Tag Archives: Montgomery County Council

Balcombe Co-Chairs New Group Opposing Nine Districts

By Adam Pagnucco.

Marilyn Balcombe, a Germantown resident who ran a strong fifth in the 2018 Democratic Party council at-large primary, is co-chairing a new group opposing the Nine Districts charter amendment (Question D). Balcombe has previously written a guest blog for Seventh State making the case for Upcounty to increase its voter turnout as a way to gain influence in county politics. The press release from Balcombe’s new group is reprinted below.


NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
September 23, 2020

Press Contacts:
Marilyn Balcombe, marilyn@marilynbalcombe.com (Co-chair)
Michelle Graham, michelle@grahamstrategies.com (Co-chair)

Residents for More Representation

County Leaders Form Ballot Committee to Oppose Nine Districts

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD — A broad coalition of grassroots, labor and business leaders from across Montgomery County today announced the formation of Residents for More Representation to support the expansion of the County Council to 11 members and oppose the creation of nine separate districts.

Upcounty leader Marilyn Balcombe of Germantown and East County leader Michelle Graham of Olney will co-chair the effort in support of Montgomery County Ballot Question C, which would expand the number of council districts from five to seven, while retaining the four at-large seats. Residents for More Representation will also actively oppose Ballot Question D, which would eliminate the four at-large seats and replace them with four individual districts.

“As a resident of Germantown, I know that residents of Montgomery County need more representation, not less,” said Marilyn Balcombe. “The county’s population has increased by 50% over the last 30 years, which is why we need to expand and modernize our council structure so that it better reflects our incredible growth and brings local government closer to our residents. Question C is the best approach to achieve a shared goal by many in our community. Adding two additional districts will help increase the level of constituent service and protect the important role of our at-large councilmembers.”

“We live in an incredibly diverse county of 1.1 million residents and the at-large councilmembers play an important role in reflecting that diversity,” said Michelle Graham. “The current council is the most culturally diverse council in our history, with two Black, two Latino and one LGBTQ councilmember, three of whom are at-large. Adding two more councilmembers will increase the number of voices and help increase the diversity of views represented on the council.”

Montgomery County voters will vote on six ballot measures in this election. Questions C and D would both restructure the County Council from the current configuration of electing five by districts and four at-large. Question C would create two new district seats, while maintaining the four at-large seats. Question D would eliminate the four at-large seats and create nine separate geographic districts. Changing the council structure to nine separate districts would result in reducing each resident’s representation on the council from five to one.

Residents for More Representation is a registered ballot committee formed to support expanded representation and more geographic and cultural diversity on the County Council.

Marilyn Balcombe is the current President/CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce and has been actively engaged in the County for over 26 years. As a former At-Large candidate for the Montgomery County Council and as an Upcounty resident, Balcombe has a strong understanding of the needs in her community and the importance of expanding representation.

Michelle Graham grew up in Montgomery County where she has resided for more than 40 years. An active member of a grassroots organization formed, in part, to educate and raise the level of civic engagement, particularly among communities of color, she is dedicated to ensuring that citizens, especially underrepresented groups, are informed about local issues and the potential impact to their lives and community.

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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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MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of their vote last night, the Montgomery County Democratic Party has issued the following statement on their position on this year’s ballot questions.

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Montgomery County Democratic Party Recommendations on 2020 Ballot Questions

For immediate release
September 17, 2020
Contact Linda Foley
chair@mcdcc.org

The Montgomery County Democratic Party has announced its voter recommendations on County and State Ballot Questions for the 2020 General Election. The recommendations were issued following a vote by more than 170 grassroots Democratic officials on September 16.

“The State and County questions on the 2020 ballot will have an enormous effect upon our ability to provide vital public services locally,” said Linda Foley, Chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. “Democrats understand the value of public education, healthcare, transportation, public safety, libraries, and other vital services our State and County governments provide. That’s why we urge voters to vote FOR County Charter Questions A and C, vote FOR State Questions 1 and 2, and vote AGAINST County Charter Questions B and D.”

