With September bookended by the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and for many, Rosh Hashanah beginning at sundown, it's been a poignant month.
I was honored to speak at Montgomery County's 9/11 Remembrance event, which honored the lives of the 11 Montgomery County residents so tragically lost on that day ten years ago. The sister of one our slain citizens shared her reflections on her brother's life, and told us how he would be asking us to live life "radiantly." It was a moving, lovely reminder. In my own brief remarks, I described the feelings of both sadness and defiance that September 11 brings about for me, and of course of my gratitude for all of our first responders who work everyday to keep us safe.
Meanwhile, it's been a busy first month back here at the Council, as well. Below you will find updates on the County's exploration of public power, the proposed curfew, BRAC, the C&O Canal, and other important issues.
Public Power: Is it Right for Montgomery County?
For the past five years, Pepco has ranked in the lowest quartile nationally in terms of reliability - and these numbers are only measuring non-storm related outages. Our residents lose power more often on sunny days than anyone in Maryland. This unplugs the economic engine of our state, costs our residents and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars, damages our competitiveness, disrupts lives and exposes our elderly, infirm, and children to needless risk.
Pepco knew their system was deteriorating but placed the needs of its holding parent company, PHI, and shareholders above ratepayers. It failed to make the necessary investment in infrastructure maintenance and upgrades and failed to properly maintain its tree trimming program. Equally disappointing is the fact that our state regulators, the PSC, did not even know that it had been this bad for so long.
These circumstances led our County to formally request the Public Service Commission for the following relief: if two years pass and Pepco is not performing in at least the second quartile for reliability, then the Commission should use its authority to modify Pepco's service area to remove Montgomery County and revoke Pepco's authority to exercise its franchise to provide electrical service.
With all that in mind, the County Council began an investigation into what options may exist, other than Pepco, as our sole service provider. In February of this year the Council asked the County Attorney a series of threshold statutory, regulatory and legal questions that we believed we need to understand as a first step.
Earlier this month we received his response. In his memo the County Attorney suggested that, given the novel issues addressed in the opinion, the Council may wish to also obtain the opinion of the Maryland Attorney General before pursuing the matter any further. That is the next step that the Council will be taking, and we will be seeking the opinion of Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler in this matter.
Although we do not have public power in Montgomery County, it is not new to Maryland. Since the 1930's the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative has been customer owned and operated and serves 150,000 residents. Public power authorities do not serve shareholders. Their sole purpose, focus and mission is to serve its owners - its customers. Public power monies get invested in the local community, they can be more responsive to the values of residents such as the desire for clean energy, and their reliability is considerably higher than that of Pepco.
Much of the editorial criticism of our exploration of public power is that it would mean "government run power". That simply isn't true. Most of the large public power entities in the country are run by independent boards of directors.
No one on the County Council has definitively concluded that public power should be pursued. We simply want to understand it better, particularly given our County's public position that Pepco needs to be replaced if they don't get better fast. I will keep you abreast of developments as these discussions continue.
An Update on the Proposed Curfew
The much discussed and debated curfew, Bill 25-11, was introduced by the County President at the request of the County Executive on July 12. As introduced, the Bill would establish a curfew for minors between 11 pm and 5 am on Sunday through Thursday and from midnight until 5 am on Friday and Saturday nights.
On July 26, the Council held a public hearing on the proposal, where many county citizens testified at the hearing and strong positions were articulated for and against the Bill. We heard from our Chief of Police, who believes the curfew will be an important "tool" in the County's "toolbox" to deter crime; from parents who do not want our government telling them how to parent; from teenagers who lament the proposed loss of their capacity to move about freely; and from student athletes whose morning practices could be impacted by the morning hours of the curfew. From my perspective, each public hearing participant brought a unique, valid point of view to the conversation.
The Council's Public Safety Committee held its first worksession on the curfew this past Thursday - a worksession that lasted three hours. The rest of the Council joined Councilmember Andrews, Councilmember Elrich, and me - which is rare for a committee worksession.
Since its introduction, the County Executive has submitted several amendments to the Bill. One major change is that an offense associated with violating the curfew would be a civil one, as opposed to a criminal offense as originally proposed. The amendments also carve out several reasonable exceptions to the curfew, including returning home from work without a work permit or returning home from "an event at a place of public entertainment." Other exceptions include running an errand at the direction of a parent or attending certain other events.
The changes submitted by the County Executive, I believe, improve on the original draft of the Bill. But even with these modifications, I am still struggling with what I perceive to be a very broad brush approach that is of questionable effectiveness in addressing recent crime issues. I want to understand whether enhancing our loitering laws, to compliment relevant state laws already on the books, might be effective.
I have not made a final decision on this issue. Before it is considered by the full Council, the Public Safety Committee will hold at least one additional worksession on the curfew on November 3. Stay tuned.
September 15th marked the final transfer of staff and patients from Water Reed to the new Water Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda. I recently toured the facility to see first hand the remarkable services that they provide our wounded warriors.
This facility now represents the premier Department of Defense medical center offering medical services for the most seriously injured for all branches of the military and serves as the major medical referral center for the Department of Defense. Approximately 350 wounded men and women and their families will be living on campus, a significant change in the mission of the hospital. The campus also houses the "West Point of Medicine" which is the only full accredited federal School of Medicine and School of Graduate Nursing.
While construction continues on the base, we have only begun to see the changes that will be occurring along Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Jones Bridge Road and Cedar Lane. This is a transitional period and the State and County transportation planners continue to review and update their efforts. This is true of the sequencing of the lights around NIH and the hospital, and I think we will continue to see improvement in the traffic flow. In addition, there are many resources available to help with planning your commute by car or using alternative means other than the one person one car mode.
