Friday, June 30, 2017

MoCo Council wants to enter student loan business, as Katz sounds alarm on County debt

Plan would create 
ITA-like
"Authority,"
with $20-30 million
start-up cost

After creating a barrage of new offices and six-figure staff positions in the last year alone, opening their own microloan bank, and committing Montgomery County to staggering financial liabilities on bus rapid transit and the Purple Line, the Montgomery County Council is now planning to enter the student loan industry. That's not a misprint, and today isn't April 1. But just four days before announcing its intentions, one Councilmember, Sid Katz, raised red flags on the County's massive debt load.

The Council's proposal would create a new Montgomery County Student Loan Refinancing Authority to refinance student loans, much like the Independent Transit Authority that was panned and ultimately defeated by taxpayer opposition. Such an Authority would potentially have all the features hated in the ITA concept - the ability to raise taxes, carry unlimited amounts of debt that could end up being dumped back onto the taxpayers, and a lack of direct accountability to voters. The specifics will be unknown until a final state bill to create the Authority (sound familiar from the ITA fight?) is written, but one detail known is that the Authority will have the power to issue bonds. It should be noted that no other county in the United States currently is involved in student loan financing.

Does it make any sense from a fiscal responsibility standpoint for Montgomery County government to enter the student loan business at this time? The assessment of Katz, the only Councilmember with real-world business experience, suggests the answer is, "No."

"I, candidly, am very, very concerned about the debt Montgomery County has," Katz said during a June 22 meeting of the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy (GO) Committee. "If we don't get a handle on this, if we don't get a blueprint on debt in Montgomery County, it's going to overtake us. Right now, if [our debt] was a department, it would be the third largest department in Montgomery County."

Katz also expressed concern with the uncertain revenue forecast for the coming years. Trump administration cuts to government could drastically reduce income tax revenue for the County, Katz noted. Montgomery County is locked in a structural deficit as far out as the forecasts go - meaning that, as it is now, we already will be in the red every single fiscal year.

In the context of these red flags, a report by the County Office of Legislative Oversight raises many concerns.

How much would it cost taxpayers to launch the Authority? "The Montgomery County Department of Finance has estimated that a Montgomery County Student Loan Refinancing Authority would need $20 to $30 million to start a $100 million refinancing program," the report states.

The report confirms that these start-up funds "would impact the County’s debt levels (the amount the County can borrow)."

It appears loans would be extended to illegal immigrants, according to Page 4 under "Eligibility." On Page 6 of that section, it floats the idea of requiring a co-signer "if a borrower is not a U.S. citizen." In other words, resident taxpayers would be paying to provide low-cost student loans to non-taxpaying, non-resident students. Wow.

Later, the report notes that there are already numerous private student loan refinancing firms, and that their interest rates are actually less than the state-run loan entities the Council wants to ape. Why would we enter a market where there is no vacuum, with a more expensive product? Nuts.

A response from the office of County Executive Ike Leggett wisely pans the idea of entering the student loan business. "Student loan debt is the largest and fastest-growing share of consumer debt, and has the highest delinquency rate of all consumer credit debt," wrote Timothy Firestine, the County's Chief Administrative Officer, on behalf of Leggett. "As a result, there are few states and no localities willing to incur the financial risk and significant cost of operating a Student Loan Refinancing Authority."

Creating such an authority would "seriously impact many of our critically-important programs, ranging from K-12 education to safety and transportation," Firestine added. Starting it up would likely require the County to issue more debt, he said, and budget cuts in other areas would be needed to fund start-up costs, he wrote.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Another MoCo DLC employee busted for stealing $20K+ of liquor from DLC trucks

Kelvin Snowden, Jr., a
Montgomery County DLC employee
police say stole liquor from DLC trucks
Montgomery County's government liquor monopoly is embroiled in yet another scandal. One of their employees was arrested by Montgomery County police yesterday, and charged with stealing $21,769 worth of liquor from the Department of Liquor Control's own trucks.

Police say Jean Auguste, 27, of Lanham, and Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employee Kelvin Eugene Snowden Junior, 31, of Gaithersburg, took the alcohol from box trucks parked at the Department of Liquor Control warehouse, which is located on Edison Park Drive in Gaithersburg. The alleged thefts occurred between Valentine's Day and May 28 of this year.

Montgomery County police responded to the last of what detectives say were 8 total thefts from the DLC warehouse site on May 28, and caught Auguste parked nearby in a Chevrolet Suburban, with cases of DLC liquor in the vehicle. The ensuing investigation led them to Snowden, who they say was the main thief who actually broke into the DLC to steal from the trucks. Snowden also allegedly sold stolen DLC liquor to Auguste on at least one occasion.

This is not the first time a DLC employee has been arrested for stealing liquor from the DLC. In 2014 and 2015, employees were caught stealing alcohol and were fired. Many have called for an end to the outdated Montgomery County government liquor monopoly, which has proved inept, internally corrupt, and expensive and tedious for bars and restaurants to purchase alcohol through.
Councilmember Hans Riemer
was at the center of a previous DLC scandal
County Councilman Hans Riemer was also ensnared in a 2014 DLC scandal that came to be known as "Beerghazi." Riemer appeared to be aware of criminal activity within the DLC - but instead of reporting it immediately to authorities, he kept quiet until after he was safely reelected in November 2014.

Less than 48 hours after the polls had closed, Riemer then appeared in a formal, sit-down interview with NBC 4 in which he attempted to then use the information he had withheld to promote himself as a crusader against DLC corruption. It was clear that the NBC 4 investigation had occurred long before Election Day, and that Riemer had been in on the reporter's investigation all along. But with Riemer having direct oversight of the DLC, revealing the criminal activity in the department before Election Day could have damaged his chances of reelection.

