Nine Districts Might Have a Problem with Some Petition Signatures

By Adam Pagnucco.

A June opinion from the office of Maryland’s Attorney General indicates that the Nine Districts for MoCo group may have collected some electronic signatures in a manner that was inconsistent with state law and policy established by the State Board of Elections. Whether this impacts the group’s ability to qualify for the ballot remains to be seen.

Maryland law requires that both petition signers and petition circulators sign a ballot question or charter amendment petition. The signer and the circulator may be the same person. The circulator must sign and date an affidavit that states:

Under penalties of perjury, I swear (or affirm) that: (a) I was at least 18 years old when each signature was obtained; (b) the information given to the left identifying me is true and correct; (c) I personally observed each signer as he or she signed this page; and (d) to the best of my knowledge and belief: (i) all signatures on this page are genuine; and (ii) all signers are registered voters of Maryland.

The circulator must also provide his or her name, residence address and telephone number.

On April 22, the State Board of Elections established a temporary policy (SBE Policy 2020-01) allowing electronic signatures on petitions due to the COVID-19 crisis. The policy states: “For an electronic signature to be valid under this policy, in addition to meeting the requirements of Elec. Law § 1-101(y), the signature must reflect an affirmative action by the signer to type or electronically sign or affix the signer’s name on to the signature page.”

The key phrase here is “affirmative action.”

According to Assistant Attorney General Andrea W. Trento, who was asked to provide an opinion on Nine Districts’ system for gathering electronic signatures, the group’s website through June asked voters to “fill in [their] information by typing the info to populate the signature page… It then ‘asks if you want to accept,’ and if the voter does so, it ‘states that you successfully signed the petition.’… The signature and accompanying information are then populated both into the signature field and the circulator field. The voter does not see the circulator oath before signing, nor does the voter take any affirmative action to sign the circulator affidavit as distinct from the petition.”

Accordingly, Trento opined that “these features are clearly inconsistent with Maryland law” and “the format as described to me is not consistent with Policy 2020-01.” Trento’s opinion was shared with the Nine Districts group on June 8.

Does this mean that Nine Districts’ petition will be thrown out? Not necessarily. The Attorney General’s opinion states that the group “may have changed its web form” after discussions with the county board of elections. The group also gathered MANY physical signatures prior to the onset of COVID-19. But these are the kinds of technicalities that result in petitions being rejected. Even Robin Ficker, the undisputed master of charter amendment signature gathering, had a term limits petition thrown out in 2010. (Six years later, Ficker got term limits on the ballot and passed it with 70% of the vote.)

Trento’s opinion is reprinted below. (The home address for Nine Districts’ chairwoman has been redacted.)


Is Talbot County Killing its Golden Goose?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, the Talbot County Council voted to keep the Confederacy-memorializing Talbot Boys statue on the grounds of its county courthouse. The vote prompted a protest and charges of “systemic racism” from the county NAACP. Ominously, the vote has received coverage in media markets outside the Eastern Shore, including Washington, Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, Long Island and North Carolina. All of this is happening as confederate statues are coming down all over the country and nearby Wicomico County took down a confederate sign in Salisbury.

By sticking with the Confederacy over its own economy and tax base, the Talbot County Council has taken an enormous risk.

Here is why. The table below shows the percentage of total employment accounted for by the leisure and hospitality sector, defined as hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, museums, performing arts, spectator sports, recreation, gambling and related industries in 2019. This sector accounted for 10% of Maryland’s total employment that year. It accounted for 17% of Talbot County’s employment, third in the state behind Worcester County (37%) and Queen Anne’s County (22%).

This sector is extremely vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and Talbot is extremely dependent on it. It would also be vulnerable to any potential boycott caused by the county leaders’ embrace of the Confederacy. If both the COVID-19 crisis and a boycott hit Talbot County at the same time, it would be an unbearable double whammy to the county’s crucial leisure and hospitality businesses. Lacking an impregnable anchor like a large military base (as Harford, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s Counties have) or a sizeable federal government presence (as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties have), Talbot’s economy has no way to deal with a big hit on its tourism industry.

But there is more. Talbot County is not an everyday tourist destination. It offers a range of high-end amenities along with beautiful bayfront and riverfront property that attracts the wealthy, both as tourists and as full- or part-time residents. That brings sky-high property values to the county, an immense asset. Talbot County had the second-highest assessable base per capita ($231,388) in Maryland in FY20, behind only Worcester County and far surpassing the state average ($131,325). High property values enable Talbot County to have the lowest real property tax rate in the state as well as the second lowest income tax rate.

