Monday, August 03, 2009

Tighten Your Belts!

Last week, County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, Chair of the council’s Management and Fiscal Policy (MFP) Committee, surveyed the county’s awful budget situation and proclaimed, “We’ll have to tighten our belts, and we cannot wait until next May to do so.”

That’s quite a statement considering that Trachtenberg had just returned from a three-week, taxpayer-financed trip to Massachusetts.

Trachtenberg left town to attend a “leadership training” at Harvard University from July 5 through July 24. During that time, she missed discussions of the Germantown Sector Plan, I-270 widening, the CCT and the Silver Spring library pedestrian bridge and votes on the Planning Board appointment and Rockville Town Center parking. She presided over no meetings of the MFP Committee, which she chairs, between June 29 and July 27. That resulted in postponement of work on an ethics bill until the fall.

Harvard administrators told us the course’s attendance fee was $11,200. Trachtenberg’s office said the fee was paid by a $4,500 scholarship from Harvard, a $1,500 personal contribution from the Council Member and $5,200 in county money. Shouldn’t we be paying Council Members to attend work sessions and votes rather than miss them?

Trachtenberg’s spokesman defends her by claiming that other Council Members do it too. That’s right, but only to a point. George Leventhal recently went to China for a week as part of a delegation of local government officials, but he did not spend tax dollars on it. Valerie Ervin and former Council Member Mike Subin spent tax money on Leadership Montgomery training in the amounts of $3,300 and $2,850 respectively. But Leadership Montgomery holds just one in-county meeting per month over a year-long session. Leventhal, Ervin and Subin never bailed on MoCo for three straight weeks while chairing a budget committee that did nothing in the meantime about a growing fiscal apocalypse. And now, Council Member Trachtenberg returns to tell us that it’s time to “tighten our belts.”

Is it too much to ask of our elected officials that they stop using our money for trainings, trips and junkets until after the budget crisis is over?