The Kensington man who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) in last fall’s election will go before the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Monday and ask it that it implement further security measures for voting machines, software and operating policies.
Ken Timmerman, a Republican who lost to Van Hollen in Montgomery precincts of Maryland’s Eighth District by a 3-to-1 margin, backed off his original claim that the county’s voting results were inaccurate. He said he “conducted an investigation with the help of volunteers” and “came away from that investigation convinced that the anecdotal reports we had gathered did not rise to the level of a systematic pattern of voter fraud.”
Before, Timmerman had claimed supporters supplied him with anecdotal evidence of “irregularities” during early voting and the Nov. 6 general election. He also claimed there were voting machines in the district without a single Republican vote.
“However, as I learned more about the electronic voting machines and their vulnerabilities, I also became convinced that the security measures in place – especially in Montgomery County – were inadequate,” Timmerman wrote in an email to supporters. “While I do not doubt the good intentions of the professional staff who administer our elections, I believe the politicians who give them orders and set the security parameters can do better.”
Timmerman will address the Board of Elections at its meeting on Monday at 2:30 p.m. and make two unspecified recommendations he hopes they will adopt. In November, he said the state must enforce a 2007 law that established the replacement of touch-screen machines with optical scanner voting machines.
“If they fail to enact these common sense reforms or equivalent measures, I will have no choice but to tell the public that I have no confidence in the outcome of the 2014 election results in Montgomery County,” Timmerman wrote.
Those two major changes from County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended budget will be paid for in part by adjustments to the six-year Capital Improvement budget and a transfer of roughly $14 million from other county funds into its general fund. The 10 percent cut in the energy tax, which was instituted three years ago, will mean the loss of $11.6 million in revenue.
The Council unanimously agreed on the budget, despite councilmember Phil Andrews’ contention that Leggett’s proposed pay increases for county employees were too large. Andrews said he will vote against the County Government portion of the budget when it is formalized next week. Councilmember Marc Elrich said not enough money was dedicated to restoring social service cuts that came during the recession.
“I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of these services, they would choose the services,” Elrich said in a statement.
The Council also added $100,000 to Leggett’s 10 percent bump in county library funding to increase the purchase of e-Books. In the six-year Capital Improvements budget, the Council differed on some of Leggett’s recommendations by keeping funding for the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance on track, accelerating more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and adding $4 million for bridge renovations, including on the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda.
In a statement, Leggett commended the Council for its work in finalizing the budget, but took issue with the energy tax cut. The Council approved 99 percent of Leggett’s recommended budget, which is fairly typical:
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.
The parking fee structure for downtown Bethesda will change, as Leggett recommended. The Council also agreed to add 40 police positions and double the amount of School Resource Officers from 6 to 12.
Flickr photo by dan reed!
District 16 House of Delegates candidate Jordan Cooper will hold a panel discussion fundraiser at his family’s North Bethesda home on Thursday on the topic of good governance in Montgomery County.
Cooper, 27, is likely to be the youngest candidate in a crowded field vying for what could be two vacant District 16 seats in next year’s Primary. The anticipated large group of candidates has led to a few declaring their candidacy more than a year before the June 2014 election. Many observers have said candidates will have to raise more than $100,000 to be competitive.
Cooper, who served as a page in the General Assembly and then worked as a legislative aide after college, is charging $50 per and $30 for Young Democrats for the fundraiser.
It will include Steve VanGrack, former Rockville mayor, Dr. Alan Cheung, former Board of Education member, and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, from Congregation Bnai Tzedek in Potomac.
The subject of the discussion will be “Leadership & Good Governance in Montgomery County.”
“For me, good governance can be summed up in one word: Integrity,” Cooper said. “Being whole in oneself, having one’s thoughts and behaviors in accord, fulfilling one’s responsibilities, and honoring one’s commitments are all hallmarks of leadership properly executed.”
Hrant Jamgochian is the only other District 16 candidate to formally announce his or her candidacy, though a number of others are expected to join the fray.
The panel discussion starts at 8 p.m.
About 200 union supporters protested outside the Montgomery County Democratic Party Spring Ball on Saturday, according to The Gazette, upset over the county’s decision to remove police effects bargaining rights.
The Spring Ball, held at the Bethesda North Conference Center, serves as a major fundraiser for the party. The protest also included a boycott that drew support from some big political names: U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, State Sen. Brian Frosh, Del. Bill Frick, County Executive candidate Doug Duncan and others.
