Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Proposed Ethics Bill

Today I introduced a bill that would amend the County’s ex parte law to further define which communications are allowed when a decision must be made on the basis of a hearing record. The bill is co-sponsored by Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal.

Under the current law, ex parte communications are defined as those made to influence a decision-making official off the record and out of the presence of other parties. The restriction against ex parte communication applies in local map amendments, abandonments, road closings and similar proceedings where a decision must be made on the record. Any communication by telephone, e-mail, letter or face-to-face conversation is prohibited in these instances.

Under my proposed bill, certain aspects of the law would be clarified. The bill would restrict communications to and from a decision-maker’s staff as well as the decision-maker. It would apply the ex parte restrictions to “reasonably foreseeable proceedings,” meaning that an interested party cannot talk to a decision-maker today about a zoning application that may be filed in the next month. Also, it would treat advice from other government agencies, such as the Planning Board, the same as communications from the public.

The ex parte law is designed to maintain the integrity of the process—in other words, to keep politics out of it. This legislation will clear up some questions about conversations with staff and other communications, and ultimately it will help us maintain our long history of transparency and adherence to high ethical standards.

A public hearing on Bill 12-09 is tentatively scheduled for April 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Accommodating (not Aggressive) Growth

Randy Scritchfield's letter to the editor appeared in this week's Gazette. I've reprinted it here:

Contrary to the March 18 letter, "Floreen's aggressive growth stand is wrong," I found County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen's position ("Change we better believe in," March 4 commentary) visionary and accommodating — not aggressive.

Ideas such as making it easier for homeowners to have accessory apartments reflects not only the current economic times but addressees a meaningful demographic need.
Councilwoman Floreen speaks of a "practical" economic plan — a word not typically used in conjunction with economics in this county.

She cited a recent "acute" example (the Hilton Hotels decision) to make the case for our chronic problem — an inadequate and poorly articulated "Business is Welcome to Grow Here" message.
As American families are reconsidering what they are doing at home, Montgomery County could reconsider what we do in our own house (of intra-county economic policies) and put a new welcome mat out on our front porch for business, large and small.

Randy Scritchfield, Damascus

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Letter to County Executive Re Economic Development

In response to the recent departure of Department of Economic Development Director Pradeep Ganguly, I, along with Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Mike Knapp and George Leventhal, sent a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett urging him to appoint a new director with a comprehensive vision for the County’s future and who would provide realistic strategies to enable the County to navigate current economic challenges. We said in the letter that the County must reclaim its competitive advantage.

We went on to say, “Memoranda of understanding with China are intriguing; however at this time, we are focused closer to home and believe the County should be directing resources to bioscience, technology, green jobs and business innovation. We also need to support and promote minority and local small business.”

Employment in the County has stalled and is now declining. The County’s unemployment rate has increased to 4.6 percent, the highest level since 1990. Home sales, which were down 20.5 percent in 2006 and 23.4 percent in 2007, fell another 17.8 percent in 2008. Home sales prices and residential assessments also have dropped. The letter said that these indicators suggest continued weakness in County tax revenue, and that the trend is evidence of the need for strong leadership.

The letter went on to say: “…We are looking to you to appoint an economic development leader who will undertake aggressive strategies for enlarging the County’s economic tax base by attracting new, forward thinking companies and enhancing the competitiveness of the businesses located in the County.”

I believe if we are to continue to satisfy our community's high expectations for quality of life, we should take this opportunity to focus on economic development. With more jobs and a stronger support system for them, we can spread the tax burden across a larger base, enhance our work-life balance, promote entrepreneurship, encourage diversity and ultimately make the county a more affordable place to live.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WSSC One Drop at a Time

After initially releasing a plan that made the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission ineligible for stimulus grant dollars because of its relative wealth, the Maryland Department of the Environment has now issued a revised funding list. Under the new plan, WSSC gets both $4 million in grants and $2 million in loans for projects. This amount is a drop in the bucket given that WSSC requested $75 million for shovel-ready projects. After months of headlines about severe and record-number breaks and leaks, it is clear we need more.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Women's History in Montgomery County

Tomorrow, Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Duchy Trachtenberg and I will present a Proclamation naming March 2009 Women’s History Month in Montgomery County. As we join in the national celebration, we will take a look at women’s history right here in our own back yard.

The Montgomery County Commission for Women has researched and archived biographical information on 30 women of significance in Montgomery County. In the archives you’ll find women from all aspects of history, including civil rights, government, various social movements, athletics, and a lot more. Some of my favorites include Rachel Carson, mother of the modern environmental movement; Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross; and Emily Edmonson, freed slave and abolitionist. These women figure importantly in our local and national history.

