Tag Archives: Ike Leggett

Snowzilla Communication Breakdown

Thanks to Adam Pagnucco for this guest post:

Snowzilla has turned out to be a historic storm. Every local jurisdiction from the City of Baltimore to Northern Virginia has struggled to recover from it, and Montgomery County is no exception. While MoCo residents complain about the pace of snow removal, with and without justification, there is no evidence that the county has performed worse than comparable jurisdictions. But one area in which it has fallen short is communicating with its residents.

Most residents have one question on their minds: when can I escape from my neighborhood? Let’s be fair: during a mega-event like Snowzilla, that’s a really hard question to answer. The county is coordinating a large fleet of employees and contractors, as well as working with other agencies like the state, Metro, Park and Planning and MCPS. A great deal of the equipment being used is not GPS-enabled. The most honest answer is also the least satisfactory: we don’t know.

The county chose to rely on its snow removal map to deal with resident questions. The county’s Department of Transportation repeatedly directed residents to the map on Twitter.

MCDOT map tweet 1-23 MCDOT map tweet 1-25The problem is that the map wasn’t showing any useful information. Below is an image of the map as of Tuesday, January 26. The map shows that every county street in Glenmont, Wheaton and unincorporated Kensington was “in progress.” It showed similar information all over the county. That’s physically impossible. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to be everywhere at once and residents know that.

Snowmap 1-26-2016Faced with a non-functioning map, residents overwhelmed MC 311. Some called only to hear a recording. Even if they got through, no answers were available. Again, the county simply didn’t know when individual neighborhoods would be cleared, even though they claimed the map would say so.

Meanwhile, municipalities appeared to be doing a better job. Consider the Facebook posts of Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman. On Saturday, January 23, the Mayor reported that all city streets had received a first pass. He then reported that all streets would receive a second pass the following morning. This is a period during which county plows had not reached neighborhood streets at all. Residents of unincorporated areas, for which the county has responsibility, have friends in municipalities and were aware of their performance. This only increased their frustrations.

Jud first pass Jud second passCouncil Member Hans Riemer (my former employer) nailed it in a post on Facebook. Noting his work on securing funding for an upgraded snow map and planning for pedestrian mobility during snow storms, he wrote: “Better communications technology would save our residents a lot of anxiety during snow events, and enable them to more adequately plan for their work and family lives. If technology answered more questions, it would also take pressure off of our 311 call center, which has been completely overwhelmed by the volume of calls they’ve received during this storm.” And he’s absolutely right.

Hans snowSnowzilla was a gigantic storm and public employees across the region deserve tremendous credit for their recovery efforts. But MoCo had a communication breakdown that made a stressful event worse. Here’s hoping that Council Member Riemer and his colleagues can help the county prepare to do better next time.

Prince George’s Out Negotiates Montgomery

As explained previously on 7S, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker played hard to get on ponying up additional funds for the Purple Line in an effort to set up his County to extract concessions in price and other matters. Turns out he succeeded at both:

Prince George’s County has tentatively agreed to commit an additional $20 million to finance the Purple Line in exchange for assurances from state transportation officials that construction will begin within its borders and the command center be built there, a top aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said Thursday. . . .

“I agree to accomplish each of these requests,” [Transportation Secretary] Rahn replied in an Aug. 12 letter to Baker.

Montgomery agreed to pay $40 million in additional costs and received nothing.

Baker negotiated a better deal than Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett or Council President George Leventhal. His County will pay half as much in additional costs, obtain more, and still have the light-rail project he supported move forward.

Baker and Leggett on Race and Endorsements

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker got asked essentially why he, as an African-American leader, endorsed a white man over a black woman for U.S. Senate. Baker responded well and then Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett jumped in to give an exceptionally eloquent statement:

Regardless of whether you prefer Van Hollen, Edwards, or someone else, their answers as to why they support Chris Van Hollen speak to the content of both of these gentlemen’s character.

