Tag Archives: Nancy Navarro

Navarro Demands Respect and Then She and Rice Attack Constituents

As Adam Pagnucco showed today, councilmembers are in high dudgeon over County Executive Marc Elrich’s hot mic comments. Councilmember Nancy Navarro blasted Elrich, ending her Facebook post with a demand for respect and stating (in Spanish) “Enough already! What a shame!”

Our diverse community has unsurprisingly had a diverse response. Navarro received supportive comments from people who were also appalled at Elrich’s remarks and appreciate Navarro’s efforts. Others were more temperate but also thought Elrich needs to apologize. But, as they are wont to do, some constituents were critical.

A critical comment quickly degenerated into the sort of Facebook discussion that didn’t exactly cover anyone with glory. Attacks by Navarro and Councilmember Craig Rice juxtapose incongruously with Navarro’s call for respect in the original post and her criticism of Elrich for a lack of it. (Screenshots of the exchange are at the bottom of the post so you can judge for yourselves.)

Two constituents, Chip Py and Helen Elizabeth, express a desire for the Council and the Executive to work better together. This is a common thought from constituents even if some tension between the two bodies can be healthy. During the current crisis, impressions of squabbling by either the Executive or the Council play very poorly.

Navarro’s response presenting concrete facts about how she tries to work with Elrich is basically a good one. Except then she and Rice go after their constituents, which is almost never a good look on a politician. Just ask George Leventhal who became infamous for attacking constituents (often more strongly than either Navarro or Rice here). His campaign for county executive suffered greatly from this well-earned reputation.

A big part of the job of all elected officials is to listen respectfully to their constituents, regardless of what they think of their views. Navarro and Rice know this as I have lauded them for it on other occasions. But here, there isn’t a lot of respect for the constituents despite the original post being about the executive not showing respect to constituents.

Both councilmembers get obviously annoyed at the idea that they are acting politically. It can be frustrating, as constituents tend to think everything is political. At the same time, the idea that both of these term-limited officials might want to run for higher office is far from bizarre.

It’s also well-known that there is quite a bit of tension between the Exec and the Council. Navarro’s original statement that “some of use have been working around the clock” (but implying Elrich has not) along with her literally claiming credit here for all major initiatives on this issue by the CE certainly does nothing to dispel it.

The idea that Navarro or Rice might want to run for higher office is not only perfectly fine but normal–no one owns their elected office and ambition is as natural in politics as any other profession. Consequently, the notion that there might be a weensy bit of political hay making going on here hardly shocks. I doubt that any councilmember’s office is a snark-free environment–if only because Adam Pagnucco used to work there!

That doesn’t really matter because it is the public presentation that counts, which is why Elrich landed in the soup here. It’s also why Navarro and Rice haven’t helped themselves on Facebook.

Navarro’s most unfortunate statement is her claim that “As a woman of color, I don’t owe you or anyone an explanation, my record speaks for itself.” The idea that she is a strong and proud Latina, who sees an important role for herself in standing up for the needs of the Latino community, is great. But all councilmembers are accountable to their constituents who have every right to criticize them regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

This sort of argument makes all involved look smaller. Councilmembers who have said the least have probably gained the most, demonstrating that saying nothing publicly can often be the best option. County Executive Ike Leggett won a record-tying three terms in part because he was better than anyone at exercising this self-discipline.

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz’s statement works somewhat better than Navarro’s because the emphasis is less on credit claiming, though it’s there, but more about problems and working with others. Which at the end of the day is what we all need.

My bottom line: Elrich should apologize because it’s the right and gracious thing to do. The Council should accept and express that we can all do better to serve our community. A little humility can go a long way. Most important, this fight to protect everyone is our community is far from over. Doing our collective best is owed to everyone, including more focus on helping the disproportionately hit Black and Brown communities.

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Navarro, Albornoz React to Elrich Hot Mic Joke

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Members Nancy Navarro and Gabe Albornoz have issued statements on Facebook regarding County Executive Marc Elrich’s hot mic joke about the council being “fact proof” while he was discussing Latino COVID-19 infection rates.

Navarro went first with the following.

*****

Wow! This is no laughing matter. These are not just numbers, these are people. The fact is that this pandemic has disproportionately affected our Black and Latino community. At this moment we know that the Latino community is particularly disproportionally affected, they admit this in this video. Some of us have been working around the clock from the early days of this pandemic, pointing this out and offering solutions that have not been implemented by this administration. I take issue with the cavalier attitude and the disrespectful manner in which the Council and this community is addressed in these comments. Ya basta! Que vergüenza!