Riemer had previously claimed it was time for the government to get out of the liquor business. But in 2015, he flip-flopped and suddenly endorsed maintaining - and strengthening - the government liquor monopoly. And here we are today, with the same Jurassic World government monopoly liquor system, and another DLC employee behind bars. "Helpless" Hans Riemer strikes again!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Small business event to discuss:"Is your business or family safe in a sanctuary county?"

How do sanctuary immigration policies affect small businesses? That topic will be discussed at the next networking social event of the Small Business Action Network of Montgomery County, on Wednesday, June 28, from 6:30 to 9:00 PM at Hunter's Bar and Grill, located at 10123 River Road in Potomac.

The speaker will be Jonathan Hanen, who the event announcement says will discuss the question, "Is your business or family safe in a sanctuary county?" Montgomery County has been designated by the federal government as a sanctuary jurisdiction.

Recent crime headlines in the County make this a timely discussion, and the County has been blasted by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for not honoring ICE detainers on criminal illegal aliens. ICE said the County put its agents and the community at risk when it recently allowed a man with an ICE detainer who had stolen an assault weapon from a police cruiser to go free, forcing ICE agents to locate and take him into custody in an uncontrolled setting.

SBAN-MOCO is inviting small business owners from across Montgomery County to attend.

The cost to attend the event is $15. The cost to join SBAN-MOCO is $25. There will be a cash bar. Space is limited - to reserve a spot, email your RSVP.

Monday, June 12, 2017

MoCo drags feet on correcting illegal traffic signals, refunds for drivers wrongly ticketed by red light cameras

Montgomery County still has illegally-timed traffic signals, which could be issuing unwarranted red light camera tickets to drivers, a recent report by the County's Office of the Inspector General found. On Friday, Delegate Marc Korman (D - District 16) asked County Executive Ike Leggett to consider an outside audit of its signal timing (the OIG had to rely on the word and data of the County Department of Transportation), turn off any cameras ticketing at an illegally-timed signal, and to begin reimbursing drivers who were wrongly ticketed at those intersections.

After being caught ticketing drivers with illegal signal timing in 2015, the County initially resisted adopting the Maryland-required yellow light time of 3.5 seconds. It then promised to correct the problem. However, the OIG report - based on MCDOT data not confirmed by an independent audit - found that 13% of signals countywide are still illegally timed.

When asked by the OIG for a schedule for correction of those 105 remaining signals, MCDOT refused to produce one. And while MCDOT insists that there are no red light cameras at the out-of-compliance intersections, the OIG noted that "We did not test or verify the accuracy of the information provided by MCDOT."

"Improper timing of traffic signals at locations with red light cameras goes to the heart of the confidence people can have in their government," Korman wrote in his letter to Leggett. 

Montgomery County responded to the OIG report with a one-sentence promise to create a schedule for signal correction, but did not say when such a schedule would be released. Once again, Montgomery County seems unable to deliver the basic functions of government - collecting the trash, clearing snow from sidewalks along its properties (sometimes as long as a month(!) after the snowstorm ended), plowing roads, providing 911 service or completing construction projects on-schedule (with the Wheaton Library being the latest, now a year-and-a-half behind-schedule).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Double murder in Montgomery Village

Montgomery County police detectives are investigating a double homicide in Montgomery Village. The victims were killed inside an unspecified model vehicle parked in the 8200 block of Gallery Court around 10:45 last night. Police were alerted by a 911 caller in the area who heard gunfire. Both victims died at the scene, detectives say.

Police have not yet released the identities of the two victims.

Detectives urge anyone who may have information about this double homicide to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s).  Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Taxpayers left holding the bag for $45 million in Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco settlement

Is this a thing of beauty, or what?
Montgomery County taxpayers are left holding the bag in the Silver Spring Transit Center debacle settlement agreed to yesterday. County officials attempting to cover-up their failure to conduct their oversight role on the project filed a weak lawsuit in a case where they themselves were mostly to blame.

The result? Realizing they could not win, the County's ultra-expensive legal team reached a chump change settlement worth a paltry $25 million. That leaves you, the taxpayer, holding the bag and paying $42 million for the remainder of the $47 million in cost overruns, $20 million in damages, and $10 million in legal fees. The settlement also requires the County (a.k.a. you, the taxpayer) to pay $3 million to Foulger-Pratt to settle their countersuit, which was directly caused by the incompetence of the County and County Council. You are now on the hook for a total of $45 million.

The surrender settlement, while inevitable given the County's woefully-weak case, was a total betrayal of the promises made by County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council. Leggett stated he would not leave taxpayers on the hook for even a penny of the cost overruns. Councilmember George Leventhal promised the Brickyard Coalition in 2014 that he would "ensure taxpayers will not be on the hook for the remediation of the transit center." Councilmember Hans Riemer said in April 2013 he would "protect the taxpayers."

Once safely reelected, Leventhal and his colleagues abruptly turned around and made multiple new appropriations of tens of millions of dollars for the transit center. The taxpayers be damned!, was the clear message from the Council.

On Election Day 2018, voters will deliver the overdue "rough, seat of the pants estimate" Leventhal and his colleagues asked for in January 2015 - with a steel-toed boot.

#LockThemUp

Friday, April 14, 2017

Despite fake news headlines, you won't be buying liquor at grocery, drug or convenience stores in MoCo



You may have seen fake news headlines over the last few days trumpeting that "liquor" will soon be sold at "privately-owned stores" in Montgomery County. The careful wording was designed by the Montgomery County political cartel, to give casual readers the false impression that beer, wine and spirits would be coming to the shelves at Giant, CVS, 7-Eleven, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was surprising that many in the local media enabled the deception with false headlines. This is one of the more audacious public misinformation campaigns I've ever witnessed from the MoCo cartel.