The AFL-CIO Metro Council organized the protest. Union leaders said the boycott centered on the county’s decision to revoke effects bargaining rights from its police union, but was also a criticism of the party for what they say is a move away from Democratic values.
The county police union wanted to remain the only police union in the state with bargaining rights over administrative issues such as the use of email, equipment turn-in, rules for raids and video systems in police cars. That touched off a spirited campaign both from the county and the union in support and in opposition of Question B before last year’s referendum.
County officials said the repeal of effects bargaining was necessary as the process hindered MCPD Chief Thomas Manger’s ability to make needed and swift administrative moves, thus hurting public safety.
Many of them, including County Councilmember Roger Belriner (D-Bethesda), wrote letters in support of the Central Committee and in opposition to the union protest. From Berliner’s letter, published on Maryland Juice:
Unfortunately, there are some who apparently think there is no room for disagreement within our party and out of blind ideology or fear of retribution, are choosing to boycott tonight’s event and punish our party in the process. I find this to be troubling to say the least. One of the things that makes Montgomery County so special is that we are one of the most well-educated communities in the country. We are a thinking, discerning community and wherever that is true, you will find thoughtful disagreement even amongst the most ideologically aligned individuals. And that is something we should embrace, not shun or punish.
The moment we become the party of blind obedience – to any one constituency or stakeholder group – is the day we lose our integrity as a party. As in most things in life, good, thoughtful people can disagree. But at the end of the day, our precinct officials overwhelmingly supported the legislative actions of a unanimous Council and the electorate weighed in similarly. Let us move on.
The Gazette reported the boycott meant 340 attendees at the Spring Ball instead of an expected 400 and a $10,000 to $15,000 loss in fundraising for the party.
Flickr photo via Stephen D. Melkisethian
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot on Thursday told Bethesda small business owners he’s confident a bill that would require online retailers to collect sales taxes will pass the House of Representatives.
The Marketplace Fairness Act, which the Senate passed and which awaits review in the House, would force major online retailers such as Amazon to collect sales taxes from customers in other states. Franchot said Maryland loses out on roughly $170 million in uncollected online sales tax revenue each year, though his main concern is the disadvantage it provides small businesses.
In my business, we have medium-sized companies that don’t have locations in Maryland that sell on the internet,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Andy Stern. Stern owns Andy Stern’s Office Furniture, which has a Rockville showroom. “Not only can they sell at lower prices because they don’t have bricks and mortar, they don’t have to carry inventory. They don’t have to do any of that stuff. They then have a six percent advantage when they sell into Maryland because they don’t have to charge their customer the sales tax. It’s completely and totally unfair.”
Stern joined Franchot, Maryland Retailers Association President Patrick Donoho and Union Hardware co-owner David Goldberg at Goldberg’s Wisconsin Avenue showroom.
“Because if it’s about price, I’m gonna lose,” Goldberg said. “I know that up front. I can’t make it if it’s about price. So I’ve had to figure out a way to make it not about price. I’ve been bringing in products, mostly from Europe, that aren’t on the internet.”
States have been pushing for enforcement of an internet sales tax for years and if passed, each state will likely have to manage enforcement issues.
Franchot said he’s optimistic that the Republican-controlled House will pass the measure, despite its appearance as a new tax.
“This is about protecting Main Street and everybody has a Main Street,” Franchot said.
“I know it’s difficult for people to put their mind around, but this is not a tax increase. You already owe the tax,” Donoho said. “It’s just a way to collect it. That’s all it is.”
Stern said he has people come into his showrooms with their iPhones who take pictures of price tags, decide what furniture they like, Google it and order it over the internet in his store.
“I’m at a six percent disadvantage automatically,” Stern said.
Franchot related a similar story from a longtime jewelry business in Baltimore, where customers will browse the merchandise, order it online and then ask the owner for an empty jewelry box so their wives won’t know it came from an internet company.
“You need to support the local brick-and-mortar stores. I want to make it to 100 years and beyond,” Goldberg said. “It certainly has not been helpful.”
Some of the most affordable rental housing in Bethesda is on the way out and Montgomery County Councilmembers can’t seem to agree on how to create more.
On Hampden Lane, 12 rental units that run from $1,150 to $2,405 a month will be replaced by The Lauren, which has announced its pending arrival with signs on the property that proclaim the luxury condo will be offering “Residences from the several millions.”
