Category Archives: Montgomery County Council

County Chamber of Commerce Takes Positions on Ballot Questions

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has announced that it is supporting Question A (Council Member Andrew Friedson’s tax limit charter amendment), opposing Question B (Robin Ficker’s tax limit charter amendment) and opposing Question D (nine council districts). The chamber took no position on Question C, which would keep the at-large council members and create two new district seats. The chamber’s press release is reprinted below.

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MCCC Board of Directors Votes to Oppose Questions B and D, Supports Question A
View the Official Sample Ballot

At its September meeting, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) Board of Directors voted for its positions on the Montgomery County ballot questions for the 2020 General Election.

“There is so much at stake on the ballot in this year’s election,” said Gigi Godwin, President and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. “The County ballot questions could potentially have long-lasting impacts for Metro Maryland’s residents and businesses.”

The MCCC Board of Directors recommends the following:

Vote FOR Question A – The Chamber strongly supports this change to the County’s tax policy by establishing a cap on the property tax rate instead of the total revenue that the County can receive. Importantly, Question A keeps the requirement an affirmative vote by all Councilmembers, as is currently required to raise the revenue limit.

Vote AGAINST Question B – Question B risks the County’s ability to respond to emergencies and could compromise the Triple-A bond rating which would increase borrowing costs by substantially.

“Question A is a strong solution to Montgomery County’s broken property tax system that promotes more transparency and understanding,” said Lowell Yoder, MCCC Board Chair. “It sets a consistent tax rate each year and is straightforward, as tax policy should be. By simply keeping tax rates stable, the County would generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue over time, without even raising taxes to do so.”

Vote AGAINST Question D – The Chamber strongly opposes moving to a nine district County Council. Currently, Montgomery County residents are represented by a majority of the Council (five votes): one district member and four at-large members. Question D would eliminate this majority representation.

“Question D arose out of frustration by the lack of Upcounty representation,” stated Leslie Ford Weber, MCCC Immediate Past Chair and Legislative Committee Chair. “The Chamber fully appreciates and acknowledges the need for fair representation on the Council; however, this proposed change is not the way to go about it.”

Currently, the Chamber is not issuing a recommendation on Question C or the statewide ballot initiatives.

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Developers, Help Save Maryland Director Contribute to Nine Districts for MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

On August 5, I reported that a combination of developers and county employee unions had accounted for most of the Nine Districts for MoCo group’s financial support. At that time, the leading contributors were:

Charles Nulsen, Washington Property Company: $50,000
UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO: $10,000 (in-kind)
Bob Buchanan, Buchanan Partners: $5,000
Fraternal Order of Police: $5,000 (in-kind)
Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association PAC: $5,000 (in-kind)
Gingery Development Group: $5,000
Arlene Hillerson (listed as being in real estate): $2,000

Nulsen, Buchanan, Gingery and Hillerson are all in the real estate industry. As of August 5, the four comprised 94% of Nine Districts’ cash receipts.

On August 13, I reported that a number of prominent county Republicans, including seven members of the county party’s central committee, had supported Nine Districts with cash or in-kind contributions. Republicans support a nine district council structure because they believe it might lead to a Republican council seat.

The county Republican Party is asking voters to vote for Question D, which would create nine council districts.

On August 24, Nine Districts amended its financial reports and new information about its contributors is now available. Of notable interest is that Gingery Development Group contributed another $25,000 on August 3 and Willco, a Potomac developer, directed a $15,000 contribution to the group’s campaign consultant, Rowland Strategies of Baltimore, on August 5. If Willco’s contribution, listed as in-kind but relieving the group’s obligation to Rowland, is counted as a cash contribution, that means that 96% of Nine Districts’ cash support has come from developers.

One more interesting fact emerges from the group’s amended financial report: a nine dollar contribution from Brad Botwin. The contribution is probably a response to the county Republican Party’s “$9D for 9D” solicitation for Nine Districts. Botwin is the county GOP’s contact for volunteer opportunities. But he is a lot more than that. Botwin is the director of Help Save Maryland, a group opposing illegal immigration. Help Save Maryland has been designated as a “nativist extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, provoking a counter-attack describing the center as “a demagogic bully.” Help Save Maryland’s denunciation of an “illegal alien child rapist freed by MoCo County Executive Elrich” is standard fare for the group.

Botwin’s contact info on the MoCo GOP’s website. His phone number has been redacted.

The line between Botwin and Nine Districts is already drawn through the MoCo Republican Party, which supports Nine Districts and lists Botwin as its volunteer contact. If Botwin is more directly involved in Nine Districts than that, that would be big news in MoCo politics.

