I recently published a post on on Center Maryland decrying failure of the Montgomery County Council to articulate a clear vision for our rapidly changing community. Councilmember Nancy Navarro responded here. I appreciated her taking the time to respond and wanted to address some of the points that she raised.
First, Councilmember Navarro rightfully acknowledges the immense challenges that the sea change in the demographics of Montgomery County Public Schools.
But Councilmember Navarro discussion focuses on her work in the context of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics but says nothing about what the County Council has done. Moreover, sitting next to Shakira on a vanity federal commission does nothing for the children of Long Branch, Langley Park, Bel Pre and Briggs Chaney.
We really have two communities here in Montgomery County–the wealthy west side and the hardscrabble east side. While the inequities between the East and West sides require a multi-pronged approach here’s one place to start: the school choice system we’ve implemented here is a bad joke: what’s the point of a lottery between five high poverty, high crime High Schools? Add B-CC, Whitman, WJ and Churchill to the Down County Consortium and watch how fast things change.
Next Navarro points to the fact that the Council has passed many master and sector plans, though much of the heavy lifting on these is done by the Planning Board, not the Council, as evidence of major progress on economic development. The idea of trumpeting these routine zoning measures is frankly a little sad. As we sit on the verge of losing Marriott, it’s dangerous.
Navarro calls my assertion that the council’s efforts on economic development are insufficient “laughable.” In my conversations with business owners, they emphasize that the County government acts merely as a regulatory authority to ensure rules are followed–and seems uninterested in helping businesses succeed and create jobs.
The District of Colombia and Northern Virginia have explosive growth in the early stage tech company sector. Montgomery County has completely missed the boat here, which is sad because given the presence of NIST, the 270 Biotech Corridor and NIH we should have been well positioned.
More importantly, instead of dealing with Northrop Grumman, Marriott and other major corporate headquarters relocation drama as they occur, why haven’t we developed a comprehensive plan for the attraction and retention of these Blue Chip Corporate Citizens? Why aren’t we actively trying to poach Fortune 500 Companies from Northern Virginia?
Finally, Navarro points out that the Council has to look out for the many affluent residents of the county. I paid a forty percent tax rate this year. I understand that high taxes are necessary to provide for top flight government services. But, right now, I feel that I’m not getting my money’s worth.
We are one community. If we can restore equity to our forty percent poverty school system and jump start our stagnant economy this benefits Bethesda just as much as Briggs Chaney. It is in the interest of everyone for the entire county to succeed–not just wealthy pockets on the West Side.
Our community needs real leadership. Our community needs an economic development plan for the 21st Century–a key part of that is how we increase our human capital. In short, Montgomery County needs real vision for the future. If we handle these challenges wisely, we can emerge stronger than ever. If we continue to ignore them, we risk frittering away the advantages we now hold.