Roger K. Lewis makes poignant observations about what goes into and what should come out of a master plan, paying particular attention to the balance of current needs and future growth management.

For example, he says, “Perceiving that increased density means increased traffic congestion, voters are understandably skeptical about any plan calling for higher densities, even if the plan calls for transportation improvements.” He adds that “visionary master plans are necessary to create a reasonably durable framework prescribing the location and form of new development and redevelopment for generations to come.”

Certainly we must apply a delicate mix of art and science to try to respect current communities and anticipate the needs of communities whose residents have not even been born. Take a look at the article and let me know what you think.

Remember, we have a busy year for master plans. We’ve just completed the Germantown Sector Plan, and we will undertake the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, the White Flint Sector Plan and the Kensington Sector Plan over the next several months.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Congratulations Beverley Swaim-Staley

I look forward to working with Beverley Swaim-Staley again now that she has taken the helm as Maryland's Secretary of Transportation. In addition to being smart and hard-working, Beverley knows Montgomery County like the back of her hand, having been Montgomery County’s budget director. I think she’s a great choice for the job, and as a bonus, she’s the first woman to hold this important appointment. While the transportation budget is going to be a remarkable challenge this year, I know Beverley will fight for everyone’s transportation projects.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another Year With Transit Committee

I’ve been re-appointed as vice chair of the Transit Subcommittee of the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Transportation Steering Committee, so I’m looking forward to another year of advocacy. In particular, I find talking with leaders from more than 2,000 counties across the country especially productive as we share best practices and common challenges related to transportation and transit.

NACo advances issues important to local jurisdictions with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public's understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research, and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money. It's a great mission, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Join Me at Whole Foods for Habitat for Humanity

Stop by the Rockville store tomorrow, and I'll even bag your groceries for you. Shop at Montgomery County Whole Foods Market on Wednesday, September 9, between 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and five percent of your purchase will go straight to Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County to support affordable homeownership opportunities right here in our community.

Why do I support Habitat for Humanity? This fantastic organization works with individuals, institutions, businesses, and the Habitat families themselves to build simple, decent, energy efficient, affordable housing for those living in substandard conditions. This work benefits not just families but entire communities and the County as a whole.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Labor Day Holiday Schedule

Holiday Schedule for Labor Day

I hope you enjoy your holiday weekend. Here’s the County government schedule for Labor Day on Monday, September 7:

County offices—closed


County liquor stores—open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the exception of the following stores which will be closed: Cabin John, Diamond Square and Twinbrook

Ride On—Sunday schedule

Metrobus—Sunday schedule

Metrorail—Sunday schedule

Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters—free

Refuse/recycling pick-up—no collection (all collections scheduled on or after the holiday will be made one day later that week)

Transfer Station—closed

MCPS administrative offices—closed

State offices and courts—closed

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Biotech Company to Add 50 New Jobs

With the unemployment rate in Montgomery County at a record high (see my July 28 post), I’m glad to hear that RNL Biostar will add 50 jobs in the County in the next three years. The company just opened a new 4,000 square-foot stem cell R&D and manufacturing facility at the Germantown Innovation Center (GIC). The GIC opened last fall as part of the Montgomery County Business Innovation Network.

RNL Biostar joins 22 other GIC companies that have established or expanded a presence in the County because of numerous business assets, including 300-plus biotech companies, 19 federal research and regulatory agencies, nearly 60,000 public and private sector life sciences professionals and the highest per capita concentration of PhDs in the nation. Welcome, RNL Biostar!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Decline in Deer-Vehicle Collisions

A new report shows a continued slow decline in deer-vehicle collisions in the county for the seventh year in a row, but also calls attention to an increase in resident complaints about deer damage, particularly in Montgomery County’s more urbanized areas. To see the Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group’s report, go to

Friday, August 21, 2009

School Supply Drive Tomorrow

Here’s your chance to help children succeed. Westfield Wheaton shopping mall and Montgomery County Public Schools are partnering to collect back-to-school supplies for MCPS students who need them. Drop off your school supplies at the mall between 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. Learn more at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

County Issues Flu Recommendations

Here’s the latest info on H1N1 flu. Montgomery County Health officials urge residents to begin now to prepare for the expected resurgence of the H1N1 pandemic influenza virus and the upcoming seasonal influenza by doing the following:

  • Plan to get vaccinated for the seasonal flu as soon as vaccine is available. Seasonal flu is a separate virus that will also be circulating in the fall and can also cause serious illness. Seasonal flu vaccinations will be readily available through County flu vaccination clinics and, private health providers, as well as at retail locations throughout the community. Anyone not wanting to get the flu should receive the seasonal flu vaccination, particularly the elderly, household members living with children younger than six months of age, health care workers and individuals with chronic illnesses.
  • Individuals who are in the target groups for the H1N1 vaccine--persons six months of age up to 24 years, health care and EMS workers, as well as pregnant women and individuals 25 to 64 years with chronic conditions that put them at risk for severe complications--are urged to take advantage of H1N1 vaccinations that will be available later in the fall.
    The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits can often help stop the spread of germs and prevent illnesses like the flu.
  • Businesses and organizations should plan and prepare for a reduced workforce if many become ill or need to stay at home.

