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Live Discussion with Ike Leggett

Portrait of County Executive Ike Leggett

Welcome to the Live Discussion with County Executive Isiah Leggett. This online interactive forum allows residents in Montgomery County to send questions directly to County Executive Isiah Leggett. You may submit questions anytime, and questions will be answered during the scheduled discussion time.


Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, July 09, 2013)

Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining me for today's Live Discussion. We have a lot of questions today, so let's get going.


MC from Rockville
What is the status of the PEPCO smart meter debacle? Please stop PEPCO from intruding on residents property and lives with this unwanted and unhealthy technology. What is wrong with using the less-smart ERT meters? These meters have allowed PEPCO to remotely read usage for billing for many years, and no one has a problem with them. Why is no one addressing this? If MC allows PEPCO to either proceed with their newer unhealthy smart meters, OR if I am to be charged more for opting out - This 38 year MC resident will be moving out! This makes me angry. Get rid of PEPCO already.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for joining us today. The Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC) addressed the issue of “Smart Meter” installation by Pepco and approved their moving ahead. I think they may be well on the way to completing this project. These meters, part of a trend by utilities nationwide, use radio waves to allow Pepco to remotely read the meters and, also, know when a customer’s power is out. The idea is that this will save money and foster efficiency. The MPSC did declare that the devices were safe but, against Pepco’s arguments, allowed customers to opt out for a fee. Unfortunately, Montgomery County has no jurisdiction in this matter. However, your point is well taken.


Joanna from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Any chance the county will start a composting program? I know there are many places in the country providing compost bins for its residents.

Mr. Leggett: Great question. We already have such a program and encourage residents to backyard compost by providing outreach education and training workshops on how to compost and providing, at no charge, compost bins to residents. There are 18 locations around the County, some of which have evening and weekend hours, where you may pick up a bin. You can find the list addresses, phone numbers and a map of these locations at http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/swstmpl.asp?url=/content/dep/solidwaste/store/compost_bins.asp. Good luck and we appreciate your interest in composting. Based on your question, we apparently need to publicize more our current composting efforts and examine ways to expand the program.


Michael from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Is it true that additional county funds are to be spent on the troubled Silver Spring transit center? If so why? Thank you.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The contractors working on the Silver Spring Transit Center have been working with Montgomery County and WMATA to develop a remediation plan to correct the defects at the Transit Center. It is our expectation that the contractors will pay for any work to correct defects and problems. Permits to do the remediation were issued yesterday, and work will commence within the next week.


Tom from Up County
Good afternoon. The Planning Board passed a policy last month that provided the Planning Board with the unilateral authority to release permanent Rural Open Space easements in RNC subdivisions throughout the County. This was done despite County Council ZTA 06-04, unanimously approved, which was designed specifically to ensure these conservation easements were protected in perpetuity. What assurances do the citizens of Montgomery County have that conservation easements are permanent and, specifically, that these large Rural Open Space areas, delineated through often lengthy and contentious approval processes, will be maintained as protected areas? Given the inventory of RNC land in the County, and assuming a reasonable Rural Open Space requirement, this policy impacts between 2100 and 3030 acres of land that contains streams, vistas and other environmentally sensitive areas deemed important enough to protect in perpetuity through the Planning Board's own planning process.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question about how our rural open spaces that have been placed under easements by Park and Planning can be protected. Although as County Executive, I have no formal role in land use issues such as this one, I understand your concern about land preservation. My understanding is that the policy was passed by the Planning Board in response to a recent court decision that found that although the Zoning Text Amendment as passed by the Council requires preservation in perpetuity, the Court decided that there is no such thing as "perpetuity" in land use. As a result, the Planning Board outlined criteria for when it would be appropriate to release Rural Open Space easements. These include: a. The purpose for the release must be to balance another public interest; b. The party requesting such release must, at a minimum, provide another property, similarly situated in location (watershed), and size, to be encumbered with the same ROS restriction so that the intention of “perpetuity” as required by the Zoning Ordinance is addressed; c. The replacement, or substitute property would have been acceptable as the ROS property in the original development application under which the ROS easement was approved; d. The impact of such release cannot place the party who granted the ROS easement as a condition of approval in a position in which its entitlements, such as density may be challenged; and e. There must be a finding of conformance with Master Plan for the ultimate replacement of ROS restricted property. Like you, I have concerns about maintaining our open spaces. Please be assured that I will be following how this new policy is applied, and will certainly comment to the Planning Board in those instances that I feel are not in keeping with our goals to preserve rural open space.


