Yet More Evidence of a Closed Process and that the Fix was In

It’s even worse than I thought.

When the new Thrive chapters were completed, there was no Council press release, no official email notification, and no notice on Council social media. It’s as if they didn’t want anyone to know about it.

Residents had to directly enquire to learn that the chapters were posted to a website. I know of one resident who found out about the chapters this way on September 16. On September 20, the Council staff packet containing the new chapters for the September 22 work session was posted. This was the first opportunity many had to see the new chapters–two days before the meeting.

Yet the Coalition for Smarter Growth letter sent in by Jane Lyons is dated September 16 and the Greater Greater Washington letter sent in by Dan Reed is dated September 19. These two lobbyists are closely allied with Thrive supporters on the both the Planning Board and the Council with both having privileged access throughout the Thrive’s heavily skewed process.

Council staff were not as forthcoming with other residents. When a resident asked Pam Dunn, a Council staffer reviewing the new chapters, when citizens could see them, they were told: “There wont [sic] be a new final draft prior to the first worksession. The new chapters will be included in each staff report for the worksession that will review it (posting 5 days prior to the Council session).” No mention was made of posting them prior to the work session, consistent with radio silence when they were posted—except to CSG and GGW. The packet only appeared two days before the work session.

When the same person asked if there would be a public hearing, Dunn told her: “There will not be another public hearing.” No mention was made that the resident could nevertheless send in comments despite the lack of a formal hearing.

The Department of Environmental Protection letter on the environment chapter was submitted only September 22—the day of the work session and was not even included in the staff packet or addendum—so residents had no advance chance to see it.

It’s clear that the Council had no interest in anyone weighing in on Thrive who was not fully on board with its pre-determined agenda. This included ignoring numerous comments that were submitted previously but never addressed or discussed by the Council. It also included ignoring even recent comments made to the Council, such as the letter sent by 32 Montgomery-based communities and organizations (also embedded below).

This process makes a complete mockery of the ideas of transparency and inclusion that should be at the heart of any public process, let alone one where racial equity and social justice have been placed at the forefront. Expecting clairvoyance about the availability of materials unless you’re an insider and ignoring submissions from all except for two lobbyists is the opposite of an open and equitable process.


Share

The Fix is In, Part II

Montgomery County Council staff are now claiming that no comments about Thrive’s three new chapters (Environmental Health and Resilience, Economic Competitiveness, and Racial Equity and Social Justice) were received from anyone  besides Jane Lyons, a paid employee of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and Dan Reed, a paid employee of Greater Greater Washington, and the County’s Department of Environmental Protection.

During the Council session on September 22, Council staff stated: “So we only received direct comments on the chapters from Coalition for Smarter Growth, from Greater Greater Washington, and from DEP.”

This is misleading in two senses. First, other organizations, including environmental and civic groups, have recently commented extensively on these issues even if they did not comment on the specific language in these new chapters. Put more bluntly, the staff omitted key information regarding recent comments.

Second, the very first draft of Thrive, proposed by Planning Staff (called the Working Draft Plan) had chapters similar to these three, which received multiple comments. Many comments made on this and subsequent versions of Thrive still apply to the version which the Council is now considering. Must residents resubmit the same comments repeatedly to have them heard?

Moreover, if the Council received no additional comments on these specific and very important chapters, councilmembers should question whether true consultation has actually occurred with either the hired experts or the residents–also known as their constituents. Clearly, either the chapters were not distributed and publicized widely or insufficient time was given to comment. It’s inconceivable in our vocal county that only two paid lobbyists have thoughts on a chapters of a plan supposed to shape Montgomery County for 30 years.

The new racial equity and social justice analysis suggests directly that more engagement is needed. In the Thrive work session this past Tuesday, councilmembers cut the session from two hours to about 70 minutes, and took an inordinate amount of time to congratulate themselves on their awareness of racial equity and social justice.

As a result, they limited the discussion time for the consultant, who had been paid nearly $100,000 for the analysis, and simply dispensed with several of his recommendations for more comprehensive engagement and improvements to Thrive.