Here are the facts:

The Maryland General Assembly just passed a bill which will only allow privately-owned beer and wine stores to sell liquor. Clever language in the bill specifically excludes grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. Even popular convenience stores that currently sell beer and wine, like Talbert's in Bethesda, will be ineligible to sell liquor.

Even those beer and wine stores that qualify to sell liquor under the bill will still have to buy that liquor from the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control - the government monopoly. That means they will be competing on retail price directly with the Montgomery County government liquor stores. Merchants like Bradley Food and Beverage have pointed out in the past that such competition is unfair to the small private businesses being forced to compete with the same government-monopoly seller, who sets the prices they have to pay for stock.

The new law allows the DLC to decide the criteria for the granting of contracts with private beer and wine stores by itself, with no public input or transparency. DLC, in other words, can decide the terms of competition itself. Profits for whichever few retailers DLC decides to "compete" with will likely be limited by the monopoly control over price, and that means no savings for you, the customer.

It's also unlikely that private beer and wine stores could be competitive with County-owned liquor stores on inventory, because the County stores are physically larger than stores which have been only allowed to sell beer and wine. And they'll still have to deal with the same DLC inventory and delivery problems that have hampered their existing beer and wine sales.

Once again, County politicians have tried to "look busy," even as they bolster and preserve the government liquor monopoly. Real change would be full privatization of beer, wine and spirit sales in Montgomery County, and being able to buy Bud Light or a bottle of wine at Safeway or Rite Aid. That did not happen with this new law.

Fact check score for fake news "liquor to be sold at privately-owned stores" headlines, designed to fool people who don't read the articles for the details?

Four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Whipped by Fairfax, MoCo needs boardrooms, not bedrooms

A drive around the Capital Beltway tells you all you need to know about where the economic development action is in our region. Winding your way around the curves through Tysons, you marvel at the area's most impressive skyline. The region's tallest building - the Capital One headquarters - is under construction, towering over the freeway. Corporate logos are around every bend, including many that recently chose Tysons over Montgomery County, like Intelsat and Hilton Hotels. Snaking through the job-rich territory are major new transportation investments - Express Lanes and the Metro Silver Line; serious infrastructure compared to MoCo's laughably-lame future plans, which entirely consist of 12-miles-in-50-minutes Bus "Rapid" Transit, and bike lanes.

Driving the Beltway through Montgomery County, you'll see...trees. And more trees. Holy Cross Hospital. The Mormon Temple. A Marriott hotel. Extremely appropriately, the last thing you'll see before you cross the congested American Legion Bridge are two retirement communities on either side of the highway. Sad, but reflective of the message moribund Montgomery County would send to any international businessperson whose corporate limo happened to be traveling along the Beltway. An unlikely scenario, given that said businessperson will have already taken the Silver Line or direct highway access from Dulles International Airport into Tysons, signed the deal, and flown out of town again while you're still stuck in traffic going around the Beltway, thanks to our unfinished master plan highway system.

Realizing this, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fairfax County is still handing our impotent Montgomery County Council their briefcases when it comes to economic development. You wouldn't be surprised that the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the average weekly wage paid in Montgomery County is $200 less than what you'd earn if you worked in Fairfax County. And you might not be surprised to learn that there are 588,000 jobs in Fairfax, and only 471,000 here in Montgomery.

But knowing all of that, what probably would surprise you, is that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board believe we need more bedrooms, not more jobs. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently went to bat on behalf of the developers he represents, adding even more last-minute luxury apartment height and density to the Westfield Montgomery Mall property, which sits alongside the I-270 spur in Bethesda. Not more office space, but more bedrooms. In one of the most overcrowded school clusters in the county, to boot.

This, despite the inescapable fact that adding thousands of new residential units countywide over the last two decades has proven the tax revenue generated by those bedrooms absolutely does not cover the costs in services, education and infrastructure they create.

This, despite County Executive Ike Leggett warning that we are becoming a bedroom community for the booming job centers elsewhere in the region.

And this, despite the fact that the only highway corridor in the county that has historically shown any sort of business development to interstate travelers - I-270 - is slowly being converted from corporate and business uses to residential and...self-storage. Yikes.

Office parks along I-270 and in Rock Spring near the mall are exactly the kind of places the most significant companies of our time are seeking for their headquarters - Apple and Google, for example, both have sprawling. low-rise, suburban campuses. High-wage aerospace and defense firms are seeking simiilar secure sites. Yet, companies like these aren't coming to Montgomery County. It's not because office parks went out of style, as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai can tell you. It's because MoCo's taxes are too high, its regulation is extreme, the business climate is horrendously unfriendly, and the transportation system simply doesn't function - and doesn't go directly to Dulles Airport.

The last thing we need are more bedrooms around Montgomery Mall. Thanks to poor planning, and elected officials who are clueless about the world of international business circa 2017 (their few business trips have been taken exclusively to Communist countries, which probably explains a lot), we remain stuck significantly behind competing jurisdictions in economic development. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region to experience a net loss in jobs since 2000; all others around us gained jobs - even Culpeper County, for Pete's sake.

