Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blago Reax Comes Home

Saqib Ali has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to require special elections in the event of a U.S. Senate vacancy.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Don Praisner Recommends Appointment for Successor

Below are the final thoughts of County Council Member Don Praisner before entering surgery on Monday. Mr. Praisner asks the County Council to appoint a successor rather than scheduling another special election. At this time, we do not know of a legal opinion by county attorneys on whether the council can take this step.

Last May, when I took the oath of office, I had high hopes for serving the people of District 4 and looked forward to carrying on the legacy of leadership, independence and integrity that my wife, Marilyn Praisner, was known for and would have brought to the remainder of her term.

I am deeply saddened to think that this may not be. I am writing this before undergoing surgery on Monday, Jan. 26, 2009. I have no idea what the outcome of the surgery will be. If you are reading this letter, the outcome was not good. As you can imagine, the news has brought profound pain to my family. This means that the people of our great County and District 4 will have to endure yet more uncertainty.

One of my wife’s lasting legacies is her track record of fiscal responsibility. She had an unwavering commitment to assuring that taxpayer dollars were spent wisely, and I am also committed to that goal. With those thoughts in mind, I am asking my colleagues on the County Council to forego a special election and instead appoint a qualified and respected resident of District 4 to serve the remainder of my term if I do not make it through the surgery.

As we witness an unprecedented financial crisis unfold on Wall Street, and as we live with the consequences of that crisis right here in our own backyard, I am concerned that the County and District 4 residents face the prospect of a second special election in less than a year’s time. The cost of such an election could exceed $1.3 million at a time when our residents are struggling and County government is being forced to cut back on essential programs.

We also know from recent experience that few eligible voters cast ballots in these special elections. Turnout in the District 4 special election equaled less than six percent of the turnout in the recent presidential primary. In fairness to the voters of District 4 and the residents of the entire County, it would be better to appoint an individual who would serve out my term and who would agree not to run in the 2010 election. Such an arrangement would give potential candidates adequate time to share their vision for the county with the voters of District 4. We could then have a fair and open campaign with no candidate carrying the advantage of incumbency gained through a special election.

I am deeply proud of Montgomery County and its people. I consider myself extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to serve them. Nowhere are there such dedicated people who genuinely care about their community, their neighbors and their families.

To my Council colleagues, thank you for your tremendous dedication and spirit. I am grateful for the friendship and collegiality that you offered me. You inspired me with your commitment to the people of Montgomery County. To my good friend, Ike Leggett, our steadfast county executive in these uncertain times, I want to offer my deep appreciation. You have stood by my side through this past year. I will not forget any of you.

I wish you all well in the difficult days ahead, and I want to leave you with this one thought:

Norman Vincent Peale once said, “No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities—always see them, for they're always there.”


County Council Member Don Praiser Passes Away

The Gazette reports his passing at 1:45 PM today. This is an unbelievable tragedy for the Praisner family.


Steele Elected RNC Chair

Maryland's Michael Steele was elected RNC Chair on the sixth ballot.


Big Daddy’s Revenge (Updated!)

Unfathomably, GOP Senators Alex Mooney (R-3), Janet Greenip (R-33) and Andy Harris (R-7) voted against Mike Miller’s inevitable re-election as Senate President again. All regular readers know how important defending the honor of Big Daddy is to the authors of this blog. And so we asked our informants this question: how should Miller go about punishing the renegades who so ill-advisedly resist his rule? One of our most devious spies offered this suggestion:

Mooney, Greenip and Harris should spend 24 hours on death row, eating the food and sitting in the cell like other death row inmates. Ten minutes before midnight, they should be marched to the death chamber where the hooded executioner, Mike Miller, issues them a “get out of jail free” card. In a twist of irony, each learns a lesson: the three understand the inhumanity of the death penalty, and Miller enjoys a rare taste of benevolence.
Big Daddy – benevolent?! We’d pay rock-star money to see that!

Update: Another spy offers this:

Obviously, the penalty should be for Miller to lock them in a room with Rob Garagiola, Mike Lenett, Roger Manno, and Saqib Ali, with instructions that the first one to eat an entire Republican gets to succeed Van Hollen in Congress.


WSSC Put To Shame By Others In Response To PCCP Crisis

By Wayne Goldstein.

Based on studies, news accounts, and water utility web sites, I have learned that two water utilities stand out in their response to the Prestressed Concrete Cylinder Pipes (PCCP) crisis - the Howard County Bureau of Utilities and the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) - as compared to WSSC. Howard County and WSSC simultaneously experienced PCCP breaks in the '80s and '90s, and even sued the same pipe manufacturer. But the similarity ends there. One of WSSC contractor Pure Technologies research papers, "Acoustic Monitoring of Prestressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe - A Case History" tells what happened:

"In 1995, Howard County’s Bureau of Engineering and Utilities developed a plan for inspection of its water mains constructed of PCCP… Beginning in April 2000, an acoustic monitoring program was implemented on approximately 6000’ feet of this pipeline… Howard County’s Long-Term Plan is to acoustically monitor all the PCCP water mains within the water distribution system. This will provide information regarding the overall condition of the pipes and enable Howard County to determine areas that should be externally inspected or replaced. Acoustic monitoring has allowed pipe evaluation without taking the pipeline out of service and provided data over an extended period of time. Acoustic monitoring has been proven successful in locating failures and Howard County will continue with this program. Acoustic monitoring of 5000 feet of 30-inch PCCP water main in US Route 40 from St. Johns Lane to Dogwood Drive is presently being conducted."

In its 1999 Annual Report, SDCWA stated: "In the early '80s, the Water Authority began experiencing failures in portions of its older, prestressed concrete pipeline. These pipes were constructed as far back as the late 1950s. How the Water Authority responded to these failures represented a significant change in the way the Water Authority inspects and maintains its aqueduct system. In January 1992, the board approved the Aqueduct Protection Program, an inspection, preventative maintenance and repair program that has won accolades from across the U.S. Since 1992, the Water Authority has spent more than $6 million for the inspection and repair work that prevents pipeline failures and unplanned service interruptions… The greatest testament of the Aqueduct Protection Program’s value is its track record: since the program’s inception, no section of inspected pipe has failed."

At a November 2000 meeting, SDCWA voted to "...Award a Professional Services Agreement to Pressure Pipe Inspection Company for $140,000 to Provide Remote Field Eddy Current/Transformer Coupling Inspection Services for Pre-stressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe for the Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Aqueduct Protection Program Shutdowns." In a 12/22/08 press release, Pure Technologies announced that it: "has been awarded a contract for up to [$3] million by …(SDCWA)… The SDCWA contract is for the supply and installation of Pure’s patented SoundPrint® AFO fibre-optic acoustic monitoring system as part of the Water Authority’s Aqueduct Protection Program, and monitoring services for the installation until September 2011. This is the third such contract awarded by the Water Authority to Pure since November 2005. Upon completion of the installation, which is scheduled for January and February 2009, Pure will be monitoring a total of 48 miles of the Authority’s aqueduct system."

Pure Technologies also reported in one of its papers: "Approximately 82 miles of [SDCWA] pipelines are pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes (PCCP)… Made from a combination of steel and concrete, PCCP appeared highly resistant to corrosion and to provide unparalleled inner pipe strength. However, numerous catastrophic failures have occurred with these pipes worldwide. In response, the Water Authority in 1991 instituted a pro-active 30-year program to reinforce the pipes with steel liners. To date, the Water Authority has relined more than 24 miles of its pipelines. The remaining 58 miles of PCCP are targeted for rehabilitation by 2027, helping ensure a safe and reliable water supply to the region."

What these documents show is that these two water utilities developed a comprehensive approach to PCCP in the early to mid '90s and embraced monitoring technology in 2000 almost as soon as it became commercially available. These programs have never been shut down. Howard County inspects PCCP pipes down to 30 inches. In contrast, last November, there was this news account: "Although the fiber-optic system, which uses computers to monitor when wires inside pipes break, would not have applied to the [48-inch] Derwood pipe, the system would be beneficial for monitoring large pipes close to residential areas, WSSC officials said."

WSSC, in a briefing to the full County Council earlier this week, stated that it began inspections in 1981 when it: “first used Visual and Sounding to identify deteriorated areas and delaminations.” This detailed briefing bore little resemblance to the minimal information provided to a Council committee last year about the Derwood break. This week, I also learned that WSSC may have been more proactive in PCCP inspections and repairs and replacements than the public record appeared to show, making use of Sonic/Ultrasonic Pulse Echo to identify micro-cracking in the mid-1990s and using electromagnetic testing in 2001. WSSC may even have begun a comprehensive physical inspection program of its larger PCCP ahead of both Howard County and SDCWA. WSSC used steel in 1997-98 to line about four miles of its largest, 96-inch PCCP, similar to SDCWA’s chosen solution for all of its PCCP. Another four miles of PCCP in various large diameters was replaced in 1989 and in 1997.

Despite such responsible behavior, WSSC allowed long periods between visual inspections. According to the just-released records, there were eight years where little if any PCCP were inspected: 1982, 1983, 1992, 1993, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005. There were also seven years where more than 7 miles – 37,000 feet - of PCCP were inspected annually: 1988, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2007, 2008. There have been three cycles of years of little inspection followed by years of much inspection since 1981.

