Why Marc Elrich Might Think the Council is Fact Proof

Yesterday, County Executive Marc Elrich got dinged by Adam Pagnucco and the Montgomery County Council for joking snarkily that the County Council is “fact proof” on a hot mic. However, Councilmember Hans Riemer has been busy proving him right by trumpeting terribly inaccurate information regarding positive test rates among Latinos in Montgomery on Facebook:

Except that it’s not true. Riemer later put out an update to explain that it is incorrect that 70% of Latinos test positive. Instead, 70% of new cases in June were of Latinos. Oops.

As Adam Pagnucco correctly documented, Latinos unquestionably disproportionately suffer from COVID-19. But this gross error on a very basic fact undercuts Riemer’s ability to take offense at the impolitique remarks by the county executive he regularly criticizes and plans to challenge in the Democratic primary in 2022.


Elrich on Hot Mic: “Can I Say the Council is Fact Proof?”

By Adam Pagnucco.

It’s no secret that the relationship between the executive branch and the county council is not one of roses and chocolates. After rejecting County Executive Marc Elrich’s tax hike and rewriting his recommended budget, the council decided that his strategy for COVID-19 testing was inadequate and decided to create one of its own. But such things are positively amorous compared to the council’s likely reaction to Elrich’s joke – recorded on a hot mic – that the council is “fact proof.”

The joke was made during a Facebook video of Elrich and some of his top staffers preparing for a media briefing earlier today. The preparatory discussion should not have been shown, but it was – and eyeballs were on it. Elrich, county health officer Travis Gayles and county emergency management director Earl Stoddard were talking about how to discuss COVID-19 infection rates among Latinos in the wake of a Washington Post article on disproportionate cases in that community. So far, so good – public health data has multiple layers and is not always easily conveyed in casual discussion, especially in the press.

But then Elrich’s delightfully snarky sense of humor kicked in as Facebook viewers watched. At 3:15, Elrich cracked, “Can I say the council is fact proof?” Gayles laughed and replied, “You’re welcome to say whatever you want to say!” Stoddard followed with, “I’m not sure how helpful it is, but you could say it!” As of this writing, the video has been removed – but not before it was recorded.

Elrich is a funny character when he wants to be and he has to be frustrated with the council. But I guarantee that no one on the council is amused. Given the immense powers the council possesses under the charter and its demonstrated willingness to use them against the executive, the council might just get the last laugh.


Maryland Latinos Hit Hard by COVID-19

By Adam Pagnucco.

While the COVID-19 crisis has affected virtually everyone in the nation, it has not affected everyone equally. In a project for the Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions, I analyzed COVID-19 infection rates by Maryland zip code to determine which demographic and economic factors were most associated with the spread of the virus. Many factors had some correlation, but none of the ones I examined had more of a correlation with COVID-19 than the Latino percentage of population.

For each of the more than 400 zip codes in Maryland, I collected the following data:

COVID-19 cases on 6/18/20
Average total income per tax return
Population per square mile
Median age
Percent Hispanic (any race)
Percent white non-Hispanic
Percent black
Percent Asian
Percent of population age 25 and older with less than high school graduate level of education
Percent of population age 25 and older with graduate and/or professional degree
Percent of population age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home

I then used four techniques to identify correlations between each of these factors and the number of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents.

5 category comparison
For each factor, five categories ranging from low to high were measured. For example, for median age, COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents were estimated for median ages of under 35, 35-39.9, 40-44.9, 45-49.9 and 50 or older.

Correlation coefficient
A correlation coefficient measures the correlation between two variables. A coefficient of 1.0 means that the two are perfectly and positively correlated. A coefficient of -1.0 means that the two are perfectly and negatively correlated. A coefficient of 0.0 means that the two are uncorrelated.

R-squared measures the percentage of variation in one variable explained by the variation of a second variable. An R-squared of 100% means that 100% of the variation in one variable is explained by variation of a second variable. An R-squared of 0% means that 0% of the variation in one variable is explained by variation of a second variable. Unlike the correlation coefficient, R-squared cannot be negative and therefore does not indicate whether the correlation between two variables is positive or negative.

X-Y chart
Each data point is plotted on a chart with the x-axis representing one variable and the y-axis representing another. A line of best fit is also shown summarizing the correlation between the two variables.

