With Friends Like Beryl Feinberg, Who Needs Enemies?

In Part 1, I explained how Councilmember Beryl Feinberg was the single person most responsible for the Mayor and Council’s aligning Rockville’s APFS school standards with Montgomery County’s this term.  Here in Part 2, you’ll learn what happened between the time when she (a) forced the issue but then (b) voted against the changes.

Beryl, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, and I worked intensely and closely (either in pairs or over email, always careful to stick to the letter and spirit of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act) to figure out the best strategy for getting the measure passed.

In the weeks leading up to the planned February 9 vote, things looked good.  Julie was on board to pass the changes, and though Beryl had gone her own way several times on the schedule – adding another public hearing and delaying the final vote until February 9 – every time she did, she absolutely promised me that no matter what, she would be with me on the final vote. I believed her.

gazette.op.ed

This is the Gazette op-ed Beryl and I wrote. Click on it for the full-size version.

For example, Beryl and I drafted an op-ed to pitch to the Gazette in favor of the changes, and she wrote and edited the piece with me for the better part of a week.  On the evening of Dec. 11, Beryl wrote to me about her efforts to get even more signers for the piece. But the next morning at a legislative breakfast, Beryl pulled me aside and asked that her name not go on the article, saying she didn’t want to be out in front so publicly on the issue.  I wasn’t super-pleased about this, but didn’t have much choice but to agree; those opposing our position were writing a counterpoint essay to ours, and we couldn’t leave our space blank.  And I was mollified because Beryl, once again, absolutely promised to vote for the APFS changes on the final vote. I believed her.

Beryl continued to make those firm promises to me as late as two weeks before the vote.  And because of Beryl’s rock-solid promises, I continued to go out on a limb for her, taking the arrows that otherwise would have been aimed at her. As I was a second-term councilmember who had won significantly more votes than first-time candidate Beryl had in the 2013 election, the thought was that I had a little more political capital to spend.  And to get the win and to protect my colleague, I was happy to take those arrows.

But then something happened. I wrote an email to Beryl and Julie on the evening of February 4 to wrap up our legislative planning. Nothing but radio silence from Beryl. Julie, concerned, wrote to Beryl two days later and said she’d give her a call the next day to discuss.  Beryl stopped responding to our e-mails and calls.

Concern turned to alarm when Beryl showed up at Julie’s baby shower on Sunday, February 8, the day before the scheduled vote.  After Beryl and I chitchatted for awhile about other less-pressing City business (Julie was elsewhere), I asked her about the next evening’s AFPS vote.  Beryl’s tone shifted abruptly.  She told me that she didn’t want to discuss City business at a social event, ignoring the fact that we had been doing just that for the previous 15 minutes.  When I asked her flat-out if she would vote for the measure the next evening, she refused to answer.

At the next night’s Mayor and Council meeting, Beryl kicked off our discussion with a prepared speech about how she wanted us to wait for County Councilmember Roger Berliner’s big public discussion of school capacity issues, scheduled for March. Taking her and others at their word that a delay was all they wanted, I pulled the measure and asked that it come up again after Councilmember Berliner’s meeting.  I wrote a note on Facebook the next day:

fb.post

But it soon became clear that Beryl was indeed no longer supporting the measure, and had broken all the promises she had made to me. She threw me under the bus quite publicly in comments to The Sentinel, not just confirming that she had changed her mind, but actually confirming that she was breaking public and private promises in doing so, and then criticizing me for pursuing the course she had insisted upon:

But Feinberg said some parts of Moore’s Facebook post were inaccurate and changing the APFS was never her top priority. Although she said during the campaign a year and a half ago that she would support changing the city standards to align with the county’s, she had not spoken publicly about the issue once elected. She also said she told Moore privately she supported him “several months ago” but changed her mind after going through the public hearing process.

“I was very proud of that vote (the vote to add a second public hearing) because I thought it improved the process. (Moore) was the one who was only looking at letting us just get this resolved very quickly,” Feinberg said. “His error is that he was not really serving the city by refusing to hear all the comments and I think that’s what you have to do as an elected official.”…

In response, Moore said he believed Feinberg would keep her word when the issue came back to the council for a vote until he heard otherwise from her directly, even given her statements Monday night. He said Feinberg had not communicated with him prior to Monday’s meeting and did not tell him she was going to change her vote.

“She gave me her assurance she would be with me on the final vote and that’s the reason I was out there in front on her behalf for months,” Moore said. “I believe her to be an honorable person and I will believe she is breaking her word on this when I see it.”

It became obvious that I was wrong: Beryl Feinberg is not a woman of her word. I regret making the mistake of trusting her. She annihilated her relationship with those of us who had busted our tails in 2013 to get her elected.  Beryl has now completed her journey of political expedience by aligning herself closely with the same Mayor she has spoken of so disparagingly – publicly and privately – for years.

Only Beryl knows for sure why she did it. Her explanation in switching her vote is that she heard things at the public hearings that changed her mind. But she has never specified exactly, precisely what those facts were that caused her to totally reverse course.

My best guess is that she got spooked by those in the West End who told her she would lose her seat if she supported the APFS changes, and thus decided to betray all the promises she had made to her friends on the issue she had championed and insisted that they take up.

One thing is for sure, though: When Beryl said at the WECA debate this week that “Being consistent on the issues and keeping campaign promises is ‘something to celebrate, not denigrate,'” she must have been talking about someone else, because Beryl has neither been consistent on the issues nor kept her campaign promises on the most important issue the Council tackled this term.

Beryl walked away from Team Rockville and is running as an independent this time around, and has been proclaiming that she didn’t want to have to pass a “litmus test” to remain part of the team that had supported her in 2013. Team Rockville did indeed have and still does indeed have a litmus test for its members.  But it’s not issue-based.  The requirement is that you live up to your word.  Beryl, sadly, completely failed that test.

In the 2015 election, Rockville’s voters will have to decide if they want to return someone to office who betrayed her principles and blindsided her friends in an attempt to save her political skin. Beryl Feinberg has lost my vote.

Print Friendly

You May Thank Beryl Feinberg for the Changes to Rockville’s APFS

In her effort to win re-election to the Rockville City Council, Beryl Feinberg made a pretty remarkable statement about her ‘No’ vote on the changes to the City’s Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) at the Chamber of Commerce debate last week: “[I]t was the developers who were really for the APFS changing.”

Actually, that’s not the case.  There is one person in this City who was more for the APFS changing than anyone else. That person is more responsible than anyone else for the passage of the APFS changes. That person is not a developer. That person is Beryl Feinberg.

Let’s review.  During the 2013 campaign, candidate Beryl Feinberg took a consistent and strong stance in favor of moving the city’s school standards to match the County’s. For example: “I would like to align the City’s APFO closer to the County’s,” Feinberg said in an October 2013 televised debate.

Whether to change the city’s school standards came up for consideration in Fall 2014. I favored moving forward with changes this term, but was willing to listen to arguments otherwise.  Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr expressed the quite reasonable concern that it might be too late in the term to address the issue well.

But Councilmember Feinberg was absolutely adamant that the Mayor and Council move ahead with changing Rockville’s APFS school standards to match Montgomery County’s this term. She even told me and her other colleagues that she would raise the issue of changing the city’s school standards and move it forward even if she were the only person on the Council who favored doing so. She also refused to consider any alternative to changing to anything but the County’s standards.

This put Councilmember Palakovich Carr and me in a really tough spot –  we thought it was vital to the City’s future to pass the changes, and we did not want to be in the position of having to oppose them just because we didn’t like the timing of the effort.

So we moved ahead on the schedule that Councilmember Feinberg insisted upon: Launching the effort in November, holding one public hearing, and holding a vote in late January.

After a few twists and turns, this Mayor and Council voted on June 1 to align the City’s AFPS school standards with Montgomery County’s. Because she forced the issue to move forward this term, Beryl Feinberg is more responsible than anyone else for Rockville’s aligning its AFPS school standards with the County’s.  Be sure to thank her the next time you see her!


Of course, that’s not every bit of the story, is it, now… Councilmember Feinberg didn’t vote in favor of the changes this past June 1; the measure succeeded 3-2 with my vote and the votes of Councilmember Virginia Onley and Councilmember Palakovich Carr.

The rest of the story is kind of interesting in a train-wreck kind of way, and it shows why Beryl Feinberg does not deserve to win re-election.  I’ll tell it next time.

 

Print Friendly

Testimony on the Confederate Statue…

Here’s my testimony to the Rockville Historic District Commission tonight.  I’m delighted that later in the evening, the HDC voted 4-0 to approve Montgomery County’s request to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse:

Thank you for allowing me to speak on this issue tonight. My name is Tom Moore. I serve as an elected representative of the citizens of Rockville on the Rockville City Council. I appear before you tonight in my capacity as an individual Councilmember, and not as a representative of the body as a whole.

I speak tonight in strong support of Montgomery County’s application to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse.

The application before you tonight regarding the Confederate Statue is different than most that you see. This is not a homeowner trying to replace a roof on a historic house. This is not someone trying to tear down an historic building.

