Category Archives: Ike Leggett

Ike Leggett’s Greatest Achievement

By Adam Pagnucco.

As the primary election approaches and the six Democratic candidates for County Executive make their case, it’s worth considering the incumbent they are seeking to succeed: Ike Leggett.  The county’s steady helmsman is approaching the end of a thirty-year career in politics and he deserves much respect for his knowledge, temperament and savvy.  But it is Leggett’s greatest achievement that sets an example for all who follow him and poses an important lesson for the next term.

Simply put, Ike Leggett saved the county from financial disaster.

When Leggett assumed office in December 2006, he was determined to cut back the rate of budget growth overseen by his predecessor, Doug Duncan.  In his first budget, Leggett proposed giving MCPS $19.7 million less than its request.  That was still a $117 million increase over MCPS’s prior-year budget, but it was a smaller increase than the schools wanted and the education community revolted.  The council worked it out.  The following year, Leggett proposed a big property tax hike which was mostly passed by the council.  These events may seem unrelated, but they weren’t: Leggett smelled trouble coming and he was battening down the hatches.

And boy, did trouble come.  In 2010, the Great Recession hit the county’s economy and budget with a fury that no one in government had seen before.  Leggett proposed what was then the ugliest budget of all time.  It included hundreds of millions in cuts and double-digit reductions in many departments.  750 work years were reduced through attrition and position abolitions.  A fire truck and an ambulance were to be taken out of service and four police sub-stations were proposed for closure.  Employee raises were eliminated and furloughs were instituted.  Healthcare for the uninsured was reduced.  And Leggett proposed increasing the energy tax by $50 million.

The Executive didn’t sugar-coat it.  In his press release, he said:

To those who object to these reductions, I have a simple message: I do not like these any more than you do… Hard choices must be made, and not just talked about, in this difficult economic and fiscal environment.

And then, unbelievably, things got even worse.  Revenues were written down twice while Leggett’s budget was under consideration by the council.  The county’s FY10 reserves were literally dwindling to zero.  Leggett was animated by two goals: save the county’s bond rating and save as many county employees’ jobs as possible.  To do that, he was going to have to battle every group that helped him get elected.  In the end, Leggett and the County Council worked together to pass the baddest budget ever, a $4.3 billion nuke bomb that had the biggest county spending cut since the current charter was passed in 1968.  And that wasn’t the end of it – two more years of not funding collective bargaining agreements and fighting with the school system were ahead.  But the bond rating was preserved and mass layoffs were avoided, laying the groundwork for recovery.

This was the county’s worst hour.  It was Ike Leggett’s finest hour.

Leggett didn’t do all this alone.  The council stayed with him and all ten of them jumped off the ledge together.  But as the Executive, Leggett’s role was absolutely critical.  He could have pointed fingers at Council Members who voted for earlier large budget increases, thereby blowing up the teamwork between the two branches that was critical to getting through the crisis.  He did not.  He could have papered over the problems with band-aids and said next year would be better.  That would have been very tempting for Council Members to go along with – let’s remember that 2010 was an election year.  He did not.  He simply told the truth and made the hard choices the voters paid him to make.  And in the end, it worked out.

Your author has had many policy differences with the administration over the years and the Executive is leaving significant unfinished business for his successor, as all Executives have done.  But let’s recognize a central truth.  Leaders are not remembered for doing twenty small things really well or maybe not so well.  They are remembered for how they deal with a crisis.

Ike Leggett passed that test.

And now we are charged with picking Leggett’s successor.  The economy is not healthy enough to pay our bills and the county is now resorting to quick fixes to balance the budget.  The entire Washington region is not as strong as it once was.  Most ominously, since the average business cycle lasts 5-6 years, we are due for a recession during the next term.  That doesn’t guarantee that the next one will be as bad as the earth-shattering Great Recession, but it won’t be fun.  The voters are about to make a judgment on which group of elected leaders will deal with our coming challenges.  Bearing in mind the example set by Leggett, who deserves your support?  There are important policy issues at hand, but on the personal traits of the candidates, here are a few ideas.

