Monday, November 30, 2009

Phil Andrews Looks Back on 2009

County Council President Phil Andrews sent out the following memo to the council reflecting on his term as President in 2009. Your author offers one additional note. Regardless of our occasional disagreement with Andrews on the issues, he has served as President with considerable class and dignity. His civil temperament is a useful model that warrants emulation from the next Council President, whoever that may be.


November 30, 2009

TO: Councilmembers

FROM: Phil Andrews, Council President

SUBJECT: Council Actions of 2009

By any reasonable measure, the Council accomplished much this year for the people of Montgomery County. We did this by listening to our constituents, and by working hard and well together. Outstanding work by staff aided us immeasurably. Attached is a summary of major County Council actions of 2009. Here are some highlights:

A landmark accomplishment was – despite the deepest recession since the Great Depression – approval of a budget that protected employees from layoffs, that reduced spending wisely while protecting essential services and safety net programs, that adhered to the Charter Limit, and that did not raise tax rates. For the first time since 1992, tax-supported operating budget spending is less than the prior year’s. The Council and County Executive agreed on core budget principles from the start to the finish of the budget process, and the County kept its AAA bond rating.

With regard to transportation, 2009 has been a landmark year. The Council unanimously recommended to the state three transportation projects of regional importance: the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and widening I-270 by adding two reversible lanes. Now, we need to work with our state and federal officials to get funding to build these projects as soon as possible to provide traffic relief to our constituents. The Council also approved planning funds for another landmark transportation project: a 100-mile system of bus rapid transit lanes.

In 2009, the Council opened two long-needed, landmark facilities: the West Germantown Fire Station, and the Family Justice Center, which has already served more than a thousand victims of domestic violence since it opened in April.

The Council also took landmark actions to improve accountability by reforming the disability retirement system, requiring Internet posting of spending of $25,000 or more, empowering the Inspector General to hire counsel, calling for suspension and reform of the tuition assistance program, and requiring single-subject bills to enable a clean, clear vote on an issue by preventing unrelated issues from being combined.

Sadly, this year we lost Don Praisner. Don’s staff soldiered on magnificently, and councilmembers and staff looked out for District Four. I especially thank Council Vice President Berliner for serving on a third Council committee during that difficult time.

Thanks for the hard work you did that produced these results for our constituents, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your president this year.

2009 Council Actions on Budget, Education, Public Safety, and Transportation

Budget (FY 2010)

*Avoided layoffs by not funding general wage increases for 33,000 County- funded employees (22,000 are MCPS employees), saving $125 million
*Protected essential services and safety net programs while approving a tax- supported operating budget less than the prior year’s (first time since 1992)
*Kept to Charter Limit on property tax revenues and didn’t increase tax rates
*Did not approve an early buyout estimated to cost $16 million over 10 years
*Did not approve a proposed expansion of the take-home car program for County police officers who live up to 15 miles outside of the County
*Approved a mid-year savings plan of $30 million

*Approved 100% of Montgomery County Public Schools’ educational request in the operating budget and school construction request in the capital budget
*Approved legislation creating a Workforce Investment Scholarship program to provide tuition assistance for Universities at Shady Grove and Montgomery College students pursuing degrees in fields with labor shortages
*Rejected Planning Board proposal to raise threshold school facilities payments from developers from 105% of cluster capacity to 110%
*Rejected Planning Board proposal to allow developers to borrow capacity within a cluster to avoid the school facilities payment or a moratorium

Public Safety
*Approved funding for the Family Justice Center, which opened in April
*Opened the Germantown West Fire Station; Germantown East underway
*Approved funding for 14 new ambulances
*Rejected the County Executive’s proposed ambulance fee regulation
*Evaluated speed camera program, and approved its expansion
*Approved a federal grant for a pilot program of video cameras in patrol cars
*Approved purchase of the former National Geographic property to meet public safety space needs, including for the Rockville District Police Station *Did not support the County Executive’s plan to add a MCPD helicopter unit
*Approved legislation to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety by prohibiting large trucks and RVs from parking on residential streets
*Approved a policy to ensure that sidewalks and walkways are built in a way and with materials that prevent tripping hazards for pedestrians

*Recommended construction of the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and the widening of I-270 by adding two reversible lanes *Rejected Planning Board proposal to accept more congestion on roads by lowering acceptable average traffic speeds
*Approved funding to prevent elimination of 18 bus routes
*Approved $500,000 to plan a countywide system of bus rapid transit
Additional Major County Council Actions – 2009

Affordable Housing
*Approved an increase in the Housing Initiative Fund over FY 2009 to preserve affordable units, leverage financing for new affordable housing

Campaign Finance Reform
*Helped persuade the Montgomery County Delegation and the House of Delegates to approve legislation giving the County authority to pass more comprehensive campaign finance disclosure requirements for County elections than required by the State; however, the bill died in the State Senate

Economic Development
*Approved the Germantown Master Plan
*Approved purchase of Webb Tract, and purchase of the Finmarc property to relocate government facilities to make room for major housing development around the Shady Grove Metro as called for in the Shady Grove Sector Plan
*Council advocacy/letter of financial support helped persuade the State to locate the Maryland Clean Energy Center at Universities at Shady Grove
*Provided funding for Bethesda Green incubator, a public-private venture

Employment of People with Disabilities
*Approved establishing a hiring preference for people with disabilities who apply for County government jobs and are rated in the highest category
*Approved requesting the Charter Review Commission to review whether the Charter should be amended to establish a special hiring authority for people with disabilities (similar to the Federal Government’s Schedule A)

Energy Conservation
*Approved a law establishing the Home Energy Loan Program; regulations are under development; funded solar/geothermal/new windows tax credit
*Approved reducing energy consumption in County government facilities by four percent in FY 2010, a savings of $1.1 million

Environmental Protection
*Established and appointed a Clarksburg Water Quality Task Force

Government Reform
*Approved a law reforming the disability retirement system to help ensure that meritorious claims are approved and non-meritorious claims are not *Approved law requiring internet posting of County government spending of $25,000 or more (takes effect in 2010)
*Approved a law enabling the Inspector General to hire independent counsel
*Approved a law limiting Council legislation to a single subject to prevent unrelated non-meritorious measures from being included in meritorious bills
*Upon Council urging, tuition assistance program suspended; reform pending

Health Initiatives
*Approved law requiring that the calories in meals be listed on menu boards, and that other nutritional information be available on request
*Approved law allowing the Drug Enforcement Forfeitures Fund to be used for drug prevention, drug treatment, and Drug Court
*Added funding to maintain youth tobacco prevention programs
*Approved expanding the free summer lunch program for students

*Affirmed the policy of free parking for patrons of County libraries by reimbursing Rockville for library patrons who use the City’s garage

*December 2008 Council-approved law took effect, reducing the size of new homes allowed in smaller-lot zones to protect existing neighborhoods

Parks and Open Space
*Approved the purchase of a 52.9 acre addition to Fairland Recreational Park
*Approved $5 million to terminate building rights in the Agricultural Reserve
*Opened the Matthew Henson Trail and Broad Acres Local Park

WSSC Infrastructure
*Approved funding to accelerate inspection/repair of large-diameter pipes

In addition to acting on the measures above, the Council worked hard to improve outreach to the public and strengthen relationships with other government officials:

Public Outreach
*Council held three televised town hall meetings, and televised a significant number of committee meetings as well as all Council sessions
*Council held five public hearings on the FY 10 budget, and two evenings of public hearings each on the Gaithersburg West Master Plan and on the White Flint Sector Plan in order to hear from all who wished to testify
*Councilmembers attended hundreds of community events
*Council president did weekly media briefings/question and answer sessions
*Council president did three live call-in shows with the County Executive
*Council funded a professional, independent 2009 Resident Survey to learn what residents think about County Government (results will be out soon)
*Council heard from local business leaders during fiscal update briefings

Strengthening Working Relationships with other Government Officials
*Met separately with each of the County’s five representatives in Congress
*Met with County Executive Leggett, the County Attorney, the Board of Education, Montgomery College, the Planning Board, the Board of Appeals, Montgomery County General Assembly leaders, municipal officials, and WSSC


District 19 Race Snowballs Early

Three Delegate challengers are now raising money in the District 19 Battle Royal. But here’s the problem: there is no evidence that any of the incumbents are going anywhere.

