Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, February 17, 2009)
Mr. Leggett: Hello, and welcome to today's virtual town hall meeting. Let's begin.
Andrea from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I am a resident of the Westgate neighborhood in Bethesda with a daughter who will be attending Westbrook Elementary in the Fall of 2010. At that time, the school is expected to be at 190% of capacity, according to county forecasts, which is the highest level of over-capacity of any elementary school in the county. Westbrook is also one of only a small handful of elementary schools in the county without a gymnasium. Indeed, there are numerous other schools ahead of Westbrook to have their existing gymnasiums renovated when Westbrook doesn't even have one. The stimulus package presents a rare opportunity in a down economy to modernize and expand seriously deficient physical plants of local public schools -- a category in which Westbrook is undoubtedly at the top of the list in Montgomery County. What are you doing to ensure that the stimulus money dedicated to Montgomery County Public schools will be used to modernize and expand Westbrook Elementary? Thank you. Andrea
Mr. Leggett: I was hopeful that the economic stimulus legislation recently approved by Congress and soon to be approved by the President would contain significant sums for school construction. Unfortunately, the final legislation contains only $100 million nationwide for school construction. Based on the criteria that was determined by Congress, very little of that money is likely to find its way to Montgomery County. Therefore, we must depend solely on the County's ability to fund projects by issuing bonds. In the last full Capital Improvements Program, I cut back on all other government construction projects in an effort to provide Montgomery County Public Schools with as many funds as possible for school construction. Despite a significant increase in school construction dollars, many schools are dealing wit h overcrowding. I have recommended funds to begin planning for an addition to Westbrook Elementary School, so I am hopeful that your community will see relief from the overcrowding as soon as possible. I would stronglyl recommend that you keep communicating your concerns to the Board of Education since they determine the priority order of school projects.
Michael from Up County
I fail to understand why the police in this county are not allowed to question the citizenship status of an individual(s) who has been detained, arrested for breaking a law? I do not understand how profiling is related to breaking the law? People of all social classes, races, and ethnic groups break the law. It is illogical to ignore some laws but enforce other laws. This practice leads to chaos! We recently witnessed the killing of a student citizen by an illegal alien who was previously arrested but not questioned, deported for being here illegally. Had he been deported a citizen’s life would have been saved. Where is the accountability to enforce all the laws.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
One of the most important responsibilities that I have as County Executive is to ensure the safety of our community.
Last week, I sent a memo to Police Chief Tom Manger concerning his recommendation for a change in our current policy regarding the manner in which we handle violent offenders in the county, some of whom may be undocumented residents.
After careful consideration, I have concluded that the following should reflect our new approach on this matter. The names of all persons arrested and charged in Montgomery County for crimes of violence, as defined in the Maryland Criminal Law Code Section 14-101, or for wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun (Maryland Criminal Law Code Section 4-203) will be forwarded to the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
I think this is a balanced and realistic policy. This will discourage profiling and help ensure community cooperation with the police.
vanessa from Silver Spring
I have been trying to get an answer to my question for months now, but received none. I live on a residential street in Silver Spring, for months now a work truck that has a business name on the side has been parked across the street from me. The man who drives the truck does not even live on our street.I would just like to know, if this is legal, I did not mind when he parked at night, and was gone by morning, but now most days hes parked all day and night. I would so greatly appreciate an answer to my question. Thank you
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Please contact Jennifer Hughes, Special Assistant to the County Executive. She will ensure that your questions are responded to and the situation you describe is addressed. I am sorry that you have been frustrated in getting answers to your question.
Lorna Forde from Up County
I am a member of the local chapter of a private, non-profit organization in Montgomery County whose mission is to "provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities". I would like the County Executive to identify 2 or 3 areas of need where my organization can assist to develop a "Signature" program for Montgomery County. Our members reside throughout the county and are here to serve. I look forward to Mr. Leggett's comments.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I very much appreciate your reaching out to us in your effort to serve the community. Please contact Bruce Adams, the Director of the Office of Community Partnerships. He will work with you to ensure that your non-profit organization receives the information you need to make a valuable contribution to the community. He can be reached at (240) 777-2558. Thank you again.
John from Rockville
Hello Mr. Leggett. Will there be layoffs in your FY10 budget? If so how many?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Given the very difficult economic times that we are in, it is likely that there will be reductions in force in County Government. At this time, I do not yet know the extent of these reductions as we are still balancing the many difficult choices that will need to be made. As a compassionate employer, we will work to assist those whose jobs are eliminated to find alternative work. It is likely the fiscal challenges will continue for several years. Therefore, County government will need to work within serious fiscal constraints for some time to come. At the same time, we must work to make our government work more efficiently and focus on the core services that are critical to our residents.
Dave from Up County
Why did you, after getting your car towed for parking illegally have the Montgomery County Police harass this company until you got your money back? I find this behavior disgusting! Harassing a legitimate company for doing their job all the while turning a blind eye to the ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION problem plaguing this county?!
Mr. Leggett: Dave, don't believe everything you hear on right-wing talk radio.
First, the incident happened way back in 1996 or 1997 – about ten years before I was elected County Executive. I was then a County Councilmember.
