Category Archives: Montgomery County

Ademiluyi and Pierre Beat Incumbent Judges in Democratic Primary

Most of the races in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties are very sleepy this year. The judicial races have become a surprise exception. Though there are still votes that have yet to be counted, it looks like challengers upset a member of the incumbent judges slate in the Democratic primary for circuit court judge in both counties.

Maryland judicial races have an unusual process. After being appointed by the Governor, the incumbent judges must face the voters and any other candidates that decide to run. All candidates are placed on each party’s ballot. All of the candidates who place high enough on any party’s ballot continue on to the general election.

Though they lost the Democratic primary, the incumbents will also continue to the general because they still won one of the top four spots in the much lower turnout Republican primaries. In both Montgomery and Prince George’s, the challengers are African-American women and the incumbents are white men who were appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Ademiluyi Upsets Bereano in Prince George’s

In Prince George’s County, April Ademiluyi beat incumbent Judge Byron Bereano in the Democratic Primary for Judge of the Circuit Court. The daughter of African immigrants, Ademiluyi is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park and received her law degree from George Mason. According to currently available numbers, Ademiluyi won 105,725 votes to 87,017 for Bereano, the son of controversial lobbyist Bruce Bereano.

Bruce Bereano was convicted of campaign finance fraud in 1994–he got his employees to make campaign donations and then illegally reimburses them under the guise of lobbying expenses. Besides going to jail, he was disbarred and lost his license to practice law.

Neither stopped him from coming back as a highly influential lobbyist or from exerting influence on judicial nominations and elections.

As Josh Kurtz explained:

[Bereano asked] his friends to contribute to something called the Prince George’s Committee to Elect Sitting Judges. This is a campaign committee for five Circuit Court judges — four of whom were recently appointed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) — seeking 15-year terms to the bench in the 2020 election. One of them happens to be his son, Judge Bryon Bereano, appointed first by Hogan to the District Court, then late last year, to the Circuit Court.

Stranger still, consider the identity of the man chairing the sitting judges’ election campaign in Prince George’s County: That would be Alexander Williams, the former federal judge and close Bruce Bereano ally who is surely Hogan’s favorite Democrat. Hogan has rescued Williams from retirement, appointing him to several key appointed posts. Those include his role as chairman of the Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission.

Bruce Bereano has also been heavily involved in Anne Arundel judicial races.

Despite losing the Democratic primary, Byron Bereano will also appear on the general election ballot. He won a spot with just 4,970 votes — all that was needed in heavily Democratic county home to few Republicans. Bereano attended the University of Baltimore School of Law and formerly worked at Lerch, Early and Brewer.

Pierre Edges Out Fogleman in Montgomery

In Montgomery, challenger Marylin Pierre beat incumbent Christopher Fogleman. Pierre gained 79,673 votes to 77,976 for Fogleman who was appointed by Gov. Hogan. Pierre, a former army lieutenant and Howard law graduate, ran as a progressive alternative to the incumbent slate. Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin was her sole endorsement from an elected official.

This was Pierre’s second attempt as an insurgent judicial candidate. In 2018, Pierre failed to win either party’s nomination. However, she nevertheless did quite respectably for someone not part of the incumbent slate in a contest that is below the radar of most voters.

Fogleman served for three years as a public defender in the 1980s. The American University law graduate also was appointed by former County Executive Ike Leggett to the county’s Juvenile Justice Commission. Fogleman served for ten years, including as the commission’s chair.

Like Bereano in Prince George’s, Fogleman will advance to the general election due to his success in the Republican primary in which he earned 14,085 votes compared to 6,893 for Pierre.

The outcomes in the two party primaries were strikingly reversed for the other incumbents. Incumbent African-American Judge Bibi Berry ran away as an easy first place in the Democratic primary with 106,128 votes — over 23,000 votes more than the second place candidate. But in the Republican primary, Berry came in fourth with 11,492 votes, which is roughly 3000 votes less than her white male running mates.