Here are the Montgomery County Democratic Party recommendations:

Vote FOR Question A: Council Property Tax Limit – Limit Tax Rate Increases
Question A establishes a cap on the property tax rate instead of the total revenue that the County can receive. This amendment would allow revenue to grow so County services can keep up with increased population and needs. Property tax rates will remain the same as this year. Any future increase would require an affirmative vote by all Councilmembers, as is currently required to raise the revenue limit.

Vote AGAINST Question B: Property Tax Limit – Prohibit Override
Question B is a bad way to fund public services. It prohibits the County Council from increasing the total revenue received from the property tax beyond the rate of inflation under any circumstances. This measure, proposed by Republican activist Robin Ficker, would cause a reduction in public services and threaten the County’s AAA bond rating, which enables the County to borrow at the lowest rate.

Vote FOR Question C: Increase to 11 Councilmembers
Question C expands the Council from 9 to 11 members. District Council seats would increase from 5 to 7. The number of At-Large seats would remain at 4. Each voter would continue to vote for 5 members of the Council. It reduces the number of residents represented by each District Councilmember, thus increasing representation.

Vote AGAINST Question D: Alter County Council Composition to 9 Districts
Question D eliminates the current Council composition of 4 At-Large and 5 single district seats. It establishes a Council of 9 members, each elected only by voters in their own district (eliminating At-Large seats). It would reduce from 5 to 1 the number of Councilmembers for whom each voter can vote.

Vote FOR Question 1: Balancing the State Budget
Question 1 allows the Maryland General Assembly to increase, decrease, or add items to the State budget provided such changes do not increase the total budget proposed by the Governor.

Vote FOR Question 2: Expansion of Commercial Gaming – Sports and Event
Question 2 would authorize the General Assembly to allow betting on sports and other competitive events to generate funding that must be used primarily for public education.

Vote YES to retain State Appellate Judges: Mary Ellen Barbera, E. Gregory Wells, and Steven B. Gould. The Party reviewed the records of the three State appellate judges on the ballot and supports their continuance in office.

By Authority: Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, Dave Kunes, Treasurer.

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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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Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post’s editorial board has weighed in on MoCo’s competing charter amendments and recommends voting against all of them. The Post wrote that both citizens’ initiatives – Robin Ficker’s amendment on taxes and the nine council district proposal – were bad ideas. But the Post also said, “Yet neither of the council’s competing proposals is preferable to the status quo.” The Post’s verdict is to vote against all of the amendments and stick with the county’s current property tax system and council structure.

You can read the Post’s editorial here.

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Anti-Ficker, 9 Districts Charter Amendments Group to Speak on Monday

By Adam Pagnucco.

A new group formed by former County Executive Ike Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, businessman and former county executive candidate David Blair and business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen is holding a press event on Monday to discuss their plans to oppose charter amendments by Robin Ficker and Nine Districts for MoCo. Maryland Matters discussed the group in broad terms today but did not name its leaders. The group’s news advisory (listing Leggett’s former public information officer Patrick Lacefield as contact) appears below.

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COUNTY LEADERS LEGGETT, MORELLA, BLAIR, LARSEN TO ANNOUNCE LAUNCH OF “NO ON QUESTIONS B & D COMMITTEE”

Former County Executive Isiah Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, non-profit leader David Blair, and Latina tech business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen will speak out against November Montgomery County ballot questions B and D and urge a “NO” vote on both. Question B would put an inflexible cap on County property taxes, on top of already existing limitations on increases, severely hampering the County from responding to crises such as COVID-19 and sustaining critical services such as education and public safety. Question D would eliminate the County’s four at-large Council seats and replace it with nine individual districts. The impact would reduce the number of Councilmembers each voter can vote for from five to one.