*****

Editor’s note: Ya basta roughly translates as “enough is enough.” Que vergüenza roughly translates as “what a disgrace” or “what a shame.”

This is Albornoz’s statement.

*****

I did not find the County Executive’s comments on this video funny or amusing. In fact, I found them deeply troubling and the reaction of his senior officials disappointing. It’s also disappointing that the County Executive does not have a better understanding or command of this situation.

These are the facts:

• Over 70% of positive test cases in the month of July are Hispanic, continuing a trend upward, when all other demographics of test positive cases are trending down.

• The community and the Council did not see a comprehensive written testing plan until July 13, more than five months after our first test positive case in our County.

• The rapid response teams that were intended to support communities in high impacted zip codes and sectors were disbanded weeks ago and have not been replaced.

• There has not been a comprehensive plan to address the outrageous disparity in positive test cases in the Hispanic community articulated. Worse, there appears to be no urgency to address it. Worst still, based on this video a clear disinterest and condescending attitude.

• The phone number to secure a test in Montgomery County was down for several days last week. That number has been recently overwhelmed with residents leaving repeated messages with no call back.

• We lack a sufficient number of bi-lingual and Spanish speaking operators and contact tracers.

• Our community clinics have not been sufficiently accessed as a resource and activated in communities. The Mary’s Center has repeatedly offered to help to enhance reach in the Hispanic community. Those offers have fallen on deaf ears.

There is no question that we have made progress since the beginning of this pandemic and we are in a much better position than we were before. There is also no question that our public health officials are working hard to address these issues. That being said, these numbers are alarming and must be taken more seriously than it appears this administration is taking them. It is morally imperative that we support our most vulnerable communities, it’s also a public health imperative that we contain the virus in all communities.

I am proud to be working with Councilmember Nancy Navarro and key stakeholders in the community to develop and execute a plan that is desperately needed in the Hispanic community at this moment. I am also proud to have worked with Councilmember Hans Reimer and all of my colleagues to introduce a resolution as the Board of Health to establish key testing bench marks.

I worked for a high functioning Executive branch and a fully engaged County Executive so I know what it looks like. It does not look like the lack of leadership we see in this video.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. Before you complain about it, just remember – these lists are not my lists. They were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. If you have a problem with that, take it up with them!

And now let’s get started. Today, we will begin listing the most influential elected officials on MoCo’s state and county politics. The criteria include elected officials who appear on our ballots even if they don’t live here. Quotes attributed to sources are not mine and come from our voters.

15. Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17) – 12 votes

Source: Leading voice on Beltway/270 proposal in Annapolis and calls the shots on many environmental initiatives.

Source: Stops a lot of stupid sh*t in the county delegation.

AP: The sources really got this one wrong as Kumar deserves a higher rank. He chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee and is a former House Majority Leader. He has been in the house since some of today’s delegates were in elementary school. Kumar is brilliant, hilarious and knows the General Assembly as well as anyone. Other delegates need to learn from him as long as he remains in Annapolis.

13 (tied). Council Member Tom Hucker (D-5) – 18 votes

Source: One example, look at 495/270: press conferences, meetings, petition, relationships with SHA, Governor (which he finessed) — got results. He has a deep understanding of relationships and communication partnerships. Knows how to whip up/work with constituents to get things done.

AP: Tom Hucker’s secret for political success is that he knows who he is as a politician. You don’t see him hemming and hawing in public, flip-flopping or trying to figure out where the political winds are blowing. He just pushes ahead with his brand of practical, meat-and-potatoes progressivism and never strays too far from his base. That and his expertise in the outside ground game make him one of the most focused and effective elected officials in MoCo. Bonus points: his Chief of Staff, Dave Kunes, is one of the best.

13 (tied). Council Member Nancy Navarro (D-4) – 18 votes

Source: Nancy has become the moral leader of county government. She boldly spearheaded plans to re-shape how county government leaders understand structural racism, view our community, and even perceive themselves. She’s also helped create a platform for the County Council to engage on economic development issues. She’s done both of these things while overseeing a Council Presidency that saw a new administration, four new Councilmembers, and many new faces on central staff.

Source: Navarro has stepped up on every major issue and gathered the “council troops” to take the reins of county government at a time when the County Executive’s leadership is sorely lacking. She has exquisite timing and strategically lays out a vision for getting things accomplished in this leadership vacuum.

