Tag Archives: MCEA

MCEA Announces Rally for Safe Schools on Tuesday

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has announced that it is planning a rally for safe schools outside MCPS headquarters on Tuesday. The rally will be a socially distanced car picket. MCEA’s press release is reprinted below.


Friday, February 19, 2021
Media Contact: Kiwana Hall

Montgomery County Education Association to Rally in Demand of Safe and Equitable Reopening of Schools

ROCKVILLE, MD – Frontline Montgomery County educators will hold a socially-distanced, collective action outside Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) headquarters in the form of a car picket and rally. Members of Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) are demanding that the MCPS Board of Education consider equitable solutions for the safe reopening of schools.

Who: Montgomery County educators and community members

What: Car picket and rally

When: Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Members, Parents, and Community Supporters arrive at 4:30 p.m.

Picket line and program begins at 5 p.m.

Where: MCPS headquarters at 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, Maryland 20850

Note: Montgomery County educators will be available for interviews at the demonstration, or by request in advance.

Why: MCPS approved a reopening plan that MCEA found requires “more space, more people, and more resources than are now available,” and has inadequate safety measures for students and educators. As a result, the association took a vote of no confidence in the plan.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.



Elrich and Gayles Comment on MCPS Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of MCEA’s resolution expressing no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan, County Executive Marc Elrich and county health officer Travis Gayles were asked by the press today whether they agreed with MCEA or MCPS. Following is a transcription of their comments.

Question from Tom Fitzgerald, Fox 5 DC:

Question about schools. A lot of us got a news release yesterday from Montgomery County Education Association which says in part that they were passing a lack of confidence resolution. Quote: “The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented, requiring more resources, more people, more space and more time and not negatively impacting students’ learning experience.” This is for Dr. Gayles and the county executive. Understanding what we just said about not wanting to open things up to have things rebound, I guess the simple question is are they right? Is the plan that’s been presented in a position to not be successfully implemented?

County health officer Travis Gayles:

I can speak from a health perspective. I’m not privy to those conversations between the union and MCPS and so forth. What I can say is this: is that the guidance that we have provided continues to be the same and is consistent with the metrics and measures that we put out in the fall using the state guidelines as well as the CDC guidelines in terms of metrics and markers where we thought it would be safe to come back related to test positivity and community transmission rate as evidenced by case rates.

And the numbers that we have are moving in that direction, which is favorable. What’s also different now than before, which again I continue to emphasize, is that we are seeing teachers and education staff get vaccinated and have access to that. I do think it is important for them to be able to have access to at least one shot before going back into the classroom. I know some may say that’s controversial given some of the CDC guidance but I do think we should continue to ensure that they have access to that as an added layer of protection when they go into the classroom.

Based upon… Dr. Stoddard and I, we meet regularly with our colleagues at MCPS, and based upon the tremendous amount of work that they have put into planning and coming up with different provisions and safety measures to put into the classrooms to mitigate transmission, we feel that they have done their due diligence in that and continue to refine. Though that said, I think if anyone should be concerned, going back into work for person-to-person, but we do feel that they have put a lot of effort in terms of coming up with different contingency plans and safety measures to mitigate transmission as much as possible. And we will certainly continue to… again, we don’t make those decisions, so again, for everybody at home, the health department does not make the decisions whether or not schools open, but we will continue to again monitor our guidance that we have provided to them based upon the surveillance information we have at hand.

County Executive Marc Elrich:

I haven’t read everything the school system’s proposed. I understand concerns about whether ventilation issues and other things have been adequately addressed, or how many people are going to be in a classroom because… as a former teacher, if I had the regular sized class in a regular sized classroom, I would never achieve the separation that people want. So I would want to look at how they are gonna deal with the number of kids who are brought back into classrooms.

And I think the big thing that gets lost in all of this is we talk about Montgomery County as if Montgomery County were all the same. And the truth is, and this is one reason why we’ve been focused on equity issues, there are parts of the county that do really, really well. I mean, our positivity and cases per hundred thousand is the total for the entire county – they are not evenly distributed across the county. You can look at zip codes, and we’ve got zip code maps, and you’ll see far more cases and far more apparent transmission per hundred thousand and you’ll see other zip codes where you don’t see many cases and you have, and you extrapolate much lower likelihood of transmission. So I understand that people would look at different neighborhoods and have different concerns about where you were teaching and what’s the environment and what’s the positivity rather than just looking at countywide numbers. I think there is something to be said for thinking about that.


