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Daily Journal 07-16-12: White Flint, Pepco, Municipal Taxes)

Today started in White Flint at the location of the future “Pike & Rose” development that Federal Realty has initiated. This development is on that big lot where the Toys R Us was for many years near Montrose Road and 355.

Federal Realty is going to turn those acres of asphalt into a spectacular community of residences, retail and commercial space. Today was the groundbreaking, attended not only by yours truly but the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, County Executive, Council President, and others.

I am passionate about moving ahead on the redevelopment of Rockville Pike, which will become the urban spine of our economic future. With all the great projects coming online up and down The 355, that area is going to become one of the most interesting and enjoyable places to live in the country.

Then back to the office to continue working on the #FixPepco campaign, which is taking off— we have over 2,000 petition signers now. I think its working to put the focus where it needs to be, on the regulators who are not doing their job. Our Maryland Public Services Commission is tasked with ensuring that consumers are protected from the monopoly utilities. They haven’t gotten the job done and the Governor needs to start over at that failed regulatory agency. Please sign!

Next up, a Gov Ops committee meeting on an issue that I have been learning more and more about in my time at the Council – the issue of municipal tax duplication. This is the problem where residents who live in our county’s municipalities (about 17% of county residents living in cities such as Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Takoma Park) pay property tax for a county service that the city has decided to provide. The county is required by the state to refund that double property tax. For many years, however, the county did more than just refund the double property tax; we provided the municipalities with additional funds. That fact is not well understood; to the contrary, some residents of these municipalities are under the erroneous impression that they pay higher taxes because the county does not refund their double taxes.

We have a lot of work to do to get closer to a resolution and to ensure a process that works for both the county and the municipalities in the future. The committee is going to keep focusing on this issue and take some specific steps later in the year. You can read more about the issue in this council staff memo (PDF).

Finally, a quick interview with ABC News about #FixPepco, which led the 5:30pm TV news!, and now I am preparing to visit with the Western Montgomery Citizens Advisory Board at 7pm. I’m sure we’ll be talking Pepco…

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Daily Journal 07/09/12: Wheaton, Digital Government, Pepco

On Monday, I met Larry Couch, chair of the Justice and Advocacy Council (JAC) of Montgomery County. The JAC is a Catholic organization that advocates for our low-income. We talked about a variety of issues, including the Working Families Income Supplement, a tax benefit that helps our low-income families by supplementing their wages. The JAC fought to create the original State Earned Income Tax Credit, which the county matches with its own local tax credit.  We talked about working together to get the county to a 1-1 match of dollars provided by the state (today we add about 75% of the amount). 

Next, Councilmember Navarro and I convened a discussion about Wheatonpublic safety issues with Chief Manger, and Mid-County Regional Services Center Director, Ana Lopez van Balen, and their teams. We reviewed progress from the Wheaton Public Safety Audit of 2004 and parameters for a new public safety initiative there. Our goal is to integrate these elements of the Wheaton Public Safety Task Forceinto the larger effort of Wheaton Revitalization. More soon.

In the afternoon, I attended a GO Committee on IT issues. As the Council lead for Digital Government, I have been working to accelerate the county’s digital strategy. I was very happy to review the substantial agenda that has been put forward by our agencies on open data, digital citizenship, data visualization, social media, mobile platforms, and other areas– and not only for county government but also MCPS, HOC, MNCPPC, and Montgomery College. These groups will be working together on a range of initiatives in these areas and residents will begin to see the results soon.

In the evening, I met with the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. We talked about Pepco and who has accountability for ensuring that we have decent electric power here in the County. The point I stressed to the group is that I believe its time for the Governor to give us a fresh start at the PSC.  The PSCis the only entity in the state that has direct authority over Pepco.  They are an independent state agency and their members are appointed by the Governor. The Governor needs to appoint new members because these members are not getting the job done. 

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Daily Journal (June 22, 2012): Your Council on Video

Today began with continued work on our digital strategy; my new staffer, Arthi Subramanian, is working hard to assemble our thoughts into a road-map that we can publish and help guide our actions in the future.

As part of that effort, I am working to find money to televise 100% of the county council’s “worksessions.” A worksession is essentially a committee meeting and, as my colleague Valerie Ervin remarked, it is where most of the decisions are made on most of the issues that come through the county council. The exception is issues that are more controversial and are not resolved in committee, and therefore have full council debate and amendments. The share of those issues is small compared to the items that get worked out in committee and then placed on the “consent agenda.”

Unfortunately, the council does not usually have time to discuss the items on the consent agenda, so significant policy issues are passed with a vote at the council but no discussion.

For this reason, the Government Operations Committee (of which I am a member along with Valerie Ervin and chair Nancy Navarro) decided this year that we should televise 100% of the committee worksessions – to promote transparency and also create a very useful video archive of county council deliberations. Today we only take video of about half of the worksessions (they are all recorded by audio).

Another recommendation I am working on is better using a powerful video tool that we have, called Granicus, to “tag” all of the content from the council deliberations. Already, you can come to the council website and search the video by keyword—the search results will pull up parts of council meetings and worksessions that used that word.

Want to see what every council member has said in a public meeting about public safety, transportation, etc? This tool will allow you to find the answers. Pretty handy, right? The purpose of getting 100% of the worksessions is to make that keyword or tagging tool as useful as possible, and then to make it a more prominent feature of the Council website. This is one important step in improving our legislative transparency.

If you have any thoughts about how these systems can be improved, please let me know.