AP: No one wants to take on Nancy directly. She makes people who cross her pay a price! That’s why she usually gets her way, especially in directing money towards her district. Also, the fact that she is the only council member left from the 2010 budget crisis will amplify her influence in the coming weeks.

12. Governor Larry Hogan – 19 votes

Source: Completely driving the transportation priorities for the county. Officials deride but residents adore his proposals to expand highways even if the county proposal is utterly more sensible.

Source: Strong, capable and bold. Leading on the coronavirus when counties were still contemplating how to respond. He inspires trust and I can’t tell you how many people say, “I love Hogan.” A true leader at a difficult time.

AP: Governor Hogan deserves to be ranked higher. He doesn’t live here, but how many state initiatives have had a bigger impact on county politics than his I-270/Beltway proposal? It’s a short list.

10 (tied). Delegate Anne Kaiser (D-14) – 20 votes

Source: Quietly behind the scenes, she has become MoCo’s most influential state legislator by a mile, writing legislation that pushes progressive priorities in a practical way. Others get more press. She gets it done.

Source: One of the most prominent Kirwan and education voices, and a mentor to lots of (especially female) electeds.

AP: If I were going to advise a young delegate on how to get ahead in Annapolis, I would tell that person to watch Anne Kaiser. She is not flashy or fancy. She doesn’t seek out press attention. She just does her job, works hard, listens to others, plays on the team and picks her spots to move the team forward. Now she has the ways and means committee chair that once belonged to the legendary Sheila Hixson and she is not done. Don’t be surprised if you are calling her Speaker Kaiser in a few years.

10 (tied). Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-14) – 20 votes

Source: Decent amount of helium in Annapolis, arrow will probably continue to point skyward within the House.

Source: Put together the arrangement that made Adrienne Jones speaker. Influential enough to float tax proposals that can mobilize widespread opposition.

Source: Kaiser would be more obvious choice here given the gavel but no one made more of an impact for good or ill with service tax proposal this session, dominating the conversation.

AP: Smart, outspoken, intellectually honest and ready for combat with right-wingers, Eric has become one of the go-to guys for taking point in House leadership. Underneath all that, he is still the person I first met a long time ago: a socially progressive teacher out to push for the common good. Who knows how his career will progress, but I guarantee it won’t be boring!

More to come in Part Three!

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Navarro Claims Council Majority for Spending Restraint

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last night, Council Member Nancy Navarro, who chairs the council’s Government Operations Committee, wrote on my Facebook page that she intends to introduce a council resolution on Tuesday calling for major spending restraint in the county’s budget.  Specifically, the resolution calls for a same services budget for each department and agency; holding Montgomery College and MCPS to maintenance of effort (which is the state’s mandated minimum for local appropriations to those agencies); and providing flexibility to assist residents and businesses as well as to revisit spending after the coronavirus crisis ends.  Navarro claims that Council Members Andrew Friedson, Gabe Albornoz, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer are co-sponsoring her resolution.

It’s worth noting that Navarro is the only current council member who was on the council during the budget crisis of 2010.

The resolution does not yet appear on the council’s agenda for Tuesday, but the current text as shared by Navarro appears below.

SUBJECT:​ Options for the Approval of and Appropriation for the FY 2021 Operating Budget Background

1. ​As required by Section 303 of the County Charter, the County Executive sent to the County Council the FY 2021 Operating Budget on March 16, 2020.

2. ​As required by Section 304 of the County Charter, the Council must hold public hearings on the proposed operating budget.

3. ​A new coronavirus disease, called Covid-19, has spread extremely quickly, making its way to over 100 countries, including the United States.

4.​ On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the Covid-19 viral disease a pandemic.

5.​ The number of new cases in the United States is growing quickly and has spread to each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

6.​ To slow the spread of this communicable disease, Governor Hogan issued several emergency orders closing all non-essential businesses, restricting public transit, closing schools, prohibiting public gatherings of 10 persons or more, and postponing the Presidential Primary Election in Maryland.

7. ​Although County government operations are continuing during this pandemic, County employees are using situational teleworking wherever possible to perform their duties. Due to the need to limit person to person contact, many County residents have lost paychecks and many County businesses have lost revenue.

8. ​The Executive was required by the Charter to develop his recommended FY2021 Operating Budget before the most recent events clarified the full extent of the pandemic.

