Tag Archives: Adam Pagnucco

Nine Districts Blasts Council on South Lake Elementary School

By Adam Pagnucco.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the group that put a charter amendment on the ballot converting the county council to a nine district structure, has released a video blasting the council for its decision to delay completion of a new building for South Lake Elementary School. The school, located in Gaithersburg, was the subject of a WTOP article describing heat and air conditioning problems, crowding and rodents running free inside the building. Community members have asked for a new school for years and MCPS has described the building’s problems as “insurmountable.” MCPS requested funding for a new building, which the council approved, but the council delayed completion by one year to September 2024 due to fiscal problems. The school board has since asked the council to restore the project’s original schedule but that won’t happen unless money can be found.

The video accurately notes that the school’s student body is overwhelmingly black and brown. However, its claim that the at-large council members “voted unanimously to take South Lake Elementary school out of the $14B capital improvement budget” is inaccurate. The council voted to delay the project, not delete it. It remains in the capital budget with a projected cost of $34.9 million. This is not the first time Nine Districts for MoCo has released a misleading video.

This claim is inaccurate.

The video was posted on YouTube by Reardon Sullivan, a member of the county Republican Party’s central committee. Republicans support the nine district group because they believe such a structure might lead to a Republican county council seat.

The video appears below.

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MCM Labor Dispute Heats Up

By Adam Pagnucco.

Back in April, I wrote that a union representing production employees at MCM (Montgomery Community Media) had filed an unfair labor practice charge against MCM alleging failure to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement in good faith. MCM is a non-profit that receives most of its funding from the county government to act as its cable access channel. As of FY21, the county is due to provide MCM $2.8 million. MCM’s collective bargaining agreement with NABET-CWA Local 31, which represents some (but not all) of its employees, expired on 6/30/18. MCM and the union have had discussions about a new agreement off and on since then.

As of this writing, a new agreement has not been reached. The union sent the email below to its members updating them on the status of negotiations. When reading it, bear in mind that management likely has a different point of view.


To: MCT/MCM NABET-CWA Members:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
September 17, 2020

We would like to thank you for all of your hard work and diligence of pursuit during these trying times. Mostly however, your Union extends a huge congratulations for the incredible awards and accolades you have received for your ongoing work at MCT/MCM. It is with great pride that your Union wants to acknowledge all of you!

The Union understands the value of your contribution to MCT/MCM’s success. That is what fuels our negotiating committee, as we fight to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions for you. During these negotiations, we have faced an employer that does not acknowledge your hard work and dedication. To recap, the Contract expired on June 30, 2018, and CEO Nanette Hobson refused to bargain during the following 6 months. Your Union insisted on talks to present ideas, discuss issues, and hopefully put us on track for a “quick” settlement of decent terms once the Company was ready to bargain in January 2019.

When the Company sat down at the bargaining table, it sought to eliminate many of the benefits that you enjoyed in the collective bargaining agreement. The Union has spent the past 18 months fighting either to preserve those benefits or negotiate new provisions to protect all of you. The Union has gotten MCT/MCM to agree to a 3% wage increase for all full-time employees retroactive to July 1, 2019. The Union has gotten MCT/MCM to agree to a 3% lump sum payment for all part-time employees. The Union has further negotiated increases to the rate codes for part-time employees ranging from 6% to 35% depending upon the work being performed.

Here we are in September 2020, and the Company has presented us with another “Last, Best and Final” offer. To be very clear, we have been kind in our rendering of some older clauses with the hopes that the Company would respond in-kind with some substantial offers that acknowledge its respect for your continued hard work. We were wrong on that assumption!

There are only three issues that separate the parties:

First, the Company wants either to limit part-time employees’ participation in the Flex Plan to those who are currently participating in it or reduce its contribution to the Flex Plan from $10.00 per 8 hours worked to $5.00 per 16 hours worked. The former proposal is unacceptable because it would leave those part-time employees who are not participating in the Flex Plan with no other option for fringe benefits. The latter proposal actually discourages participation by making it harder for part-time employees to obtain coverage and access meaningful benefits. Your negotiating committee has repeatedly explained these issues to the Company, but it has not relented. The Union’s proposal is to maintain the Flex Plan, work on encouraging participation in the plan, and, if employees do not want the plan, then the parties can negotiate alternative arrangements in the future. The Company has rejected this proposal too.

