ROCKVILLE, December 6, 2011—The Montgomery County Council today unanimously elected Roger Berliner as president and Nancy Navarro as vice president of the Council. They will serve one-year terms as officers of the Council.
Councilmember Berliner, who represents District 1, served as vice president of the Council for the past year.
Council President Berliner was first elected to the Montgomery County Council in November 2006 and was re-elected in November 2010. He represents the Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac areas. He also serves as the Council’s representative to the County’s Sustainability Working Group and Green Economic Task Force. Regionally, he is on the Washington Regional Board of Directors of the Council of Governments, where he is an active member of the Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee.
“As we look forward, we have every reason to be confident about our future,” Council President Berliner said after his election today. “For even in the midst of these extraordinarily challenging economic times, we have held our own. Some have done better, and we should not be reluctant to learn what lessons there are from them. But, at the same time, we can take comfort in the resilience of our County and its unchallenged position as the economic engine of our state. As my father used to say to me, ‘Measure someone by how well they swim against the current, not with it.’ By that measure, our County has done well.”
Vice President Navarro was elected to represent District 4 in a special election in May 2009 and was re-elected in the general election of November 2010. She chairs the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy (GO) Committee and serves on the Health and Human Services Committee. Prior to her election to the Council, Councilmember Navarro served on the Montgomery County Board of Education, where she was twice elected president (2006 and 2008). She was appointed to the Board of Education in October 2004 to fill the term of the vacant District 5 seat. In November 2006, she was elected to a full four-year term. She was a member of the board's Strategic Planning Committee and chaired the Communications and Public Engagement Committee.
Complete text of new Council President Berliner’s remarks today:
Let me begin by thanking my colleagues for placing your trust in me. It will truly be an honor to lead this body. I pledge to you that I will repay that trust by doing all I can to honor this institution and the people that gave us this collective privilege.
And what a privilege it is. Our work touches the lives of almost a million people more profoundly and directly than either the federal or state government. And within our county government structure, our charter vests in this legislative body the balance of power. It is a power that we must neither relinquish nor abuse, particularly at this moment in time.
As we look forward, we have every reason to be confident about our future. For even in the midst of these extraordinarily challenging economic times, we have held our own. Some have done better, and we should not be reluctant to learn what lessons there are from them. But, at the same time, we can take comfort in the resilience of our county and its unchallenged position as the economic engine of our state. As my father used to say to me, ‘Measure someone by how well they swim against the current, not with it.’ By that measure, our County has done well. Moreover, if our region’s most well known economist, Dr. Fuller, is correct, we are well positioned for future economic growth.
The County Executive, my predecessors, and our Council have worked hard to put our County on a fiscally sustainable path in this difficult economy. It has not been easy work – we took unprecedented actions; made difficult cuts; implemented structural reforms, and asked our employees to make significant sacrifices.
Our work to regain fiscal stability is not done. We are not out of the woods yet. Further cuts may be inevitable. But we are beginning to regain our balance and there may be a faint gleam of light at the end of this long dark economic tunnel. I certainly hope so, and I hope that finalizing our County’s budget for FY13 will not be as difficult as it has been in recent years, and that we can find common ground and a balanced budget satisfactory to our taxpayers, school system, and employees.
Fortunately, unlike our federal government, we are not stymied by political gridlock. We are a progressive and pragmatic political community, and our disagreements generally are shades of gray, not black and white.
But at the same time, we are not immune to a different and arguably more dangerous form of gridlock. The gridlock I am referring to is an inability to adapt to changing times. And while change is an essential aspect of life, that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle mightily against it -- either as citizens, corporations, or government.
Large governments like ours are especially challenged by the need to embrace change. And in our county, we have done things a certain way for a long, long time. We call it the Montgomery County Way. And when anything is done the same way for too long, there is the risk of stagnation and becoming “hidebound.”
That is not a combination that meets new challenges well. And our community faces new challenges everywhere we look. On matters that lie at the very heart of our responsibility – education, land use, transportation, public safety, employee relations, economic development, energy, the environment, and the disparate needs of our extraordinarily diverse citizenry—on all of these issues critical to our community, the blueprints that have guided us in the past no longer serve as roadmaps to the future.
If we are to meet these challenges, we will have to meet the hardest of them all – becoming change agents rather than servants of the status quo. We need to introduce new words into our County’s business model – words like nimble, bold, entrepreneurial.
