Category Archives: Rockville

Election Night Preliminary Results

The results are starting to come in and here are the preliminary results:

Rockville is not reporting vote totals but it looks like a good night for incumbents all around. Mayor Bridget Newton has won reelection, as have Councilmembers Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley, and Julie Palakovich Carr. Former Councilmember Mark Pierzchala will also return to the Council, leaving the balance on the Council much the same as before the election.

(Update: The Sentinel is reporting Rockville vote totals on twitter:
Mayor: Newton: 4069, Osdoby: 2182. Council (top 4 elected): Beryl Feinberg: 3,387, Julie Palakovich Carr: 2,947, Mark Pierzchala: 2,755, Virginia Onley: 2,698, Gottfried: 2,416, Schoof: 2,375, Mullican: 2,367, Hill: 2,317, Reed: 2,243.)

Patrick Wojahn has been elected as the new mayor of College Park. Here are the preliminary results (top two elected in each council district):

Mayor: Wojahn 1236, Mitchell 846
District 1: Kabir 698, Nagle 569, Sanders 170.
District 2: Brennan 160, Dennis 135, Conway 68, Blasberg 80
District 3: Stullich 402, Day 386, Belcher 366, Rigg 365, McCeney 38
District 4: Cook 184, Kujawa 163, Hew 130, Gregory 47

In Gaithersburg, Jud Ashman is the new mayor. Here are the preliminary results:

Mayor: Ashman 2380, Maraffa 1003, Bell-Zuccarelli 251
City Council (top three elected): Spiegel 2567, Wu 2498, Harris 2374, Sayles 2094.

Congratulations to Mayors Newton, Wojahn, and Ashman as well as all of the other winners and candidates.

Mayor Newton’s Planning Commission Nominee Will Moderate Tonight’s Mayoral Debate

Attorney Don Hadley, who was nominated by Mayor Bridget Newton to the Planning Commission and has been a business associate of her husband, will moderate a debate tonight featuring both mayoral and council candidates being held tonight at the King Farm Community Center. The debate will be telecast live on Rockville’s public television channel starting at 7:30, though there is a live meet-and-greet at 7:00.

Hadley, now the Chair of Rockville’s Planning Commission, served as an agent on a property owned by Newton’s husband.  Unfortunately, the questionable choice of Hadley to moderate tonight’s debate is probably the least of the challenges regarding transparency and the role of developer interests in the the City of Rockville.

It follows past cozy practices. When then-Councilmember Newton nominated Hadley to the Rockville Planning Board in 2010, she did not disclose the business relationship in the public session. but merely said “I think he’ll do a wonderful job,” as shown in the video clip below (click here for the the full session and minutes).

Moreover, Newton’s husband may have benefited from the Council’s decision in 2010 not to consider historic designation for the property at 408 Great Falls Road–the same property development which involved Hadley as well as Newton’s husband.

What happened? The then-owner of 408 Great Falls Road applied to have the property rezoned in a manner more favorable for its development (from R-90 to R-90 HD). Staff recommended that the historic designation for the property, so the city council had to decide whether to initiate the process for public consideration of historic designation. Note that this initial step was not to designate the property as historic but only to start the public process of consideration of the idea.

As is common, the property owner opposed designation and thus did not want the Council to move forward with the public process. At this meeting, after first pushing for the property owner to be given a chance to speak, Newton announced that “I need to recuse myself from this vote” because her husband had “made an offer on the property last Spring. The offer was not accepted. I want to be above board and let you all know that that happened.” (See the video below at 12:58 and click here for the full meeting and minutes).

So far, looks like the action of a good public official. Indeed, one of her colleagues, John Britton, wondered publicly why Newton needed to recuse herself, stating: “I understand your recusal and I guess that’s your personal choice. I understand your interest in the property but it’s a past action with no current interest.” (See the video at 15:19.)

Newton responded by saying that “she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” This statement and her decision makes Newton appear even more transparent and careful–seemingly avoiding any taint on the the Council decision not vote to pursue historic designation.

Newton’s stated desire to avoid “the appearance of impropriety” renders it all the more surprising when she informed her colleagues that her husband had “recently secured the property under contract. She disclosed this information just nine days after her silence regarding Britton’s assumption that her husband had no ongoing interest in the property.

The people of Rockville may not think any of this a problem. After all, it was water under the bridge when Newton was elected mayor two years ago. Nevertheless, it serves as an example of the powerful role development interests can end up playing in a process in which they have a keen interest–and why true transparency rather than its appearance matters.

In any case, I still wonder why Don Hadley, someone who Bridget Newton nominated to the Planning Commission and has done business with her husband, is thought to be the right choice to moderate the debate tonight including Newton.

Early Voting Glitches

Rockville, like Gaithersburg, is currently conducting early voting for its municipal elections. According to a report I received, the City of Rockville is trying out new election systems for the state. A glitch in the system could influence results for Council candidates.

Apparently, only seven of the nine candidates appear on the first page of Council candidates. In order to vote for either of the two on the second page (Clark Reed or Patrick Schoof), voters have to go to the second screen before competing their ballot. Voters may cast up to four votes for city council members.