Naval Support Activity Bethesda, as the entire campus is called, has embarked on a new environmental impact statement for the demolition of five buildings on the campus and the construction of a new 5 story single facility. The Uniformed Services University also has planned a new research / education facility. Click here for more information about this process or to provide a comment on the EIS.
An additional BRAC project in Bethesda is happening at the facility on Sangamore Road at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Plans for this facility can be seen here. There is a community meeting where the Corps of Engineers will be at the Waldorf School auditorium (4800 Sangamore Rd), Wednesday evening, October 5th, at 7:00 p.m. to update the community on the changes planned.
Good News for the C&O Canal
It hardly seems like three years have passed since Hurricane Hanna caused a 125-foot breach in the C&O Canal near Old Anglers Inn.
After the storm, I wrote to the Secretary of the Interior to ask that the National Park Service assist in funding repairs to the Canal. Since then, I have worked closely with NPS staff and representatives from the C&O Canal Trust to pursue funds to repair the breach. This past spring, I lent my support to the Park's request for state funding that matches federal dollars to put the Canal on the (tow)path to repair.
I am very pleased to report that $1.1M from the state has now been allocated to the Canal for this purpose. Many thanks to the Governor, our state delegation, and also to Congressman Chris Van Hollen and his staff for their assistance in securing the funding that is the first step in returning the canal to its status as a treasure of Montgomery County. This past Saturday, I joined Congressman Van Hollen and Matt Logan of the C&O Canal Trust at their Park After Dark event to mark the occasion.
New Leadership in the 2nd Police District
There is good news and bad news on the District 1 public safety front. The bad news is that Captain Russ Hamill will no longer be Commander of the Bethesda Police District - but that's because (and this is the good news) he has been appointed by the County Executive to serve as the new Assistant Chief of Police.
While this is a loss for Bethesda, it is a tremendous plus for the County. He will be hard to replace, but I am sure that Chief of Police Tom Manger will install another excellent police professional in the Commander's role.
Commander Hamill has been outstanding. He responded quickly and effectively to constituent concerns, went out of his way to connect with concerned citizens and the business community, deal with complaints, and take initiatives that kept all of us informed when possible. I wish him the best of luck in his new post.
Residential Energy Rebate Efficiency Program
As a result of the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Montgomery County received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop programs to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. As a part of the grant $1.1 million dollars is now available for residential energy efficiency rebates. To date only $150,000 of those monies has been committed.
The Montgomery County Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program offers incentives to homeowners up to $3,000 to offset the cost of certain energy efficiency projects and products. Rebates are available on a first come, first served basis to individuals in single family homes, town homes and condominiums. Up to $3,000 per participant is available, on a one time basis, for energy-efficiency improvements. The minimum rebate amount that a participant can apply for is $500.
In order to apply for a Montgomery County rebate, an applicant must get an energy audit (or quick check for condominiums), a scope of work from a contractor for the improvements they plan to install, and complete an on-line application.
To get more information and to access an application, click here.
Odds and Ends
Student Town Hall: Do you know an opinionated young person? The Council will be hosting a Town Hall for Students on October 12 at the Council Office Building in Rockville. A pre-meeting reception begins at 6:30.
Community Service Week: Community Service Week begins October 16 - and commemorates the 25th anniversary of the first Community Service Day! For more information, including opportunities to volunteer, click here.
Superintendent's Transition Report: When he became MCPS's new Superintendent, Dr. Joshua Starr assembled a "transition team" of experts to conduct a review of the school system. The transition report focuses on four areas - teaching and learning, professional learning, culture and context, and operations - and is now available here.
Trees for Free: Pepco is giving away 1000 trees to improve air quality and produce shade that maximizes energy efficiency. For more info or to reserve a tree, click here.
Foreclosure Help: The Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs invites all county homeowners who are falling behind in their mortgage payments or are facing foreclosure to attend a free foreclosure prevention counseling event on Saturday, October 1, from 10 AM to 3 PM, at the Bohrer Park Activity Center, Summit Hall Farm, 506 S. Frederick Avenue, Gaithersburg. Homeowners will receive one-on-one foreclosure prevention counseling offered by trained representatives from various housing counseling agencies.
Grants Advisory Group:
The Council is seeking applicants for positions on its Fiscal Year 2013 Grants Advisory Group. The Council will appoint the volunteer community panel to review grant applications and advise it on proposals received from the non-profit community. The Council accepts applications from non-profit organizations seeking funds, forwards proposals to the Grants Advisory Group for advice and comments, and then makes funding decisions during its spring budget deliberations.
There are 11 vacancies on the Committee Evaluation and Review Board (CERB). The CERB is comprised of no fewer than 11 members, and reviews and evaluates the County's boards, committees, and commissions (BCCs) with regard to their mission, membership number and structure, overlap or duplication of mission with other BCCs, orientation of new members, and effectiveness in completing their mission. Upon completion of the review, the CERB will report to the County Executive and County Council their recommendations for changes in individual BCCs and the system as a whole. Members will serve without compensation, but are eligible for reimbursement for travel and dependent care for meetings attended.
There are four vacancies on the Library Board. The 12-member Advisory Board gives community input to the County Executive on matters affecting the public library system. Members serve three year terms without compensation, but are eligible for reimbursement for travel and dependent care for meetings attended. Meetings are held the second Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM in the Department of Public Libraries, Administrative Offices, on the third floor of the Rockville Memorial Library located at 21 Maryland Avenue, Suite 310, Rockville. Each Board member serves as liaison to assigned Library Advisory Committees, which may involve additional meetings each month.