Check the County’s H1N1 website— for updated information and resources.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

2000 Tower Oaks Goes Platinum

Congratulations to The Tower Companies and Lerner Enterprises on having their 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard project certified as one of the first commercial LEED Platinum office buildings in the State of Maryland.

Here are some of the features that make the building so great:

--designed Earn the ENERGY STAR and reduced total building energy consumption by 28%;
--Green-E certified Renewable Energy Certificates were purchased for 100% wind power for the building’s total annual electric energy usage;
--a four-stage air filtration system circulates at least 30% more outside air than required by code, turns over every 51 minutes, controls odors and removes over 90% of airborne contaminants;
--outdoor airflow devices and CO2 monitors increase fresh air when necessary;
--reduced building water consumption by 41%, drought resistant plantings reduce the required water for irrigation by 60%, and condensate water provides 100% of the building’s irrigation needs;
--stormwater runoff is captured and treated (naturally filtered) on-site in the stormwater pond;
--90% of occupants have outside views;
--night-sky light pollution and light trespass from the site is minimized;
--electromagnetic field (EMF) shielding around all major electrical rooms;
--22% of the total building materials contain recycled content and 22% of the building materials were extracted and manufactured within a 500-mile radius; and
--over 85% of the construction waste was recycled.

With these enhancements, the project qualifies for the Maryland Green Building Tax Credit and will earn credits of over $1.6 million. I was glad to join Comptroller Peter Franchot, The Tower Companies partner Jeffrey Abramson and Lerner Enterprises principal and CEO, Theodore N. Lerner at this week’s certification event. And I’m looking forward to more green projects like this one coming to Montgomery County.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Endorsing Light Rail for Purple Line

Yesterday I joined Governor Martin O’Malley and other stakeholders to endorse light rail as the mode of transit for the Purple Line, which I'm sure you know is a proposed 16-mile extended east-west link to the Metrorail system from the Bethesda to the New Carrollton stations. The light rail supporters gathered yesterday morning at the New Carrollton Metrorail Station.

The Purple Line would connect the four branches of the Metrorail system, three MARC commuter rail routes and several inside-the-Beltway activity centers (including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Langley Park, the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, Riverdale and New Carrollton). The estimated cost of the project is between $1.2 and $1.3 billion. Planners from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) hope construction can begin in 2012.

In January, the County Council unanimously recommended light rail be selected for the Purple Line. That followed a similar recommendation from the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair.

I am glad that Governor O’Malley has decided that the Purple Line is right for Montgomery County and light rail is right for the Purple Line. Ridership on the Purple Line is projected as high as about 63,000 daily for a light rail system, including approximately 20,000 new riders to mass transit. The other projected riders would be those who already use a form of mass transit, but would find their commutes greatly enhanced through shorter, more reliable trips.

It is estimated that final design of the Purple Line would be ready by Fall 2011.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Note to Newsletter Editors

Maybe you got my e-newsletter today. (If not, you can subscribe online.) Some people have asked me if they can use the material from my newsletter in their own civic association or HOA newsletters. The answer is yes. I provide this information to help residents find what they need and participate in the legislative process, so feel free to use it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Protect Yourself From Lyme Disease

Spring and summer bring warm temperatures, just right for walking in the woods and other outdoor activities. This can mean the risk of tick bites and Lyme disease. In fact, Montgomery County saw more than 300 new cases of Lyme disease in 2007, and if attendance at a recent meeting on the subject is any indication, County residents take the risks seriously. Fortunately, when Lyme disease is detected early, it is usually mild and easily treatable.

You should see a doctor if you experience the symptoms of Lyme disease, including headache, fever, muscle and joint aches and general fatigue. In particular, look for the circular or oblong rash at the site of the bite. Up to 90 percent of people bitten by infected ticks develop a rash, which can grow from two to three inches in diameter to as much as 20 inches. As it gets bigger, the center of the rash clears giving it a bull's eye appearance. If left untreated, Lyme disease can affect the joints, nervous system or heart.