While various forms of “non-destructive testing” (NDT) first began with inspections in 1997, it does not appear to have been routinely used after that. This record also shows that WSSC still waited seven years longer than Howard County and SDCWA to make use of electronic inspection. While it did first use electronic inspection in 2001, it inspected less than two miles of PCCP that year and didn’t use it again until 2007. WSSC also failed to either inspect or monitor PCCP in diameters below 54 inches even though the smaller diameter PCCP is inspected and monitored by the other water utilities. To its credit, I found a few comments like this: "The sonic/ultrasonic nondestructive testing of the WSSC 96" pipe demonstrated much more good pipe exists than had been anticipated; this saved tens of millions of repair dollars." Pure Technologies also praises WSSC's approach to repairing PCCP where warranted, rather than doing indiscriminate relining or replacement regardless of remaining useful life.

In physically and electronically inspecting 4.7 miles - 24,816 feet - or 1551 sixteen-foot PCCP sections in the fall-winter of 2006-07, WSSC replaced 13 failure-prone sections, less than 1% of the total PCCP. In inspecting 5.8 miles - 30,624 feet - or 1914 sixteen-foot PCCP sections in the spring of 2007, WSSC replaced 2 and repaired 7 failure-prone sections, less than 1/2 of 1%. Internal acoustic fiber optic monitoring cable was also installed for all 10.5 miles. WSSC told the council this week that it costs $250,000 per mile to physically inspect PCCP and then set up the continuous electronic monitoring. It wants to do only twelve miles per year for just $3 million, claiming it doesn’t believe it could get more than that. WSSC also stated that it could do as much as 18 miles per year without disrupting water usage. Does anyone believe that either county would refuse to authorize an additional $1.5 million per year to inspect and install monitoring equipment in an additional six miles of PCCP to perhaps prevent the equivalent of another River Road break?

WSSC has been guilty of too little, too late over the last 28 years in doing regular inspections. It continues to rely on past assumptions about PCCP size and age, that have been shown to be incorrect, in order to save relatively small sums on inspection costs. It then is forced to waste money when PCCP fails. The $500,000 cost to WSSC for the 255 million gallons of water lost in the Derwood and River Road pipe breaks alone could have instead paid to inspect and to install continuous monitoring equipment in two miles of PCCP. Until this week, WSSC appears to have almost concealed what it has done right over the years, a far cry from agencies like MCPS that often take credit where little is due.

While WSSC is now far more straightforward than it was just a few months ago in the aftermath of the Derwood pipe break, I believe that the governments and ratepayers of both counties should exercise greater oversight of all of its operating and CIP budget requests to help WSSC maintain its newfound virtue. This means asking questions to get specific information about the sizes and ages of all broken water pipes, PCCP or not, and the ages and break history of all water pipes proposed for replacement. We need this factual information to decide for ourselves how much WSSC really needs for future infrastructure repair and replacement.

Whatever we decide, we can't punish lower income residents in both counties, in good times or bad, with flat fees for billing or infrastructure instead of instituting aggressively progressive rates that can also motivate greater water conservation efforts. We need to continuously monitor WSSC for potential catastrophic failure as much as we need to demand that WSSC continuously monitor all of its PCCP for potential catastrophic failure.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Elrich and Leventhal Debate Purple Line's Impact on the Trail and Traffic

While I think it is well-known that I favor an alternative version of the Purple Line, and I still hope that the State and the federal government will spur us to Rethink the Purple Line, I want to congratulate light rail on the trail supporters on their victory at the County Council the other day. Just Up the Pike has reproduced Purple Line Now's press release and has a number of Purple Line related posts, including debates over burying the segment along Wayne Avenue.

The most lively moment of the County Council meeting was an exchange between Councilmembers Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and George Leventhal (D-At Large) on the impact of the Purple Line on the trail and on traffic. I've done my best to transcribe the key sections of Marc Elrich's testimony and the resulting exchange below.

Councilmember Marc Elrich: How much of the trail for the construction of this are you going to have to clear? People have talked about a 50 or 60 foot swath being cleared for the trail. Is that accurate?

MTA Project Manager Mike Madden: Where the alignment is 66 feet, um, most of that would have to be cleared. I would say pretty much all of it.

Marc Elrich: And will that then have an impact on trees that are in people’s yards?

Mike Madden: That’s an effort we can do to look at, to make sure that the, uh, root systems are preserved. We have landscape architects on board that will look at that to develop a plan to make sure that we minimize the impact to trees outside that right of way.

Marc Elrich: I’m going to wind up voting for this today but I want to make a couple of comments that I think we need to be really clear on. This trail is not going to look anything like the pictures that Roger [Berliner] held up and I think Roger is rightly concerned about that.

If you’re cutting out a 66 foot swath, it’ll be a generation before the trees return to look anything like that and I think there is going to be a severe impact. I think what you’re going to have a trail and the trail will function as a trail because if I pave 12 feet between two points and I can ride on it or walk on it, we can call it a trail but the quality of that trail is going to be radically altered by what we do there.

And I happen to think that BRT is an option. However, I have to be honest, no matter what you do, it’s going to radically alter what happens there. It’s not like there is a good solution to this so I don’t hold that alternative path necessarily as a less destructive path. This is going to be pretty destructive when you do this. And so I’m very concerned about that. It helps my interest in looking at single tracking, not because anybody in Chevy Chase has said we’d be happy if you single tracked because the fact is that anybody whose talked me who doesn’t like this doesn’t like it period. And nobody’s said well, we’d be happy if you did this as a single track.

But I do think that there are opportunities here and I’ve been spending some time doing searches of literature on the web and there’s a lot of discussion about how the Transportation Research Board has a couple of paper that deal in fact with single tracking in small segments. And the conclusion is not that it can’t be done but that it’s possible. . . .

. . . .

I don’t think we should talk about this as a traffic reliever. I think Levin’s memo makes the point that no one’s talking about this as traffic relief anymore and it doesn’t have a significant impact on anything in terms of traffic. What it does do is make a significant difference between people who spend two hours on a mass-transit commute today and will knock it down significantly. And I think there is merit in doing transit projects to cut down on the time many people experience just as there is merit when we do road projects and widen an intersection or add a lane because we’re reducing the time people spend in delay . . .

The last point I’ll make is that I really appreciate the study you did because it is a far cry what was talked about when Mr. Flanagan was sitting in Annapolis or Baltimore or wherever it was that he actually sat [laughter from Mike Madden]. That you actually brought forward a real, genuine BRT alternative that was not what was proposed to the community back in the days of the Ehrlich Administration.

And I think what you showed in your BRT alternative is that given similar rights of way—running on identical settings—that the two things perform identically and that the only difference really is the issue of how much capacity you can add in the future. And what I would say to that is that this is my one disappointment in your report because I’m been mildly obsessed about what people are doing with transit. . . . There are vehicles that could have given the same expandability to a BRT system that you have in this system. . . . It’s not like you can’t do it in another mode.

. . .

Councilmember George Leventhal: I regret the necessity of having to do this but Mr. Elrich said that this would have no effect on traffic . And on p. 4 of the presentation, they say that it’ll be as many 20,000 cars off the road. And in addition, if you are able to reorient bus service because you have a better and faster alternative taking buses off the road if you’ve ever been stuck behind a bus in traffic does make a big difference. This will make traffic better from where it otherwise would be in 2030 and beyond. Is it going to reduce traffic from where it is today? Well, we know the population is likely to grow so it is likely that traffic will get worse. That’s why it is so urgent we provide alternatives to the automobile like this. This will make traffic better. It is not correct to say that it won’t.

And when we are in a public forum like this and when we’re being covered by the press and we’re being broadcast on television and someone who is going to vote for this says that this won’t do anything, it won’t make traffic any better and it’s going to devastate our communities, one has to wonder why would an elected official vote for something like this that was going to have such devastating pointless impacts.

I’m voting for this because I think it will enhance the trail, it will improve quality of life, it will make commutes easier and better for the communities along the trail and throughout the region and it will improve traffic. I just want to make it clear that [pause] perhaps there is disagreement on that point but I didn’t want to let that statement stand. I was very surprised by it.

Marc Elrich: I’d like to answer that. I didn’t say it would devastate communities. I said it would wreck the trail.

George Leventhal: (sarcastically) Thanks for that clarification, Mr. Elrich.

Marc Elrich: I think that we need to be honest about what’s going to happen to that trail. It’s going to be a long time before it is returned to what it is. And I’ve acknowledged that’s true whether it were done the way I might want to do it or whether it’s done this way. But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s not going to do what it’s going to do.

As for traffic, 20,000 cars off the road over an entire day spread out over the length of this entire system is not going to provide major traffic relief and no one has ever suggested it’s going to provide major traffic relief to the Beltway or to East-West Highway. That’s just not what this does. And we shouldn’t say these are reasons to do it. We don’t have to oversell what it does. It’s an important transit link; it serves a vital purpose. It is not the magic bullet.


David Lublin in the Gazette

The Gazette profiles MPW blogfather David Lublin this week. Mysteriously, his role as founder of this blog is not mentioned. Perhaps David is embarrassed at what has happened to MPW since his semi-retirement!

As for that picture, well... may I suggest sunglasses and a leather jacket for next time?


Can Anyone Believe What WSSC Says About Its PCCP?