Sam “Hunk of the Hill” Arora was the first one out of the gate in September. He has now held three fundraisers, one each in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. His latest fundraiser featured former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Interestingly, House Majority Leader Kumar “Bad Boy” Barve (D-17) showed up. Arora is now a registered candidate with the State Board of Elections.

Bad Boy Barve and McAuliffe discuss why Annapolis needs a Hunk.

Multiple sources have received phone calls from former MCEA President Bonnie Cullison, who told them that she is running for Delegate and asked them for money. And now Lockheed Martin auditor and civic activist Hoan Dang has held his own fundraiser in the district.

Dang’s campaign card lacks both an authority line and a union bug.

All of this will surely pressure other Delegate contenders to step up their own activities. They are no doubt assuming that one or more of the incumbents are about to leave. Are they right?

Maybe. Here’s a rundown.

Senator Mike Lenett
Lenett is the most certain of the incumbents to run again for his current seat. He made a pre-emptive strike in October with an extravagant mailer touting his progressive institutional support. In 2006, Lenett helped drive long-time Senator Len Teitelbaum from his seat and knocked off two Delegates in the Senate race, producing a possible MoCo record for incumbent removal in one contest. He is smart, tough and well-financed. He also employs David Goodman, a notably aggressive campaign consultant who helped produce Nancy Navarro’s infamous negative mailers in the 2009 District 4 special election.

Delegate Roger Manno
Manno was the top vote-getter in the 2006 Delegate primary, his first race for office. He has a reputation for good constituent service, introduces and fights for numerous pro-labor bills and has many supporters inside the progressive community. If Manno stays in his Delegate seat, he would be a lock to return to Annapolis. But rumors of his considering a challenge to Lenett will not die, even though he has done nothing publicly to encourage them. If Manno ran against Lenett, that campaign would tie the District 17 Senate race as the premier state legislative contest in Montgomery County.

Delegate Ben Kramer
Kramer made it clear that he would rather be in Rockville than Annapolis by running for the District 4 seat in the recent special election. But above all, Kramer wants to be in public life, having run unsuccessfully for council in 1994 and 1998. The safe play for Kramer is to stay in his Delegate seat, which he won in 2006 without being on the Apple Ballot. Kramer is a late decider and a self-funder, so he may not make his decision until next summer.

Delegate Henry Heller
Everyone assumes Heller is retiring, but he has said nothing about it. The six-term Delegate and former MCEA President (see a trend here?) is retired and lives in Leisure World, so he has nothing else to do other than to be a Delegate. We wonder whether Heller will see the machinations of the challengers as disrespectful, causing him to gear up for yet another race. Heller has deep support in Leisure World and it is nearly inconceivable that MCEA could keep him off the Apple Ballot, so he has a real chance to return even if he does not knock on a single door.

So what happens if all four incumbents run again? Could they run as a slate? How many of the challengers will stay in? Would MCEA target an incumbent to help Bonnie Cullison? At this point, there are more questions than answers.


The Rogue Superintendent, Part One

County Council Member Valerie Ervin, the Chair of the Council’s Education Committee, recently called MCPS leader Jerry Weast a “rogue superintendent.” That statement is a culmination of years of tension between the County Council and the school system that has been recently exacerbated by budget difficulties. All of that is threatening to erupt in an all-out battle with consequences for the county’s future.

The immediate cause of this dispute is the county’s maintenance of effort (MOE) quandary. State law requires counties to spend at least as much local funding on education each fiscal year as they have the prior fiscal year. This year, Montgomery County asked the state for a waiver of that requirement in the amount of $79 million due to the poor state of the economy and the tax-limiting Ficker Amendment. The county’s Board of Education and Weast agreed with the grounds for a waiver and testified on its behalf. When the state denied the county’s request, the county arranged to give the school district the money to satisfy the state’s requirement, but took it back as a debt service charge for construction. Weast believed that the maneuver would apply just to one year, but the County Council refused to agree to that restriction. Weast then wrote State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick asking whether the county’s budget maneuver was legal, prompting an opinion by Attorney General Doug Gansler stating that it was not. That may subject the county to penalties ranging from $23-45 million in lost state aid. Weast then blasted the County Council in a statement that was sent to the media but not to the council, prompting Council Member Ervin, who oversees his budget, to denounce him as a “rogue.”

The immediate issue surrounding the penalty is pressing. The budget gimmick approved by the council sent $79 million to the school system so that that money could be used to pay off bonds to build schools. If the state’s penalty applies directly to the school system, it will likely be paid from the money that was to be used for the bonds. That would leave the county responsible for paying off those bonds from another source of money. But if the county makes the school system eat the money, the impact would be unpredictable.

All of this occurs in the background of severe budget problems. The county learned in November that income tax revenues due from the state are $85.2 million lower than originally projected. A County Council budget analysis states:

The total FY10 shortfall, based on the State’s new formula, could be in the range of $95 million, while the FY11 shortfall could be in the range of $110 million. These write downs alone could bring the County's estimated FY11 budget gap, which in September was projected at $364.4 million, to well over $500 million, despite the Council's November 17 approval of a $29.7 Savings Plan for FY10. Other factors could make the gap still larger.
In other words, no part of the county government has money laying around to pay off the penalty.

How did things get to this point? Multiple sources report that the school system offered the county a deal last spring to get around the $79 million MOE requirement. The terms of the deal were that the county would pay the schools the $79 million, but the schools would agree to hold the money in reserve. That money would then be available to finance next year’s budget. The reason that proposal fell apart was that many in Rockville did not trust Jerry Weast to sit on the money. And so the ill-fated budget gimmick was instituted, initiating the fall into the hole that the county now occupies.

That brings us back to a central factor that handicaps the ability of the county to respond to adversity: a basic distrust between Weast and some of the county’s elected officeholders. We’ll look more closely at that issue in Part Two.


Friday, November 27, 2009

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

By Marc Korman.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, unless you live in Bethesda where the Christmas decorations went up before Halloween. But not everyone in the County wants Christmas to start so early, despite what seemed like political consensus a year ago.

About a year ago, a little known law was thrust into the public eye when the County began to enforce a provision of the zoning ordinance which limits Christmas tree sales to December 5th through 25th. The law affects Christmas tree sales on lots in several residential, commercial, rural, and mixed use zones. The lot at the center of the storm was the North Bethesda United Methodist Church, though others were also affected and forced to shut down for a time.

Seeking to avoid being the County Executive who stole Christmas, Leggett announced that the law would not be enforced and allowed sales to resume before December 5th. He then introduced ZTA 8-18, which would eliminate the date restrictions in every zone Christmas tree sales are permitted. The Planning Board unanimously voted to support the amendment back in February, but so far the amendment has not passed the County Council.

One of the reasons is Chevy Chase West, a community of approximately 500 homes south of Bradley Boulevard and north of the Town of Somerset along Wisconsin Avenue. That stretch has been, annually, home to two commercial Christmas tree lots within one block of each other along Wisconsin Avenue. Although the law has not been changed, at least one lot is planning to open in late November before the current law allows. According to Chevy Chase West, the lots create traffic back-ups, noise and light pollution, and a potential safety hazard not just for them, but to the many others who drive through that stretch of Wisconsin on their way to DC.

Based on my conversations with people in Chevy Chase West, they are pretty realistic that a ban on Christmas tree sales on residential lots is unlikely. If there is going to be an amendment, they would like increased regulation and firmer rules. For example, Chevy Chase West would like to see sales limited to 10am to 8pm daily, a ban on open fires, and clear standards for signage and traffic management. At a minimum, they want the current dates maintained and enforced.