In organizing my thoughts to bring them to you tonight, I took a look at the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitation Standards, which you use to evaluate applications.

This reminded me of how different a matter this really is. How different the basic purpose of the application is. The usual purpose of an application before the HDC is the “rehabilitation” of a building. The federal standards define “rehabilitation” as, quote,

the process of returning a building or buildings to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient use while preserving those portions and features of the building and its site and environment which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values as determined by the Secretary

…unquote. That’s not what’s going on here, and I would caution you against relying on your standards in your usual manner.

The second standard, which is one of those at issue tonight, states,

The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

It’s important to keep the purpose of this application in mind as you consider how this standard might apply.

The change the County proposes is not an attempt to return the Red Brick Courthouse to a state of utility. Montgomery County is not trying to cheap out on repairing the windows or the roof. The County is not trying to tear down a great old building because it wants to put up some ugly new thing. I’m sure the County has come before this Commission many times with applications that do seek to do those things, and I hope you gave those applications an appropriately skeptical look.

But the County’s purpose tonight in asking to remove this statue is very different. It is to right the wrong caused by the very presence of this statue on the courthouse grounds. To help end the pain that Confederate symbols stir in too many of our citizens.

I ask you to weigh the importance and significance of both of the symbols involved here – the Confederate Statue and the Red Brick Courthouse itself. This statue soils our historic courthouse’s promise of equal justice for all.

There is no place at a courthouse in the United States of America for a statue calling those who fought to preserve the profoundly unequal institution of slavery ‘heroes,’ for a statue asking us to love forever those who killed hundreds of thousands of United States Army soldiers in an attempt to preserve that profoundly unequal system.

As the President said in his eulogy in Charleston, removing Confederate symbols “would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought – the cause of slavery – was wrong.”

Again, this is not a matter of whether approving a metal roof on a house in the West End is better than approving asphalt shingles.

This is a matter of who we are as a City. The presence of this statue in Rockville’s downtown distorts Rockville’s role in the Civil War. It reflects exceptionally poorly on this City for us to host a statue proclaiming undying love for the Confederate Army. That was not Rockville then, and it is certainly not Rockville now.

I ask that you support Montgomery County’s application to move this statue from its deeply inappropriate current site.  Doing so will not erase our history, nor will it fix the problems of race that still plague this nation. But it would be, as the President said, “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”

This Commission, above all others in this City, should strive to provide an honest accounting of our history. Please do so tonight.

Thank you.

Print Friendly

Campaign Announcement

After much soul-searching, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Rockville City Council this fall. I have cherished the privilege of serving the people of Rockville on their Council. But my family has paid a high price while I have campaigned and governed virtually nonstop over the past six years, and it is time for me to turn my attentions homeward.

Though I am keenly disappointed that my elected service must draw to a close for the time being, I take great satisfaction in what I have helped accomplish in office: 

  • We ended our downtown’s disastrous decade-long building moratorium;
  • We saved an entire affordable neighborhood from developers who would have priced hundreds of working families out of their homes;
  • We adopted a tough City ethics law; and
  • We protected Rockville residents’ privacy by placing sharp limits on the data the government keeps on our movements.

My hard-won victories on these and other issues leave the City in a much better place than when I joined the Council. We can better protect our existing neighborhoods and better create great new ones. We can better compete with neighboring jurisdictions for residents and businesses and investment. The tough decisions I made on budgets and utility rates will maintain our infrastructure and strong City services for years to come.

I am surpassingly grateful for the efforts of Rockville’s superb City staff, whose round-the-clock efforts have made my job significantly easier every moment I have served in office.

You should know that I am very excited about some good folks who are preparing to run for office in Rockville this year. You will be hearing much more from them in the coming weeks. Keeping Rockville such a wonderful place to live, work, and enjoy life requires dynamic, experienced, and forward-looking leadership. We will have the chance for just that this fall. Stay tuned!

Finally, I am deeply grateful to the hundreds of friends and neighbors who have worked so hard over the years to send me to office so I could help fulfill our shared vision for a progressive, efficient, fair, safe, and neighborly Rockville. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make our great City even better.

Print Friendly

Sentinel’s plagiarism response: ‘Move on’

Click here to ask the Sentinel to appoint a third party to investigate its serial cartoon plagiarism!

After several weeks of silence from the Sentinel’s corporate offices about the plagiarism scandal in which the newspaper has enmeshed itself, a letter arrived yesterday from Sentinel owner Lynn Kapiloff. Its message: “[I]t is time to move on.”

I had written to Ms. Kapiloff in the hopes that the publishing company would hold its editorial staff publicly accountable for its actions (which, at latest count, amounts to publishing 81 of its 83 editorial cartoons since October 2013 with fully or partially plagiarized content).

Public accountability does not appear to be forthcoming. The employee who knew about the plagiarism for at least six months before stopping it, Brian Karem, remains editor of the Sentinel; he produced this week’s issue. In her reply, Ms. Kapiloff reduced the concerns I brought to her as “beliefs” and “opinions” that she disagreed with.

In the letter I am mailing to Ms. Kapiloff today, I write:

Let me be clear. I have not expressed to you my “beliefs” about what the Sentinel knew, nor have I made “assertions” with which you may simply disagree. I conveyed to you the fact that the Sentinel’s editor, Brian Karem, knew of the serial plagiarism occurring in his newspaper for six solid months before he did anything about it. I am not relying on any interpretation of facts or statements in relaying this information to you. I absolutely know that Mr. Karem knew of his newspaper’s plagiarism and did nothing about it for six months because I told him, face to face, on Nov. 29, 2014, that his cartoonist was stealing artwork from the Internet, and Mr. Karem chose to continue to publish plagiarized work in the Sentinel from the same contributor until at least as late as May 14, 2015. Your letter does not acknowledge this other than to obliquely dismiss it as my “opinion.”

Ms. Kapiloff wraps up her reply with: “The Sentinel is handling the situation and it is time to move on.”  I disagree.  This response boils down to “trust us” in a matter centering on a serious breach of public trust committed by the Sentinel. I would not have accepted “trust us” back when I was a reporter, and I sincerely doubt any Sentinel reporters would accept “trust us” from anyone, either. I do not accept it now.

Enough is enough.  I call upon the management of Sentinel Newspapers to appoint a neutral third party to investigate the actions of The Montgomery County Sentinel’s editorial staff in the matter of its serial cartoon plagiarism and release a public report detailing its findings. 

Click here to add your voice to the call, and be sure to share it on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are the letters: June 9 letter to L. Kapiloff | June 13 reply | June 19 letter to L. Kapiloff

Print Friendly

The Sentinel has been stealing artwork!

Updates
The Washington Post: "Cartoon plagiarism and the case of the unknown Maryland cartoonist"
Bethesda Magazine: "Rockville Council Member Accuses Newspaper Of Stealing Political Cartoons"
Daily Cartoonist: "Sentinel Newspapers Apologizes for Plagiarized Cartoons; May Continue Using Cartoonist"
iMediaEthics: "Cartoon Plagiarism in Maryland Newspaper"
Help crowdsource the plagiarism detection by clicking here!

The Montgomery Sentinel has been systematically stealing artwork for its editorial cartoons, butchering it, removing the original artist’s signature, and having someone else sign it as their own.

Now, I wasn’t 100% sure whether this was the result of some sort of licensing arrangement I had never heard of, or if cartoonists see this sort of thing all the time.

Neither appears to be the case. I alerted several cartoonists to what the Sentinel is doing with their artwork, and they were uniformly shocked.

I received this from cartoonist Mike Shapiro:

Tom,
Thanks for alerting me to this incredibly odd situation. I’ve been working as a cartoonist since ’87 and this is one if the craziest things I’ve seen. I’ve identified 11 other cartoonists whose work Mr Charles is using. He also has taken a few of my characters and put them in a cartoon with the work of a colleague who may, or may not, be amused.I appreciate the heads-up. I’ll contact the other cartoonists whose work I’ve spotted. Perhaps if enough of us contact the editor he’ll realize this is not okay.
Best,
Mike Shapiro

And this from Pulitzer Prizewinner Walt Handelsman:

Wow!!! Thanks. That is crazy. Never had that happen before! I will follow up and let you know what happened. Thanks again.

