Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Leadership and a Look Back

Congratulations to Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer who have been elected president and vice president of the County Council starting today. I have every confidence that next year will be another great one for our county.

As the outgoing president, I had the opportunity to reflect on the Council's business over the past year. Here are my remarks in full (see the video):

This was absolutely a year to look back on with pride. The Montgomery County Council truly set the gold standard for commitment and hard work to move our community forward.

Principally, this was an "Education First" year. Entering into a historic and unprecedented partnership with the Board of Education, we took their budget both for instruction and construction to the highest levels ever funded.  We followed that up with tightening the school capacity test for development and significantly increased the school impact taxes. As a result of our budget decisions, students and parents are now getting more teachers, paraeducators, counselors and other student support positions, as well as expanded programs to support achievement goals and enhance college and career readiness. What’s more, we’re on track to construct school revitalizations and additions sooner than expected. 

I want to especially recognize Craig Rice as chair of the Education Committee for his leadership and advocacy, particularly with respect to the opportunity gap he has prioritized us addressing.

While we’re on the subject of education and opportunities for youth, I especially want to congratulate Nancy Navarro for partnering with the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation and MCPS to bring the Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) summer program to more than 1,000 students annually from Title 1 schools, as well as her dedication to early childhood education initiatives.

Certainly we focused heavily on education this year, but it wasn’t our only priority.

We also focused on health and welfare, including prohibiting minors from using indoor tanning devices and mandating food allergen awareness training in restaurants.

And for those residents who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from, we thank Roger Berliner for leading the charge to create a strategic plan to reduce food insecurity in our county.

We also focused on equality, fairness and lending a helping hand by creating a new property tax credit for seniors; tightening wage reporting requirements to ensure workers are paid a living wage; and ensuring workers can take parental leave.

Also, Montgomery County now benefits from a Mental Health Court designed to address the challenges of increasing numbers of people committing minor crimes due to mental illness. Thanks in part to Sidney Katz’s participation on the Mental Health Court Planning and Implementation Task Force, people who have committed crimes due to a mental illness can access a structured program for treatment.

And, as a result of Marc Elrich’s landlord-tenant bill, renters can look forward to greater transparency about their rights and obligations under a lease as well as an enhanced focus on inspections and enforcement with regard to health and safety issues.

In the category of good government, I want to recognize George Leventhal for introducing the bill that established a salary schedule for heads of County departments and principal offices, thereby ensuring better transparency and accountability. 

And I also recognize Hans Riemer for spearheading the effort to win a Department of Labor grant to study paid family and medical leave throughout the county, thereby helping chart the best path forward.

It has been a very big year in terms of business and development. We launched the privatized Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation to give economic development a real shot in the arm, and we have welcomed its first executive director. We have put our business community in charge of our business development program, and that is an outstanding achievement for this County.

In our land use planning efforts, we have focused on supporting and modernizing existing communities. We are completing the work on Lyttonsville, which will join the sector plan work on Montgomery Village and Westbard to encourage appropriate reinvestment in those areas. We put many hours into updating the Subdivision Staging Policy, and subdivision regulations, which modernized our processes for reviewing development, tightening tests, adding clarity to often misunderstood regulations that will guide our future, and support the infrastructure that the future requires.

Of course, legislation is only part of the work we do here.  There have been quite a few challenging community issues this past year. There is no better example of that type of constituent service than that of Tom Hucker and his deep involvement with families affected by the explosion and fire at the Flower Branch apartments in Silver Spring.

In fact, public outreach to our more than one million residents has been a hallmark of this body. 

This year the Council as a whole held four town hall meetings, a public forum on cell towers and 52 public hearings. Individual Councilmembers held dozens more town halls, forums and special events in their districts or for special populations. This is a Council that likes to meet with people face to face, and you can find at least one our sponsored events just about every week of the year.  

In 2016, we made great strides in reaching more people and doing it in more ways, reflecting a County that is becoming more tech savvy and more diverse. We have aggressively expanded our use of social media to better inform residents about issues and about Council actions. We now have thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In order to expand our reach we have staff dedicated to outreach in our Hispanic and Asian communities. We also greatly improved our immediacy in 2016. You can now get video summaries of many Council actions and key discussions the day they happen. Our cable station, County Cable Montgomery was recognized with a local Emmy for its outstanding communications work. It's quite an array of community connections success.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t address one big issue of the last year or so, and that is the seismic shift in the way our country engages in public discourse. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in vitriolic speech and a prevalence of style over substance. It seems that the news media have been crippled by the overwhelming task of fact finding and fact checking, and the American public is showing signs of political fatigue no matter what their party affiliation.

Although we like to think of ourselves as somewhat insulated from national trends here in Montgomery County, the truth is that we’ve experienced tremblors here too.

Unfortunately we’ve seen some acts of vandalism, hate speech and harassment, and that has made folks understandably jittery. Many Councilmembers and staff have experienced more impoliteness and a lack of civility in the course of their everyday work, and that can be dispiriting. 

But we cannot let this get in our way. The work we do represents our future, and we are fortunate to be in this unique position of being able to shape it for the better.

It is with the particular challenges of this past year in mind that I want to say thank you to all of you for what you do to make our little corner of the world a better place.

On a personal note, I want to thank my chief of staff, Judy Jablow for her sage advice and for her outstanding leadership among the Confidential Aides. I also want to recognize the rest of my team--Ruthann Eiser, Jocelyn Rawat and Tedi Osias.  I know that each of my colleagues feels equally grateful to their own personal staffs.

Of course we all are indebted to the larger Council team—the 5th floor analysts and support staff, the Office of Legislative Oversight and the Legislative Information Office. You are the backbone of this organization, and we are deeply grateful to you.

Success is no accident. It takes hard work, patience, perseverance, learning, trust, collaboration and commitment, with a dose of good humor thrown in. By that, by any definition, this has been a most successful year for this Council. You all have demonstrated these qualities and for that our county has been very well served. It has been my deep privilege to lead you this past year, and I am sure that next year will be equally outstanding. Thank you all.

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