As a Councilmember, I supported legislation to combat predatory towing by requiring visible signs conforming to a particular size to be posted near entrances and in all areas of private property lots subject to towing, which was passed by the Council and signed into law.
Sometime after that, upon visiting the New Bethel Baptist Church on Georgia Avenue one Sunday, I parked – as did a couple dozen others – in a lot next to the church. There were no obvious “No Parking” signs -- and certainly no signs conforming to the new County law regarding towing -- so I and others assumed it was a church overflow lot and parked there.
I – and others – were towed by Bowie Towing, a now-defunct firm.
Later, my office did forward a complaint to the County Office of Consumer Affairs concerning the inadequate signage. It turns out that there was a small, non-conforming sign that was not readily visible on the lot. The sign was on a back wall and no larger than a sheet of paper -- clearly not in compliance with the law. That’s what an Office of Consumer Affairs inspector found when he went to the site. He insisted on the signage required by law in the future, and the company promptly issued a refund check.
There was no harassment of the company involved. Possibly others who complained also received refunds.
Alyce from Silver Spring
I am concerned about the presence of panhandlers, solicitors and beggers at intersections all over the county. I'm sure we all want to help county residents who are in need, but not at the expense of their safety or the value of the community.
How can the current laws and the willingness of enforcement come together to address this issue?
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate the discomfort you may feel in encountering panhandlers among County roadways. I agree that it is inconsistent with preserving the quality of life in our commercial areas and residential neighborhoods.
Over the past several years, Montgomery County has responded to this issue in a number of different ways. The County has increased its funding for homeless shelters. We have conducted a one-day survey of County panhandlers in September 2004 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.
Senator Raskin has a bill in Annapolis that we are reviewing to see if it can help adress this from a public safety viewpoint.
David from Rockville
Greetings Mr. Leggett:
When will your 311 center be operational? Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your interest in the 311 system. This system will enable county residents to access county and some non profit services in a far more efficient and timely manner. In addition the 311 system will enable program managers to assess effectiveness of county responses. The system is in its planning stage today with implmentation anticipated for the Spring of 2010.
Mike from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Can you share your thoughts on the CountyStat program - specifically, has the County seen a Return on its Investment in this program? How so? What significant operational improvements has this program yielded?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am very excited about the CountyStat program and the results we have started to see from these efforts. Already, it has focussed attention on a number of programs and produced savings. For example, the focus on overtime hours in our public safety departments has resulted in over $5 million in overtime savings. The focus on our pedestrian safety programs has resulted in a data-driven program that is focussing our efforts on intersections and roads where the most significant numbers of pedestrian incidents have occurred. As a result of the CountyStat review we have also eliminated two positions, while increasing the program's effectiveness. There are other examples as well and I would invite you to visit the County's website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov and click on the CountyStat symbol. There is a great deal of information on the website about the results and the future schedule of CountyStat meetings.
Barry from Not from Montgomery County
Dear Mr. Leggett - President Obama recently signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. What are the implications of this law on the County's workforce and how will the County's HR Ddepartment ensure full compliance with this law?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It should not have much impact on County Government because pay for all County employees is a matter of public record and can be checked by anyone. The County has done periodic reviews over the years to make sure that we are in compliance with anti-discrimination laws concerning pay equity.
Tom from Up County
Hello Mr. Leggett:
What revenue enhancements will you pursue to close the FY10 budget gap? Please be as specific as you can.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have pledged that we will not raise taxes to resolve the FY10 budget deficit. In FY09, the County property tax payers had an unprecedented increase over the charter amendment. In order to resolve this, we will have to significantly rearrange priorities, make cuts where we think it is prudent, and eliminate certain programs. I have requested an increase in certain fees for service (permitting services and others), and payment of the ambulance fee for services by insurance companies. I recently supported the referendum for slots in Maryland as a means to assist the state in obtaining revenues that will be helpful to Montgomery County and other jurisdictions. Thank you for your question.
Adam from Mid County
I have a tree that the County marked for removal several months ago. It is very dangerous. I have been told that PEPCO is in 100% control over when the tree will be trimmed and cut down. This is absurd. Why is PEPCO, who is totally unresponsive, in control of the health, safety and welfare of the county? Does the tree have to fall down and cause major property damage or serious injury before anyone will do anything?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question Adam. Please contact Jennifer Hughes, Special Assistant to the County Executive. She will work with PEPCO to determine what steps are necessary to address your concerns. She can be reached at (240) 777-2500.
Patricia from Rockville
Dear Mr. Leggett
You need to address the serious problem with the Montgomery County Police Department. How they target African American women in Montgomery County and harasse them and sometimes do horrible crimes against them. No policeman has a right to stalk or harass you. I have had this problem for the last 10 years. I want something done. These policeman are racist and will sexually harass you too. I can't get or job or walk down the street. I am constantly harass and slandered by them. I made it clear that I do not date white males and yet I am harassed every day of my life. I would like to meet with you to discuss this serious issue.
I have proof of these findings. Also my home was taken my car. I have been homeless for the last five years. I am constantly harassed, stalked by these monsters.