WHEN: Monday, September 14 at 10:15 AM
WHERE: Outside of the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring
CONTACT: Patrick Lacefield

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Top Seventh State Stories, August 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

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

1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight
2. Is Talbot County Killing its Golden Goose?
3. Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts
4. Hogan Overturns MoCo Closure of Private Schools
5. MoCo Shuts Down Private Schools – Again
6. Volcano in Rockville
7. Two Districts vs Nine Districts
8. Council Drops Poison Pill on Nine Districts
9. Is the Council Violating the Open Meetings Act?
10. Friedson Asks for Answers on Private School Shutdown

Congratulations to MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart on writing our top post of the month! Laura’s excellent analysis of school construction geography was widely seen and provoked questions about county capital project decision making. Our Talbot County post saw lots of circulation and commentary on the Eastern Shore. The two major stories of Nine Districts and private school reopenings accounted for most of the rest of our top August posts. Keep reading and we’ll keep writing!

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Jawando Pushes Back on Misleading Nine Districts Video

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Will Jawando, who is shown in a video by Nine Districts for MoCo in alleged support of their position, has denounced the video as intended to “mislead the public.”

The video, for which Nine Districts has taken out a Facebook ad, shows footage of Jawando speaking at a session of the county’s charter review commission in February. The video prefaces his remarks with the statement, “Why Montgomery County needs 9 Districts…” The video then shows him saying the following in an edited clip:

People should elect who represent their values, and to some points earlier, you know, there’s growing upcounty population… I do think the issue of representation is important. You know, I don’t… everyone in the county is not equally heard. Right, big surprise.

Here is what the Nine Districts group is not telling people: not only does Jawando not support their position, he actually argued against it in front of the charter review commission at that very same event. The commission posted a video showing Jawando’s full comments (along with everyone else) and he mentioned Prince George’s County, which had a nine district council for decades and added two at-large seats in 2018:

I’d also add that the Prince George’s County model that was mentioned is not insignificant because they were in that district model for a long time and, again, added two members, went to eleven, added two at-large members because they were having these parochial fights that they couldn’t get anything done and were not as collegial as they wanted to be. And I’ve spoken to a lot of them and they think it’s working pretty well with the at-large members.

And I think you don’t want to give people less representation, you want to have more. Right now, it’s true, you can decide whether you think this is good or not, but every person in the county votes for five members of the council, a majority of the council, and I just think that’s such a significant and powerful point. Now whether they come to your community or not, or they’re representing… I certainly try, you know, when anyone wants me to come, I’ll come, and I don’t know what’s been true in the past, but I think that is a powerful, powerful tool and to lose that, I think it’s not good for the voter.

The commission’s video, starting at the point when Jawando’s full remarks begin, is below.

I asked Jawando for a statement on the Nine Districts video. He said:

It is disappointing but perhaps not surprising that the Nine District campaign is using a partial clip of a longer statement of mine in order to mislead the public. Let me be very clear that I support Question C, which adds two additional district seats while maintaining At-Large Councilmember seats. Voters deserve more representation not less and must be able to have their voices heard by five councilmembers – four at-large and one representative for their district. The Nine District proposal to eliminate at-large seats actually disenfranchises voters by limiting their voice on the council to one elected member.

It’s clear that Jawando opposes nine districts. He argued against the proposal at the same event from which the Nine Districts group uses an edited video clip to allege that he supports them. Jawando also voted in favor of a rival proposal to keep the at-large seats and add two district seats. Nine Districts knows all of this very well. Their video is indeed misleading and should be taken down.

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MoCo Board of Elections Certifies Nine Districts for the Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has certified the Nine Districts for MoCo group’s charter amendment for the ballot. The amendment would convert the county council from its current structure of 4 at-large seats and 5 district seats to 9 district seats, which is the same council structure used by Prince George’s County from 1982 through 2018. The amendment needed 10,000 valid signatures to qualify. The group submitted 16,391 signatures and the board found 11,522 to be valid.

