Category Archives: police

Collective Sloppiness

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, the county council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) released a stunning report on collective bargaining between the county and Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 35. The report shows incredible sloppiness by the county in administering labor relations with the police that likely goes back far before the current county executive was in office.

The FOP is one of three unions representing employees of the Montgomery County Government. The other two are the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664 and MCGEO. Since 1982, the county has negotiated collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the FOP, including many provisions on wages, benefits and working conditions. The OLO report examines bargaining between the county and FOP but does not include the other two unions.

OLO makes many findings of concern, including on issues of transparency. Two major findings leap out of the report.

The county and the FOP did not agree on what their agreement actually was.

OLO wrote:

First, the Executive Branch and the FOP use different versions of the primary agreement and do not agree on a singular document as the primary CBA. Second, the parties also do not agree on which side letters and MOAs [memorandums of agreement] are part of the current agreement and which are not. OLO was told by representatives both in the Executive Branch and from the FOP that the County Government and the FOP have not had a signed collective bargaining agreement for over a decade. OLO has also been told by the Executive Branch that an agreement is in place and the Office of Labor Relations and the FOP are working towards a unified, written document. OLO notes that despite the state of the documents, the parties report that they work together to implement the collective bargaining agreement on a day-to-day basis and use an agreed-upon arbitration process to resolve disagreements, when necessary.

OLO’s primary finding is that it is impossible for a third-party reader to identify the terms and provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the County and FOP Lodge 35 because the parties do not agree on the primary document. In addition, while the County and the FOP agree that certain side letters and MOAs are in effect, they do not agree on the current status/effect of all side letters and MOAs. This disagreement adds to the inability of a third-party to know or understand all the provisions that make up the collective bargaining agreement.

In other words, MoCo voters have no idea what they’re paying for and, as of the writing of the report, have no way to find out.

An aside. When I was working in the labor movement, I worked with an old, wily jurisdictional director from Brooklyn named Stan. Stan was responsible for negotiating international union agreements with our contractors. Stan had seen every trick in the book over his decades of negotiating. One trick was when company attorneys made changes to agreements that were not negotiated and tried to sneak them in. For example, if the union and the company agreed to changing Articles 12, 15 and 28, the company attorney might insert those changes but also make a change to Article 30. If that change went unnoticed and the union president signed it, that became part of the new agreement.

To stop that kind of thing, Stan would summon me into his office and give me a copy of his version of the agreement. Then he would read aloud from the company’s version – every single word in that New Yawk accent of his – including the sections that had not been renegotiated. If we found one punctuation mark that was out of place, BAM! Stan would be on the phone with the company lawyer, demanding to know how that happened. That’s how much we cared about making sure the agreement was exactly what we agreed to, every single word.

And that’s why I am surprised by the county’s sloppiness here. From my own experience in the labor movement, when the parties don’t agree on what their agreement is, that “agreement” can be hard to administer.

The agreement that expired on June 30, 2020 provided benefit levels that exceeded maximum amounts set in county law.

OLO identified the following examples of benefits in the agreement that exceeded what is allowable under county law.

Agreement: Most current employees contribute 4.75% of salary for retirement.

County law: Employee contributions are set at 6.75% of salary for service after June 30, 2012.

Agreement: The pension cost of living adjustment is tied to the consumer price index with a cap of 7.5%.

County law: The pension cost of living adjustment is tied to the consumer price index with a cap of 2.5%.

Agreement: The minimum pension for a service-connected disability is set at 66.6% of final earnings.

County law: The minimum pension for a service-connected disability is set at 52.5% of final earnings.

Agreement: The health insurance premium split is set at 80% County / 20% employee.

County law: The health insurance premium split is set at 75% County / 25% employee.

The county council made several changes to benefit levels through legislation passed during the Great Recession. The legislation preempts any contents of collective bargaining agreements. It may be that subsequent agreements were not updated to reflect these changes because of the kind of sloppiness seen above. The OLO report authors told me, “FOP members received benefits as stipulated in law and Council resolutions (not what is written in the contracts).”