These sorts of seemingly minor ballot design issues can have a real impact on elections. Indeed, they were at the center of a dispute over a close congressional race in Sarasota, Florida in 2008.

UPDATE: Watch this demo video for the new machines and it will become clear rapidly why this problem occurs.

Osdoby to Head Mayor-Council Slate

Clark Reed and Rockville’s Solar Co-op

As reported on Saturday, Sima Osdoby is expected to announce her candidacy for Mayor of Rockville later today. Incumbent Bridget Newton is completing her first term.

Incumbents Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley

A reliable source let me know that Osdoby will likely run with a full slate of candidates for the Council, including two of the four incumbents: Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley. A third incumbent, Tom Moore, is not seeking reelection. I do not know the plans of the fourth incumbent Beryl Feinberg.

On the current Council, Feinberg is seen as aligned with Newton while Palakovich Carr and Moore are often in opposition. Onley is the swing vote and her support for Osdoby has to be a disappointment to incumbent Mayor Newton.

Former Councilmember Mark Pierzchala

Former Councilmember Pierzchala lost a close race to Newton in 2013 with 47% of the vote. A well-known name, he is seeking to return to the Council on Osdoby’s slate.

Clark Reed

Like Osdoby, Reed has not yet filed for election but will and join this slate. Though a new candidate, he is not exactly as newcomer. Reed chairs Rockville’s Environment Commission and helped form and lead Rockville’s Solar Co-op (see the video).

This is a strong slate. It includes two incumbents–the top two candidates in 2013–and a third candidate who is a proven vote getter even if he narrowly lost the last mayoral election. Reed also has local leadership experience and strong community ties.

The slate should boost Osdoby who is surely less well-known among Rockville residents than Mayor Newton. If slate members run as a team, including sharing campaign literature and coordinating door-knocking, it should prove a strong force.

Sima Osdoby to Run for Mayor of Rockville

Rockville TV’s Meet Your Neighbor: Sima Osdoby

Rumor has it that Sima Osdoby will throw her hat into the ring and announce her candidacy for Mayor of Rockville on Monday.

While she has not held previous elective office, Osdoby has a history of political involvement. She chaired the first board of Emerge Maryland–an organization dedicated to training and encouraging women to run for office–so her decision to take the plunge herself shouldn’t shock.

Osdoby has extensive experience as a consultant to organizations in the U.S. and abroad, such as NDI, IFES, USAID and the OSCE, that help build democratic institutions and civil society in democratizing countries through help with strategic planning, leadership training, and developing the capacities of organizations. She is a Senior Partner with Global Concepts and Communications.

Locally, she has worked on historic preservation in Rockville and as a legislative aide to then-Del. Mary Boergers. In Massachusetts, she helped resolve extremely controversial transportation disputes in municipalities north of Boston that eventually resulted in the extension of the Red Line.

Osdoby is expected to face incumbent Bridget Newton, who is completing her first term after having won election with 53% of the vote in 2013. Recently, Newton caused controversy over her management of the question of the removal of the statue of a Confederate soldier from the Rockville courthouse grounds.

Tom Moore Will Not Seek Reelection in Rockville

Here is the statement he posted on Facebook:

After much soul-searching, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Rockville City Council this fall. I have cherished the privilege of serving the people of Rockville on their Council. But my family has paid a high price while I have campaigned and governed virtually nonstop over the past six years, and it is time for me to turn my attentions homeward.

Though I am keenly disappointed that my elected service must draw to a close for the time being, I take great satisfaction in what I have helped accomplish in office:

• We ended our downtown’s disastrous decade-long building moratorium;

• We saved an entire affordable neighborhood from developers who would have priced hundreds of working families out of their homes;

• We adopted a tough City ethics law; and

• We protected Rockville residents’ privacy by placing sharp limits on the data the government keeps on our movements.

My hard-won victories on these and other issues leave the City in a much better place than when I joined the Council. We can better protect our existing neighborhoods and better create great new ones. We can better compete with neighboring jurisdictions for residents and businesses and investment. The tough decisions I made on budgets and utility rates will maintain our infrastructure and strong City services for years to come.

I am surpassingly grateful for the efforts of Rockville’s superb City staff, whose round-the-clock efforts have made my job significantly easier every moment I have served in office.

You should know that I am very excited about some good folks who are preparing to run for office in Rockville this year. You will be hearing much more from them in the coming weeks. Keeping Rockville such a wonderful place to live, work, and enjoy life requires dynamic, experienced, and forward-looking leadership. We will have the chance for just that this fall. Stay tuned!

Finally, I am deeply grateful to the hundreds of friends and neighbors who have worked so hard over the years to send me to office so I could help fulfill our shared vision for a progressive, efficient, fair, safe, and neighborly Rockville. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make our great City even better.

With warmest regards,

Tom

I can understand him calling it a day after six years–the same amount of time before I made the same decision. Tom was most recently in the news on this blog regarding Rockville’s debate over the removal of a statue of a Confederate soldier.