Government incompetence is costing you - in your paycheck if you work in MoCo, on your tax returns, and at the fuel pump and on your internet shipping charges, as traffic idles on the unfinished highway network of Montgomery County. Only by adding more boardrooms - not bedrooms - can we turn this around. Throw the bums out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Residents rally to demand change, accountability after Rockville HS gang rape (Video+photos)

Hundreds of residents gathered in front of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville yesterday to demand elected officials and MCPS be held accountable for their roles in the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School. Protesters held signs demanding MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith resign, and against Montgomery County sanctuary policies that allowed the girl's alleged attackers to live here and enroll in 9th grade despite being much older. The rape allegedly took place in a bathroom at the school on March 16.

Speakers and notable attendees included Montgomery County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, Montgomery County Council District 2 candidate Edward Amatetti, and Brigitta Mullican, a Rockville resident who has been one of the leading critics of the effort to officially declare Rockville a sanctuary city.

A small group of counter-protesters
were kept separate across the street
by Montgomery County police
A small group of less than 20 counter-protesters set up across Maryland Avenue from the protest, and attempted to shout down speakers throughout the event, despite lacking the numbers to do so. The poor showing was likely due to the fact that very few in the county believe the accused rapists should have been in the 9th grade. And to the mass outrage over the security lapses that facilitated the alleged suspects' brutal bathroom attack, during which they allegedly repeatedly raped and sodomized the victim, as she screamed for help that never came.
Robin Ficker is mobbed by
fans after lowering the boom
on the County Council and MCPS
in his speech
In a speech to the crowd, Ficker ripped County elected officials and MCPS for their mishandling of the Rockville H.S. rape, and of crime in their schools in general. Ficker cited recent reports of violent crimes that occurred at the school just weeks before the gang rape, and were covered up by administrators. In one, a girl was beaten and kicked in the head three times, he said - yet parents were never informed this happened. These were warning signs that should have resulted in tighter security weeks ago, Ficker said.

Ficker suggested the county move 9th grade back to junior high, and leave grades 10, 11 and 12 at the high school level, arguing that kids are being forced to grow up too fast. He noted that, while Rockville H.S. had more than 100 security cameras, no one was monitoring them.

Amatetti paused during his speech to ask the crowd to "pray real, real hard for the young, brave girl" who was the victim in this case. He said the school system and the county have "real problems" that need to be addressed.
Ficker poses with a large
contingent of legal Asian
immigrants
The crowd was diverse, including Asians, African-Americans and Latinos. One attendee was overheard noting that the counter-protesters across the street were whiter than the crowd they were counter-protesting against.

Several immigrants who had legally achieved citizenship through great effort and cost, or were seeking to do so legally, decried the county's effort to give those who haven't followed the rules special status. Lucas, a resident of Kensington who did not wish to give his last name, said he has been in the U.S. for 3 years on a student visa. Now he has applied for citizenship, and has been told the process will take 3 to 5 years. It's "unfair," he said, for those who broke the rules to gain the rewards of citizenship in Montgomery County before those who play by the rules.

Mullican called it "unfair for the legal immigrants who waited their turn and came here through the system." She emigrated legally to America from Germany with her family in 1956, and had to wait until 1968 to become a citizen. "I understand the immigration process, and the privilege of being a U.S. citizen," she said.

Several attendees carried signs demanding the resignation of MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith, Smith has so far declined to comply with the growing calls locally and nationally for him to step down. He has gained national notoriety for seeming more concerned about immigration politics than about the rape victim. Smith "speaks far more harshly about xenophobia than he does about sexual assault of a child," said Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.
Bethesda resident Jerry Cave
was master of
ceremonies for the rally








Montgomery County
Young Republicans VP
Dan McHugh

Parents want
Smith out

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Apartment kitchen fire in The Kentlands

Montgomery County firefighters are responding to a fire in the 300 block of Ridgepoint Place in The Kentlands development. According to scanner reports, a stove is on fire in a building there. The 3-story apartment building has been evacuated.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Residents pan new Montgomery County snow plow tracker, fake news on sidewalks

The new Montgomery County "snow portal" touted by County Councilmember Hans Riemer and other officials got a failing grade from residents I spoke to, and on social media, after yesterday's storm. Not only is there no longer a map to view snow operations countywide, or even in your area, but the consensus opinion was that the time estimates were no more useful than the old map. Not to mention that switching to a primitive text format, instead of a graphic map, was like going from iPhone to DOS.
Constituent gives Councilmembers
Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner his
blunt assessment of their new "snow portal"
on Facebook
Riemer provided some additional fake news about his sidewalk shoveling bill, which cost taxpayers $6,458,000, but came up even shorter than the snow portal. In a blog post, he boasted that since the bill passed two years ago, "I find that the County is doing a much better job clearing snow from sidewalks where the County (or Parks) is the responsible party as well as helping clear snow from sidewalks where there may be a public safety concern."

"It's just as useless
as past versions. #FAIL"

This is simply not true, as I well-documented last winter. On Westbard Avenue alone, sidewalks fronting both Montgomery County (Little Falls Library) and Montgomery County Public Schools (Westland Middle School) property remained unshoveled a full month after the largest storm. Embarrassingly, Riemer himself passed by these very sidewalks after the storm on a carpetbagger's bus tour for the Westbard sector plan, and took no action to get them cleared.
What happened?
Riemer's claim earns him the Four Pinocchios/Pants-on-Fire awards.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New small business group to host networking event for MoCo restaurant owners March 22

The Montgomery County Small Business Action Network, a new organization encouraging Montgomery County small business owners to be proactive on county government actions that impact their businesses, is concentrating on restaurant owners this month. SBAN will host a networking event for restaurant and bar owners on Wednesday, March 22, from 5:30-7:30 PM, at Hunter's Bar and Grill, located at 10123 River Road in Potomac.