Vote for adults.  We will be well served by people who do their homework, take their responsibilities seriously and are willing to do the thankless chore of reading hundreds of pages of dreary, bureaucratic reports on everything the county does.  People who are not interested in that kind of drudgery will not be equipped to make tough but intelligent decisions.

Vote for civility.  This is one of Leggett’s greatest strengths.  Sure, he will push back on what he sees as inaccuracies or misrepresentations but he preserves his ability to work with everyone.  That paid off in a huge way during the Great Recession.  Elected officials who blow up at others won’t be able to assume a unifying role in an emergency.

Vote for honesty.  If someone tells one group one thing and then tells another group something completely different, be skeptical about that.  Trust the person who says no when necessary and not yes every single time.  And someone who tap dances all over the place on his or her record and positions is not going to be a reliable leader at crunch time.

Most of all, vote!  And do your best to make sure that the people you pick are ready to deal with the next crisis – just as ready as Ike Leggett.

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Leggett Threatens Line Item Veto on Budget

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Ike Leggett is threatening to veto a line item in the Capital Budget just passed by the County Council related to his proposed stormwater reforms.  While the county’s charter grants the Executive line item veto power, we don’t recall the last time this was actually used.  He also expressed displeasure that the council added $14 million of new spending on top of his proposed budget.

We will have more to say about this, but for now, we reprint the Executive’s press release below.

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Statement by County Executive Ike Leggett on the Council Announcement of a Tentative FY19 County Operating Budget

May 17, 2018

“I appreciate the hard work and leadership the Council demonstrated on the FY 19 Operating Budget. The Council approved virtually all of what was initially recommended, including full funding for Montgomery County Public Schools — our shared top priority.

“I am concerned, however, that the Council has increased ongoing expenditures by $14 million over and above my recommended budget.

“In addition, by a 5 to 4 majority, the Council opposed the reform of our stormwater management construction program – a decision that threatens our ability to meet important environmental goals and will certainly delay projects designed to meet our State-mandated MS4 permit — I intend to veto this line item in the Capital Budget.

“We need to make this program more efficient and cost-effective. And we need to be responsive to County taxpayers who – without changes – will be paying more in stormwater management charges to get less. The status quo is unacceptable.”

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Joy Nurmi: Meitiv Flunks Science Test

By Joy Nurmi.

Danielle Meitiv frequently reminds us that she is a scientist. Then one should wonder why, when she accuses our County Executive of failing to endorse women candidates, she fails at one of science’s most basic tenets – sample size and probability of drawing a false‐positive conclusion when the sample is too small.

According to one of the country’s top science organizations – the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – sample size is important. In the NIH publication, “How sample size influences research outcomes,” NIH says: using a sample smaller than the ideal increases the chance of assuming as true a false premise.

So when Ms. Meitiv draws the conclusion that our County Executive is not interested in gender balance because of his endorsements in the Council at-large race, one might ask about how Mr. Leggett’s track record stacks up in a larger sample size. For example, when one looks at all the candidates he has endorsed in the current election, one sees that it includes four women: Aruna Miller, Lily Qi, Charlotte Crutchfield and Rebecca Smondrowski. Interestingly enough, that equals 50% of his total endorsements. And with his endorsement of Aruna Miller, he was out up front and early when many were hanging back.

Look carefully at Mr. Leggett’s endorsements. They are not only gender balanced, but they are rich in diversity as well. It is important to note that this County has never elected any Latino or Asian for an at-large seat. And, Mr. Leggett is the only African American ever elected to an at-large office.

Where has Ms. Meitiv been in furthering this goal of diversity, correcting these deficiencies? She criticizes Mr. Leggett only because it benefits her as a candidate. It gets her publicity.

Look also at the top tier of management in County government appointed by Mr. Leggett. Twenty-two of the 44 top managers/directors are women. Again, 50%.