In other words, this consultation is largely performative. It’s designed to tick off boxes rather than gain meaningful input. In this most recent work session, the Council spent much time  incorporating comments from two regional organizations that want to make the document more radical, and none from critics in the Montgomery community.

Truth be told, councilmembers don’t seem very engaged with the complex issues and just want to ram through Thrive Montgomery 2050.


Share

When You Know the Fix is In

The staff report to the Montgomery County Council for its next discussion on Thrive includes only two detailed letters from the many submitted by the community. Incredibly, the only two are from Jane Lyons for the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Dan Reed for Greater Greater Washington. Both have been ardent Thrive cheerleaders.

This occurred even after Councilmember Sidney Katz noted back in February:

I believe part of the problem becomes that people believe, rightly or wrongly, that you are only listening to the one side rather than both sides. This is such an important plan. This is such an important document that we need to make certain people are comfortable that they believe—that they know—that we are listening to all sides.

The old saw that “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me” applies well. You’ll recall that Councilmember Hans Riemer touted Jane Lyons for “chairing” the discussion on Thrive. Dan Reed has vociferously criticized anyone who disagrees with his vision for Thrive.

Note also that the closed session to discuss possible discipline for Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, the architect of Thrive, will occur after the Council work session. No one with a contrasting perspective is given any platform before the Council.

Sadly, all the rhetoric about doing better seems just rhetoric. Sure looks like the fix is in.

Share

Council Discussing Anderson Today

Today at 3:30pm, the Montgomery County Council is meeting in closed session to consider the latest problems surrounding Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson.

Specifically, despite a zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs policy, Anderson had a full bar containing “over 32 bottles of hard liquor in his office where he routinely creates mixed drinks and distributes them on a significant scale.” This occurred even though Anderson acknowledged that he “was aware that the planning commission generally prohibits alcohol in the workplace.”

Anderson tried to partially excuse his actions by explaining that the drinking occurred at “the end of the workday, after regular business hours.” In response to whether he had pressured anyone to drink, Anderson told the Office of the Inspector General “Absolutely not.” Except that Anderson’s office remains a place of work even if we trust that no one ever drank during the workday. People could feel pressured to join in since he is the top boss at both the Commission and Planning Board.

The Council will be hard pressed to avoid disciplining or firing Anderson if actions have been taken against other employees for violations of the alcohol policy. As the person who is supposed to set an example and enforce rules as the Commission Chair, Anderson should receive greater rather than lesser penalties. And I’ll bet that none of the other rule breakers had a fully stocked bar with over 32 bottles of alcohol.

Unfortunately, the Council has had a penchant for ignoring Anderson’s violation of serious rules with impunity, including regular and serious violations of the Open Meetings Act, failure to register lobbyists, and inappropriate use of the consent agenda. If the Planning Board did not make serious decisions that have enormous financial impact, it might not matter so much. But they do, and Anderson’s response has been to excoriate the compliance board.

And why shouldn’t he? Despite his past violations and arrogant contempt for the law, the Council hasn’t taken meaningful action. With his tight relationships on the Council, they’ll probably do the equivalent of slapping him halfheartedly with a Nerf baton.

Share

Winners and Losers, Part II

Yesterday, Seventh State looked at the big winners from the primary but today’s post lists some people for whom the election just didn’t work out as well as they hoped.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Progressives for Progress had a banal, redundant and misleading name, there is little evidence that this pro-development group led by Steve Silverman had much impact. Not only did David Blair lose the big county executive race but Laurie-Anne Sayles, Kate Stewart and Kristin Mink won over PfP’s preferred candidates. Councilmember Will Jawando also easily won reelection. A whole lot of money dumped to obtain many chilly receptions.

Close only counts in horseshoes. David Blair has now dumped oceans of money to get elected county executive and fallen short twice. Despite his argument that he would know how to get things done, he couldn’t seal this deal despite being an affable fellow and liberally lubricating the way with his wallet. Blair’s failure to get meaningfully involved in the county beyond donations after 2018 made it all the harder to sell himself. Lots of people who hoped to ride the Blair train are also disappointed. Hard to imagine Blair trying this again but if he does go after his white whale, his opponent can run on “Make him spend it all!”