By Wayne Goldstein.

In my New Year's Day column, I quoted from news accounts from the '90s that described WSSC's experiences with major breaks of its Prestressed Concrete Cylinder Pipes (PCCP) as early as 1975, a problem that became much more widespread in the '80s. What has WSSC done to deal with this problem in the decades since? WSSC apparently has been unable or unwilling to provide any detailed information to the government or to the rate-paying public about those efforts. However, in the September/October 2008 issue of Underground Infrastructure Management Magazine, WSSC was far more forthcoming, although not necessarily more accurate nor entirely truthful:

"Given its size and stature, [WSSC] cannot afford to take a reactive approach to maintaining its infrastructure. As a result of several …(PCCP) water transmission main breaks in the early and mid-1980s, WSSC began investigating inspection and testing techniques for PCCP that eventually led to an aggressive and innovative approach to assess the condition of its transmission mains with the intent of preventing future failures and optimizing the pipe-line service life. One area of particular concern was a portion of the Commission’s 400 miles of PCCP installed during the late 1960s and early 1970s."

"WSSC was an early adaptor of non-destructive testing, monitoring and inspection of PCCP. In the late 1980s, WSSC began its PCCP inspection program with internal visual and sounding methods. WSSC researched and worked closely with consultants during the development of the non-destructive testing and monitoring techniques widely used today for PCCP. WSSC’s PCCP program when first established included the inspection of all 60 miles of PCCP water transmission mains 54-inch and greater."

"WSSC is currently working with Pure Technologies and others, to embark on an expanded program to inspect all 140 miles of PCCP 48 inches or larger. According to WSSC, this proactive program is key to the management of these critical assets. By proactively maintaining an understanding of the condition of the transmission mains, WSSC is able to optimize the service life of the pipelines, identify short-term repairs, plan for long-term capital improvements and provide value to ratepayers."

"WSSC uses a combination of visual and sounding inspection, sonic/ultrasonic testing, and electromagnetic inspections to assess the condition of its large-diameter PCCP. The inspection identifies anomalies, areas in need of repair and establishes a baseline condition, which includes estimating the number of broken wires in each pipe section. WSSC uses acoustic monitoring methods to identify and track additional wire breaks. To date, WSSC has inspected all PCCP water transmission mains 54 inches and larger and installed acoustical monitoring equipment for 17 of its 60 miles of PCCP of this diameter."

"…Mike Higgins, regional manager for Pure Technologies, said that WSSC is one of the leaders in the area of large diameter PCCP inspection nationwide. 'A lot of agencies would have replaced or sliplined the pipelines, but WSSC was able to go in and find the problem areas and fixed them to operate the system in a safe manner,' he said. 'The WSSC experience has shown the ability to extend the service life of problematic pipelines.' "

Let's look at the facts to see how accurate this story is. In a response to questions from the Montgomery County Council about the June 2008 break of the 48-inch PCCP in Derwood, WSSC wrote: "It is known in the industry that large diameter PCCP pipelines manufactured in the period from 1960 through early 1970 similar to the one that broke have a proven track record of reliability and do not have high break history." The Derwood PCCP was installed in 1969.

A national study of PCCP breaks published in the spring of 2008 found "a significantly increased rate of failure for pipe installed between 1971 and 1979. Fully 50 percent of the catastrophic leaks and breaks recorded were manufactured or installed between those years." It appears that WSSC fudges the years of greatest concern by at least 2 to 3 years from "the late 1960s and early 1970s" to the 1970s when reporting to the government and to the public as compared to what it tells its water industry colleagues.

What this also means is that the other 50% of PCCP that failed in the national study were manufactured or installed in other years. The River Road PCCP was installed in 1964. It may even be that most or all of WSSC's PCCP was installed in the '60s and '70s, meaning that pipe failures might be from throughout this time period. As I indicated in my last column, the biggest problem with PCCP is the susceptibility of the prestressed wire to corrosion, regardless of its thickness or its year of installation. Once the protective cement coating is breached, it is only a matter of time before the wires start to break. Thicker wires just take longer to break than thinner wires. The result could be that the older PCCP from the '60s with thicker wires could fail in the same time period as the younger PCCP from the '70s with thinner wires.

As for WSSC being an early adaptor of PCCP inspection processes, the record is either scant or contrary. According to the 1996 news account referenced in my last column: "WSSC General Manager Cortez White said yesterday that the utility had developed special imaging equipment to test the integrity of the concrete pipe. White said the section of pipe that blew Tuesday was scheduled to be tested within a year. He said other sections of concrete pipe have been found to be at risk and were replaced without disruption in service to WSSC customers."

Another WSSC General Manager said this at a February 2007 meeting: "Lastly, Mr. Brunhart noted it is time for the six-mile inspection of the PCCP as it had not been done for five to six years." WSSC also noted in its July 2007 Utility-Wide Master Plan Phase 1A – Final Report: "The PCCP inspection program was said to have lagged in recent years, and was felt by the Delphi workshop group to have been beneficial in identifying issues before failure of the pipe. It is recommended that WSSC reinvest in this program, since the consequence of failure of large diameter transmission mains is very high."

There was also this response last month about the River Road PCCP break: "Among the possible causes, they said, was corrosion of metal support wires inside the concrete pipe, which passed its last inspection in 1998, or shifts in the ground beneath it. 'Something has happened in the last 10 years, and we hope to figure that out,' said Gary Gumm, chief engineer for the [WSSC]." Another account stated: "…the pipeline was last inspected in 1998 and was scheduled to be reinspected by 2011."

Apparently, WSSC had a program to inspect 66-inch PCCP like that along River Road as little as once every 13 years. It appears to have inspected some of its largest PCCP every 5-6 years, but then not to have ever inspected "smaller" 48-inch PCCP like the one in Derwood, even 39 years after installation. How does this compare to the development of inspection technologies and programs elsewhere?

Pure Technologies, one of the companies now helping WSSC to inspect and monitor its PCCP, has written a series of research papers about PCCP over the years. According to one such paper: "Research done in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s by the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation investigated the use of continuous acoustic monitoring to track the deterioration of prestressed concrete pipelines. Results from work done at the Agua Fria pipeline in Arizona indicated that deliberate wire cuts generated large distinctive acoustic anomalies, which could be recorded by suitable equipment."

"In 1993, Pure Technologies Inc. began to use continuous acoustic monitoring to track the failure of unbonded post-tensioning strands in concrete buildings and parking structures. The size and complexity of these structures required the development of specialized equipment and software to collect, manage, and analyze the large amounts of data flowing from these sites. These programs, techniques and equipment designs have been applied to the monitoring of prestressed concrete pipe."

"In 1996, Pipeline Acoustic Systems (PAS) of Phoenix, Arizona was awarded a contract to supply a 6,200-ft. hydrophone array and data acquisition system to be deployed at different locations in the pipeline. PAS selected Pure Technologies to design and manufacture the system. A prototype system was developed and first tested in September, 1996. After several design modifications and software enhancements, a functional system was deployed in August, 1997."

A different company wrote this: "Immediately upon organization of Pipeline Technologies Inc. in June 1995, the firm answered a formidable challenge of the pipeline industry to develop a method of determining the structural condition of buried large diameter water pipelines while they remain in service. PTI, parent firm of Pipetech International, conducted a rigorous development program to meet this challenge, resulting in the introduction of acoustic emission technology to the PCCP industry in late 1996. In the decade since its introduction, acoustic emission technology has become the widely used technology of choice for determining the health of PCCP pipelines on every continent throughout the world."

Given that the technology to allow for the continuous monitoring for the sound of wire breaks, first through hydrophones and later through fiber-optics, has been available for at least 12 years, when did WSSC and other water utilities take advantage of it? Tomorrow, I will show the comprehensive approach of other water utilities to monitoring its PCCP, in stark contrast to WSSC.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Lesbian Prime Minister

In Iceland. Social Democrat Johanna takes the helm in the wake of the collapse of the Independence Party-led coalition.


Kratovil Votes Against the Stimulus Package

Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil (MD 1) was one of eleven House Democrats to vote against the stimulus package. Not a single Republican supported it, including Roscoe Bartlett (MD 6). Meanwhile, it appears that state Sen. Andy Harris plans to run again.


More Chaos at WSSC

Volcanic WSSC Commissioner Juanita Miller is at it again. The following email from an anonymous WSSC employee to the Prince George's and Montgomery County Councils alleges that Miller is going around the Interim General Manager to meddle with personnel issues. We will be reporting a lot more on Juanita Miller in the near future!

Dear Respected Councilmembers,

I have seen the recent article via the WTOPNEWS website about WSSC and the comments made by you and could not agree more. At this time I would prefer to remain anonymous since I am a current WSSC employee BUT I am also a rate-payer in PG county. I would like to give some additional information about a part of the inner workings at WSSC. It seems at least one commissioner has decided to take it upon herself to interject into employee relations within the organization. While this is always helpful and appreciated when done in a positive manner, I feel she is creating a negative environment by her comments and with what some might consider an attack on our Human Resources Group Leader. With any organization, preserving the Chain of Command preserves order. The HR Group Leader is answerable to the Deputy General Manager and General Manager.

