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Councilmember Riemer’s Remarks at Inauguration of the 19th Council

Councilmember Hans Riemer giving remarks at the 2018 Inauguration

Welcome to the beginning of a new era in County government and politics. I am Hans Riemer, president of the Montgomery County Council. It is my honor to bring greetings to you at the inauguration of the 19th Council and share my thoughts on the road ahead.

I will begin by saluting a remarkable man who inspired confidence in our County’s leadership: Isiah Leggett. Thank you for everything, Ike. Together with Catherine, you have guided this County on its journey as we have transformed from farmland suburbia to inclusive, metropolitan Montgomery.

For my colleagues from the 18th Council who are moving on, Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, thank you for your dedication to public service.

To our new County Executive, Marc Elrich, thank you for your work on the Council, congratulations on your victory and best wishes for success.

Today we welcome new voices to Council leadership, Gabriel Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Evan Glass and Will Jawando. We are looking forward to your contributions. You’ll join an outstanding Council including Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, and Craig Rice. In the four years ahead, we will engage in spirited discussions, while upholding our Council’s traditions of professionalism and respect.

We probably don’t all agree on everything at the Council, but friends, you don’t either. That is what makes democracy so vital and exciting. We work through our differences to find a way forward.

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that — even if the federal government is no longer responsive to the views of the majority — Montgomery County is going to continue to set an example of effective governance.

We will strive for an inclusive community that respects and values the contributions that every single person can make to our world, and we will reject politics that rely on telling some Americans that they are less than.

In Montgomery County, every resident counts, no matter who you are, what you look like or where you are from.

This is not just a matter of values, it is the key to our success. Montgomery County is changing. We are not the same community that we were 30 or even 15 years ago. Some might see it differently, but I believe that we are changing for the better, as more and more families are able to find success in the corner of the world that we have made.

Today our County is a complex, dynamic, inclusive, cosmopolitan community. From farms to high rise apartments, there are Montgomery County residents living out just about every kind of lifestyle you can imagine.

Our past decisions to support new housing, public transportation and education continue to pay dividends, but as our community has grown larger and more complex, so have our needs.

If we want to continue to be an inclusive and welcoming community — then there are some basics we have to get right. There needs to be a place for everyone to live. We need reliable transportation. Young people need a great education. Immigrants and others starting out need an on-ramp to the economy.

It all begins with economic development. Government can do a lot to improve our lives, but good jobs are the foundation of every successful family, neighborhood and community.

My wife Angela and I have two amazing young boys. I hope they will stay close when they grow up, but I’m worried that, even if they want to – they won’t be able to.

First they’ll need to find a job here that supports their dreams. The federal government, a key building block of our local economy, isn’t expanding that fast anymore.

To provide job opportunities for the next generation, we’ll need our private sector job base to grow.

If our boys can find their chosen career path here, then they will want to find a place to live. But we have a housing crunch as there is not enough supply. That causes prices to go up. The affordability crisis in turn causes resentment as our younger workers wonder why, after taking on debt to get the same education and career potential their parents had, they can’t afford to live where they grew up.

To make room for the next generation, we need more housing. And absolutely, that means we need to build schools, public transportation and other infrastructure to support that growth. But just as we reject an immigration policy that says, “Sorry, we were here first,” we must reject a housing policy that doesn’t recognize that we all share a responsibility for building and maintaining the infrastructure that we use, not just the new generation that is trying to make our County home.

Our region enjoys a growing technology economy. Our ability to attract technology companies and their employees here also depends on our ability to connect to other job centers in DC and increasingly in Northern Virginia.

We must restore Metro to world class status, but that is not enough, either. As a region we should re-envision MARC and Virginia’s VRE to create a DMV commuter rail network. Imagine: a one-seat ride from the 11 stops in Montgomery County all the way to National Landing.

While we thank Governor Hogan for putting the focus on I-270, now is the time for us to work with our State Delegation to support our clean energy future by ensuring this project makes transit a real priority.

Welcome to our state elected officials here in the audience today. We have made great strides on county issues these past few years and we know we can count on you. With the Kirwan Commission’s education recommendations coming soon, we will be working together to ensure that what happens in Annapolis is good for Montgomery County school children.

Because if we are going to create prosperity for everyone, nothing is more important than preparing our young people to step up and fill the tech and science jobs across our region.

It starts with early childhood. In the past two years, the Council has made great strides on early education. Providing a high-quality pre-k slot for every low-income 4-year-old is now within our grasp. We could do it this Council term or even sooner, within our budget, and ensure that every single child starts kindergarten ready to learn.

This generation of digital natives knows how to use technology. We just have to show them how they can turn a passion for technology into a career, no matter what zip code they call home.

As our education leaders know, we must reinvent STEM learning so that it is cutting edge, relevant and exciting. Luckily, Montgomery County is home to the KID Museum, a wonderful partner that is working with MCPS to do just that. And with the leadership of our Board of Education and the vision of our Superintendent Jack Smith, we are on the verge of a breakthrough.