The guest speaker at the event will be Bob Dorfman, the newly-appointed Director of Montgomery County's Department of Liquor Control. Dorfman will remain after his presentation to answer restaurant owners' questions one-on-one. The cost to attend is $25. For $35, you can attend and also become a member of SBAN. There will be a cash bar during the event.

RSVP by email, as space is limited for the event.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Legal immigrants turn out in force to oppose sanctuary bill in Annapolis (Photos)

A House of Delegates bill that would officially designate Maryland a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants ran into opposition from legal immigrants Tuesday, who waited out an epic public hearing that lasted until the early hours of Wednesday morning. The House Judiciary Committee convened at 1:00 PM for an agenda that included a hearing on the "Trust Act," HB 1362. Chair Joseph Vallario (D - District 23B) appeared to stall the hearing in an attempt to wear out citizens who had traveled far to testify, not taking up the bill until 7:00 PM.
Legal immigrants who testified
against HB 1362 are joined by
Silver Spring resident Hessie Harris
(center) and Del. Deb Rey (R - District 29B)
Dozens of citizens spoke in opposition to the bill, including 35 legal immigrants organized by the Maryland Chinese-American Network and Asian-American GOP coalition. Speakers also included Hessie Harris, an African-American woman from Silver Spring.

Some of those testifying questioned the fairness of exempting those who did not come here legally from the law. "I love Montgomery County," testified Shawn Nie of North Potomac. "I legally obtained my citizenship through a lengthy and expensive process." 

Others warned of public safety consequences, should the bill pass. "Sanctuary policies essentially create an environment where criminals can go unnoticed,” said Zhenya Li, also from Montgomery County. "Restricting law enforcement risks public safety."

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Dick Jurgena called the marathon hearing "one for the record books," and praised those who stayed until midnight and beyond to testify despite the wait. 

HB 1362 is among several legislative efforts to codify sanctuary policies in Maryland, Montgomery County and the City of Rockville currently proposed. Police in Montgomery County are already not allowed to inquire about a person's citizenship status, even without this bill.

Proponents of the policy, and this bill, say the community is safer when undocumented immigrants don't fear interaction with the police. Opponents point to several horrifying crimes that have occurred within the last year, which have been tied to illegal immigrants.

In April 2016, Montgomery County Police arrested two illegal immigrants living in a County Housing Opportunities Commission apartment in Wheaton. The men were charged with abducting a 12-year-old girl, and gang-raping her in that taxpayer-subsidized apartment.

Just last month, 15-year-old Gaithersburg resident Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas was found dead in Fairfax County. Her mother told police she had become involved with MS-13 gang members at Watkins Mill High School, before disappearing December 10. Fairfax County police say Reyes Rivas was held prisoner by the gang before being assaulted in an undisclosed fashion, and was executed by them around January 8. Her remains were found in an industrial park on February 11.

After the Judiciary Committee issues a favorable or unfavorable report on HB 1362, it will return for a second reading on the House floor, and consideration for amendments by delegates.

Photos: Xiaoyuan Luo/World Journal

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Moribund economy, MCPS declining, roads jammed; MoCo Council's top priority? Vending machines!

Moribund Montgomery County is the only DC-area jurisdiction to suffer a net loss in jobs since the year 2000. The County Council's own reports show Montgomery County Public Schools in a steady decline since 2010, with a growing achievement gap and deadly gang problem. Our unfinished highway system is in utter gridlock, nearly 20 years after voters elected the laughably-named "End Gridlock" council slate. What is the very top agenda item this week for one of that slate's members, George Leventhal?

"Healthy vending machines."

You can't make this stuff up, folks! That's right, Leventhal and...surprise, surprise...Councilmember Hans Riemer will be in the 3rd Floor Conference Room of the County Council Building this morning, for a big press conference to introduce a bill to replace your Big Texas Cinnamon Roll and Mrs. Freshley's Jumbo Honey Bun with bean sprouts and kale chips. The bill will apply to all vending machines on county property, and require 65% of vending machine items to be "healthy."

If you need to kill some time around 11:45 AM, get some cheap entertainment in watching to see if even one reporter asks them how in the world vending machines could literally be their top priority at a time like this. Are you kidding me?

Slightly less than two years after touting a study showing Montgomery to be the healthiest county in Maryland, and giving himself credit for the designation, Leventhal now claims in a press release that "almost one in four children in Montgomery County is not able to maintain a healthy weight. This rate outpaces the national average. More than half of all adults in County (sic) adults (sic) are not keeping a healthy weight."

So let's get this straight, folks. Mr. Leventhal and the Council made us the healthiest county in Maryland (and probably invented the Internet along the way). That past claim of credit now requires us to blame the same County Council for our sudden, supposed two year plunge in health, that Mr. Leventhal says has left us fatter than the average American. How could they have done this to us? All the more reason to throw the bums out in 2018.

Of course, maybe it was the taxpayer-funded gift cards Leventhal's "Healthy Montgomery" organization gave out to MCPS students for sugary, liquid-candy Starbucks coffees and fat-and-sodium-laden Chipotle burritos that can partly be blamed. Perhaps the historic tax increase of May 2016 forced cash-strapped residents to turn to cheap junk food for subsistence purposes. After all, we can't all afford to shop at Whole Paycheck like Hans Riemer.
You apparently can use the hashtag #HealthyVendingMoCo to tell Big Government what you think of their legislative priorities.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Email/call delegates NOW after unusual tactic keeps MoCo Council term limit-sabotage bill alive in Annapolis

Thanks to your calls and emails, and members of a committee who recognized the voting landscape has changed in Montgomery County, House Bill 348 (which would hand the Montgomery County Council a suite of tools to subvert the term limits passed by 70% of voters last November) was temporarily dead yesterday. But in an unusual move, the full delegation failed to respect the vote of their colleagues on the Economic Development Committee, and have kept HB 348 on their voting agenda for today.