In responding to the report, Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno wrote, “…The draft report notes that the County and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) have been unable to agree upon a unified collective bargaining agreement. This is no longer accurate. OLR [Office of Labor Relations] and the FOP have been engaged in a year-long project to reconcile those differences and have agreed to a single version of the collective bargaining agreement. Attached for your information is the unsigned agreement. The signed version will be forwarded to you next week.”

Unfortunately, the new agreement received by OLO contains the same benefit levels that exceed the maximums contained in county law. That issue has not been cleaned up. Neither have a host of issues I identified last June, the most disturbing of which requires the county to fight certain Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests in court. OLO identified the latter issue as well, writing that that provision appears to conflict with state law.

OLO recommends that all collective bargaining documents, including supplementary ones, be posted on the county’s website for public view; that outdated and/or moot language be purged; that the county council be notified of changes; and that the agreements be consistent with federal, state and county law. Given the county’s past mistakes, these are hard recommendations to argue against.

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The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2020 was hugely eventful for the entire world and MoCo was no exception. In our county, 2020 saw a public health crisis, a resulting economic crash and huge challenges to our quality of life. In political terms, it also saw unusually contentious elections for school board and circuit court judge, four historic ballot questions and numerous fights inside county government. We wrote about it all on Seventh State. Here are the top twenty posts measured by page views from the people who count the most – YOU, our readers.

  1. Miscreants Run Wild at Elrich Press Conference

This was a poorly organized public event gone wrong, culminating with an unmasked protestor getting within spitting distance of the county executive. For those who question the need for the executive to have a security detail, this is Exhibit A for why it can be necessary.

  1. Elrich Vetoes WMATA Property Tax Bill

County Executive Marc Elrich’s first veto, this one targeting a council-passed bill giving Metro station developers 15-year property tax breaks, set off a fight on corporate welfare that has not ended by a long shot. That will prove especially true if a proposal by the planning staff to grant tax abatements to other properties near Metro stations advances.

  1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight

MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart wrote this guest blog on inequities in MCPS’s capital budget. It’s a must-read for everyone who cares about school construction.

  1. Will MCPS Reopen?

In early November, MCPS told the public that it was planning a phased-in reopening of schools for some in-person instruction. But the winter surge of COVID quickly overtook that plan and cast the timing of reopening in doubt. The issue is still unsettled.

  1. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff

Back in the summer, MCPS’s original reopening plan was drenched in controversy, ultimately resulting in a pitched battle with the county teachers’ union (MCEA). MCPS wound up going with virtual learning for the fall, like most other large school systems in the region, but the mechanics and safety of reopening are still subjects of debate.

  1. What Happened to White Flint?

Jobs, jobs, JOBS. According to White Flint developers, MoCo’s slow rate of job growth was one reason that they could not get financing to proceed on the county’s preeminent development plan. The chart below says it all. And when the COVID pandemic finally ends, county leaders must dedicate themselves to creating jobs, Jobs, JOBS or MoCo’s stagnation will continue.

  1. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem

Back in June, incumbent Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen, who had a big lead in money and endorsements over his challenger, appeared on election night to be getting just 2% of the vote. That was the first sign of a primary gone wrong, which led to many misgivings about the state’s processes with mail ballots and the performance of its long-time election administrator Linda Lamone.

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

2020 was a year of surprises, and one of the bigger surprises was the emergence from political retirement of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest anti-tax charter amendment) and Question D (nine council districts) disturbed Leggett enough that he started a ballot issue committee to defeat them. This post was Leggett’s guest column on why they were bad ideas and it got a big reaction from our readers.

  1. Teachers Respond to Lynne Harris

After school board candidate Lynne Harris blamed MCEA for allegedly resisting school reopening (a post that also appears on our top 20 list), a group of rank-and-file teachers pushed back in this guest post. It achieved wide readership that was probably concentrated among teachers as the general election approached.

  1. Free-For-All

In non-COVID news, 2020 was the year that the county’s police department (along with departments around the country) became a political football. This post describes how the executive, the county council and Annapolis all jumped into the issue of policing with little coordination. Lost in the debate was the central fact that crime in MoCo is at its lowest level in decades. Policing will continue to be a hot topic in 2021.

