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.


MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Four

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. These lists were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. Now to the Final Four – the most influential elected officials in MoCo!

4. Council Member Andrew Friedson (D-1) – 32 votes

Source: He knows what local government is good for and what it’s not good for, and even if he frustrates you, you can’t help but admire how competent he is.

Source: Has carved out his own brand on a Council crowded with talent.

Source: More than any other member, Andrew has changed the terms of engagement on so many issues in front of the County Council. He’s taken to it like a sponge. His ability to keep the “main thing” the “main thing” is matched only by his incredible work ethic.

Source: He’s getting tons of respect as very sharp, with integrity, and isn’t scared to speak honestly and openly about what he sees going on.

Source: Andrew sticks out as the shiny new thing on the council for his willingness to show some moderation. This leadership is sorely lacking on a council dominated by the far left. If he can actually move the council toward the middle, he will have earned his title as “the real deal.”

Source: It is difficult to find anyone on this side of town who doesn’t love him. Truly wonderful.

Source: Burst on the scene, no signs of stopping; high marks for constituent service; fresh blood but smart enough to keep on seasoned staff from Berliner.

Source: Has shown incredible political savvy. Has done tremendous work in just his first year – economic impact analysis, vote against tax legislation, COVID19 response.

Source: Dynamic, smart, driven and witty, Andrew has made his mark as the voice of the business community. He is tireless as evidenced by his “home alone” video. He is always the last one to leave the Council building at night (unless he’s at an event).

AP: You would expect business types to vote for Andrew but he had broad strength among my entire source pool, even among those who sometimes disagree with him. Andrew GETS politics in a way that few other local politicians do. He can work the inside, he can work the outside, he can compromise and he can pull others along. He will have bumps in the road like everyone does, but remember this now and for the future: Andrew Friedson is the Real Deal.

3. Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) – 34 votes

Source: What a brilliant guy, and a serious transportation guru.

Source: The smartest person in the room, a future Appropriations chair, and has an underrated ability to cultivate allies.

Source: Brilliant. He absolutely knows how to get stuff done. He’s widely respected as a go to guy for numbers.

Source: Marc has carved out a niche as the dominant expert on mass transit and has earned the respect of his colleagues. Smart, hard-working, effective, and hyper responsive to constituents. One wonders how he has time to do it all. With the spectacles to complement his innate nerdiness, he could go a very long way with a little more charisma and charm.

Source: He’s just way smarter, more substantive, organized and hard-working than just about anyone else in elected office.

Source: Brilliant tactical legislator good at using all that to get things done. Well positioned in the House to get it done.

Source: Universally respected, Metro/transit geek (that’s a compliment), returns emails with superhuman lightning speed, knows Annapolis inside and out.

AP: Marc reminds me a lot of Anne Kaiser in terms of his work ethic, substance and steady Eddie temperament. He is also incredibly responsive and never neglects his constituents. Marc is one of the very best elected officials in the state and MoCo is lucky to have him.

2. County Executive Marc Elrich – 36 votes

Source: Half the Council may be ready to run against him but he writes the budget and sets the priorities.

Source: Love him or hate him, he’s been throwing fireballs from the left for decades. He took several tries to get on the council and y’all just couldn’t shake him off, now he’s your county executive. Deal with it!

Source: Rocky first year, has lost credibility with progressives on the housing issue, and administration seems to lack priority issues or obvious agenda.

Source: [On Elrich and Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine] Consider the decisions they make, don’t make, and back-pedal on—this pair is the biggest influencer on county government whether they know it or not.

Source: I don’t agree with him at all, but his policies are shaping the county – for better or worse.

Source: His lack of vision and leadership is what influences events and issues in the county.

AP: The county executive, whoever he or she is, must be on this list. But Elrich is very different from his predecessors. For 30 years, he defined his political career primarily on what he opposed. That’s a great formula for being a contrarian council member but not much of a governing strategy for being a county executive. Elrich did not have a great start and now he is dealing with a budget crisis. If he can work productively with the council to fix it, he will regain some ground. If not, the council will make him irrelevant.

1. Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-8) – 38 votes

Source: Even though he is becoming more of a centrist neoliberal, you cannot argue his influence and ascent to national politics and how he’s beloved by all factions of MoCo Democrats.

Source: Right expertise at the right time.

Source: An unabashed liberal with unsurpassed talent to excite his far-left base. Wicked smart, respected, and likeable even among non-liberals. These abilities explain his quick ascension in Congress. Probably too liberal to run statewide, but I wouldn’t rule him out.

Source: Jamie Raskin has a lot of influence because he has total credibility with local progressives.

AP: I never thought I would see a MoCo member of Congress attain more popularity than the legendary Chris Van Hollen. I don’t know if Jamie is there quite yet, but he might be tied – and that’s incredible. Jamie was always a brainy and appealing progressive, but the contrast with a deranged, misogynistic and white supremacist president has amplified his impact. And in MoCo, it has made him a bona fide hero.

We are not done. Coming next – the most influential non-elected people in MoCo!


IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, Montgomery County Inspector General (IG) Megan Davey Limarzi released a report titled, “Overtime Costs and Redundancies in the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office.” The title may be sleepy but the allegations investigated by the IG were not. Multiple fire service employees blew the whistle on specific uses of overtime at the fire department, with one calling the matter an “overtime scam.”

Overtime has been a controversial issue inside the fire department for many years, but this report is not a generalized analysis of the issue. It is an investigation of a particular program inside the fire service: its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)/Diversity Office. The EEO/Diversity office did not have its own approved positions; instead it had a captain and a lieutenant who were “detailed to the Office of the Fire Chief on a full-time basis” to carry out the office’s work in addition to a number of other staff who were assigned “sporadically.”

Strangely, the office was set up despite rejection of dedicated staff for it by the county’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The report states:

During the FY2018 budget season, MCFRS requested, but did not receive, an additional captain position to focus on EEO concerns… The Fire Chief told the Inspector General and her staff that although this request was denied by the OMB, he continued with the program because he believed it to be critical. Since then, he has detailed two employees full-time to the work of the office, neither of which is an approved position.

On the nature of the office’s work, the report states:

We were unable to obtain metrics related to the EEO function of the office, such as complaints received, reports written, or referrals made to MCFRS [Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service] management or the County Office of Human Resources, Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance & Diversity Management Division. Staff members interviewed agreed that the EEO/Diversity Office was not engaged in formal investigations, but rather engaged in “fact-finding” and training regarding EEO matters and complaints.

The report also notes duplication and redundancy between the work scope of the EEO/Diversity Office and other offices in county government, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance and Diversity Management Division of the Office of Human Resources and the fire service’s Office of Investigative Programs, Fire & Rescue Training Academy, Recruitment Section and Community Risk Reduction Section.

In Fiscal Year 2019, the office generated costs of $919,000, of which $908,000 was overtime and the rest was compensated leave. The cost was roughly 10% of the fire service’s total overtime spending. The overtime allowed regularly exceeded limits established by the fire chief and was assigned outside Telestaff, the scheduling system used by county public safety agencies.

So what’s the problem here? The IG’s investigation was spawned by multiple complaints from inside the fire department during calendar year 2019. The report states:

The OIG received information regarding the lack of transparency within the EEO/Diversity Office. For example, we obtained a document purporting to be a reporting of sentiments of MCFRS operational staff concerning the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office. The document concludes that the “EEO Team” is viewed as causing “division/disruption in the department”; “untouchable/beyond reproach”; lacking “interaction with all people in a station”; and ignores “most people in the field”.

A former MCFRS staff member told OIG staff that the EEO/Diversity Officer has complete freedom to work and assign overtime at his discretion, it was common knowledge within MCFRS that the work of the EEO/Diversity Office was an “overtime scam”, and it was not communicated how overtime was assigned for that unit. Another MCFRS staff member told the OIG that he believed that there had been numerous occurrences where EEO/Diversity Office representatives working overtime appeared at events that were already being handled by MCFRS staff during their normal shifts. That staff member questioned the use and abuse of overtime by the EEO/Diversity Office. In a third communication to the OIG, a MCFRS staff member questioned the use of overtime and events attended by those assigned to the EEO/Diversity Office.

The report lists – but does not name – four individuals associated with the program who earned overtime in amounts ranging from $85,511 to $174,008 in 2018. Of these individuals, the report states:

All three of the career employees included on the of MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office website as either the EEO/Diversity Officer or one of his deputies appear on a list of 20 County employees with the greatest amount of overtime pay in 2018. At the same time, in 2018, the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Officer was the second highest paid County employee and an employee listed as an MCFRS EEO/Diversity Coordinator was the fourth highest paid County employee, buoyed by overtime.

So let’s review this. The fire service asked for an additional position for the EEO/Diversity office but was turned down by the county’s Office of Management and Budget during the Leggett administration. The fire service staffed the office anyway with employees who were detailed from elsewhere and paid them more than $900,000 in FY19, mostly in overtime. The overtime exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Three of the employees who worked for the office were among the highest-compensated employees in county government principally because of the overtime they were paid. There are no metrics on the office’s EEO work. The office’s work scope is at least partially duplicative with no fewer than five other offices in county government. Multiple employees complained about the office’s overtime practices with one calling its work an “overtime scam.”

The IG began reviewing the office in October 2019. In January 2020, the office “ceased operations” with the fire chief proposing that its work be conducted by a new unit that would also use overtime. That cannot be the end of this story. The following two things must happen.

1. Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine must investigate the activities of the now-closed EEO/Diversity Office. The IG’s report does not draw a conclusion on the legitimacy of the office’s spending, although it does note the unavailability of “metrics related to the EEO function of the office” and contains allegations of overtime abuse. Kleine must determine whether this use of $919,000 in overtime and compensatory leave applied to legitimate work. If that turns out not to be the case, any involved individuals – both those who profited and those who enabled it – must be disciplined and restitution must be obtained. Kleine’s findings, whatever they are, must be made public.

If Kleine doesn’t investigate this, he owns it.

2. Since there is an allegation that the office’s work was an “overtime scam,” State’s Attorney John McCarthy must investigate whether any criminal violations occurred.

In the meantime, the county council must demand answers. The integrity of county government spending is at stake.