The Commissioner in question SHOULD have gone through the Acting General Manager if she has an issue with ANY employee since that is the responsiblity of the General Manager and senior management, NOT directly to the employee, in this case the HR Group Leader and not through a public broadcast.

Below is the latest email from her to ALL Commission employees, Commissioners and Acting Deputy Manager. She does not even include the Acting General Manager. If this Commissioner is having an issue this should be addressed through Senior Management only and not ALL Commission employees.

Latest EMAIL:

From: Miller, Juanita
Sent: Mon 1/26/2009 12:01 PM
To: McKinney, Yvonne; Chow, Rudolph Cc: #Commission Employees; #Commissioners
Subject: PMS

Ms. McKinney: This is to document and apprise you of your apparent disregard of and disrespect for providing a response to the inquiry made on January 5th and 11th. You have not even sent an acknowledgement to indicate that you received and would follow up on the concerns expressed in the correspondence on this issue. Let's be very clear, a direct request from a Commissioner supercedes the protocol of going thru a "chain of command" to provide "substantive" information to the leadership of this agency. There have been major concerns expressed relative to the PMS process. And I initially inquired about the procedure for which you have either ignored or refused to respond. This conduct is unacceptable. Employees have a right to question a process and procedures that impact their careers and they deserve responses and clarification!! Therefore a response to my inquiries is expected by the close of business on January 28, 2009. I prefer that it be transmitted via email.

Editor's Note: Yvonne McKinney is WSSC's Director of Human Resources. Rudolph Chow is the Interim General Manager. Teresa Daniell, the Interim General Manager, was not copied on the email.


Former WSSC Commissioner Responds to MPW

Former WSSC Commissioner Manuel R. Geraldo wrote the following comment on our post about the behavior of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson's WSSC appointees. Johnson appointed Joyce Starks to replace Geraldo and the Washington Post's account of what happened next is eye-opening. Our readers should be aware that our original post on the WSSC Commissioners has attracted several hundred visits in less than a week and is one of the most popular stories to ever appear on this blog.

I am a former Commissioner of WSSC. I was appointed by Wayne Curry and I served with Artis Hampshire Cowan and Gregory Wells for Prince George's County. My term expired two meetings before the firing of John Griffin and Mike Errico. During my tenure with Artis and Gregory, WSSC was true to its mission and the ratepayers and approved programs for capital improvements, improved infrastructure and enhanced security of WSSC's facilities. The governance of WSSC was guided by our mission. We were always conscious about rates but we put the health considerations of the rate payers first. I have kept abreast of WSSC after my term expired because I am a ratepayer and I was proud of WSSC's role in the water utility industry. WSSC was regarded as a leader in the industry. To be sure,WSSC has not been managed or governed effectively since John Griffin and Mike Errico were fired. Moreover their firing was politically motivated. Some of the Commissioners who voted to terminate John Griffin had given him excellent evaluations in December. I am aware because I was the Commissioner repsonsible for soliciting and reviewing the evaluations of the Commissioners. Since their firing, WSSC has lost several long tenured employees who truly believed in the mission of the WSSC. These were employees with long institutional history. These employees left because of interference by Commissioners and poor management. I must disagree with the post "this is what you get under one party rule". During my tenure, Wayne Curry did not interfere with the Prince George's County Commissioners. His charge to us was for the Commissioners to do what was best for the ratepayers of the county.

Manuel Geraldo


Flawed Transportation Policies Hit Home

By Marc Korman.

I have spent the past year and a half riding the DC Metro and MARC Train from Bethesda to Baltimore for school each day. I always knew the cost was slightly higher than driving, but there were other benefits to transit: riding helped me justify living so far from school, gave me time to read and nap, and made me think Al Gore would like me. Unfortunately, due to our state and nation’s flawed transportation policies I am now commuting in my car on a daily basis.

I have written before about the need to improve the MARC Train and the reasons we should increase the gas tax. Unfortunately, both MARC Train service and gas prices have moved in the opposite direction from what I have proposed. Instead of following through on a plan to expand and upgrade MARC service, the commuter rail has maintained inflexible policies, reduced service, and increased ridership costs. Instead of increasing the gas tax, or pegging it to inflation, or setting a flexible tax so that the price of gas is always above a certain level, prices have been allowed to drop and a major incentive for mass transit expansion and alternative energy development has faded.

In the case of Maryland’s commuter rail, the Maryland Transit Administration has just instituted cuts. Among them was the elimination of the ten trip pass. A one way trip to get from Union Station in DC to Camden Yards in Baltimore costs $7.00. With the ten trip pass, the cost broke down to $5.60. As a result of the cuts, my daily commute on MARC went up by $1.40 each way and $2.80 roundtrip.

Taking the MARC train also required a $2.90 metro ride in each direction, so my total cost to take transit last year was $17.00/day. Now, it would be $19.80/day.

The benefit to the ten trip pass, as opposed to other bulk passes MTA offers like the weekly and monthly pass, is flexibility of use. Weekly and monthly passes can only be used for a short period of time, so if for some reason a rider does not need to take MARC one day (for example, they have to stay at school or work later than any trains run or they have avoided Friday classes) they lose a use of the pass they cannot recover. There are far less limitations with a ten trip pass.

This is not the only inflexible MTA policy that increases my costs. For example, MTA offers a student discount, but only if you purchase a special benefits card. Even then, you must go to a MARC train ticket office to make the purchase and cannot use the much more convenient electronic kiosks.

Another cut MTA made is to service on some of the lines. This did not affect the Camden line that I would take, but it counters the long growth plan for MARC which is to make service more, not less, regular. In my case, my current schedule makes MARC’s limited schedule extremely inconvenient.

A slight increase in the cost and inconvenience of transit would not be enough to chase me off the train. But the plummet in gas prices combined with those factors has done the job. A year ago, the Energy Information Agency indicated that a regular gallon of gasoline in the mid-Atlantic costs $3.11. Now, it costs $1.81/gallon. My 2003 Acura RSX gets 24 miles per gallon. A year ago, it would cost me $10.10/day in gas costs to get to Baltimore. Now, that cost has plummeted to $5.88/day. I also have to pay a $4.00 daily parking fee, so driving a year ago cost $14.10/day total and now costs $9.88/day, though this excludes wear and tear costs on my car.

Given these facts, a year ago I was paying a not insignificant, but manageable, $2.90/day surcharge to reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the surcharge would be $9.92/day. I cannot justify the increased costs and inconvenience, so I am back in my car, causing traffic, emitting greenhouse gases, and yelling at the radio. Sensible transportation policies would get me, and many others, on mass transit where we belong.

January 2008 Transit
Metro: $2.90/trip
MARC Train 10 Trip Ticket: $56.00, $5.60/trip
Total Daily Cost: $17.00

January 2009 Transit
Metro: $2.90 a trip
MARC Train: $7.00 a trip (10 trip ticket eliminated)
Total Daily Cost=$19.80

January 2008 Driving:
Length of Trip: 39 miles each way
Gas Mileage: 24 mpg
Gas Costs: $3.11/gallon
Parking Costs: $4.00
Total Daily Cost: $14.10/day (not including wear and tear)

January 2009 Driving
Length of Trip: 39 miles each way
Gas Mileage: 24 mpg
Gas Costs: $1.81/gallon
Parking: $4.00
Total Daily Costs: $9.88

January 2008 Transit/Driving Difference: $2.90
January 2009 Transit/Driving Difference: $9.92


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can Big Daddy Pass Off the Teacher Pensions? (Updated)

State Senate President Mike Miller seems determined to pass off at least part of the burden of financing teacher pensions to the counties. In reacting to the Governor’s failure to include a pension handoff in his budget proposal, Miller told the Gazette, “That's one of the failures of this budgetary process.” Miller also poked fun at County Executive Ike Leggett’s effort to draw a “line in the sand” over the issue, saying:

My good friend Ike Leggett said that he's going to draw a line in the sand… You never want to draw a line in the sand. Believe me, because I've had to rub out many of them in my lifetime, and I'm going to help him rub that one out as well.
So can Big Daddy force the counties to eat the teacher pensions?

Mike Miller is rightfully the most-feared man in Annapolis. But even his power has his limits. If Miller persists in going down this road, he will find plenty of obstacles. Here’s five of them.

The House of Delegates
House Speaker Mike Busch has not been as outspoken as Miller on teacher pensions. There is no sign at this point that House leadership will push the issue or that it will receive mass support on the floor. If the House reports a budget with no pension handoff, Miller will then have to override both the House and the Governor. That’s a tall order, even for Big Daddy.

The Computer Tax Debacle
The last time the Senate made significant changes to the Governor’s proposed budget was during the Special Session, when they added a sales tax on computer services. The computer tax quickly became the most-hated product of the Special Session and generated a mass movement to kill it. Ultimately, it was replaced in part by a three-year millionaire surcharge that was resisted by some legislators from Montgomery County. This illustrates a central challenge facing legislators who want to change the Governor’s budget. If an objectionable item is proposed by the Governor, he is blamed. But if an objectionable item originates in the legislature, they are blamed. Few legislators will gladly want to repeat a battle like the computer tax and a fight over teacher pensions would be MUCH bigger.