Tomorrow we will list the top ten Seventh State posts for the year!

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Who’s the Boss?

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the challenges of running the executive branch is to present a unified front to the public. The executive branch has thousands of employees and hundreds of subject matter experts in fields ranging from transportation to IT to law to environmental management to social services to… you get the idea. It’s incredible how much the county government does and how much its employees know. But at the same time, it works for one person: the county executive. He or she is the ultimate policy maker for the executive branch. After hopefully listening to input far and wide, the executive’s decision on an executive branch position is final. And every person inside the executive branch must respect it.

Or at least that’s the theory.

This principle broke down in full public view with regards to MC 4-21, a state bill affecting only Montgomery County introduced by Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19). The bill would enable, but not mandate, the county to transfer administration of speed cameras from the police department to the transportation department. Stewart believes it makes sense to have one agency in charge of both traffic safety and road improvements, and since the police department does not manage road projects, he thinks the transportation department should do both. County Executive Marc Elrich supports the bill and there is no indication in documents sent to the county council that he has any reservations about it. That should be the end of the story; the executive (as well as the council) supports the bill and the state delegation, which will decide its fate, will take that into account when deciding how to vote on it.

But that’s not the end of the story. The county’s director of intergovernmental relations wrote this to the council in addition to noting the executive’s support:

The Office of the County Attorney (OCA), the Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and the Department of Police (MCPD) have expressed concerns about MC 4-21. Specifically, OCA explained that while the local bill is only enabling, “DOT is not a law enforcing agency and is not equipped to act as one.” It pointed out that the bill “would have Montgomery County as the only jurisdiction in the State where no law enforcement individuals are reviewing speed camera citations and signing off on violations.”

Well, OK. The bill is an enabling bill, not a mandate. If the bill passes, the executive would have a voice in determining whether the shift in responsibility is actually implemented. Is the Office of County Attorney arguing that its boss – the executive – should not have that voice when the executive openly desires it?

There is more. When the MoCo state legislators’ land use committee convened to consider the bill on December 17, representatives of the police department acknowledged that the executive supported the bill and then proceeded to argue against it. Among their statements were that Baltimore City allegedly screwed up a similar program, the MoCo police had 15 years of experience in speed camera management that was a “national model,” and the state legislators should “make sure this is not an emotional decision.” They also characterized D.C.’s speed camera program, which was shifted to their transportation department, as “the worst program in the nation, hands down, by far.” One police official proudly declared, “We do not succumb to political influence!” in front of – you guessed it – seven state politicians in the meeting. He concluded that a transfer of responsibility “would do irreparable damage to this program as well as programs throughout the state.”

But the executive supports the bill.

Set aside the specifics of the bill for a moment. When the executive makes a policy decision, such as whether to support legislation, it is not merely a personal gesture. The executive is elected by voters to make decisions on behalf of the executive branch. Its employees are bound to carry out those decisions. Sure, the executive branch doesn’t exist in a bubble – it has to respond to other governmental bodies as well as a host of outside circumstances. But within its boundaries, the executive’s decisions must be respected. If not, then the departments turn into free agents and no one is really running the place.

You can bet that when the police openly tried to kill a bill supported by the executive, the state legislators who witnessed it noticed. They are not the only ones. The county council knows about it. No doubt other departments are watching. It’s impossible to say what gave rise to the police rebellion. Do they feel that the executive does not listen to them? If so, the executive’s information gathering process needs improvement. But if the executive does not remind his subordinates who their boss is, then the executive branch won’t have a boss. And that would make the county damn near ungovernable.

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Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

By Adam Pagnucco.

This year, MoCo saw its biggest battle over ballot questions in sixteen years. Most county players lined up on one side or the other and victory has been declared. Who won and who lost?

Winners

Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson
Friedson authored Question A, which liberalized the county’s property tax system to allow receipts to increase with assessments. Wall Street applauded its passage. Even progressives, who don’t love Friedson but owe him big-time for opening up the county’s revenue stream, have to admit that his Question A was the real deal.

Council Member Evan Glass
Glass authored Question C, which added two district council seats and defeated the nine district Question D. Lots of wannabe politicians are going to look at running for the new seats. Every single one of them should kiss Glass’s ring and write a max-out check to his campaign account.