Second, the Company wants to take playback operators out of the unit. It proposes eliminating a Playback Operator from the minimum/maximum wage scales for full-time employees (while acknowledging a Playback Supervisor will remain). Playback duties are bargaining unit work. The Union’s proposal keeps that work in the bargaining unit, but it at the same time provides greater flexibility to the Company as to which bargaining unit employees would perform that work. The Company refused that proposal as well.

Third, the final issue that is preventing a new agreement is the Company’s bad faith bargaining. MCT/MCM initially exploited the coronavirus pandemic by refusing to meet at all and then refusing to negotiate over economic matters. When the Union was finally able to force MCT/MCM back to the table, it tried to short-circuit the negotiations with ill-advised “Last, Best and Final offers.” MCT/MCM further tried to short-circuit the negotiations when CEO Hobson sent e-mails to you, mischaracterizing the Company’s last, best and final offers and encouraging you to ask your Union for a vote on proposals that the Company had not made at the time.

Throughout these two years of negotiations, the Union simply wanted to negotiate a new agreement that was fair and reasonable to everyone. The Union wanted an agreement that embodies the respect you deserve, as award- winning contributors to local, independent media. The Union wants an agreement that is fair to MCT/MCM, so that it can provide you with the employment that allows for you to continue winning awards and improving the quality of the media in Montgomery County.

On the other hand, MCT/MCM has not considered your needs as valuable employees. It refused for a long time to pay you properly. Now, it wants to limit or eliminate part-time employees’ access to fringe benefits, and it is seeking to do so during difficult times.

This has been a very frustrating time for the NABET-CWA negotiating team. We need your help! Wear RED whenever possible. Tell the Company you need to be appreciated! Union employees were slapped in the face in 2019 when every other employee at MCT/MCM got a pay raise.

This Company has received funding from the County budget. They have received special appropriations during COVID. Under the County “Services Contract” MCT/MCM receives almost double the salaries paid to those employees! Where does all the money go? Ask yourselves, then respond! Discuss this with management, but better yet… call and write to the County Councilmembers! They need to hear from you! This has continued too long!

The County Councilmembers emails are:

President, Sidney Katz – councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov
Vice President, Tom Hucker councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov
Gabe Albornoz – councilmember.Albornoz@montgomerycountymd.gov
Andrew Friedson – councilmember.Friedson@montgomerycountymd.gov
Evan Glass – councilmember.Glass@montgomerycountymd.gov
Will Jawando – councilmember.Jawando@montgomerycountymd.gov
Craig Rice – councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov
Nancy Navarro – councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov
Hans Riemer – councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov

In Solidarity,
MCT/MCM Negotiating Committee
/mw opeiu153afl-cio

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Turnout by County: 2020 Primary, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, we looked at overall turnout rate by county. In Part Two, we examined turnout rate by party. This post compares turnout between 2016 and 2020.

The chart below shows change in turnout rate between the 2016 and 2020 primaries. This one is a bit tricky. The counties in red (Allegany, Anne Arundel and Caroline) allowed unaffiliated voters to vote in 2020 but not in 2016. Therefore, since unaffiliated voters turn out at lower rates than party members, these counties’ turnout change is skewed downward. The counties in green (Cecil, Kent, Saint Mary’s and Worcester) allowed unaffiliated voters to vote in 2016 but not in 2020. Their turnout change is skewed upward.

Throw out the counties which allowed unaffiliated voters to vote in one year but not the other and this trend emerges: the four jurisdictions in which turnout went up the most – Prince George’s, Charles, Baltimore City and Montgomery – are all heavily Democratic and have large populations of color.

Overall, the two parties are headed in different directions.

Statewide Democratic turnout increased from 44.1% in the 2016 primary to 48.7% this year. Every county except Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Howard and Washington saw increases in the Democratic turnout rate. One might have expected 2016 turnout to be higher among Democrats because Bernie Sanders had not yet dropped out by the time Maryland voted (on April 26). Nevertheless, 2020 primary turnout was higher despite Sanders suspending his campaign months before Maryland’s election day (June 2).

Statewide Republican turnout fell from 46.5% in the 2016 primary to 35.6% this year. Every county in the state saw a decline in Republican turnout. This was probably affected by the fact that the 2016 Republican primary was still semi-competitive when Maryland voted on April 26 whereas the 2020 Republican primary has not been competitive at all.