To prevent Lyme disease, avoid contact with blacklegged ticks (formerly called deer ticks) which carry the bacteria and can pass it to humans by a bite. Lyme disease can be transmitted at any stage of the tick's life cycle, even during the larva and nymph stages when ticks can be smaller than a pinhead.

To learn more about preventing Lyme disease, including the best way to remove a tick, visit the County's Health and Human Services Web site.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Some Recovery but Unemployment Still on the Rise

In an update on economic indicators this morning, we got a mixed bag. For example, the number of home sales in Montgomery County has increased in 2009, especially in recent months, but average sales prices have decreased. Both trends are expected to continue into 2010.

Consistent with national numbers, unemployment in the County has continued to increase, reaching an all-time high of 5.7 percent in June of this year. Prior to 2009, Montgomery County saw its highest rate of unemployment in 1992 when the rate was 3.6 percent.

While we’re optimistic about some of the indicators, such as the declining amount of time homes are on the market, employment remains a huge challenge. Because the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator in terms of an economic recovery, it may not improve significantly over the next calendar year.

Although our unemployment rate remains well below the national average, I continue to put jobs at the top of my list of priorities right now. Do you have any good ideas for creating and maintaining jobs in the County? I’d love to hear them. To learn more about the economic indicators, see today’s Council background packet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Son Tweets His Novel

I was proud to see my son, Matt, on today talking about his novel, The French Revolution. This Bastille Day, Matt began publishing his book 140 characters at a time on Twitter. Take a look, and better yet, read the book.

Marye Wells-Harley Appointed

With yesterday’s vote, Marye Wells-Harley became the first African-American woman on the County’s Planning Board. Being from Silver Spring, Marye also brings geographic diversity to the board, and I think this perspective will be a valuable addition. (Now there is a majority of women on the Board, as it was when I was appointed in 1986.)

After working for 42 years for the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission—the last six as the director of parks and recreation in Prince George’s County—Marye now will join the 5-member Board which serves as the Montgomery County Council’s principal adviser on land use and community planning.

Marye has committed to making sure the County is accessible and affordable, and I look forward to working with her on these objectives. Congratulations, Marye.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Corridor Cities Transitway on Tuesday Agenda

On Tuesday, the Council will consider a recommendation that I believe is the best bet to maximize transit usage and reduce congestion along the I-270 corridor.

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair, recommended Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for the Corridor Cities Transitway. This option offers a much higher level of service and convenience than a standard bus, and it provides the best flexibility to serve residential neighborhoods.

The alignment we chose for the transitway provides service to the highest-demand areas between the Shady Grove Metro Station and Clarksburg, including the Crown Farm area (which also serves the popular Rio commercial center) and the Kentlands (which includes the growing MedImmune campus). We also recommended a stop to serve Johns Hopkins’ proposed biotechnology center at the Belward Farm. We’re aware that the Council may approve higher densities in the upcoming Gaithersburg West Master Plan, so we reserved the right to revisit the light rail option if the new plan warrants it.

For the I-270 portion of the two-pronged plan, we’re supporting the option that adds two electronic toll lanes in each direction. I don’t like adding pavement any more than you do, but I’m convinced the juice is worth the squeeze in this case, especially since much of the land needed is within the existing I-270 right-of-way, and this, they tell us, is the best way to maximize transit and reduce congestion in the corridor up to Frederick.

The new lanes will be operated as High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes, which are HOV lanes (allowing buses, carpools and vanpools to drive at the speed limit even during congested times) that also allow lower occupancy vehicles to use the lanes if they pay a toll. The experts tell us this is the best option to provide the most congestion relief with the least disruption to the people who live near the highway.

This is only the first step in coming to regional and state agreement on locally preferred alternatives both for the CCT and the I-270 project that will then go to the feds for review and, we hope, funding in the next year.

I have long believed that providing the appropriate transportation infrastructure is one of the government’s most basic jobs. That means supporting our growing biotechnology industry, the emerging Germantown Employment Corridor and the ongoing build-out of Clarksburg. Our proximity to the nation’s capital affords us vast opportunities, and we need to have the infrastructure in place to make the most of them. I feel confident we’ve chosen a good mix of highway and transit improvements to meet our goals.

For more details, see the press release, and remember to tune in to the Council session on Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On the Wrong Page

Perhaps you saw me on one of our local news programs Sunday night when stories ran with photographs of a Ride On bus driver apparently reading a book while driving. Such poor judgment is not only distressing but also a clear violation of County policy. I’m following up to make sure this individual situation is addressed appropriately, and in the meantime, I remain confident that our bus drivers as a whole perform safely and professionally.