County Democratic Party
It’s not a coincidence that MoCo voters adopted the positions of the county Democratic Party on all four ballot questions. With partisan sentiments running high and information on the questions running low, MoCo Democrats went along with their party and dominated the election.

David Blair
Blair was the number one contributor to the four ballot issue committees that passed Questions A and C and defeated Questions B and D. By himself, Blair accounted for nearly half the money they raised. Whatever Blair decides to do heading into the next election, he can claim to have done as much to pass the county Democrats’ positions on the ballot questions as anyone. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I was not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Ike Leggett
The former county executive was key in leading the fight against Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. Thousands of MoCo voters still like, respect and trust Ike Leggett.

Jews United for Justice
While not having the money and manpower of many other groups who played on the questions, Jews United for Justice played a key role in convening the coalition that ultimately won. They have gained a lot of respect from many influencers in MoCo politics.

Facebook
Lord knows how much money they made from all the ballot question ads!

Losers

Robin Ficker
At the beginning of 2020, MoCo had one of the most restrictive property tax charter limits of any county in Maryland. For many years, Ficker was looking to make it even tighter and petitioned Question B to the ballot to convert it into a near-lock on revenues. But his charter amendment provoked Friedson to write Question A, which ultimately passed while Question B failed and will raise much more money than the current system over time. Instead of tightening the current system, the result is a more liberal system that will achieve the opposite of what Ficker wanted – more revenue for the county. This was one of the biggest backfires in all of MoCo political history.

Republicans
The county’s Republican Party did everything they could to pass Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. In particular, they gave both cash and in-kind contributions to Nine Districts and even raised money for the group on their website. In doing so, the GOP provoked a fierce partisan backlash as the county Democrats rose up to take the opposite positions on the ballot questions and most Democratic-leaning groups combined forces to support them. With President Donald Trump apparently defeated, Governor Larry Hogan leaving office in two years and little prospect of success in MoCo awaiting them, where does the county’s Republican Party go from here?

This tweet by MoCo for Question C from a voting location explains all you need to know about why Question D failed.

Political Outsiders
It wasn’t just Republicans who supported the failed Questions B and D; a range of political outsiders supported them too. What they witnessed was a mammoth effort by the Democratic Party, Democratic elected officials and (mostly) progressive interest groups to thwart them. Even the county chamber of commerce and the realtors lined up against them. Whether or not it’s true, this is bound to provoke more talk of a “MoCo Machine.” Machine or not, outsiders have to be wondering how to win when establishment forces combine against them.

Push

MCGEO, Fire Fighters and Police Unions
These three unions are frustrated. They have not been treated the way they expected by the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich and they are also upset with the county council for abrogating their contracts (among other things). They wanted to show that they could impose consequences for messing with them and that was one reason why all three made thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions to Nine Districts. On the negative side, the nine districts Question D failed. On the positive side, the passage of Friedson’s Question A will result in a flow of more dollars into the county budget over time, a win for their members. So it’s a push. On to the next election.

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Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in September ranked by page views.

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.

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How Will We Pay for This?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Confronting one of the worst recessions in its history, the MoCo government is projecting a loss of $190 million in revenue this fiscal year and over $1 billion over the next six fiscal years. With such dire financial projections, one would think that the county would be looking for ways to save money above and beyond the low-hanging fruit it has already plucked. Instead, the county has created a new spending stream with no obvious way to pay for it.

What is this new spending stream? On April 10, County Executive Marc Elrich announced that he had reached an agreement with the three county employee unions (MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police) to provide their members with COVID-19 differential pay. The extra pay applied to two categories of employees.

Front Facing Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework, involves physical interaction with the public and cannot be performed with appropriate social distancing. These employees would get an extra $10 per hour.

Back Office Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework and does not involve regular physical interaction with the public. These employees would get an extra $3 per hour.

The extra pay was retroactive to the March 29 pay period and was supposed to be in effect for six pay periods “or until the Maryland State of Emergency is lifted.” At the time, county council staff estimated that the extra pay would cost the county $3.2 million per pay period. As of this writing, I am told that the COVID pay continues. (Note: this pay arrangement does not apply to MCPS or other agencies legally separate from county government.)