Light up their phones and inboxes, and ask them to respect the will of the voters, and KILL BILL 348 by voting NO. The meeting starts at 10:00 AM, so the time to act is NOW.

Use this list of phone numbers and emails, or the email list below (just CC everybody on one message to get the job done):

craig.zucker@senate.state.md.us
anne.kaiser@house.state.md.us
eric.luedtke@house.state.md.us
pam.queen@house.state.md.us
brian.feldman@senate.state.md.us
kathleen.dumais@house.state.md.us
david.fraser.hidalgo@house.state.md.us
aruna.miller@house.state.md.us
susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
bill.frick@house.state.md.us
marc.korman@house.state.md.us
ariana.kelly@house.state.md.us
cheryl.kagan@senate.state.md.us
kumar.barve@house.state.md.us
jim.gilchrist@house.state.md.us
andrew.platt@house.state.md.us
richard.madaleno@senate.state.md.us
asolgut@gmail.com
jeff.waldstreicher@house.state.md.us
roger.manno@senate.state.md.us
bonnie.cullison@house.state.md.us
benjamin.kramer@house.state.md.us
marice@maricemorales.com
will.smith@senate.state.md.us
sheila.hixson@house.state.md.us
david.moon@house.state.md.us
jheanelle.wilkins@house.state.md.us
nancy.king@senate.state.md.us
charles.barkley@house.state.md.us
kirill.reznik@house.state.md.us
delegaterobinson@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Contact delegates TODAY to stop MoCo Council's attempt to undermine term limits

As I reported last week, a bill that would give the Montgomery County Council several tools to undermine the term limits on their time in office is under consideration in Annapolis. HB 348 would the first step toward allowing the Council to stagger its terms, with some County Council seat elections moving to presidential years. Term limits passed overwhelmingly last November with nearly 70% of voters approving them. The County Council should not disrespect the voters' wishes for new leaders, and for a four-year cooling-off period for long-stagnant members who will finally be forced out.

Potential abuses the current text of the bill would allow include extension of term-limited councilmembers' terms for an additional two years, cutting short terms of new councilmembers they'd like to get rid of by two years, allowing those forced out by term limits in 2022 to run again in 2024 before the new Council has even four years to change the county's direction, and moving seats not as favorable to the county political cartel (District 2) to presidential years, when voters are paying less attention to county-level issues.

The Montgomery County delegation's Economic Development Committee will take up, and vote on, the bill tomorrow, Thursday, February 23.

CALL OR EMAIL THEM TODAY,
and tell them to respect the voters' clear decision on term limits, and allow the reforms voters wanted to happen play out. The voters have not asked for this bill, some on the Council have.
Ask them to vote "no" and 
KILL BILL HB 348:

Ariana Kelly, Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 16; Phone: 301-858-3642 / 410-841-3642;
ariana.kelly@house.state.md.us

Maricé Morales, Vice-Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 19; Phone: 301-858-3528 / 410-841-3528
marice.morales@house.state.md.us

Sheila Hixson - Democrat - Legislative District 20; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469 
Sheila.Hixson@house.state.md.us

Anne Kaiser - Democrat Legislative District 14; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469
Anne.Kaiser@house.state.md.us

Kirill Reznik - Democrat, Legislative District 39; Phone: 301-858-3039 /410-841-3039
kirill.reznik@house.state.md.us

Jeff Waldstreicher - Democrat, Legislative District 18; Phone: 301-858-3130 / 410-841-3130
Jeff.Waldstreicher@house.state.md.us

Then the whole delegation will take up the bill on Friday.

(carbon-copy every Montgomery County delegate if you can) 
BEFORE FRIDAY
Tell them to VOTE NO on HB 348

for their 
contact information

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MoCo Council got an average of $2469 in free gas last year - - from you

How would you like $2469 in free fill-ups at your local gas station (assuming it isn't being torn down by the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board)? You'll have to run for the County Council to get it.

According to Arelis Hernandez of the Washington Post, Montgomery County Councilmembers averaged $2469 each in free gas in 2016, paid for by you, the taxpayer. Nice.

This is the same Council whose members, thanks to a 17.5% raise they gave themselves at your expense a few years ago, will each be paid an astonishing $136,258 this year. By you.

Free gas is just par for the course, for our corrupt County Council, who - by the way - are running a structural deficit every year, and raised your taxes to historic heights last May. It seems they're only good at numbers when they're figuring out how much money they can get out of you.

The Bell, California City Council did this, too. They're in the slammer right now. Montgomery County's Council? Still on the street, and still on the take.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Are some MoCo Councilmembers seeking an end-run around term limits? MD House bill could do it

Four Montgomery County Councilmembers will be unable to run for reelection in 2018, thanks to voters overwhelmingly approving term limits in last November's election. Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice can only run once more in 2018, and if they win a third term, will have to step down in 2022.

Or will they?

Montgomery County's House delegation in Annapolis has quietly introduced a bill that would stagger terms of the County Council. Some seats would be elected in gubernatorial years, and others in presidential years. Presidential year elections strongly favor incumbents and establishment candidates, which is why municipal incumbents financially-backed by developers and other special interests often press for their towns and cities to move their elections to presidential years.