But to achieve it, we need a new approach to high school that is outside the box. We need opportunities for students to learn in new environments that are closely related to our local employers and career pathways, aligned with course credit at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland.

Let’s look to our downtowns — downtowns that we are reinventing with contemporary bike and pedestrian infrastructure, breweries and nightlife, restaurants, transit, fast internet and affordable housing — and find buildings we can repurpose for 21st Century high school academies.

And finally, we must meet these challenges as we continue to be disciplined with our budget. Rainy days will surely come again. We must continue to save while the sun is shining. Ike Leggett put us on the right path, and we should not stray.

So welcome to my new colleagues on the County Council – I know how eager you are to meet the challenges before us. Working together with the County Executive, our State Delegation, our U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, and most of all our entire community, we will help the County achieve new heights.

Thank you everyone!

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Council Making Strides on Pre-K

On November 1, 2018, I had the opportunity to join Superintendent Jack Smith, his early education team, and members of the Board of Education for the grand opening of the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center. You can read the news coverage highlighting that event here.

Grand Opening of Regional Pre K Facility

This is the first “regional pre-k facility” implemented by MCPS. It is a big step forward in the ongoing efforts by MCPS and the County Council to fund pre-k for low-income 4 year olds. There are about 100 slots for eligible children at the Center. There are also about 175 children enrolled in a pre-k program run by the Arc of Montgomery County at that same location, with about 1/3 of those children having special needs.

Three years ago, I co-authored legislation with Councilmember Nancy Navarro requiring the County to pass a Childcare Strategic Plan and create a Child Care Policy Officer. I did not get everything I wanted in that bill, such as creating an Office of Child Care independent from our County’s HHS, but the compromise bill that I passed with the support of Councilmember Navarro was a clear a step forward. The County then proceeded to hire a Child Care Policy Officer and to draft the Child Care Strategic Plan, which engaged the educator, parent, and provider community.

One of the recommendations from the plan was to focus on expanding part-day Head Start and pre-k programs to full day, and then to expand programs for low-income children in pre-k. For me, that recommendation was a light-bulb as it provided a real path forward to expand pre-k programs. Up to that point, all of the talk about universal pre-k seemed to go nowhere as a result of an overwhelming price tag. As opposed to needing $100 million or more to create “universal” pre-k, we identified that we could provide a classroom seat for all low income four year olds in the County for about $35 million. In this case low-income is defined as up to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (which is, for example, about $78,000 in annual income for a family of 3).

Based on the plan, two years ago I recommended to my colleagues on the Council that we add $5 million in the 2017 (FY18) budget to move towards the goal. Because many councilmembers care about this issue, we were successful in securing $2.5 million to fund full day Head Start and pre-k through MCPS, and to add $2.5 million to child care subsidies. As a result we created hundreds of slots for low income children.

Following on that success, with early education clearly identified as a priority for the MCPS Board of Education and our visionary superintendent Jack Smith, this year, in my Council President’s budget (FY19), MCPS requested $2.5 million in additional resources for pre-k expansions. The Council did a little better, funding not only that request but an additional $800,000 for more children to be eligible, thanks in particular to support from the Council’s Education Committee chairman Craig Rice.

As a result of these steps, there are now 700 more children enrolled in full day Head Start and pre-k programs through MCPS than there were 2 years ago. We are more than $5 million towards the goal of covering low income children. Perhaps even more importantly, we have finally taken ownership of the issue and we are marshalling resources to address the need, step by step. This is what some call “universal incrementalism,” which means having a vision for a universal service but also identifying how to get there one step at a time and actually taking those steps rather than talking about it.

Child care subsidies are also expanding. This year I have highlighted the need for our subsidies to cover a sufficient cost of care such that low income families can actually afford to participate. That has been an issue because with our existing subsidy structure, many families would be required to pay as much as a third or even a half of their income for child care — even with a subsidy. That is not tenable for low income families and as a result they remain without high quality care.

The exciting news is that this year, the state legislature passed a law authored by Senator Nancy King (D39), significantly raising state child care subsidy payments into the County. We are eagerly awaiting news about how those funds will become available.

These are crucial investments because, unfortunately, only about half of all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and only about 25% of low-income children are ready to learn. The achievement gap opens up at the youngest age. In fact, as Jack Smith explained to me when we talked at this event, there is a physical process or impact on a young child’s brain from exposure to language. Neural pathways are created by the brain as words are heard and repeated. Not unlike a network of roads through the brain paved by words. Children that are not sufficiently exposed to words and language at a young age, which is a problem from child care that is not up to standards, will not have that physical conditioning and that is one reason they enter kindergarten behind. Quality pre-k programs can help them catch up.

Located at 10611 Tenbrook Dr., Silver Spring, MD and fully enrolled, it is our hope that the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center will serve as a model for future childhood centers. This landmark achievement is a testament to the Council’s commitment that every child should start kindergarten ready to learn and prepared for a bright future in our public educational system.

For a recent and thorough review of this issue, please read our Council Staff Report.