My sources tell me that the county’s COVID pay program is one of the most generous in the United States. It is far more generous than the state’s COVID pay, which was an extra $3.13 per hour for some classifications of public safety, juvenile center and healthcare employees plus $2.00 more for those working in quarantine areas. (The $3.13 per hour ended on September 8 while the quarantine pay continues.) The generosity of the county’s program can further be seen by its cost: $3.2 million per pay period versus the state’s $3.3 million. MoCo has roughly 10,000 employees while the state has more than 80,000.

Elrich painted this extra pay as a financial win for the county. His press release stated, “The County Executive noted that under provisions of existing county bargaining agreements (which were negotiated years ago), the unions could have insisted on much larger benefits, but they understood the importance of the ongoing fiscal health of the county.” So according to Elrich, by giving the unions something less than what their agreements gave them, he was saving the county money.

In retrospect, that was a dubious claim. The unions are indeed entitled to double pay during emergencies under their agreements. However, a careful examination of the county’s collective bargaining agreements with MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police shows that their emergency pay provisions relate to weather emergencies. The emergency pay provision in the police agreement is actually labeled “Snow Emergency-General Emergency Pay.” All three agreements contain this language:

“General emergency” for the purpose of this agreement is defined as any period determined by the County Executive, Chief Administrative Officer, or designee to be a period of emergency, such as inclement weather conditions. Under such conditions, County offices are closed and services are discontinued; only emergency services shall be provided.

The county suspended some (but not all) services early during the COVID crisis but many of them are being provided now. The county even said as far back as March 13, “While schools and public facilities will be closed, Montgomery County offices remain open for business and operations are continuing.” This status does not qualify as a general emergency under the contract language.

MCGEO’s agreement contains this additional language:

Implementation of General Emergencies shall be in accordance with Administrative Procedure 4-21, dated July 12, 1991. In addition to the above, before making a determination whether to declare a General Emergency, the CAO or designee will consider recent weather reports regarding the amount of precipitation already accumulated, as well as the forecast for further accumulations during the succeeding 8-hour period. Other considerations that the CAO or designee will take into account include whether the major roadways of the County are passable and safe for travel and whether the County public schools have been closed for the day and what actions other public sector jurisdictions in the Washington Metropolitan Region take. The decision whether to declare a General Emergency shall be based on the cumulative of all these factors and no one factor shall be conclusive or determinative. The County Executive or CAO should attempt to give employees the earliest notice of whether a general emergency or liberal leave period will be declared.

Again, this clearly relates to a weather emergency.

Either Elrich knew all this and granted concessions anyway or he didn’t bother to read the union contracts and was out-negotiated by MCGEO’s shrewd president, Gino Renne. If the latter, he is not the first executive to be cleaned out at the bargaining table by Gino! The unions were quite upset to see the council cancel $28 million of compensation increases last spring, but they have already earned more than that in COVID pay.

It’s important to note that the county council had no role in this. Normally, the council would approve economic elements of a new collective bargaining agreement inside county government. But in this instance, a renegotiation occurred of an existing agreement. Elrich did not ask for council approval and the council did not bless it.

The issue here isn’t whether employees should get COVID pay. Of course they should. If you were a police officer, a fire fighter, a correctional officer, a Ride On bus driver or another employee interacting with the public for hours on end, you would want it too! The issue is whether the county has a way to pay for it, especially given its troubled financial condition. And that’s where the matter gets complicated.

One place where the county can turn for COVID expenses is federal grant funds, especially those disbursed under the CARES Act. To date, the county has received $223 million in federal grant funds during the COVID crisis. The status of those funds is a bit murky, but my quick and dirty math from examining the county council’s spending resolutions is that close to all of that money has already been appropriated. Last summer, the county was hoping a deal in Congress would produce more federal funds but it didn’t happen. Now there is talk of covering at least part of the COVID pay through a FEMA reimbursement but who knows if that will occur. Looming over all of this is the question of how long the payments will continue.