On Battery Lane, four garden-style apartment buildings have been approved for new zoning which would allow property owner Glen Aldon to raze the buildings and build three new, likely more expensive ones on the land.
On Tuesday, Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) moved to table a bill that would have given tax breaks to developers who offer at least 25 percent affordable housing units in their projects. The county requirement is 12.5 percent.
That caused the sponsor of the bill, Councilmember Nancy Floreen, to question the Council’s commitment to affordable housing. Floreen introduced the bill in 2011.
“This is the sort of thing that makes me very angry,” Floreen said. “I’m sitting here with eight other colleagues, who time and time again, in every other context that involves not making a decision say they’re all for affordable housing. But when it comes time to actually do something we can come up with reasons. Everyone is very smart. Everyone wants to think some more.
“This has been before us for a year-and-a-half, so to suggest that we’re rushing to judgement is breathtaking,” Floreen said. “I just got to say, ‘Fine, be who you are,’ but I think it’s outrageous that my colleagues will not take any action on this.”
John Bickerman, who characterized the Town of Chevy Chase’s attempt to stop the Purple Line as not forceful enough, beat out incumbent Linna Barnes to win a spot on the Town Council in the Town’s election on Tuesday.
Bickerman, a mediator who has lived in the area for 20 years, beat out Barnes by 11 votes, 324-313, according to the Town. Mayor Pat Burda, the other incumbent running, won reelection with 384 votes.
At a candidate forum on April 25, Bickerman said the current Town Council hasn’t done enough to stop the Purple Line or curb development at Chevy Chase Lake and along Bethesda’s Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Part of the 16-mile light rail project would run behind homes in the Town of Chevy Chase, one of the few remaining entities that still seems opposed to the transit system.
“If you want to get it done, you have to organize. You have to tell them, if you don’t support us, we’re going to find a way to defeat you,” Bickerman said, referring to developers and county and state officials in favor of the Purple Line. “I think we can do better because I think we can exercise our political power more effectively, not testifying in front of a board, not paying for a study to show us something we already know. I know how to do it.”
Bickerman suggested using some of the Town’s estimated $9 million surplus to lobby the Federal Transit Administration against matching the state’s contribution to the $2.2 billion project. The Maryland Transit Administration expects to present its plan to federal officials early next year.
Burda, who said she believes in the tenets of smart growth, took a softer tone. Burda said hiring a consultant to lobby against the Purple Line would be a waste of resources and the Town must do its best to mitigate its effects. Burda helped create the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, which is currently arguing for limited density in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan before the County Council.
Bickerman also said he would like to see the Town come up with a new strategic plan that would offer some ways to use that surplus. He suggested the idea of burying some power lines, which Burda and Barnes said the Town has determined would be too costly.
In 2009, Barnes was reelected for the Town Council with 357 votes in a four-candidate race for two seats. She served on the Council for 10 years. Burda, who got 363 votes in that election, beat out two other candidates to win her first term.
The 2014 Democratic Primary is still more than a year away, yet each week brings more news and speculation about who will jump into a District 16 House of Delegates race that could see 15 or 20 candidates and take more than $100,000 in fundraising to win.
On Saturday, Hrant Jamgochian officially kicked off his campaign with an open house at his Bradley Boulevard home. Jamgochian, an attorney who is executive director of a dialysis patient advocacy organization, finished a close third behind Del. Ariana Kelly in the 2010 primary and garnered the Washington Post’s endorsement despite his late entry into the race.
About 100 supporters showed up for the event, including Gilbert Genn, a District 16 delegate from 1987-1999. Del. Susan Lee, who told Bethesda Magazine she would run for Sen. Brian Frosh’s vacant seat if he runs for attorney general as expected, was also in attendance.
Jamgochian is making his move a lot earlier this time around. He talked about education, the economy and healthcare on Saturday, with an emphasis on closing healthcare insurance loopholes and providing for expensive long-term senior care. He hired Rachel Gumpert, who worked in the field in Nevada during the 2012 election, as his campaign manager.
Jamgochian is planning a June 11 fundraiser at a yet-to-be-determined location.
The only other candidate who has formally announced his candidacy is Jordan Cooper, a 27-year-old healthcare policy wonk who has worked as an aide to Annapolis lawmakers. Cooper is hosting a dessert and panel discussion fundraiser on May 16 for $50 a person and $30 for Young Democrats.