MCPS Responds to MCEA No Confidence Resolution

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Jack Smith just released a statement responding to MCEA’s resolution of no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement is reprinted below.


Statement from the Board of Education and Superintendent Jack R. Smith on The MCEA Resolution on MCPS’ Return-to-School Plan

February 17, 2021
Statement from the Board of Education:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to be a significant challenge for our public education system. As a system, we have worked collectively to meet the moment by being resilient and focused on serving our students. Given the challenges we have faced, and the challenges ahead of us, the Montgomery County Board of Education (Board) is deeply disappointed in the Montgomery County Education Association’s (MCEA) recent actions regarding school reopening. During the last 11 months, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) administration has spent hundreds of hours engaging with MCEA leadership and reached tentative agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding on February 12. The Board believes in collaboration with all stakeholders, including our teachers’ union. However, collaboration does not supplant the singular responsibility and authority of the Board to make decisions about MCPS. The Board always welcomes feedback to enhance and improve our recovery plan, but we must work together constructively to ensure the best outcomes for all students, particularly during this pandemic.

The pandemic has strained us individually and as a community. There is no perfect plan and no decision without consequences. We will continue to review and adjust our strategies to fulfill our core mission of ensuring that every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social-emotional skills to be successful in college and career.”

Statement from Superintendent Jack R. Smith:

“Montgomery County Public Schools has developed a comprehensive recovery plan that prioritizes the safety of students and staff and the continued academic growth of all students. While we understand that staff may have some questions and concerns, these plans were developed with input from a diverse set of MCPS stakeholders and are reflective of the district’s commitment to fostering a partnership that benefits our students, staff and community.

I am deeply perplexed by the vote of no confidence from the teachers’ union, coming on the same day we released the joint Memorandum of Understanding. Our recovery plan and discussions with the association followed months of tremendous collaboration and interaction in development of this work. MCPS staff benchmarked with school districts across the state and nation for best practices and applied important guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our state and local health officials. Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, COVID-19 case tracking, testing and personal attestation will all be a part of the experience once students return to ensure safety for all.

We have worked diligently to ensure thorough mitigation protocols, personal protective equipment (PPE) and professional development are in place for staff to make in-person learning as safe as possible. We are focused on providing an equitable and high-quality instructional experience for all students, whether virtual or in-person. Many students and families are eagerly awaiting this return and school leaders and support professionals are committed to this.

We look forward to welcoming the first group of students back to our buildings on March 1 and March 15, and know that our staff is dedicated to meeting the needs of all our students. “


MCEA Votes No Confidence in MCPS Reopening Plan

By Adam Pagnucco.

Minutes ago, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) released a statement that their worksite representatives had passed a resolution expressing “a lack of confidence” in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement and the text of the resolution appear below.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Contact on behalf of Montgomery County Education Association:
Kiwana Hall, Communications Director

Montgomery County Education Association Statement on Lack of Confidence Resolution

In response to the inadequacy of the reopening plan approved by the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on February 9th, elected worksite representatives of the Montgomery County Education Association have overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools.

MCEA’s highest level decision-making body, the Representative Assembly, held an emergency meeting on February 15th to discuss the resolution. Over one thousand members and representatives attended. The full resolution is available here.

The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented – requiring more resources, more people, and more space than is available – without negatively impacting students’ learning experience.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.

MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators.


The text of MCEA’s resolution appears below.


WHEREAS the safety and health of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) employees and students is a priority in school system operations, and

WHEREAS the global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted Montgomery County, Maryland with more than 61,000 cases and more than 1,350 deaths, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires human and capital resources that significantly exceed those of a pre-COVID era, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires a sustainable instructional model, which allows for all students to receive a free and appropriate education, and

WHEREAS the MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools is responsible for the development of a coherent and effective plan for instruction, and

WHEREAS the plan approved by the MCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students, and diverts resources from Black and Brown children, and children impacted by poverty, the majority of whose families have indicated through the MCPS survey a preference for remaining in distance learning.