He has been highly successful in advocating for gender balance and diversity on a number of fronts. He has advocated with our governors for a more diverse judiciary, including recommending many women for judgeships, who have since been appointed. He has endorsed many women for elected office in the past. The examples are too numerous to list. In fact, you will not find any leader anywhere who has such a track record of fostering diversity and gender balance in so many facets of public life to equal Mr. Leggett’s.

It is truly unfortunate that Ms. Meitiv lashed out without facts, and as a result, failed this science test.

Joy Nurmi is a Special Assistant to County Executive Ike Leggett and a former Chief of Staff at the County Council.

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Female Candidates Accuse Leggett of Sexism

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Ike Leggett’s decision to endorse four men in the Council At-Large race – incumbent Hans Riemer, Gabe Albornoz, Hoan Dang and Will Jawando – has provoked public accusations of sexism from two women who are running for office.

Council At-Large candidate Danielle Meitiv kicked things off on Facebook minutes after Leggett’s endorsement of Jawando was announced, writing, “Nice how our County Exec doesn’t think we need any women on the Council at large.”

District 18 Delegate candidate Mila Johns followed up, directly accusing Leggett of “sexism, pure and simple,” and eventually shared Meitiv’s post on her own page.

Council Member Nancy Floreen also weighed in on this, although somewhat indirectly.

The sentiment expressed by Meitiv and Johns is shared by other women running for office.  Several of them blasted Leggett to your author in scathing terms but would not go on the record.  That makes sense – most politicians want to avoid public disputes with a sitting County Executive at election time.  One candidate who was willing to comment on the record was Brandy Brooks, who is running for Council At-Large and co-wrote an essay about gender parity in politics with Meitiv.  Brooks told us:

For many, 2018 could be the year for women, people of color, and working people, but not if we aren’t actively changing our political system both internally and externally. Maryland has one of the worst records in the country on gender parity: we rank 38th on the gender parity index with a score of 12.1 (down from 21.2 in 2014) with few women in federal, state, or local office. To be clear, the four men who have been endorsed by the county executive are qualified candidates — that is not the question. However, not endorsing a single woman running at-large sends the wrong message about how our political and elected leaders view gender parity. Some will argue that more of the women running should have sought the endorsement. Unfortunately, this view continues to fault women instead of asking why our leaders aren’t being intentional to seek women to endorse as well. It continues a pattern that leaves many on the margins. Thankfully, there are many strong women candidates running for office in 2018 to change this status quo, and I’m excited to be one of them.

If Leggett’s choices win, it’s possible that the council might have just one female member in its next term: District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro.  Since its current structure was established in 1990, the nine-member council has never had fewer than two female members and has sometimes had three or more.  Additionally, the issue of how women are treated in politics has erupted in Annapolis as the General Assembly grappled about how to deal with harassment in its most recent session.  One at-large candidate (Delegate Charles Barkley) has even been accused of inappropriate behavior with women.

Riemer, Albornoz, Dang and Jawando are not unusual choices for Leggett.  The Executive has had a cordial relationship with Riemer during their time in office together.  Albornoz is widely regarded as one of his best department directors.  Dang and Jawando are solid candidates and both would bring assets to the council if elected.  But surely Leggett and his team should have expected pushback on this in the wake of his criticism of the District 39 state legislators for accepting Lesley Lopez on their slate, a dispute in which gender was raised as an issue.

In Leggett’s defense, he has filled his administration with strong and competent women, including but not limited to Department of Permitting Services Director Diane Schwartz-Jones, Office of Management and Budget Director Jennifer Hughes, Health and Human Services Director Uma Ahluwalia, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Lily Qi, former libraries director Parker Hamilton and Special Assistant Joy Nurmi.  (Some of these ladies have left multiple boot prints on your author’s rear end!)  Leggett’s wife, Catherine, is an admired player in county politics who chairs the Executive’s Ball and raises money for the arts.  We are sure that Leggett’s MANY female supporters will step up in his defense should they deem this criticism worthy of response.