Voters in presidential years are greater in number, but studies and voting results have shown they are less attuned to local politics than those who turn out in off-year elections. Those pressing for local offices to be elected in presidential years will often turn that fact on its head, and claim that invisible force fields are somehow preventing large numbers of voters from reaching the polls in off-year elections, a farcical claim. 

The fact is, people who don't care about what's going on at the county level, don't vote in off-year elections. Having more low-information voters who literally don't care about the local outcomes deciding our County elections is a terrible idea.

But put that debate aside for a moment.

This bill could be abused by a County Council and political machine still smarting from being totally repudiated by their constituents in the last election in three ways:

First, and most appallingly, the way this bill is written would leave the door open for the County Council itself to extend an American Idol-esque "save" to colleagues of their choice in 2022. Riemer, Navarro and Rice could actually vote themselves a two-year extension in office until 2024. Or would they still get the boot, and whoever runs for the seats that will be voted on in 2024 will only get a two-year term? The problem is, the bill doesn't say.

Second, the bill's language allows the Council to determine which seats would move to presidential year elections. You can be sure, for example, that the all-Democratic County Council would want upcounty District 2 to move to presidential years, as that district has a much higher percentage of Republicans than the others.

Third, County Councilmembers ousted by term limits in 2022 wouldn't have to cool off for four years before running again, as voters clearly said they should. Instead, they could try to get back on in two years.

All three of these abuses would be clear moves to subvert the will of the voters in 2016. Of course, those among the majority who voted against the ambulance fee probably wouldn't be shocked.

There is no mass support or demand from the people for a switch to staggered elections. No meaningful effort has been made by either the Council or the delegation to alert or educate the public that a major change like this is being proposed. It's a change clearly designed to favor incumbents and candidates of the political machine.

This bill should either be edited to give the Council less leeway to abuse the process, or be tabled. In the meantime, watch this effort carefully. A public hearing is scheduled in Annapolis before the Ways and Means Committee on the bill this Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM.

If, like most people, you will be unable to travel to Annapolis midday on a weekday, please use this contact information to tell our delegates and senators (and the members of the Ways and Means Committee) to table House Bill 348.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Victim in Montgomery Village shooting homicide identified, police locate wounded 2nd victim

Montgomery County Police have identified the male victim in Friday's fatal shooting in Montgomery Village. Wassi Harron Raheem Young, 20, of Vermont Avenue in Hyattsville was likely not a random victim, police say. Young and an unidentified 23-year-old male may have agreed to meet the shooter(s) in the 8500 block of Hawk Run Terrace, detectives believe.

Police learned of the second victim when he was admitted to an unidentified local hospital suffering from gunshot wounds. After interviewing him, detectives determined he had been shot in the same Montgomery Village incident.

Detectives say they will not divulge any additional information at this time, "due to the ongoing investigation." However, they are still seeking information from the public about this homicide. If you have any, contact the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s).  Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Montgomery Village shooting under investigation as homicide

A shooting in the 8500 block of Hawk Run Terrace in Montgomery Village yesterday that left one man dead is being investigated as a homicide by Montgomery County Police detectives. Fire and rescue and police personnel responded to the scene Friday around 2:02 PM, and found a male victim suffering from a gunshot wound in a parking lot.

The victim died at the scene as a result of his wounds, police said. No motive for the shooting is known at this time. It is unknown at this time if the incident was gang-related, but police said there is no danger to the public at large.

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070. For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s). Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Friday, February 10, 2017

MoCo out of the game again as 150 manufacturing jobs leave MD for VA

Put another mark in the "loss" column for moribund Montgomery County. idX Corporation, an international firm that manufactures custom retail store displays for everything from mom-and-pops to big box stores, was seeking a new home for its Columbia, MD factory. The Montgomery County Council never expressed any public interest in wooing idX. Virginia did.

150 skilled manufacturing jobs are now going to leapfrog Montgomery County, and land at a shuttered General Motors plant in Fredericksburg. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe approved a $400,000 grant, and idX will invest $7.2 million. McAuliffe took a victory lap on Tuesday, celebrating as "we welcome another impressive international manufacturing company to our corporate roster.”

Rubbing extra salt in the wound, is that the factory is located next door to a hip craft brewery, ritzy Fredericksburg Country Club, and a vibrant residential neighborhood. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett laments that we are becoming a "bedroom community," forcing our residents to commute to job centers elsewhere. At the same moment, Spotsylvania County Administrator Mark B. Taylor is praising the arrival of "150 skilled jobs. Good local jobs like these are opportunities for some of our talented Spotsylvania workforce to reduce their commutes – and that’s good for their families, and good for our community.” 

Ouch.

Just to dwell on the complete humiliation of our impotent Montgomery County Council for a moment longer, think about what a bomb Councilmember Hans Riemer's failed "nighttime economy" initiative was, with 9 night clubs shuttering after just a few years of his "leadership." One of the only two 24-hour restaurants closed, and businesses cut back late-night hours. Attempts to attract a craft brewery to downtown Bethesda stalled, and Riemer and his political-operative-turned-$150K-County-employee ran 96% of food trucks out of the county or out-of-business altogether.
New neighbors - 150 skilled
jobs are moving from MD to
11032 Tidewater Trail, which is
next to a hip craft brewery
Now look next door to this Fredericksburg factory, at what Maltese Brewing Company is doing there. Their brewery and beer garden are open to the public, and there are events like comedy shows, Ugly Sweater Christmas parties and breakfasts. And...a regular roster of food trucks. Yesterday, you could have been enjoying their new Coffee Brown and English IPA on a warm afternoon in the beer garden. You can be sure idX employees will appreciate this nearby amenity, as skilled workers pump spending money into local businesses.