Therefore be it RESOLVED, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has no confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools.

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall provide the opportunity to all employees to be fully vaccinated prior to a return to school, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall develop and implement a coherent contact tracing and weekly diagnostic testing program in line with CDC guidelines prior to any return to worksites, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall transparently and robustly communicate to employees, families, and community information related to COVID-19 contraction and transmission at the classroom and worksite level, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall adequately staff all instructional models, particularly those which directly serve Black and, Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishment of access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to all CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings which includes but is not limited to mitigation measures, and phased-in reopening of schools based on the zone metrics (Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red), and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the ventilation in worksites and environmental air quality of work sites. If any worksite does not have safe ventilation in all rooms, MCPS will install HEPA and other filters to block the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, MCPS shall release all test results for each worksite, office, and classroom to all stakeholders before requiring unit members to have to return to any worksites.


The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we listed posts 11 through 20 in terms of page views for the year 2020. Here are the top ten.

  1. Volcano in Rockville

In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.

  1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.

  1. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
  2. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
  3. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”

It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.

  1. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.

  1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.

  1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.

On to 2021!


The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2020 was hugely eventful for the entire world and MoCo was no exception. In our county, 2020 saw a public health crisis, a resulting economic crash and huge challenges to our quality of life. In political terms, it also saw unusually contentious elections for school board and circuit court judge, four historic ballot questions and numerous fights inside county government. We wrote about it all on Seventh State. Here are the top twenty posts measured by page views from the people who count the most – YOU, our readers.

  1. Miscreants Run Wild at Elrich Press Conference

This was a poorly organized public event gone wrong, culminating with an unmasked protestor getting within spitting distance of the county executive. For those who question the need for the executive to have a security detail, this is Exhibit A for why it can be necessary.

  1. Elrich Vetoes WMATA Property Tax Bill

County Executive Marc Elrich’s first veto, this one targeting a council-passed bill giving Metro station developers 15-year property tax breaks, set off a fight on corporate welfare that has not ended by a long shot. That will prove especially true if a proposal by the planning staff to grant tax abatements to other properties near Metro stations advances.

  1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight

MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart wrote this guest blog on inequities in MCPS’s capital budget. It’s a must-read for everyone who cares about school construction.

  1. Will MCPS Reopen?

In early November, MCPS told the public that it was planning a phased-in reopening of schools for some in-person instruction. But the winter surge of COVID quickly overtook that plan and cast the timing of reopening in doubt. The issue is still unsettled.

  1. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff

Back in the summer, MCPS’s original reopening plan was drenched in controversy, ultimately resulting in a pitched battle with the county teachers’ union (MCEA). MCPS wound up going with virtual learning for the fall, like most other large school systems in the region, but the mechanics and safety of reopening are still subjects of debate.

  1. What Happened to White Flint?

Jobs, jobs, JOBS. According to White Flint developers, MoCo’s slow rate of job growth was one reason that they could not get financing to proceed on the county’s preeminent development plan. The chart below says it all. And when the COVID pandemic finally ends, county leaders must dedicate themselves to creating jobs, Jobs, JOBS or MoCo’s stagnation will continue.

  1. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem

Back in June, incumbent Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen, who had a big lead in money and endorsements over his challenger, appeared on election night to be getting just 2% of the vote. That was the first sign of a primary gone wrong, which led to many misgivings about the state’s processes with mail ballots and the performance of its long-time election administrator Linda Lamone.

  1. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

2020 was a year of surprises, and one of the bigger surprises was the emergence from political retirement of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest anti-tax charter amendment) and Question D (nine council districts) disturbed Leggett enough that he started a ballot issue committee to defeat them. This post was Leggett’s guest column on why they were bad ideas and it got a big reaction from our readers.

  1. Teachers Respond to Lynne Harris

After school board candidate Lynne Harris blamed MCEA for allegedly resisting school reopening (a post that also appears on our top 20 list), a group of rank-and-file teachers pushed back in this guest post. It achieved wide readership that was probably concentrated among teachers as the general election approached.