Council Agrees to Purchase Land in Burtonsville

Today, we as a full council approved the purchase of 52.9 acres of land as an addition to the Fairland Recreational Park. The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, of which I’m a member, had recommended this purchase (see my July 2 post). The parcel contains old growth forest more than 100 years old, as well as wetlands and bogs that will serve as a buffer for the nearby ICC. As I’ve said before, I think this is the best use of the money we received from the State as reimbursement of land used for the ICC, and I’m glad we were unanimous in this decision.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Progress on Climate Protection

Since the Sustainability Working Group released its Climate Protection Plan in January, we’ve seen some good progress, particularly in the area of clean energy. The Council directed the formation of the SWG as a way to help the County with our pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. With 58 recommendations in the plan, we still have plenty of work to do, but while our G-8 leaders discuss climate change issues internationally, here are some good things we have going on right here, right now:

  • Home Energy Loan Program (HELP)—Homeowners can voluntarily obtain a home energy audit and then take the results of the audit to the County, which will provide a zero-interest loan to make improvements. The County is currently working on developing the regulations.
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants—The County will receive approximately $7.6 million from the federal government through these block grants. While a final determination regarding its use will hinge on federal approval, a significant percentage will be allocated to greenhouse gas reduction actions listed in the Climate Protection Plan.
  • Maryland Clean Energy Center—The County will host the center’s headquarters. The center will provide a coordinated approach to building a strong, clean energy economy in Maryland through technology commercialization, business incubation and workforce development and training.
  • Biogas Feasibility Study—WSSC’s FY10-15 Approved Capital Improvements Program includes $345,000 for a feasibility study to develop a comprehensive program for the engineering, design and construction of sustainable energy equipment and systems to produce biogas at the Seneca and Piscataway Wastewater Treatment Plants.
  • Programmable Thermostats—The County was selected for a $70,000 grant award from the Maryland Energy Administration for the distribution of programmable thermostats.
  • Bikeway Improvements—The Department of Transportation has completed 10 bike route sign plans ready for installation; distributed 1,000 bike safety lights and bike safety brochures to encourage increased usage of bicycles; and purchased 15 bicycle racks which can be installed in the public rights-of-way upon request.

The SWG will take up its work again at the end of the summer, and I look forward to continued progress. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Germantown Sector Plan Schedule and Background Info

If you are following the discussion of the Germantown Sector Plan, here's the schedule and background information. We'll finish our committee work sessions today, and then the full Council will take up the plan.

Germantown Sector Plan schedule:

June 22, 2 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Conference Room
June 29, 2 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Conference Room

July 7, 1:30 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 7th Floor Hearing Room
July 21, time TBD--Council Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room
July 28, time TBD--Council Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room
Sept 15, time TBD--Council Action, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room

*The schedule can change rapidly, so always check the agenda for the most up-to-date information.

Background information:

Draft Master Plan

Montgomery County Planning Board's Germantown Sector Plan Website

Planning Board’s July 28, 2008 Public Hearing

Council Staff June 15, 2009 Memo

Council Staff June 22, 2009 Memo - Continued from June 15, 2009

Council Staff June 22, 2009 Memo - Transportation Elements

Council Staff July 7, 2009 Memo

Council Staff July 7, 2009 Memo - Transportation Elements Follow Up

Monday, July 6, 2009

Four Master Plans Coming Up

After a bit of a hiatus from master plan revisions, we now have four of them lined up for approval. Master plans serve as vision statements for our communities’ growth over the next 30 years, and they include zoning recommendations, future transportation plans, parks and green space. We revise them about every 20 years or as circumstances change, although we sometimes review smaller areas called sector plans more frequently. We take our master plans very seriously here, and we use them as a guide for all of our land use decision-making.

Once approved by the Planning Board, a plan goes to the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee (PHED) and then on to the full Council. We’re currently considering the Germantown Sector Plan and expect to complete it this month. For the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, we’ll hold a public hearing on September 15, followed by PHED work sessions through October and Council action in December. Then we’ll take up the White Flint Sector Plan with a public hearing on November 6, PHED work sessions through January and final action in February. Finally, we’ll look at the Kensington Sector Plan with a public hearing in January, PHED work sessions in February and action in March. To get Council agendas by e-mail visit e-Subscription.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Park Expansion to Provide ICC Relief

I’m delighted that today my committee (the Council’s Planning Housing and Economic Development Committee) agreed that we should purchase 53 acres of land to expand the Fairland Recreational Park. We’ll pay for it with money the County received from the State as reimbursement for land used in construction of the Intercounty Connector. I can think of no better place to invest this money than in replacement parkland in the communities that are bearing the greatest impact of the highway project. The property being purchased lies just 1.5 miles north of the ICC, so this type of environmental mitigation is right on target.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Planning Staff's Recommendations on the CCT

Last week, planning staff at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission recommended bus rapid transit for the Corridor Cities Transitway. Such a system would be designed to move transit vehicles past traffic congestion on dedicated lanes between Shady Grove and Clarksburg.

