Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, November 16, 2011)
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining me for today’s live discussion. I am looking forward to your questions, so let us get started.
xx from Up County
Do we really need two new Wal-Marts – one on Rockville Pike and one in Aspen Hill? What are the timelines? What can we do to stop them?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I understand your concern about possible impacts on traffic and existing businesses.
Here is the situation.
The owners of Pike Plaza, JBG, would only require a site plan amendment in order to proceed with plans to open a second Wal-Mart in Montgomery County, the other being in Germantown. Site plans normally concern design issues. Since the “envelope” on density and traffic are already as broad as needed to accommodate current commercial activity on that site, nothing more would be required of that nature to open a Wal-Mart.
Having said that, some County Councilmembers have introduced legislation that is currently pending in the Council that would more strictly limit the conditions under which future stores of more than 75,000 square feet could open in the County. In its present form, I would veto that legislation should it pass, though I am open to looking at changes in it. Among other problems, I am concerned that some of the requirements for “community” negotiations and approval are vague at best and not legal, at worst.
I am also very concerned with the negative message that this could send to businesses looking to invest in the County. As you know, we already have a complex set of requirements and approvals for development in the County. These are designed to make sure that development is the right thing in the right place and that the community has a “seat at the table.” This is all well and good and plays a valuable role. However, it can make it more difficult to do business in Montgomery than in some other jurisdictions. I believe we should think long and hard before we add additional requirements.
In Aspen Hill, the current Master Plan does not allow for the development of a Wal-Mart on the site. Therefore there will have to be a Master Plan amendment and a Zoning Text Amendment, both of which will need to be approved by the County Council, which has exclusive power over land use.
I think it is safe to say that such changes would be several years away at best. I do believe there is consensus on, at whatever point, changing the zoning of the property, given its undesirability as presently zoned for offices.
I hope this information is helpful.
xx from Up County
When is the Silver Spring Transit Center scheduled to open? Seems like it’s been a long process…
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
The Silver Spring Transit Center will be substantially completed in mid-January and will have a public opening the beginning of March. This is a large and complex project – in fact it is the largest public structure built on the East Coast over the past three years. A big “thank you” goes out to Silver Spring transit users for their patience while we complete this world-class facility.
xx from Up County
Why can’t the County do something about panhandlers at intersections? They are an traffic hazard and a bother for motorists.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for sending in the question.
I have heard from many residents concerned about this issue who believe the status quo is not working. I agree.
Over the past several years, Montgomery County has responded to the panhandling issue in a number of different ways. The County has increased its funding for homeless shelters. In the past we conducted a one-day survey of County panhandlers to assess who they are and what are the factors that cause them to solicit money from County residents. What we’ve found from that survey and other information is that very few of those who depend on County homeless shelters panhandle. Many suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems. Many prefer panhandling to participation in the workaday world or in programs designed to help them because of the higher degree of personal accountability required.
Our Department of Health & Human Services engages panhandlers with mental health and substance abuse problems, to help them to address those problems and get them off the street. When it comes to abusive or law-breaking individuals, our Police Department is involved.
Montgomery County does have a law against aggressive panhandling, defined as persistence, threatening, physical contact, blocking someone’s path, etc. Here, however, is the dilemma: what can the County do when a panhandler is not being aggressive or not breaking the law and refuses assistance in changing his or her ways? Not much. In that instance, Police may just ask panhandlers to “move along.”
I proposed a permitting system for panhandlers. The purpose of this proposal was to significantly discourage panhandling and other solicitation in the roadway in the County, contributing to better roadside safety and an improvement in quality of life. It would have broadened current prohibitions and made these easier to enforce. The permits would have limited duration (24 hours), specific locations, and the number that an individual could obtain would have been limited.
Unfortunately, the Maryland General Assembly did not pass the legislation.
I believe this proposal, the result of much study by a Roadside Solicitation Task Force, would have addressed much of your concern. I will continue to advocate for changes to improve roadside safety.