Not many places in Maryland have $5 million homes for sale like this one in Oxford.

The huge majority of counties on the East Coast would be jealous of Talbot County’s mix of high-end tourism and steep property values. But what happens if a progressive boycott is launched against the white supremacist preferences of its county leadership? The effects on the county’s tourism industry are obvious but what if property values are also affected because wealthy home purchasers choose to buy elsewhere? Commercial property values may already be at risk because of COVID-related economic losses and that is even before any potential boycott. If home price appreciation tapers off too, the county government could face very tough budget choices. Service cuts and tax increases are not unthinkable.

Because of its industry structure, Talbot County’s economy is exceedingly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. The county’s leaders must do everything possible to protect the golden egg that delivers its prosperity – its leisure and hospitality sector. Instead, the county council’s loyalty to the Confederacy has greatly increased the county’s economic peril by risking an anti-racism boycott. Talbot County residents and businesses could pay the ultimate price.


MoCo to County Employees: Get Retested

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Government has sent the email below to county employees regarding the suspension of COVID testing by county vendor AdvaGenix. County employees, particularly first responders and essential workers, were among the first people to receive the tests. The email tells employees, “Although the data we have reviewed does not suggest that the test results were affected by the apparent flaws in AdvaGenix’s lab process, we encourage you to take advantage of one of the other COVID-19 testing resources to be re-tested.”


From: “MCG.Postmaster”
Date: August 14, 2020
To: #MCG_All <>
Subject: COVID-19 Testing Update

On May 21, 2020, the County announced the signing of an agreement with County-based testing firm, AdvaGenix, to provide COVID-19 testing to County employees and the general public. Since that date, the County has been working to expand free testing for asymptomatic residents and employees using the AdvaGenix tests, with more than 19,000 tests administered in the last 2 months. Unfortunately, yesterday that momentum came to a halt. As you may have seen, the County has suspended the AdvaGenix testing program after learning that the Maryland Department of Health had issued an order formally halting testing at their lab.

Your health and safety are our top priority. Therefore, we want to provide you with some guidance as to what this situation means to you. In the interim, County officials are working rigorously to determine an alternative source of test analysis so the testing program can resume.

First, all Department testing schedules are suspended until further notice. We are identifying new testing options so that we can have an employee testing program back up and running as soon as possible. There are a multitude of free testing options that remain available to anyone who needs or wants to be tested, including local urgent care centers, CVS locations, hospitals, etc. For additional testing sites, visit the State of Maryland’s Testing Locator page, which can be found at, or call the County’s Testing Helpline at 240-777-1755.

Second, for those of you who were tested by AdvaGenix, you should receive an e-mail from AdvaGenix informing you of what has happened. Although the data we have reviewed does not suggest that the test results were affected by the apparent flaws in AdvaGenix’s lab process, we encourage you to take advantage of one of the other COVID-19 testing resources to be re-tested.

Third, the County’s asymptomatic individual testing program using the oral swab or saliva method has been temporarily paused. However, the County will continue to offer free public testing using a variety of nasal tests. In fact, the state has already committed to provide us with 20,000 nasal kits while we transition to a new self-administered test.

Finally, the County’s testing program through AdvaGenix was only a very small piece of the overall available market for tests in Montgomery County. To date, more than 261,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered to County residents. The AdvaGenix test only accounted for 8 percent of the total. Once again, there are a multitude of free testing options that remain available to anyone who needs or wants to be tested, including local urgent care centers, CVS locations, hospitals, etc. For additional testing sites, visit the state’s Testing Locator page, which can be found at, or call the County’s Testing Helpline at (240) 777-1755.

If you have any additional questions, please contact Don Scheuerman at

Everyone involved in our testing effort is deeply disappointed with this development. It is so very frustrating that communities across our country are having to invent and reinvent testing programs since the federal government refuses to take responsibility for a national strategy.

Yet, in these difficult times, we have no choice but to pull together as a community to survive the pandemic. Together, we will overcome this newest obstacle. Together we will beat this frustrating virus.


How Big of a Problem is MoCo’s COVID Testing Failure?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, the county announced that it has suspended COVID testing by AdvaGenix, a Rockville-based lab with whom the county contracted in May. At that time, County Executive Marc Elrich called the contract “a game changer,” saying, “This greatly increases our ability to get more testing.”