Among the factors I studied, none had a stronger correlation with infection rate by zip code than the Hispanic/Latino percentage of the population. The summary table appears below.

As the Hispanic percentage of the population rises, so too does the infection rate. Maryland zip codes in which Hispanics account for 10% or more of the population had infection rates roughly five times greater than zip codes in which Hispanics accounted for less than 1% of the population. Overall, roughly half of the variation in infection rates among Maryland zip codes was explained by Hispanic percentage alone.

The chart below shows the distribution of zip code data points. The vertical axis plots the number of COVID-19 cases per thousand residents as of 6/18/20. The horizontal axis plots the Hispanic percentage of each zip code’s population. The association is not perfectly linear but the trend is plain.

The data do not demonstrate why this association exists. A possible reason might be heavy Latino presence in essential sectors like agriculture, food manufacturing, grocery stores, warehouses and delivery, all of which have heightened risks of virus exposure. Relatively low health insurance coverage exacerbates the issue.

The second highest correlation I found with infection rates was the percent of population age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home. This factor is closely associated with the Hispanic population percentage.

Many of the other factors I examined had some correlation with infection rates although none of them were quite as strong as percentage Hispanic. This has a clear implication for policy makers: dealing with COVID-19 requires special attention to this demographic. If the virus spreads unchecked in this community, no other community will be safe.

The entire study, including results for other factors, can be found here.


Teachers Unions, State PTA Call for Virtual Learning at Start of School Year

By Adam Pagnucco.

Maryland’s two teachers unions – the Maryland State Education Association and the Baltimore Teachers Union – have signed a joint letter with the Maryland PTA to Governor Larry Hogan and the state superintendent of schools requesting that the next school year begin with virtual learning for at least the first semester. The joint letter is reprinted below.


Dear Governor Hogan and Superintendent Salmon:

Maryland’s educators and students are eager to return to our classrooms and schools. Educators miss their students, and students miss their teachers and friends. We all miss our school communities, especially as we have come together in incredible ways during the challenging months of this pandemic. Additionally, we know that the inequities facing our Black and Brown students have deepened and widened during the pandemic. There is much work to do to make up for the learning that has been lost and to address the trauma experienced by so many in our school communities.

While we are eager to return to school, we are not blind to the challenges of doing so during this pandemic. Any return to in-person learning must prioritize and guarantee the highest standards for health and safety. Any return must be guided by science and the expertise of educators. Any return to in-person learning also must have renewed commitments to funding and supports so schools are not just ready to open on the first day of school but are safe places to learn and work for the entire school year.

As states have reopened parts of their economies, we have seen infection rates climb. While Maryland has thankfully not experienced the recent spike that other states have, the virus remains an ever-present threat and impediment to normalcy. Maryland is still in a declared state of emergency and the reopening of limited services has rightfully been done with caution. It should not be lost on anyone that physically reopening schools would be, by several orders of magnitude, a much more ambitious—and dangerous—undertaking than any other reopening step we have taken thus far. We are all familiar with the risks:

• bringing together high numbers of people in enclosed, inconsistently ventilated, indoor spaces for hours at a time;
• the significant numbers of educators who are particularly susceptible to the virus (24% of all teachers according to a July 10 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis);
• the significant numbers of Black and Brown students (who make up more than 50% of our student body statewide) and their families who unjustly face healthcare disparities that have made them more likely to be infected and killed by the coronavirus; these students also disproportionately rely on public transportation to get to school, compounding risk before arriving at school facilities that may lack necessary ventilation and a safe learning environment;
• the lack of widely available personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for educators and students;
• the challenges in ensuring that all students and staff are wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining social distance at all times; and,
• so much that we do not know or understand about the virus and that is seemingly constantly updated by new scientific studies.

For these reasons and more, we are calling for the 2020-2021 school year to begin with virtual learning and instruction for at least the first semester. Protecting the safety of Maryland educators, students, and families requires this action. We believe it is the right approach and will allow time for further evaluation of health matrices, stakeholder input, and the educational needs of students on a district-by-district basis to allow for a transition to a hybrid learning model after the year begins and possibly a mostly in-person model later in the school year if and when it is safe.