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Ballot Question Committee Scorecard

By Adam Pagnucco.

Over the last few weeks, a spate of political committees have formed to support or oppose the four charter amendments on the ballot. At this writing, six have filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections. This post summarizes their information. First, let’s recall what these ballot questions are.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

These are the ballot question committees that have formed to advocate for or against at least one of the above charter amendments. Only one (Nine District for MoCo) has filed campaign finance reports so far, but that will change on October 9, when the next round of reports is due.

Nine District for MoCo

Formed: 7/24/19
Supports Question D (9 council districts), opposes Question C (7 council districts and 4 at-large seats)
Chair: Kim Persaud (Wheaton activist)
Treasurer: Mark Lautman
Contributions so far: $ 128,959 (includes in-kind of $37,286)
Website: https://ninedistrictsformoco.org/
Supported by MoCo Republican Party, Greater Olney Civic Association, Town of Laytonsville. Contributors include MCGEO, police union, fire fighters union, developers.
See Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts.

We Support Nine Districts

Formed: 5/7/20
Supports Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Robinson Sean Rowe
Treasurer: Serina Cheung Moy (former candidate for Republican National Convention)
Contributions so far: NA (has only filed affidavits)
Website: https://ninedistricts.org/

Vote No on B & D

Formed: 9/11/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment) and Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Ike Leggett (former county executive)
Treasurer: Larry Rosenblum
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA
Supported by former congresswoman Connie Morella, business owners David Blair and Carmen Ortiz Larsen.
See Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against.

Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Co-Chairs: William Jameel Roberts (former Jamie Raskin staffer), Jill Ortman-Fouse (former school board member)
Treasurer: Daniel Koroma (business liaison officer, Montgomery County Government)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://www.mocoagainstb.org/
Supported by CASA, Metro D.C. DSA, Jews United for Justice, LIUNA, MCEA, MCCPTA, MCGEO, Progressive Maryland, Progressive Neighbors, MoCo Women’s Democratic Club, SEIU Local 1199, SEIU Local 500, SEIU Local 32BJ, MoCo Women, Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.
See JOF, Progressives Take on Ficker.

Montgomery Countians For Question A & Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Supports Question A (Friedson amendment), opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Chair: David Blair (businessman, former candidate for county executive)
Treasurer: Marjorie Anne Nemes Galarza (Latino Economic Development Center)
Campaign Manager: Scott Goldberg (Democratic central committee member)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA

Residents for More Representation

Formed: 9/17/20
Supports Question C (keeps at-large council seats and adds 2 districts), opposes Question D (9 council districts)
Co-Chairs: Marilyn Balcombe (Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, former candidate for council at-large), Michelle Graham
Treasurer: Deborah G. Williams
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://mocoforc.org/
Supported by MoCo Democratic Party, MCEA, Jews United for Justice, Association of Black Democrats of MoCo, Latino Democratic Club of MoCo.
See Balcombe Co-Chairs New Group Opposing Nine Districts.

The MoCo Democratic Party supports Question A (Friedson amendment on taxes) and Question C (Glass amendment on county council structure). The party opposes Question B (Ficker amendment on taxes) and Question D (9 council districts).

The MoCo Republican Party has taken the opposite position on the ballot questions from the Democrats.

The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four questions.

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Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

Guest column by Isiah Leggett.

Since leaving public office after 12 years as County Executive in December of 2018, I have been doing some travelling (pre-COVID), enjoying my family, and serving on a number of boards and commissions including as a member of the University of Maryland Board of Regents.

What I have not been doing is involving myself in County politics.

Until now.

Why now? Because I believe that two measures on the November ballot will seriously impact this County in significantly negative ways.

Question B is the latest offering from Robin Ficker. Question B would prohibit any increase beyond inflation in property tax revenue. The County already has the 1990 Fairness in Taxation law, which I authored to avoid a referendum with even more draconian limits a la Proposition 13 in Calfornia. That 1990 law limited property tax revenue from one year to the next to inflation plus the value of new construction, unless overridden by a super-majority of the County Council.

Additionally, a 2008 referendum approved by the voters upped the requirement to a unanimous vote of the nine-member Council to override the Charter limit.

I was elected County Executive just as the Great Recession hit this County. Over my 12 years, I closed budget gaps of over $3.5 billion. In 2011 alone, our budget gap was over one billion dollars. What did we do? We reduced the County workforce by 10 percent – 1,254 positions. I remember that number because it seemed to me that most of those folks contacted me personally. I furloughed employees – including myself. We restructured County employee benefits and retirement to save the County hundreds of millions of dollars. We renegotiated promised labor agreements. While maintaining critical services, we tightened the belt on all other County spending.