The county’s press release provided no reasons on why the testing was suspended. However, yesterday afternoon, Elrich sent a memo to the county council elaborating a little more on the issue. Elrich wrote:

On Wednesday, August 12, 2020 we were alerted that our supplier of tests and lab analysis, AdvaGenix would be receiving a Cease and Desist order from the State Office of Health Care Quality (OHCQ).

The order is allegedly being issued following a joint site visit by the Center for Medicaid Services (CMS) following a previous site visit earlier this week during which they identified several procedural problems related to the handling of test kits in the laboratory.

While the test kits and the analysis process used by AdvaGenix are not in question, we are awaiting formal notification from the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) on the exact nature of the problem and what corrective actions will be required by the company. We expect to receive notification from the State sometime Thursday, August 13, 2020.

As a precaution we have canceled testing in locations where we had planned to use AdvaGenix test kits. We are concurrently exploring other testing options in the event that we will no longer be able to use AdvaGenix as our supplier for testing.

Multiple sources agree on the following: the situation is developing, there are many more questions than answers at the moment and the issue is serious. One source said, “It’s a complete mess.” Because the state and the feds are involved, the county lacks both complete information and complete control over the matter.

All of this gives rise to many, many questions. Here are a few that need to be answered.

Is there an accuracy issue with the tests?

Specifically, have they generated false positives or false negatives, and if so, how many? Will we ever know?

Is there an impact on county health data?

County health data on cases and test positivity rates have been used to guide decisions on business reopenings. Given the issues with the tests, is this data accurate? If not, what happens then?

Are the issues with the tests correctible?

This question can’t be fully answered until the problems with the tests, and their effects, are fully understood.

How long will it take to rebuild county testing capacity?

If the issues with AdvaGenix can be fixed easily, it could happen quickly. Otherwise no one knows.

Is there a disproportionate impact on first responders and essential workers?

Back in May, when the contract with AdvaGenix was first signed, reported:

In the first phase of the contract, which is underway, the County will receive a minimum of 7,500 tests per week. Priority groups to be tested initially will be first responders; nursing home and long-term facility staff and residents; and employees of the County’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. The second phase of the testing plan will begin the week of May 31 and will test County employees who are essential workers, and hospital workers and health care providers. Phase three begins June 8; and at that point, the County will begin receiving 20,000 tests per week. By then, testing is scheduled to begin at sites such as grocery stores and other essential businesses for their employees; and testing will also be available for the general public.

This means a lot of county employees have been administered these tests. The county employee unions will be intensely interested in how this issue proceeds. Health and safety is a mandatory subject of bargaining and is subject to grievance procedures and arbitration. This comes in a context of strained labor relations between the unions and the executive branch.

What about the public?

AdvaGenix tests were available to the public at the Silver Spring Civic Building, the White Oak Community Recreation Center and other sites. The county has shut down nearly all its testing sites and county health officer Travis Gayles has recommended that residents using AdvaGenix tests in the last two weeks get retested. This raises the possibility that residents have used flawed tests provided by a county vendor. Does that create legal liability for the county? And what about the impact on public health?

What are the legal implications?

Speaking of legal issues, there could be a whole lot of them associated with the AdvaGenix contract. How much has the county paid AdvaGenix? When did the issues with the tests begin? What recourse is available for the taxpayers? Legal issues are generally not discussed in public but they can have millions of dollars of implications.

What role will the state play?

The fact that the state issued a cease and desist order on AdvaGenix is an interesting development. Elrich and Governor Larry Hogan have a terrible relationship that was exacerbated by their dispute over closing private schools. (Predictably, the state won that battle.) Elrich’s new Chief Administrative Officer, Rich Madaleno, ran for governor in 2018 and spent much of his time on the campaign trail (and even before) blasting Hogan at every opportunity. There is no love lost on Team Hogan for either Elrich or Madaleno. If this issue turns political, then it will get truly complicated.

The full dimensions of this problem are currently unknown. It may take a while for it to be worked out and the legal questions alone will probably prevent some information from being made public, at least for now.

Elrich’s memo to the council is reprinted below.