Overall, the picture of significant turnout increases in majority-black jurisdictions like Prince George’s and Charles counties along with falling Republican turnout across the board should not be encouraging to the GOP. Maryland looks poised to see tons of Democratic voters rushing to the polls (or more likely, the mailbox) to demonstrate their fury against the current occupant of the Oval Office. One wonders how this will affect the various ballot questions and charter amendments across the state, especially the ones in Montgomery County.

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Turnout by County: 2020 Primary, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One showed the overall turnout rate by county in the 2020 primary but that statistic conceals numerous nuances. Today, we will look at turnout by party. Let’s start with the Democrats.

Every Maryland county had higher turnout among Democrats than among voters overall except Cecil, Dorchester and Somerset. Jurisdictions with the lowest Democratic turnout rates tend to be dominated by the GOP.

The chart below shows turnout rate among Republicans.

The most obvious fact here is that statewide turnout among Republicans (35.6%) was significantly lower than among Democrats (48.7%). In fact, in every county except Cecil, Dorchester and Somerset, the turnout rate among Democrats was higher than among Republicans. Granted, with the exception of a contested county executive primary in Cecil County, Republicans don’t have much to vote for because their incumbent president had little primary competition. But something similar could be said for Democrats outside Baltimore City.

The chart below shows turnout rate among unaffiliated voters.

Only 11 counties allowed unaffiliated voters to vote in the 2020 primary. Since Maryland has closed primaries, unaffiliated voters cannot vote in party primaries but they can vote in primaries held for non-partisan offices. Among the counties allowing unaffiliated voters to vote this year, all had non-partisan school board races on the ballot except Washington County, which held non-partisan primaries for municipal offices in the City of Hagerstown.

In Part Three, we will examine change in turnout between 2016 and 2020.

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MoCo Democrats Take Position on Charter Amendments

By Adam Pagnucco.

As they do in every election year, officials of Montgomery County’s Democratic Party gathered tonight to take positions on charter amendments and ballot questions.

The standard format is for the party’s ballot question advisory committee, which studies such questions, to present information to the party’s precinct organization. The precinct organization, comprised of the party’s network of precinct officers, hears opinions, discusses the questions and takes votes. The party’s central committee takes the final votes establishing the party’s position, although they usually don’t go against the precinct organization’s stance unless the latter’s vote is close.

Tonight, County Executive Marc Elrich and a majority of the county council made their case to the precinct organization on the county charter amendments. The precinct organization voted in line with their recommendations and so did the party central committee. I don’t have exact vote tallies but my sources say they were all lopsided.

The ultimate vote by the MoCo Democrats was:

Yes to Question A, which was Council Member Andrew Friedson’s proposal to redo the county’s charter limit on property taxes.

No to Question B, which was Robin Ficker’s charter amendment to impose a hard cap on increases to property tax collections.

There was huuuuuge support for A and equally huuuuuge opposition to B (the Ficker amendment).

Yes to Question C, which was Council Member Evan Glass’s proposal to increase council district seats from five to seven and retain the current four at-large seats.

No to Question D, which is a charter amendment to convert the county council into nine district seats. No doubt the Democrats paid heed to the fact that Republicans support this proposal because they believe it might create a Republican council seat.

The party also voted to support state question 1 (which would grant more budgetary authority to the General Assembly over the governor’s budgets) and state question 2 (which would allow sports betting).

The exact language of all the questions and charter amendments can be seen on the official county ballot.

The party’s vote tonight is important because it will be expressed on its sample ballot, which is customarily mailed to hundreds of thousands of registered county Democrats. The vote is a particular blow to the Nine Districts for MoCo group, which has depicted its charter amendment as bipartisan but now has it supported by county Republicans and officially opposed by county Democrats.

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How Hard are County Employees Getting Hit by COVID?

By Adam Pagnucco.

One dimension of the current COVID crisis that has not been addressed so far is the impact on county employees. Many county employees, especially in public safety and transportation, are essential workers who have to interact face-to-face with the public. How are they doing in terms of their exposure to COVID-19?

The county’s COVID dashboard contains some data on county employee exposure. As of this morning, the county reported that 1,102 of its employees had missed work due to “a COVID-19 related exposure.” Of those employees, 1,037 had returned to work, 72 were currently in quarantine and 3 had passed away. Exposures by department are shown in the table below.

Overall, 10% of county employees have missed work due to exposure. The four departments with the highest rates of missed work are correction (38% of positions), fire and rescue (16%), transportation (12%) and police (11%).

