Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, September 19, 2012)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Welcome to today's live discussion. I look forward to your questions, so let us begin.
Rachel from Silver Spring
Is a law being considered in Montgomery County to ban panhandlers from begging on every corner? Permits could be given to non-profit groups, but as a new Maryland (Mont Co) resident, I don't appreciate strangers walking up to - and sometimes tapping on - my window or car to beg for money. Panhandling creates an unsafe and uncomfortable living environment.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
I agree with you that the status quo is not working on panhandling. It is adversely effecting our quality of life. Unfortunately, current practices are legal.
I had proposed seeking State authority for a permitting system, the purpose of which 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 make these easier to enforce. The permits would have been for limited duration (24 hours), specific locations, and would have been limited to four a year.
Until recently, our County’s bid to get the authority to do this in the way we wanted to had not passed the Maryland General Assembly. Now, we have limited authority. I will soon be sending legislation to the County Council to establish a permit system that should effectively limit panhandling in a way that makes it enforceable for our Police.
Behram from Rockville
Good morning Mr. Leggett, please assist us in figuring it out how the county can send a citation to our neighbors on 12009 Ashley Drive, Rockville, MD 20852 to get rid off their old trees in their yard. You see, last Saturday when the storm hit our area, one of their trees from their yard hit the garrage and the fence in our yard and destroyed everything. We had to call our State Farm agent to assess the damage, the neighbors did not do anything to even negotiate with us or offered their apologies or help. We always alerted them that the old tree will fall on our garage but they were so negligent. Please advise, thanks.
Shera Behram, 12007 Ashley Drive, Rockville, MD 20852
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
If you believe a neighbor’s tree or trees constitute “a threat or a nuisance,” you can file a complaint with the County Department of Housing and Community Affairs by calling 311 or going to www.mc311.com . The Department will come take a look and, if necessary, contact the County arborist for an evaluation.
Daniel from Rockville
Why is nobody willing to get to the bottom of the super-obvious cheating scandal at Highland Elementary (my alma mater), reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution?
The response was to sweep everything under the rug, and deny without investigation, even though test pattern was revealed by university researchers to have much less than a one in a million probability.
This is one reason we homeschool our children. We feel we cannot trust the schools.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
This is really an issue for the Montgomery County Public Schools and the State Board of Education. My understanding is that the “scandal” you refer to was in the imagination of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Neither MCPS nor the State Department of Education found anything amiss.
Test scores went up dramatically in Highland Elementary, a school heavily attended by children living in poverty, due to a great new principal, highly motivated staff, and highly focused programs in math and reading. While test scores came down a bit in following years, mainly owing to federal budget cuts that affected resources for those intensive learning programs, 90 percent of the kids test above the State norm.
Paul from Silver Spring
About "effects bargaining" ---
I have read everything your office has sent out, all the comments by the Council members, and everything put out by the FOP, and it is very confusing.
The FOP says what the other side says is inaccurate and those in favor of eliminating "effects bargaining" say that what the FOP says is inaccurate.
For example, you have said all other police departments do not have "effects bargaining," but the FOP says that is true. The FOP says eliminating "effects bargaining" will cause police to spend less time with their families, but your office says that is not true.
How can interested voters who have taken a lot of time to study this issue, such as me, decide what are the correct facts and how to vote on this important subject?
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question.
Last spring, all nine Montgomery County Councilmembers – all progressive Democrats -- voted to support a critical reform at the Montgomery County Police Department. The County Executive – a Democrat – signed it into law.
Under existing County law, collective bargaining remains available for wages and benefits and workplace conditions, and every union in the County has the right to bargain for them.
“Effects bargaining”, however, means that Police Chief Tom Manger has to bargain the effects of any management decision with the Fraternal Order of Police leadership. Such mandated bargaining prevents the Chief from effectively carrying out his job of managing the Police Department in the most productive and efficient way possible -- protecting both his officers and the lives and property of County residents.
No other police union in the State of Maryland has “effects bargaining.” No other Montgomery County employees’ union group has this power in their contract.
That’s why the County Council -- all progressive Democrats and all of whom have been elected with the endorsement of County unions – unanimously repealed “effects bargaining” last year.
Even with the repeal of effects bargaining, the Police Department will still maintain its requirement to bargain with the Fraternal Order of Police leadership on wages, benefits, hours, working conditions, grievances, safety, leave and more…just like other County unions and other police unions around the State.
Here are just a few examples of the consequences of “effects bargaining”:
• Under effects bargaining, the distribution of critical police equipment must be bargained with the Union.
• Under effects bargaining, police officers still don’t have to sign their time cards. Can you imagine working at an agency where managers can’t even require employees to sign time cards?
• When the Police Chief needed to redeploy officers last year to immediately respond to an uptick in crimes against residents and property in Silver Spring and the Route 29 corridor last year, the Union leaders demanded that he bargain over that – even though officers had already volunteered to shift to meet the problems!