Miss Patricia Gaines
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. There is no place in Montgomery County for racial discrimination of any kind. The County has established several places where discrimination complaints can be formally filed. I urge you to avail yourself of these resources. In the police department, consider contacting the Division of Internal Affairs, (240) 773-6000. You may also seek assistance from the the Office of Human Rights of Montgomery County at (240) 777-8450. If these prove to be unhelpful, contact my office at (240)777-2500.
Mitchell from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Montgomery County is facing steep budget deficits. In addition, during winter months, Montgomery County is forced to close schools and services for even the slightest of winter weather situations, often because roads and sidewalks are treacherous. This costs Montgomery County even more money. It would seem that there is an option that could offset these costs. Montgomery County has a code provision in effect that requires residents to clean the sidewalks in front of their homes/businesses or face a fine, but apparently it is not enforced on any large scale. Having the appropriate County officials issue citations for failure to maintain clean and passeable sidewalks can potentially increase the County's revenue and act as an incentive for residents to maitain safer sidewalks. This, in turn, would make it safer
for our children to get to school. Will you please consider enforcing this provision as a means to achieving multiple beneficial outcomes to the County?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I agree that we need to work harder to educate residents regarding their responsibilities in snow removal. We will work through our public information office to get the word out to our residents. If education doesn't work to improve the situation, we will need to explore other options. Thank you again.
Andrew from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I am curious about the progress the city is making with Lee Development on the Filmore Music hall in Silver Spring. This job seems incredibly interesting and could bring in desperatly needed jobs to the construction industries. I also believe this venue is an asset to the neighborhood, is there anything preventing the progress of this job.
Mr. Leggett: The Fillmore Music Hall will give a great shot in the arm by providing more construction jobs and, when completed,to bring more customers to Silver Spring businesses and revitalize a property long vacant at the very gateway to the area. It will also provide considerable community use opportunities and will turn a public profit from the very start.
We are currently at work to finalize the donation of the land from the Lee Development Group to Montgomery County. After that the project will go to Park & Planning for approval and then construction.
Henry from Not from Montgomery County
I know I am not in the county and those in the county has first attention, hence response. I have always cherish and favors the county and it is not out of my reach to move there when the time is right and pressing. That is a good reasonm like being employed here. My question is that I applied for a job with the county and was said to be on eligible list to be invited for interview since last November, is this normal sir?
Mr. Leggett: We will look into this to find out why this has taken so much time. Please contact Jennifer Hughes in my office at (240)777-2500 and she will find out the details.
Susan from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
We wanted to eat in Bethesda today and literally after spending 30 minutes driving through every street and 3 parking lots, we had to leave because there was no parking at all. Why don't you at least make the hundreds of one hour meters on the streets into two hour meters. It won't cost the county anything and it will at least enable people to finish their dinners. There are empty stores now in Bethesda and none of the 50 new restaurants in the DC area are opening there because of this parking problem. Many people I know refuse to go to Bethesda to eat for this reason.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I understand your frustration with the parking situation in Bethesda. I agree that we should examine your question in light of today's economy. I will ask Ken Hartman, our Regional Services Center Director in Bethesda to explore this issue, working with the business community. Thank you again. If you would like to speak with Mr. Hartman, please call him at (240) 777-8200.
Richard from Up County
Dear Mr. Leggett - can you share your personal thoughts on the election of Barack Obama and what this means for our community and our Country? Thank you for your service!
Mr. Leggett: It was a historic election that provides for an opportunity for significant positive change for our country and the image of America around the world. Given the tremendous challenges we currently face, I truly believe he is the right person for the job of leading this country at this time. I am quite hopeful that America -- and the world -- will be better off under his leadership.
Zerihun from Mid County
How I can able get help from your office about issue with Bank Of America? I have a modified mortgage agreement with BOA back on 08/12/08 which the new payment start as 11/01/08 and I have paid the new payment for the follwoing months and I have got another letter from BOA back on 1/12/09 which says again they change my payment plan. I have called BOA several time rather they have pushed me to sign their new offer which I haven't till today. The last word I heard from them was they will back to the original Aug 12 agreement and promised me to send a letter but I haven't got anything from them. Patiently I'm still waiting but I would be happy to get help from your office on this matter. Thank you-
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for contacting me regarding this matter. I suggest that you contact the County's Office of Consumer Protection with this issue. They have a team of highly effective investigators who specialize in assisting county residents with consumer issues. They can be reached at (240) 777-3636. Thank you again for your question.
Alyce from Silver Spring
Why are we spending money the county doesn't have to change our current touchscreen voting method to an optical scanner system? We haven't finished paying for the machines we already have, so this seems very fiscally irresponsible right now. And, it is even more troublesome that this spending was not approved by voters, and not one person I know supports it.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I agree with your concerns, but unfortunately the decision to move to an optical scanner system was made at the State level and is not a decision over which the County has any control. It is a classic unfunded mandate from a higher governmental level. If you'd like to provide direct input to the state Board of Elections, contact Linda Lamone, the State Admininstrator of Elections.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining us today for our virtual town hall meeting. Please join us again next time.