Civil War Skirmish in Rockville

Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton has no opinion on whether the statue of a Confederate cavalry private outside the courthouse in Rockville should be removed. “It’s a County decision. It’s not my choice,” Mayor Newton explained, when I asked her for personal views on the subject.

The statue, which has a memorial plaque stating “To Our Heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, That We Through Life May Not Forget To Love The Thin Gray Line” has been the subject of controversy lately in Rockville’s City government. On July 20, the City held a 3.5 hour public meeting on the topic.

Mayor Newton has gone to great lengths to make sure that her non-opinion is the official opinion of the City of Rockville. Here is what appears to have happened: Though the Council had planned to take up the issue publicly at its next meeting, Mayor Newton communicated to the Council that County Executive Leggett wanted a letter from the City more quickly.

Remove the Statue

City Councilmember Tom Moore’s draft of a proposed letter in support of removal of the statue from the courthouse gained approval from two of his colleagues–Councilmembers Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr. Here is the letter: Moore Letter_Page_1Moore Letter_Page_2Councilmember Beryl Feinberg wrote her colleagues that she couldn’t support it as written. The Mayor did not weigh in on Moore’s draft. However, as she has just one vote among five under Rockville’s system of government, Moore’s letter still had a majority.

How “Remove the Statue” Became No Opinion

At that point, Mayor Newton had two options in my view. She could  sign the letter and send it on to the County. Alternatively, she could present a counter proposal and see if she could gain support for it from a Council majority.

Newton chose the second approach but appears to have gone about it an unusual, problematic way. The Mayor got two of her colleagues–Feinberg and Onley–to approve a very different letter that says nothing most eloquently on the key subject of whether the statue should be removed.

But she appears to have left Moore and Palakovich Carr completely out of the loop on this significant rewrite–a major violation of conventional Council order. While colleagues often consult each other separately, all are normally invited to weigh in on a final decision, especially when an alternative approach has already gained majority support.

Here is the letter Mayor Newton sent:

Letter to County Executive for Confederate Statue_Page_3 Letter to County Executive for Confederate Statue_Page_4Newton did not notify Moore and Palakovich Carr until she had secured approval for the new letter privately and sent it to the County. Here is the email she sent:

Hi – attached please find the letters to County Executive Leggett and Council President Leventhal.

As you know – I was asked by Mr. Leggett to send a letter regarding the Worksession and the need for the County to follow Rockville’s HDC process.  As I have also mentioned – we have received several calls (5) from the CE’s office asking where the letter was.   Mr. Leggett was appearing live at 12:30 today and wanted to have the letter by then.  Unfortunately – we didn’t meet the deadline.

This has been an arduous process and unfortunately there have been many iterations of this letter.   My thanks to Councilmembers Onley and Feinberg for their time today in working with me to create an authentic recap of Monday’s Worksession.  This letter has been approved by a majority of the Council.

You will remember that we did not have a discussion among the Body regarding any of the options proposed by the SME’s –  or the public  – and therefore it is not possible for us to opine on the position of the Council or our  recommendations.  We have removed any statements from the letter that do not accurately reflect what happened Monday evening. . . .

I know this letter will not be pleasing to all members –  and while I regret that – what I don’t regret is that it is an factual reporting of a very significant meeting. The Worksession was a highpoint for the City – I’ve had positive comments and reactions from many different sources.  I sincerely hope that we can move past this point and get back to the business of working together to govern our City.

Not the Way to Do Business

When I spoke with Mayor Newton yesterday, she explained that she thought that the changes were necessary:

There were changes that needed to be made to be consistent with the Council worksession held on Monday, July 20th. It was important the letter reflect what happened at the worksession. There were no votes taken at the worksession. It would’ve been improper to indicate that decisions had been made.

That’s a nice explanation and sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t explain why two colleagues seem to have been left entirely out of the loop while the Mayor was shopping her very different letter. Clearly, Mayor Newton does not want to take a position and worked very hard to make sure that the City took a similar approach, even to the extent of keeping colleagues in the dark.

Moreover, though the Mayor avers that it was inappropriate for the City to opine on the subject, expressing no opinion does not mean that no decision was reached. Indeed, this approach can be an oblique way of making a decision and rendering an opinion, as it appears to have been in this case.

Especially as the Mayor’s letter takes positions on several topics, which undercuts her contention that it was inappropriate for the City to express an opinion in the absence of a public vote. For example, the letter states that the statue “should be moved once” if it is moved, and declared that it is of “historical significance” and there are “lessons to be learned from it.”

The claims made regarding the importance of public consultation are further belied by the Mayor’s seeming decision not to consult with two councilmembers and notify them only after the letter was sent. Not a model of open decision making.

Finally, the Mayor’s contention to me that it is inappropriate for the City to express an opinion because it’s the County’s decision makes little sense since (1) the County Executive solicited their opinion repeatedly, (2) the letter thanks the Council President for seeking their input, and (3) the Mayor encouraged the Council to respond to the request.

No doubt Rockville’s next Council meeting will be interesting.