If federal funds are not available, the county’s options for financing its COVID pay program are difficult ones. It could make offsetting spending cuts although most county spending is tied to labor in one way or another. (How crazy would it be to pay employees more and then furlough them?) It could dip into reserves, which might impact its AAA bond rating. It could raid retiree health care funds yet again (something that was hinted at in July), which has already earned it a rebuke from Wall Street. Or it could raise taxes.

Readers, what would you do?

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MoCo Republicans Attack Jawando Over Police Reform

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Republican Party is now running this video attacking Council Member Will Jawando over his efforts to reform the police department.

The GOP is even running a Facebook ad to promote the video.

Not everyone is supportive of the county’s efforts to reform, reimagine and/or defund the police. Our post on the subject, “Free-For-All,” is on track to be the most-viewed post on Seventh State for this month. But getting attacked by Republicans is great for Jawando in building his prestige inside the county’s progressive Democratic base. Jawando should consider offering a subsidy to help the GOP run the ad in Takoma Park and the rest of the Democratic Crescent!

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Free-For-All

By Adam Pagnucco.

Marcus Jones, chief of the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), earns praise from my sources as competent, well-intentioned and not wedded to the practices of the past despite his decades of experience at MCPD. But Jones has a problem: he faces far more obstacles in running his department than any other senior manager in county government. That’s because a tornadic swirl of national and local politics has provoked a free-for-all over MCPD that is unprecedented in recent county history.

Monday night saw the first meeting of the county executive’s “Reimagining Public Safety Task Force.” I couldn’t find the task force’s roster online so I asked the county’s public information office, which gave me a member list: all 43 of them. Attendance at the first meeting totaled 73 people, some of whom were county employees assigned to attend. The task force member roster given to me by the county does not include any member of MCPD management. It also does not contain any of the leaders of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 35, which represents MCPD’s rank and file sworn officers. With 43 seats available, you might figure that at least one or two of them would go to management or labor.

The FOP did not respond to a request for comment, but I asked MCPD Captain Tom Jordan, the police department’s public information officer, about MCPD’s participation on the task force. He replied:

The MCPD does not have a representative on the task force. We provide subject matter experts to the task force when requests for information are received. I do not have information on how the task force was selected nor do I know if the MCPD was asked to provide recommendations for representatives. That is a better question for the CE’s [county executive’s] office since they formed the task force.

The 43-member task force along with future consultants joins the county council’s 13-member policing advisory commission in providing advice on MCPD. At least the council’s commission includes the MCPD chief and the FOP president as ex officio members. The commission held its first meeting on August 24 while the executive’s task force held its first meeting on August 31. Multiple council members say the two entities are duplicative but the executive says they’re wrong. Come on now. How could two large appointed bodies of community members discussing the exact same thing a week apart possibly be duplicative??

The council, of course, has not sat idly by while the executive and his folks get to have all the fun of scrutinizing MCPD. Since January 2019, the council has introduced five bills regarding police department operations and passed four of them. The fifth will be considered this fall. The council also passed a sixth bill requested by the executive creating a new assistant chief position. (When asked about this latter bill desired by his boss, Chief Jones shrugged, “I had no heartburn over it.”)

The disconnected approaches taken by the executive and the council, as well as their creation of separate advisory bodies, reflect the feelings the two branches hold about each other. The executive thinks the council is “fact proof” while the council feels the executive is ineffective and incapable of leadership. These mutual feelings of disdain affect many aspects of county government, not just the police. Now the two branches are in competition over what to do with MCPD.

That’s not all. Annapolis, which preempts counties on police (and virtually all other) legislation is getting involved too. The House of Delegates has created a “Work Group to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland” that is now questioning the long-standing state law called the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Expect MANY state bills on police issues. The involvement of Annapolis is expected given the central role of state law in regulating law enforcement agencies, but of course, Rockville is not going to wait on the state.

Add together the task force, the commission, the interest groups, the activists, the consultants and the interested politicians in Rockville, Annapolis and beyond and it’s almost impossible to count all the players who want to reimagine, defund and/or outright abolish police.