With Lee’s attempt at the State Senate and Del. Bill Frick expected to challenge Frosh for attorney general, there will likely be two seats open.
Kyle Lierman, who lost to Kelly by 374 votes in the 2010 Primary, is rumored to be looking at challenging Lee for Frosh’s vacant seat.
Others who will likely run but haven’t made official announcements are Marc Korman and Karen Kuker-Kihl. Bonnie Casper, wife of 2010 candidate Mark Winston, is rumored to be in the mix.
For the first time in four years, Montgomery County employees will get a pay raise after the County Council today approved County Executive Isiah Leggett’s negotiated $32 million in increases for FY14.
The lone dissenting vote was from Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) who argued Leggett’s agreed upon increases with the County’s three employee unions were too large.
Leggett negotiated a 3.25 percent cost-of-living increase that will come in September. Police officers will get a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters will get a 2.75 percent increase in July.
Eligible employees will get step increases of 3.5 percent on their anniversary date.
From Andrews’ statement:
County employees deserve a pay raise after three years without a step increase and four years without a general wage adjustment, and I support (and proposed in March) a reasonable and sustainable increase in pay of 4-6 percent for county employees for each of the next two years. However, the pay raises of 13.5 percent over two years for most non-public safety county employees; 14.7 percent over two years for most police officers, and 19.5 percent over two years for most career firefighters agreed to by County Executive Leggett and the County Council are excessive, irresponsible and unsustainable. These pay raises will cost taxpayers $31 million in FY14, $73 million in FY15, and $85 million in FY16.
Leggett argued that after four years of holding the line during the Great Recession, county employees deserved the raise:
Our cost cutting efforts were necessary, but they called for great sacrifice from County employees. Over the past four years, the average County employee has contributed over $30,000 to help close $2.7 billion in budgetary gaps. Based on the actions already taken, each employee will continue to contribute up to $6,500 a year well into the future.
The County Council agreed.
County Executive Isiah Leggett today said his controversial tree canopy bill is a fair compromise between conservationists and builders who do tear-down home projects in Bethesda’s older neighborhoods.
Leggett’s Tree Canopy Conservation bill, before the County Council now, would require builders or land owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy during large home addition or home rebuilding projects. The county’s Department of Environmental Protection has used overhead imagery of Bethesda neighborhoods where “mansionization” is common to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The fees would go into a county-operated tree replacement fund.
“This bill strikes what I consider to be a balance between those who want more stringent regulations to protect trees and those who feel that additional protection is a burden,” Leggett said. “It’s a good balance in my opinion.”
The building industry, at least initially, did not agree. On Friday, Leggett joined Caren Madsen and Arlene Bruhn from Conservation Montgomery to talk up the bill and plant a tree near the Bethesda Library to celebrate Arbor Day.
“Not only are we having what we call mansionization, in addition to all the sediment challenges we have, we lose the trees,” Leggett said. “You simply can not easily replace those trees that are lost. We must act now to protect and restore the valuable community resources that we believe are in this bill.”
The man challenging two Town of Chevy Chase Council incumbents didn’t hold back at a candidate’s forum on Thursday, saying he doesn’t think the Council has done enough to stop the Purple Line or stem surrounding development.
John Bickerman, a professional mediator, said the Town’s current leadership has been ineffective at influencing development at nearby Chevy Chase Lake and in downtown Bethesda. He said he would take a more agressive approach, perhaps by hiring a political consultant to lobby against the Purple Line.
Mayor Pat Burda and treasurer Linna Barnes are seeking reelection on May 7.
“If you want to get it done, you have to organize. You have to tell them, if you don’t support us, we’re going to find a way to defeat you,” Bickerman said, referring to developers and county and state officials in favor of the Purple Line.
“I’ll take a bet with you right now,” Bickerman told Burda.
“You don’t have the [County Council] votes on Chevy Chase Lake,” Bickerman said. “You’re not going to win this issue and it’s because you haven’t been effective.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will be in Bethesda tomorrow to help plant two trees in celebration of National Arbor Day and to encourage the County Council to pass his controversial tree canopy conservation bill.
The bill, which would require private property owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy, is aimed at the many homeowners in older Bethesda neighborhoods who are taking down old homes and replacing them with supersized ones.
Leggett and the county’s Department of Environmental Protection argue this has led to significant loss of tree canopy that until now hasn’t been on the county’s radar because development was taking place at bigger lots. The bill proposes to take the fees and create a county-managed fund for planting new trees nearby.