The world is not waiting on us. We cannot stand still. Standing still is falling behind.
In the year ahead, our government will have plenty of opportunities to become more entrepreneurial. There is no greater need in our county today than to create quality jobs and a broader tax base to meet our growing needs. Here are just three of the steps I will be exploring with my colleagues and the County Executive in the year ahead to create a more prosperous Montgomery County:
• Our county employs a very traditional model for economic development. Our competitors in the region and other jurisdictions across the country use models that rely on the entrepreneurialism of the private sector. This is an approach that our colleague, Councilmember Floreen, began exploring two years ago. She may have been ahead of her time, but a number of my colleagues and I think the time is ripe to have business people help us bring business to Montgomery County.
• We often hear from our business community that they perceive our government regulations as excessive and that our permits, planning, and processes take forever. Small businesses suffer even more in such an environment. We need an objective assessment of that criticism. I will be working with our business community and our excellent OLO staff to see if we can fashion a scope of study that will help us understand what specific actions we could take to create a more favorable business environment.
• We are a County committed to the environment and committed to helping green businesses grow. An increasing number of companies relocate based in part on that ethic. One of the County Executive’s Green Economy Task Force recommendations was to create a tax credit for investors in Montgomery County green tech companies, much like we just funded with the bio-science tax credit. Putting that in place will further our reputation as a good home for green companies, and we can fund it, just as with the bio-science credit, as the dollars are there.
This next year will also test our capacity to be bold. Thanks to the hard work and leadership of our colleague, Councilmember Elrich, and to the ongoing efforts of the County Executive’s excellent Transit Task Force, we are poised to make a huge leap forward in transportation.
No strategic investment is more important than constructing a world class rapid transit system—a rapid transit system second to none. No one action will do more to simultaneously spur our economy and bring its benefits to both our eastern and western reaches; maintain our competitiveness; decrease congestion; and promote a sustainable community.
We will have the report and recommendations from the County Executive's transit task force in the months ahead. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the County Executive and our community to bring this vision of the future to the reality of present day.
Finally, we will need to be even more nimble if we are to succeed in meeting the challenges posed by our changing demographics.
The extraordinary quilt of Montgomery County is woven with the threads of 170 different cultures. I am very proud of our capacity as a county to both assimilate and accommodate our diverse populations. We are stronger as a result. But our work here has just begun.
• As a direct result of this very difficult national economy, there is more poverty, hunger, and homelessness than ever in our county. We will need new approaches to reaching affected communities and making sure they are accessing the resources available to them. And where we have gaps, we will need to fill them.
• The language barriers many of our residents face continue to pose unique challenges for us. The percentage of ESOL students in our schools is on the rise, and the parents of these students have difficulty gaining access to adult English classes. As a result, our schools will require more, not less resources in the future, and we must find ways to eliminate the waiting list for adult education.
• We also have been told that the most competitive local economies will be those with a properly trained work force. While we remain one of the most highly educated jurisdictions in the country, it is also predicted that 40 percent of the workforce in the future will only require two years of college. Fortunately, we have one of the finest two year colleges in the country and a superb school system. I look forward to working with our Education Committee chair, Councilmember Ervin, Dr. Starr, and Dr. Pollard to ensure that we are putting in place the programs required to meet the needs of our future workforce.
• In addition, we have a growing senior population that represents a great opportunity for our county. A number of years ago, the County Executive convened a Senior Summit. We need to take that conversation to the next level and create a real Senior Agenda. We want our seniors to stay here, to age in place, and we need to provide the types of programs, such as transportation, that allow them to continue to enjoy what our county has to offer. Indeed, other jurisdictions, such as Florida and Arizona, have built a significant sector of their economies around seniors. This “Senior Economy” could be a larger part of Montgomery County’s future, and I hope that with Chairman Leventhal’s help, we can make real progress in this endeavor.
As you can see, our agenda for the coming year is full of opportunities. And based on our conversations, I know that each of you, my colleagues, is pursuing priority issues that will serve our community well.
And so I end this speech as I began it, thanking each of you for your support; pledging my collaboration on the issues that you care about; working to make our government more nimble, entrepreneurial and bold; and doing what I can to uphold the honor of this institution and to be in service to our community.
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