9. ​Considering this unprecedented global pandemic and national state of emergency, the Council must move expeditiously to provide continuity of operations in approving an operating budget for FY2021 that provides additional flexibility to help County residents and businesses recover.

Action​

The County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland approves the following resolution:

1. ​The Council directs staff to develop viable options to streamline our budget process, so that for FY 2021, the Council may adopt an aggregate operating budget for our departments and agencies that reflects a continuation of the services provided at the same level as FY2020.

2. ​These viable options must include funding the Operating Budgets of the County Board of Education and Montgomery College at the required Maintenance of Effort level and should avoid funding any new programs unrelated to relief for County residents and businesses from the Covid-19 viral disease pandemic.

3.​ These viable options should include flexibility for possible future appropriations:

a. ​to assist County residents and businesses to recover from the Covid-19 viral disease pandemic; and

b. ​to provide additional resources for other County programs and employee wage and benefit enhancements, if available, after the crisis is over.

This is a correct copy of Council action.

_________________________________

Selena Singleton

Clerk of the Council

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Vaping and Social Justice

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) has sponsored an excellent piece of legislation designed to curtail the sale of vape materials, especially to kids, within Montgomery County.

The bill would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes within a half mile of any middle or high school, eliminating sales at 19 of the 22 existing shops as well as preventing many of the other 600 retailers who sell vape materials from easily picking up the slack in sales to minors. Albornoz’s proposal would also sensibly prohibit the distribution of flavored e-cigarettes to any stores within a mile of a middle or high school.

I’m pleased that the bill has strong support from County Executive Marc Elrich and the entire Montgomery County Council. This is one business we don’t need. I only hope the prohibitions on conventional cigarettes are equally strong.

Racial Equity and Social Justice Analysis

The Council is also about to give final approval to Council President Nancy Navarro’s racial equity and social justice legislation. It’s not yet in effect, so I imagine no racial equity and social justice analysis of Albornoz’s bill has been performed. But it nevertheless provides a salutary example of why Navarro’s bill will not do much to advance its laudable goals.

Let’s imagine that the racial equity and social justice analysis indicates that whites and Asians vape at greater rates than blacks and Latinos in Montgomery, perhaps because they can, on average, better afford the habit. The correlation between education and smoking renders this unlikely. But should the Council kill the legislation if it would widen the economic and racial health gap if its positive effects fall disproportionately on whites and Asians?

On the other hand, economically disadvantaged African Americans and Latinos who enjoy the legal, adult pleasure of vaping might not appreciate the creation of vaping deserts in their areas. I envision the vaping industry, already working hard to blackwash vaping, will try to ride this argument combining freedom and minority rights hard. Though I find it self-serving and unpersuasive, vapers might not agree. Equity can prove a tricky concept.

The clampdown on vape stores and sales might disproportionately impact poor and working-class people who work in vape stores and small minority-owned businesses that make a nice profit off of selling vaping supplies. The Council has oft utilized the latter argument for why we need to protect the alcohol monopoly.

Would the Council really change its mind on vaping and protect these employees and businesses in the name of racial equity and social justice? Alternatively, would the Council appropriate funds to aid workers and businesses transition away from their economic addiction to vape sales instead of, say, school construction?

Any racial equity and social analysis impact of this legislation will require a considerable amount of time to gather and to analyze hard data. Navarro’s bill applies to all new proposed legislation as well as existing programs and expenditures, so her well-intended legislation will shift county employees away from their normal duties to address this requirement even if its impact, as with Albornoz’s legislation, is irrelevant, mixed, or unclear.

Racial equity and social justice remain laudable goals. But Navarro’s bill will unintentionally shift resources away from accomplishing them. Instead, allow county employees to focus on doing their jobs well, which already often involves accomplishing these goals. Any money saved could go to Montgomery College. The education and skills that it imparts do a tremendous amount to allow people to move up the ladder. That’s racial equity and social justice.

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Yes to Racial Equity and Social Justice. No on this Legislation.

Montgomery County has decided to tackle racial equity and social justice with legislation sponsored by Council President Nancy Navarro and supported by the entire County Council and County Executive. As Bethesda Beat reported:

The bill would establish a countywide racial equity and social justice program, according to language introduced Tuesday in a council session. It also calls for a separate Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.

It would require a countywide equity action plan and individual plans for each of the more than 30 executive departments and offices, including Montgomery County Public Libraries and the county’s police department.

The act would require a racial equity and social justice impact statement at the end of every bill, program, or master plan submitted before the council.