I used a simple Google reverse image search to confirm and document the thefts.  A few examples:

1. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the January 9, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…

SENTINEL_2014-01-09-G_Rockville_Classroom

…is a mangled knockoff of the Jeff Parker cartoon that Cagle Cartoons sells here:
10873_600
2. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the March 27, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…

SENTINEL_2014-03-27_Developers_Choice

…is a mangled knockoff of the Walt Handelsman cartoon found here:

08-29_Ax_EditToon_Wheel_of_Misfortune_t770x495

3. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the September 4, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 
SENTINEL_2014-09-04_Achilles_Heel

…is a flipped and mangled knockoff of a Chris Riddell cartoon (found here):

Chris-Riddell-18-Septembe-002

4. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the July 31, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…
SENTINEL_2014-07-31_The_Emperors_New_Clothes
…is a mangled knockoff of the cartoon that CartoonStock sells here:
'... And this guy in the fancy suit is a big fan of my work, too.'
5. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the November 14, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 

SENTINEL_2013-11-14_WEB_Passed_the_Bar

…is a knockoff of the Mike Shapiro cartoon (found here):

W6731

6. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the June 5, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 

SENTINEL_2014-06-05_Fox_Watching_the_Henhouse

…is a mangled knockoff of a David Willson cartoon (found here):
01-11-98webtoon-thumb
These were just the thefts I found using Google’s reverse image search.  Other cartoons, which feature artwork stolen from a number of different sources, would have to be tracked down another way.  For instance, the figure to the right in this cartoon:
SENTINEL_2014-07-17_Pursuing_Other_Opportunities
…is clearly recognizable as the work of New Yorker cartoonist Leo Cullum, which takes some nerve to pass off as one’s own.  But because it’s several artists’ work pasted together, a reverse image search is not helpful.The Sentinel’s full cartoon archive is here.  A .zip file of all their online cartoons is here.I will note for the record that I am the target of many of the Sentinel’s cartoons.  I don’t mind being razzed in political cartoons, even razzed hard – as a former journalist and political history buff, I wear it as a badge of honor.But even those fully protected by the First Amendment have to play by the rules. I am far less offended as the target of these cartoons than I am as a guy who spent a lot of time in his 20s making sure Congressional Quarterly’s publications had full rights to every scrap we ever published.

The Sentinel’s editors can take all the hard shots at me they want to (and I celebrate their right to do so), but they had better not steal when they do so.  It’s breaking the law and it hurts the profession.  I am truly offended by the Sentinel’s laziness and its disregard for the intellectual property of its journalism colleagues.

I informed the Sentinel’s editor, Brian Karem, in person several months ago that his newspaper is stealing art from all over the Internet and passing it off as its own; he seemed unconcerned and said he’d maybe mention something to “William Charles” about it.

Usually, newspapers excel at shining sunlight on issues; in this case, this newspaper needs some light shined on its thieving ways.  I realize it’s tricky, because newspapers don’t ordinarily like to call their competitors to account. So sometimes a blog posting will have to do.

Print Friendly

Proposal: A Truly Multi-Modal Rockville Pike

pikeplanscreenshotRockville’s Mayor and Council has been studying the Planning Commission’s draft Rockville Pike Plan for months, and we have heard testimony from dozens of interested citizens and landowners on how we might best approach the corridor’s future.

By and large, I have been pleased with the Planning Commission’s vision for the future of the Pike. But I have had a concern from the start.  I was not able to fully articulate it before our months-long study of the draft Plan; I can now do so.  It is in the Plan’s insufficient embrace of multi-modal transportation.  While the cross-section proposed by the Planning Commission includes dedicated lanes for mass transit,  local lanes to improve vehicular flow, excellent bike lanes, and much-improved sidewalks, the Plan’s overall vision of possible modes of transportation is too cramped.

Today, I am proposing an alternative cross-section for the careful consideration of the public, the Planning Commission, and my colleagues on the Mayor and Council.  Details may be found here: Pike Plan – Multimodal Focus.

Print Friendly

Rockville Embraces Vision Zero

I’m delighted that the Mayor and Council last night adopted my suggestion that we include “Vision Zero” principles in the Rockville Pike Plan.  Vision Zero is a policy that countries, states, and local governments can establish that sets a goal of zero fatalities and injuries on their roadways.  Over time, this will save the lives of Rockville’s pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.

At its heart, Vision Zero shifts the responsibility for road incidents from drivers to the road system itself:

Vision Zero requires a paradigm shift in addressing the issue of road safety… It requires abandoning the traditional economic model where road safety is provided at reasonable cost and the traditional transport model in which safety must be balanced against mobility. At the core of the Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of human beings. Vision Zero promotes a road system where crash energy cannot exceed human tolerance. While it is accepted that crashes in the transport system occur due to human error, Vision Zero requires no crash should be more severe than the tolerance of humans. The blame for fatalities in the road system is assigned to the failure of the road system rather than the road user. 

 

The concept first originated in Sweden in 1997.  Its results have been good:

Fatalities involving unprotected pedestrians in Sweden have fallen by almost 50% in the last five years. The number of children killed in traffic accidents has also been cut. In 2008 the first traffic death involving a child did not occur until 22 October that year.

 

Results in the U.S. have been very good as well:

The plan cites successes from several U.S. states that have implemented similar approaches with dramatic results, including a 43% reduction in traffic fatalities in Minnesota, a 48% reduction in Utah, and a 40% decrease in Washington State.

This report from the Swedish Road Administration (on the United Nations website) has some great visualizations of the problems that Vision Zero intends to address.

New York City has embraced Vision Zero wholeheartedly (here’s a New Republic article about it); Mayor Bowser has also announced plans to commit the District of Columbia to Vision Zero.   Each jurisdiction implements the vision in its own way; NYC has a focus on bus drivers and improvement of some archaic city and state laws that would be inappropriate for Rockville; the idea is to chart our own course in a way that will best get us to our goal.

The vision of keeping every adult and child safe on Rockville’s roadways is not controversial, nor will setting this goal ever obligate the City to spend money a future Mayor and Council doesn’t want to.  What it does do is take Rockville’s already-impressive efforts in making our streets as safe as possible and focus it on the goal of reducing fatalities and injuries on our roadways to zero.  We, and future mayors and councils, can do what we want, but our actions — appropriately — will be viewed through the prism of whether a proposed action helps reduce roadway fatalities and injuries.

Print Friendly

On supporting the Pike’s local lanes.

After a lot of thought about the local lanes that the Planning Commission has proposed for the Rockville Pike master plan, I have decided to support including the lanes in the plan.  Here’s my thinking.

In a nutshell, the Pike cross-section proposed by the Planning Commission would keep vehicle capacity where it is, which I think is appropriate. Over time, we’re going to use our cars less, but there are going to be more of us living here, so it balances out.  The proposed plan makes room for bus rapid transit, which I think is great. It creates a pleasant space for bicyclists and pedestrians to actually use the Pike, and not just hop from place to place in their cars. And the local lanes make the driving, the biking, and the walking safer, which is absolutely key for me.

The proposed 252-foot cross-section is a reduction from the current 1989 plan’s 270 feet. Between the BRT, the bike lanes, the green spaces, and the wide sidewalks, it provides about as much space for cars as we do now.  But many other uses are provided for as well.

The Planning Commission has worked on this for five years. They have no financial stake in where this goes; they’re just trying to do what’s best for the City.  The City’s planning staff has also been working on this for five years.  (Click here for the staff’s summary of the options before the Mayor and Council).  They also have no financial stake in where this goes.  Neither does your Mayor and Council.  Our only goal is a safe and prosperous Rockville in the future.

Those who do have a financial stake in the success of the parcels they own would like to see the local lanes removed so they have more room to build their projects and can make more money.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’d argue that these developers also have a pretty good interest in seeing Rockville be safe and prosperous over the long haul.  But they have not launched this battle over the future of the City.  If the local lanes didn’t hurt the developers’ bottom line, I sincerely doubt they would have spent as much time and money as they have done to try to get them stripped out.

I kept an open mind on this for a long time.  I’ve talked to everyone who wanted to talk to me, I’ve weighed all the information, I’ve used my judgment, and I have decided that the local lanes should be included in the Rockville Pike Master Plan as the Planning Commission has recommended.  No one would ever accuse me of blindly accepting whatever our Planning Commission says, but on this issue I think they have gotten it right.

Print Friendly

City staff on the options for the width of the Pike

In response to a citizen’s inquiry, Rockville’s Chief of Long Range Planning, David Levy, explained in great detail what’s going on with the proposed width of Rockville Pike.  It’s a good summary of the choices before us:

Thank you for your email and request, which was forwarded to me by the City’s Clerk’s office.  I am one of the City staffers working on the Rockville Pike Plan.

We appreciate that there is a great deal of confusion in the community regarding this topic. I will do my best to explain here. If you have the appetite for a much more detailed discussion of the topic, or of more comparison documents (there are many!!!), I can point you to places on the City’s Web site where you can find information or I can send them to you directly.

In short, there are three distinct “cross-sections” (which are plans for the road area) that are important to understand.

 

1) Current (1989) Plan:  There is an existing plan for the Rockville Plan corridor, which was adopted in 1989 and still stands. It establishes a “cross-section” distance of  270 feet  between the buildings on opposite sides of the Pike. It includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, and other components.

2) Planning Commission June 2014 Draft:  Rockville’s Planning Commission, through many work sessions, developed a proposed revised cross-section, which is the version that the Mayor and Council are considering now. It has a proposed cross-section distance of  252 feet , which includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, dedicated bike lanes and dedicated lanes for bus transit.