Fred from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I have seen some RATS in my front yard. Can I get help from the county to eradicate them?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Extermination of rats, mice and the like on private residential property is the responsibility of the homeowner, except in the case of residential rental properties, when complaints should go to the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. In case of rental properties, call 311 or go to www.mc311.com to file your service request and an inspector will follow up. If you need advice on dealing with rats on your own property, call 240-777-3986 for assistance.


Dr. K. K. Kumaroo from Silver Spring
We would like to hear the practical steps you have taken to employ people with disabilities in different departments of the County Government.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am sensitive to the fact that more than 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. I feel strongly that the County government, as a major employer, should set an example in hiring people with disabilities. I have taken several steps, beginning with the establishment of three programs in the County government designed to train and ultimately employ people with disabilities. These are the Quest Program; Customized Employment Public Intern Project and Project Search. While these have been quite successful, the County's hiring process made it very difficult for qualified workers with disabilites to successfully compete. Last fall, I called upon the County Council and ultimately our voters to change the County Charter to level the playing field. Eighty percent of our voters agreed with the charter change. Just two weeks ago, I attended the first graduating class for Project Search at which 14 young men and women were awarded certificates for successful completion of the 10 month program. As of now, we have successfully placed eight of these graduates in full-time positions with Montgomery County government. These programs are continuing into the future as is my strong commitment to this effort to do more. We are now embarking on an effort to work with many private sector employers to offer similar programs as way to find full-time work for people with disabilities.


SHEFALI from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What steps have been taken to increase pedestrian safety on Arlington Road Bethesda , in light of the the number of drivers running into people near to the elementary school. I hope something will be doen prior to the Fall semester?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Montgomery County is committed to improving pedestrian safety, and in light of the recent collision at this location, our engineers and Police have taken a fresh look to see what additional measures we can adopt to enhance safety in the area. County Police have conducted targeted enforcement of traffic safety laws at this location that has especially focused on drivers. Crosswalks have been repainted, and our engineering staff is evaluating the traffic signal operations and school zone signing. A new sidewalk was installed in 2009 at the corner of Arlington Road and Wilson Lane that was built by the Department of Transportation to improve pedestrian access and safety near the school. It is our hope that these and future efforts will help better protect pedestrians.


Chrystal from Up County
How do I get from... 4 Holly dr. Gaithersburg MD to 355 martins lane rockville?

Mr. Leggett: Thanks, this is the way I would go. Left onto Gaither, rt onto East Deer park, left on 355 approx three miles to rt onto North Washington and a quick rt onto Martin's Lane. Good luck.


Dave from Mid County
The School Board leased the Nick's Farm property to the County, who ultimately decided not to use it and gave it back to the School Board. Now it sets empty with Nick locked out. Unused. The County (you) failed to involve the community in your plans, so you were thwarted in your push for soccer fields. Now the School Board appears to be pouting. If it can't be what the School Board wants, then no one can use the land. While a farmer who produces a product that's important for County agriculture is out of business. Yes, it's not your job any more. But not really. You're the head of County government. Yes, the School Board doesn't work for you. But it's your job to make the whole thing work right. We need leadership so that at least as long as the land doesn't have another use, Nick can operate his farm. Will you be a leader and speak up for Nick? And advocate for him with the School Board? No, it's strictly not your job. If you think your job is just what's wri

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your assessment of my leadership and presumed powers that I have over school property. Unfortunately, the question that you raise is still one that must be resolved by the Board of Education. I would suggest that you raise this issue directly with them regarding the importance of the farm and possible alternative uses of this site.