However, exposures do not equal actual cases of COVID-19. I asked county health officer Travis Gayles for actual COVID cases by department and the county’s Office of Human Resources supplied them. The table below shows cases by department and compares them to cases among county residents.

Countywide, COVID cases account for roughly 2% of the population. For the most part, the case rates among county employees are near that level or lower.

Overall, the data shows that the county is doing a decent job of protecting most of its employees from COVID. Some departments have experienced significant scheduling challenges due to quarantine procedures from exposures. But those same quarantines may have helped limit the spread of the virus in employee work sites. This data suggests that as an employer, the county has done its part to contain COVID-19.

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MoCo Republicans Attack Jawando Over Police Reform

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Republican Party is now running this video attacking Council Member Will Jawando over his efforts to reform the police department.

The GOP is even running a Facebook ad to promote the video.

Not everyone is supportive of the county’s efforts to reform, reimagine and/or defund the police. Our post on the subject, “Free-For-All,” is on track to be the most-viewed post on Seventh State for this month. But getting attacked by Republicans is great for Jawando in building his prestige inside the county’s progressive Democratic base. Jawando should consider offering a subsidy to help the GOP run the ad in Takoma Park and the rest of the Democratic Crescent!

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Turnout by County: 2020 Primary, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The 2020 primary is behind us and the ballots will go out soon for the general election. With few local races going on in the state but a historic presidential election coming, how did Maryland counties do on turnout?

First, let’s look at the final turnout percentage by county in the 2020 presidential primary. Jurisdictions in green had races on the ballot for which unaffiliated people could vote while jurisdictions in blue did not.

It’s not a coincidence that the bottom six counties had non-partisan races on the ballot for which unaffiliated voters could vote. Unaffiliated voters turn out at lower rates than party members, so when they are included in a voting population, the overall turnout rate is skewed downward. Baltimore City’s status as number one is due to the fact that it elects its mayor, comptroller and city council members in presidential years, an unusual practice for local jurisdictions in Maryland.

In Part Two, we will look at turnout by party.

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Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

By Adam Pagnucco.

MoCo voters will see two charter amendments on property taxes on their ballots this fall. One of them was submitted by long-time anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, who delivered his petition signatures in February. The other was authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson and placed on the ballot by the county council. The Washington Post editorial board dislikes both, but for progressives, the choice is clear: the Friedson amendment is superior in providing adequate funding for government.

The first reason why progressives should support the Friedson amendment over the Ficker amendment is due to the nature of how they allow revenue increases. The Ficker amendment uses the methodology of the current charter limit on property taxes, which dates back to 1990. Currently, MoCo’s charter allows the volume of real property tax collections to rise at the rate of inflation with a few relatively minor exceptions. Friedson’s charter amendment would cap the weighted average tax rate on real property and allow collections to rise with assessments. So to compare their revenue generation over time, we need to compare the growth in price inflation (which is relied upon by the Ficker amendment) to the growth in assessments (which is relied upon by the Friedson amendment).

The chart below compares the growth in the county’s assessed value of real property to the growth in the Washington-Baltimore Consumer Price Index (CPI) from 2003 through 2017.

This period contained three distinct economic phases. The 2003-2010 period saw robust economic growth throughout the Washington region, causing assessment growth (115%) to far outpace price inflation (26%). Then came the Great Recession years of 2010 to 2013, during which assessments fell (5% over three years) while prices rose modestly (7%). In the slow recovery through 2017, assessments went up by 12% while prices rose by 4%. For the entire period, assessments increased by 129% while price inflation was 41%, suggesting that Friedson’s approach would have yielded MUCH more property tax revenue growth than Ficker’s. (The exact difference would have depended on other factors such as the application of tax credits, especially the homestead tax credit.)

That said, in four of these sixteen years – the period of the Great Recession – Ficker’s approach would have raised more than Friedson’s because real estate values tend to decline during prolonged economic downturns. That leads us to the second major difference between the Friedson and Ficker amendments. Friedson’s amendment allows a unanimous council vote to break the charter limit on property taxes, which continues current practice. Ficker’s amendment eliminates the ability of the council to break the limit, thereby instituting a hard cap on property tax collections. (There is an important exception to this in state law which will be the subject of a future post.) If property tax collections collapse during a recession, Friedson would allow the council to intervene in case of an emergency while Ficker would not. That’s another big reason why progressives should support the Friedson amendment.