MoCo Suspends Some COVID Testing

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and county health officer Travis Gayles have announced that the county has suspended COVID testing performed by AdvaGenix, a Rockville lab. When the county announced its agreement with AdvaGenix in May, it said that the company’s tests would first be used by first responders and eventually would be used by a million people over the next year. (The county’s population was estimated at 1,050,688 in 2019 by the U.S. Census Bureau.)

In May, Elrich said, “This is a game-changer for us. This greatly increases our ability to get more testing… Testing is an essential part of the road to reopening. It is great that we are doing this and that we are able to partner with a local company on this important step.”

The county has now suspended its testing through AdvaGenix but did not state exactly why in its press release, which is reprinted below.


Montgomery County Announces Suspension of COVID-19 Testing Amid Concerns with AdvaGenix’s Testing Process
For Immediate Release: Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles announced today that the portion of the Montgomery County-administered COVID-19 testing program processed through Rockville-based AdvaGenix is suspended immediately pending a thorough review of the AdvaGenix testing and lab process. The clinic scheduled for tomorrow at the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center will continue, using tests provided through the State.

Dr. Gayles recommends that residents who have been tested in the past two weeks at County Government-sponsored clinics using the AdvaGenix test kits should be retested at one of the 30-plus other locations across the County.

More than 19,000 AdvaGenix tests have been used over the past two months. This represents roughly 8 percent of the more than 251,000 COVID-19 tests that have been administered to County residents. Residents with confirmed appointments at upcoming testing clinics are being notified of the cancellations.

County officials are working to determine an alternative source of test analysis so the testing program can resume as quickly as possible and to develop a revised plan for County-sponsored testing.

The County’s contract with AdvaGenix provided self-administered tests for primarily asymptomatic individuals. County residents will be informed when additional County-sponsored COVID-19 test options are made available. For additional testing sites, visit the State of Maryland’s Testing Locator page.

If you are symptomatic and need help in finding testing, please call the Testing Helpline at 240-777-1755.


County Republican Leaders Helping Nine Districts

By Adam Pagnucco.

Seven members of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, the governing body of the MoCo GOP, have given the Nine Districts for MoCo group money, in-kind contributions or both. So have other leaders of the county Republican Party.

The Nine Districts campaign finance reports reveal the following transactions between GOP Central Committee Members and the organization.

County GOP Central Committee Members Who Gave Money

Greg Decker (Legislative District 39) made two monetary contributions of $100 each on 6/1/20 and 7/10/20.

Paul Foldi (Legislative District 16) contributed $100 on 2/5/20.

Lorraine Jaffe (At-Large) contributed $100 on 2/5/20.

Reardon Sullivan (Legislative District 15) contributed $200 on 6/6/20.

County GOP Central Committee Members Who Gave In-Kind Contributions

Martha Schaerr (Legislative District 19) made three in-kind contributions totaling $132.77 for an outdoor banner and printing petitions on 8/12/19 and 8/14/19.

Gail Weiss (Legislative District 16) made a $120 in-kind contribution for hats and caps on 1/15/20.

Reardon Sullivan (Legislative District 15) made a $20 in-kind contribution on 2/25/20 for “proportional use of PC video editing software.”

Ann Hingston (At-Large) made four in-kind contributions totaling $499.43 for office supplies, printed materials and U.S. Post Box rental.

Hingston also wrote this piece on the county Republicans’ website advocating for Nine Districts and asking for financial contributions to the group.

Other party leaders have helped Nine Districts. Sharon Bauer, president of the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women, gave $50 to the group on 2/13/20. Ryan Gniadek, the contact for the Montgomery County Federation of Teenage Republicans, gave $15 to the group on 1/23/20. And Ed Amatetti, the Republican nominee for County Council District 2 in 2018, gave $25 to the group on 12/26/19. The checks are small but the dots to be connected are many.

Nine Districts is not a solely Republican group. Developers are paying the vast majority of its costs, county employee unions are providing thousands of dollars in in-kind support and lots of people beyond those groups support the concept. But the presence of this many Republican party officials among its supporters as well as the use of the county GOP’s website to raise money for Nine Districts is not a coincidence. Passing the 9 district charter amendment is a big priority for county Republicans.

And soon, I’ll explore exactly why that is.


End of the Line for Kleine

By Adam Pagnucco.

Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine, who admitted to two ethics violations and attempted to cure them through a $5,000 payment and other remedies, has resigned. County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that former State Senator and current budget director Rich Madaleno will succeed him subject to confirmation by the county council.