So who’s right?  That’s for you, the readers, to decide.

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Leggett Endorses Jawando

County Executive Ike Leggett has endorsed Council At-Large candidate Will Jawando.  The Executive has previously endorsed Gabe Albornoz (his Recreation Director), Hoan Dang and incumbent Hans Riemer in the race.  We reprint Jawando’s press release below.

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April 18, 2018

Inquiries: info@willjawando.com

County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett Endorses Jawando

ROCKVILLE, Md. – In a statement released today, Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett endorsed Will Jawando in his race for County Council At-Large, noting Jawando’s record of public service and progressive leadership.

“I am honored to endorse Will Jawando for County Council At-Large. Will is an exceptional leader with a lifelong record of public service to Montgomery County and the nation. He worked as a public policy attorney on Capitol Hill and for President Obama in the White House. I was proud to appoint Will to serve on the Montgomery County Commission on Juvenile Justice, and worked with him to provide support for Summer R.I.S.E, a summer career internship program for high school students that he spearheaded,” Leggett said. “As an active, progressive community leader, Will understands the needs of Montgomery County and is committed to making our outstanding county even greater. I’m voting for Will, and respectfully urge you to join me in electing him to the County Council.”

If Jawando wins his contest, he will be only the second person of color to be elected to a county-wide office in Montgomery County. Leggett was the first, and only to date. Jawando recognized that when he welcomed Leggett’s endorsement.

“I’m privileged to earn Ike’s support, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue his legacy of public service in Montgomery County,” Jawando said. “We’ve worked together on closing the opportunity-and-achievement gap in our public schools, addressing issues of juvenile justice, and engaging our underrepresented communities in the civic process. I’m dedicated to addressing those issues that matter most to our families — our schools, fair and affordable housing, reliable transit and jobs. That’s the promise of Montgomery County.”

Aside from creating and managing the first year of Summer R.I.S.E., and his work on the Montgomery County Commission on Juvenile Justice, Jawando co-chairs the African-American Student Achievement Action Group, and created a community-based non-profit called Our Voices Matter, which works with underrepresented populations to increase civic engagement, voter registration and leadership training.

To learn more about the Montgomery County Promise, please visit www.willjawando.com.

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Leggett Endorses Dang

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Ike Leggett has endorsed Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  This is a nice boost for Dang as we have not heard of Leggett endorsing anyone other than incumbent Hans Riemer and his Recreation Director, Gabe Albornoz.  We reprint Dang’s press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2018

MEDIA CONTACT

Jonathon Rowland

Email: jonathon@votedang.com

County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett Endorses Hoan Dang for Montgomery County Council At-Large

Silver Spring MD — Today, County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett endorsed candidate Hoan Dang for Montgomery County Council At-Large.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Hoan Dang for many years. We collaborated in the beginning as fellow board members of IMPACT Silver Spring. Since then, I’ve appointed him to serve on the County Executive’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Group and the Washington Suburban Transit Commission,” said County Executive Ike Leggett. “Hoan’s extensive work serving Montgomery County residents shows that he’s a selfless public servant. This is demonstrated by his work to close the achievement gap as a board member of the George B. Thomas, Sr. Learning Academy and his previous efforts to eliminate health disparities for our diverse community as co-founder of the Montgomery County Asian American Health Initiative. Hoan is a tireless advocate and attentive to the needs of the community throughout the County. As a County Executive, that is the exact sort of Councilmember I want to work with.”

Leggett continued, “As a budget expert, former refugee and community leader, I believe Hoan possesses the breadth and depth of experience needed to serve on the County Council from day one, and that’s why I am proud to endorse and support his campaign.”

“I am honored and humbled to have the endorsement of County Executive Ike Leggett. Ike is not only a widely respected voice in our county but at the state level as well. His tireless efforts make Montgomery County a more equitable, safe and welcoming place for all people,” said County Council At-Large candidate, Hoan Dang. “Ike was the first African American Councilmember and also the first African American Montgomery County Executive. I hope to be the first Asian American County Councilmember, and I am honored to have the support and endorsement of this trail blazing leader.”