Chevy Chase West has made some reasonable requests and in doing so have shown a willingness to compromise. County government should do the same.

First, the County Executive should either work with the County Council for the amendment before the holidays, unlikely given the Council’s busy agenda, or enforce the law on the books. That does not mean County police need to go looking for Christmas tree lots, but if there is a complaint they should respond to it accordingly.

Second, the County Executive should consider what some appropriate compromises might be. Councilmembers have already suggested that removing any date restrictions could be going too far. Councilman Elrich suggested sales could begin the Friday after Thanksgiving. Councilman Berliner thought differentiating between for profit and non-profits would be a good idea. At the least, some meat should be put on the bones of the law so that the regulations Christmas tree lot operators have to follow are clearly spelled out and take communities like Chevy Chase West into consideration.

The general consensus last year seemed to be that this was an outdated law that should be repealed. That is an understandable first response, but it turns out the law has its supporters and its reasons.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

MD Governor Martin O'Malley on "Political Pulse" on Channel 16 TV in MoCo‏

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will be on the "Political Pulse" political talk show on:

Thursday, November 26th at 9:00 p.m.

Friday-Sunday, November 27th-29th at 6 p.m. and

Tuesday, December 1st at 9:30 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include:

1. State Budget issues;

2. Robert Ehrlich's term as Governor; and

3. Governor O'Malley's trip to Normandy in June to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of D-Day.

(The interview will be re-aired Dec. 1st, at 9:00 p.m, Dec. 4th-6th, at 6:00 p.m. and December 8th at 9:30 p.m.)

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post Keeps Shrinking

On November 20, the City Paper reported that the Post was laying off about ten website employees as it merged that operation with the newspaper. One of the workers was told the "numbers have been bad on the digital side and because of that, that's why they're doing it."

On November 24, Howard Kurtz reported that the Post was closing all its remaining U.S. bureaus outside Washington, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Kurtz quoted Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli as saying, "We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience. Nor are we a wire service or cable channel." Kurtz also noted that the Post's newspaper division had lost $166.7 million in the first three quarters of this year.

When is this going to end?


MoCo Government Takes Over the Redskins

Beleaguered Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has turned over the team to the Montgomery County government. In an MPW exclusive, we bring you into a meeting of the County Council as they discuss what to do with the club.

Phil Andrews: The present situation is totally unsustainable. Expenses are out of control. The players’ salaries have been soaring for years. No more raises!

Valerie Ervin: These players are cream-puffs. They couldn’t tackle a donut. I’m calling the Teamsters Union so we can get some real tough guys in there.

Nancy Navarro: It’s time for us to recognize and embrace the diversity on the team. If we do that, everything will be all right.

Nancy Floreen: The devil is in the details. And who’s paying for all this?

Marc Elrich: The problem we have is the capacity tests for the players. Twenty years ago, the previous ownership instituted a local area test and a project area test for player evaluation. Then the new owners came in and their financial contributors messed up the tests to benefit their own draft picks. If we watch the money, fix the tests and change absolutely nothing else for decades, we’ll have a higher quality of life for the fans.

Tom Manger: Would a helicopter help?

Jerry Weast: I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t mess with my budget. But if there is any left-over money from concession sales, I can always use it.

Brian Johnson and Rollin Stanley: Will the team be issuing credit cards?

Mike Knapp: What do you think, Roger?

Roger Berliner: I’m waiting for four of you to agree on something and the other four to oppose it. Then I get to decide!

Patrick Lacefield: Just keep the damn bloggers out of the stadium.

Duchy Trachtenberg (just back from Boston): They need to tighten their belts! And don’t forget to protect the transgender players!

All Council Members Together: We want some state money! Where is our delegation?!

Ike Leggett: OK, it’s settled. We’ll do all of the above, except for the things we don’t do.

George Leventhal: But what happens if that doesn’t work?

Ike Leggett: Then it’s the council’s fault. What, do you guys think I’m going to take the fall for this?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State Legislators Advocate for Light Rail on CCT

A group of thirteen Montgomery County state legislators has written to the Governor asking him to select light rail for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). The group includes every legislator from Districts 15, 17 and 39 - which account for the entire alignment of the project - except for Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17). Additionally, District 14 Delegate Karen Montgomery and District 14 Senator Rona Kramer signed on. Kramer, along with District 39 Senator Nancy King, is a member of the Senate's critical Budget and Taxation Committee. The County Council voted 6-3 to support light rail, with Council Members Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner supporting bus rapid transit instead.

Following is the joint letter.


Eli El: "The Devil will not break my God given WILL"

District 20 Delegate candidate Eli El continues to be unhappy with our revelations about his domestic abuse case, sending in eleven different comments to our original post on the subject. (One of the others came from an individual representing the "National Coalition of Men" urging male voters to "get out the penis vote" for El.) Following is the text of his most recent comment.


In this matter, Judge William G. Simmons proves my point..."The Mind Can Only Reason What The Heart Can Process".

I am not trying to get too philosophical over the internet; However, this "keeping it real" moment is absolutely needed. Most of us believe in some Higher Being. I believe in God. For me, God is The Provider of all Grace and Fulfillment; The Creator of Light, Love, and Life; The Great Architect of the Universe; The Creator of all things seen and unseen. If you believe in God, you may also know that there is a Devil {The Tempter}. The Devil is the opposite of everything that is good. In disputes, debates, fights, hostilities, and confrontation; we often blame our colleagues, spouses, children, bosses, or friends. However, in most cases, we fail to identify the true enemy...the Devil.

The Devil's goal is to:

Again, I did nothing to threaten or harm anyone. The facts prove it.

Isaiah 54:17 reads, ' weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me," declares the LORD.'

Throughout history, there have been many religious accounts of God's children who have been falsely persecuted and unjustly punished. One of the Devil's goals is to take away your WILL to do good deeds. The Devil is just as active in 33 B.C. and he is in 2009 A.D. My enemy is not Judge William G. Simmons; I know who is the true enemy whom is always determined to destroy what God has placed together. The Spiritual Enemy {Devil} has won that battle, but he will not win the war. The Devil will not break my God given WILL. I pray that every person, who reads this blog posting, continues to support me as I continue to walk uprightly before God and Man. Please don’t allow yourself to be influenced by the Devil.

I urge that you remain focused and not ever be temped by the Devil who makes many offers and sets many traps in order to disrupt your true calling. Whether are a student, single-parent, business owner, Scientist, religious leader, Soldier, professional athlete, or even The President of the United States of America...Do NOT let the Devil:

DECEIEVE you with disappointment, fear, or even temporary gifts
DISRUPT your path or destiny
DIVIDE your families, friends, and loved ones

Recommended Readings:
The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him by Warren W. Wiersbe
The Rules of Engagement: The Art of Strategic Prayer And Spiritual Warfare by N. Cindy Trimm

If you have other suggested readings, please reply with your recommendations.

Warm Regards,
Eli El


MdTA Releases More Documents on Free E-ZPasses for Legislators

The one lingering mystery from the now-cancelled free E-ZPass program for state legislators concerns the number of Senators and Delegates who had them. In August 2009, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) told us that 128 state legislators had free E-ZPasses but refused to release their names. On September 30, MdTA responded to our Public Information Act (PIA) request seeking those names and told us that only 71 had them. What happened to the other 57 legislators? We found out that MdTA tipped off the General Assembly about our PIA request in a September 23 letter, but we had no further details. So we sent another information request and MdTA has sent us its response.

Specifically, we asked MdTA for:

1. A list of legislators who held non-revenue E-ZPass accounts for any period of time between January 1, 2009 and September 30, 2009.

2. A list of the dates on which any of these accounts were canceled from January 1, 2009 through September 30, 2009.

3. Copies of any records of communication between MdTA and any member of the General Assembly about these non-revenue accounts from August 1, 2009 on.
MdTA responded to each of these questions as follows:

l. A list of legislators who held non-revenue E-ZPass accounts between January 1 ,2009 and September 30, 2009 does not exist. The September 30, 2009, list was provided to you as a courtesy, although the Authority was not required to do so by the Maryland Public Information Act. Under the P IA, you may only obtain an agency's existing records.