3) Narrower Cross-Section:  Some public testimony has proposed narrowing the Pike even further than the current Planning Commission draft. Two particular notions have been presented – a) removing dedicated lanes for bus transit, or b) removing the “service drives” (or access roads).  A proposal from B.F. Saul, for example, has proposed adopting one of the two cross-sections from Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan, which has approved a cross-section distance of 182 feet , without service drives.


I will do my best to explain clearly some key differences among the three of them.

Current (1989) Rockville Pike Plan

The current (1989) plan width along the Rockville Pike corridor is 270 feet, from building face to building face.  What that means is that new buildings are required to have a large portion of the building front at 135 feet from the center of the road. The new buildings that are under construction right now are meeting that requirement.

Within those 135 feet are the main travel lanes of the Pike, a service road, landscaping, and parking.

As you may have heard, the service roads are a big part of the discussion with the Mayor and Council, and community. The current (1989) plan re-affirmed the City policy, dating from the 1960s, that service roads be a part of the cross-section. Just to be clear, the service roads are the drive aisles and informal roads that run parallel to much of the Pike now and that allow for movement between sites without having to return to the main roadway. They are in front of Best Buy, Jos Banks, and many other places.

The service roads are not completed and are not quite “real” roads. Plus, there are gaps; they are not designed as consistently as would be preferred; and they do not all line up in the same location. Furthermore, in their current design, they do not make walking or biking on the Pike comfortable. However, these service roads do serve a function now by allowing local, inter-site movement and they do reduce the number of curb cuts that would otherwise be required if every property needed its own access point from the Pike. As a result, they help keep the right lane of the Pike flowing a bit better than if they were not there.

In their current (1989) form, their primary purpose is to separate traffic that is passing through from local traffic, to make the system function better for automobile travel. The new draft plan attempts to make them good for pedestrians and cyclists, as well.

Planning Commission June 2014 Draft Plan 

The Planning Commission June 2014 draft plan proposes that the overall width be  narrowed  from the existing policy of 270 feet to 252 feet.    Please understand, because there is much misunderstanding out there on this point – the Planning Commission draft is proposing to  narrow  the entire cross-section, not widen it, compared to the current (1989) plan and where buildings are currently being built.

The narrowing is permitted mostly by changing the approach to parking, with greater emphasis on reducing (but not eliminating) the amount of parking that would be in the front of buildings.

The other main changes that the Planning Commission draft proposes as compared to the 1989 plan are 1) to include two new lanes for bus rapid transit in the center of the Pike, and 2) to make design adjustments to the service lanes. The Mayor and Council has heard testimony in favor of and opposed to both of these.

The proposed new bus transit lanes widen the overall cross-section by approximately 35 feet, compared to not having them; though they are accommodated in the 252 feet.

The main proposed design changes to the service roads are 1) to make them one-way, in the same direction as the traffic to which it is adjacent; 2) add two-directional bike lanes (on both sides of the Pike); and 3) require 20-foot-wide sidewalks at the front of buildings, which would include the walking area and the area for trees, signs, outdoor seating, etc. Below is a diagram of the service road portion of the cross-section, as shown in the Planning Commission’s current draft. The main portion of the proposed new cross-section for the Pike is on the left of the picture.

37194080Narrower Cross-Sections

As mentioned above, there are two lines of testimony indicating how the cross-section could be narrowed. One of them proposes to eliminate the dedicated transit lanes. To date, the Mayor and Council have indicated their desire to retain that feature and preserve lanes for transit.

The other line, which is the active community discussion to which you referred in your email, proposes a cross-section of 182 feet, from building face to building face.  This proposal has been actively promoted by the B. F. Saul Company, in the context of their current concept for a development project near the Twinbrook Metro Station; and quite a few community members have testified to the Mayor and Council in favor of this approach, while others have testified in opposition.

The concept proposes that the City adopt one of the two cross-sections presented in Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan. That proposal includes sidewalks and bike lanes, and on-street parking on the main portion of the Pike, as illustrated below. It also includes dedicated transit lanes in the middle of the Pike. As such, the center portion of this cross-section, which includes three travel lanes on both sides and dedicated transit lanes, is the same as the Planning Commission’s draft.

The main difference from the Planning Commission draft, and the existing (1989) plan, is that this approach would eliminate the local service roads. By eliminating the service roads, the need for the buffer between main lanes and service roads (shown above in the prior section) is also eliminated.

The Mayor and Council have not yet made a decision as a body regarding whether to retain the service roads, though they did indicate their preference that there not be parallel parking on the main roadway.


37824982
This is fairly complex stuff and difficult to synthesize briefly in writing.  I would be more than happy to meet with you or discuss by phone, if that would help. 

Sincerely,

David Levy

David B. Levy
Chief of Long Range Planning and Redevelopment
Dept. of Community Planning and Development Services
City of Rockville
111 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850-2364
Desk: 240-314-8272
Main: 240-314-8200
dlevy@rockvillemd.gov

Print Friendly

The facts on Rockville’s failed school standards.

There’s a lot of noise out there on the issue of the City’s school standards, but here are the facts.

The effort to change the standards is being driven by members of the Mayor and Council who care deeply about our schools and our City.   As many of you know, Amy and I have two kids at RM, three at JW, and one at Beall. No one is more heavily invested in the success of our schools than we are.

Rockville’s APFO has failed to keep our schools from becoming more overcrowded.  It is hurting our schools and hurting our City.  It’s the Mayor and Council’s job to get rid of this failed experiment and find something that works.

The school standards Rockville wrote into its development laws in 2005 were tighter than Montgomery County’s based on two untested theories:

  1. That the standards would keep our crowded schools from becoming more overcrowded, and
  2. That the County would direct money to Rockville sooner than it otherwise would because without the funds, sections of the City would fall into building moratoria.

Nine years later, it’s clear that these theories were wrong, our standards have failed, and Rockville and its schools are paying the price.  Our schools have become substantially more crowded since 2005.  And Montgomery County has made it clear to the City that it will never direct money to us more quickly because we have standards that are different from theirs.

Rockville Town Center has been in moratorium as to new projects since the APFO was enacted, and the entire Richard Montgomery High School cluster – which includes all of Town Center and most of Rockville Pike – will be at a standstill until at least 2029 if we fail to fix our standards.  This imperils all the hard-won progress we have made in Rockville Town Center, and makes impossible the improvements we have been hoping to make on Rockville Pike.

The APFO has shut down our progress in Town Center in an attempt to stem school overcrowding, but it has failed to accomplish that goal. The problem is that it aims at the wrong target.  85% of the enrollment growth in our schools has come not from new development, but from people who move here for the good schools and fill our existing houses with children.

Likewise, Rockville’s standards have failed to bring school-construction funds to the City any sooner.  The County only funds construction when schools are over the County’s capacity standards (not the City’s).  Therefore, having a lower capacity standard than the County makes it less likely that schools in the City will be expanded or replaced.  When the County had a chance in May 2011 to dedicate money to expand Julius West and build a new elementary school for us, it decided not to do it because the funds wouldn’t lift the area out of the City’s artificially strict moratorium.

Worse, The City’s standards do not prevent development just across the city limits in the County, where there is no moratorium.  This County development places pressure on Rockville’s roads and schools without providing any benefits to the City.   In clusters like Walter Johnson HS, where much of the cluster is outside Rockville, we’ll soon be facing a situation where we’ll stop development when the high school hits 110%, but the County will keep building in the areas outside the City until it gets to 120%.  Our kids will end up going to a school that’s just as crowded, but Rockville will lose out on a lot of economic development.  This can happen in four out the five high schools Rockville kids go to: Rockville, Walter Johnson, Wootton, and Gaithersburg – all but Richard Montgomery.

The better course is to adopt Montgomery County’s school standards, as recommended by the 13 community members who studied the issue during the 2012 Rockville Summit on its Housing Working Group:

After extensive review and considerable discussion about the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance the committee has determined policy makers should give significant consideration to modifying Rockville’s APFO to mirror that of Montgomery County’s. The primary reason for this recommendation is the impact the school occupancy portion of the APFO has on residential development. The City does not have domain over the schools. That authority lies with the county. To limit development based on something out of Rockville’s control is not in the best interest of the City.

Twenty-six community members on the Summit’s Education and School Capacity Working Group who studied the issue closely also recommended that the City “[m]odify its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) to harmonize with the County, especially with regard to school facilities.”

Montgomery County only acts according to its own standards, not the City’s.  If we adopt the County standards, Montgomery County will have the same incentive to invest in Rockville’s schools as it does elsewhere.  Our law will better reflect and predict what the County’s school-construction plans will be.  This will allow Rockville to more accurately plan for future growth, which is the entire point of an APFO.

Nine years of failure is enough.  The APFO school standards have not protected our children from crowded schools. All they have done is damage Rockville’s ability to manage its growth and plan for its future.  It’s time for them to go.

The Mayor and Council are holding a public hearing on these proposed changes on January 5, and I invite you to come and listen or speak.

Print Friendly

On public campaign financing…

Below is an e-mail I have sent to members of the Montgomery County Council urging them to pass Phil Andrews’ public campaign financing bill and recommending that they remove an amendment that would not serve the County well.