Making this decision now would give every district at least a full six weeks to plan and troubleshoot around one known and understood model of learning. Exceptions to this should be possible only in districts with the very lowest levels of infection and community spread, and with the strong educator and family support necessary in those jurisdictions. Provided they are able to do so at the highest levels of safety, districts should explore whether a limited hybrid model with very small groups of students is feasible with limited student populations for whom equity concerns around extended virtual learning are greatest. Educators who feel comfortable working with these students or working in school buildings should be able to do so.

When districts can have a laser focus on one model, they can better concentrate their resources and work with educators and stakeholders to be successful with virtual learning for all students. This reopening model would allow districts to resolve the inequities of the digital divide that were laid bare this spring. Additionally, focusing on a completely virtual model would allow districts to be better prepared if the state must reverse course and move back into Phase I or a complete quarantine again at some point during the school year.

We agree with Governor Hogan that we will not be bullied by political pressure from Washington, DC. We will not succumb to politics that would place Maryland educators, students, or families in harm’s way and have them participate in a potentially deadly experiment. There is an inhuman callousness that attempts to use the lower transmission rates and mortality rates for people under the age of 18 as justification for reopening schools. Not only does this completely ignore the adults in schools who would undoubtedly have a higher rate of transmission and death, but it also presupposes that there is a number of deaths of students and educators that is acceptable. There is not.

This is not an over-reaction; indeed, we believe this is the tough but responsible action. Opening schools safely takes resources. That is an inconvenient truth for some, especially considering that many people demanding to fully reopen our school buildings for in-person instruction have never advocated for fully funding our schools to begin with. While we see professional sports leagues aiming to provide daily tests to 100% of their athletes, there does not seem to be a single school reopening plan that attempts to commit to provide testing for students or school employees who want it. We have seen the federal government send billions of dollars to airlines and huge corporations in the wake of the pandemic, but we have seen far less urgency and far, far less funding directed to helping our public schools weather this time of crisis.

We should not accept lower safety standards in our schools than we do in our stores, our restaurants, and our barber shops and salons. Many schools do not have the resources or physical capacity to maintain basic protective steps, such as adequate physical distancing, appropriate supplies of PPE, rapid testing for staff and students, sufficient cleaning supplies, and high-quality ventilation systems to avoid the recirculation of air. We need to face reality: too many schools in Maryland have restrooms that lacked soap or paper towels on a normal day before the pandemic. In the face of no additional funding at the federal, state, or local level—let alone threatened budget cuts—it is not realistic to believe that all schools will be equipped with additional and more expensive necessities to stay safe on a daily basis.

The federal funds provided through the CARES Act have largely back-filled unanticipated expenses incurred to close out the last school year. Well-intentioned plans for hybrid learning would require levels of new funding that are not even being contemplated and are impossible to imagine being available for the start of the coming school year. Instead of demanding school systems do more with less, we should continue to unite in our advocacy for additional federal aid and bold state action.

We strongly believe that students gain the most academically, socially, and emotionally when they can learn in-person with their peers, but that learning must take place in a healthy and safe environment. Unfortunately, the facts and science do not support the notion that returning educators and students to schools is safe. Starting the school year unsafely would not be good for our students, especially if another abrupt closure and shift to distance learning becomes necessary. Moreover, seeing their teachers, peers, or family members become ill due to a school-based spread of coronavirus would be traumatizing. Starting the school year unsafely will likely only postpone when we can fully return to safe in-person learning. Loss of learning can be made up. Loss of life cannot.

There are no perfect solutions. Clearly, reopening schools without a thorough understanding of the resources, protocols, and costs to ensure and protect public health would be irresponsible. In light of this, demanding 100% in-person instruction under the circumstances is unsafe and unwise. An adequate hybrid plan requires all the safety protocols of in-person learning as well as addressing all the technology divides of virtual learning. Each of these would require more staff members. Without significant emergency federal or state funds, such an undertaking would be prohibitively expensive. We certainly saw tremendous inequities and learning loss when forced into crisis virtual learning at the end of the last school year. We now better understand the flaws of virtual learning and have a better sense of how to fix them. Virtual learning will not be perfect, but it will save lives.