2. A list of dates on which any accounts were cancelled for Maryland General Assembly Members does not exist.

3. Correspondence responsive to this request regarding legislators and the E-ZPass nonrevenue account program, which is not privileged or otherwise not subject to disclosure, is enclosed. Some correspondence responsive to your request has been withheld pursuant to SG § 10-615(l) because it is subject to attorney-client privilege. Portions of documents have been redacted or withheld because they contain personal data provided to the Authority in connection with an electronic toll collection system that shall not be disclosed pursuant to SG § 10-616(m).
So the agency does not have any historical records on free E-ZPass use, does not know when they were cancelled prior to the program’s termination and – incredibly – claims to not be covered by the state’s Public Information Act. Moreover, the agency says that some documents are protected by attorney-client privilege. Did the agency consult an attorney in determining how to respond to our PIA request?

MdTA did send some documents that should be considered in a timeline of this matter’s development. It is clear from the correspondence that the agency, this blog and the General Assembly’s leadership interacted in a way that ultimately terminated the program. Here is how the issue progressed.

1. On August 24, we reported that 128 state legislators carried free E-ZPasses but MdTA refused to name them because of “privacy and security issues.” Two days later, we drafted a PIA request to get the names of the legislators who had them. MdTA received the request on September 1.

2. MdTA began its effort to respond to our PIA on September 2 by assembling data on legislators’ license plates that were associated with free E-ZPasses.

3. On September 23, MdTA wrote to members of the General Assembly who had free E-ZPasses alerting them about our PIA request. We obtained a copy of MdTA’s letter on our own and MdTA sent it to us in their latest PIA response.

4. On September 25, Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch announced that they were asking MdTA to cancel the program. We posted a copy of their letter and mass press coverage ensued, including on NBC4.

5. On September 28, MdTA faxed Senators and Delegates a request seeking information about the vehicles covered by their free E-ZPasses. It is unclear why MdTA was requesting this information because the General Assembly’s presiding officers had announced the end of the program three days earlier. Below is a faxed letter sent to Senator David Harrington (D-47), one of many that were sent out.

6. Several members of the General Assembly began communicating with MdTA about this issue during this period. Here is an aide to Senator Rona Kramer (D-14) asking MdTA to make clear that the Senator never had a free E-ZPass.

Here is Delegate Rick Weldon (I-3B), who represents parts of Frederick and Washington Counties, responding that he does not have a free E-ZPass because he does not have to use toll roads to commute to Annapolis.

And here is Senator Mike Lenett (D-19) making it crystal clear that he has no free E-ZPass and pays his tolls like any other citizen of the state.

7. The thirty-day deadline for MdTA to answer our PIA request seeking the names of free E-ZPass holders was rapidly approaching by the end of September. MdTA knew it was under scrutiny by the press, and especially this blog. So did the General Assembly and its leadership. On September 28 – just two days before responding to our PIA seeking the names of legislators with free E-ZPasses – MdTA sent this letter to a state legislator allowing that person to cancel his or her free account. Who was this individual? Why is this person’s name redacted? Were any other similar letters sent? We will never know because the list of legislators with free E-ZPasses we obtained from MdTA was dated September 30. This letter is hard evidence that MdTA allowed at least one state legislator with a free E-ZPass to escape being outed on this blog.

MdTA was also in direct communication with the Speaker’s office on this issue. Here is an email from Gail Moran, MdTA’s Manager of Government and Community Relations, to Kristin Jones, the Speaker’s Chief of Staff, pointing out our blog post about the program’s cancellation.

And here is a second email on the same day from Moran asking Jones to “please call me NOW.”

8. MdTA responded to our PIA request and named 72 state legislators who had free E-ZPasses on September 30. But MdTA almost immediately contacted us to remove one name from the list: Senator Jim Rosapepe (D-21). MdTA told Rosapepe of its effort to clear his name from the list.

9. At the request of the Senate President and Speaker, MdTA terminated the free E-ZPass program effective November 1.

So what are we to make of all this?

First, we are unable to solve the mystery of why MdTA said that 128 legislators had free E-ZPasses in August and a month later claimed only 71 had them. The fact that MdTA tipped off the General Assembly to our PIA request – a step that was not required to answer us – may have something to do with it.

Second, the fact that MdTA was in contact with the General Assembly’s leadership suggests that damage control was one of its priorities. The public image of the state legislature should not be an appropriate topic of concern for the state’s toll authority.

Third, MdTA’s lack of historical records on free E-ZPasses means that the program was subject to abuse. The agency had no way to make sure that the passes were used only for official business and, more importantly, had no way to make sure that former state legislators did not have them.

And fourth, the fact that MdTA had to respond to two PIA requests to release the names of state legislators with free E-ZPasses when it could have easily emailed the information back in August says something about the agency’s regard for disclosure. So does its claim that it is not covered by the state’s Public Information Act and was responding out of courtesy. Agencies that depend on public funds, including taxes and tolls, are subordinate to the citizenry. Responding to our requests for data about the use of our resources is a basic part of any state agency’s duties.

But things could be worse. Other public officials have far less respect for the concept of open government than does MdTA. If Duchy Trachtenberg was in charge of MdTA, we would have received no response to our information request other than a press conference accusing us of having joined the KGB!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Birther Billboard Owner: "You Gotta Call a Spade a Spade"



Hilton Spurns MoCo, Gets Nice Reward From Ike

This goes into the category of stories that are difficult to believe without direct evidence. But once again, dear readers, we have it and then some!

Have you ever been to the annual County Executive’s Ball? Oh, dahlings, it’s oo-la-la! All the top power brokers, money men, politicians and trophy wives come out to gossip, gawk and gorge. The spread is spank-a-licious! More than once, your blogger has crashed the joint just to pocket some of the candy bars on the hallway tables. (You can never fit enough Butterfingers into a slacks pocket!)

For years, the ball was held at the Marriott Conference Center in North Bethesda. And that choice was appropriate, given the fact that Marriott is headquartered in Bethesda and is one of the county’s largest employers. But this year, County Executive Ike Leggett is moving the event to the Hilton in Rockville.

Remember Hilton? Montgomery County engaged in a heated competition with Fairfax to land Hilton’s headquarters after it announced its move out of Beverly Hills. Well… maybe it wasn’t so heated. Our offer was blown away by Fairfax and we lost – badly. The episode contributed to the departure of former Director of Economic Development Pradeep Ganguly and helped spark a revolt by County Council Members. Now, Hilton is a happy Virginia company and the County Executive is awarding them his signature event.

Here’s an idea. Can we get Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin to move out and then reward them with a police helicopter contract?


Dana and Duchy Take on the KGB (Updated)

District 18 Delegate candidate and County Council staffer Dana Beyer has accused the county’s Ethics Commission of discriminating against her because of her transgender status and attempting to harm her political career. Her employer, Duchy Trachtenberg, has even compared the commission to the KGB. Are the heirs to the infamous Soviet spy empire really out to get them?

This issue goes back to late 2007, when the County Council unanimously passed a bill banning discrimination against transgender individuals that was authored by Duchy Trachtenberg, who is Beyer’s employer. The bill’s opponents, most of whom were organized in a group called Citizens for a Responsible Government (CRG), launched a campaign to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the bill. The Montgomery County Board of Elections originally ruled that CRG gathered enough signatures to justify a referendum, but their finding was overturned by the courts. The transgender protection law is in effect today.