  1. Free-For-All

In non-COVID news, 2020 was the year that the county’s police department (along with departments around the country) became a political football. This post describes how the executive, the county council and Annapolis all jumped into the issue of policing with little coordination. Lost in the debate was the central fact that crime in MoCo is at its lowest level in decades. Policing will continue to be a hot topic in 2021.

Tomorrow we will list the top ten Seventh State posts for the year!


Top Seventh State Stories, December 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in December ranked by page views.

1. What Happened to White Flint?
2. The Day of Reckoning is Near
3. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike
4. Come on Now
5. Who’s the Boss?
6. MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe
7. Trump vs Hogan: Votes by MoCo Town
8. Council Overrides Veto, Attacks Elrich, Cuts Revenue for School Buildings
9 (tie). Minority Members of the U.S. House
9 (tie). Corporate MoCo Council Adopts Supply-Side Economics

The top three stories fit together and have meaning for the new year and beyond. The Day of Reckoning is Near summarizes the county’s dire fiscal picture as it heads into a challenging FY22 budget discussion in the spring. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike kicks off an inevitable dialogue about taxes, one which will only get hotter before the executive makes his budget recommendation on March 15. And What Happened to White Flint? – December’s runaway winner – lays out the story of how the county’s premier development plan has been held back by our slow rate of job growth. Budget headaches, taxes and economic problems are about to collide.

Welcome to 2021, folks!


MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter written to the school board today, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Chris Lloyd called for a number of measures to ensure that any reopening of schools would be as safe as possible.  Among those measures are the installation of effective air handling systems in every classroom, a health and safety committee at every school, strict social distancing, personal protective equipment and a choice of work location for educators.

Lloyd’s letter is reprinted below.


December 11, 2020

Sent Via Email

Office of the Board of Education
Montgomery County Public Schools
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear President Wolff and Members of the Board of Education,

I write to you today on behalf of the Montgomery County Education Association in relation to the Tuesday, December 15, 2020 Board of Education meeting, and the discussion/action around the return to physical workspaces.

We affirm the value of in-person learning, in support of the needs of our young scholars and their academic and social-emotional well-being. We call upon you to demand that our state and county leaders make the required investments in physical workspaces and institute policies to curb the significant community spread of this virus.

All of us need to be advocating for policies and funding needed for the safe schools our communities deserve. There is a fierce urgency in this work, so that we can return to schools as soon as possible. It is incumbent on policy makers to prioritize public education and the safety of adults and children in our care, not through proclamation, but through investment and policies.

We want to return to school safely and soon, and we can do this by stopping the rampant community spread, and by simultaneously providing proper health and safety protocols at the worksite. Acting immediately on these two items will allow our schools to thrive.

We have the knowledge and understanding of how to stop community spread. We’ve seen countries such as Australia institute polices that not only bent the curve of transmission but caused a precipitous and effective drop in cases and deaths, which allowed for safety in a community and its schools. Stopping the rampant community spread in our community is a matter of public policy and will, and it can be done if we decide to do so.

We have the knowledge, understanding and the resources to make workplaces safe. The Silver Diner in Rockville safely uses UV light in its air handling to eradicate the virus, and transmission there is significantly lower than average. Other worksites such as grocery stores have installed plexiglass barriers, used face masks and face shields, while simultaneously and significantly increasing the air exchange rate and air filtration in their buildings, aggressively moving air up and out of the building. These are examples of ways critical and essential businesses are seeking to eradicate the virus in their buildings. For one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, with $184 million in CARES Act funding, there is an obligation to act in this way in our public buildings.

We believe schools are essential, and therefore deserve essential funding to make the buildings and the inhabitants safe. Instituting a paycheck protection program for county businesses will allow us to stop the spread, and to open up the most important buildings for our children – our schools. By prioritizing schools and protecting our most vulnerable workers, we can both control the virus, keep our economy strong, and invite students back into buildings.

We call on the immediate funding and installation of effective air handling systems in each classroom, that provide for necessary air transfer, filtration and virus eradication.

We call for a laser focus on instruction, that educators can teach either online or in buildings, so that we can meet the needs of young scholars in our care and focus our efforts either in-person or online.

We call for Health and Safety Committees at each school, to look after the physical and emotional security of our students.