In their presentation to the County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee earlier this year, Environmental Protection officials used overhead images of Bethesda neighborhoods to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The Transportation and Environment Committee is expected to make a final recommendation on the bill in June, after work is finished on the FY14 budget.
On Friday, Leggett will join Conservation Montgomery, which is in favor of the bill, to plant a yellowwood tree and dogwood tree at the Bethesda Library overlooking Caroline Freeland Park.
A press release says the Bethesda Garden Club and B-CC High School students will water the trees during the summer.
County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) says he’s worried a bag tax that many see as overbearing could breed resentment toward the 5-cent fee’s intended goal of reducing plastic bag use.
That’s why Berliner is joining Councilmembers Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) and Nancy Floreen (D-At large) in introducing a measure that would limit the bag tax to food stores, just more than a year after he was one of the leading proponents for the fee.
“I have always been concerned that if you overreach in trying to achieve a noble end, you turn a law of good intentions into a law that breeds resentment. The shift in consciousness that you achieve is not one that promotes protecting the environment, but rather one that diminishes support for doing so,” Berliner said in a press release on Tuesday. “We can not afford to squander good will on marginal outcomes. There is no doubt in my mind that government will need to play a strong role – and in many cases a leading role — if we are to continue making strides toward protecting our planet. I want to save our political chits for the tough fights ahead – and when we get there, I want to have earned the community’s trust that we will not squander their progressive capital.”
Berliner, who said he has struggled with the issue, said he doesn’t think bringing reuseable bags into retail or hardware stores is natural behavior. In 2012, the bag tax netted Montgomery County more than twice the revenue it expected.
The county’s Department of Environmental Protection is expected to fight the proposed change to the law, which Director Bob Hoyt called one of the most successful county programs he has seen. Berliner also said focusing the fee on food stores will increase the likelihood the state legislature passes a statewide bill.
Berliner also discussed another environmentally-themed bill he’ll introduce today, one that would help fund commercial property owners who qualify to make clean energy improvements.
Three people are running for two spots, including incumbent Mayor Pat Burda and Treasurer Linna Barnes. The challenger is John Bickerman, who runs a D.C.-based mediation firm.
A candidates’ forum, moderated by Montgomery Municipal Cable’s Charles Duffy, will happen on Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane). The Town said any questions for the candidates can be submitted to email@example.com by April 24.
Burda has been active in the Town’s talks with the Maryland Transit Administration on the Purple Line, which would run behind many Town of Chevy Chase homes. In February, MTA presented noise mitigation walls to be installed in the Town of Chevy Chase it said was unique to the Town, in large part due to the Town’s advocacy on the issue.
Burda has also been involved in the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, which has worked with developers part of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan to manage and in some cases limit density in that proposal. Burda and Chevy Chase Village Board Chair Pat Baptiste have become known as “the two Pats,” through the process.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) joined other leading Democrats yesterday in condemning the Senate’s defeat of major gun control proposals, including an expanded background check system that polling showed most Americans supported.
Van Hollen, a leading Congressional Democrat who has made clear his positon for more gun control measures, called the vote “a sickening display of political cowardice.”
The Maryland General Assembly, behind the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the efforts of State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16), recently passed one of the most restrictive gun control bills in the county, with a ban on assault weapons, an ammunition limit of 10 rounds, a license and fingerprint requirement for all new handgun sales and a ban on gun ownership by the mentally ill.
A few days after the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, Frosh and other Maryland lawmakers introduced their gun control package, citing changing attitudes on the issue since the shooting.
That wasn’t enough to make gun control measures work on a national scale. Van Hollen’s full statement:
Today, in a sickening display of political cowardice, an undemocratic minority of senators blocked a series of bills that would help reduce gun violence, including a bipartisan compromise proposal to close gaping loopholes in current law and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with severe mental illnesses – a proposal that has the support of 90 percent of Americans. It is a sad day for our nation when an undemocratic minority bows to the special interest Washington, DC gun lobby to block an up-or-down vote on a common-sense idea that the vast majority of people support.
We have a long tradition in this country of responsible gun ownership – but in the wake of too many tragedies, including the massacre in Newtown, we are clearly not doing enough to keep our citizens safe. We cannot allow politics and misinformation to stand in the way of what is best for our nation, and I will keep fighting for this issue on behalf of our children, our families, and our community.