Sally from Up County
Dear Leggett, Thank you for this wonderful way of communicating with your constituents. My question which I heard from many of the county friends also is, why the county does not promote a additional river crossings north of American legion bridge. This crossing with any new highway can be built without any exits hence protecting our award winning farmland protection. Limiting the highway entrances has been successful in stopping any new development at many places in the country. Thank you, Sally

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The idea of an additional Potomac River crossing between the American Legion Bridge and US Highway 15 and Point of Rocks is not new. Neither is the County’s opposition to it. Such a bridge crossing and accompanying super-highway in not in the County’s Master Plan and hasn’t been for 30 years – ever since Virginia first abandoned the earlier “Outer Beltway” concept and Montgomery followed suit. On the Virginia side, it would cut through hundreds of homes in long-established neighborhoods. On the Montgomery side, it would slash through our crown-jewel 91,000 acre Agricultural Reserve and encourage sprawl development. “Limited access” highways often end up being less limited and urbanization can follow. Some studies have indicated that the traffic relief would be negligible, at best, and that increased traffic would leave congestion virtually unchanged on the American Legion bridge. An alternative is for both Virginia and Maryland to work, separately and together, on other transit and road alternatives to address demand issues.


Pamela from Silver Spring
Why are you not funding raises for the County Police next year (7/2014)? They received a "bonus" $2,000 last year - that went mostly to taxes, but have not received any scheduled, collectively bargained pay raises in 3, 4, 5 years? The Mediation Board said the County must pay to the officers. How many raises have you received? How many times have you had to run forward while everyone else is running out?! How are you going to backpeddle this time?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I recommended and the Council approved a general wage adjustment of 2.1 percent, effective July 1 for police officers, as well as merit and longevity increments. In addition, a 1.75 percent missed increment from FY11 will be retroactively provided. Overall, for the past four years, we were in the midst of an unprecedented national recession that forced severe restraints on our ability to provide wage adjustments for all County employees, including police. This resulted in the elimination of COLAs, no increments, furloughs and changes to health and retirement benefits. Due to our fiscal management, I believe that we are in a better position to commence some compensation adjustments for our employees. The actions taken above are a reflection of my commitment.


Ron from Mid County
Exactly how much money (including the time and expenses of public employees) does the county spend on "public relations" activities and on lobbying the state legislature each year? The county has an office of public information, an expensive looking website, numerous emailing and newsletters, etc. It produces shows on Montgomery county cable and creates videos posted to the internet. As another example, when the ambulance fee went to referendum two years ago, the county conducted an extensive PR campaign to try to mute support for the petition, opposed it in court, and then try to sway the outcome of the vote. The county also apparently sent county employees to lobby the state on a number of issues, some of which were advocating positions opposed by many of the county taxpayers who payed for it. And the county funds MaCo to do lobbying and public relations on its behalf.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. One of the core values of my administration is transparency in County government. I have taken many steps to improve transparency and to communicate with our more than 1 million residents including the initiation of this "on line chat" with you. I've conducted many town hall meetings and budget hearings and made our web page more responsive and informative. Communicating with a large and highly diverse population is critical to the safety, economic strength and well being of all our residents. To be effective, it requires resources, and we are careful to spend it in a sound and prudent manner. The County’s Office of Public Information budget for the current year is $4.6 million, of which $3.6 million is for the MC311 Call Center, which operates under the direction of Public Information. That figure is seven percent less than last year. The General Fund portion of the PIO budget that goes for information, public relations and media relations – along with direction of the County’s website, County Cable Montgomery television, and graphic and design for all County departments – is about $1.1 million. That amount, incidentally, is 33 percent less than it was when I took office. I should note that our Public Information Office just won three awards for excellence from the National Association of Counties. They do great work in communicating County ideas, initiatives and programs – and serving the needs of our several dozen departments and offices. Our Office of Intergovernmental Affairs represents County interests, policy, and priorities in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill. Those policies and priorities are determined annually by myself and the County Council. Their budget for the current year is $895,582 – a two percent increase over last year. Our small, veteran staff does tremendous work in working with our state delegation and state leaders in promoting our interests in Annapolis and in DC – both on policy and legislation as well as securing state and federal funding for a range of County programs. This office pays for itself many times over. I assure you that the tens of millions of state funds returned to our taxpayers, as well as the close monitoring and action on other proposed legislation, is well worth the investment.


John D Bowen from Silver Spring
What can be done about making the telephone and cable companies promptly move their lines from the cut off old pole to new poles. There are slews of cut off poles all over New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road which have replaced years ago and the cutoff old pole is still hanging there with the telephone and cable lines still on them. There should be a penalty if these lines are not moved within a three or four month period. They make the county unsightly.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. You are not alone in your concern about this issue. In fact, PEPCO, Verizon and Comcast signed an agreement in March that equipment will be removed from poles within 60-90 days of installing a new pole, and the backlog of double poles that existed prior to the agreement will be addressed by December 2014. The utility and cable companies are currently prioritizing the pole removal work and the County will be monitoring their progress. More information is available as part of a June 25, 2013 discussion about utility poles by two County Council committees, http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/cm/2013/130627/20130627_GOTE1.pdf. I hope this is helpful.