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Jawando Ignored Public Information Act, Had Scant Evidence Before Filing Rent Control Bill

One may be the loneliest number, but apparently one documented claim of a rent increase was enough for Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) to introduce rent control legislation that governs the entire county.

When he introduced his emergency rent control bill in response to the pandemic, I made repeated requests to Councilmember Jawando’s office for any evidence he had of rising rents that inspired him to file the bill.

I eventually received a public comment but not a scintilla of hard evidence, so I submitted a formal Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on April 19 via his official email account: “Please consider this a request for any and all documents covered by the Public Information Act you have received related to rent increases during the pandemic. Thank you.”

Cecily Thorne, Jawando’s Chief of Staff, contacted me on April 21 after I wrote my initial post about the lack of evidence or logic “even from an amoral greed perspective” behind the rent control bill. She stated that “Councilmember Jawando asked me to forward some of the information we have been receiving from tenants related to rent increases” and included four redacted pieces of information.

Only one of these documents made a claim of a rent increase that was made both prior to the bill’s introduction and during the pandemic. (Another was notification given prior to the pandemic, while one involved late fees, not rent, and the last one was a somewhat complex situation sent after the bill’s introduction in any case.)

I spoke with Ms. Thorne shortly after receiving the information and told her directly of my MPIA request in the course of our discussion. Nonetheless, my request went completely ignored in violation of the law.

When I followed up on May 30 – after the mandatory 30-day disclosure deadline in state law had passed – Ms. Thorne remembered being made aware of a request (“You mentioned you made a request”), but also texted that “I have not seen one until now in writing” and “I did not receive a request formal from you” despite my having sent it to Councilmember Jawando’s official email and having mentioned it during our call.

The lack of response suggests that either (1) Councilmember Will Jawando’s office is highly disorganized, or (2) unaware of its legal responsibilities under the Public Information Act, or (3) willfully ignored the request in violation of the law. It could also be a combo platter.

Thanks to the efforts of Legislative Attorney Amanda Mihill, I received most, though not all, of the documents late last week. However, Jawando’s office excluded the unredacted copy of a previous document until I made mention that it was missing. Their response still excludes many documents attached to emails in violation of the law.

What’s Not in the Documents?

Despite Councilmember Jawando’s media claims, he had virtually no documentation that this was occurring before he decided to file the bill. Although Cecily Thorne stated that the emails she sent were only “some of the information,” the documents sent show otherwise. There was literally only the one claim mentioned above.

There are no copies of phone records listing people who called with complaints. Nor is there any evidence that the Councilmember’s staff contacted the landlord.

The only other evidence within the documents involves a few back and forth strategy emails with the Renters Alliance in which Councilmember Jawando says “as many examples as you can send will be helpful ahead of bill introduction.” The reply references only increases being seen in the same building as the sole complaint from a renter.

One case.

No wonder Councilmember Jawando was unresponsive to queries on this topic from not just myself but others despite the claims he made in the media.

Glass Bill Provides Meaningful Help

Fortunately, the Council took other action to address the larger problem, which is that many people who have lost their jobs, if only temporarily, cannot pay regardless of the level of rent.

The Council passed legislation introduced by Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) that, among other provisions, appropriated an additional $2 million in rental assistance. This money helps people facing eviction directly. The county has also loosened the requirements to receive rental assistance in light of the ongoing crisis.

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It’s the CIP, Stupid!

By Gus Bauman.

Finally! After many years of heated controversy, Montgomery County is about to squarely confront its use of land use moratoria as a part of its growth policy regulations. The County Planning Board, after much study for its regular update of the County’s Growth Policy, has crafted a proposal to largely eliminate land use moratoria in the County. The County Council will ultimately decide the terms and scope of the Growth Policy (titled in more recent years as the Subdivision Staging Policy.)