Some of our surrounding jurisdictions did some of these things. We did them all.

And, yes, after all that, we had to exceed the Charter limit on property taxes to help close those gaps.

Exceeding the limit was a last resort, not a first. That’s the way it should be in effectively managing a budget.

Given all this, I am proud that over my 12 years, property taxes only went up a total of one percent over inflation. And all County taxes as a percentage of County residents’ income actually decreased by five percent. That didn’t happen by accident. I truly needed all the tools at my disposal.

Under most circumstances, the Charter limit in property tax increases is practical. But there are those years where circumstances mean it isn’t.

Under Question B, even if we had four years in which the County didn’t even go to the maximum allowable tax, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, we could not — in a fifth year, when we were not so lucky — exceed the Charter limit by even a nickel.

That’s not penny-wise and pound-foolish. That’s just foolish.

Such a cap critically compromises our ability to deal with emergencies, whether natural or man-made. It could adversely affect the ability of our public safety agencies to protect our lives and property. It could compromise our Triple-A bond rating, increasing our annual borrowing costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Keep in mind that about half of the County budget goes directly to the schools. Public safety spending is 10 percent. Debt service on borrowing for things we build is about eight percent. That means over two-thirds of the budget already spoken for – without including Montgomery College, health and human services, transportation, libraries, housing, and more.

Forty-seven percent of County revenue comes from the property tax. Forty-two percent comes from the County income tax, which is at the legal limit and cannot be raised. An additional five or six percent comes from energy taxes. Add this all together and that’s about 95 percent of the money we take in.

Question B is a bad idea at any time. Right now, given the pandemic, it is totally nuts.

Question D is likewise a bad idea. In a previous referendum, some years past, it lost overwhelmingly. And rightly so.

Now we have a mixed system — four at-large seats and five geographical district seats. This mix helps ensure local representation, plus it builds in and strengthens an overall County perspective. County residents are represented by their district member and four at-large members. Each citizen gets five votes. Question D would limit that number to only one.

Jurisdictions across America are finding that this blend of at- large and district seats works best – better than all at-large and, yes, better than all district as proposed in Question D.

Change can be a good thing. Or not. Our job, as voters, is to separate change that moves us forward versus change that undermines common sense and practicality. Questions B and D will both throw a wrench into the operational machinery of local government – to no good end.

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The writer served on the Montgomery County Council from 1986 to 2002. He was County Executive from 2006 to 2018.

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Balcombe Co-Chairs New Group Opposing Nine Districts

By Adam Pagnucco.

Marilyn Balcombe, a Germantown resident who ran a strong fifth in the 2018 Democratic Party council at-large primary, is co-chairing a new group opposing the Nine Districts charter amendment (Question D). Balcombe has previously written a guest blog for Seventh State making the case for Upcounty to increase its voter turnout as a way to gain influence in county politics. The press release from Balcombe’s new group is reprinted below.


NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
September 23, 2020

Press Contacts:
Marilyn Balcombe, marilyn@marilynbalcombe.com (Co-chair)
Michelle Graham, michelle@grahamstrategies.com (Co-chair)

Residents for More Representation

County Leaders Form Ballot Committee to Oppose Nine Districts

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD — A broad coalition of grassroots, labor and business leaders from across Montgomery County today announced the formation of Residents for More Representation to support the expansion of the County Council to 11 members and oppose the creation of nine separate districts.

Upcounty leader Marilyn Balcombe of Germantown and East County leader Michelle Graham of Olney will co-chair the effort in support of Montgomery County Ballot Question C, which would expand the number of council districts from five to seven, while retaining the four at-large seats. Residents for More Representation will also actively oppose Ballot Question D, which would eliminate the four at-large seats and replace them with four individual districts.

“As a resident of Germantown, I know that residents of Montgomery County need more representation, not less,” said Marilyn Balcombe. “The county’s population has increased by 50% over the last 30 years, which is why we need to expand and modernize our council structure so that it better reflects our incredible growth and brings local government closer to our residents. Question C is the best approach to achieve a shared goal by many in our community. Adding two additional districts will help increase the level of constituent service and protect the important role of our at-large councilmembers.”

“We live in an incredibly diverse county of 1.1 million residents and the at-large councilmembers play an important role in reflecting that diversity,” said Michelle Graham. “The current council is the most culturally diverse council in our history, with two Black, two Latino and one LGBTQ councilmember, three of whom are at-large. Adding two more councilmembers will increase the number of voices and help increase the diversity of views represented on the council.”