Eleoterio from Rockville
Why is traffic managed so poorly in Montgomery County? Traffic lights throughout the county are not synchronized to create "green waves" on major roads. In fact, they seem to be synchronized to create a "red wave" forcing drivers to stop at every single traffic light on major roads (ex. Great Seneca Highway, Shady Grove Rd, Democracy Blvd, to name just a few). Frequent stopping not only irritates drivers and makes them waste valuable time but, most importantly, results in poor performance of vehicles and adds to air pollution. Synchronization of traffic lights should be easy to do with the availability of computer programs. It seems to me that there is no one paying attention to this matter in Montgomery County.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Montgomery County was one of the first communities in the nation to install a system for coordinating traffic signals based on the predominant direction of travel, the time of day and the traffic speeds. Because the County does not have a grid-like transportation network like that of many major cities, the coordination of signals is much more challenging here. In non-peak periods, such as midday, nights and weekends, most roadways have relatively equal volumes in both directions. The synchronization at these times is not set to favor a particular direction, so non-stop travel along a roadway is nearly impossible to achieve. Please feel free to email MCDOT at MCDOT.TrafficOps@montgomerycountymd.gov. with the details on the intersections and times of days of concern.


Hua from Silver Spring
Hi Mr. Leggett, I need some advice on my situation. The owner next my house rented out his room to multiple families. I talked to him a few years and he said those were his relatives. However, over the past years, his so call "relatives" were all changed, and every a few months new tenants were moving into that house. Situation getting worse recently. His tenants were overflowed and their cars occupied all the parking space available in front of my house and across the street. I don't believe those are his relatives anymore. I looked up online and the owner does not have any rental license. I would love to know what I need to do and I would like to see this problem to be solved as soon as possible. Thank you for your time.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. In Montgomery County, any number of people related by blood or marriage may live together in a home. However, the maximum number of unrelated people living in a single family home is five. If you would like to register a complaint, call 311 (or 240-777-0311 if calling from a cell phone), or go to www.mc311.com, and the Department of Permitting Services will investigate. You will need to provide the address of the property, and if you would like to be contacted with the results, provide your name, address, and email address or daytime telephone number. Please indicate whether you wish to remain anonymous.


Ida from Silver Spring
During your Q & A in evening's Silver Spring Citizens' meeting, you mentioned that Montgomery County can't afford the BRT/RTV system now in the planning process. Would you clarify your comments? Thank you.

Mr. Leggett: That is correct. It is not likely that we can afford the entire BRT/RTV as currently planned. I did say that it is possible to start different segments of the proposed plan, consistent with land use policy, employment opportunities and areas where traffic relief is possible. We will continue to evaluate the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the overall plan as we move forward. BRT/RTV is one of the few viable concepts that will help Montgomery County to address the very challenging traffic and transit problems we are experiencing.


Susan from Silver Spring
Mr. Leggett, I would love to be a part a part of the live session. However, I have a work commitment. I recently moved to Silver Spring. Prior to this, I lived in Olney MD for twenty-six years. The library was a very intricate part of my children's lives. It's programs was thereputuic to my younger daughter's socialization. Here is my question. As a representative, how can you facilitate the completion of the library? Help make this library a reality through action. Thank you, in advance for being my representative. Sincerely yours, Susan Landesberg

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. This week, Milestone Construction informed the County that it is ceasing business operations throughout the region. Among its many construction projects in the region, the Olney Library is one. As in all County projects, we required a 100 percent performance bond to protect the County in the eventuality of a business disruption such as this one so that our projects will be completed, and at no cost to the County. This situation, however, may cause some delay while the bonding company works with the subcontractors to complete the project. On this note, I want to personally assure you that the County will work closely with the bonding company to assure that the library project continues to move forward in as timely a manner as possible.


Mr. Leggett: Thank you for participating in today’s Live Discussion. Please join me for my next Live Discussion.


 

Last edited: 4/11/2011