––––––––––––

Dear [Councilmember],

I wanted to take a minute to thank you for hearing my comments on the Right to Vote Task Force report on Tuesday night, and once again to strongly encourage you to pass Bill 16-14 on Public Campaign Financing of Elections next week.

I am writing to you as an individual member of the Rockville City Council (and silver medalist in the most recent County Council primary election) and not on behalf of the City of Rockville.

I am alarmed by the amendment that has been added in committee to Bill 16-14 that would match contributions raised outside Montgomery County. As a policymaker and as a Montgomery County taxpayer, I believe such a provision to be inappropriate. It is also unlikely to help those it is designed to help.

From a policy perspective, such a match defeats what I see as the best purpose of the bill – to force candidates to focus their communications efforts on Montgomery County voters. It is enough for the law to allow unmatched $150 contributions from outside the County – that way, if a candidate has a deep network of contributors who live outside Montgomery County, she or he can still tap that resource and participate in the system. But candidates’ main focus should be communicating with voters squarely within our borders.

My concerns as a County taxpayer are equally serious. Say a candidate raises most of her funds from contributors in DC and Virginia. Why should my tax dollars be working to vastly amplify the voices of these outsiders, whose interests may not align well with the County’s?

Aside from these concerns, the outside-the-County match would be ineffective in the stated purpose of the amendment: Helping launch the campaign of a candidate whose family and friend network lies outside Montgomery County. A candidate can tap her out-of-County network as hard as she likes, but because matching funds are paid to candidates only after they have qualified for the program with sufficient local contributions, a match of outside-the-County contributions would come far too late to help a candidate get her campaign off the ground. Once you’ve raised enough local dollars to qualify for matching funds, your campaign is pretty-well launched, whether or not you have outside money as well. At that point, the matching funds paid on outside-the-County contributions just serve to dilute the contributions of Montgomery County residents.

I appreciate your attention to the devils that lie in the details of this bill, and urge you to pay close attention to this one. Matching contributions from outside Montgomery County undermines the purpose of the law, it uses Montgomery County taxpayer money to dilute the influence of Montgomery County voters, and it doesn’t actually help a candidate with an outside-the-County fundraising network get his or her campaign off the ground. Limiting the total out-of-County match to 10% of public funds makes this bad idea better, but just slightly. The idea of matching outside-the-County contributions should be scrapped altogether.

Thank you.

All the best,

Tom Moore
Councilmember
City of Rockville

Print Friendly

Slate’s Matt Yglesias responds!

I’ll give Matt Yglesias this: He responds to his e-mail extremely quickly.  He got back to me in just over half an hour this afternoon with a gracious note:

This “externalities” analysis is a common but fundamentally wrongheaded misconception.

Suppose some brilliant Chinese chef wants to open up a restaurant in Rockville and the owner of Sichuan Jin River gets worried that the new establishment will poach his customers and cost him business. The city council wouldn’t step in and say “hey wait a minute, your proposal for a new restaurant has too many externalities we won’t let you open.” It’s true that it would be more convenient for incumbent businesses to not face competition, but that’s not a public policy problem.

By the same token, some incumbent business owners may be deriving benefit from existing availability of street parking (or other municipally owned parking) and may not want to share that parking with new people. But this isn’t externalities in the sense of pollution.

At any rate, I apologize if you feel that I was picking on Rockville. This is actually something I’ve written about with reference to quite a few cities all across America in a whole variety of contexts and isn’t any particular knock on [you] or on Rockville. If you’re at all interested in a real expert analysis of parking regulations, I’d strongly recommend UCLA professor Donald Shoup and his book The High Cost of Free Parking.

Best,
Matthew Yglesias

I responded tonight:
Mr. Yglesias,
 
Thank you for your thoughtful and extremely quick response!   The high cost of free parking has been on my mind since I’ve been in office, and I’ve been trying to move Rockville in the right direction on it.  I’ll nab the book and let it illuminate my further movements on this.
 
I’m going to have to disagree with your Sichuan Jin River analogy. I would totally step in to crush that other guy.  The free market goes out the window when a local treasure like Jin River’s garlic eggplant is endangered.  
 
Pollution’s not the only kind of externality — with parking in urban areas, we have a “tragedy of the commons” variety when cars spill over into other types of neighborhoods that can’t absorb them.  It’s not quite as tragic as cities used to think it was, and modern public policy has changed to reflect this.  But urban parking is certainly not an area where regulating it is tantamount to Stalinism.
 
Thank you as well for your gracious apology; it did indeed feel like you were picking on us, even if it did delight my parents.  
 
Your good taste in Chinese restaurants has partially restored my faith in your analytical powers. (You live nearby, do you?)
 
All the best,
 
Tom Moore
Print Friendly

Ouch!

Rockville’s Mayor and Council were body-slammed – by name – in Slate for having the temerity to discuss the City’s development laws regarding parking during a recent meeting:

Are members of the Rockville, Md., town council experts in real-estate development? In parking management? Are they putting their own money on the line in the success or failure of projects in the center of their town? Of course not!

As a friend wrote on Facebook, “This reads like 25% of an article. And not the 25% with a point.” The entire thread of comments is quite witty and worth a look.

I wrote back to the author, Matt Yglesias, a writer I’ve admired for some time:

Mr. Yglesias,

Greetings! I’m not sure how we on the Rockville City Council so irritated you with our entirely routine discussion of the parking element of our development laws with a developer who came before us to ask whether it could add a significant number of residential units to its long-approved building.

You’re right — none of us on the Council are experts in real-estate development or parking management. But we have a staff of urban planners who are, and we were elected to, with the help of our expert staffs, make policy choices and apply the laws of the government we’re running.

You’re also right — no member of the City Council has personal money invested in downtown projects. But that’s a good thing, because those who did have such a conflict of interest would have to recuse themselves from discussions of and decisions on such matters.

I was surprised that your analysis of the parking market failed to recognize that there are serious externality problems with urban parking — if you don’t build sufficient parking with a building, whether office or residential, the users of that building are not limited to the number of cars that match the parking spaces. They will park their cars on the street elsewhere, affecting neighboring businesses and residential areas.

I happen to believe that with transit-oriented development, as we were discussing, the number of spaces actually required by the buildings users is fairly low, but there’s no question that a given building requires a certain number of spaces. The trend in regulation used to be to set parking-space minimums for projects; it has shifted to setting maximums. Rockville has been progressive in this, though we can do better, IMHO.

I recommend to you the recording of the Council’s full discussion, found here:

http://rockvillemd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=3037

It’s item 12 on the agenda.

You likely don’t have the time to do so — you’re a prolific guy. But the full recording might give you a better understanding of the business we were engaged in. It might also better inform you about my own role in the discussion, which was to ask the staff for more information about how well the parking market had operated elsewhere in the City.

It might also, hopefully, cause you to pause a sec before you call a bunch of hardworking public officials Communists, basically. C’mon, man!

I’ll note that my parents liked the article: “Comrade: We are so proud of you. Nobody else has children who have been slammed by national media.” But most of my friends wondered if I’d kicked your dog sometime in the past. (I didn’t, did I?)

I will continue to look forward to reading your work. I’ll admit that this experience will make me pause before I accept your sources and analysis at face value, which is probably for the best.

If you’re interested in corrections, we serve on the Rockville *City* Council, not “town council,” though I can see why referring to us in that manner better fit your narrative.

Take care.

Tom Moore
Councilmember
City of Rockville
tmoore@rockvillemd.gov

 

Print Friendly

Charter changes could be next Council’s most important task

In the flurry of activity surrounding the election of the next Mayor and Council, the advisory questions concerning changes to our charter that are up for a vote are getting lost in the shuffle.  I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss them.

Rockville’s Mayor and Council created a Charter Review Commission last year to recommend possible changes to the City’s governing document.  The Commission returned with three strong recommendations, all of which are going to be on the ballot this fall as advisory questions.  The next Mayor and Council will consider the citizen input on these questions, but it is not meant to be the last word.

Changing from odd-year voting to presidential-year voting

 City of Rockville elections are currently held every two years, in odd numbered years. Do you favor moving the City elections to be held every four years to coincide with the Presidential Election?

I think this may be the next Mayor and Council’s most important decision.  Moving our elections would give a large, immediate, and permanent boost to our low voter turnout, a problem that has vexed Rockville for years.  Rockville’s Charter Review Commission strongly recommended this shift, and I do also.

If this fall’s City election is like the last few, about 17 percent of Rockville’s registered voters will show up.  That is far too low.  We’ve been trying to raise our turnout rate for years, without success.

Moving to the Presidential year, when no county or state races crowd the ballot, would dramatically increase Rockville’s voter turnout.  Seventy percent – 70 percent! – of Rockville voters turned out to vote in 2012.  These are people who are our neighbors.  They’re already voters in other races.  We should hear their voices when it comes to City elections.  We’re not doing so now when only 17 percent of us show up.