Hoan Dang has also been endorsed by: Delegate Henry “Hank” Heller (D19, ret), Darrell Anderson (Mayor of Washington Grove, ret), Reggie Felton (Board of Education, ret), Henry Lee (Board of Education, ret), Madaleine Sigel (Woman’s Democratic Club, ret), Michael Lin, (Organization of Chinese Americans, ret), Jae Shin (League of Korean Americans-Montgomery County, ret), Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association, and The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization.

For more information on Hoan Dang and about his candidacy, visit www.votedang.com.

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MoCo Cuts 25 Stormwater Projects

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has sent letters to residents announcing the cancellation of 25 stormwater projects currently in design.  We reprint one below.  We have redacted the name of the specific project to protect the recipient of the letter.

We have two questions.  First, why are these cancellations being announced considering that the county has agreed to a consent decree requiring that the county build a number of unspecified “supplemental environmental projects” because it did not meet the terms of its state-issued stormwater permit?  And second, if the county really can cut its project count and remain in compliance with its stormwater permit and its consent decree, will its water quality protection charge – which has been increased by more than 1100% in the last fifteen years – be reduced?  After all, the purpose of that charge as well as the bag tax is to finance these projects.

Elected officials and candidates for office, we respectfully request that you ask questions about this.

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Guest Blog: On Leggett’s Stormwater Changes

By Kit Gage, Advocacy Director, Friends of Sligo Creek.

Montgomery County, like the rest of Maryland and particularly the developed parts of the Chesapeake region, is full of parking lots and roofs and other impervious surfaces.  All these hard surfaces have made for a relatively terrible environment – pollutants, worse flooding and droughts have been the result.  The federal Clean Water Act thru the EPA, and the state of Maryland, require us to create projects that help our rivers, creeks, and the whole area better absorb stormwater.   Litigation has enforced doing this work.  So Montgomery County doesn’t have a choice about proceeding full speed ahead to do active stormwater collection and infiltration.

Now County Executive Leggett has announced that he wants to back off from these projects – 1) cancelling a bunch of them, 2) flat lining the Water Quality Protection Charge, and 3) changing the way contractors will do these projects.  It makes no sense.  The county already has to do special projects because it didn’t do enough stormwater work. Mr. Leggett argues his concerns are inefficiencies and too great expenditures in the stormwater mitigation effort.  Ok, let’s look at his solutions:

1.  Cancelling projects that are in process – already designed, locales evaluated, etc., is inefficient and costly.  The county can finish these projects – or almost all of these projects – by getting bids from approved contractors as it already does and so do them quickly, efficiently and relatively inexpensively.

2.  We understand there may be other agencies using the Water Quality Protection Charge for other than stormwater projects – if this is true then that should be fixed, rather than limiting access to stormwater funds by the lead agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Parks that are doing these projects.   Their efforts over recent years have helped them learn how to do them better, more quickly, and more cheaply.

3.  There is no evidence that the Public Private Partnership (P3) is better.  There is some evidence that some of the nearby P3 projects don’t provide the more effective and environmentally sensitive solutions that should be required for good stormwater collection, infiltration, and wildlife support.  Starting a brand new process for contracting is almost certain to be disruptive and inefficient, particularly to projects in process.

Is there room for improvement?  Sure.  We could be planting lots more trees. We could do more projects like conservation landscapes in peoples’ yards, schools, and other institutions.  We could be changing the way we handle turf – reducing use of pesticides and fertilizers at the source, mowing high, aerating and soil testing to have grass act better to capture and soak in stormwater.  These things are cheaper and easier to do.  But don’t take responsibility out of the hands of DEP.

Let’s fix any problems, not create new ones.

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Lacefield Responds on County Stormwater Plans

By Patrick Lacefield.