This correspondent is the former chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission and its MoCo Planning Board (appointed in ’89, reappointed in ’93). Let me offer some background and candid insight that may prove useful in the coming months as the proposal enters the political windstorm.

The MoCo Annual Growth Policy (the AGP; that was its name for many years) was created in 1986. Why? Because during the ‘80’s, the County was experiencing high growth. It had previously created an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), which was embedded in the Subdivision Ordinance to apply to all new subdivision proposals.

To manage the APFO, the AGP was later instituted as a timing mechanism to match school and transportation needs with corresponding infrastructure development. Buried in the AGP system was the moratorium nuclear bomb—if school or transportation capacity in any defined area of the County became overloaded, then no new subdivision could be approved in that area until the county’s capital budget (the Capital Improvements Program, or CIP) indicated that help was on the way through public improvements and/or private contributions to fix the identified public need.

The moratorium concept was always intended to be a rare, drastic action of last resort. It was never meant to be a routine tool in the planner’s toolbox. Indeed, the very idea of a moratorium is contrary to comprehensive planning, zoning, and budgeting—i.e., to responsible government. For adopting a moratorium is, by definition, an admission of governmental failure. Doing it on a normative basis should be downright embarrassing.

Land use moratoria were supposed to be as rare as snow in June—they were to delay development approvals for a brief time in order that public and sometimes private funds could then target as quickly as possible where the infrastructure need was and fix it. In fact, the very purpose of a looming moratorium was to immediately direct capital funds to the targeted area in order to avoid the moratorium bomb from exploding.

This system only worked, however, where there was both a high growth rate that continued to pay taxes and where infrastructure spending was duly targeted by the County government to any area about to be thrown into moratorium.

But those two preconditions began sliding away in the late 1990’s, and by the turn of the century, they were largely gone. Montgomery County’s growth rate has been in the basement for some 15 years now. Yet the moratorium mechanism, meant to be only an emergency measure in the AGP, never went away. Indeed, it became a favorite fixture of the no-growth crowd. And that crowd has always controlled certain votes in County government.

The rich irony here is that a moratorium is, in truth, all about fiscal and budgetary policy and not a growth or density matter. Whether density on some tract is to be low, medium, or high, whether growth in some area is to be slow, moderate, or rapid, is a land use dynamic regulated by the community master plan as well as the zoning placed on properties. But during the 1990’s, exclusionary forces in Montgomery County realized that use of moratoria could become a normal convenience to accomplish what they otherwise could not accomplish through planning, zoning, and environmental regulations.

Just starve the CIP of transportation spending on certain projects called for in County master plans, and SURPRISE!, the roads in an area are suddenly over capacity. Just redirect school capital funding projects away from certain developing and redeveloping areas, and SURPRISE!, schools in those areas become over capacity. The most extreme example of this practice was how prior County governments allowed the East County to be frozen for many years in moratorium while significant capital funding flowed west, north, and south.

Today’s County Council can see what moratoria have wrought over the past two decades. When an area is placed into moratorium, neither new taxes nor fees can be generated in that area, creating the perverse effect of killing off the very revenues needed to help solve the identified problem. The County Planning Board knows what moratoria have wrought. The practice telegraphs to the business community to avoid investing in Montgomery when so many other nearby options exist called DC, Frederick County, Prince George’s County, and the multiple jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.

Moratoria are all about erecting walls. The Montgomery County government should be knocking down walls. The County should be using its highly detailed master plans, its incredibly rigorous zoning, its adequate public facilities ordinance, its huge budget, as well as its growth policy, to channel public infrastructure improvements where they are needed.

It is telling that Montgomery County prides itself on having the toughest, most “sophisticated” planning, zoning, environmental, and transportation controls in the region as well as being blessed with a large tax base and corresponding budget, yet, simultaneously, it is the only regional jurisdiction that regularly applies that admission of governmental failure, the moratorium.