Following recommendations rolled out in the draft Gaithersburg West Master Plan, planners have endorsed a route for the CCT that follows a long-established alignment from the Metro station through Gaithersburg, Middlebrook and Germantown on its way to Clarksburg. However, planners recommend a change to the previously planned route through the Life Sciences Center near Gaithersburg. The recommended alternative will cost around $450 million, and the transitway will carry up to 27,000 people daily by 2030.

The staff recommendations now go to the Planning Board. You can have your say by testifying at the public hearing or submitting written testimony to the Planning Board.

My committee, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, will take up the Planning Board’s recommendation on July 13. Once the full Council has looked at the my committee’s recommendations we will forward our formal position to the state.

These are important decisions that will affect the entire county and the Upcounty in particular, so please let me know what you think.

Celebrating the Fourth of July

I hope to see you this weekend as I make my way across the county celebrating the Fourth of July. I’ll be at Leisure World on Friday. Then I’ll visit Takoma Park, Wood Acres, Somerset and Friendship Heights on Saturday. If you’re going to be at any of these places, save me a hotdog, and I’ll introduce you to my daughter Rebecca, and my dog Lady.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Independence Day Schedule

While I'll be at several community functions this Independence Day, various parts of the government will observe these schedules for Independence Day on Friday, July 3 (the day the holiday is observed):

County Offices - closed
Libraries - closed
County liquor stores – stores will be open on July 3. On July 4, all stores open 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Ride On – Saturday schedule
Metrobus – Saturday schedule on July 3 and July 4
Metrorail – Saturday schedule on July 3; supplemental service on July 4
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
Refuse/recycling pick-up – regular collection
Transfer Station – open
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Watch the History Channel Next Week

Set your DVR. I will appear on the History Channel’s documentary, The Crumbling of America, discussing the December 23 water main break on River Road that led to stranded motorists being rescued by helicopter and swift water boats.

I explained in the taping that Montgomery County, along with many other jurisdictions nationwide, grapples with competing needs. Invisible problems like underground pipes struggle to compete with sexier capital projects like libraries and community centers. The documentary highlights the seriousness of aging infrastructure that increasingly causes headaches for us all, and I am glad to see these issues playing out on a national stage.

According to the program listing, “America’s infrastructure is collapsing. Tens of thousands of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A third of the nation’s highways are in poor or mediocre shape. Massively leaking water and sewage systems are creating health hazards and contaminating rivers and streams. The Crumbling of America explores these problems using expert interviews, on location shooting and computer generated animation to illustrate the kinds of infrastructure disasters that could be just around the bend.”

The documentary will air on Monday, June 22 at 9 p.m.; Tuesday June 23 at 1 a.m.; and Sunday, June 28 at 5 p.m. Let me know that you think of the program.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Testimony to SHA on Corridor Cities Transitway

Thank you, everyone who attended last night’s public hearing for the I-270/US 15 Multi-Modal Corridor Study (which includes the Corridor Cities Transitway). Your advocacy on these transportation and transit priorities makes a difference. For your reference, here’s the testimony I presented last night:

Good evening and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. My name is Nancy Floreen, and I am an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. I also serve as the chair of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. In that role I have been committed to and continue to be committed to making sure Montgomery County has the best possible transportation infrastructure.

As an elected official, I know how challenging it is to meet current and future demands, and I appreciate the hard work that has gone into the Multi-Modal Corridor Study. The County Council will take up the details of the study and make its specific recommendations in July after the Planning Board completes its analysis.

Today I want to emphasize the Council’s overarching dedication to improving our transportation options. In particular, the Council has ranked the Corridor Cities Transitway, along with the Purple Line, as its top transit priorities. Adding HOV lanes on I-270 is also a very high priority.

I have long believed that providing the appropriate transportation infrastructure is one of government’s most basic jobs. For the Upcounty, that means supporting our growing biotechnology industry, the emerging Germantown Employment Corridor, and the ongoing build-out of Clarksburg. There’s no question that the Upcounty needs improvements to its roadways as well as new transit.