Unfortunately, this bill will do little to address either racial equity or social justice in any meaningful way. But it will create a new county office and take up many hours of time by county bureaucrats in other offices that could be better spent on county services, including existing policies that promote the goals of the legislation.

What Will Happen

Bureaucrats will respond to the requirement for action plans by deploying personnel to writing plans that demonstrate (surprise!) that their current approach promotes racial equity and social justice. These numerous new reports will be more produced than read but will satisfy the new mandate from their political masters.

Similarly, all new bills, programs and master plans will have racial equity and social justice impact statements arguing for their positive impact. It’s hard to imagine that the people who write the impact statements on new bills or new master plans will write negative reviews of proposals by the people who employ and supervise them.

What is Racial Equity and Social Justice?

Debates over the nature of racial equity and social justice give the writers of these many new required plans and impact statements more flexibility than Gumby. Consider the following examples:

Raises for County Employees. As I pointed out not too long ago, the County Council voted to give delayed pay increases to all county unions except MCGEO–the only majority female and majority minority union in the county. Yet Navarro still took umbrage at the idea that she had overlooked racial equity.

Ironically, Navarro focused on the budget as a primary reason to pass her racial equity legislation: “Budgetary decisions are where the rubber meets the road.” The bill’s primary sponsor failed her own blue chip test for racial equity. Or else the idea is so malleable as to lack real meaning.

Purple Line. The new light rail line is touted as making it easier for poorer people to travel to work. Except that transportation access raises property values, making it harder for poorer people to continue to afford rents around light-rail stops. It also encourages property owners and developers to redo or to tear down existing apartments to attract higher paying tenants, rendering existing residents homeless.

The Purple Line has already created pressure to rezone areas populated by low income residents and businesses. The County Planning Board rejected a proposal to rezone the light industry area in Greater Lyttonsville along the Purple Line to a CR (commercial-residential zone) on a 4-1 vote. This highly diverse area (see pp. 12-13) is home to many small businesses owned by African Americans and Latinos that would have been displaced by the zoning change. The sole vote in favor was Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who was recently unanimously reappointed by the same Council that sponsored the racial equity and social justice bill.

Casey can reasonably argue that the decision will reduce the county tax base over the long term, giving it less money to spend on racial equity and social justice. Possibly true but cold comfort for the immigrant and minority-owned businesses that would have been ejected. In any case, arguments can be marshaled for or against policies like the Purple Line and zoning changes on racial equity and social justice grounds. The required reports will likely often be political documents rather than objective analyses.

Won’t Address the Problems Cited by Councilmembers

Here are some of the rationales for the legislation reported in Bethesda Beat:

Council member Will Jawando said he experienced racism for the first time in fourth grade — a lobbed slur as he brushed past an older white women [sic] on the street.

Unemployment is three times higher in District 5, a diverse region with a majority black population, than in the rest of Montgomery County, Council member Tom Hucker said.

Council member Craig Rice raised two daughters who thought people didn’t see skin color, he said, until one of them was the target of a racist taunt on the school bus last week.

“It’s a reminder that there’s a systemic issue here and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to change things,” Council member Sidney Katz said at the council session.

Churning out more reports isn’t going to stop racists from calling people ugly and awful racist slurs or prevent children from learning them. I wish it would. I would love for Will Jawando not to experience them, and Craig Rice not to have to explain them to his beautiful daughters.

Most of the county budget goes to schools and basic services like police and fire, so the county’s ability to tackle larger problems like the unemployment rate gap is somewhat limited beyond its very smart decision to continue investing heavily in Montgomery College. In any case, systemic reports won’t do anything about it.

Our Past and Ongoing Commitment

If one views our county’s budget as a moral document, it reflects the county’s long-term commitment to racial equity and social justice.

We dedicate roughly one-half of our spending to the public schools, as part of our effort to assure that every kid has an opportunity. The county schools continue to include more kids of color and more from poorer backgrounds (often not the same). Moreover, MCPS directs substantially more funding to the schools with poorer kids who tend to have greater needs and parents with less means to meet them.

In short, the wealthier areas of the county pay a disproportionate share of taxes, but a disproportionate share of funding goes to schools outside their neighborhoods. That’s entirely as it should be. It’s makes me proud to live in Montgomery. This is not new policy but a very long-term commitment.

In a similar vein, we pay county employees well and give them good pensions. The county works hard to make sure that pensions are fully funded, a commitment that Ike Leggett worked mightily hard to keep as the county coped with the economic downturn’s enormous budget crunch and newfound demands from rating agencies for higher funding. It goes without saying that the county supports and works with unions.