We call for every inhabited space in our schools to have the safety we’ve come to know and expect, and just like other emergencies, for educators to have the ability to remove themselves and their students from life-threatening situations.

We call for strict social distancing measures and needed PPE so that we can protect our children, families and staff.

We call for the choice of work location for educators, either remote or in-person, so that we can meet the needs of our teachers, and all of the children in their care.

All of this is possible with action now, so that we can bend the pandemic curve and have our buildings safe for occupancy. It will require funding and policies that make clear the top priority of this community is its schools and other people’s children. Fierce urgency and moral courage demands nothing less.

We alone cannot make our schools safe. We alone cannot stop the rampant spread of the virus. But we can lead the efforts to make this happen. It took weeks, and not months, for other countries with strict policies to bring the spread of the virus under control. It took investment by a community to make workplaces safe. We should do the same, demand the same, and then return to school safely and soon after executing such policies and infrastructure investments.


Christopher Lloyd, NBCT

President, MCEA


MoCo Ballot Issue Committee Campaign Finances, October 18

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed their final campaign finance reports before the general election, covering the period through October 18. Let’s see where the money is coming from.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of finances for the committees for the entire cycle through October 18.

To understand why these flows of money are occurring, it’s useful to recall the genesis of these questions. This year’s ballot question fight was joined when two questions were placed on the ballot by petition: Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and Nine Districts for MoCo’s Question D, which would eliminate council at-large seats and remake the council into 9 district seats. In response to those ballot questions, the county council put two of its own questions on the ballot to compete with them: Question A (a different tax limitation measure) and Question C (which would keep the at-large seats and add two district seats). It is believed by some that if two directly conflicting ballot questions pass, they will both get thrown out, though that is not 100% certain.

Once it became clear that both Ficker’s anti-tax question and the nine districts question were going to appear on the ballot, no fewer than four new ballot issue committees were created to stop one or both of them and/or to promote the council’s alternatives. In short order, many of the county’s power players took sides in an uncommon off-year ballot question war. The players’ positions are at least as interesting as the committees’ activities themselves.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the oldest of the committees, has by far the most individual contributors but 82% of its cash funding has come from the real estate industry. In its most recent report, MoCo GOP Central Committee Member Ann Hingston made 6 more in-kind contributions totaling $993, thereby providing more evidence of the links between Nine Districts and the county Republican Party. Nine Districts’ fundraising pace has slowed as they have collected just $154 since October 4.

The competing committees have rapidly closed the gap. Three groups have paid for mail: former County Executive Ike Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D, former executive candidate David Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B and Residents for More Representation, a group supporting Question C and opposing Question D. These groups are also paying for websites and online advertising. But they got off to a late start while Nine Districts has been campaigning for more than a year.

Below are all the major players who have contributed at least $10,000 to one or a combination of these ballot issue committees.

David Blair – $165,000
Supports Questions A and C, opposes Questions B and D
Businessman and former executive candidate David Blair is the number one spender on ballot questions. He has contributed $65,000 to Legget’s group opposing Questions B and D, $50,000 to his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B, and $50,000 to Residents for More Representation, which supports Question C and opposes Question D. Blair’s positions mirror the positions taken by the county Democratic Party. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I am not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Charlie Nulsen – $123,500
Supports Questions A, C and D, opposes Question B
Nulsen is the president of Washington Property Company. On June 4, he contributed $50,000 to Nine Districts to help get Question D on the ballot. On October 13, he contributed $23,500 to Residents for More Representation to defeat Question D. Nulsen could have saved more than $70,000 and achieved the same outcome by simply doing nothing. He also contributed $50,000 to Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine Districts.

Willco – $40,000
Supports Questions C and D
On August 5, this Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine Districts which was used to pay Rowland Strategies (their campaign firm). On October 9, Willco gave $25,000 to Residents for More Representation, which is seeking to pass Question C and defeat Nine Districts. Folks, you can’t make it up.

MCGEO – $30,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Question B, Gave Contribution to Question D
The Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) has made a $20,000 contribution to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine Districts. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

MCEA – $20,000
Opposes Question B
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has contributed $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party recommends voting for Questions A and C and voting against Questions B and D. The Montgomery County Republican Party recommends the exact opposite. The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four ballot questions.


Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in September ranked by page views.

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.