The board’s letter to the group is reprinted below. It contains a tally of the reasons why signatures were accepted and rejected. The home address of the group’s chair is redacted to protect her privacy.

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Why Republicans Want Nine Districts, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, I explained the primary reason why the county’s Republican Party leadership supports Nine Districts, even going so far as to use the party’s official website to raise money for the group. The Republicans believe that having nine county council districts instead of five could produce one (or more) districts in which Republicans could compete. Using 2018 general election data, I built a 32-precinct district that accounts for one-ninth of the county’s registered voters and maximized Republican electoral participation while minimizing Democratic participation. (I used registered voters as an admittedly imperfect proxy for population.) Here is what my so-called Red District looks like on a precinct map.

The Red District has the strongest presence of Republicans and the weakest presence of Democrats of any contiguous district I can construct. But could it actually elect a Republican to the county council? Let’s find out.

First, let’s compare the eligible voters by party as of the 2018 general election between the county as a whole and the Red District.

In the county as a whole, Democrats had a 43-point advantage over Republicans in eligible voters. In the Red District, the Democratic advantage shrank to 13 points. Democrats still held a plurality in the Red District, but with 44% of eligible voters, they were not a majority.

Now let’s look at actual voters.

Among actual voters, Democrats had a 48-point advantage over Republicans countywide. (2018 was a year in which Democrats were highly motivated to vote by the current occupant of the White House.) But in the Red District, the Democratic advantage shrank to 16 points. Once again, Democrats were a plurality but not a majority of Red District voters.

The table below shows the performance of the two major-party gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Ben Jealous and Republican Larry Hogan, in the county as a whole and in the Red District. Only election day votes are shown because precinct data does not include other voting modes.

Jealous won the election day vote countywide by 5 points. (Counting all voting modes, Jealous won MoCo by 11 points.) But in the Red District, Hogan blew out Jealous by 33 points on election day. Clearly, the Red District is VERY different from the rest of the county in its preference for governor.

But Hogan is an unusual Republican whose popularity extends well into the Democratic voting base. Judging a propensity to favor the GOP by looking at Hogan’s vote tallies alone is problematic. And so, as a proxy for hypothetical support for a generic Republican, I calculated the combined votes for the Democratic council at-large candidates (Gabe Albornoz, Evan Glass, Will Jawando and Hans Riemer) and the Republican council at-large candidates (Robert Dyer, Chris Fiotes, Penny Musser and Shelly Skolnick) for both the county as a whole and the Red District. Those results are shown in the table below.

In the county as a whole, the Democratic council at-large candidates totally blew out the Republicans by 72-26%. That’s why the Republican leadership hates the at-large seats as much as they do – Democrats can roll up their vote totals in Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Kensington and Republicans can’t pick up enough votes elsewhere to win. But in the Red District, the Democratic council at-large candidates only had a 6-point edge. Compared to the rest of the county, that’s a narrow margin.

Let’s remember that 2018 saw massive Democratic turnout in reaction to the individual in the Oval Office. That makes it an unusual year. Given that fact, the above data suggests that in a more normal year, a strong Republican council candidate could defeat a weak Democrat in the Red District. That’s the dream of MoCo Republicans. And that’s why they support Nine Districts.

Now, would something like the Red District actually be created in a nine district system? That’s hard to know. Redistricting is nominally within the purview of a commission appointed by the council every ten years, but the council can substitute its own map if they wish. That means if Nine Districts passes, council Democrats will effectively design the districts directly or indirectly. They could scatter rural Republicans around two or three districts (perhaps one based in Potomac, another based in Clarksburg and maybe a third based in Damascus). Doing that would create two or three competitive general elections. Or they could do what state-level Democrats did in designing the current congressional districts, which was to pack Republicans in one district (Congressman Andy Harris’s District 1). If they elected to go that route, they would design something very close to my Red District.

One thing is for sure: the Republican Party would be jumping up and down to get a chance to compete. They don’t have that in the current system. But they might have it if voters approve nine districts.

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