The most prudent course of action now is to focus on how we can provide the highest possible quality of virtual learning during the first semester of the school year, during which time we hope that the virus is mitigated to a level that will allow for a subsequent expansion of in-person learning. To do that, we must focus our plans and resources to:

• reach a 1:1 student to device ratio as soon as possible;
• increase internet access to students and educators who lack it at home;
• continue to run school-based meal services;
• expand professional development for educators and training and resources for students and families to increase virtual learning fluency;
• engage in trauma-informed practices; and,
• deploy crisis intervention teams where needed.

These are the immediate needs that must be addressed with the limited time and resources districts have before the school year begins. We must concurrently build long-term plans for how we will address the learning gaps and inequities that we have always known to exist and combat the structural factors that prevent Black and Brown students from receiving an equitable education and opportunity.

We are well aware that prolonged virtual learning is challenging for parents as well as for educators and students, as is a hybrid model. We urge state and county leaders and employers to be accommodating to their employees who are parents with flexible or remote work policies and state-facilitated childcare similar to what was done for healthcare workers. We must be in this together and have empathy for one another.

We must rise above politics and focus on the reality and complexities of safely reopening schools. If we open our schools too quickly and without adequate safety precautions, the result will be that some educators, students, and their family members will contract the coronavirus. Some will recover, some will face debilitating health consequences or healthcare bills that they cannot pay, and some will die. These are stubborn facts. And they are costs and consequences that we must refuse to accept.

A perfect solution does not exist. A safe one does. We urge you to support this course. We stand ready to work with you to ensure that the coming school year is as safe and successful as possible for all of Maryland’s students and educators.


Cheryl Bost, President, MSEA
Diamonté Brown, President, BTU
Dr. Edna Harvin Battle, President, Maryland PTA


Hough Rails Against Renaming DC’s Football Team

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) has gone on a Twitter tear on the decision to rename the Washington Redskins something else. I guess it goes with his repeated Trumpian bashing of Montgomery and Frederick Counties for not opening more quickly. He also derides NBC4 for no longer using the former team name.

Notwithstanding his ritualized attack on liberals, I don’t see anything especially conservative in choosing to follow a leader who believes against all evidence that he can will the pandemic away and who embraces racist white identity politics as part of his desperate attempt to change the subject. One shouldn’t confuse a personality cult with ideology.


Elrich Charter Amendment Would Make Tax Hikes Easier

By Adam Pagnucco.

A document written by a special assistant to County Executive Marc Elrich lays out the administration’s views on the county’s charter limit on property taxes. And its approach is a simple one: make tax hikes easier.

The county’s charter limit on property taxes was approved by voters in 1990. In simple terms, it allows the county’s total volume of property tax collections to rise annually at the rate of inflation (with a few exceptions like new construction) unless the county council votes to override the limit. Under the original 1990 law, the limit could be overridden with a vote by seven council members. In 2008, tax activist Robin Ficker passed a charter amendment raising the override requirement to nine council votes. Two years ago, voters passed another amendment changing the override requirement to a unanimous vote of all current council members, a change designed to deal with council vacancies. Ficker has qualified another amendment to the charter this year which would revoke all overrides of the limit if approved by voters.

Elrich made his dislike of the current charter limit structure plain in his most recent recommended budget. In his budget message, Elrich wrote:

When the County Council proposed to the voters our current Charter limit on property taxes in 1990, few people could have foreseen the dramatic changes that would take place in Montgomery County and around the globe. In the past 30 years, our school population has grown by 65 percent and our overall population has grown by 40 percent. The services we provide are now more complex and seek to address a range of challenges, from traffic congestion and climate change to health care disparities and linguistic diversity. And over the past four decades, our property tax rate has declined by 35 percent.

We have all witnessed other local governments regionally and nationally experience generational decline due to conflicting, irreconcilable fiscal policies. Montgomery County is at the precipice of such a decline if we cannot get ourselves out of this cycle of self-enforced structural deficits and inequitable, unpredictable revenue caps. Therefore, I will be sending the Council a proposal for a Charter amendment that will revise our revenue cap to provide certainty to homeowners. This proposal will eliminate our old, cumbersome revenue cap and replace it with a three percent cap on the increase in any homeowner’s taxable assessment. This will give our taxpayers real protection from unexpected increases in property values. It will also provide the County Government with a higher degree of predictable tax revenues like every other jurisdiction in our region.