Federal Stimulus Aid
The Governor has included $350 million in anticipated federal stimulus aid in his budget. That cuts both ways. If the federal payment equals at least this amount, Miller’s case for the necessity of handing off the pensions is weakened. If the federal payment is less, Miller’s case is strengthened. Our hunch is that the Governor did not pull this figure out of thin air; he likely included it based on assurances from Maryland’s Congressional delegation and/or officials in the White House. If that is true, Big Daddy will see no help for his cause here.

Pensions Are Not Just a Montgomery Issue
Teacher pensions are sometimes cast as an issue primarily impacting Montgomery County. That is not entirely true. From our post last fall, here are the top five beneficiaries of the state’s covering teacher pensions:

Montgomery: $131 million
Prince George’s: $95 million
Baltimore County: $78 million
Baltimore City: $62 million
Anne Arundel: $54 million

Now here are the top beneficiaries on a per capita basis:

Howard: $159.52
Calvert: $142.99
Montgomery: $140.62
Charles: $131.78
Frederick: $122.94

The Montgomery delegation can find plenty of allies to block a handoff. Miller, a master at counting votes, must know this.

The Republicans
When asked about this issue by the Gazette last month, House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell (R-29C) said this:

Shifting pension costs “almost guarantees the locals are going to raise your taxes,” O’Donnell said. “The onus will be on the locals to cut spending and the states will continue spending on their merry way.”
Delegate O’Donnell is absolutely correct. With some counties across the state already facing deficits, they may be unable to cope with a pension handoff without raising taxes. And the long-term stress of bearing those obligations almost guarantees future county tax hikes. A logical Republican position on the issue would be to cut spending at the state level rather than pass the buck and risk tax hikes elsewhere.

So if Montgomery’s strategists line up their pieces correctly, Miller could face an opposition consisting of the House, the Governor, many legislators from jurisdictions in Central Maryland and the Baltimore area, and several Republicans. The rational play for Miller would be to stand down and move on.

But if Mike Miller can triumph against all of the above, he really does deserve the title “Big Daddy!”

Update: The Gazette reports that the federal government may send $3.3 billion in aid to Maryland over the next two years, though not all of that is destined for the general fund. If that happens, the odds against Miller will grow even longer.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Counties Escape the Worst in O’Malley’s Budget

Governor Martin O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, has expressed sympathy for the financial circumstances of local governments ever since taking the reins of the Free State. During the 2007 Special Session, his budget proposal largely protected county aid. His new budget does the same. The counties should be breathing a sigh of relief.

The Governor proposes appropriating $14.44 billion for the general fund in FY 2010, down 1.3% from FY 2009 ($15.011 billion). His budget assumes that the federal government will provide the state $350 million to support Medicaid spending. He also transfers $619 million from reserve funds to cover deficits in FY 2009 and FY 2010, including $366 million from the local income tax refund reserve.

The nearly one-billion-dollar total of increased federal aid and transfers has enabled the Governor to stave off the worst in terms of spending cuts. Here’s a comparison of FY 2009 and his proposed FY 2010 budget from the Department of Legislative Services:

The only area taking a double-digit cut is medical assistance, which reflects a partial rollback of a health care expansion passed in 2007. Higher education receives a 7.7% increase, buttressed by the Governor’s determination to hold the line against tuition hikes.

Here is further detail on the Governor’s planned state aid by category:

None of the aid categories are changing significantly. A $71 million cut to local schools’ operating budgets is compensated for by a $137 million increase in retirement funding, yielding a total school aid increase of 1.2%. Libraries are down 0.5%, community college aid is up 2.0% and county/municipal aid falls by 1.0%.

How did each of the counties fare? We illustrate their relative fates below.

Overall, aid is up by 1.0% (including increased retirement contributions). Montgomery County’s aid rises from $663 million to $715 million, an increase of 7.7%. But that is misleading since it includes extra money to make up for the state’s underpayment to the county’s schools last year. Accounting for that money likely brings Montgomery’s increase down to the low single digits. Three Eastern Shore counties – Wicomico (6.7%), Worcester (4.5%) and Talbot (3.6%) are among the biggest winners on aid. Prince George’s County (down 1.2%) is the biggest loser. But these shifts do not change the rankings of per capita aid. Baltimore City still leads the pack and Montgomery is still third from the bottom, just like last year.

Public school superintendents are already beginning to protest their operating budget reductions. It’s true that the Governor is proposing to cut their operating aid by $71 million. It’s also true that the Governor is proposing to reduce by half the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI), which steers extra money to Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and Baltimore City. But in return, the Governor has protected local governments from the burden of financing teacher pensions.

That’s a deal the counties can live with.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Give War a Chance?

The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has revealed, yet again, the difficulty of achieving any lasting victory or peace in the Middle East. Israel has shown it can make Gazans pay a fierce price for Hamas's continued insistence on launching missiles aimed a civilian targets inside Israel. However, it appears unable to dislodge Hamas from Gaza or totally stop violence from the Palestinian side.

The approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the Israeli side will be determined by upcoming elections. A Likud victory will likely lead to a harder Israeli line, as during when Yitzhak Shamir was Prime Minister, though Menachem Begin negotiated the peace treaty with Egypt. Electoral success by Kadima and Labor make meaningful peace talks more likely, though as in any democracy they remain constrained by public opinion.

Kadima and Labor currently lead the government and were clearly trailing Likud until the recent war in Gaza--widely supportted by Jewish Israelis. However, the latest poll shows Kadima and Labor show a tight race. Kadima, Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties would win 54 seats in the 120 member Knesset. Likud and three parties to its right would win 51 seats.

Two religious parties--Shas and United Torah Judaism--would gain he remaining 15 seats. Religious parties, often seen as more natural allies of the right but also often willing to work with the left--would hold the balance of power. Alternatively, Israel may see a Likud-Labor-Kadima government.

Meanwhile, signs on the Palestinian side aren't especially encouraging this week. Haaretz--the major left-leaning Israeli daily--reports that Hamas remains opposed to peace talks:

A senior Hamas official on Sunday said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement must end peace negotiations with Israel before any reconciliation talks can take place. . . .

He also demanded that the PA end security coordination with Israel, and maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had ended.

"Those who committed mistakes must correct their mistakes through a clear and frank declaration to stop security coordination with the [Israeli] occupation, release [Hamas] prisoners and later end negotiations [with Israel] because the peace process is irreversibly over," said Hamdan.

"It's time for us to talk about a reconciliation based on a resistance program to liberate the [occupied] territory and regain rights," he added.
Hamas appears determined to follow a strategy that has failed for 60 years. Palestinians can certainly bring violence to Israelis but only at a price that brings even greater violence down on their own people. Yet "Give War a Chance!" seems to be the continuing approach from Gaza's rulers.

P.S. Unsigned comments may be deleted in the name of pursuing civility instead of another blog flame war on this topic.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Will There Be Another Special Election in District 4? (Updated!)

County Council Member Don Praisner, who won a special election to replace his wife last spring, is now in the hospital. There is no indication from the media of the seriousness of his health problems. But if Mr. Praisner left the council prior to the expiration of his term in 2010, would that automatically trigger a special election?

The answer is that it depends on the date he leaves the council. In a December 2007 post on special elections in Montgomery County, I found the following:

When a council vacancy occurs, a special election must be held if the vacancy “occurs before December 1 of the year before a year in which a quadrennial state election will be held.” (County code, Chapter 16, Sec. 16-17(a)(4)) So, if a county council member stepped down on 11/30/09, a special election would have to be held. But if a council member stepped down on 12/2/09, the rest of the council would appoint a replacement who would serve out the rest of the term (County charter, Sec. 106)...

The last time a county council vacancy occurred was when District 5 council member Derick Berlage stepped down in June 2002 to become the county’s Planning Chairman. As the date was too late to trigger the special election requirement, the county council appointed Donnell Peterman to serve out the remaining months of Berlage’s term. Peterman was appointed on the condition that he not leverage his appointed incumbency to seek office that year. Peterman honored that commitment in 2002, choosing instead to run (unsuccessfully) for an at-large seat in 2006.
The same Gazette article on Mr. Praisner's hospitalization indicates that his daughter, Alison Klumpp, is considering running for the District 4 seat. If she does, she will join a crowded field whenever the election is held.

Update: The Gazette's Janel Davis reports that Mr. Praisner will undergo surgery for colon cancer next week.


State to MoCo: Build Your Own Trail!

A recent Examiner article revealed that the state expects Montgomery County to pay for finishing the Capital Crescent Trail near the Purple Line. Are they right that MoCo should pay up?

First, let’s understand the relationship between the trail and the Purple Line. Back in August 2007, I wrote the following in a guest blog on Just Up the Pike:

In 1986, CSX decided to file for abandonment of its tracks. The county then passed the Georgetown Branch Master Plan Amendment in 11/86 designating the tracks as “a public right-of-way intended to be used for public purposes such as conservation, recreation, transportation and utilities.” The amendment stated that “a transit facility could be an important element of the County's long-term transportation system.”

In 1988, the county purchased the right-of-way from CSX for $10.5 million. Two years later, the county passed the Georgetown Branch Master Plan Amendment of 1990, which “designates the Silver Spring & Bethesda Trolley and the Capital Crescent Trail as suitable uses for the 4.4-mile portion of the Georgetown Branch right-of-way between Bethesda and Silver Spring.”