Why No MoCo Transit Authority

brt-photo1

Bus-Rapid Transit

Only a few days after I wrote a post outlining County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposal to create an Independent Transit Authority (ITA) for Montgomery County, the state legislative bill towards that end was withdrawn at his request as it didn’t seem likely to pass.

While MCGEO’s Gino Renne would probably like to think that the bizarre circus he created around the bill’s hearing, analyzed yesterday (“Ready for His Closeup”), had a lot to do with it–and it didn’t help–ultimately many other factors played a far greater role in the decision not to move forward now.

Playing Captain Hindsight and analyzing what went wrong is sometimes a little frustrating to those involved. Still, analysis can serve as food for thought for next time, not a bad idea since Tom Street in Ike Leggett’s office told me that the County Executive hasn’t given up yet: “He is soliciting ideas and alternatives but still believes, absent hearing about anything better, that he has the right approach.”

The Process

At the hearing, there was much outrage expressed about the political process. Except that this is the normal process for how bills become laws. The General Assembly meets only for 90 days every year and a lot has to get done in the session. Late-filed bills occur in every session and the hearing was moved to Rockville from Annapolis to make public input easier.

Many often complain that the state legislative delegation doesn’t work well with the County government. In this case, the delegation responded quickly to a request from the County Executive, who was just reelected to a third term, to aid with a top priority.

Nonetheless, the Executive needed to think more about the unofficial process (i.e. do more to get his ducks in a row in advance). Though many people testified in favor of the bill, they were for the bill rather than FOR the bill.

If there were clarion calls from the organizations that should emphatically favor this legislation (e.g. Action Committee for Transit), I sure didn’t hear them. More consultation with key players probably would have served the Executive well.

Executive Leadership

County Executive Ike Leggett deserves credit for getting the discussion started on an ITA. While not without drawbacks, it provides a means for Montgomery to move forward in a meaningful way on its transportation priorities and to make sure that tax dollars for the purpose stay in Montgomery.

Nonetheless, the WaPo editorial lauding the County Executive for his leadership  doesn’t mention that he walked out of the hearing early without talking to any of his constituents as he departed. County Executive Leggett normally excels at listening–a key part of the job–so I was surprised to hear this. If he wants something of this magnitude that will inevitably engender some controversy, he needs to be willing to stand his ground and argue for it.

To Do What?

More needed to be done to outline specifically the intended purpose of the ITA with various ideas floated. While the County Executive  proposed this with something in mind, it was not made sufficiently clear to the public.

He needs to outline for the community what he wants to do. In particular, he should explain that we need to build the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT)–already advanced into the design phase–and one other BRT line in the network approved in the County Master Plan as a demonstration project before doing the rest of the planned system.

The CCT is widely supported and will give the County a real economic boost. As Tom Street explained: “The CCT has more documented job creation potential than any other proposed transit project in the County. It is a very high priority for the Executive.”

Additionally, the Viers Mill BRT route provokes less controversy than others as most of it can be built in the median. The operation of one line will likely help answer questions many residents have regarding a mode of transit new to them.

The Business Community

The business community is hesitant to get fully behind an ITA because, like everyone else, they don’t want to pay and balk when asked to trust the tender mercies of the County Council on the amount. But business would be more supportive of a finite amount utilized to build projects that it wants.

One potential solution would be to create special tax districts geared toward capturing revenue from commercial landowners who stand to benefit tremendously from this project to provide the capital needed for construction but not operating costs. The county already has the authority to do this without an ITA.

These tax districts would shift capital costs away from residents, which they would like, towards commercial beneficiaries. Capping the costs at capital expenditures would reassure business, however, that they are not on the hook for unlimited amounts.

Residents and the Charter Limit

Montgomery County currently charges the highest property tax and highest income tax legally permitted. Residents are naturally suspicious when asked to pay more. Their suspicions rise even further when shifting expenses from the current budget to the ITA would allow more spending in other areas than possible under the current Charter limit.