If all of this isn’t social justice, then what is?

I also have little doubt of the concern of each and every councilmember in this area. I don’t think that Nancy Navarro believes that she or other longtime councilmembers, like Craig Rice or Hans Riemer, have failed this test year after year. Marc Elrich became county executive on a platform to combat exactly these sorts of problems.

Did past councils, who put the progressive structure of our county government in place, really ignore these questions? I may often disagree with this or that Montgomery politician, but I’d be hard pressed to name one who doesn’t care. Did Ike Leggett in his long tenure on the county council or three terms as county executive ignore these problems? How about Howie Denis? Or was it Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, and George Leventhal?

I’ll take the county council at its word that the proposed bill comes out of a sincere desire to represent the support of Montgomery voters to continue to move forward on these issues. But instead of passing a bill that will mainly generate mounds of reports, it should spend more time engaging with the tough work on issues from affordable housing to making sure students from all backgrounds have the skills and support they need.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the proposal will pass easily. The chances of the Montgomery County Council voting this down are about as likely the Montgomery County Republican Party sending me an email in support of undocumented immigrants. No Democrat wants to be seen opposing racial equity or social justice. It is just not worth the ire from progressives attacking one as a racist or insufficiently committed to stamping it out.

That’s a pity. We need fewer totems of our commitment and more of the hard and sadly often not headline-grabbing work of delving into policy that making real change on these difficult issues entails.

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Navarro Doth Protest Too Much

Council President Nancy Navarro wrote a response to my blog piece, “Council Drive for Racial Equity Hits Budget Rocks,” which I published on Friday. Apparently, I hit a nerve by pointing out that the Council led by Navarro, who touts herself as a champion of racial and gender equity, has treated MCGEO, the majority female and majority minority county employees’ union, much worse than other county unions.

In her reply, Councilmember Navarro states that “Actually, the Council did approve generous raises for all of our employees (approximately 6 percent)—that achieve parity among all our negotiating groups. . .” Navarro omits the critical detail: the Council under her leadership has now awarded two deferred step increases to IAFF, FOP and MCEA but not to MCGEO—the only union in which women and minorities compose a majority.

Councilmember Navarro goes on to declare “to tie the Council’s approved raises . . . to racial inequities and social injustice, as Mr. Lublin does, is a baffling stretch.” Actually, it’s Councilmember Navarro who made the link in her declaring closing the racial income gap a matter of racial inequity. As the Council has now given two deferred step increases to three unions with white majorities but not the majority-minority union, the logic is very straightforward. Conversations held since I published the piece indicate that at least some of her colleagues agree.

The other rationale Councilmember Navarro highlights is agreement with my own concern about the growth of tax revenue relative to spending. She even highlights my point that most county residents haven’t received pay raises to makeup for stagnant wages during the economic crisis.

One could argue that this renders her support for not just one but two deferred step increases for MCEA, IAFF and FOP along with a major property tax hike perplexing. It also doesn’t explain why, having gone down the road of awarding deferred step increases, that two were given to MCEA, IAFF and FOP but none to majority-minority and majority female MCGEO.

There may well be other excellent policy reasons, such as pay differentials in the private sector for equivalent work, for awarding increases to all the unions except MCGEO. But Councilmember Navarro doesn’t make the case. Nor does it mean that it doesn’t still result in greater racial inequities. Rolling back MCGEO’s raises was the major budget decision made by the Council this year. Governing often entails tough choices.

Finally, Councilmember Navarro highlights a number of positive measures related to equity that the Council approved as part of the budget. A more complete discussion would have mentioned that many of these measures were already in County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget, which the Council essentially approved in toto.

The Council also made a number of positive additions, but these were possible solely because Elrich took the highly unusual and generous step of leaving $10 million unallocated for the Council to use. He was then more than happy to approve the additions as wholly in line with his priorities. While some councilmembers attacked Elrich for his pains, a little credit sharing along with the credit claiming would not only be more honest but make all involved look more gracious and like leaders.

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Council President Navarro Responds

Good to see that even after time away from Seventh State that I can still touch a nerve with powerful officials. Today. I am pleased to present Council President Nancy Navarro’s response to yesterday’s post on how the “Council Drive for Budget Equity Hit the Budget Rocks.” I hope to have mine up on Monday.