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan, also adopted in 1990, reinforces the intended right-of-way use for both trail and transit. It states, “Use of the route for transit would provide an alternative to driving on East-West Highway and Jones Bridge Road. It would assist those people who rely primarily on local public transit. The key to attractive, successful transit service is providing reliable, speedy service. The Georgetown Branch provides an existing travel corridor that could readily be adapted for transit use.”

See the sector plan for further details - pages 103 and 104.

Newspaper articles from that time show that the county government intended transit use at the time they bought the CSX land. Chevy Chase residents reacted by first opposing possible residential development on the land and later by opposing rail service.

In 1989 the County Council voted to accept state money to pay for most of the cost of what was then known as the trolley by a 6-1 vote. [Then-councilman] Ike Leggett was the sole dissenter. Two years later, the trolley line died because of rising cost estimates and state budget problems.
From the beginning, the trail was designated as an integral element of the transit project, not an optional one. Neither the county nor the state has ever completed the trail into Silver Spring, a fact chronicled by Wayne Phyillaier in his Finish the Trail blog. But the Purple Line offers the promise of finally providing a safe pedestrian link between Bethesda and Silver Spring if the trail is completed alongside the transit line.

The Purple Line Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) estimates the project’s capital cost at $386 million to $1.6 billion. According to the Examiner, finishing the trail would cost just $14 million. So why shouldn’t MoCo shut up and pay up? Because we are now revealing a dirty little secret: the county has already committed more money for the Purple Line than has the state.

You don’t believe me? Consider the following:

1. The county is paying $32 million for its share of the Silver Spring Transit Center, which is designed to accommodate the Purple Line. This includes $18.6 million added by the County Council in July to “make the project an example of design excellence.” Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan had to fight tooth-and-nail with the administration of former Governor Robert Ehrlich to get any state funding.

2. In June, the County Council voted to spend $60 million to build a new south entrance at the Bethesda Metro Station. This project is also intended to accommodate the Purple Line.

3. The Georgetown Branch right-of-way, explicitly purchased by the county twenty years ago for both transit and trail use, is now valued at more than $30 million.

The above three items alone cost county taxpayers more than $120 million. And what has the state paid? The state’s new budget schedule, which we dissected in September, reveals that it has spent $26.5 million through the current fiscal year and plans to spend a total $106 million on design and engineering through FY 2014. That compares to total spending planned for Baltimore’s Red Line of $221 million through FY 2014.

If the residents of either Baltimore City or Prince George’s County were spending more on a state transit project than the state government, their politicians would be screaming bloody murder in Annapolis. But MDOT must have no such fear of us. Their nickel-and-diming over the trail reminds your author of the state’s unapologetic shorting of the county’s school construction money last spring.

County Executive Ike Leggett said yesterday that MDOT Secretary John Porcari told him that the county will be “credited” for its contributions. Interestingly, we know of no such commitment appearing under the Secretary's signature. Assuming the County Executive's understanding is correct, that does not mean the county will pay nothing more for the Purple Line. Further county payments will depend on the project’s ultimate cost. But if Porcari did make such a commitment, it is the job of the County Executive and our state delegation to hold him to it.


Leggett and Fire Fighters Strike Deal, but Questions Abound (Updated)

The Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association (MCCFFA) announced more than $7 million in concessions in a tentative deal with the Leggett administration yesterday. But the structure of the deal and its timing are sure to raise questions at the County Council.

The Fire Fighters’ press release (which we reproduce in whole below) describes their concessions this way:

Under the agreement, MCCFFA members will forego negotiated holiday pay benefits and will defer a scheduled 4% pay increase for three months, from July 2009 to October 2009. These concessions will save the County more than $5 million in Fiscal Year 2010.

In addition, MCCFFA agreed to a 6-month deferral of a scheduled 3.5% pay increase, from July 2010 to January 2011. This concession will save the County nearly $2 million more in Fiscal Year 2011.
The structure of this deal is a bit different than the concessions given by the Teachers, SEIU and the Supervisors to the school system. We described them in December this way:

1. The 5.3 point Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has been eliminated for the next fiscal year.

2. The step increases that apply for employees who gain seniority will remain. Those increases range from 1 to 2.5 points.

3. Health insurance benefits will remain at the same level for at least five years.

4. The school system and the unions will establish a task force to examine employee work loads.
The school unions gave up their entire COLA for one year. The Fire Fighters are deferring one increase for three months (from 7/09 to 10/09) and another increase for six months (from 7/10 to 1/11), as well as foregoing some vacation pay. The difference in terms is important because the school unions negotiated a “me-too” provision that says:

If the County Government negotiates higher compensation improvements for any of its employee organizations during FY10, FY11, or FY12; those higher increases will be matched for school system employees.
In other words, if another union gets a better deal, the school unions are entitled to get the same terms from the school system. It is far from clear whether the Fire Fighters negotiated better terms than the school unions. But if the school unions find that the Fire Fighters did indeed get better terms, they may very well seek to reclaim a portion of their pay. That would set off a chaotic chain reaction through the county’s still-embryonic budget process that neither the school system nor the County Council will want to deal with. And waiting in the wings are the police union and MCGEO, who have yet to conclude their negotiations with the County Executive.

Time is running out to get the remaining agreements done. The school unions’ concessions have been incorporated in the school system’s proposed budget, which has already been submitted to the County Council. The County Executive must submit his budget to the council in March. If he has not obtained concessions from the Fire Fighters, the police and MCGEO by then, his budget must fully fund their contracts under the law. It will then be the responsibility of the council to underfund the contracts, thereby denying funding for the COLAs. If the Executive does strike deals with the Fire Fighters, police and MCGEO, then he can include those reduced compensation levels in his budget, saving the council some dirty work. My informants question why it is taking so long to renegotiate these contracts since today’s budget problems were known almost a year ago.

The bottom line is this: the County Executive must be careful in dealing with the remaining collective bargaining agreements. Activation of the “me-too” provisions by the school unions would take the county into uncharted territory as the clock ticks down to budget Armageddon.

Update: The Washington Post obtained this amazing quote from Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield:

Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield called Sparks's announcement "in error."

"We have not finalized an agreement with the firefighters. There are some outstanding legal issues that we need to resolve," Lacefield said. "I did not expect to get a release like that across my desk this morning. " He declined to be more specific.
What is going on inside Ike Leggett's management team?

Update 2: According to the Gazette, Council President (and union nemesis) Phil Andrews picked up on the difference between the unions' concessions.

Following is the press release from the Fire Fighters.



MEDIA CONTACT: John Sparks (240-876-1920)

Montgomery Career Fire Fighters Reach Tentative Budget Deal To Save County Over $7 Million

(Rockville, MD) In response to the projected Fiscal Year 2010 budget shortfall facing Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association (“MCCFFA”) announced today that it has agreed to a series of pay concessions that will save the County Government more than $7 million over the next two fiscal years. MCCFFA represents more than 1,000 fire fighter/paramedics employed by the Montgomery County Government. The agreement is subject to ratification by MCCFFA membership.

Under the agreement, MCCFFA members will forego negotiated holiday pay benefits and will defer a scheduled 4% pay increase for three months, from July 2009 to October 2009. These concessions will save the County more than $5 million in Fiscal Year 2010.

In addition, MCCFFA agreed to a 6-month deferral of a scheduled 3.5% pay increase, from July 2010 to January 2011. This concession will save the County nearly $2 million more in Fiscal Year 2011.

“In normal times, we expect our elected officials to fully honor our contracts,” said John Sparks, President of MCCFFA. “But these are not normal times. We understand that in these difficult times we must all be part of the solution, and MCCFFA is doing more than its share.”

Last month, the Montgomery County Teachers Association agreed to postpone the Fiscal Year 2010 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for teachers to help the County close the looming budget gap. MCCFFA’s negotiated COLA for Fiscal Year 2010 is scheduled to be approximately $5 million. The unions representing other county employees and police are still in negotiations with the Leggett Administration.

“The unions met last fall and we agreed that we would each negotiate our own solution to help the County,” said Sparks. “The County asked the fire fighters to give back $5 million as our share of the solution, and we did more than asked. That’s what fire fighters do – we sacrifice every day.”

MCCFFA is currently in the first year of a three-year labor agreement. The contract, which was approved by the Leggett administration in April 2008 and by the County Council in May 2008, brought the starting salary for the County’s rookie firefighters to $40,797, compared with $44,302 in the District, $40,848 in Prince George's County, $47,472 in Fairfax County, $44,637 in Arlington and $43,618 in Alexandria. Among jurisdictions such as Montgomery with more than 500,000 people, the average salary nationally is $44,275 for starting firefighters.

Sparks thanked County officials who have negotiated with him for several months and praised their willingness to find creative solutions to the budget problem. He said that the agreement will be submitted for ratification by his members “as soon as the County gives its final sign-off.”


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leggett Supports Light Rail for the Purple Line (Updated)

Following is the text of a memo from County Executive Ike Leggett to County Council President Phil Andrews. While Leggett is a signatory to Purple Line Now’s light rail pledge, he once voted against an earlier version of rail on the Purple Line and an Examiner article suggested that his staff was leaning towards BRT. It is also worth noting that anti-rail activist Pam Browning held a fundraiser for Leggett in 2006.