Beyer was one of several people that traveled the county to monitor CRG’s gathering of signatures in early 2008. Long-time readers will recall that we wrote about one encounter between Beyer and CRG volunteers that is relevant to the events now under discussion today. We asked Beyer what happened at the time:

Beyer, an aide to County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, Vice-President of Equality Maryland and former candidate for District 18 Delegate, told her side of the story to this blog. She said she encountered CRG’s petition collectors on Primary Election Day, the following weekend and President’s Day (2/18), the date of the incident in question. At the Bethesda Giant, she entered the store, told the manager that the petition collectors were violating store policy (which allows the group to collect signatures on only one weekend per month), and left soon after making the statements to the group shown on the video.
Here is the video that was taken by CRG of the incident:

After emerging from the grocery store, Beyer told the signature collectors, “An email went out; you’re going to be asked to leave. Any petitions gathered today are illegal.”

Why is this a problem? As a County Council employee, Beyer is subject to the county’s ethics code. County Code Chapter 19A-4(m) defines a “public employee” as including “the County Executive and each member of the County Council” along with “any person employed by a County agency, including the director of the agency.” No exemptions appear for council staff or any other employees operating off-the-clock. Even non-paid board and commission members are treated as employees. County Code Chapter 19A-14(e) states, “A public employee must not intimidate, threaten, coerce or discriminate against any person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s freedom to engage in political activity.”

The video by itself does not prove that Beyer violated the ethics code, but it does chronicle an incident that merits scrutiny. A reasonable person could believe that Beyer intended to discourage CRG’s volunteers from gathering signatures by her unsolicited statement to them that they were engaged in “illegal” activities. That judgment most appropriately belongs to police officers rather than County Council staffers. When CRG later filed an ethics complaint against Beyer, the video would have been available to the commission to demonstrate Beyer’s methods of dealing with the signature gatherers.

As it turns out, the video was not the decisive factor in the investigation. The Ethics Commission found enough evidence of misconduct by Beyer at another grocery store on a different day to justify holding a hearing on the matter. The commission has no power to punish offenders; it may only ask the County Attorney to take its findings to the courts. Beyer blasted the commission in a press conference and filed a complaint against them with the county’s Human Rights Commission on the following grounds:

1. The commission allegedly treated her unfairly by having investigators search her work computer without her knowledge. “You can't run a government like this,” Beyer said. “If this were a murder investigation or if it was a major multimillion fraud investigation, I could understand that. But for this?” Trachtenberg, said, “The use of KGB-type tactics to undermine the function of my council office is chilling.” According to the Examiner, County Council staff director Steve Farber was not notified of the computer search, which turned up nothing.

2. The commission allegedly leaked the existence of its investigation and its findings to unspecified individuals, a violation of the confidentiality requirement for ethics investigations.

3. Beyer told the Gazette, “The Ethics Commission has made a blatant political attack on me, because I am the first openly transgender government staffer in Maryland.”

4. The commission was allegedly motivated to harm Beyer’s political career. Beyer finished fifth in an eight-person District 18 Delegate race in 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for an appointment to replace Delegate Jane Lawton after she passed away in 2007. Beyer is currently running for Delegate in 2010.

5. Trachtenberg was another target. Beyer said, “I’m a means to an end, and that’s to destroy my boss politically.”

Your author has called out a LOT of politicians and bureaucrats over the last two years. Our rule is that big allegations require big evidence. Let’s examine each of Beyer’s charges more closely.

1. Records Access
Beyer claims ethics investigators secretly searched her work computer. If that is true, Beyer’s “rights” were not infringed since neither elected officials nor public employees have any private property rights over public records in their custody. The vast majority of those records are discoverable under Maryland’s Public Information Act. We saw the dangers of record access problems first-hand on this blog, when the Maryland Transportation Authority tipped off the state legislature on our public information request concerning free E-ZPasses for state legislators, potentially allowing some users to escape detection. Beyer also questions whether the Executive Branch should be able to conduct secret searches of County Council records. That is a matter between the Executive and the Council Members rather than a council staffer. Overall, the opinion of Beyer and Trachtenberg that inquiry into public records is equivalent to any actions undertaken by the KGB reflects basic disrespect for the concept of open government.

2. Leaks
If the commission leaked the investigation and/or its findings, it did a poor job of it. No media outlet or blog reported on this matter prior to Beyer’s press conference. Your author has MANY eyes and ears in the council building yet had no knowledge of it. The only person besides Beyer claiming that there was a leak is Trachtenberg, who would have known of the investigation through Beyer herself. The commission also interviewed several witnesses to Beyer’s behavior with CRG activists, all of whom would have had reason to believe that an investigation was underway as a result. Beyer has released no evidence of leaks at the moment. She only states her belief that leaks occurred.

3. Transgender Discrimination
Plaintiffs in discrimination cases often seek to prove animus, or overt and expressed hostility to members of a protected class, by the defendant. Beyer has presented no evidence of anti-transgender animus by any member of the Ethics Commission even though she alleges it. In fact, the video of her actions contains enough evidence to warrant scrutiny regardless of her gender status. Beyer’s theory appears to be that anyone who investigates her conduct is motivated by anti-transgender prejudice. That is far outside the scope and intent of the transgender protection law that she invokes.

4. Beyer’s Political Career
Only one member of the Ethics Commission lives in District 18: Antar C. Johnson, the chairman. He is a Democrat and made one $100 contribution to Ike Leggett on 8/5/06. Two members (Rafael Borras and Stuart Rick) are unaffiliated, one (Gilles Burger) is a Republican, and one other (Nina Weisbroth) is a Democrat. No members of the commission have ever contributed to any candidates in District 18. Weisbroth has contributed three times for a total of $175 to District 14 Delegate Anne Kaiser, an open lesbian and a heroine of the LGBT community. (Is Weisbroth the kind of person who would be logically suspected of anti-transgender bias?) There is no evidence that any commission members, much less a majority, are hostile to Beyer’s political candidacy.

5. Trachtenberg’s Political Career
Let’s remember the basic character of the Ethics Commission and its staff. Every member of the commission is appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council. The commission relies on staffers supplied by the Executive Branch. Its decisions are enforced, if at all, by action of the County Attorney, who reports to the Executive. In this case, the County Attorney actually conducted at least some of the investigation of Beyer on behalf of the commission.

Trachtenberg is closer to County Executive Ike Leggett than any other member of the County Council. When she ran in 2006, she sent a mailer featuring herself and Leggett all over the county. She endorsed Don Praisner and Ben Kramer in the District 4 special elections, both of whom were supported by Leggett, and worked to get both of them elected. She regularly accompanies Leggett at events around the county and is leaning heavily on his support to win a second term. Yet she is alleging that his Ethics Commission appointees, his County Attorney and his employees are using “KGB-type tactics” against her office. Any claim that Ike Leggett is a Soviet-style spymaster who dispatches minions to suppress Trachtenberg and Beyer is utterly preposterous and especially surprising coming from a woman who is depending on him for re-election.

The charges made by Beyer and Trachtenberg against the Ethics Commission and the County Executive’s staff are difficult to believe and, for the most part, collapse upon casual scrutiny. Their allegations’ unwarranted damage to the county’s reputation is exceeded only by their warranted damage to their own reputations. Hysteria and paranoia make for great press conferences and guaranteed coverage, but they are poor qualities in individuals performing public service.

Update: In a letter rich with unintended irony, Trachtenberg is now accusing the County Attorney of undertaking “a clandestine, and evidently unlawful, search of confidential files in the office of a sitting Councilmember. And I intend on getting to the bottom of this reckless abuse of authority.” She writes to him, “The people of Montgomery County have an expectation of transparent and ethical behavior on the part of all public servants. And they deserve no less.”

The irony here is that while Trachtenberg calls on the County Attorney to be transparent, her bone of contention is the scrutiny of public records in her possession. Those records, with very limited exceptions, are accessible to the citizenry under the state’s Public Information Act (PIA). Council Members and the County Executive answer PIA requests all the time. Is Trachtenberg saying that her records alone are confidential?

Disclosure: The author is the Treasurer of the District 18 Democratic Team. This post was written without the knowledge or sanction of any District 18 elected officials or candidates.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Marc Elrich on Growth Policy

Following is an op-ed on the county's Growth Policy by County Council Member Marc Elrich that appeared in the Gazette earlier this week.