The Seventh State’s May 30 post by David Lublin, “Council Equity Drive Hits the Budget Rocks,” incorrectly describes where the County Council is, in creating a Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy for Montgomery County. We do not yet have a policy. In 2018, I spearheaded Resolution 18-1095 that was adopted unanimously by the Council to start the process of the policy, which we plan to adopt later in the fall, after community input.

The post also leaves the reader with the erroneous impression that by not fully funding the salary increases originally negotiated by County Executive Elrich with MCGEO that we are somehow not committed to racial equity. Actually, the Council did approve generous raises for all our employees (approximately 6 percent)—that achieve parity among all our negotiating groups and that are sustainable for our county. Most MCGEO employees will receive salary increases of between 5.75 to 6.75 percent. Racial equity and social justice are urgent moral and socio-economic endeavors for our community and county leaders, however, to tie the Council’s approved raises of about 6 percent for each employee, to racial inequities and social injustice, as Mr. Lublin does, is a baffling stretch.

In fact, beyond the raises, the fiscal year 2020 operating budget makes several investments needed to assist our more than one million residents and focuses on initiatives and programs that will help to dismantle inequities. Some examples of these priorities, many of which I championed, include: fully funding the Board of Education’s request; adding $3.1 million to Montgomery College’s budget to provide $314.7 million for higher education; providing $84.1 million for Head Start and pre-k programs; earmarking $7 million in resources for the Early Care and Education Initiative, which I initiated; providing $327.8 million for the Department of Health and Human Services; earmarking $65.2 million for the Housing Initiative Fund; providing an additional $1 million to make Kids Ride Free an all-day service, as recommended by Councilmember Glass; and increasing Recreation Department programs that serve youngsters after school. We were able to make these strategic investments, while also providing our outstanding county government employees with substantial salary increases.

Finally, Mr. Lublin makes the following observation. “The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.” The Council agrees with him; that is why we adopted affordable but fair raises for our employees. Achieving racial equity and social justice in Montgomery County is a monumental task that demands access to opportunities for all residents. I encourage Mr. Lublin to engage with us in this process. I can assure him that I do not need to tout how “woke” I am. As the only Latina ever elected to the Montgomery County Council and the lone woman currently serving among eight men as president, I along with a significant percentage of our County residents, live it every day.

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Council Equity Drive Hits the Budget Rocks

The Montgomery County Council has repeatedly focused on racial and gender equity. Supported by the entire Council, Councilmember Nancy Navarro sponsored legislation that requires a racial equity analysis of each piece of legislation. Councilmember Evan Glass sponsored successful legislation this year that bans consideration of salary history in an effort to promote pay equity between male and female county employees.

While these primarily symbolic acts passed easily, the Council flinched from much more meaningful action when it passed the budget this year.

County unions negotiated some stonking good raises with County Executive Marc Elrich this year. Analyses by Adam Pagnucco understandably focused on the politics of the raises for unions that supported Elrich. It’s certainly true that the unions supported Elrich, but the nature of the way that Montgomery negotiates union contracts propelled these raises forward and also merits attention.

Montgomery negotiated first with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and reached agreement without mediation or arbitration. The Firefighters union (IAFF) went next. These negotiations ended up in arbitration, as required by the contract when the two sides cannot agree. The arbitrator mandated generous raises for IAFF employees, which the county executive was contractually obliged to support during the budget process.

The unions aren’t supposed to talk to each other about these negotiations, but what do you think the chances are that doesn’t happen? As a result, there was no way MCGEO, the county employee union, was going to settle for any less. One imagines that the county executive was ill-positioned to talk them down, knowing the results from the previous arbitration (and knowing that MCGEO also knew even though they theoretically did not).

The County Council understandably viewed these raises as budget busters. The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.

The Council chose to sharply reduce the pay increase projected for MCGEO, the county employee unions, which on top of a COLA and step increase had included an additional 3.5% for a step increase that got deferred during the economic crisis. The police union (FOP) received the same deferred step increase, but the council left it untouched.

While MCGEO members have received no deferred step increases, the other county unions have been much more fortunate. Not just FOP and IAFF employees but also MCEA employees (the teachers’ union) have now received two apiece due the actions of this and past councils.

Unlike the membership of the IAFF or FOP, MCGEO is the only union of the three that is both majority female and majority minority. In cutting salaries for MCGEO, the County Council directly eliminated spending that would have done far more to promote racial and gender equity than the more symbolic legislation sponsored by Navarro and Glass.