Originally, Kleine was set to remain in his position. Bethesda Beat reported this on July 7:

County Executive Marc Elrich, in a statement to Bethesda Beat on Monday, wrote that Kleine is a “committed public servant” and that the CAO’s agreement with the Ethics Commission “resolves the matter.”

“Andrew has acknowledged that his actions were an error in judgment and has accepted responsibility for his actions,” he wrote. “I appreciate that Andrew has cooperated with the Ethics Commission’s investigation from the very beginning to resolve this situation.”

But the matter was far from resolved. On July 28, the county council discussed the ethics report and erupted with fury. Multiple council members vowed to obtain more information about the issue, guaranteeing that it would not die as long as Kleine remained. That forced Elrich’s hand and resulted in today’s announcement, the first resignation of a MoCo Chief Administrative Officer due to ethics issues that anyone can remember.

Elrich’s press release appears below. If there is a severance package, the release does not mention it.


County Executive Marc Elrich Nominates Budget Director Rich Madaleno to Serve as New Chief Administrative Officer Following Andrew Kleine’s Resignation
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020

County Executive Marc Elrich today announced that he will nominate Richard Madaleno as the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for Montgomery County. Madaleno’s nomination follows the resignation of Andrew Kleine, who has served a CAO for the first 20 months of the Elrich Administration. Madaleno will begin serving as acting CAO on Aug. 16.

County Executive Elrich expressed appreciation for Kleine’s many contributions to the County Government. “During his time as CAO, Andrew Kleine led the County Government’s effort to reorganize services ranging from public safety to technology services,” said Elrich. “He championed a Turn the Curve initiative to empower County employees to rethink and improve the delivery of services to our million-plus residents. Over the past five months, he has played a critical role in our community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. I thank him for his many contributions and wish him well in future endeavors.”

Madaleno, who is serving as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, is a lifelong Montgomery County resident. He has spent his career serving the people of the County in leadership roles at the County and the State levels and had a long career as an elected representative for Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly. He served from 2003-2007 in the Maryland House of Delegates and from 2007 to 2019 as a State Senator representing District 18. While in the Senate, Madaleno was the Vice Chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee where he was known for his ability to find solutions to some of the most challenging budget problems facing the state. He was a leader in education reform serving on the Kirwan Commission. Madaleno also worked in the County’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations from 1995 to 2002.

“Rich is trusted by community groups and policymakers throughout the County and State for his leadership skills and budgeting acumen, which will serve the County well as we face the most significant challenges of our generation,” said Elrich. “I am confident that his experience and expertise will help my administration deliver on my promise to build a healthy, well-functioning, innovative, equitable and inclusive community for all of our residents.”

The County Executive’s CAO nomination must be approved by the Montgomery County Council. Councilmembers are scheduled to return from their summer recess in Sept.


Nine Districts Supporters Speak

By Adam Pagnucco.

In prior posts, I have noted support of the Nine Districts charter amendment by Republicans, developers and unions. But a lot more people beyond those groups would like to have nine council districts and I recently asked them why. Here are a few comments from supporters I received with names removed to protect their identities. I am not saying that they are necessarily right, but in order to understand Nine Districts, you have to understand sentiments like these.


Potomac resident: I support 9 Districts because I don’t feel like my area has adequate representation. I want my representative to live in my area and know the ins and outs of what we need and want. Community leaders should live in their community.

Germantown resident: Taxation without representation. Just like the British thought they were kind and benevolent rulers, the Takoma Park-heavy leadership is similarly clueless about what goes on far away in upcounty. You’ve written about how hard it is to beat incumbents in elections, and I don’t think we will get folks familiar with upcounty without a major structural change like Nine Districts. We can’t get a call back from the at-large members up here, let alone get them to truly understand our issues.

Boyds resident: I have been involved for several years in advocating for upcounty issues and we get lip service (usually no response), but when it comes to voting, at large members just vote with the down county members. So practically speaking down county has eight votes and upcounty has only one, Craig Rice. That’s why one to one is better – total and clear responsibility.

Bethesda resident: We live in a very diverse county. The current structure has ended up concentrating political power down county which results in issues of import to upcounty communities getting short shrift. The current structure has also resulted in a uniformity of political views among our leaders. Even if I tend to agree with the stances of the current leaders on most issues, a more diverse set of viewpoints will be better for our community.