The Montgomery County Council is engaged in its biannual evaluation of the growth policy and the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The APFO determines if public facilities can handle new development — whether schools can handle more capacity or roads more traffic. Road capacity is determined by assessing vehicle speed during rush hour.

It is now measured by a deeply flawed test that allows new development based on two factors: if auto speed remains above 14 mph (in a 35 mph zone) during rush hour and if transit maintains 50 to 60 percent of auto speed. Actual speeds in the peak direction can be less than 14 mph because speed is an average of both directions. Supporters of a lower standard claim that the current one supports free flowing highways, but I suspect you'd agree that 14 mph is a hardly free-flowing.

The Planning Board's new growth policy would lower the permissible speed to an average of 8 mph as long as the average transit speed is 75 percent of auto speed. Because this is an average of both directions and we tend to have heavy one-way congestion during rush hours, an 8 mph average could mean cars going as slow as 4 mph in peak directions. The proposal, rejected by the County Council, calls this Level of Service E, but all professionals call this an "F." If you were sitting in it, you would surely call this an "F," too.

The test is a travesty. The development community says it's worse than the old test — you can't tell what's broken or what's required to fix it. Activists find it incomprehensible. Board members can't explain how it works, nor can most council members, and the county executive wants it replaced. The highly regarded Florida Department of Transportation refers to this kind of test as lacking professional acceptance or scientific validity — it tells you nothing about whether roads or transit are "adequate." The proposed changes to this flawed policy are to accommodate one project — White Flint. Its only supporters seem to be either people who want White Flint exempted from any standards and don't care about the impact on thousands of people who use Rockville Pike, or some Smart Growth advocates who support it because it mentions transit and autos in the same breath.

The county needs tools that accurately assess transportation capacity. I have no argument with multi-modalism, requiring a shift to more transit (that is the reason behind my countywide bus rapid transit proposal), and focusing development in areas that can be served by transit. But Smart Growth is more than tall buildings and dense development —it still has to fit within real world constraints. Even if 50 percent arrive without cars, 50 percent arrive in cars. If we want fewer drivers, we have to provide a viable, cost-effective and rapid alternative. We can't turn roads into parking lots and then hope, as the board proposes, that people will give up cars to ride transit. That transition requires planning and investment for a viable alternative, not simply a plan to make commuting hell.

Smart Growth advocates and White Flint supporters fear that looking at other standards will return us (as if we ever left) to an auto-centric focus. The truth is there are nationally accepted standards that apply to both auto and transit. Others are doing it, while we insist on rare, inscrutable tests. We continue to change the rules to redefine failing roads as adequate, and we've been doing it for years. The time for these games is over.

Good tests illuminate problems and direct toward solutions. Smart Growth advocates have argued that the tests automatically lead to more road construction, but tests only indicate the problems. We must choose solutions that address congestion by reducing trips, rather than adding concrete. There is no doubt that transit must increasingly become the solution because we can't keep building roads. It's time to start focusing on transportation solutions that create transit capacity and viable alternatives to driving.

Marc Elrich, Takoma Park

The writer is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Valerie Ervin on Maintenance of Effort

Following is an op-ed on the state's Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law by County Council Member Valerie Ervin, Chair of the Council's Education Committee, that appeared in the Gazette earlier this week.


As chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council's Education Committee, I am extremely disappointed with the Maryland attorney general's Nov. 4 opinion that Montgomery County did not meet the state's threshold funding level for public education (maintenance of effort) in fiscal year 2010. I believe that this decision elevated form over function.

The budget enacted by the County Council provided full funding of the school system's request for its educational and operational program. The County Council did not make additional program reductions to balance the county's operating budget. This important outcome was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of the local Board of Education, the county executive and the County Council.

Montgomery County found itself in a unique position this year. While revenues overall were decreasing, our school system benefited from increased state and federal education aid, largely related to stimulus funding. The County Council fully funded the schools with fewer local resources by relying on these other funding sources, and our school system agreed with this approach. However, state law requires local jurisdictions to fund at least as much per pupil as in the prior year with local taxpayer dollars, regardless of economic circumstances.

I appreciate and agree with the law's intent to support funding for education and prevent extreme shifts in school systems' resources for children. Montgomery County has never done otherwise. As our outstanding funding track record shows, the county has provided a total of $576.8 million above the legal threshold level over the last 10 years.

As events played out this spring, state law proved to be inflexible in the face unprecedented economic challenges. In my opinion, the law's structure should not be allowed to exceed reasonable funding levels or threaten to reduce educational funding through penalties.

Montgomery County now looks to the governor, the Maryland General Assembly and the state Board of Education to resolve the situation in a way that does not threaten the ability of the Montgomery County public school system to meet the educational needs of our children or unnecessarily impair the ability of Montgomery County to meet social service, health and public safety needs. The reality of the fiscal constraints Montgomery County faces must be recognized, and the continued good-faith effort of the county to fully support our public school system should be the benchmark by which we are measured.

Valerie Ervin, Silver Spring

The writer represents District 5 on the Montgomery County Council.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Becky Wagner Announces First Fundraiser

At-large County Council challenger Becky Wagner has selected a campaign manager and announced a fundraiser. These are the first steps in a widely anticipated run for public office.

Wagner has been the Executive Director of Interfaith Works, a non-profit providing services to the homeless, for more than ten years. She attracted rave reviews from most of our informants in our Whispers of the At-Large Race series last summer but has shown little activity since then. But then this email was blasted earlier this week:

From: Edward Cooper
Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 8:39 PM

Dear Friends,

I’d like to invite you to join me at a fundraiser for Becky Wagner as she launches her candidacy for Montgomery County Council. The event will take place on Thursday, December 3rd at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland – from 6:00pm until 8:00pm. Attached is an invitation (PDF) with all of the details.

Many of you may know Becky Wagner from her leading role in helping Montgomery County’s citizens for over 25 years. As a community leader she is authentic, pragmatic and decisive. In her role as executive director of Interfaith Works (formerly Community Ministries of Montgomery County), Becky has grown the organization into a professionally managed non-profit with strong ties to the faith, business and social service communities. She knows, first-hand, what it takes to operate a business and make payroll every two weeks. She served the residents of Montgomery County as a key staffer to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, helped to lead a large trade organization and advocated for the needy as the founding director of Rainbow Shelter, Montgomery County’s first shelter for homeless women. She’s what we need on the Montgomery County Council – a person of integrity and civility who uses her collaborative skills to pull people together and get things accomplished. And don’t just take my word for it, plenty of people are fans of Becky…Washingtonian knows of her great abilities and skills; the magazine named her Washingtonian of the Year in 2008.

I am such a fan of Becky’s that I have signed on to help her manage her campaign.

Please come out and join me on December 3rd in support of Becky Wagner. She is eager to hear about what matters to Montgomery County residents and find ways to make your county government work for you.

For more information about the fundraiser, or Becky’s campaign, please e-mail or call 301.654.9342. I encourage you to forward this e-mail message on to anyone you know who would like to see positive change come to Montgomery County.

Best Regards,
Edward Cooper

Friends of Becky Wagner
119 Forest Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
The email was accompanied by this solicitation:

The Democratic primary is less than ten months away and the incumbents have been gearing up. George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen have each held several fundraisers this cycle. Marc Elrich has scheduled two in the last couple months. Duchy Trachtenberg has a new website. Challenger Jane De Winter also has a website and has been campaigning since last summer. Wagner has some catching up to do. But the gun has fired and she is off the blocks.


A Note on Maintenance of Effort

One of the points made by Blair Lee in his must-read column on the state's Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law for school funding is that Montgomery County has been paying well in excess of the state's requirements for education funding for many years. Lee is right about this in a very big way and here is the evidence supporting his view.

The Maryland Legislative Information Services' website contains the following data on above-MOE expenditures since Fiscal Year 2003. Effectively, these are the amounts by which each county has exceeded its prior year's local funding for public schools.