The Council could have come up with a bold vision for the future of the River Road industrial area during the rewrite of the Westbard sector plan, to maximize corporate office space, research facilities and skilled manufacturing for aerospace and tech firms. They didn't, instead voting unanimously for a series of boxes filled with over 3000 new residents, whose cars will hit River Road each morning to reach their jobs elsewhere.

In addition to a superior business climate, with lower taxes and fewer regulations, the Spotsylvania County site is also located near major highways, including I-95. The seller touted "excellent interstate highway connectivity in all directions." Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Council defiantly refuses to finish our master plan highway system, and is trying to reduce speed limits to jam traffic even more.

The 77.10 acre Frederickburg site also has its own rail spur that connects to the CSX railroad for shipping purposes. This is something we could offer to private space and aerospace manufacturers at the current Montgomery County Fairgrounds site, but you can bet our current elected officials will try to make that land residential instead when it is sold in the future. In fact, the only use the Council has made of land along the CSX mainline to Chicago so far is a plant that turns trash into energy. Which was on fire for about a month recently, as I recall. Nice. But, hey, pretty appropriate when you have a County Council that's the equivalent of a dumpster fire.

Montgomery County was the only DC-area jurisdiction to suffer a net loss of private sector jobs since 2000, including the loss of over 2000 retail jobs. While our elected officials continue a super-low-energy style of "leadership," lurching from one reactionary and tardy response to failure (like our 911 system and Flower Branch apartments explosion, government failures that directly caused 9 of their constitutents to die) to another, jurisdictions around us are moving forward.

“Spotsylvania County is an ideal location for a growing business, which idX’s decision reaffirms,” VA Senator Ryan T. McDougle said Tuesday. Why isn't Montgomery County? Throw the bums out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MoCo traffic jams worsening, new study shows (Photos)

Typical morning rush
conditions on southbound
I-270 this morning: RED
You know traffic is getting worse when even a Montgomery County government report admits it is. While traffic and intersection tests utilized by Montgomery County planners are notoriously and laughably skewed to make things appear better than they are, the latest one finds drivers are crawling even more slowly than they were six years ago. The Montgomery County Planning Department's 2017 Mobility Assessment Staff Report shows you are moving, on average, 4 MPH slower around the county than you were in 2011. "Unexpected delays and peak congestion are increasing," the report says.

These results - and remember, the real conditions are even worse than they can appear under the lax tests applied for this study, and traffic has slowed much more than 4 MPH on many routes; 4 MPH is the average reduction in speed countywide - clearly indicate that our elected officials' current transit-only strategy has been a failure.

In fact, the study found that Ride On bus ridership has declined 7% since 2010, and Metro ridership within Montgomery County declined 3% over that same period. Metrobus is the lone bright spot. Ridership of Metrobus has increased "just under eleven percent" since 2010. That may be partially because of people fleeing Metro along the major corridors where Metrobus dominates, but certainly positive news in an otherwise bleak period for transit.
What happens when the
Montgomery County Council
approves massive development
in Clarksburg and Damascus,
but doesn't build the
M-83 Highway and
Damascus Bypass
Interestingly, just as planning commissioners and County Councilmembers are saying jamming the maximum development downcounty as possible (and we're not talking about transit-oriented smart growth, but transit deserts like Westbard) is a great idea, the report found that traffic jams have increased the most...downcounty. Oops.

So, let's get this straight: Transit use is clearly trending downward. Cars are moving slower than they were before "smart growth." We were promised exactly the opposite would happen by these same county officials. It didn't.

Amazingly, the Planning Board and County Council just approved the addition of over 3000 people to the Westbard sector plan area along River Road. Yet this latest study shows that the intersection of River Road and Western Avenue is number 3 on the top 10 bottlenecks in Montgomery County! And they've said they have no plans to increase capacity on River Road. This is planning malpractice of the highest order. Criminally, the report does not give a congestion map for River Road between the Beltway and Western - was that because it would show a red line? You betcha.
The County Council has
designated this completely
jammed segment of
Connecticut Avenue as a place
where...thousands more
automobile commuters should
be added!

Check out the red-lined severe congestion during the evening rush on Connecticut Avenue through Chevy Chase Lake - where the County Council recently approved thousands of new housing units. This is unbelievable. What are these people smoking?
Will it be better in
the morning? Uh, no
The Level 5 [traffic]storm
known as MD 355
northbound in
Bethesda

Are we ready for
thousands more cars
in downtown Bethesda
in the morning? Nope

"Kill me now"
- George Costanza

Considering how much growth is coming to the MD 355 (Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridor) in the next decade, it should be a red flag that four of the top ten bottlenecks in the county are along that corridor. The others are New Hampshire Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Georgia Avenue. We can now see the impact of never completing the Northwest Freeway, North Central Freeway and Northern Parkway, as those were supposed to take through-traffic off of those north-south commuter routes.
Aspen Hill is moving
much more slowly;
the top purple number is 2017 speed,
the bottom green is 2011

What happens when you don't
build the Rockville Freeway, Part I

What happens when you don't
build the Rockville Freeway, Part II
(and delay Montrose Parkway East)

Heavy traffic jams shown on Randolph Road and Norbeck Road, as well as sizable decreases in travel speed since 2011 along those east-west corridors, show the impact of failing to build the Rockville Freeway and Montrose Parkway East along the Rockville Facility right-of-way.

In short, we are being led by very stupid people.

None of this is to say we cannot have growth and greater density near Metro stations in our urban areas. What it is saying is that our elected officials have failed to provide the infrastructure necessary to handle that growth. And it is forcing us, as voters, to ask ourselves how much longer we'll allow these clowns to get away with it.