The Republican Party made its brand so toxic nationally that even moderate Republicans like Connie Morella and Howie Denis no longer have a prayer here. But Gov. Larry Hogan showed that there was room to grow for center right candidates, as he won an impressive 44.1% in Montgomery in 2018. The nomination of fringe nutcases like Dan Cox for governor and Michael Peroutka will utterly undo this effort to create a more palatable Maryland Republican brand. Great news for Democrats running in swing districts and the party’s super majority in the General Assembly.

Saqib Ali’s uphill campaign to unseat an incumbent delegate in District 15 didn’t just lose but crashed and burned in the wake of abuse allegations. Ali once had a promising political career. But after winning election in District 39, he promptly put himself forward for the Senate opening. When MCDCC chose far more experienced Nancy King, he spent the rest of his term alienating colleagues and preparing for a close but ultimately unsuccessful challenge. Since then, he’s pursued office fruitlessly and continued to burn rather than build bridges.

Brandy Brooks seemed to have a lot going for her as she entered this campaign season. Her strong progressive message excited a major constituency in Montgomery Democratic primaries. And then it all fell apart amid serious accusations of sexual harassment. It likely would not have mattered anyway as a high burn rate left the campaign with little money.

Share

Winners and Losers, Part I

It has been awhile since the primary but it’s never too late to evaluate winners and losers. Today, we look at five winners.

Councilmember Evan Glass is the new king of the mountain. Not only is he expected to be elected Council President but he came in a comfortable first in the primary for the four at-large seats. Many had thought Will Jawando would top the pile, setting him for a future county executive run, but Glass’s electoral muscle showed that he is also one to watch.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher faced the toughest state legislative primary challenge in Montgomery County. Not only did he win but his impressive margin of 63.8% should discourage not only future outsider challenges but also give his delegates pause before taking a run at him next time.

A lot has already been written about the election of a majority of women to the Montgomery County Council. People should remember that this talented group is extremely diverse as the politics of Marilyn Balcombe and Kristin Mink span the full range of Council divisions. This should put paid to silly claims from four years ago about women being unable to win here.

Most of the focus has been on women but Asian Americans had a good year too. Wes Moore’s choice of former delegate and congressional candidate Aruna Miller for the lieutenant governor slot on his ticket certainly grabbed attention. But Kristin Mink is also the first Asian American to win election to the Montgomery County Council — long overdue for this fast-growing group.

Montgomery County is like a giant cruise ship. No matter who is the captain, it’s hard to change direction and it happens slowly. Ongoing major expenditures for schools and other core services take up the bulk of the budget. The pandemic occupied most of Marc Elrich’s first term. To the extent he was able to pursue his priorities, Elrich has not acted in a radical or shocking way. Yet Elrich somehow makes his opponents, including the Washington Post, absolutely unhinged. Despite facing sums of money that would be impressive even in a Maryland gubernatorial race, he still won.

Share

Elrich Wins. Blair Concedes Election

After losing by 77 votes four years ago, David Blair came up 32 votes short against Marc Elrich this time. Some speculated Blair would go to the courts to try and see if he could get more ballots counted, but he has sensibly chosen not to go that route. It would almost certainly have been a losing battle legally and in the public eye.

Here is the press release:

Rockville, Md., August 24, 2022 — David Blair released the following statement on the 2022 Montgomery County Executive Democratic primary election:

“Today, the Board of Elections certified the recount results of the primary election and my bid for County Executive came up 32 votes short. Earlier today, I called Marc Elrich to wish him the best over the next four years.

While we didn’t win, no doubt we pushed the conversation forward in key areas such as early childhood education, career readiness, environmental progress, affordable housing, economic development, public safety and much, much more. I wish a heartfelt thank you to our campaign team, our volunteers, and our many, many supporters. Their energy, dedication, and vision for a better Montgomery County has been truly inspiring.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the Board of Elections staff and volunteers who ensured every vote was counted and counted accurately.

While I may have come in second place in the primary, I’m blessed in life with an incredible wife, family and friends that I adore, more success than I deserve, and a deep desire to give back to the community that I call home. No doubt whatever I do next will be focused on improving the quality of life for those who call Montgomery County home.” 