Without such a change in the Charter, our community could be facing a situation in FY21 where a recession and deflation cripple our ability to provide emergency services and a quality public education system. This perfect storm would threaten lives and diminish the value of properties in our County. I will not stand by and let our community be harmed by the ghosts of voters from four decades ago.

An internal document written by one of Elrich’s special assistants, Debbie Spielberg, lays out the administration’s specific objections to the current charter limit. (Spielberg is the Hand of Elrich. No one in the administration is closer to the boss.) Among Spielberg’s criticisms are that the current charter limit structure does not capture growth in the tax base, is vulnerable to underestimates that affect the taxable base subject to the limit forever and leaves open the possibility of having a zero inflation rate stop increases in collections. Spielberg is right on all of these points. She also alleges that the charter limit has caused MoCo to have a lower property tax rate than most of its neighbors. This point is more complicated. MoCo’s property tax rate was in the middle of the pack for Maryland counties in FY20 and is lower than much of Northern Virginia because those localities do not charge income taxes. Spielberg’s memo is reproduced below.

The administration is fearful of what would happen if voters pass the new Ficker amendment, which would remove the county council’s ability to break the charter limit. Spielberg’s memo proposes an alternative charter amendment that would do three things.

  1. It would apply the charter limit to the property tax rate, not the volume of collections.
  2. It would allow six council votes to raise the tax rate. The current override requirement is a unanimous vote by all current council members.
  3. It would limit the growth in the taxable value of an owner-occupied residential property to 3% per year.

Elrich’s official charter amendment request to the council appears below. The council and the voters – but not the executive directly – can place charter amendments on the ballot.

The obvious impact of this proposal would be to make property tax hikes easier. Instead of one council member being able to block an increase, now four would be required to obstruct it.

The less obvious impact has to do with the distribution of future tax increases. Right now, the county limits the annual increase of taxable assessments on principal residences to 10%. The administration’s proposal would lower that to 3%. That looks good for homeowners but let’s think about the properties that are not principal residences: commercial properties and residential rental properties. If homeowners are shielded from tax hikes, commercial entities and residential renters will pay more. This is a significant policy shift with two consequences. First, it would impede the county’s commercial sector from recovering from the COVID-19 economic crisis. (Let’s remember that MoCo had major competitiveness issues before the virus arrived.) Second, renters – especially low-income residents and small businesses – have been dramatically affected by the current economic downturn. How much more can they pay? Policy makers should think carefully about having them assume more of future tax burdens.

The looming prospect of a new Ficker amendment has generated both this concept as well as another amendment on property taxes now before the county council. (The council’s version would require a unanimous council vote to raise the tax rate and contains no redistribution of the tax burden.) If one or both alternatives to Ficker make it to the ballot, voters will face complicated choices on tax policy. And they will do it during one of the worst recessions ever.



By Adam Pagnucco.

You heard that deafening noise, yeah? It came from Rockville, specifically from Monroe Street. It was the sound of the county budget being blown to smithereens. And it probably won’t be the last loud noise heard echoing from the county seat.

Why the explosion? That’s what it sounds like when the county writes down half a billion dollars over two years.

A dryly titled document known as “Update on County Tax Revenue Estimates” will be reviewed by the county council tomorrow. Budget writers tend not to be very dramatic people. That’s one reason why summer blockbusters tend not to be centered on budget analyses. But this blockbuster contains more exploding ordinance than a World War II battlefield. Ground zero is MoCo.

The COVID-19 crisis is now blowing up budget after budget all over the world and we are not immune. In FY21 (the current fiscal year), the county was supposed to receive roughly $4 billion in locally generated tax revenues. (The county gets another $2 billion in intergovernmental aid, grants and non-tax revenues). Of the $4 billion or so in local taxes, here are the projected writedowns as of last week.

FY20 (last year): $47.7 million
FY21 (this year): $192.0 million
FY22 (next year): $282.0 million
FY23: $275.9 million
FY24: $272.8 million
FY25: $225.2 million
FY26: $173.9 million

There is bound to be variation in the out years because economic forecasting is about as certain an art as selecting number one draft picks. But when combining last year, this year and next year, the total writedown is $522 million. That’s the biggest writedown since the Great Recession.