The County Executive will never assuage all concerns. Some will oppose all taxes and just don’t want any BRT lines. But there are steps he could take to build greater trust with the public. Making clearer the purpose of the ITA in conjunction with the County Council would be a good start.

Additionally, any tax expenditures shifted over from the budget to the ITA–for example, if the ITA managed the Ride-On system– should still continue to count towards the Charter limit. This should reduce concern that the ITA is simply a ruse to raise spending on non-transportation measures.

The taxes designated for the ITA should also focus on operating rather than capital expenditures. If special tax districts targeted at business pay for most of the capital costs, it is easier to make the case that we should then pay to maintain this infrastructure. It would also reduce the new taxes required from residents.

County Council Leadership

The Executive and the County Council could have worked more closely together with the Council signally support by vocally backing a proposal earlier. This time, the Council appeared to lead from behind and to distance themselves from the ITA proposal.

Council President George Leventhal projects himself as a transit leader despite his tepid support for BRT. But he missed a real opportunity to take a leadership role here in crafting a proposal and building support. The Council President should take the lead with County Executive Leggett to present a united proposal.

Both could then claim credit for having moved Montgomery off the dime on public transit. The Council has a key role to play here due its extensive authority and because its commitments are critical to establishing support from key players.

Alternatively, the Council could find the means to construct the Viers Mill BRT line within its existing budget as an initial more affordable step toward building a larger system.

 

Silver Spring Transit Center Costs Up 17.5%

Silver Spring Transit Center 2

The Washington Post reports that the costs of the Silver Spring Transit Center are up by $21 million, or 17.5%. Still no opening date scheduled for this highly complex transportation hub, which was discovered to be unsafe after it was built.

Councilmembers continue to blame the County Executive who blames the project designer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and contractor, Foulger-Pratt. Nevertheless, Council President George Leventhal says councilmembers will “hold our noses and vote for” County Executive Leggett’s request.

Somehow, I don’t think it comforts anyone about the loss of another $21 million or the County’s management of the project that the Council President is holding his nose. While both the Executive and the Council promise that taxpayers won’t have to pay for the increase, it remains to be seen if all or a portion of the expense can be extracted from Parsons-Brinckerhoff and Foulger-Pratt.

Same Firm Involved in the Purple Line

Parsons-Brinckerhoff also estimated the ridership data for the Purple Line, a project George Leventhal supports. However, the firm still is hiding how it calculated ridership in response to public requests. (see here and here). In light of these past problems, this lack of transparency and the lack of demands for it by the State or the County is not encouraging.

Any unforeseen increases in costs for the Purple Line would not be born by the Parsons-Brinckerhoff or the federal government. Hopefully, the County will get the designer to pay for the cost increases in the Silver Spring Transit Center. Right now, however, County taxpayers are footing the bill with the money lost to other needed County infrastructure projects.

 

WABA Launches Petition to Save Tunnel

From the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) blog:

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most traveled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail. . . .

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

WABA Petition

Purple Line Station Downgrade, No Tunnel Under Wisc. Ave.

In closed session yesterday, the Montgomery County Council concurred with the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett and decided not to go move forward with the funding to facilitate redevelopment of the APEX building and a much improved Purple Line stop in Bethesda.

The Council had already greatly expanded the size of the building that could be built on the spot in the hopes of enticing the owner to redevelop or to sell to a developer. However, they balked at agreement with the roughly $70 million in costs to the County to facilitate the deal and make it economically feasible.

There are three major effects of this decision:

Less Well-Designed Purple Line Station

The Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) had pressed the County to move forward with the APEX acquisition to allow construction of a well-designed Purple Line station. While the State now claims that the new station, projected to handle around 24,000 trips per day, will still be adequate, the failure to acquire the building requires major changes.