Sorry, but Seventh State’s take on the County’s changes in stormwater management was off the mark in some ways – but interestingly enough it was right on the mark in making our case for the change.

First, stormwater management (not the most exciting or high profile issue) has long been a focus of the County Executive, going back to his Council days. He has long had a track record of moving the County toward arduous environmental goals that have made the County a leader in this arena.

Second, the reason he has proposed changes is because the current approach to completing the State-required environmental stormwater management has proven to be inefficient and costly. The design and construction of projects to treat the stormwater was taking several years longer than orignally planned.  The contracting approach was not focused on getting maximum performance.

As Seventh State correctly pointed out, costs to taxpayers have increased. The initial fee for this program was approximately $8 per household. It is now over $100 per household; and if we maintain the status quo, it would rise another $10 to $15 per year for the next 3 or 4 years. That is unacceptable.

Third, the County has already restored 5,000 acres of impervious surface under MS4 permits over the last 10 years. This is more acreage than any other jurisdiction in the state of Maryland has accomplished. It is also important to note that the MS4 permit program has never been done before. No jurisdiction in the State, nor even the State itself, has had experience with setting requirements or determining how the requirements would be met. We were the pioneers.

Also, there was no lawsuit or “series of lawsuits” over the County’s consent decree with the State. The County entered into a consent decree with the State because it fell short in meeting the impervious surface restoration piece of the permit. All other requirements of the 2010 permit have been met. The consent decree gives the County until December 31, 2020 to meet the terms. However, it is anticipated that pending State approval, the County will meet the impervious acre restoration requirements of the 2010 permit by the end of this year – well ahead of time.

Again, there is no “privatization” here. All of the stormwater construction work is already being done by private contractors. The County does not build nor maintain stormwater management facilities. We oversee, authorize, and ensure compliance with environmental regulations; and that does not change.

Under our new contracting method, the permittee will always be the County, so the responsibility to ensure the permit requirements will remain with the County. This allows companies that do this work as their primary and only function to assume the risk for costs and completion. It’s called performance-based contracting. DEP can then be left to do what it does best: regulate, monitor and inspect. We are simply removing the layers of contracts that bog down and complicate the work.

County staff will continue their work to develop other MS4 permit requirements including  watershed implementation plans and pollution prevention plans; identifying the target areas for the most effective Total Maximum Daily Load reduction location; increasing education and outreach as well as public involvement and participation; maintaining an illicit discharge detection and elimination program; continuing inspections and maintenance of an ever-increasing stormwater management facilities program. That will not change.

Patrick Lacefield is Montgomery County’s Director of Public Information.

Pagnucco’s Response

Patrick Lacefield says we are “off the mark,” but two of his claims are refuted by the draft consent decree itself.

First, he says that there was no lawsuit or “series of lawsuits.”  In fact, the consent decree describes prior litigation on page 4, which we reprint below.

Second, he says, “The County entered into a consent decree with the State because it fell short in meeting the impervious surface restoration piece of the permit. All other requirements of the 2010 permit have been met.”  But the consent decree lists a host of additional reporting violations on pages 5, 6 and 7 which we reprint below.

Now to the broader point.  Perhaps the Executive Branch is right that there is a more cost efficient way to meet its stormwater obligations.  In this post, Lacefield calls it “performance-based contracting” whereas the County Executive’s memo calls it a “public-private partnership contracting vehicle” (P3).  The Executive correctly points out that Prince George’s County has already entered into a P3, although it might be too new to fully judge its performance.  Whatever the exact nature of the Executive’s proposal, maybe it’s worth talking about, especially since – as Lacefield says – the water quality protection charge is forecast to rise by 17% between FY20 and FY23.  Let the public discussion begin.

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Leggett Plans to Privatize Stormwater Management

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a memo sent to the County Council last week, County Executive Ike Leggett said he intends to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) to administer the county’s stormwater management program.  That decision is particularly interesting given the facts that the State of Maryland has alleged that the county committed numerous violations of its stormwater permit and the county agreed to a consent decree in January.