Syed from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What extra measures are you taking to reduce the deer population? When I asked you this question in a town-hall meeting in Potomac, MD in 2008, you laughed it off, as the deers as natives were here before all of us.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and I apologize for not having addressed it adequately at the Town Hall Meeting. Managing the deer population in this County is very important. The County established a Deer Management Program in 1995. The objectives of the program are: to reduce, on a countywide basis, the number of deer-vehicle collisions; reduce depredation of agricultural crops and home landscapes to levels acceptable to county
farmers and residents; reduce negative impacts of deer on natural communities to preserve native plant and animal diversity; and continue a countywide education program to provide residents with information on deer, deer problems and how to minimize or prevent deer-human conflicts.
You can learn more about the program at
Thanks again for your question.
A.V.G from Up County
I am in the Homlessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. I am being evicted from my apartment because of Tenant Overhold. I lost my job in January and have not been able to find a new job or get approved for even the most run down apartments in Montgomery County. I have gone to my HPRP caseworker and housing relocator numerous times for help. Would they allow me to just be evicted when I have been a good client, paid my rent and tried to make ends meet doing freelance photography (such as the Dedication Ceremony at Exousia Ministries this past April) All my backup plans have been shot down because basements and room renters don't want kids or are weary because I recieve unemployment. Instead of help me by placing me in a shelter or hotel my caseworker tell me if I can't find a place my child will be put into foster care. Can they do that? My case worker tells me that I don't have a mental or substance abuse problem so I cannot be helped. I am about to be homeless again. Why w
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your email.
I am sorry to hear that you are having difficulties maintaining your housing. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program is a federally funded program to prevent households from becoming homeless and/or to rapidly re-house homeless residents.
It is difficult to comment on your specific situation without knowing all of the details. However, because benefits are time-limited, it is not possible to provide an open-ended subsidy to eligible households. If you are unhappy with the services you are receiving, you should speak with Aneise Childress-Harvell, Program Manager, at 240-777-4027. I will make sure that someone gets in touch with you to discuss your situation.
John from Up County
Why are there so few of these online fourms? Why can't this be done on a weekly basis?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for being a fan of these on-line forums.
I’d love to do them more often. I’ll take a look at my schedule and see if we can accommodate more forums. In addition to these online discussions, I've conducted dozens of Town Hall and Budget meetings throughout the County as well as a live call-in television show. I have offered more opportunities for residents to contact me directly through these events than all County Executives in the history of Montgomery County government combined.
xx from Up County
Will the County be able to fund the full MCPS capital budget this year to make sure our children have the buildings they need to learn?
Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can fully fund 100 percent of the MCPS capital budget. In fact, throughout the history of Montgomery County, even when budgets were better, we never fully funded the MCPS capital budget requests. As you know, we are still weathering the worst economic downturn in this Country's history and the signs are not clear that we can expect better times anytime soon. Despite this, I have consistently supported funding to make sure that our students have a learning environmnent that will serve their needs.
Because it is vital that we have a sustainable budget into the future, the County's Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget will need to reflect the difficult reality of our current economic climate. The debt service for our CIP is the third largest cost in our operating budget and if we do not reduce it to sustainable levels, we will impact our ability to fund the operational needs of schools as well as other important priorities for our residents, such as public safety and health and human services for our most vulnerable residents.
As always, I will support public education as much as our resources allow.
Jean from Up County
Mr. Leggett, you were quoted in the Examiner as saying that a County Council resolution, suggesting that we need a reallocation of Federal spending towards local needs and away from such a high proportion on the military, was "A dagger pointed at the heart of Montgomery County." Do you really believe that citizens and our closest elected representatives, those on the Council, cannot take a stand on the priorities of the Federal government, even though these priorities affect us deeply?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
In the ideal world, I would love for the federal government to invest less in swords and more in plowshares. We do not, however, live in that ideal world. The United States continues to have defense commitments, many beyond our borders. And, given the continuing economic recession, I believe that Montgomery County – and the metropolitan region – depends directly and indirectly on the work done under federal contracts, some of which are defense-related firms.