It is not just the Upcounty that will benefit, though. Our proximity to the nation’s capital provides us with invaluable opportunities not just for cultural and educational connections, but especially for the entire County’s economic vitality. We can’t afford to have the buck stop in gridlock on I-270. Traffic on this highway is intolerable and getting worse.

Additionally, Montgomery County, along with many other counties across the country, has pledged to reduce emissions that cause global warming 80 percent by 2050. To do that, we need to reduce vehicle miles traveled and spend less time idling in traffic. That’s good not just for the environment but for our quality of life too. What’s more, Metro’s dramatically increased ridership numbers indicate that commuters are hungry for transit options.

The proposed I-270/US 15 Highway and Transit Improvements will go a long way toward meeting these goals. That’s why I enthusiastically support the broad concepts of this plan, and I look forward to conducting in-depth analysis after hearing from our residents about what the plan means to them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Girls Power Up Computers

A couple of years ago, I chaired the Girls in Technology Task Force—a group of public sector, private industry and education professionals committed to increasing the number if girls involved in technology studies.

We learned that seven out of 10 of the fastest growing occupations projected from 2004-2014 are technology-related professions. However, by grade eight, half as many girls as boys show interest in careers that require math, science and technology knowledge and skills. As a result, far fewer girls are positioned for technology professions, and there is no evidence that numbers will increase under current conditions without a concerted effort to improve the situation.

So, get your girl over to Montgomery College for two-week camp sessions filled with creative and interesting projects designed especially for middle school girls. Campers will create cool digital graphics and design their own Web sites while using their creativity and sense of style. You can choose from sessions offered at each of the college’s three campuses. Best of all, you can apply for a limited number of scholarships available through the Montgomery County Commission for Women.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Forensic Analysis Presented to Committee

Yesterday the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee heard a presentation by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission on the forensic analysis of the Dec. 23 water main break on River Road that led to stranded motorists being rescued by helicopter and swift water boats. In the meeting, I urged the agency to keep the County Council apprised as it identifies the most compromised pipes in its system and as it schedules repairs to major lines.

The December water main break on River Road in Bethesda put lives in jeopardy, closed schools and caused extreme inconvenience to commuters, residents, businesses and holiday travelers, so it is imperative that we stay on top of WSSC’s plans now that we have detailed information on the cause of the break. That’s why, after speaking with WSSC Commissioner Adrienne Mandel, I’m initiating more regular meetings with our three Montgomery County WSSC Commissioners.

The rupture of the 66-inch pre-cast concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP) was caused by damage to the coating as a result of the pipe being supported directly by rock, according to the forensic analysis conducted by Lewis Engineering and Consulting. Installation, which occurred in 1965, did not meet WSSC General Specifications in force at the time.

During prior discussions of the large diameter PCCP issue, it was concluded that a robust inspection and monitoring program was needed for all pipe of this type because of the uncertainty of where these pipes were degrading. The forensic analysis suggests that a review of installation practices, in addition to potentially defective pipe material, may be warranted.

I'll keep you posted as we move forward. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts.

Friday, June 5, 2009

WSSC River Road Break Report

On Monday the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee, which I chair, will receive a briefing from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission that will include findings of a forensic analysis of the Dec. 23 water main break on River Road in Potomac that led to stranded motorists being rescued by helicopters and swift water boats. The report also will focus on the implications of the findings in regard to the WSSC’s future water main infrastructure priorities.

If you want to follow along, the session will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) or come to the Council's 3rd Floor Conference Room at 9:30 a.m. Then let me know that you think.

County's Top Ten Congested Intersections

In the 2009 Highway Mobility Report, transportation planners provide a snapshot of just how long it takes commuters and others to traverse Montgomery County roadways. They rank the top 10 most congested intersections and roads as the basis for improvements to the local network.

There’s a lot of good information in the report and a few particularly noteworthy items. All of the top ten involve roads that are the responsibility of the State (roads with numbers are State roads). Also, planners found a 5 percent increase in Metrorail ridership, and rail use was highest at those stations located amid a mix of houses and businesses, such as Silver Spring. And, Ride On use in 2008 exceeded the number of passengers using Metrorail, demonstrating the importance of Ride On buses to how people get around.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome Nancy Navarro

It is my pleasure to welcome Nancy Navarro to the County Council. She was sworn in today as the new representative for District 4.