Montgomery County has contributed $420 million more to its schools than has been required by the state's MOE law since FY 2003. That is more than double second-ranked Anne Arundel County ($177 million) and more than triple third-ranked Howard County ($133 million). The state gives no credit to Montgomery County for its historical generosity to its public schools. In fact, the law works in just the opposite way: each year's bountiful school budget becomes next year's floor. As Council Member Marc Elrich says, the clear incentive for each county is to spend as little as possible to meet MOE requirements so that the law does not handcuff its budget in a bad year.

The MOE law is full of perverse incentives and desperately needs to be reformed.


Follow the Money, Part Six (Updated)

So you think that Maryland political candidates have to disclose all their donors? Well, they don’t. They can legally conceal their identities by reporting “lump sums.”

The State Board of Elections’ (SBE) Summary Guide lays out the circumstances under which lump sums can be used:

Certain contributions, including ticket sales, may be reported on Schedule 1 of the Campaign Finance Report as a lump sum, pursuant to the following guidelines:

Contributions under $51 from different contributors may be aggregated and characterized on the Campaign Finance Report as “lump sum contributions.”

Ticket purchases under $251 from different contributors (provided the purchase price of each individual ticket is $50.99 or less) may be aggregated and characterized on the report as “lump sum ticket purchases.”

Once a contributor exceeds $51 or $251 through a series of contributions or ticket purchases for that election cycle, the contributor must thereafter be reported by name and address.

If you choose the lump sum option, even though you may lump receipts as described above on the Campaign Finance Reports, the books and records required to be kept by the treasurer must identify all contributors, including ticket purchasers, by name, address, date of contribution, and amount, regardless of the amount.
SBE discourages the practice:

It is recommended that you not lump sum report contributions. First, it is difficult to keep track of the aggregate for each contributor. Second, if you are using ELECTrack, you will not be able to take advantage of the automatic aggregate feature. Finally, if you are using ELECTrack or any other software, you will not have the benefit of having that contributor's information as part of your database.
Seven of our sixty-one tracked candidates have reported lump sum contributions.

Total Receipts from Lump Sum Contributions

1. Jennie Forehand, Senator (D-17): $36,251
2. Kathleen Dumais, Delegate (D-15): $8,747
3. Henry Heller, Delegate (D-19): $8,340
4. Jamie Raskin, Senator (D-20): $1,310
5. Jean Cryor, Delegate (D-15): $930
6. Craig Rice, Delegate (D-15): $51
7. Nancy Navarro, School Board/County Council: $1

Jennie Forehand is on a different level than anyone else, with 21.4% of her total receipts since 1999 reported as lump sums. That exceeds Hank Heller (15.1%) and Kathleen Dumais (6.7%) and blows away everyone else in Montgomery County.

Lump sums are most commonly used by PACs, which often rely on countless small donations from members of organizations. When candidates report lump sums, they are often in small amounts – hundreds of dollars or less. Candidate-reported lump sums of $1,000 or more are uncommon.

Forehand has reported five of them:

$14,085 on 8/1/02, labeled “contribution by checks under $51”
$7,825 on 1/12/04, labeled “total of checks of $10 to $50 from individuals”
$5,621 on 1/10/06, no label
$4,925 on 11/25/00, labeled “contributions of $50 and under – from 11/25/00 to 11/1/01”
$1,305 on 11/20/00, no label

If each of Forehand’s lump sum contributions was comprised of $50.99 checks – the maximum allowed by law – that would equal 711 contributors, each of whom would have to be identified if they contributed any more money. Our database contains just 247 identified individual contributions to Forehand over the last ten years.

Forehand’s 8/1/02 lump sum of $14,085 is remarkable. Only seven lump sums reported by candidates have exceeded it over the last ten years. And to our knowledge, only two other candidates have raised more money through lump sums than Forehand: former Charles County Sheriff Fred Davis ($117,204) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway ($83,377.60).

The use of lump sums might make sense in instances of large numbers of tiny contributions, as is the case with many PACs. But when a candidate employs them to shield one-tenth, one-fifth or more of his or her donor base from identification, that creates the possibility of abuse. And worst of all, nothing short of a forensic audit by SBE can detect whether a lump sum is legitimately used or not. It’s impossible for any member of the public to tell what is really going on. We will be looking for this practice in the future. Politicians, you have been warned.

Next year, elections for state and county offices will be held. We will repeat our analysis of campaign funding after the next batch of reports arrives in January and issue profiles for each reporting candidate in the county.

Update: One of our sources had this to say about one of Forehand’s lump sums:

How do you do a lump sum PROSPECTIVELY???

$4,925 on 11/25/00, labeled “contributions of $50 and under – from 11/25/00 to 11/1/01”

She deposited it on 11/25/00 and includes folks who gave like 10 months later…?
Perhaps the Senator will consider answering that question.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Inflationary Policies

By Marc Korman.

Economists are afraid that the government’s fiscal and monetary policies will lead to an oversupply of money and runaway inflation. But out in Colorado, the opposite is taking place. Projected deflation in 2010 means the state’s minimum wage will actually decline.

Colorado’s Constitution (Article VIII, Section 15) was amended in 2006 to adjust the minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Colorado. There actually is no statewide CPI, so the state uses the Denver-Boulder-Greeley urban area CPI. As reported by the New York Times and others, the CPI projection for 2010 will mean a four cent drop in the minimum wage from $7.28/hour to $7.24/hour. However, because the current federal limit is $7.25/hour, the drop will only be three cents. Ten other states tie their minimum wage to inflation, but Colorado is the first to face the possibility of a declining minimum wage.

In Maryland, the minimum wage was last increased in 2006 to $6.15/hour, overriding Governor Ehrlich’s veto (MD. Ann. Code Labor and Employment § 3-413). The dollar increase was made moot the next year when Congress, in one of the Democrats’ first victories after winning the majority, passed a federal increase. For the first time since 1997, the federal minimum wage was increased. In stages over three years, the wage went up to $7.25/hour.

Tying government policies to inflation is generally a good idea. Congress’ failure to tie the Alternative Minimum Tax brackets to inflation has led to annual scrambling to pay for a fix so more and more middle class taxpayers are not swept into the alternative system. Governor O’Malley was right to propose linking the gas tax to the construction cost index back in 2007 and his failure to continue advocating that policy has been a mistake. I have proposed connecting public university tuition to inflation to keep the schools funded and affordable, though the policy should be coupled with increases in financial assistance.

The minimum wage offers another policy that can be linked to inflation. Starting at $7.25/hour, Maryland should increase its minimum wage with an appropriate CPI for the state or region. However, one caveat should be that the minimum wage cannot decline. Based on further study, the state might also consider a ceiling to annual increases due to inflation.

Economists have argued back and forth over whether the minimum wage is good or bad for the economy and job growth. Indeed, I have no doubt that some will point to the 2006 and 2007 state and federal minimum wage increases and blame the economic collapse on them. I cannot settle the debate here, though I believe beneficial effects of having a minimum wage have been well documented since the 1930s. Further, I believe that the few cents increase that will occur with inflation will be absorbed by most companies and not lead to mass layoffs or large curtailments in future hires.

Legislators in the General Assembly should consider linking the minimum wage to inflation. It is good for Maryland’s workers, especially those most vulnerable, and has the benefit of not affecting the state budget.


Senator Jennie Forehand on "Political Pulse" on Channel 16 TV‏

MD State Senator Jennie Forehand from District 17 will be on the "Political Pulse" political talk show on:

Thursday, November 19th at 9:00 p.m.

Friday-Sunday (November 20th-22nd) at 6 p.m. and

Tuesday, November 24th, at 9:30 p.m.

Senator Forehand will discuss some of the issues that she has worked on in the Senate (biotech, genetic testing, smoke free buildings), transportation issues, her 2010 Democratic primary challenge and other issues.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Follow the Money, Part Five

Who is financed by Maryland residents and who is backed by out-of-state money? We know the answers and now so do you.