To paraphrase the famous presidential campaign slogan of the 1990’s, “It’s the CIP, stupid.”

Gus Bauman is an attorney who lives in Silver Spring. He served two terms as chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

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Why Was Your Ballot Late?

Ballots arrived at an irregular pace this year. Then, when they came, the ballots had the original primary date of April 28th printed on them. What happened?

Late Ballots

Snafus with SeaChange, the vendor used to print and to mail the ballots, explain many of the problems. According to Deputy State Administrator Nikki Charleson at the Maryland State Board of Elections, “the vendor did not meet the schedule for Montgomery or Baltimore City” and ballots were “mailed out later than planned.”

Ballots for Baltimore City, the locale with a number of hot local contests, were supposed to have been mailed on May 8 but SeaChange did not start posting them until significantly later. In a press release, the State Board blamed SeaChange explicitly not only for missing the deadline but misleading Maryland election officials:

On May 7, SeaChange informed SBE that ballots for Baltimore City were printed and would be mailed on May 8 and confirmed on May 11 that some Baltimore City ballots had been mailed. SBE relied on this incorrect information when communicating with the public, advocacy organizations and candidates. While some files were late, it was the misleading information provided by SeaChange that led to the unmet expectations and the confusion over the ballot delivery process.

Will there be a lawsuit? Refund? Unquestionably, this should be investigated by the General Assembly. Mistakes happen, especially during a crisis but the state shouldn’t be misled by its vendors. Lying isn’t a symptom of coronavirus.

Similarly, ballots for Montgomery did not get sent until after the scheduled date. In many households, a ballot arrived for one adult but not for another. The mailing of ballots for a single local jurisdiction on different dates probably explains this strange pattern.

When I communicated with the Montgomery County Board of Elections, I also learned that there was a problem with absentee ballots. Although, everyone was effectively an absentee voter due to the adoption of universal vote-by-mail, voters who requested absentee ballots were on a separate electronic list and were not mailed ballots simultaneously with other voters.

Charlson explained that the vendor, SeaChange, had served as a subcontractor for printing ballots in 2018 as well as the special primary and general election in the Seventh Congressional District this year. She said that the state did not experience any problems that warranted not engaging SeaChange again at that time.

Why Did the Ballots Say April 28th?

The original primary was scheduled for April 28th. Given the timing of the Governor’s executive order mandating both the change of election date and vote by mail, the ballots were already finalized with many already printed. As a result, the State Board did not deem it feasible to reprint ballots with the new date, though notices were included to highlight that they remained valid notwithstanding the later date.

Who Should Receive Ballots?

Although it’s a primary, you should still receive a ballot if there is a school board race in your jurisdiction even if you’re not registered with a party. All school boards in Maryland are nonpartisan, so voters who are not affiliated with a party can participate in the primaries for these contests.

All active registered voters should receive ballots. Active is defined quite broadly and may include people who haven’t voted for a number of elections. People who have moved or died may still be considered “active voters” unless the Board discovered that they were no longer eligible because their mail was returned or through a number of other checks undertaken by the Board. In short, the state errs heavily on the side of keeping someone on the rolls and it is unlikely that you have been wrongly purged from the voter rolls.

If you didn’t receive a ballot, you should contact your local Board of Elections and consider voting at one of the open polling places on Election Day, June 2nd, as time is short for another ballot to get mailed and arrive. Remember that all ballots postmarked by June 2nd will be counted as long as they arrive before 10am on June 12.

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How Can You Help? Webinar on Charitable Giving Tomorrow

Title: The COVID Crisis: Where and How You Can Help Our Community
Date & Time: Friday, May 8th, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Participants:

  • Mark Bergel, Founder and Executive Director, A Wider Circle
  • Diego Uriburu, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Identity, Inc
  • Jackie DeCarlo, Chief Executive Officer, Manna Food Center
  • George Escobar, Chief of Programs and Services, CASA
  • Councilmember Gabe Albornoz – Update on County Emergency Assistance

If you’re interested in volunteering or looking for places to donate? The webinar will provide information on food assistance efforts, mask making opportunities, virtual tutoring, diaper and formula drives, grocery card collections, virtual job training, and future volunteer opportunities.