Clarksburg resident: I support 9 districts because Clarksburg constantly gets abused due to lack of political representation. The planning board wants to create a loophole to eliminate home building moratoria so they can keep issuing building permits in Clarksburg regardless of how crowded the schools get.

Montgomery Village resident: I listened to council members that live in Silver Spring and Takoma Park say how much they understand upper county because they came up to rallies or for some other “visit.” I’ve lived in downtown Bethesda (the real one not North) for five years and now in Montgomery Village for four. Two different worlds. Even the produce section of the grocery stores are different. I’m tired of politicians that talk about diversity as their key issue but don’t actually talk about how they can improve opportunities through jobs and new business growth. We’re actively looking to leave the county after this week’s display at the council meeting and BOE.

Olney resident: My experience is that at-large council members are not accountable to anyone. In theory they are accountable to the voters but in practice they are controlled by those who contribute the most to their campaign funds.

North Potomac resident: I have written my at-large “representatives” on several occasions in recent months (along with other council members as well) and the at-large members don’t even bother to send me an acknowledgement of my email. I know some members do send acknowledgements because some have acknowledged emails. There is nothing so frustrating as not only having my concerns ignored, but so flagrantly ignored as not to even acknowledge an email. It’s incredibly arrogant. They clearly don’t represent me and don’t want to. And as a life-long registered Democrat they can’t claim I am not a “constituent.” And even my district Council member doesn’t respond substantively as I assume he has too many constituents to be able to engage with individual constituents.

Gaithersburg resident: I think I support the Nine Districts because it seems to be an improvement – although imperfect – over the present system of “representation.” As a resident of our precious Ag Reserve, I have seen this Council make incursions into the Reserve without (in my opinion) fully researching and considering the effects of their actions on the preservation of farmland and open spaces. Hopefully, the Nine District system of representation would provide a better system for us to make our concerns known. The “At Large” members owe their elections to the highly populated areas, and as such, they can easily discount our concerns. That said, it does depend on the conscientiousness of the particular At Large member. One At Large member did reach out to the upcounty, and met with us at the Damascus Library. I am open to being persuaded to retain the present system but presently am leaning to voting for the Nine District option.

Clarksburg resident: As others are saying – responsiveness and representation. The At-Large system without any balance of geographic residential location leaves hundreds of thousands under- or un-represented. The lone one or two council member(s) who needs multiple at-large members to make change happen is too often left alone on issues. In theory at-large means you have all four of them representing you; in reality, at least in upcounty, we often have none. Zero. And this lack of responsiveness and responsibility can be summarized in one word, which is broad enough for those familiar with recent county history: Clarksburg.


How Not to Restructure Government

By Adam Pagnucco.

Dear readers, let’s consider the following sequence of events.

2018: County executive candidate Marc Elrich campaigns on a platform of restructuring government. Elrich writes in the Washington Post:

Far from saddling taxpayers with higher bills, I will streamline county government. Unions and their members, our county’s workforce, know and trust me. That is why we announced our plan to restructure county government together. Our county is facing difficult financial times; without thoughtful changes, employees will face across-the-board cuts.

August 2019: The three county employee unions, who expected to partner with Elrich to restructure government, blast Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine in writing for “hindering progress” in labor relations. Kleine, the administrative head of county government, was supposed to be a key player in restructuring.

2019-2020: Instead of streamlining government, Elrich recommends two budgets that cumulatively add 271 full-time equivalent positions to county government at a combined cost of $58 million. After trims by the county council, the two approved budgets during Elrich’s tenure add a combined 184 full-time positions and 12 part-time positions.

March 2020: Elrich recommends a budget that adds positions and raises taxes despite repeated campaign pledges to not raise taxes. The county council immediately rejects the tax hike and later implements a same services budget.

April 2020: The county’s finance department estimates that the county could lose up to a combined $600 million in the current and next fiscal years. A later estimate in July is in the same ballpark.

June 2020: The county advertises and requests responses to informal solicitation #1118023, a consultant contract for “Cost Efficiency Study Group Consulting Services.”

July 2020: The county’s budget director informs the county council about the consulting contract and its relationship with a new “government efficiency work group.” This prompts a letter to Kleine by the three members of the council’s Government Operations Committee, Nancy Navarro (chair), Andrew Friedson and Sidney Katz, asking about the identity and compensation of the consultant, the membership of the work group and prior additions of positions in the budget.

July 2020: Kleine admits to two ethics violations and the county council erupts in outrage, putting the future of Elrich’s top manager in doubt.