As we face new challenges and opportunities, we will rely on Nancy’s extensive background in education and her longtime advocacy for children and families. I’m glad we’ll be able to count on Nancy’s proven track record of leadership on issues that are important to everyone.

Moving forward, we’ll need creative ways of thinking and a strong spirit of collaboration. We also need to know that our elected officials reflect the faces of our constituents. Nancy Navarro is a modern leader with the guts and determination to do what’s necessary to tackle modern challenges and to move our county in the right direction. I look forward to working with her.

Friday, May 29, 2009

E-cycling Day Next Weekend

Not sure how to recycle your old TVs and outdated electronics? In partnership with our Division of Solid Waste Services, Bethesda Green is promoting e-cycling day, Sunday, June 7, noon to 4 p.m. at the Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School parking lot. Bethesda Green volunteers will pass out free Honest Tea. All you need to do is gather up your stuff and drop on by. You don't even have to get out of your car. Last year, the group collected almost 100,000 pounds of e-waste at Walt Whitman. Learn more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Corridor Cities Transitway Plans Ready for Public Comments

Now is your chance to comment on the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), the planned rapid transit system that will run from the Shady Grove Metro station to Clarksburg and eventually Frederick County. Don’t let the project’s formal name, I-270/US 15 Highway and Transit Improvements Study, confuse you. This study does include the CCT in addition to other improvements for the Upcounty corridor.

Possible transportation alternatives include several combinations of transit and highway strategies including Express Toll Lanes, light rail, bus rapid transit and more. For detailed information, take a look at the Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment.

I encourage you to take advantage of the public review period and learn more about the project and offer your comments. Written comments are due to the State Highway Administration by July 31. Alternately, you can speak at one of these two public hearings:

June 16
Gaithersburg Middle School
2 Teachers Way
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

June 18
Monocacy Middle School
8009 Opossumtown Pike
Frederick, MD 21702

At both locations, a time to review maps and displays will take place 5:00-9:00 p.m. Public testimony will begin at 7:00 p.m. To register or learn more about the process, visit the State Highway Administration.

The CCT concept has met with broad community support, and right-of-way already has been set aside. Construction could begin by 2012, once funding is available.

The County Planning Board and the County Council will consider the options later this year, so let me know what you think.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reconciliation List

Many of you have asked me about the Reconciliation List (sometimes called the "wish list"). To see the funded items, visit the Council's Web site.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Council Passes Reduced Budget

Today we unanimously approved a $4.39 billion total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2010. The national recession along with a shortfall in both tax revenue and state aid made this one of the most challenging budgets in County history.

This year’s budget is 0.3 percent lower than last year’s amount, marking the first decrease in our budget in 18 years. The tax-supported portion of the budget is down $14 million from last year and is $8.4 million less than the County Executive’s recommended budget.
There are no winners and losers in this budget—just tough decisions and hard-working employees trying to do more with less. We focused on protecting core services including education, public safety, public health and transportation. We also recognized the need to maintain and even enhance our safety net for those most affected by the troubled economy.

We understand that Montgomery County residents already are struggling with higher costs and flat or decreased income, so we chose not to exceed the County’s Charter Limit on property tax and included a $690 property tax credit for homeowners.

Although I was disappointed by many of the cuts we had to make, I am glad we were able to retain 18 Ride On bus routes that had been targeted for elimination or reduced service. Transit has a lot of benefits, like reducing congestion and mitigating climate change. But my most important consideration right now is that Ride On is the only transportation option for many of our residents. Fortunately, we’ve been able to make sure the most vulnerable of our residents continue to have the tools they need for their health, safety and productivity.

For a list of budget highlights, including specific funding decisions as well as approved reductions, see the Council’s press release.

What Do You Think About Auto Emissions?

“The cars of the near future will be lighter, more expensive and maybe smaller. Big engines will shrink. And more and more cars will be hybrids or diesel-powered vehicles like those common in Europe,” according to a May 20 Washington Post article. “…New fuel-efficiency and tailpipe-emissions standards unveiled yesterday at the White House will push automakers and motorists in a direction aimed at reducing U.S. oil dependence and the emissions of greenhouse gases…”

If these standards are enacted, they would go a long way toward the air quality and greenhouse gas mitigation goals I’ve been pursuing since I came to the Council six years ago. I understand others have different views on the subject. What do you think?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tuesday Council Meeting Cancelled

We will not meet on Tuesday, May 19, although we had been scheduled to approve a tentative agreement on the FY10 operating budget then. We now are scheduled to give final approval to the FY10 operating budget on Thursday, May 21. The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. and will be broadcast on County Cable Montgomery.