To Register: https://bit.ly/HelpingOurCommunity

h/t: @jaredssolomon.

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Elrich Says Riemer Alcohol Proposal Unsound and Unlawful

County Executive Marc Elrich has written Councilmember Hans Riemer to explain why Riemer’s proposal to allow restaurants to defer payments to ABS, the county alcohol monopoly, would violate the law and is a bad idea:

After reviewing your suggestion, we have determined that your proposal would violate federal law. The TTB, formerly the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, would consider the payment terms as a consignment sale, which is prohibited. Even providing different payment terms to different classes of customers is discriminatory. This is not to say that we can’t look at some reasonable extended terms for all of our licensees that may, in the shot term, be acceptable to the county, and meets all allowable legal criteria. As we consider these terms, we will balance that with the higher risk of potential payment defaults by those businesses that may have to close permanently.

Even if the proposal were legal, it would not be sound business or fiscal practice and could jeopardize county revenues and projects. ABS is run as a business, which means that it needs continued revenues to continue operating. If payments were deferred for 12 months, that could create a cash-flow problem for ABS, which needs to pay for inventory, supplies, wages, and leases on retail stores. Without sufficient revenue, the county would have to supplement ABS, reversing the current situation where ABS generates significant revenue for the county and remains self-funding, allowing it to pay for its own operating expenses. Those revenues are used to bond certain county projects. Deferring payments for many licensees for a year would cause a default on loans and would make it difficult – if not impossible – for ABS to operate in the black and continue to produce the surplus funds that go to the county treasury.

Much of the rest of the letter, printed in full below, explains how the county is otherwise working to aid restaurants and thanking the county council for their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.

Elrich and Riemer have clashed frequently, so the disagreement here isn’t exactly surprising. It’s well known that Riemer plans to challenge Elrich for county executive and attacks him at every opportunity. Riemer’s proposal make him look like he worked fast to help businesses and forces Elrich to play the bad guy and shoot it down.

At the same time, that his idea is illegal and unworkable reinforces the perception that Riemer simply doesn’t think his ideas through and is looking to score quick political points rather than accomplish anything, even in a time of crisis.

Riemer’s lack of attention to the bond issue is especially strange. Defenders of the liquor monopoly, like both Elrich and Riemer, have repeatedly used the link between the bonds and alcohol revenues as a reason that the county liquor monopoly cannot be abolished.

It’s especially damning since Riemer prides himself on being an expert on the alcohol issue and having chaired the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control back in 2015. Even the long-term politics are questionable as progressive Elrich has now positioned himself as the fiscally responsible alternative to Riemer–quite a feat.

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Yes, Virginia, You Do Pay More in Taxes, Part II

Source: County Executive Budget Presentation

Continuing my occasional series, today, I look at commercial tax rates. Considering the bellyaching by business over the difficult climate in Montgomery, especially compared to Fairfax, you’d think we really dun them on taxes.

Turns out that’s not the case. Our commercial tax rates are lower than all of our major regional competitors in Virginia, DC and Maryland. Commercial taxes in both Fairfax and DC are over 50% higher than in Montgomery.

Thinking about not only this chart but other available information, I draw two conclusions that may seem opposed but are utterly compatible.

It’s Never Enough

No matter what Montgomery does, it will never been good enough for the business community. A case in point is the reaction to the major zoning changes adopted by the previous County Council. These changes greatly simplified the code and made it much easier and quicker for developers to move forward with projects in Montgomery.

Based on the chatter today, you’d never know this occurred. The major complaint of Empower Montgomery’s action plan to improve the business climate last year was to ease further limits on development without demanding any further contributions by developers.