Share

Recount Analysis

The Board of Elections has reported the recount results from the early vote as well as all but one of the election districts. David Blair has gained two votes and Marc Elrich has gained one vote. This is bad news for Blair as these were the two sections of the recount most likely to benefit him through closer examination of overvotes—ballots that contained more than one vote for county executive.

In the initial count, these ballots from the early and Election Day vote are run through the counting machine without closer examination. Overvotes are tallied but counted as invalid. But once in a while, closer examination can reveal that the intent of the voter is clear despite an overvote. The ballot may have an “x” through the vote for one candidate that indicates that the voter didn’t mean to vote for that person.

These sorts of ballots would have allowed Al Gore to win the 2000 presidential election.

But changes in how we vote since then have reduced the number of these ballots. During early and Election Day voting in Montgomery, voters must feed their ballots into a machine that gives voters a chance to correct mistakes if there are any overvotes. Some voters cast their ballots on machines (that create a paper record and ballot) that do not allow overvotes. The result is that fewer early and Election Day ballots contain these sorts of problems, which is why only three ballots changed..

The potential for these problems is far greater in mail-in ballots but these ballots were already assessed as they were counted. The Board of Elections has already ruled on any ballots with overvotes, following the extremely detailed set of guidelines from the state. Even though these ballots almost certainly contain a higher share of overvotes, the potential for change is quite low.

Good news for Elrich.

Share

102 More Ballots in MoCo!

The Board of Elections has found an additional 102 provisional ballots that it failed to count—enough to change the outcome of the county executive race. But David Blair would have to win an outsized share of them to overtake Marc Elrich’s 42 vote lead. The ballots are from four precincts in Germantown and four in Wheaton. The Board will count the ballots and certify the election on Saturday. Then it’s on to the recount.

Here is the press release from the Board:

For Immediate Release: Thursday, August 11, 2022

MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS ACTING DIRECTOR RELEASES STATEMENT ON ADDITIONAL PROVISIONAL BALLOTS TO BE COUNTED

Montgomery County’s Acting Election Director, Alysoun McLaughlin, tonight released the following statement:

“Our precertification audit identified additional provisional ballots to be counted and the Board of Elections will be unable to certify the election as scheduled at its meeting tomorrow afternoon.”

“Before asking the Board to certify any election, our staff conducts a comprehensive precertification audit. That audit includes an inspection of a random sampling of ballot envelopes and a reconciliation of the total number of voters who cast a ballot against the number of ballots scanned.”

“Today, we pulled our random sample of empty provisional ballot envelopes for audit and were unable to locate one of the randomly selected envelopes where it should have been. In addition, we were unable to resolve a discrepancy between the number of provisional ballots that our staff had recommended that the Board accept, and the number of ballots scanned.”

“Together, these two pieces of information prompted a visual search of folders where provisional ballots had been stored prior to the canvass. Those folders contained 102 unopened, sealed ballot envelopes that were never removed from their folders and presented to the canvass from the following precincts:

  •  Precinct 06-10 – 1 ballot 
  •  Precinct 06-11 – 1 ballot
  •  Precinct 06-13 – 14 ballots
  •  Precinct 06-14 – 7 ballots
  •  Precinct 06-15 – 15 ballots
  •  Precinct 13-56 – 12 ballots
  •  Precinct 13-57 – 10 ballots
  •  Precinct 13-58 – 30 ballots
  •  Precinct 13-59 – 12 ballots

“I apologize for this error and for not identifying it until today, or the remaining ballots could have been counted earlier. I want to emphasize that Maryland’s comprehensive precertification audit was designed to identify issues like this before an election is certified to ensure the accuracy of the results. It worked as intended.” 

“I will finish reviewing the rest of the audit to ensure that there are no further discrepancies before I ask the Board of Elections to certify the results of the election. The Board will meet at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, August 12, and we will discuss the findings of our audit and the schedule for canvass and certification.”

Your Voice, Your Vote!

Media Contact: Gilberto Zelaya, 240-777-8625

Share

Maryland Politics Watch