Passengers will need to cross the tracks–something MTA previously described as problematic but now says will be alright. Additionally, one of the platforms will have to be much smaller and the ease of accessibility to the system will decline. There will still be elevator banks for direct Purple to Red Line connections, though the entrances will need to be moved.

No Tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue

People wanting to continue on the much-used Capital Crescent Trail will have to make their crossing of Wisconsin Ave. at grade. Currently, there is a wide tunnel under the Air Rights Building that facilitates bike trips under Wisconsin Ave.

The original plans promised a new smaller tunnel under the Air Rights Building in tandem with the new Purple Line. This promise  evaporated after the project had moved on to a later stage when it became deemed to expensive.

Hope for the tunnel reemerged with the redevelopment of the APEX building. Indeed, Montgomery County government leaders expressed greater enthusiasm for the tunnel, most recently at a publicly televised debate before the Democratic primary.

The lack of a grade separated bicycle crossing will also likely anger area bicyclists concerned not just about ease of travel but public safety. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA),  has predicated its strong support on grade-separated crossings of major thoroughfares along the trail.

Less Development at APEX Site

One of the major goals of the construction of the Purple Line has been to stimulate development and economic growth, crucial to expanding the County’s tax base to pay to maintain infrastructure and services.

It will be more difficult and therefore much more expensive to tear down and construct a new larger building on the APEX site after the construction of the new Purple Line stop. As a result, it may never happen. Any redevelopment would be pushed much further into the future until (if ever) it become a profitable venture.

Conclusion

The developers working to arrange the deal (i.e. the purchase of the building from the current owners and money need to render its redevelopment economically feasible) could come back with a better set of numbers. So maybe it will all work out.

Right now, however, the County will be left will a Purple Line stop described to me as “adequate” or “functional” at best at its critical terminus and economic engine in Bethesda. It does nothing for trust in government, due to repeated broken promises from both MTA and the County over the tunnel and the politically convenient timing of these decisions.

Rapid Transit at the MoCo Fair

Councilmember Roger Berliner: “There is nothing more fundamental to the future of Montgomery County than making this happen. And making it happen during the next four years.”

Councilmember Marc Elrich: “This is the best answer we have to both the need for capacity and the limited dollars available.”

Councilmember Cherri Branson: “I cannot tell you how important a bus-rapid transit system would be for Route 29 not only to alleviate some of the current congestion but even more importantly to help us develop the east part of the county.”  –

County Executive Ike Leggett: “It will happen in Montgomery County. This is the right thing for our future.”

Tea Leaves of MD-03

MD-03 is a tricky district. It has a Jackson Pollock quality in terms of it’s lines that really means no elected official has a true base here. It does take in enough prime political real estate that if John Sarbanes (still a young man) runs for his father’s US Senate seat one day – there should be a hard thought Democratic primary.

From Montgomery County

It would not totally surprise me if Steve Silverman were interested in running for Congress, and he does indeed reside in the third district. He raised well over two million dollars in his bid for Montgomery County Exec in 2006. I doubt he could do half that for a Congressional campaign today. However, he’d have at least half a million at his disposal, and possibly seven or eight or nine hundred thousand.

A few terms in Congress would surely be an enticing capstone to Ike Leggett’s career (And he too lives in MD-03). He could put together 1.5 to 2.5 million dollars and would be a strong candidate. Ike would be a real heavy weigh. . . and don’t we always say he’d be a better legislator?

Anne Kaiser might clear a million dollars, but I’d be surprised. I wouldn’t be shocked if she had at least $700,000. I’d be blown away if she didn’t clear half a million. I suspect she’d get substantial help from national LGBT Donors and interests.

Craig Zucker could do $250,000-$500,000. He’d also be dynamic enough to stretch those dollars. Craig might do well with SEIU (He ran there home care program in Maryland at one point) which could help substantially. Zucker is an incredibly hardworking candidate and could make himself competitive for the seat.