Update: Purple Line Now sent the following email to Leggett in reaction to this news:

Dear Mr. Leggett (Ike):

On behalf of Purple Line NOW! and the more than 100 unions, businesses and environmental, civic and trail advocacy groups on record in support of the light rail transit line, I thank you for today's affirmation of your position in support of the Light Rail Purple Line.

We look forward to working with you to make sure that this project is completed in a manner that maximizes its transit utility, is a source of pride to residents of both Montgomery and Prince George's counties and that enhances ALL neighborhoods through which the Purple Line will pass.


Webb Smedley
Chair, PLN


January 22, 2009

To: Honorable Phil Andrews, Council President
From: Isiah Leggett, County Executive
Re: Proposed Purple Line

Prior to the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee’s work session on the Purple Line, I would like to convey my position on the preferred option. We all recognize the need to address mobility and accessibility issues in the Bethesda and New Carrollton corridor. The corridor is experiencing unacceptable levels of roadway congestion, unreliable transit travel times, limited travel mode options and degraded transit accessibility to the larger metropolitan region due to inferior connections to radial Metrorail lines and to other rail and bus services.

Construction of the Purple Line would provide environmental benefits to an area classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a serious non-attainment region, while simultaneously providing a stimulus for community revitalization. It is also critical to another shared goal of promoting smart growth.

My position is based on the input I have received through a rigorous and open-minded process. I asked my technical staff for their critical analysis. They have worked with the technical staffs from the Maryland Transit Administration and Prince George’s County. I have taken into account hundreds of letters and emails from residents and from other elected and appointed officials. Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and I established a Bi-County Task Force to have our staffs discuss a variety of issues critical to both counties. I have also benefited from many conversations and meetings with those in opposition to the project, or those advocating specific alignments or transportation modes for the project. I have received important recommendations from the Western Montgomery County Citizen Advisory Board and the Silver Spring Citizen Advisory Board and from many other business and neighborhood organizations.

I met recently with Secretary of Transportation John Porcari and County Executive Jack Johnson to ask important and critical questions dealing with the project scope, costs, environmental impacts, financing plans, schedule, and the role of Montgomery County in the expected financial obligations for the selected project. Secretary Porcari’s answers to these questions helped me to finalize my position. My position reflects what I believe is in the best long-term interest of the county.

Based on my meeting with Secretary Porcari, I have the following understanding about the Maryland Department of Transportation and Montgomery County commitments:

1. The State, to the extent feasible, will not require Montgomery County participation in the State’s local share of a federally approved project. Should the County be required to share in the local costs, the State will credit the County for its significant contributions to the project that includes the Georgetown Branch right-of-way purchased by the County in 1988 for the future light rail transit line, the design and construction of the Bethesda South Entrance to the Metrorail system, and to pay for the construction of the replacement and improvement of the existing Capital Crescent Trail (CCT);

2. Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) will credit Montgomery County for the above contributions either as part of the Purple Line project or via another approach in the Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP);

3. Should project costs exceed the amount in the federal full-funding grant agreement, the State will cover all of those additional costs;

4. MDOT will strive to keep the Purple Line within the Medium Cost Effectiveness rating for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding consideration;

5. MDOT will own and operate the Purple Line and integrate it into the WMATA rail and bus system.

As the Council is aware, there have been a number of legitimate concerns and issues raised. However, these concerns both individually and collectively do not in my view outweigh the long-term benefits of a light rail alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative. After considerable analysis and discussions, it is evident that light rail is the more viable long-term option given the consistency with the Master Plan, the high level of forecasted ridership, the better travel times between Bethesda and Silver Spring and the ability of light rail to better support transit-oriented development.

It is important to convey a number of factors and concerns that should be considered by MDOT and the Federal Transit Administration as the Purple Line project proceeds:

1. Build the trail under the Air Rights Building in a manner compatible with the High Investment Light Rail alternative;

2. Examine during preliminary engineering the benefits and cost, and the property and environmental effects, of widening the trail to 12 feet with 2-foot buffers on each side versus the 10-foot trail as proposed;

3. Pursue the feasibility and long-term benefits and cost of using grass between the tracks;

4. Investigate design and building techniques to maximize the retention of existing trees in the corridor;

5. Examine during preliminary engineering the feasibility of using hybrid light rail vehicles (or dual powered vehicles) that do not require wires, poles and electrical substations. This option would provide aesthetic benefits, as well as potential capital and operating cost savings by eliminating the infrastructure to support the vehicles. It would increase the chances of preserving the existing tree canopy and realize the associated environmental benefits;

6. Examine the extent of the tail tracks in the Woodmont East plaza to minimize their length beyond the tunnel, and establish an operating framework on how the tail tracks will be used;

7. Build the surface medium light rail alignment through Silver Spring following Bonifant and Wayne Avenue. Include a stop at the new Silver Spring Library site but eliminate the Dale Drive stop. Special attention should be given to the LRT vehicle crossing of Georgia Avenue and the intersection of Fenton and Wayne to ensure that the light rail, pedestrians and vehicle traffic will operate in a compatible manner.

My staff and I will continue to work with the State to ensure that as this important project proceeds through planning and construction, the needs and concerns of our residents are considered to the maximum extent possible, that the planning addresses the issues noted above and that environmental concerns continue to be addressed.


Anti-Spying Bill Introduced

Senators Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Brian Frosh (D-16) and Delegates Sheila Hixson (D-20), Sandy Rosenberg (D-41), Heather Mizeur (D-20) and Tom Hucker (D-20) introduced a comprehensive bill today to prevent improper spying by the state police. Following is a press release from their offices.

Legislative Leaders Introduce Comprehensive Bill to Ensure Police Spying on Peaceful Activists Never Happens Again

January 22, 2009


On behalf of Senators Jamie Raskin; Brian Frosh, Delegates Sheila Hixson; Sandy Rosenberg; Tom Hucker, and Heather Mizeur

ANNAPOLIS – Calling for swift passage for a bill to ban police spying on political activists in Maryland, state legislative leaders today held a press conference to announce their introduction of The Freedom of Association and Assembly Protection Act of 2009. The leaders believe that the First Amendment protects the rights of all Marylanders to organize to advance their political and social views free of the chilling specter of government surveillance and dossiers. However, Maryland now has no law that protects these most basic of rights to organize, peacefully assemble, and petition our government. Lead bill sponsors are Senators Jamie Raskin and Brian Frosh; and Delegates Sheila Hixson, Sandy Rosenberg, Heather Mizeur and Tom Hucker.

The legislation seeks to codify the recommendations of the report issued in October by former Attorney General Stephen Sachs. Specifically, the bill will mandate that law enforcement use of covert techniques and compiling of criminal intelligence dossiers about Marylanders’ political views and activities be based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20): “The State Police are not Maryland's thought police. Marylanders have a right to work for environmental protection, an end to the death penalty, marriage equality, peace, and bike lanes without being spied upon and called terrorists by law enforcement officials. Our bill will forbid covert tactics against our citizens unless there is specific reasonable suspicion that they are engaged in criminal activity. It will also forbid the Orwellian practice of keeping political dossiers on citizens that are not part of actual criminal investigations. At a time of staggering financial crisis, let's stop wasting our money spying on people nonviolently exercising their political freedom.”

State Senator Brian E. Frosh (D-16): "Obviously, we've got to make sure that this kind of surveillance doesn't happen again. Police need the tools to do their jobs in cases of criminal wrongdoing. But surveillance of law-abiding citizens shouldn't be an option."

Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-20): “My colleagues and I were shocked and appalled to learn of the covert police surveillance of our neighbors who were simply expressing their beliefs regarding the death penalty, the war in Iraq and environmental concerns. Still further and inconceivably, we learned that their names were entered on a ‘terrorist’ list. We ask: what has happened to our freedom to express ourselves? For that reason we have crafted legislation to prohibit inappropriate law enforcement that interferes with First Amendment rights.”

Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20): “At a time when the state is cutting health care, transportation, and environmental protection, it boggles the mind to learn our state police were using precious tax dollars to spy on our constituents. We wrote this bill to make sure state tax dollars are never again used for surveillance of peaceful activists. We have a constitutional right to assemble, and we will fight to protect it.”

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20): “Takoma Park residents share a proud history of civic engagement and issue advocacy. Sometimes we have to fight to be heard. At other times, we’re being listened to when we least expect it. State sponsored spying on peace activists and death penalty advocates is a mark of shame on Maryland. We are here today to reaffirm the most basic of our rights granted by the First Amendment – that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Here and now, we make our petition: Never again will this be allowed to happen in Maryland.”

Delegate Samuel I. (Sandy) Rosenberg (D-41): “People exercising their First Amendment rights should not be subjected to the chilling presence of undercover police officers.”

ACLU of Maryland Legislative Director Cynthia Boersma: “The ACLU of Maryland applauds the bill’s sponsors for answering the call of Mr. Sachs’ report, which condemned the police surveillance that has taken place as ‘inconsistent with an overarching value in our democratic society—the free and unfettered debate of important public questions.’” Mr. Sachs believes such police conducted ‘ought to be prohibited,’ and we believe that legislation is necessary to ensure that the protection of our most basic rights do not change with changing administrations. This bill establishes clear standards to protect both our First Amendment rights and our public safety by directing that criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism resources are used to respond to suspected criminal activity rather than spying on legitimate political activity.”