Memorial Day Schedule

While you enjoy hotdogs and lemonade, here's how Montgomery County government will observe Memorial Day on Monday, May 25:

County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the exception of the following stores, which will be closed: Cabin John; Diamond Square; and Twinbrook
Ride On – Sunday schedule
Metrobus – Sunday schedule
Metrorail – Sunday schedule
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
Refuse/recycling pick-up – no collection*
Transfer Station – closed
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

*collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Maintenance of Effort Waiver Denied

The State Board of Education denied our Maintenance of Effort waiver request with Board members Blair Ewing and Donna Hill Staton dissenting. This means the Council now must reconcile a $79 million budget gap as I indicated in my previous posts. I will continue to post budget information (right) as it becomes available so you can follow along. You can read more in The Gazette.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Disability Retirement Reform

Yesterday we unanimously approved amended Bill 37-08 that reforms the County’s Disability Retirement Law. We fully responded to all the issues the Inspector General raised in his report last September.

The bill was based on the tentative agreements negotiated by representatives of the County Executive and the Fraternal Order of Police. It makes reforms primarily focused on accountability--strengthening the Disability Review Panel and requiring independent medical examinations and annual re-checks for employees who retire on disability. I am confident that this will put to rest the concerns about the potential for fraud and abuse that the IG raised.

Although we discussed changing the level of benefits by implementing a two-tiered system, we took no action on it mainly because this particular issue always had been addressed through collective bargaining. The Council never has legislated the outcome of negotiations, and now isn’t the time to start. Most importantly, there was no way to guarantee that proposed changes actually would save the taxpayers any money.

Nor was there was any evidence to show that this was necessarily the only way to approach the issue of varying levels of police disability. In any event, we got the commitment from our negotiating team that they will take up this issue in their next set of negotiations with the police.

The major provisions of the bill we approved include the following:

  • Increasing the independence of the Disability Review Panel by ensuring that a doctor appointed to the panel cannot be vetoed by an employee organization, as is currently allowed
  • Improving medical expertise with regard to disability claim review by requiring that all four members (an increase from the current three members) of the Disability Review Panel be board certified in occupational medicine or have at least 10 years of experience practicing occupational medicine
  • Requiring an independent medical examination of each disability applicant unless the nature and severity of the injury render it unnecessary
  • Strengthening review of existing disability retirements by requiring an annual medical exam or a certificate from a medical doctor. This would verify a continuing disability for the first five years after retirement and every three years after that until age 55 for public safety employees. The Disability Review Panel may require the member to submit to an independent medical exam.
  • Requiring panel decisions to be made by at least three doctors (instead of two)
  • Reducing lump sum retroactive disability benefits by the amount of workers’ compensation benefits received by a police officer
  • Requiring applicants to report a claimed injury within one year of the time the applicant knew or should have known that the injury was disabling
  • Requiring applicants to file for benefits within one year after separation from county service or by July 1, 2010, whichever is later, and, for police officers, within five years of the accident causing the impairment or by July 1, 2014, whichever is later, unless the police officer is working in a chronic incapacity position
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of disability payments made by another employer for the same injury, except for Social Security disability benefits
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of outside earnings received by a former police officer who accepts employment as a sworn law enforcement officer with another government agency
Call or e-mail me if you have any questions.

No Word on Waiver

Because we still have not received the State’s decision on our request for a waiver on the educational funding requirement under the State’s Maintenance of Effort law, we will not have sufficient information to take a straw vote on the budget on Thursday as originally planned. We likely will take the straw vote on Tuesday, May 19, with the final action still scheduled for May 21 if all goes well. There are a lot of moving parts at this time, so stay tuned.

The Maintenance of Effort law requires jurisdictions to appropriate at least the same amount of money per pupil from their own budgets as they did in the previous year, regardless of any additional funding that may be received from other sources such as the state or federal government.

Because we received additional federal and state aid for education, we believe we can reduce our local funding portion of the school system’s budget without going below the program level recommended by the Board of Education. This being an extreme year, we are hopeful the State will grant a one-time waiver of the Maintenance of Effort requirement so that we do not have to make extreme cuts to other programs. We expect to hear tomorrow (May 15).

If we do not receive the waiver, then we must provide additional funding to the school system. There will be no other option but to take the money from other parts of the government, so we’ll have to re-evaluate our earlier decisions or take some other dramatic action.

If we do receive the waiver, we will finalize the remaining details of the budget, including Reconciliation List items (those which have not yet been approved, but are recommended for approval if funding permits), on the same day as the straw vote.

Now it gets REALLY interesting.