Eric Luedtke is a lackluster fundraiser but could see substantial labor PAC money come to fund him. I’d also be a bit perplexed if the NEA didn’t spend hundreds of thousands in independent expenditure to support him, especially if Bill Ferguson were in the race. The dynamic between  Teacher Union Activist Luedtke and Teach for America Alumnus Ferguson on Education Reform, although they are (from what I understand), quite close in the legislature, might very well make this a proxy fight between powerful labor and reformist interests (similar to the 2013 Boston Mayoral run off between Marty Walsh and Dan Connelly).

Anne Arundel County 

Maybe former Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen. No idea what he could raise. More than 100. . . but who knows how much more? I don’t think he’d be a particularly serious candidate, with little opportunity to expand outside of his base in the City of Annapolis (not big enough to support a real congressional bid). Nice guy, though.

County Councilman Chris Trumbauer might be able to garner substantial backing in IE from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. Which is lucky for him because he couldn’t raise more than low six figures on his own. He’d be well positioned to lock down the Anne Arundel County portions of the district (although that’s not a huge base).

Baltimore County

Bobby Zirkin a dynamic, handsome young trial lawyer who happens to be a strong contender to be the next chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. If that happens, his number could be as high as $1.5 million. If not, $650,000-$1,000,000. Senator Zirkin could likely raise very substantial amounts of money from the incredibly tuned in community of Trial Lawyers that finances so many Democratic Stalwarts.

Dan Morhaim – a Delegate and a Doctor makes a powerful combination. Would clear a million easily. Two million might be a stretch. Shares a heavily Jewish Western Baltimore County district with Zirkin. Despite being one of the stronger fundraisers in the house, he lacks enough pizzazz to be a solid congressional contender in my opinion.

Jon Cardin– Would raise a million easily, but not more than $1.2 or 1.3. Would benefit from confusion with his uncle as well. But, I think that Jon is pretty done after the AG Race. However, the Cardin brand is stronger here than it is statewide.

Baltimore City

Brooke Lierman She could raise a million bucks off her last name, and probably another 300K off of her own network. If Hoyer came in to aid his former Chief of Staff’s daughter you could see another quarter million drop in. She’d be competitive against Anne Kaiser for an Emily’s List endorsement. But as we saw with Heather Mizeur in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary they don’t devote a lot of resources to Democratic Primaries in Deep Blue states.

Bill Ferguson – A handsome, white, young Baltimorean State Senator with real education reform credentials. Can he get buy in from national Ed Reform donors and raise mega millions? I’m not sure. A guy to watch, none the less. With a very, very solid base in the rapidly gentrifying, densely Democratic neighborhoods of South Baltimore. Definitely one to watch.

bIn a primary this crowded, with so many disparate bases of support, I have no clue who might come out on top. I’m not going to pretend that I do.

 

 

Do We Like Like Ike? MoCo County Exec Race, Pt. I

County Executive Isaiah Leggett is running for a third term. I guess the question at this point is not if we like Ike–clearly we do–but do we like like him. Or at least do we prefer him to his opponents?

Ike has governed in tough times. He took office just as the great recession sent the economy and tax revenues straight down the crapper–to use the technical term. Not an easy job. It’s more fun to govern when revenues are on the increase and there’s money. I know from experience because Chevy Chase suffered a fifty percent decline (you read right) in revenues while I had the pleasure of being mayor.

So Ike had to make tough calls.

Ike is known as a highly calm individual who likes to wait to make decisions. And by wait, I mean take forever.

But in very tough times, he made the right calls–choosing to protect the schools system–Montgomery’s crown jewel–and police above all else. He ruthlessly cut other budget items to protect these two core services. Libraries, among other services, experienced unprecedented cuts as a results.

At the same time, perhaps Ike didn’t do enough. Ike certainly battened down the hatches. But if crisis is another word for opportunity, did he take it? Were oxes actually gored (i.e. programs actually shut down that needed to go) or were programs merely cut to live another day?