Montgomery County voters will vote on six ballot measures in this election. Questions C and D would both restructure the County Council from the current configuration of electing five by districts and four at-large. Question C would create two new district seats, while maintaining the four at-large seats. Question D would eliminate the four at-large seats and create nine separate geographic districts. Changing the council structure to nine separate districts would result in reducing each resident’s representation on the council from five to one.

Residents for More Representation is a registered ballot committee formed to support expanded representation and more geographic and cultural diversity on the County Council.

Marilyn Balcombe is the current President/CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce and has been actively engaged in the County for over 26 years. As a former At-Large candidate for the Montgomery County Council and as an Upcounty resident, Balcombe has a strong understanding of the needs in her community and the importance of expanding representation.

Michelle Graham grew up in Montgomery County where she has resided for more than 40 years. An active member of a grassroots organization formed, in part, to educate and raise the level of civic engagement, particularly among communities of color, she is dedicated to ensuring that citizens, especially underrepresented groups, are informed about local issues and the potential impact to their lives and community.

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Nine Districts Blasts Council on South Lake Elementary School

By Adam Pagnucco.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the group that put a charter amendment on the ballot converting the county council to a nine district structure, has released a video blasting the council for its decision to delay completion of a new building for South Lake Elementary School. The school, located in Gaithersburg, was the subject of a WTOP article describing heat and air conditioning problems, crowding and rodents running free inside the building. Community members have asked for a new school for years and MCPS has described the building’s problems as “insurmountable.” MCPS requested funding for a new building, which the council approved, but the council delayed completion by one year to September 2024 due to fiscal problems. The school board has since asked the council to restore the project’s original schedule but that won’t happen unless money can be found.

The video accurately notes that the school’s student body is overwhelmingly black and brown. However, its claim that the at-large council members “voted unanimously to take South Lake Elementary school out of the $14B capital improvement budget” is inaccurate. The council voted to delay the project, not delete it. It remains in the capital budget with a projected cost of $34.9 million. This is not the first time Nine Districts for MoCo has released a misleading video.

This claim is inaccurate.

The video was posted on YouTube by Reardon Sullivan, a member of the county Republican Party’s central committee. Republicans support the nine district group because they believe such a structure might lead to a Republican county council seat.

The video appears below.

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MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of their vote last night, the Montgomery County Democratic Party has issued the following statement on their position on this year’s ballot questions.

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Montgomery County Democratic Party Recommendations on 2020 Ballot Questions

For immediate release
September 17, 2020
Contact Linda Foley
chair@mcdcc.org

The Montgomery County Democratic Party has announced its voter recommendations on County and State Ballot Questions for the 2020 General Election. The recommendations were issued following a vote by more than 170 grassroots Democratic officials on September 16.

“The State and County questions on the 2020 ballot will have an enormous effect upon our ability to provide vital public services locally,” said Linda Foley, Chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. “Democrats understand the value of public education, healthcare, transportation, public safety, libraries, and other vital services our State and County governments provide. That’s why we urge voters to vote FOR County Charter Questions A and C, vote FOR State Questions 1 and 2, and vote AGAINST County Charter Questions B and D.”

Here are the Montgomery County Democratic Party recommendations:

Vote FOR Question A: Council Property Tax Limit – Limit Tax Rate Increases
Question A establishes a cap on the property tax rate instead of the total revenue that the County can receive. This amendment would allow revenue to grow so County services can keep up with increased population and needs. Property tax rates will remain the same as this year. Any future increase would require an affirmative vote by all Councilmembers, as is currently required to raise the revenue limit.

Vote AGAINST Question B: Property Tax Limit – Prohibit Override
Question B is a bad way to fund public services. It prohibits the County Council from increasing the total revenue received from the property tax beyond the rate of inflation under any circumstances. This measure, proposed by Republican activist Robin Ficker, would cause a reduction in public services and threaten the County’s AAA bond rating, which enables the County to borrow at the lowest rate.

Vote FOR Question C: Increase to 11 Councilmembers
Question C expands the Council from 9 to 11 members. District Council seats would increase from 5 to 7. The number of At-Large seats would remain at 4. Each voter would continue to vote for 5 members of the Council. It reduces the number of residents represented by each District Councilmember, thus increasing representation.