These complaints continue even as the County continues to take a very friendly attitude towards development. For example, after adopting a zoning plan that increased the value of land around White Flint tremendously, we are dropping millions to build a new Metro access tunnel.

Yes, the new tunnel will make it easier for pedestrians to access Metro safely but it will also increase the value of properties in the area. Perhaps the developers should kick in for it?

All of this is just the business community acting sensibly in its own interest. I am no more surprised by it than I am that unions want higher salaries with more benefits. It doesn’t make them evil, but it also doesn’t mean that we have to swallow their narrative whole.

Other Real Barriers Exist

Like all good narratives, the Montgomery is hostile to business narrative mixes up fact and fiction. The fact remains that commercial business growth remains very poor in Montgomery, as Adam Pagnucco has explained in-depth previously.

Montgomery faces real challenges when it comes to business. They just aren’t necessarily the ones we hear about related to taxes and development that seem to attract the loudest moans because of developer muscle in the county.

I hope to explore some of these in the future. Some are easier to solve than others. We could do more to make the county bureaucracy nimbler, market the county, and support local small businesses. The County Council could spend less time on sideshows and more on our major challenges. It’ll be a harder lift to move Montgomery closer to a major airport.

In response to the first post in this series, I heard a lot about the impact of income taxes in the county. I plan to take a look at our overall tax burden including income taxes in Part III.

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Yes, Virginia, You Do Pay More in Taxes, Part I

Source: County Executive Budget Presentation

In Montgomery County, there has been a long-term tendency to moan that we can’t compete with Fairfax due to higher property taxes. In short, we should be more like Virginia.

Unfortunately for that argument, Fairfax, and now Virginia, have decided instead to be more like Maryland. Loudoun and Fairfax Counties all have higher property taxes than Montgomery. Arlington property taxes are essentially the same as ours.

Only the District of Columbia has substantially lower property taxes. On the other hand, services in Montgomery from schools to recreation facilities are, frankly speaking, much better than in the District.

Does this mean we should raise our property taxes? No. But it does mean that it’s time to abandon the myth that we pay more than our neighbors on the other side of the Potomac.

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Council En Masse Sheds Progressive Mantle

Many anticipated that the new Montgomery County Council, filled with fresh new faces who ran on a progressive platform, would be markedly more left wing.

The Council has now disabused us of this notion. While willing to undertake vocal left-wing symbolic gestures, even mildly progressive stances have sent the Council running away.

Consider the reaction to County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget. The county executive proposed a very mild tax increase. A homeowner with a $500,000 home would have seen taxes rise by $46. People with $1 million homes would see a rise of $192. The purpose was to increase spending on affordable housing and education and Montgomeryites would have been paying this increased rate for years but for a mistake by county estimators.

Hardly a big enough increase to give one the vapors. Based on the increasingly hardline progressive rhetoric, one might have thought that Elrich would have been slammed by progressives for not increasing taxes or spending on progressive goals enough.

Elrich’s decision to maintain reserves at a high rate could have been cast as caving to big banks. He planned to increase spending for the county government by a whopping 0.8%. So much for out of control spending. It would have been easier to cast this budget as Tory austerity.

Nevertheless, the Council immediately repudiated these rather tepid measures and allied themselves with those criticizing the country executive for breaking his promise not to raise taxes, even by a small amount. All members of the Council, except Tom Hucker, signed on to a statement repudiating the property tax increase. And even Hucker demurred.

In News of the Weird, Councilmember Will Jawando then put out a statement the following day demanding more progressive taxation after repudiating this far milder tax increase.

The Council put out the statement so fast that I assume no time was left for racial equity and social justice analysis as demanded by legislation supported by the same exact Council. No one can seriously think such an analysis would conclude this mild tax increase didn’t advance either principle viewed through a progressive lens.

This isn’t the first time that Council symbolic politics ran aground on the rocks of reality.