The group of Rockville voters who show up during the Presidential year is a far more diverse group than those who now show up for City elections.  Shifting our elections to the Presidential year will get us closer to the ideal that Rockville be governed by the consent of the governed.  With 17% turnout in City elections, we are too far from that ideal.

The shift will allow the City to provide early voting, which costs the County hundreds of thousands of dollars and which Rockville could never afford to provide on its own.  The challenges of creating individual ballots given differing City, County, and State political boundaries has already been solved, as County and State boundaries already differ.

Some of my good friends around the City are concerned that the change would mean more partisanship in our elections, and that these new voters would not be as high-quality as the voters we have now.

We do prize our non-partisan elections. But what keeps our non-partisan tradition strong is not the timing of our elections, but the commitment of candidates over the decades to resist the pressures of partisanship.  I see no reason why that commitment would fade if we changed election schedules.

The concern over partisanship stems partially from the federal Hatch Act, which forbids most federal employees from participating in partisan elections.  No one wants our federal workforce to be barred from participating in our elections.

I have looked into this carefully, and do not believe it is a concern.  (Details here.) One candidate picking up partisan endorsements or saying they are running as a Democrat, for example, absolutely does not convert Rockville’s election into a partisan election.   A political party has to nominate or designate a person as its candidate.  The candidate has to work with the party and formally represent the party.  And the Rockville City Code explicitly forbids those representing a political party from running for office in Rockville.

I keep listening, and I am not hearing the mechanism where moving to the Presidential year would increase partisanship in Rockville elections.  Any small risk of increased partisan pressure would be squashed by the Rockville City Code, which explicitly forbids candidates representing political parties from running for office in Rockville.  I am comfortable with the protection that Rockville’s laws provide us here.

As to worries that our new voters wouldn’t be good-enough voters – all I can say is this: By definition, you can’t have higher voter turnout without more voters. Holding City elections on a day when a lot of Rockville voters are already showing up to vote strikes me as a great idea.

I am utterly unpersuaded by the argument that it would cost too much money to campaign if we shifted our elections – for instance, we would have to send out 15,000 postcards rather than 5,000. This is not an argument against moving the elections, it’s an argument against higher voter turnout itself.  Having to raise and spend more money because so many voters are participating in the process is a problem we should dream of having.

The nonpartisan group FairVote studied our charter questions and took a strong stand in favor of moving Rockville’s elections to the presidential year.  (Full report here)

Why do we work so hard to increase voter turnout?  It’s a good thing in and of itself, but it’s really a proxy for increased civic participation – that’s the real goal.  Higher civic participation drives higher voter turnout, but the reverse is also true: If you put a ballot before people to vote in City elections, it will drive them to become more involved civically because they become invested in the life of their community. “I voted for that idiot Moore,” they will say. “I feel responsible. What’s he been doing?”

It’s time to put our money where our mouth is.  Do we want higher voter turnout in this City, or not?  I do.

Changing from 2- to 4-year terms

In the City of Rockville, the term of office for the Mayor and the Councilmembers is currently two years. Do you favor increasing the term from two years to four years?

Moving to a four-year term is essential if we move the elections to the Presidential years. On the other even-year ballot (2014, 2018, etc.), we elect every single state and county office – that ballot is packed, and City races would have trouble standing out.

If the issue is taken on its own, there are good arguments for both four-year terms and two-year terms.  It absolutely would be nice to master the job before having to run for it again.  But I respect the idea that it’s also good to be able to throw the bums out and not have to wait forever to do so.

Personally, though, I am not a big fan of the argument that it turns out that it’s just too hard for officeholders to run every two years.  It’s a fact that tends to be “discovered” by incumbents right around election time.  Two years is the term we signed up for, and we don’t really have the right to complain about it once we’re in the middle of it (and have the advantage of incumbency).

If we do move to four-year terms, and do move to the Presidential election schedule, it doesn’t make any candidate’s life easier for quite some time.  This election in 2013 is for a two-year term, from 2013 to 2015. In order to get us on track for an election in 2016, we would need to elect the following Mayor and Council to a one-year term, from 2015 to 2016.   That’s three elections in four years.   Anyone who votes to support the schedule change and wants to remain in office is voting for a tremendous amount of disruption in their personal lives over the next few years.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy knocking on doors and meeting voters.  But I also like seeing my kids.

Increasing from four to six Councilmembers

The City of Rockville is currently governed by a Mayor and four Councilmembers. Do you favor increasing the membership of the Rockville Mayor and Council to a Mayor and six Councilmembers?

I don’t have any particular objection to this proposal, but it seems like a solution in search of a problem.   The Mayor and the four members of the Council are not overwhelmed with constituent matters, or ceremonial duties, or shared legislative duties.

What burns up most of my time on the Council is mastering the issues before us, reading the meeting materials, and working to advance my own legislative proposals.  None of these would be aided by adding more members to the Council.

Other objections to the proposal are that it would cost the City another $40,000 or so a year in councilmember stipends, and that our meetings would go even longer if there were more of us on hand with the desire to flap our gums all night long.   Both are true as far as they go, but they don’t go very far in my opinion.  I believe the City gets pretty good value for its money in Mayor and Council stipends, and the City could easily absorb the extra expense of two more councilmembers.  I also think a Mayor who runs a meeting well could keep a lid on the deliberations of a larger number of members.

The addition of two councilmembers would make it easier to spread out some of our shared duties: serving as liaisons to City Boards and Commissions and serving on regional bodies such as the Council of Governments.  None of us is ever going to do everything everyone would like us to do – I could fill every night of every week with one meeting or another, and I’m confident I could do the same if two members were added to the Council.  I find that the challenges to my ability to attend such meetings do not stem from my having one-fifth of the duties versus one-seventh; they have much more to do with the circumstances of the rest of my life.

If I am fortunate enough to serve on the Council next term, I will watch the advisory vote closely on this issue.  If there is overwhelming sentiment to increase from four to six councilmembers, I will reconsider my lack of enthusiasm for this proposal.

 

Print Friendly

Why can’t the Mayor and Council read the Saul Ewing report?

Recently, a subscriber to the Twinbrook Neighbors listserv asked why the Mayor and Council haven’t seen the report compiled by Saul Ewing, the law firm the City hired to investigate allegations of improper personnel activity in the City of Rockville government.  I decided to write a thorough and, hopefully, helpful response to the question, and I thought it was worth sharing here:

Thank you for bringing this up.  There is a fair amount of misinformation out there on this matter, and I appreciate the opportunity to clear it up as best as I can.

A lot of this issue has to do with the defined roles of the Mayor and Council and the City Manager under our City Charter. The Mayor and Council hire, supervise, and fire only three people: The City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk.

The City Manager ultimately hires and fires everyone else.  That responsibility stops with the City Manager; it doesn’t flow up to the Mayor and Council.  It seems like it should; it doesn’t.  This is where I believe a lot of the misunderstanding comes from.
If the Mayor and Council wanted to fire the police chief, for example (an example I am picking because I think Chief Treschuk is absolutely first-class), we would be legally unable to do so.  Only the City Manager can do that.  We would have to fire the City Manager and then find and hire a new City Manager who would agree to fire the Chief.

Just as the Mayor and Council doesn’t have the power to hire and fire most City staff, we don’t have the right to look at their personnel files.  We are not in their chain of command. The Mayor and Council have access to just three personnel files: the City Manager’s, the City Attorney’s, and the City Clerk’s.

The Mayor and Council’s role in the Saul Ewing investigation was to write the check and let everyone else do their job. We authorized the City Manager to spend a total of $190,000 to hire Saul Ewing to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back to her and the City Attorney.

This is not entirely unlike our authorizing the Department of Public Works to spend money to repave Rockville’s streets.  We write the check; they do their job.  I don’t expect tons of asphalt to be delivered to my driveway.

Saul Ewing was hired specifically because they do this sort of work regularly.  They had no interest in the outcome, and had nothing to gain by whitewashing the situation. If anything, their incentive was the reverse – had they reported lots of bad acts that needed to be investigated further, they could have increased their billings substantially.

Saul Ewing conducted a thorough review of the allegations out there, and wrote a thick report for the City Manager.  This report was chock-full of sensitive personnel information.   It was crystal-clear from the start that the Mayor and Council would never have access to this information.  Anyone who says otherwise was not paying attention; I don’t know how else to put it.

The City Manager, who is allowed to see the report, is likewise forbidden from disclosing its contents to the public, or even discussing them in much detail, because the discussion would be about nothing but personnel information.

The Mayor and Council did receive an executive summary and a briefing on the report, which answered the questions I needed answered: Was there any unlawful conduct?  No. And was the City Attorney at fault for anything that went on? No.  (Our new City Manager, Barb Matthews, having just arrived, was obviously in the clear.)

The third question I needed an answer to was: What can the Mayor and Council do to prevent the type of perceived and real inconsistencies that are being reported by some City staff? The answer was: 1. Fix the personnel manual to make sure everyone knows the rules and help them be applied consistently, and 2. Provide funds to modernize the City’s personnel systems.  We are well on our way to accomplishing the first and I believe the next Mayor and Council will write the check for the second next year.