• The Police Department’s revised policy on “Use of Force” -- important to protecting the public and officers alike – was sent to the Police Union for their “approval” on June 27, 2008. More than four years later, Chief Manger is still waiting. In all, 15 policies are awaiting union “approval” -- 12 of them for over two years.
• The Police Chief could not even require that police officers have County email accounts – or check their email. It took months to negotiate that common sense measure with Union leaders.
• The Police Chief wanted to require that officers use yellow “Police” armbands in situations where officers in civilian clothes responded off-duty to incidents (such as the Discovery standoff ) – in order to protect officers from “friendly fire” and make clear to civilians who were the police in a given situation. Using effects bargaining, the Union objected.
You can go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/QuestionB to get the facts, including Council packets that include all the details the Council pored over in making their unanimous decision. The website also includes a recent editorial by The Washington Post on Question B.
Phil from Rockville
As a renter I am appalled at the lack of any interest in rent control or stablilization by the Montgomery County leadership. In the two years I have resided in this county my rent has escalated by 13% including a 10% annual increase for my new lease. This is clearly an unsustainable rate of increase irrespective of one's income level. Furthermore, my rental community requested an absurd 32% increase for month-to-month leasing and only sightly less for terms shorter than one year making it highly difficult to find alternative housing since notice of the increase is only given two months before lease expiration. Furthermore, there is little, if any price competition among landlords offering similar rental units.
Surely this nothing less than opportunistic price gouging due to the many former homeowners that are becoming renters and an influx of population into the county. There should clearly be some form of consumer protection against such pursuit of windfall profits by landlords tha
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am concerned for the growing number of renters in Montgomery County. Future growth and development will bring even more renters as our growth policies foster higher density development around transit centers.
In 2009 I appointed a Tenants' Workgroup, comprised of several renters, government agencies and a representative from landlords. The group worked for a year and reported to me in 2010. The full report may be of interest to you and is available on the web site of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
I do not support rent controls. In my view, rent controls are more likely to drive up rents with fewer available units throughout the County. I do support the work of the Office of Landlord Tenant Affairs which investigates renter complaints of all types. I support voluntary rental increase guidelines which are promulgated each year by the Housing Department. While these are voluntary, the Department maintains data regarding rent increases and discusses increases which go beyond the voluntary guideline with landlords. Often compromises are achieved.
While I share renter concerns about increasing rents, I also am aware of the rising costs of landlords in Montgomery County. I am in the process of providing new guidelines and oversight that should more effectively deal with the issues associated with rent increases. I would be glad to provide you with a copy of the new procedures when they are submitted to the County Council.
isaias funes from Rockville
Sir; as you know im a firefighter and i work at sta 3 the rock on rockville and i wondering when we gonna have some increases of salary, by the way the teachers just had a good increase. Thank you for your attention.GOD BLESS YOU in the gidance of our county.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
First of all, thank you for your service. As you know, for the current year, County employees received a $2000 lump-sum payment in lieu of cost-of-living and step increases. Given the ongoing fiscal challenges that face us, I felt that was all that was prudent. I urged other County agencies to follow that example. The Montgomery County Public Schools, run by the elected Board of Education, decided not to follow suit.
As I evaluate next year's budget, it is my intent to recommend a budget that will address cost-of-living increases for our County employees. That decision, obviously, will depend on the overall economy, the challenges faced by the state, and the sustainability of our current budget. We hope to have some resolution in the next few months regarding what kind of cost-of-living adjustment can be provided.
Ralph from Up County
The Dc government is paying 22,000 workers back for furlough days. Will you consider doing this for your dedicated county workers? http://www.wtop.com/109/3001361/DC-workers-to-be-repaid-for-furlough-days
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am very grateful to Montgomery County's dedicated workforce. Not a day goes by that I do not hear or experience something positive regarding our employees. There is no doubt that our employees have had to sacrifice during the dismal recession we and the nation experienced. Although the economy has improved, our revenues are not increasing substantially to retroactively repay our County employees for past furlough days. The County's budget is impacted by recent action by the State legislature to shift teacher pension costs and overall financial contributions to the County, these actions significantly reduce County revenues.I continue to be grateful to our workforce and will consider providing adjustments in the future as revenues permit.
Phyllis from Up County
When will the County Executive be providing his recommendations on the Transit Task Force's report?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. I expect to make recommendations regarding this report this fall. Some will likely be included in my FY14 budget recommendation, which will be presented to the County Council in January.