The Council may lay this decision on the county coping with the very early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic but why the rush? It quickly became abundantly clear that the budget would need to be radically revamped in light of our new serious economic and health challenges. Surely, all councilmembers knew that this was already happening.

But instead of taking a deep breath, the Council rushed to attack the executive for plans that one might have thought they would support based on all the loud progressive claims made during the 2018 elections. Such a statement could have easily been issued by former Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who abandoned the Democrats to run an centrist independent against Elrich in 2018.

After this initial statement, the Council then moved on to pass a resolution on the county budget. Resolutions are legislative “sound and fury signifying nothing” with apologies to Faulkner. At best they are aspirational. In the midst of the general call for fiscal restraint, they did take the time to ask specifically for no increases above those mandated by the state in education. Again, hardly smacking of the progressive wish list.

How you view the Council’s actions will largely depend on your politics. Either way, in their rush to denounce his budget’s mild progressive moves, let’s be clear that the Council has now entirely ceded the progressive mantle to Marc Elrich.

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Vaping and Social Justice

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) has sponsored an excellent piece of legislation designed to curtail the sale of vape materials, especially to kids, within Montgomery County.

The bill would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes within a half mile of any middle or high school, eliminating sales at 19 of the 22 existing shops as well as preventing many of the other 600 retailers who sell vape materials from easily picking up the slack in sales to minors. Albornoz’s proposal would also sensibly prohibit the distribution of flavored e-cigarettes to any stores within a mile of a middle or high school.

I’m pleased that the bill has strong support from County Executive Marc Elrich and the entire Montgomery County Council. This is one business we don’t need. I only hope the prohibitions on conventional cigarettes are equally strong.

Racial Equity and Social Justice Analysis

The Council is also about to give final approval to Council President Nancy Navarro’s racial equity and social justice legislation. It’s not yet in effect, so I imagine no racial equity and social justice analysis of Albornoz’s bill has been performed. But it nevertheless provides a salutary example of why Navarro’s bill will not do much to advance its laudable goals.

Let’s imagine that the racial equity and social justice analysis indicates that whites and Asians vape at greater rates than blacks and Latinos in Montgomery, perhaps because they can, on average, better afford the habit. The correlation between education and smoking renders this unlikely. But should the Council kill the legislation if it would widen the economic and racial health gap if its positive effects fall disproportionately on whites and Asians?

On the other hand, economically disadvantaged African Americans and Latinos who enjoy the legal, adult pleasure of vaping might not appreciate the creation of vaping deserts in their areas. I envision the vaping industry, already working hard to blackwash vaping, will try to ride this argument combining freedom and minority rights hard. Though I find it self-serving and unpersuasive, vapers might not agree. Equity can prove a tricky concept.

The clampdown on vape stores and sales might disproportionately impact poor and working-class people who work in vape stores and small minority-owned businesses that make a nice profit off of selling vaping supplies. The Council has oft utilized the latter argument for why we need to protect the alcohol monopoly.

Would the Council really change its mind on vaping and protect these employees and businesses in the name of racial equity and social justice? Alternatively, would the Council appropriate funds to aid workers and businesses transition away from their economic addiction to vape sales instead of, say, school construction?

Any racial equity and social analysis impact of this legislation will require a considerable amount of time to gather and to analyze hard data. Navarro’s bill applies to all new proposed legislation as well as existing programs and expenditures, so her well-intended legislation will shift county employees away from their normal duties to address this requirement even if its impact, as with Albornoz’s legislation, is irrelevant, mixed, or unclear.

Racial equity and social justice remain laudable goals. But Navarro’s bill will unintentionally shift resources away from accomplishing them. Instead, allow county employees to focus on doing their jobs well, which already often involves accomplishing these goals. Any money saved could go to Montgomery College. The education and skills that it imparts do a tremendous amount to allow people to move up the ladder. That’s racial equity and social justice.

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