Pity Chief Jones. In addition to all of this, he has to deal with an FOP contract that constrains him from running his department, a workforce unhappy with the council’s abrogation of their collective bargaining agreement, persistent recruiting problems, the lingering radiation from last year’s thin blue line flag controversy, disagreements over school resource officers, the problems of policing in the era of COVID-19 and national issues outside of his control. Some in his rank and file are close to revolt. Some in the community would like to throw some of those rank and file out of work by defunding the police. Now anonymous flyers are appearing on doors in downtown Silver Spring predicting mayhem from the council’s recently passed use of force bill. What’s going to happen next?

These flyers have been taped to doors of commercial spaces in downtown Silver Spring. Who is distributing them?

The issue here is not whether the police department deserves to be scrutinized. It does, as do police departments around the rest of the country. For example, I have previously written about provisions in the FOP contract that require the county to destroy records and fight public information act requests in court. What needs to happen is a grand, holistic effort by all the major players – police management, the FOP, the counties, Annapolis and interested groups – to work out a package of complementary improvements that makes sense. Instead, the efforts above appear random, uncoordinated and in some cases duplicative. This is not measured, strategic and purposeful reform – it’s a free-for-all. How does this get us to a better place?

Think about how all of this looks to potential police recruits. If you were offered a job with oversight that looked like this, would you take it?

At stake is something that no one is talking about – crime in MoCo is at an historic low. Politicians in most jurisdictions would be jumping up and down to take credit for that, but not in our county. We take low crime rates here for granted. Social justice is important and the experience of people of color in dealing with police needs to be addressed. But if the free-for-all outlined above disrupts MCPD’s operations and crime starts going up again, all of us – regardless of our views on policing – will pay the price.

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Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts

By Adam Pagnucco.

Nine District for MoCo, the ballot question entity responsible for gathering signatures for a 9 district charter amendment, has filed a new campaign finance report listing its contributions and expenditures through August 2. The organization’s prior report, released in January, contained data for 7/24/19 through 1/8/20.

The information here is bound to shake MoCo’s political establishment to its core.

First, the overall data on contributions and expenditures.

Contributions
7/24/19-1/8/20: $1,244
1/9/20-8/2/20: $64,790
Total: $66,034

Expenditures
7/24/19-1/8/20: $438
1/9/20-8/2/20: $59,140
Total: $59,578

Here are the largest contributors to the group.

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

The Town of Laytonsville also contributed $100.

Charlie Nulsen is the founder of Empower Montgomery. Bob Buchanan is the former chair of the county’s economic development corporation. Both are long-time regional developers.

The unions’ in-kind contributions came in the form of online advertising.

The leading recipient of money from the group is Rowland Strategies of Baltimore, which was paid $50,000 on June 9. The firm is headed by Jonathon Rowland, a national level strategist who ran Hoan Dang’s campaign for county council in 2018.

Nine Districts for MoCo is now revealed as an unholy alliance of developers and unions – two groups that often don’t see eye to eye. The unions are aggrieved at the council’s rejection of their collective bargaining agreements (among MANY other things). The developers have long complained about – in their view – the difficulty of doing business in MoCo. They are also no doubt upset about the recent imposition of temporary rent stabilization.

The real estate industry and labor both have substantial influence over county politics but don’t get everything they want – especially in these troubled times. If they have indeed formed an unholy alliance on anything, much less a ballot measure that would eviscerate the county council, this is a new day for MoCo.

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Acevero Claims MCGEO Fired Him Over Police Reform Legislation

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-39) has told the New York Times that he was fired from his position at MCGEO, the union that represents most non-MCPS county employees, because of his legislative work on reforming police departments. According to the Times:

When Gabriel Acevero, a Maryland state legislator employed by a union local, introduced a bill last year to roll back protections for police accused of misconduct, he was stepping on a potential fault line. His union, Local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, represents thousands of Black and Latino workers in food services and at a variety of government agencies. It also includes a small portion of workers in law enforcement.

That fault line turned out to be a chasm that could swallow him up. In mid-June, Mr. Acevero filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the union of illegally firing him because of his reform advocacy.

“The reason why I was terminated,” Mr. Acevero said, “was about legislation.”

MCGEO President Gino Renne was also interviewed by the Times. Read the entire article here.

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