From budgetary and policy perspectives, the Council choices made sense. The MCGEO raise had the biggest impact on the budget because they represent far more people than FOP and IAFF. Moreover, police and fire protection are core services. My guess is that most county residents would rather see firefighters and police officers receive pay increases than, say, county liquor store employees represented by MCGEO.

It was the right decision. Indeed, one could easily argue that the Council should have cut more from all of the union pay raises because tax revenues have regularly disappointed with the county seemingly facing budgets shortfalls with the predictability of humidity in August.

MCGEO remains an easier target than the sacred cows of education (MCEA) and first responders (FOP and IAFF). However, along with Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employees, MCGEO also represent people like prison guards, sheriffs, social workers, librarians, and snow plow drivers. Many engage in dangerous and difficult work.

Perhaps county councilmembers should spend less time touting how woke they are in the future. When it came to spending hard cash, the Council blinked and reduced the negotiated salaries of the predominantly female and minority union even as it once again protected pay increases for the other two unions. Reality bites.

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The Opposite of Intended: How Riemer’s Zoning Proposal Will Increase Housing Costs (Part II)

Yesterday, I introduced Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposal to make it much easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family home neighborhoods around the county. Today, I being to explore why the current proposal may well exacerbate the problem it is designed to solve while further burdening county infrastructure.

Affordable or More Expensive Housing?

While sold as a means of advancing affordable housing, Hans’s proposal to make it much easier to build ADUs could have precisely the opposite effect. As Hans pointed out at his forum on the idea, over 30% of Montgomeryites already are house poor and devote a disproportionate share of their incomes to housing. Will banks be willing to lend to people who already have trouble making ends meet to construct new units?

Even worse, housing values on properties amenable to additional units will rise. After all, property becomes more expensive the more income you can generate. This is why developers always press for more density. Instead of making MoCo affordable, Hans’s legislation will contribute to the problem it aims to solve by making existing homes more expensive.

Property taxes will go up with rising land values. While incomes have been stagnating, taxes continue to rise—not least because the county hiked them by 9% before the last election. Increasing values further will result in higher taxes that many residents, even those not house poor, will not find it easy fit into their budgets. Again, banks are unlikely to lend even more money for the construction of ADUs to the already financially stretched.

Poor Housing Code Enforcement

As several forum attendees highlighted, county housing law enforcement is a joke. One woman explained how she has tried fruitlessly to get rules enforced on her block for over 15 years, including by contacting Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro.

Hans didn’t disagree but touted that the county wanted to address the issue, citing repeatedly an additional $1 million allocated to housing code enforcement and the keenness of the new county executive to fix this problem.

But enforcement is often not systematic let alone muscular. Riemer’s bill limits ADU occupancy to two adults. If the county isn’t even enforcing rules people support regarding overcrowding and parking that protect both tenants and neighbors, does anyone think that the county is going to kick out a kid when she turns 18 or needs to come home at an older age? What about other relatives or friends who needs a place to stay for more than just a few days?

No Idea of Infrastructure Cost

Speaking of those kids, how many additional entrants will the public schools need to accommodate and how much will it cost? Hans opened his forum by lamenting that young families can’t afford MoCo. Presumably, if his proposal works, MCPS will get more students.

I asked Hans if he had any idea of the impact on the county budget due to the need for not just schools but more police and so forth, and he doesn’t know but “doesn’t think it will have a big impact.” I can’t say I will have much faith in any belated estimates generated by people already squarely behind the idea. My head is still spinning from the idea that lack of knowledge of the cost or the impact was apparently no barrier to county planners expressing so much support at the forum.

Hans suggested, however, that the impact would be minimal. He imagines that the number built here will fall between the 40-50 per year built now and the over 500 per year built in Portland, Oregon. Except that is almost surely an under-guesstimate. The City of Portland has only two-thirds the population of MoCo and more live in apartment buildings, so it has a lot fewer homes where you could construct an ADU.

Moreover, Portland is a terrific city, but it’s not exactly a model for affordable housing. Prices have risen rapidly in recent years and there is no sign that ADUs have altered that trend. Ironically, Montgomery and Portland share a major driver of high housing costs: green belts off limits to new construction that export sprawl and raise prices inside the belt.

Next Up: Breaking Trust with Residents

Tomorrow’s post looks at why Hans’s proposed zoning change breaks trust with residents and how it is open to abuses that the county won’t be able to stop despite Hans’s laudable efforts to prevent them.

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