The biggest contributor by far to the shortfall is income taxes, which have been written down through FY22 by $357 million, or 68% of the total writedown. The county’s finance department reported that income tax receipts were down $19 million from their estimate in May and $20 million from their estimate in June. Finance expects personal income, wage and salary income and income from dividends, interest and rent to fall in calendar year 2020 and then rise by a fraction of their prior annual growth over the last decade in calendar year 2021. Finance also expects resident employment to fall by 1.82% in 2020 and a further 0.05% in 2021. All of these declines will hit income taxes.

Relative to their immense size, property taxes are not written down by very much (just $41 million from FY20 through FY22). The reason is because the county’s charter limit allows property tax collections (aside from new construction and a few other categories) to rise at the rate of inflation regardless of what happens to assessments. There are two wild cards here. First, what if the rate of inflation goes to zero or even goes negative because of the collapsing world economy? And second, what if massive failures to pay rent cause property owners to file more tax appeals? If the real estate market fails, that will just add to the wreckage.

Two other wild cards might be thrown the county’s way. First is Governor Larry Hogan’s plan to shift and shaft the counties, which was defeated at the Board of Public Works but may yet return at a later date. Second is the fate of additional federal aid for counties, which is backed by Democrats in Congress but draws a wary eye from Republicans (including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). The federal government has so far allocated $183 million of aid to MoCo, but it is targeted to expenses directly attributable to COVID-19. The county needs money to cover its plummeting local revenues. If Hogan and McConnell get their way, all MoCo will get is more shrapnel.

So what does all this mean? The loud noises might not be over, folks. Could we someday hear the wailing squeals of sacred cows, prodded by unforgiving steel as they are dragged away to slaughter?


Barve, Stein Call for Extension of Eviction Moratorium and More Rental Assistance

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegates Kumar Barve and Dana Stein, the Chair and Vice Chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee respectively, have written the state’s Secretary of Housing and Community Development requesting an extension of the state’s eviction moratorium to January 31, more state funds for rental assistance and more transparency around the spending of those funds. The eviction moratorium is particularly pressing because Maryland’s courts could conceivably start hearing eviction cases as early as September. We reprint the letter from Delegates Barve and Stein below.


The Honorable Kenneth C. Holt
Secretary, Department of Housing and Community Development
7800 Harkins Rd.
Lanham, Maryland 20706

Dear Secretary Holt:

In our respective capacities as the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, we would like to thank DHCD for its participation in the committee briefing held on June 29, 2020 entitled “The Effects of Covid–19 on Housing.” It was an enlightening experience and a solid first step in addressing this important issue which has affected many thousands of Marylanders.

The phrase “tsunami of evictions” was used throughout the briefing, and it serves as a poignant prospect of what may occur without immediate action by the State. Our local governments have acted swiftly to stem the tide, but they can only do so much. In the interest of partnership and given the committee’s background on these issues, we offer the following recommendations for further action by your department:

1) Work with Governor Hogan to extend the State’s Eviction Moratorium through January 31, 2021

Currently, the 120 day eviction moratorium for covered properties under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act officially ends as of July 25, 2020. We understand that certain federal agencies have acted in a discretionary capacity to extend this moratorium until the end of August of this year. As for the State, Governor Hogan’s March 16, 2020 Executive Order prohibits Maryland courts from ordering the eviction of any tenant who can demonstrate, through objectively verifiable means, that the tenant suffered a substantial loss of income resulting from Covid–19 or the related proclamation of a state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency. This prohibition extends until the State of Emergency is lifted. The Judiciary of Maryland has also acted to phase reopening of Maryland’s courts. The effect of this means that district courts will not begin to hear “failure to pay rent” cases until August 31, 2020.

While we applaud the early action taken by the Hogan administration, the uncertainty surrounding the proliferation of this virus and the need to keep individuals housed for their health and safety suggest a longer limitation on evictions is needed. An extension until January 31, 2021 will allow time for (1) appropriate planning to prevent a flood of new eviction proceedings as a result of Covid–19; (2) recovery of the State job market, thus allowing Maryland citizens to return to work and continue to pay their rents and address any overdue rent; and (3) the General Assembly and the Hogan administration to meet and consider emergency legislation meant to address the Covid–19 crisis.