Some progressives were disappointed because they wanted the council to adopt County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed charter amendment, which would have made property tax hikes easier. Good luck getting MoCo voters whose wallets are getting slammed by COVID-19 to support anything opening the door to tax hikes. The Friedson and Ficker amendments both limit property tax increases, but since the Friedson amendment raises more money over time, it deserves the support of the left.

Update: An earlier version of this post was based on changes in the national CPI. This version is based on the Washington-Baltimore CPI. The two measures change at similar rates so the conclusions here are unaffected.

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Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans

By Adam Pagnucco.

Marylin Pierre, whose insurgent campaign for circuit court judge is backed by some progressive groups, has courted the county Republican Party for support. At least that’s what the former chairman of the MoCo GOP is claiming. And he has a picture and campaign finance records to prove it.

Maryland judicial elections are strange birds. In most elections, candidates run in partisan primaries to get their party nominations. The party nominees then face off against each other along with any write-in or unaffiliated petition candidates in a general election. In elections for circuit court or orphan’s court judges, candidates may run in any party primaries, including more than one party at a time, and whoever wins those primaries appears on the ballot in a non-partisan general election. For the most part, judicial candidates are those who emerge from a rigorous vetting process by judicial nominating commissions and receive temporary appointments to the bench pending election. However, other candidates who are age 30 or older, have been a state resident for 5 years and are a member of the Maryland bar may also run for judge.

Pierre has tried but failed to make it through the state’s vetting process before. Nevertheless, she has run for circuit court judge as is her right under state law. This year, four seats are on the ballot, each occupied by a vetted appointee (a sitting judge) seeking election. In the Republican primary, all four slots were won by the four sitting judges. In the Democratic primary, Pierre won one of the slots with three of the four sitting judges taking the others. Pierre is now facing the four sitting judges in a contentious general election. The top four vote-getters will win.

This is not the first time Pierre has run for judge. She ran in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in 2018 too, losing both and failing to advance to the general election. In evaluating Pierre’s current campaign, former MoCo GOP chairman and current central committee member Alexander A. Bush wrote an article on the party’s website recalling Pierre’s 2018 campaign. Bush wrote:

For a judicial candidate to get their name on the November General Election ballot, they must win in either the Republican or Democratic Primary election. Historically, insurgent candidates have focused on trying to win in the Republican Primary, because our primary has only about 15% as many voters as the Democratic Primary. It’s simple math: the campaigning necessary to win among 12,000 Republicans is a lot easier than the campaigning necessary to convince 75,000 Democrats.

And in 2018, that is exactly what Marylin Pierre attempted to do.

In January that year, Mrs. Pierre and her treasurer came to our candidate training event and assured those running the event that she would be a strongly conservative judge and asked for the party’s support in the 2018 Primary. Mrs. Pierre came to one of our fundraising dinners in early February to ask for our votes again, as campaign finance records will show. And later that month she came to our yearly convention, and proudly posed for a photo with the current county chairwoman for the Trump for President Campaign.

Bush ran this photo as proof.

State Board of Elections records also support Bush’s account, showing Pierre making two $70 contributions to the county Republican Party. One of those contributions (on 2/14/18) was made during the 2018 cycle. The other (on 2/5/19) was made after the 2018 election and occurred during this cycle.

Bush’s reaction to all this is scathing. He wrote:

Mrs. Pierre lost in both parties’ primaries in 2018. In fact, she did worse in the Republican Primary. Obviously, she has decided to change her strategy, and has remade herself into whatever she thinks will help her win.

If this doesn’t convince you, regardless of your political views, not to vote for Marylin Pierre, then nothing will.

After writing his article, Bush later told me directly, “At the candidate training, she asked for MCGOP’s support, claiming she would be a ‘law and order’ judge who would be tough on bail.”

This time around, Pierre is running as anything but a Republican. She has participated in Progressive Maryland’s candidate training program and has been endorsed by Progressive Neighbors, Our Revolution and Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, one of the most progressive elected officials on Planet Earth. What would they have thought if they knew that she had been courting and donating to Republicans?

There is more. In a video on Facebook, Pierre criticized her opponents because a Trump supporter sat on one of their nominating commissions. Showing the person at a pro-Trump rally, Pierre said, “This woman was on the commission that recommended almost half of the Montgomery County judges to the governor. Does she share your values? Will the judges she recommended take Montgomery County in the direction you want to go?”

And so Pierre goes after her opponents because a Trump supporter sat on one of their nominating commissions after she herself gave money to the county GOP – twice.

I have asked Pierre for comment on Bush’s story and I will print it when I receive it.

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