I have been disappointed by colleagues, candidates, and former City elected officials who are running around telling newspapers that the Mayor and Council have a right to this information.  They are wrong.  I will repeat what I told the Sentinel:

Moore said the mayor and council are not allowed to view the report, and doing so would be a gross violation of people’s privacy.

“It is against the law and I do not want to break the law,” Moore said. “Anyone who says the mayor and council have the right to look at those personnel details is wrong on the law. Period.”

I have not had anyone challenge the accuracy of my statement. It’s not a close call: The personnel records of employees of all sorts, including government employees, are protected very carefully under the law, as they should be.

If the Mayor and Council were to receive a redacted report, so much would have to be blacked out that we could be staring at little more than pages of conjunctions and punctuation.  It would be a gross waste of time and taxpayers’ dollars, and would shed no light on the matter.

I hope I have answered the questions that are out there on this.  I am happy to answer any others.

 

Print Friendly

Virginia’s abuse of license-plate readers

Interesting story from the ACLU on the Virginia State Police’s use of their license-plate readers:

Virginia State Police Used License Plate Readers At Political Rallies, Built Huge Database

This is exactly the kind of misuse of license-plate reader data the Mayor and Council were concerned about when we acted to limit the retention of this data back in April.

I have great faith that someone would have to torture Rockville’s Chief of Police, Terry Treschuk, half to death before he would even begin to think about starting to consider even coming anywhere close to such a course of action, but apparently that’s not true of all police agencies.

Print Friendly

The Pumphrey’s Appeal

It may surprise some folks to learn that I fully support the City’s efforts to appeal the ruling against it in the Pumphrey’s matter.

Why?  The issue before the court was not whether the Mayor and Council made a bad decision to reverse the permission given to Pumphrey’s to build a parking lot.  The issue before the court was whether the Mayor and Council had the power to reverse the permission given to Pumphrey’s to build a parking lot.  That’s an entirely different matter.

Make no mistake:  I still believe – strongly – that it was a deeply unwise decision to yank the approval away from Pumphrey’s when no legal or procedural error occurred last term in the granting of the approval.  It was grossly unfair to a valued Rockville business, and it was a blow against pedestrian safety.  But I’m even more certain that the Mayor and Council had the power to make this deeply unwise decision.

Just as the last Mayor and Council had the power to grant Pumphrey’s permission to build their parking lot, this Mayor and Council had the power to revoke that permission.  The text amendment giving the approval and the one yanking it away are simply two legislative actions by a legislative body.  It is generally recognized that legislative bodies are free to make unwise legislative decisions.  Rockville’s Mayor and Council is no exception, and this particular unwise legislative decision should be no exception.

I really wish I had won this vote last year. The way it turned out, it sent a terrible message to Rockville’s residents and businesses that they cannot count on the word of their City.  But I lost this vote, fair and square, and that should be where the story ends.  Courts should not overturn any validly made legislative decision – even a chowderheaded one.

I did not support Pumphrey’s suit against the City in this matter, even though I deeply sympathized with what had happened to them, and I do not support Pumphrey’s in its defense of the City’s appeal.  I strongly support the City’s appeal of this decision, and I will do everything I can to make sure the City wins it.

Print Friendly

Rockville acts to limit license-plate reader data retention

Rockville’s Mayor and Council voted unanimously last night to limit the retention of data from automatic license-plate readers, a big win for the privacy of Rockville residents.

Automatic license-plate readers are cameras (usually mounted to police cars) that scan, translate, and record license plate numbers, along with the time and location of the scan.  The City of Rockville owns three of these cameras.  They are a terrific police tool, but what to do with the data once it is collected has been a thorny issue.  The data is quite useful at the moment it is scanned (is the car that just passed by wanted?), but the usefulness of the data to police drops off drastically over time.  The City of Rockville had been sending the data to the Montgomery County Police Department, which has a policy of keeping it online for a year and archiving it permanently.

I raised concerns about this practice, noting that Montgomery County is an outlier – most police departments in the state keep their data for a year at most, and it is almost unheard of to keep this sort of data forever.  There is no similar data that police departments collect on people who are under no suspicion whatsoever.  A growing archive of this data, along with an expanding fleet of cameras, would over time amount to a permanent, lifelong detailed record of everyone’s activities.  There is no reason for a government to have that kind of information on its people.

Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk recommended that the City of Rockville change its policy and send our ALPR data directly to the State of Maryland’s fusion center, which keeps the data for a year and then deletes it.  The Montgomery County Police Department still has full access to the data when it needs it.  This strikes an excellent balance between the legitimate police use of this terrific tool and the legitimate right that ordinary people have in the privacy of their whereabouts.

Thanks very much to Chief Treschuk, who took my concerns seriously (even though he and I agreed that we were coming at this issue from two different directions) and crafted this change in policy.  Thanks to City Manager Barb Matthews, who coordinated the staff’s response. Thanks also to those who so ably illuminated the issues for the worksession we held on this: Cpl. Ken Matney of the Rockville City Police Department; Russ Hamill, assistant chief of the Montgomery County Police Department; Ginger McCall, open government director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; and David Rocah, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

And thank you, of course, to my colleagues for listening and acting.

It is not often that local government can act to protect the privacy of its people; usually, all the relevant policies are being decided at other levels of government.  But the City of Rockville did what it could last night.  It is a small but significant step in the right direction.

Print Friendly

Town Hall Meeting to Discuss License-Plate Privacy

To follow up on the terrific worksession the Mayor and Council held this past Monday night on the privacy issues surrounding automatic license-plate reader data retention, I am convening a town-hall meeting for members of the public to discuss the issue.  The meeting is on Wednesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s Black-Eyed Susan Room.

Please join me and your fellow citizens as we discuss what the City’s policy should be on retaining the data from these cameras.  Should we continue to keep it forever, building up a vast store of data on the comings and goings of every Rockville resident?  Or should we keep it for a limited amount of time?

Click here to see the video of the worksession.  Click here for the Mayor and Council briefing sheet. Here are terrific rundowns on the issue in The Gazette and Patch, and another nicely informative piece on Patch.

 

Print Friendly

Help Protect Maryland’s Public Ethics!

So, would you like to know more about your elected officials’ conflicts of interest, or less? If some people get what they want in Annapolis this year, you’ll be knowing a whole lot less. You can help stop this from happening.

After political scandals rocked Baltimore and Prince George’s County, the state of Maryland took a big step forward toward better ethics for its elected officials in 2010 when the General Assembly unanimously passed reforms that required elected county and municipal officials to start disclosing the same amount of information that state officials have had to for years. It amounts to more information about things owned outside the officials’ immediate area, and more about what their family members own.

But that progress is in danger this year. There are efforts underway in Annapolis to exempt virtually every city, town, and village in the state from the rules. If it passes, municipal officials will have to disclose only a small fraction of what they’re now required to disclose.

This doesn’t sit well with me. I believe that we should be disclosing far more, not less. In Rockville, we have more folks than eight of Maryland’s 23 counties, and a bigger operating budget than four of them. The Mayor and Council control all development and zoning within our borders. We have plenty of opportunities for conflicts of interest. I was amazed to discover when I first filled out Rockville’s financial-disclosure forms that if my lovely wife owned all the land underneath our new downtown area, I wouldn’t have to disclose it (full disclosure: sadly, she does not).

I am doing what I can to keep our ethical standards from being gutted. I have written a letter to every municipal official in the state that I could find an e-mail address for, and have asked them to sign a letter to General Assembly members asking them to keep their hands off Maryland’s ethical protections. You can see these letters here.

What can you do? Two big things:

• Write to your state legislators and let them know that you don’t want them to weaken the financial-disclosure rules for city and town officials. Find out who your legislators are, and get contact information, here: http://mdelect.net/

• If you live in a village, town, or city, write to your elected officials and ask them if they plan on signing the letter I have sent them. And if they’re not, why not?

The heart of my letter to Maryland’s municipal leaders was this:

We are not at a moment when our residents are crying out for less accountability and lower ethical standards from their elected officeholders. We are not at a moment where confidence in elected officials’ integrity is so high that we can burn off a little surplus good will by relaxing reporting requirements.

On the contrary, we live in an era where residents expect more transparency, higher standards, and more rigorous disclosures from their elected officials. Maryland’s 2010 ethics law was a solid step in the right direction, one that should not be reversed. Maryland’s citizens have the right to know that we are acting in the public’s interest and not our own.

Please consider taking a few moments to let your lawmakers know that you support Maryland’s ethics law as it stands and do not want to see it weakened.

Thank you very much for your time and your consideration. If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns, please get in touch with me at tmoore@rockvillemd.gov.

Print Friendly

The Council Passes the Fireside Plan

Thank you to my council colleagues Mark Pierzchala and John Hall, who joined with me last night to enable Rockville Housing Enterprises to preserve the Fireside Park Apartments as a good, solid, affordable neighborhood.   The deal we ended up protects taxpayers and strikes a real blow toward keeping this City fair, accessible, and economically strong.