2) Work with Governor Hogan to identify additional funds for rental assistance programs beyond the $30 million in CARES Act funds identified, and establish a plan for oversight of these funds

Again, while we recognize the actions taken by the Hogan administration to dedicate $30 million in CARES Act funds for rental assistance and funding for certain housing providers, this amount seemingly pales in comparison to the need stated by both tenant advocates and representatives of property owners and managers. At the briefing, we heard testimony that a single large housing provider in the State has lost rent payments equal to approximately 8.7% ($2.6 million) of this amount since March. Another large housing provider has an uncollected rent balance for May 2020 of approximately $1.8 million, or 5.7 times its uncollected balance for the same month in 2019.

Our counties have taken the initiative to directly address the housing crisis, but many programs lack sufficient funds to address the need and will be ineffective without significant State assistance. As an example, in Phase 1 of Baltimore County’s Covid–19 Eviction Prevention Program, it was estimated that $1 million would help approximately 300 households; however, the program received 1,500 applications totaling over $6 million in requests for assistance. Baltimore City, in its individual capacity, has committed $13 million in CARES Act Community Development Block Grant funds to its Temporary Rental Assistance program. Finally, we heard testimony that the level of support required by nonprofit housing providers in Montgomery County between now and December is estimated at $40 million; this figure does not account for funds to support commercial landlords who are losing rent owed to them.

We anticipate things will only get worse. As mentioned by several participants, including DHCD, the increased unemployment payments under the CARES Act and federal stimulus payments may have helped limit the number of individuals facing rental hardships during the early stages of this crisis. However, as these fall away in the coming weeks, renters impacted by Covid–19 will find themselves with even less available support and at greater risk of eviction due to nonpayment of rent.

While we are adamant that more State support is needed, we do not ask the Hogan administration to take steps that it would deem detrimental to the State budget; rather we ask that the Administration identify all available sources of funds which may be used to support local rental assistance programs and commit additional funds to support renters and the rental housing industry, especially funds received pursuant to the CARES Act. We advocate for objective, fact–based decision making in light of the economic realities foisted upon us by this crisis.

The lack of firm details, transparency and accountability measures around the $30 million in announced rental relief spending is alarming. While awarding the funds directly to large rental managers may be the most efficient method, we have significant concerns that some of those funds will not end up providing renters with relief. We cannot afford to waste a single dollar of taxpayer funding in this crisis. Please provide our committee with the plan by which it intends to administer these funds, including any application requirements, plans and conditions for their distribution and limitations which will be placed on their use. We expect this information to be made public before you begin to distribute funds. Finally, we ask that your department and the Hogan administration continue to provide updates as this response develops.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Yours truly,

Kumar Barve, Chairman
Environment and Transportation Committee

Dana Stein, Vice Chairman
Environment and Transportation Committee

Speaker Adrienne A. Jones
Keiffer Mitchell


MoCo’s Book Club

By Adam Pagnucco.

You might think of Montgomery County Government as an entity that finances schools, deploys police and fire fighters, maintains roads, administers social services, operates libraries and more. Yes, it is all of those things. But under the Elrich administration, it became one more thing:

A book club.

Imagine that you write a book. You think it’s a great book. It’s all about how to run a local government. And then you get a dream job actually running a local government. And it’s not just any local government – it’s a very prestigious one, with more than 8,000 employees who will now be working for you. You think this government is doing OK, but it could do a lot better if it was run in accordance with what your book says. So what are you going to do?

Encourage as many of your employees to read that book as possible.

That is one of the biggest themes pervading the bombshell report written by the ethics commission and the inspector general (IG) about Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine, the top manager in county government. Ethics complaints made by county employees last year resulted in Kleine admitting to breaking two provisions of county ethics law over issues related to his book, City on the Line, and his participation in getting two of his private business partners county contracts.

Kleine is not the star of the report. His book is. Over and over, it’s about the book.

The IG noted many details about the promotion of Kleine’s book inside county government. Consider the following excerpts from the report.


Multiple County employees reported to the IG that Mr. Kleine often spoke about his book to County employees and that they felt they needed to read it. OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] referred to City on the Line in its budget training sessions, after which County employees from various departments emailed that they needed a copy.