Since July 17, 2008, when the ACLU of Maryland uncovered that the MSP engaged in covert surveillance of local peace and anti-death penalty groups for over a year from 2005-2006, we have learned that the Maryland State Police has engaged in a far-reaching program of covert surveillance of political groups in Maryland. Dozens of individuals and organizations have been targeted by the Maryland State Police which maintained criminal intelligence files on their political beliefs and activities, labeling them as suspected terrorists and security threats. According to their own files, the MSP had no evidence or suspicion that any identified target was engaged in criminal activity of any kind.

Go online to learn more about MSP spying on political activists:


The Work of Our Congressional Delegation, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

My last entry examined the committee assignments of four of Maryland’s Congressmembers and what issues they might deal with in the coming year. Today we will take a look at the remaining four.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
As Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer has no committee assignments. On the other hand, he is in every meeting of the Congressional leadership and helps to craft and pass all of the legislation that goes through the House of Representatives. He also helps to determine the schedule, so the timing of major Obama initiatives will be signed off on by Hoyer. Will new regulations for global warming pass in 2009? When will healthcare be dealt with? Hoyer will weigh in on these decisions.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett
The lone Republican in Maryland’s Congressional delegation serves on the Armed Forces Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and the Small Business Committee.

On the Armed Forces Committee, where Barltett just lost a bid to become the top Republican, he is considered a naval expert. That is no small matter for a state that houses the Naval Academy.

Barlett also has a background in science that equips him for the Science and Technology Committee, where he will address the same issues as Congresswoman Edwards mentioned last week.

The Small Business Committee has jurisdiction over the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the various federal programs to support and develop small businesses. According to the SBA, Maryland is home to 511,805 small businesses, which has the amorphous definition of a business that is “independently owned and operated and which is not dominant in its field of operation.” The amount of small businesses in Maryland has probably shrunk during the current recession.

Congressman Elijah Cummings
Congressman Cummings sits on three House Committees: Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), Armed Services, and Oversight and Government Reform.
Oversight and Government Reform has been extremely active over the last two years, since the Democrats became the majority in the House of Representatives, investigating the Bush Administration. It remains remains to be seen how active they will be in keeping watch over the Obama Administration.

On T&I, in addition to the major transportation bill, Congressman Cummings will likely continue his chairmanship of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. That Subcommittee helps oversee port security, an important issue for Congressman Cummings’ Baltimore district.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen
Unlike Maryland’s other member of the House leadership, Van Hollen maintains his committee assignments. He serves on the Ways and Means Committee and Oversight and Government Reform.

As Obama pushes forward with tax reform, both in the stimulus and because the Bush tax policies expire in 2010, Congressman Van Hollen’s committee has a central role.

On Oversight and Government Reform, Congressman Van Hollen is in the unique position of being the Representatives for many of the government workers being overseen. As one staffer told me, this means that he needs to be at every hearing since it is his constituents testifying. It also increases the stakes for his participation in committee activities.

Committee work is just one part of a Congressmembers’ contribution. But it is the area where they have the potential to have the biggest impact. Regardless of which committee each Congressmember serves on, there is a full agenda for Congress in the coming year.


Johnson Appointees Run Amok at WSSC

The dysfunction of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) continues to be a big story, with pipe breaks sending a 75-foot wide river to engulf residents in Temple Hills and forcing guests at the Gaylord National Resort to avoid tap water. But our informants have tipped us off to one of the biggest reasons for WSSC’s collapse: the abysmal behavior of Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson’s appointed commissioners.

WSSC is overseen by six commissioners, three each appointed by the County Executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s. The three commissioners appointed by Johnson are Joyce Starks, Prem Agarwal and Juanita Miller. Starks is a budget manager at the National Institutes of Health and has no experience in utility management or construction. Prince George’s Delegate Barbara Frush (D-21) told the Gazette “she didn't have a clue what was going on,” during her tenure as WSSC Chair in 2004-2005. At the time, the Washington Post editorial page said she had “displayed consistent impulses for secrecy, backroom dealing and bad management.” Nevertheless, Starks is serving as Chair again.

Prem Agarwal owns G.E. Frisco Company, a building materials contractor, that has submitted bids on WSSC work despite being warned not to do so by the utility’s managers. The Washington Post found that Agarwal’s company was awarded $1.46 million of WSSC work during his first nine months as a commissioner after Agarwal and his family donated $12,000 to Jack Johnson’s campaign accounts.

But Juanita Miller is in a class by herself. A special education administrator in the Prince George’s public school system, she was elected to the House of Delegates in 1986 from District 25 for one term. Miller later ran unsuccessfully for the County Council and the State Senate. She was first appointed as a WSSC commissioner in 1996 by former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, serving through 2002.

It did not take long for Miller to leave her mark on the agency. One year into her first term, Miller intervened in a contract dispute. Recyc Systems Inc., a white-owned firm, won a sludge-hauling contract at WSSC’s Blue Plains site with a low bid of $11.5 million. But Miller pushed the WSSC board to reject Recyc’s bid in favor of MTI Construction, a minority-owned firm, which was the third-lowest bidder at $13.5 million. Miller never told the board that MTI had contributed to her political campaigns. A state court ordered WSSC to reconsider its rejection and an ethics investigation ensued.

After the WSSC board deadlocked on the Recyc-MTI dispute, Miller accused the agency of racism in contracting. Then-General Manager Cortez A. White, who is black, said this about her charges:

The lowest of all polarizing techniques has been used – emotionally charged claims of racism and discrimination, similar to tactics used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy to hunt alleged communists during the early '50s… Unfortunately, the rhetoric on the sludge hauling contract has digressed to a point where political games are being played with professional lives. Personal attacks have been made because technical and professional assessments have not supported certain parochial, political goals. Such remarks are particularly disgraceful because they were uttered by a public official in a position of rank upon essentially defenseless staffers.
But Miller was not finished with hurling charges of racism. In 2002, Miller was in her last year on the commission and took on State Senate President Mike Miller (D-27) in a primary. Juanita Miller wrote the U.S. Justice Department complaining of “bid-rigging” at WSSC against minority contractors. She was joined in her request by then-commissioner Kevin P. Maloney of Montgomery County, who alleged bid-rigging against white contractors(!) Miller also alleged that WSSC was “targeting” African-Americans and women for harassment. Miller’s allegations followed the firing of an employee accused of committing $200,000 in fraud against the agency and a Montgomery County investigation finding multiple WSSC commissioners’ abuse of expense money. Nothing came of Juanita Miller’s bid-rigging accusations and Mike Miller defeated her by 62-33% in their Senate primary.

Just when WSSC thought it had seen the last of Miller, new County Executive Jack Johnson decided to reappoint her to the board in 2005. “It appears that I am ordained to be a public servant,” declared the triumphant Miller, who sits on the board to this day.

Miller rejoined a WSSC board that had just concluded a holy war against General Manager John R. Griffin. In March 2004, the board fired Griffin and his deputy on a 4-2 vote because they allegedly “recklessly spent the agency's money on raises, executive bonuses, excessive travel and consulting fees, mostly without the commissioners’ consent.” But WSSC’s legal counsel found the firing to be illegal because the board met behind closed doors and did not take a recorded public vote. The Post editorial board said Griffin was “competent” and the firing was “needless.” Griffin and his deputy later accepted a buyout. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan asked his county’s three commissioners to resign over the incident. Jack Johnson refused to replace his commissioners, saying he was “happy” with WSSC’s performance.

Much of the struggle inside WSSC’s board has been over its minority contracting program. Part of former General Manager Griffin’s undoing was his constant battles with Shaaron W. Phillips, the former head of the agency’s minority contracting office, who later sued the agency for discrimination. In 2004, the board tried to assume direct control of minority contracting at a closed-door meeting to which two commissioners were not invited. That action prompted threats of intervention from the Ehrlich administration. The General Assembly failed to reauthorize the program in 2006 but WSSC continues it on an interim basis. Unfortunately, the push for minority contractors has served in the past as a way to steer business to certain minority contractors, as Juanita Miller showed during the 1997 Recyc-MTI dispute.

State politicians have acknowledged WSSC’s problems for years. In 2004, then-Delegate Rich Madaleno (D-18) called the board’s closed-door attempt to take control of minority contracting “shocking.” In 2005, former Senator Leonard Teitelbaum (D-19), who had once been a WSSC commissioner, said, “If the last 12 months tell us anything, it's that the place is broken, and needs to be fixed.” Senate President Mike Miller described the conflict at WSSC as a “cancer,” saying “Public confidence in the ability of this board to govern is nonexistent.” Miller suggested allowing the Governor to appoint WSSC commissioners, but told the Gazette that “he does not want to give the power to a Republican.” Legislative proposals to bring the agency under state control failed in 2005, in part due to opposition from Doug Duncan and Jack Johnson.

My informants tell me that the Prince George’s commissioners are still focused on controlling contracting, while the Montgomery commissioners prefer to have that function under the control of the General Manager. That is one of the biggest obstacles to the hiring of a new General Manager to replace long-departed Andrew Brunhart, who famously warned that WSSC’s aging pipes could explode “like a missile.” It may also be an impediment to the approval of a capital program. After all, if the right contractors are not performing the work, why have any work at all?

And so Jack Johnson’s appointees continue to run amok throughout WSSC. When are Prince George’s County voters going to run amok against their entrenched political oligarchy?