Total Receipts from Maryland Contributors (Excludes Self and Family)

1. Steve Silverman, County Council/Executive Challenger: $2,427,826
2. Ike Leggett, County Executive: $1,165,525
3. Rob Garagiola, Senator (D-15): $495,469
4. George Leventhal, County Council: $478,014
5. Howard Denis, County Council: $447,130
6. Nancy Floreen, County Council: $420,955
7. Brian Frosh, Senator (D-16): $419,512
8. Ida Ruben, Senator (D-20): $346,492
9. Herman Taylor, Delegate (D-14): $321,484
10. Sheila Hixson, Delegate (D-20): $294,203

Total Receipts from Non-Maryland Contributors (Excludes Family)

1. Steve Silverman, County Council/Executive Challenger: $641,905
2. Ike Leggett, County Executive: $242,064
3. Duchy Trachtenberg, County Council: $236,671
4. Jamie Raskin, Senator (D-20): $130,346
5. Rob Garagiola, Senator (D-15): $127,464
6. Heather Mizeur, Delegate (D-20): $107,537
7. Howard Denis, County Council: $100,258
8. Sheila Hixson, Delegate (D-20): $97,711
9. Herman Taylor, Delegate (D-14): $87,605
10. Hans Riemer, County Council Challenger: $85,559

Percentage of Total Receipts from Maryland Contributors (Excludes Self and Family)

1. Cary Lamari, County Council Challenger: 100.0%
2. Robin Ficker, County Executive/Council Challenger: 99.1%
3. Steve Abrams, School Board/County Council Challenger: 98.8%
4. Sharon Dooley, County Council Challenger: 98.5%
5. Phil Andrews, County Council: 95.9%
6. Charles Barkley, Delegate (D-39): 94.6%
7. Jean Cryor, Delegate (D-15): 93.5%
8. Nancy King, Senator (D-39): 93.1%
9. Karen Montgomery, Delegate (D-14): 92.6%
10. Marc Elrich, County Council: 92.6%

61. Paul Griffin, Delegate Challenger: 24.5%
60. Hans Riemer, County Council Challenger: 25.6%
59. Dana Beyer, Delegate Challenger (D-18): 29.3%
58. Duchy Trachtenberg, County Council: 33.5%
57. Guled Kassim, Delegate/County Council Challenger: 38.0%
56. Bill Frick, Delegate (D-16): 47.7%
55. Reggie Oldak, Delegate Challenger (D-16): 48.2%
54. Heather Mizeur, Delegate (D-20): 54.8%
53. Ryan Spiegel, Delegate Challenger (D-17): 62.5%
52. Jamie Raskin, Senator (D-20): 63.1%

Candidates with large percentages of their receipts from Marylanders generally fall into two categories: long-time politicians with lots of local friends, and challengers with little base outside the state. Some out-of-state-backed candidates, including Dana Beyer, Hans Riemer, Heather Mizeur and Jamie Raskin, have tapped into national networks to mount a challenge.

Duchy Trachtenberg may be the only County Council Member with an ability to raise money nationally. As the then-President of Maryland NOW, Trachtenberg received significant amounts of money from California ($63,600) and New York ($61,696) in her 2002 and 2006 races. Most of that money came from big checks of $2,000 or more. Trachtenberg has received 24 of those checks from individuals in California, 22 from individuals in New York and 17 from individuals in Maryland (three of which came from herself). Since her former Chief of Staff is the new National President of NOW, that capacity may continue into 2010.

Here are the percentages of in-state receipts for each County Council incumbent, excluding contributions from self and family.

Phil Andrews: 95.9%
Marc Elrich: 92.6%
George Leventhal: 87.5%
Nancy Floreen: 87.2%
Valerie Ervin: 84.0%
Mike Knapp: 81.8%
Nancy Navarro: 77.7%
Roger Berliner: 63.7%
Duchy Trachtenberg: 33.5%

Here is a final statistic: the percentage of receipts that came from self, family and out-of-state entities. The higher this percentage, the less reliant a candidate is on financing from third-party Marylanders.

Percentage of Total Receipts from Self, Family and Out-of-State

1. Ben Kramer, Delegate/County Council Challenger: 94.5%
2. Robin Ficker, County Executive/Council Challenger: 94.1%
3. Dana Beyer, Delegate Challenger (D-18): 89.5%
4. Jeff Waldstreicher, Delegate (D-18): 82.9%
5. Paul Griffin, Delegate Challenger (D-19): 80.6%
6. Hans Riemer, County Council Challenger: 79.7%
7. Alec Stone, Delegate Challenger (D-19): 77.9%
8. Duchy Trachtenberg, County Council: 73.6%
9. Reggie Oldak, Delegate Challenger (D-16): 71.6%
10. Guled Kassim, Delegate/County Council Challenger: 68.3%

61. Phil Andrews, County Council: 4.5%
60. Sharon Dooley, Council Council Challenger: 5.8%
59. Jean Cryor, Delegate (D-15): 6.7%
58. Nancy King, Senator (D-39): 7.0%
57. Marc Elrich, County Council: 10.4%
56. Ida Ruben, Senator (D-20): 13.9%
55. Valerie Ervin, County Council: 16.0%
54. Kirill Reznik, Delegate (D-39): 16.1%
53. Cheryl Kagan, Delegate/Senate Challenger (D-17): 17.4%
52. Brian Frosh, Senator (D-16): 17.8%


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is Slots Job Fair Pressure, or Desperation?

By Rob Annicelli.

Simon Corporation, Cordish Cos., and Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold are now engaging in a full scale public relations blitz to try and rescue their collective proposal to place a slots casino in a shopping center. With less than three weeks to go until what would appear to be the final hearing on zoning legislation which would permit a slots parlor in the county, these three amigos are making claims such as placing slots at Arundel Mills was the will of the voter during the 2008 slots referendum. But even worse, they are now looking to recruit prospective job seekers to come out to the Arundel Mills food court on Thursday, November 19th for a job fair they will host despite not have a slots license nor the county zoning approval in place.

Some of the more biased Baltimore and Annapolis based news outlets are claiming that this move will put pressure on the council to approve slots. I believe this is a cruel move that will attempt to use those down on their luck in the job market as pawns in a political argument over whether a self proclaimed ‘family friendly’ shopping mall is the best location for a giant slots parlor. This is among one of the most desperate and divisive political ploys attempted in recent memory, and I am sure it will backfire. Remember, Arundel Mills sits two miles away from Ft Meade which has already started to see an influx in BRAC jobs and will host an additional 22,000 jobs. By comparison, there are 18,000 unemployed persons in Anne Arundel County . While full employment should be our goal, low paying gambling jobs should not be used to replace higher paying technology careers.

If you voted against slots like I did you probably do not want to see them anywhere. But if you are among the 60% of Maryland voters who approved slots you probably never imagined that an outlet mall with a brand new Lego store would also one day be home to a casino with twice the number of slots machines as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas . (And, oh by the way, Zed Smith of the Cordish Cos. stated on November 10th before the Greater Severna Park Council that those shoppers at the Arundel Mills Lego store are among their target demographic for slots!) States around Maryland are in the process of expanding gambling types and sites in a race to the bottom, and if the Arundel Mills effort passes as a result of a well financed effort by multi-billion dollar companies, what is going to be there to stop the local shopping center near you from one day hosting slots? Once the precedent is set there will be no going back. Giving local zoning control over slots was intended to prevent this from happening, or so we thought.

On December 7th at 7 p.m. we will once again debate the merits of allowing a slots parlor at Arundel Mills. No matter what Don Fry and the State Video Lottery Location Commissioners say about the revenue potential for such a casino, or if they think it is in the State’s ‘interest,’ the final word on permitting gambling at a family friendly shopping plaza will rest with the Anne Arundel County Council – a body elected by the voters of Anne Arundel County. Slots in shopping centers near residental developmets are not in the interest of the residents and voters of Anne Arundel County, and the zoning legislation should fail.

Rob Annicelli
Stop Slots at Arundel Mills