On December 10, 2018, Mr. Kleine retweeted a tweet from the program director of the political science program at UMBC at Shady Grove that stated, “#MoCo agency bosses are reading/having staff read incoming Chief Administrative Officer’s @awkleine’s book City on the Line. You should too. Available at Amazon for $35 http://a.co./d/hf7xUtV @UMBCpolisci @MarcElrich”

On December 18, 2018, a County Department Director emailed that City on the Line was “assigned to him as mandatory reading.” The CAO supervises County department directors and would be the person who could require certain work assignments from Department Directors.

On April 29, 2019, the Director of OMB emailed staff, “To help the office plan for outcome budgeting and the Turn the Curve initiative, we have five copies of the books City on the Line and Trying Hard is Not Good Enough. Please see me or Darlene if you want to borrow one. I also have coupons if you want to purchase your own copy of City.”

On June 6, 2019, an OMB employee emailed a telework plan that included reading City on the Line.

On July 1, 2019, the Director of OMB emailed his staff a compilation of takeaways from City on the Line.

On August 6, 2019, an OMB employee asked an OMB staff member and a Recreation Department budget specialist to draft a presentation for the Training Implementation Workgroup. “You can use City on the Line, Chapter 3… as a reference.”

A speaker note on the OMB & Training Implementation Workgroup September 2019 presentation, “Outcome Based Budgeting FY21 Operating Budget” stated that, “We can use the example – from City on the Line Pg 58/59.”

On August 14, 2019, an OMB employee emailed other staff, “As a suggestion, it may be advantageous to read the following materials to gain a better understanding of Outcome Based Budgeting and Turn the Curve thinking: City on the Line and Trying Hard is Not Good Enough.”

On August 19, 2019, a Recreation Department emailed, “Could you please order me a copy of City on the Line… we are discussing it in our work sessions and I am the only person in the group who does not have a copy. Plus we are receiving work assignments related to the information in the book.”

On August 19, 2019, a Department of Permitting Services employee emailed a request for City on the Line via 2-day shipping from Amazon and wrote, “I normally wouldn’t pay this, but we need this book to reference for outcome budgeting, which is a new way of budgeting this year.”

On August 23, 2019, a Department of Police employee emailed, “In the budget meetings I am going to they keep referring to a book ‘City on the Line.’”


And so the book was integrated into the operations of county government. Employees were being encouraged to read it and some felt left in the dark if they didn’t. That means books had to be acquired and someone had to pay for them. According to the report, the county spent approximately $3,000 to buy 89 copies of Kleine’s book. Kleine earned total royalties from all purchases of $3,157 on the book through the end of 2018. Royalties paid in 2019 and 2020 are not mentioned in the IG report.

Even this guy thinks all this book stuff is getting out of hand.

Kleine also promoted the book at events outside the county government while on work time. The screen shot below from the IG’s report details how 80 hours of Kleine’s official work time – charged to taxpayers – included book promotion.

Did Kleine’s activities create an appearance of improper influence? Here is what the IG’s report had to say about that:

Redactions like the ones above are made to protect witnesses. Because Kleine is still the CAO, these witnesses presumably remain Kleine’s subordinates if they are still employed by the county.

What should we make of all this?

Throughout the report, Kleine comes across as a man who wants to be a celebrity, a public management guru, who preaches things like “Turn the Curve” to build his brand, sell books, make speeches and get consultant contracts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but that’s not why taxpayers are paying him $280,000 a year. We need a nuts-and-bolts operations manager in this role, someone who makes the trains run on time and works on behalf of the taxpayers with no other agenda at play.

It’s incredible that this needs to be said, but the CAO should be running county government, not converting it into a royalty-generating book club.


Hogan Decides on Regular Election

By Adam Pagnucco.

Governor Larry Hogan has decided not to repeat the state’s use of a mail-predominant election that was adopted for the primary. Instead, citing the problems with mail ballots and long lines on election day, Hogan has opted to hold a regular general election with all early voting centers and all precinct polling locations open. He has directed the State Board of Elections to send an absentee ballot application to every eligible voter and to promote early voting, absentee voting and off-peak voting as “safe and efficient options.”

Hogan’s letter to the State Board of Elections appears below.