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The Council Connection — pedestrian safety and salute to Ike Leggett

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council is in regular session on Tuesday, and we have a full agenda. Let’s dive in.

A Salute to County Executive Ike Leggett
The Council would like to thank outgoing County Executive Ike Leggett for his exemplary public service and steady leadership. During his 12-year tenure as County Executive, Ike led the County through the depths of the financial recession and set us on a path for continued prosperity into the future. The Council will formally thank Ike for his service with a proclamation on Tuesday.

Council focuses on pedestrian safety
The Council will be meeting State Highway Administrator (SHA) Greg Slater to discuss the recent wave of pedestrian injuries and fatalities on State roads. The Administrator will brief the Council on the State’s review of the these collisions and what they intend to do to prevent them.

Regrettably, the recent wave of pedestrian injuries continues an ongoing trend. From 2012 to 2016, there were 970 fatalities and serious injuries in Montgomery County on Maryland State highways, comprising about half of all fatal/serious pedestrian and bicyclist incidents in the County. The rate of crashes is highest in our lower income and higher-minority areas.

This is unacceptable. We have to make safety the first priority on our roads. To get there, we need to use the safety data we have to efficiently and equitably target engineering solutions that lower speeds and promote safety in our most dangerous areas. That means road diets, safer crossings, pedestrian lead times at intersections, and more. Implementing these safety measures will require closer collaboration between the County Council, MCDOT, and the State Highway administration. The meeting with SHA on Tuesday moves that dialogue forward.

Supporting Small Business
Spearheaded by District 3 Councilmember Nancy Navarro, the Council recently approved a $200,000 appropriation to small businesses in downtown Wheaton at its meeting last Tuesday. The money will help the businesses that are impacted by construction of the Wheaton Revitalization Project, a mixed-use development that includes a town square, government office building and underground parking garage.

MCPS Student Performance Data
Last week, the Council’s education committee received a briefing on student performance data within the context of their Evidence of Learning (EOL) framework. The EOL framework uses multiple measures to determine whether students are learning enough. You can read the Council staff report and/or explore the data yourself.

Thanksgiving Parade – Nov 17, 2018 10am-12pm!
Held in downtown Silver Spring, the Thanksgiving Parade heralds the start of the holiday season. The parade begins at the intersection of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street and proceeds south on Georgia Avenue, ending at Silver Spring Avenue. If you aren’t able to make it in person, it will also be televised live on News Channel 8 with a rerun on Thanksgiving Day.

This year’s parade will also have a special place to take a family holiday photo. Right next to the ice rink, you can take your photo with inflatable turkeys, penguins, or Seasonal decor. All parade selfies marked with the hashtag #MoCoThanksParade will also be broadcasted on the jumbotron at Ellsworth and Fenton St. along the parade route. Find additional information on the parade here.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

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The Council Connection — housing affordability (cont’d)

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Before we head into the August recess, the Council meets this Tuesday with a full agenda (pdf).

Housing Affordability
After extensive discussion, the Council will take action on two significant pieces of legislation that make improvements to our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program – a visionary law first enacted in Montgomery County in 1973 and since copied in jurisdictions across the Country. The MPDU law requires that 12.5% of all new developments with more than 20 housing units be set aside in the County’s affordable, below-market rate program. The law has produced more than 11,000 affordable units since its creation (though many aged out of their control period before it was extended to 99 years). Bill 34-17 (pdf), sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17 (pdf), sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Renaming New High School After Josiah Henson
Last week, First Lady Catherine Leggett and Council President Hans Riemer sent a letter to the Board of Education (pdf) urging them to name the new high school on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville after Josiah Henson. Reverend Henson, one of the great unsung heroes in the County, lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle School now stands on what was once Riley Farm.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, please attend a special screening of the documentary film “Josiah” on August 10 at 7:00 p.m at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring. Tickets are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office.

Crime Statistics
The Council public safety committee reviewed the County’s 2017 and 2018 year-to-date crime statistics. While crimes against persons have ticked up in 2018, the total number of criminal offenses are trending lower than 2017 (-48.8%). Please see the full update here.

Wireless infrastructure zoning changes
At the request of the County Executive, the Council will introduce zoning changes (pdf) that are designed to speed the deployment of wireless infrastructure in residential areas while maintaining appropriate safeguards for neighbors. The public hearing will be on September 11, beginning at 7:30pm. You can also provide feedback by writing to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Converting streetlights to LED
The Council will vote on an appropriation proposed by the County Executive to begin phase 1 of an ambitious plan to convert all County street lights from high pressure sodium (HPS) to light-emitting diode (LED). LED streetlights use less energy and are easier to maintain, which saves the County (and taxpayers) money.

And finally, an update on the Council’s efforts to promote local craft alcohol production.

Farm Alcohol Production Zoning Changes
In order to improve Montgomery County’s offering of wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries in our agricultural areas, Councilmember Riemer and Rice introduced ZTA 18-03. After making a number of changes suggested from stakeholders, the zoning committee (PHED) unanimously recommended the ZTA to the full Council this week. The full Council will take up these zoning changes in September.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President