The potential P3 and the consent decree relate to the county’s responsibilities under its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which is a state and federal mandate on large jurisdictions to undertake stormwater projects designed to improve the Chesapeake Bay.  Under the latest permit issued by the state for the period of 2010 through 2015, the county is responsible for assessing sources of pollutants in runoff, identifying best management practices in stormwater control, establishing and inspecting management systems to control runoff and restoring twenty percent of its impervious surface area that has not already been managed.  The principal source of the county’s funding for stormwater activities is its Water Quality Protection Charge, established in 2002, which is levied on property tax bills.  The charge, which is not subject to the county’s charter limit on property taxes, has increased by more than 1100% over the last fifteen years.

While the charge is intended to be used for stormwater projects, it is in fact used for a lot more than that.  In FY18 (estimated), more money from the Water Quality Protection Fund went to the operating budget ($26.8 million) and a transfer to the rest of the general fund ($1.6 million) than to the capital budget ($5.4 million) and debt service on capital projects ($6.1 million).  And so most of the proceeds from the charge do not actually go directly into physical stormwater capital projects.

During the 2010-2015 permit period, a series of lawsuits were brought against the MS4 permits issued to several counties, including Montgomery.  The end result in Montgomery’s case was a consent decree agreed to by the county and the state in January.  (The state’s website does not list any other county as having a consent decree.)  According to the consent decree, the Maryland Department of the Environment alleged numerous violations of the MS4 permit by the county, including running up deficits of unrestored impervious land of 2,004 acres in FY15 and 1,860.5 acres in FY16 as well as many reporting failures.  The consent decree requires the county to build a number of supplemental environmental projects, which are not listed in the decree itself, by 12/31/20.

Here is a question: with the water quality protection charge almost tripling between 2010 and 2015, why was the county deficient in restoring thousands of acres as it was supposed to do under its stormwater permit?

Also of note is that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which manages the county’s stormwater activities, is currently led by an Acting Director.  The previous Director served for less than two years and left for “professional and personal reasons.”

Perhaps in connection with all of the above, County Executive Ike Leggett told the County Council in a memo last week the following: “The department [of Environmental Protection] also intends to pursue a public-private partnership contracting vehicle for the anticipated new Permit – a mechanism that has provided significant cost efficiencies in other jurisdictions such as Prince George’s County.”  The memo is 99 pages long, but we reprint pages one and two, which contain the reference to the P3, below.

This raises a number of questions.  What will the scope of the P3 be?  Will the P3 be subject to open bidding or will it be a sole-source contract?  How will the concessionaire be compensated?  How will the county oversee the concessionaire’s operations?  To the extent that they are affected by the P3, what recourse will property owners have in dealing with the concessionaire’s decisions?  (This is not an academic question given the activities of the Purple Line’s P3 concessionaire.)  Since the county faces legal liability to the state in connection with the consent decree, is it wise to vest compliance in a private entity?  Would that entity agree to indemnify the county if it fails to achieve the mandates in the consent decree?  As for the “significant cost efficiencies” claimed in Prince George’s County, their P3 is only three years old and was described as the first of its kind when it was signed.  Does that P3 have enough of a track record to make it a model for MoCo?

Another question.  Environmental regulation is a core function of government.  Selling alcohol is not.  How on Earth does it make sense that a county would socialize alcohol sales and privatize environmental protection?

Finally, here is the biggest question of all: why now?  The current County Executive has less than nine months left in his time in office.  A P3 is a major structural change to the county’s operations and the one in Prince George’s has a thirty-year duration.  Is this an issue for the next Executive and council to decide?  Or should they and their successors be bound by an administration with only a short time left in office?

It’s time for a public discussion of the county’s stormwater performance issues and the appropriateness of a P3.  We ask the County Council to raise it during the discussions of Leggett’s last budget in the coming weeks.

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