I encourage you to take a look at these fascinating biographies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Optimism About a New GM at WSSC

I am encouraged by today’s announcement that Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson have recommended David E. Chardavoyne as the new Chief Executive Officer/General Manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary commission.

Mr. Chardavoyne has an extensive background in public utility management, and I’m confident that he will bring the creativity and leadership needed to deal with our aging infrastructure and economic challenges.

As chair of the committee tasked with overseeing the water and sewer agency, I have been an outspoken critic of recent failures by WSSC. In particular, I have chided the agency for its failure to appoint a permanent general manager, saying that the stalemate has contributed to public health and safety risks.

I’m pleased that the two county executives have stepped to the plate on this issue. They have made an excellent first step in moving the WSSC forward. Now let’s get to work on reducing the number of water main breaks and leaks.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Your Thoughts on Brick Pavers

Since I introduced the resolution to restrict the use of brick pavers on public walkways, I have received quite a bit of feedback, mostly from accessibility advocates in favor of the plan.

Not everyone agrees, though. Some have questioned why I’m pursuing such a measure when we have so many big economic issues on our plate. I would argue that access to public facilities is even more important during hard times and that this measure has a cost-saving element to it. Still, I agree that we have some big tasks ahead of us as we enter the budgeting season.

Others have said that brick pavers are so aesthetically superior to concrete that we should find a way of continuing to use them, especially in historic or shopping districts.

I’m curious to know what you think. Have you had experience with brick pavers?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Talk About the National Economy

I’m looking forward to joining Senator Ben Cardin at the Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club on March 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the White Oak Middle School. The senator will discuss the economic crisis from a Congressional perspective. It’s an important topic, and I hope to see you there.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Post Covers WSSC Stimulus Share

“As of yesterday morning, the utility that oversees the crumbling water system in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties wasn’t going to receive a dime in federal stimulus grants because the state had decided the two Washington suburbs were too wealthy….” I was shocked to hear this news. You can read the entire Washington Post article here.

Apply Now to the Planning Board

We’re now taking applications for the Planning Board. This is an important position as the Planning Board serves as the Council’s principal adviser on land use planning and community planning. This means the board is responsible for preparation and amendment of the County General Plan; preparation and amendment of Master Plans and functional plans; implementation of the subdivision process and a whole lot more.

The Planning Board meets all day every Thursday and often meets on one other evening a week. The entire Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission meets the third Wednesday of every month. On average, a Planning Board member can expect to spend at least two full days a week in scheduled and informational meetings. Additionally, substantial time is required for preparatory work and other activities related to Planning Board responsibilities.

We need some good talent for this position, so take a look at the job announcement, and remember to get your application in by April 22.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change We Better Believe in

You'll find my op-ed column in today's Gazette. I've also reprinted it here:

Tough times should focus us all on what is important. When the economy is strong maybe we can endure a political conversation that focuses on peripheral issues and takes for granted our prosperity and high-quality basic services. But not now.

As Montgomery County faces the stark reality of falling home values, private sector layoffs, empty storefronts and dire economic predictions for the future, we must take stock of where we are and where we need to go. We always have valued a high quality of life. We usually measure this by the success of our schools, our diversity, our parks and the depth of community engagement in all things great and small.

That quality comes at a price. Despite the county's reputation for having an uninviting business climate, we have been fortunate to have a vital business sector as the backbone supporting a wide range of services. Yet our success has inflated both the cost of doing business and the cost of our housing, pricing out jobs and would-be residents, causing long commutes and road congestion. As the fiscal horizon continues to darken, government needs to reassess past practices so we can continue to support our expensive mission.

Economic development issues need to take priority. This means long-term policies that continue to work over time, not just the short-term injection of cash from the federal stimulus. Recently, Hilton Hotels chose to locate in Fairfax County, Va., to take advantage of tax incentives and a business-friendly environment. We need to start winning bidding wars with the Hiltons of the world, and we need to revamp our processes to encourage, not hinder, job growth.

We also need to support the elements of community that help us all succeed. We can do this at no cost to the taxpayer and to the benefit of many. For example, by creating incentives for the growth of child care providers, we make it possible for parents to go out and earn a paycheck. And why not make it easier for homeowners to have accessory apartments? That would have multiple benefits — allowing seniors to age in place and helping cash-strapped families pay their bills while providing the affordable housing our workers need.

We must change the way Montgomery County functions. If we are to continue to satisfy our community's high expectations for quality of life, let's focus on "yes," not "no." With more jobs and a stronger support system for them, we can spread the tax burden across a larger base, enhance our work-life balance, promote entrepreneurship, encourage diversity and ultimately make the county a more affordable place to live.

A practical economic plan will pay for all that is good in our community. That's what sustainability really means, and that's the change we all should believe in.