Vote AGAINST Question D: Alter County Council Composition to 9 Districts
Question D eliminates the current Council composition of 4 At-Large and 5 single district seats. It establishes a Council of 9 members, each elected only by voters in their own district (eliminating At-Large seats). It would reduce from 5 to 1 the number of Councilmembers for whom each voter can vote.

Vote FOR Question 1: Balancing the State Budget
Question 1 allows the Maryland General Assembly to increase, decrease, or add items to the State budget provided such changes do not increase the total budget proposed by the Governor.

Vote FOR Question 2: Expansion of Commercial Gaming – Sports and Event
Question 2 would authorize the General Assembly to allow betting on sports and other competitive events to generate funding that must be used primarily for public education.

Vote YES to retain State Appellate Judges: Mary Ellen Barbera, E. Gregory Wells, and Steven B. Gould. The Party reviewed the records of the three State appellate judges on the ballot and supports their continuance in office.

By Authority: Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, Dave Kunes, Treasurer.

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MoCo Democrats Take Position on Charter Amendments

By Adam Pagnucco.

As they do in every election year, officials of Montgomery County’s Democratic Party gathered tonight to take positions on charter amendments and ballot questions.

The standard format is for the party’s ballot question advisory committee, which studies such questions, to present information to the party’s precinct organization. The precinct organization, comprised of the party’s network of precinct officers, hears opinions, discusses the questions and takes votes. The party’s central committee takes the final votes establishing the party’s position, although they usually don’t go against the precinct organization’s stance unless the latter’s vote is close.

Tonight, County Executive Marc Elrich and a majority of the county council made their case to the precinct organization on the county charter amendments. The precinct organization voted in line with their recommendations and so did the party central committee. I don’t have exact vote tallies but my sources say they were all lopsided.

The ultimate vote by the MoCo Democrats was:

Yes to Question A, which was Council Member Andrew Friedson’s proposal to redo the county’s charter limit on property taxes.

No to Question B, which was Robin Ficker’s charter amendment to impose a hard cap on increases to property tax collections.

There was huuuuuge support for A and equally huuuuuge opposition to B (the Ficker amendment).

Yes to Question C, which was Council Member Evan Glass’s proposal to increase council district seats from five to seven and retain the current four at-large seats.

No to Question D, which is a charter amendment to convert the county council into nine district seats. No doubt the Democrats paid heed to the fact that Republicans support this proposal because they believe it might create a Republican council seat.

The party also voted to support state question 1 (which would grant more budgetary authority to the General Assembly over the governor’s budgets) and state question 2 (which would allow sports betting).

The exact language of all the questions and charter amendments can be seen on the official county ballot.

The party’s vote tonight is important because it will be expressed on its sample ballot, which is customarily mailed to hundreds of thousands of registered county Democrats. The vote is a particular blow to the Nine Districts for MoCo group, which has depicted its charter amendment as bipartisan but now has it supported by county Republicans and officially opposed by county Democrats.

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Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post’s editorial board has weighed in on MoCo’s competing charter amendments and recommends voting against all of them. The Post wrote that both citizens’ initiatives – Robin Ficker’s amendment on taxes and the nine council district proposal – were bad ideas. But the Post also said, “Yet neither of the council’s competing proposals is preferable to the status quo.” The Post’s verdict is to vote against all of the amendments and stick with the county’s current property tax system and council structure.

You can read the Post’s editorial here.

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Anti-Ficker, 9 Districts Charter Amendments Group to Speak on Monday

By Adam Pagnucco.

A new group formed by former County Executive Ike Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, businessman and former county executive candidate David Blair and business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen is holding a press event on Monday to discuss their plans to oppose charter amendments by Robin Ficker and Nine Districts for MoCo. Maryland Matters discussed the group in broad terms today but did not name its leaders. The group’s news advisory (listing Leggett’s former public information officer Patrick Lacefield as contact) appears below.

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COUNTY LEADERS LEGGETT, MORELLA, BLAIR, LARSEN TO ANNOUNCE LAUNCH OF “NO ON QUESTIONS B & D COMMITTEE”

Former County Executive Isiah Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, non-profit leader David Blair, and Latina tech business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen will speak out against November Montgomery County ballot questions B and D and urge a “NO” vote on both. Question B would put an inflexible cap on County property taxes, on top of already existing limitations on increases, severely hampering the County from responding to crises such as COVID-19 and sustaining critical services such as education and public safety. Question D would eliminate the County’s four at-large Council seats and replace it with nine individual districts. The impact would reduce the number of Councilmembers each voter can vote for from five to one.

WHEN: Monday, September 14 at 10:15 AM
WHERE: Outside of the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring
CONTACT: Patrick Lacefield

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