Print Friendly

Come out to Monday’s Public Hearing on Affordable Housing!

Rockville’s Mayor and Council are holding a public hearing on Monday night on a plan to preserve a big chunk of affordable housing in the City.  We’ve heard plenty from opponents of the project; I’d like us to hear from those who believe that we are a stronger and better City when we support affordable housing and the hardworking people who live in it.  Click here to find out how you can participate; thanks!

Print Friendly

The Coolest Part of the Gude Drive Facility…

…with the possible exception of the big tank of beet juice, is the name of its conference room.

City Hall’s conference rooms have fancy Maryland-themed names like “Black-Eyed Susan,” or “Diamondback Terrapin,” or “Blue Crab,” but the guys out on Gude Drive are more direct about what they like about Maryland:

 

 

Print Friendly

Our Terrific New Gude Drive Facility

I was delighted to get the opportunity today to tour the City’s newly expanded Gude Drive maintenance facility and show it off for the City’s cable station, Channel 11.

Gude Drive is where several hundred Public Works and Recreation and Parks folks report to work every day — about half the City’s workforce.  It’s where all City vehicles get their maintenance, their repairs, and their gas, and it’s where we park them when we’re not using them.  It’s where we store the salt, rocks, dirt, sand and, oddly, beet juice that keep this City running.  It’s where all our street signs are made.

Pat Stroud, Public Works Fleet Manager, was kind enough to take me around and demonstrate what $10 million in taxpayer money buys.  The highlight is a great new vehicle maintenance facility that will allow for much more efficient maintenance and repair of the City’s surprisingly large fleet of vehicles.

Some of the City’s larger vehicles — think cherry-pickers — couldn’t even fit in the old building, let alone go up on the lifts.  The new building can handle any vehicle the City owns or is likely to own in the foreseeable future.

By moving the vehicle maintenance shop out of the old buildings they had been in, the other divisions that have a home on Gude Drive will also be able to rearrange themselves and work more efficiently.

Rockville will be a more efficient, safer, and better city with this project completed.

The segment on Channel 11 starts airing October 1.

Print Friendly

Tanned, Rested, and Ready.

My colleagues and I return from our summer break tomorrow night to a new chamber.

I liked the old one a lot — I was used to it:

…but the new one is beautifully put together and looks great.  This is my photo of it from a few weeks ago:

A tremendous amount of thought, care, and planning went into this transition.  Kudos to Rockville public information chief Marylou Berg and her staff for getting this done so well and so quickly!

UPDATE:  Here’s the new chamber on Opening Night:

And the view from my seat:

Lovely.

Print Friendly

Gaithersburg’s Destructive Drive Toward Annexing Sears

Tomorrow night, Gaithersburg’s elected officials – Mayor Sidney Katz, Vice President Ryan Spiegel, and Councilmembers Jud Ashman, Cathy Drzyzgula, Henry Marraffa, and Mike Sesma – are preparing to to wreak serious, unnecessary, and perhaps permanent damage upon the relationship between their city and the City of Rockville.

They are voting Monday night, Aug. 6, on whether to annex to Gaithersburg 28 acres of property on the Rockville side of Shady Grove Road. The City of Rockville has attempted to block this move in a variety of ways without success.

Maryland gives unusually strong powers to municipalities that want to annex property. There is nothing the City of Rockville, Montgomery County, or the State of Maryland can do to stop this process, and time is short.

All that can be done at this point is to appeal to the propriety of Gaithersburg’s leaders and to make sure that Sid, Ryan, Jud, Cathy, Henry, and Mike understand just how much their proposed action has disappointed and angered Rockville’s leadership – and just how much it will damage the relationship between their city and the City of Rockville. Not might damage, or could damage, but will damage the relationship.  Those of us on the Rockville side who thought we had solid personal relationships with members of Gaithersburg’s Mayor and Council feel quite personally burned.

To put it simply, Gaithersburg is betraying its friend and neighbor. Rockville’s leaders consider this proposed annexation to be a deeply threatening move against our vitally important long-term interests. The City of Rockville will have to think long and hard about how and whether it can work with the City of Gaithersburg in the future. I find it difficult to believe that the taxes Gaithersburg will gain from this parcel will be worth it.

To annex this property, Gaithersburg is violating the formal agreement it has had in place with the City of Rockville for over twenty years, and violating the informal understanding that has been in place for far longer than that. Shady Grove Road has always been considered the natural boundary between the two municipalities – a line reinforced by the relatively recent addition of Interstate 370 snaking between them. Perhaps the best indication of where everyone understood the border to be is the sign that adorns the south side of the I-370 bridge as it crosses Rockville Pike:

20120805-151743.jpg

For a city to annex a parcel, it has to be contiguous to the city in some way. The Sears property doesn’t come close to touching Gaithersburg at the moment. Gaithersburg aims to connect to the parcel by annexing right of way down Rockville Pike, right past this sign, hanging a turn onto Shady Grove Road, and proceeding until it touches the Sears property on the Rockville side of the road. It’s a perfectly legal maneuver, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that friends do not do to each other.

That Gaithersburg’s path to this property runs right past the city’s own welcome sign is a telling sign that this property should be Rockville’s.

Rockville’s leadership responded too slowly to this threat, and I take full responsibility for my part in that. Looking back, I think that we were slow to recognize this threat for what it was because we simply couldn’t believe that Gaithersburg would strike against Rockville’s interests so brazenly.

Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz told Gaithersburg Patch something amazing, and, I think, very revealing the other day. The two cities have had a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) (found here) in place since 1992 that governs how the cities will confer with each other when approaching issues like this.

Gaithersburg appears to believe all its obligations to behave honorably toward its neighboring city expired with the agreement late last month:

“By not voting to annex the property until after its expiration, Gaithersburg did not violate the memorandum, Katz said.”

This is absolutely outrageous. All of this was timed to happen two weeks after Gaithersburg believed a 20-year agreement expired?  Who does that?  No one I want to do business with.  Does Gaithersburg intend to stab its neighbors in the back the very first moment they think they can get away with it in every instance, or just this one?  What else should Rockville be preparing for?

Plus, Gaithersburg did indeed violate the memorandum. Provision 5 reads:

5. The City Councils, the County Council, the Executive, and the Montgomery County Planning Board agree to work on a cooperative basis in the development of plans and programs, including development districts, that affect parcels within the urban growth areas. Changes in land use, staging, or zoning proposals for parcels within the urban growth area will only be undertaken after the participation and consultation of the other parties. Any land annexed by Gaithersburg or Rockville should include a staging component in the annexation agreement.

Needless to say, when Gaithersburg embarked upon its plan to annex this land (and change its zoning), it utterly failed to consult or participate with the other parties to the MOU. A final vote on an annexation is not when the matter is “undertaken” – this has been in the works for months if not longer.

Moreover, the memorandum of understanding simply did not expire on July 23, 2012, as Gaithersburg seems to believe. While Provision 1 of the MOU mentions a “twenty-year planning horizon” with which the parties to the agreement were working, and the agreement was indeed signed on July 23, 1992, it does not suggest that the “planning horizon” is an expiration date.  The MOU is not limited to twenty years. Provision 9 makes this crystal-clear:

9. The principles contained within this Memorandum are meant to apply to all future actions pertaining to land in the Cities or on or near the Cities’ borders.

All future actions. All of them, until the parties to the Agreement together agree to do something else, which we have not done.

Since Rockville belatedly sprang into action on this, we have pursued four paths simultaneously:

1. Change Sears’ mind on applying to Gaithersburg. We met with Sears’ attorneys and put our best case forward, but Sears decided to stay the course it started when Gaithersburg approached the company and offered annexation.

2. Look to Montgomery County to change the zoning. Sears was not interested in this option, which would have taken too long.

3. Block Gaithersburg’s annexation via our own annexation of Shady Grove Road itself. We made a valiant attempt to draw a line between the cities here, but we have not been able to catch up to Gaithersburg’s procedural schedule.

That leaves us one last chance at this stage:

4. See if we can persuade Gaithersburg’s leaders to change their minds.

Rockville’s Mayor and Council have been in touch with Gaithersburg’s leaders formally and informally, asking them to change course. So far, they have declined to do so.

I cannot emphasize enough how aggressive Rockville considers Gaithersburg’s move to be, and how much it shatters the trust the cities have built for decades. Gaithersburg’s proposed annexation endangers the long-term future and shape of the City of Rockville. Threats to a city do not get more elemental than this.

Sid, Ryan, Jud, Cathy, Henry, and Mike: You still have the opportunity to avoid making this mistake. Please consider your actions very carefully here. Our cities have worked exceptionally well together at times over the years, and competed honorably for residents and businesses at other times. Please do not bring this productive period to an ugly close. Both cities deserve better.

Until you vote Monday night, you still have time to do the right thing. I urge you to do so.

Tom Moore
Rockville City Council

Print Friendly