If the Council resolution meant to reduce defense spending in the region, I oppose it. If it is simply a gesture, it is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst because it sends a message that hurts our efforts to increase investment and job opportunities in Montgomery County.
Lack of job opportunities and a significant economic downturn based on a change in government spending will affect the priorities of many Montgomery County residents as well.
Greg from Up County
I first want to thank you for your leadership during these difficult times. Insuring that Public Safety and Education remain high on your priorities it is also important and that sacrifices are shared equally. This year employees have endured another pay freeze and increase in medical costs. I as a County taxpayer for over forty years realized that you have a difficult job. I just want to be sure that retirees (many not living in the County) continue to experience the same freeze that working employees must bear. I think the citizens should demand that these commitments are treated in the same manner that union contracts in the County are treated. Thank you
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I am grateful for current and former employees who have helped make Montgomery County the great place that it is today. I am well aware of the challenges that our employees and retirees are facing as a result of the severe economic downturn. I am hopeful that if our budget numbers continue to improve, and there are no severe impacts as a result of federal and state cutbacks, we may be able to commence restoring some of the losses that our employees and retirees experienced over the past few years. I will continue to monitor this situation carefully, and will exhaust every avenue to achieve this objective.
xx from Up County
Why is the County’s 311 Call Center limited to County government? Why doesn’t it cover the school system, WSSC, and the municipalities?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. We are very excited about the County's 311 Customer Service Center. This service was developed early in my administration to facilitate public access to the information and services they seek. We will continue to develop 311. In its final form, the 311 system will have seamless access to additional public services.
However, if one calls 311 for a service outside County government today, they will be transferred to another agency via a "live connection". Callers will not have to call another number. You can also visit the MC311 web portal 24/7 at www.MontgomeryCountymd.gov/311, where there is a directory of public and private resources available.
Thanks for your interest in 311.
Jane from Up County
I support the teen curfew and am hoping the council will pass it ASAP. Thank you for understanding the need. On a similar vein, could we please get more police officers in the upcounty?
Lastly, I hope that nothing is going to impede the building of Wegman's in Germantown (including MoCo allowing their excellent wine offerings...). They are superb corporate citizens and we need them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your support of the curfew. Please convey your position directly to the County Councilmembers who will vote on this matter in early December.
You are correct. We need more police officers, not only in the UpCounty, but throughout the County. Our master plan calls for an additional 250 officers, and it is my intent as our budgets begin to improve to commence adding additional recruit classes that can achieve our overall objective. In this current year budget, the Police Department is the only agency that received an increase in its budget.
I do not see any impediments to Wegman's opening a store in Germantown. I hope to see you there in the future. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
Niko from Rockville
Hello Mr. Legget!
As a part of my Boy Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge, I am required to interview a government official about a community problem. One problem that I have seen and that affects me and many other citizens is the traffic in the area. So, I was wondering; what can citizens, especially children, do about the traffic problem. Also, what is being done by the government to allieviate traffic?
Thanks for your time,
Mr. Leggett: Niko, thank you for your question and especially for your service as a scout. I, too, was a scout and can honestly say that the lessons I learned about character have helped form me into a committed public official, lawyer and teacher. Scouting for boys and girls is a great American tradition.
Traffic is one of our County's greatest challenges and I'm happy to learn of your interest. I suggest that you plan an interview with the Director of the County Department of Transportation, Mr. Art Holmes to learn more about what the County is doing to help alleviate traffic congestion, and what you and other youths can do about it as well. I'll alert Mr. Holmes to the possibility of your call. His number is 240-777-7170.
Mr. Leggett: We’re nearly out of time. Thank you for joining me today. Please remember that beginning on January 1, the County's new bag law takes effect. Help us fight litter by bringing your own bag when you shop -- and save money, too.
With colder weather on its way, please consider signing up for Alert Montgomery (https://alert.montgomerycountymd.gov/index.php?CCheck=1) to receive timely text, email, or pager alerts and warnings regarding weather and other emergencies.
Thanks again. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We look forward to our next online discussion.