August 6, 2020: Kleine’s deputy, Fariba Kassiri, replies to the council with the following information: the consultant, Matrix Consulting Group Ltd., will be paid $92,000 for a twelve-week period beginning this month to advise a “cost efficiency study group” containing county government officials and representatives of the county’s largest employee union (MCGEO). “The Consultant will assist the group abolish at minimum 100 vacant positions by identifying potential cost savings and/or efficiency enhancements. Additionally, the Consultant will provide a written report approximately 3 months after the project commences that will contain findings and recommendations. The report will be shared with the County Council once it has been finalized.”

So let’s summarize. After doing nothing to restructure government for a year and a half, the administration will be paying a consultant $92,000 to help it eliminate 100 or more vacant positions after it has already added almost 200 positions in the last two budgets.

By definition, vacant positions do not have a cash cost since no one earning salary and benefits occupies them. How does eliminating them save cash? And since the county’s budget office already tracks these positions, why is a consultant necessary for identifying them?

In reading the administration’s response, I am reminded of the Leggett administration’s elimination of nearly 1,000 positions from Fiscal Year 2009 through Fiscal Year 2012 during the Great Recession. That was done mostly through attrition since roughly 6% of the workforce, or 500-600 positions, turn over each year. I could be wrong, but I worked at the county council for part of that time and I don’t recall that process being driven by consultants.

The very concept of spending money on a consultant to save zero money by eliminating vacant positions – something the county can do and has done by itself – is totally banana cakes. If this is how county management intends to address the hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue which will soon come due, then the county council’s bloody meat axe awaits.

The council’s letter and the administration’s answer (mysteriously not signed by Kleine) appears below.


Muslim Coalition Blasts Elrich, Council

By Adam Pagnucco.

A coalition of Muslim activists has written County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council expressing their frustration that no members of their community were selected for the county’s new Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice. Their letter appears below.


August 5, 2020

Dear Executive Elrich and Montgomery County Councilmembers,

We are a coalition of Muslim activists and allies affiliated with a broad array of local and national Muslim organizations and mosques. Many of us are also active in non-faith-based organizations seeking to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our county. The Montgomery County Muslim community is frustrated and deeply disappointed that the County’s newly formed Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice excludes any Muslim representation. Many of us met with the County Executive in December 2019 to convey our concerns about being marginalized and asked that our community be represented on the Commission. Our understanding was that this request was agreed to and we spent considerable time vetting and offering you a candidate.

Ten percent of County residents are Muslim. Moreover, the Muslim community is intersectional with marginalized groups. Twenty percent of Muslims are Black and many are first-generation immigrants. It is thus disheartening that there have been a number of documented instances of discrimination and violation of our civil rights by our own county officials.

For example, two government employees were engaged in the blacklisting of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) from county activities. Furthermore, Montgomery County’s Police Department was actively engaged in a surveillance grant for several years predominantly targeting Muslim youth. In fact, the former Director of Public Information revealed his prejudice and willingness to violate our civil liberties in a remark about the need to monitor the Muslim community because “how are we going to explain dropping this [surveillance program] if someone does something not good from one of the mosques. What’s the harm.”

What is even more disturbing about this continued marginalization of our community is that one of your appointees to the Commission, Jim Stowe was actively involved in both the CAIR blacklist and the surveillance program.

The Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice must reflect the diversity of our County in gender, race, ethnicity and yes, religious affiliation. We hope that Mr. Stowe has come to understand that his past acts and views served to marginalize our community and are not aligned with the Commission’s mandate which is to promote inclusiveness and work against prejudice of all forms and the otherization of minority communities. This includes being aware of and addressing anti-Muslim sentiment.

It is unfortunate that the Commission does not have a Muslim member. We ask that you seek alternative ways to ensure Muslim representation so that our unique and important concerns can be heard. The American-Muslim experience is one faced by Black people and other people of color as well as immigrant communities and minority communities of faith. The American-Muslim voice must be present if the new efforts of the County Council to improve social justice and bring about racial equity is to have legitimacy.


Salahudeen Abdul Kareem
Saqib Ali
Basem Bakir
Ilhan Cagri
Hisham Garti
Fariha Haque
Samira Hussein
Deeba Jafri
Susan Kerin
Tasnuva Khan
Idris Mokhtarzada
Sara Rahnama
Aref Ramadan
Rida Bukhari Rizvi