Tommy from Up County
Over the years Montgomery Count has began to decline. There has been more crime in the down county area and increasingly more crime in the up-county area. The county increasingly is focusing more and more on low-income housing and "new-Americans"(As our Governor calls them) and less and less on the hard working County Residents who had made this County once great. What is the Counties plan to bring Montgomery County back to prosperity?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. First of all, Montgomery County is one of the best places in the country to live. Overall, crime is significantly down (approximately 25 percent over the last five years). If you look at overall employment, our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country. Public schools rank at the very top of national lists. On economic development, we are fortunate to attract some of the best firms both nationally and internationally. Most recently, our County has improved and we are working on several new projects that will provide nearly 100,000 additional high-paying jobs. These projects include the White Flint sector plan, the East County Gateway plan, the new Great Seneca Science Corridor and the new Smart Growth Initiative in Shady Grove -- just to name a few. When compared to virtually any other jurisdiction in the country, this type of growth, jobs, education and crime prevention is exceptional. This does not mean that we do not have room for improvement. We will continue to work aggressively to ensure a high quality of life for all of our residents -- those who have been here for some time and those who are recent arrivals. Many of the recent arrivals are the cornerstone to the County's recent growth in technology, bioscience and related fields that have helped to increase quality jobs and greater opportunities for everyone.
Eric from Mid County
Our local, county and state roads are in terrible shape due to lack of maintenance for many years. What is being done to address improve these roads?
Why don't we use more traffic circles, particularly in local subdivisions, instead of traffic lights? Colorado has used them in relatively high volume situations in Vail and Avon, CO, with great success.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We spend about $40 million a year on County road maintenance. The recent and unprecedented economic downturn has made it difficult for many local jurisdictions across the Country to dedicate additional funds for road improvements and maintenance. However, this year I was able to increase funding significantly for both road resurfacing and transportation infrastructure so that we could begin to catch-up on our backlog of road maintenance projects.
The County has used traffic circles in certain locations where our Transportation Department has identified as appropriate. Interestingly, we have received mixed reviews on the effectiveness of traffic circles. We will continue to evaluate the use of traffic circles at locations where they are warranted.
Carlos from Up County
Mr. Leggett- why do you classify workers who perform critical duties, year round as “temporary workers? Do you think it is right that these workers, who have worked 5, 10, 15 years should be denied health insurance or retirement? I hope you do not continue this exploitation. You have been County executive for around 5 years now... would you be a temporary worker? Would you settle for the benefits and treatment that they recieve?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have heard this issue raised by several of our employees. In discussing it with my staff, I learned that there have been instances when temporary employees have been retained for extended time periods. In some cases this is justified by the number of hours employees chose to work. It is not my intention that any employee should be retained in a temporary status beyond what is permitted by the County's personnel regulations. I urge employees who believe that their temporary status is in violation of our regulations to contact Joe Adler, the County's Human Resources Director and/or their respective union representative. I will be taking a fresh look at this issue to make certain that our rules and regulations and practices are consistent with the basic rights of all employees who work for the County government.
Kim from Up County
As a life long county resident and also a county employee it is becoming more difficult to maintain homeownership in the county. I'm facing foreclosure in the very near future. My pay has not increased in 5 years. What incentives if any are available for residents to live and work in the county? What assistance is available?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and for your county service. By all means, please contact Myriam Torrico in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs at 240-777-3627 for assistance with issues regarding foreclosure. There are other resources available on the Department's web page.
Tommy from Up County
Of all the major Fire Departments in the Washington Metro area Montgomery County Firefighters are among the lowest paid starting out. Why is this? And what does the County plan to do to become more competitive? (Howard Co -$45k, Arlington Co Va-$44k, Prince William Co Va - $44k, City of Alexandria Va- $43k, Fairfax Co Va- $49K and Mont Co is $41K)
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We place a high value on the work of all our public safety employees and their dedication to our County residents. Please understand that salary is only one component of the total compensation of County public safety workers. In our upcoming negotiations, we will certainly evaluate our pay and benefits overall to ensure they are competitive throughout the region.
Sylvia from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Hello Mr. Leggett, I’m a neighbor of the proposed Chevy Chase Lake development, so I’m very interested in understanding the county’s plan to support increased density. The plan under discussion calls for dramatic increases in building heights along crowded sections of Connecticut--and adjacent to single family homes--as well as over 700 new residential units. As the mother of a toddler looking ahead to an already-crowded elementary school, I wonder what plans are in place to handle the increased school crowding that would result from this development. Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Please understand that the Chevy Chase Sector Plan is a work in progress and there will be opportunities to have your views heard by both the Planning Board and the County Council. The Park and Planning staff recently released its recommendations on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan to the Planning Board, and the issues you identify are exactly those that the Planning Board and Council will be considering as they review the Plan.
Although as County Executive I have no formal role in the land use process, I will carefully review the Planning Staff's recommendations and your and other residents' concerns, along with any I might have to the Council as the Plan moves forward.
Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, we don't have time for any more questions today. I hope you'll join me again on October 24 at 1 p.m. for my next Live Discussion.