Tom’s Newsletter – February 2019

Dear Friends,

2019 is still young, but already the County Council has been very busy wrestling with the county executive’s proposal to cut $46 million from the current FY2019 budget. I’ve also been working on new proposals to protect our kids from lead in our schools’ drinking water, to address our climate change and more.

And I’ve spent a lot of time recently helping our hard-working federal workers and contractors who suffered through the longest federal government shutdown in our nation’s history.

Below is a quick update on what’s been happening recently and what’s coming up.

New Year, New Roles

As I begin my second term on the County Council, I’m also taking on two new important roles. I’m honored to be named the new chairman of the Transportation & Environment Committee, on which I’ve served the past four years. I’ve also been selected as one of two Montgomery County representatives on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments - where I can work on regional priorities like Metro service and economic development with elected officials from DC, Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County.

The powerful Transportation & Environment committee sets county policy across a broad portfolio that impacts everyone in the county:

  • Our road network, including street design, regulation and repairs; and bike and pedestrian infrastructure and safety.
  • Transit, including managing our Ride On bus network and Bus Rapid Transit, and engaging with WMATA, the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Environmental policy, including all the ways we address our climate crisis, protect our air and water, increase renewable energy usage, pesticides, stormwater management — and more.
  • Water and sewer services and other utilities.

I’m looking forward to tackling these major quality-of-life issues with two colleagues joining the committee, Hans Riemer and Evan Glass. We’re on the same page when it comes to ensuring our residents have safe roads, sidewalks and bike lanes, as our Vision Zero plan calls for; reliable, affordable transit, like Metro, the Purple Line and BRT; efficient, affordable water and sewer service; clean air to breathe; and clean water to drink. Plus, we’re all committed to fighting climate change by meeting our goal of being carbon-free by 2035.

At our first meeting on Jan. 22, my colleagues and I voted to reject the county executive’s proposed $166,000 cut in Ride On bus service, which would have reduced service on some of our county’s most used routes:

Coming up, we’re planning a Feb. 7 briefing on the use of road salt and our winter storm response, issues of concern to many of us, judging from what I’ve heard from you after our last storm.

I’m also working to help pass two bills this year to encourage more solar energy in commercial and residential buildings in our county.

More information on the T&E committee is here:

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments comprises representatives from municipal, county and state governments in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Together, they work with the COG staff to find solutions to issues that call for coherent regional approaches — issues such as transportation, the environment, housing, economic development, public health and homeland security. For example, COG has been instrumental in securing dedicated funding for Metro from its three jurisdictions and in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Montgomery County is an integral part of the capital region and has a big stake in what happens regionally, which is why I look forward to serving as one of our county’s two members on the board, along with our new council president, Nancy Navarro. I’m honored to be chosen for this important role. More info is here:

Big turnout for Shutdown Social

Our beleaguered federal workers and contractors had to deal with a lot of financial hardship and anxiety during the long federal government shutdown. So I’m happy to report that more than 600 people came to the Shutdown Social that I organized on Jan. 11 at Montgomery Blair High School to show our community’s support for our federal employees and contractors.

We could have never pulled this off without such a supportive and generous community. I’m so grateful to the twenty restaurants that donated food — including 4 Corners Pub, Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant, All Set Restaurant & Bar, Busboys & Poets, Chipotle, El Golfo Restaurant, Fire Station 1, Ghar-E-Kabab, Kaldi’s Social House, Kefa Cafe, Kin Da, Jimmy & Mamma Lucia, Manny & Olga’s, Mark’s Kitchen, McGinty’s Public House, Middle East Cuisine, Pacci’s Neapolitan Pizzeria, Port-au-Prince, Simply Fresh Catering and TPSS Co-Op — to nonprofit partners Nourish Now and Manna Food Center, who picked up and donated meals; to Main Street Takoma for helping organize restaurant donations; to the Service Workers Training & Education Partnership of HERE Local 23, who stepped in to set up the service line; to iconic local musician Joe Uehlein, who organized eight other local musicians to provide free entertainment for the crowd, and to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and County Exec Marc Elrich, who stopped by to provide words of support.

And although the federal government has reopened — at least temporarily — we’re joining with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue and Jose Andres’ Chefs for Feds to plan another dinner at Blair on Feb. 8.

It’s not surprising that our county was among the hardest-hit in the nation by the shutdown, considering the presence here of major affected agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Food and Drug Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology. That doesn’t include our many residents who work at other federal agencies in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Not did thousands of our hard-working federal workers suffer without paychecks for more than a month — whether they were working or not — but their families took a direct hit, too, forced to make tough choices about paying their or mortgage, buying food or medicine, or paying for heat and electricity.

And the shutdown rippled through the whole economy, as businesses such as restaurants that depend on furloughed workers’ patronage saw their sales plunge.

That’s why it was particularly gratifying to see so many of these same restaurants and other food establishments and nonprofits contribute food, supplies and labor to the Jan. 11 dinner, which also featured great music by a variety of local performers.

Together, we showed what a caring, supportive community our county is. Like the first Shutdown Social, everyone is invited to the Feb. 8 event, on which I’m collaborating with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. If you’re an affected worker — employee or contractor — stop by with your family for some good food and companionship. And if you want to volunteer your time or donate store-bought packaged food, your contributions are much appreciated. Please stay tuned for details on the Feb. 8 dinner.

And anyone affected by the shutdown who needs help can check for county resources here:

Fighting for new Forest Glen Metro entrance

Last year, I fought to include $20.2 million in our new six-year Capital Improvements Program to design and build another entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station. This entrance will be across Georgia Avenue, linked by an underground passageway.

As part of his midyear savings plan, our county executive wants to delay this project by two years, but I will do everything I can to make sure it remains on schedule.

Because this new entrance on the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road will provide safer access to the Metro station, it will attract more people to use Metro — one of our most effective tools when it comes to cutting our carbon footprint and relieving congestion on our roads.

Right now, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists cross Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road to access the Metro station. This project will not only facilitate use of Metro, but help all pedestrians who are just trying to cross eight lanes of high-volume traffic. That will vastly increase the walkshed of the station, which stretches to Holy Cross Hospital — a major employer in the area.

Together with the improvements outlined in the upcoming Montgomery Hills/Forest Glen Sector Plan, this project will help transform this area into a safer, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that benefits commuters and other residents, drivers, bicyclists and businesses. More information is here:; search for “passageway.”

Looking for District 5 Representative for Pepco's Community Action Group

Looking for District 5 Representative for Pepco's Community Action Group Pepco is taking applications for its Community Action Group to help it continue to improve and communicate with its customers. The company is seeking a volunteer representative from District 5. The commitment involves attending three or four meetings a year, and staying abreast of Pepco projects and policies that impact District 5 residents. If you’re interested, please email a cover letter and resume to

Cutting lead in school water

Lead is a neurotoxin that, when ingested — say, through drinking water — is dangerous to all of us, but especially our children, with their developing brains.

Even very low levels of lead in kids are associated with behavioral and learning problems, hyperactivity, lower IQ, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

That’s why I’m working to reduce the lead levels in our county’s public school drinking fountains.

Here’s some background:

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 270, requiring all schools to test for lead in all drinking water outlets every three years.

Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools completed the initial testing and found lead levels higher than the state action level of 20 parts per billion (ppb) in at least one outlet in 86 out of 206 county schools. Some schools were found to have outlets with lead levels of 100 ppb or more.

MCPS has since fixed 97 percent of the outlets that had lead levels at 20 ppb or higher. MCPS does not, however, plan to address the outlets that had detectable lead levels below 20 ppb.

But two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero and an action level of 15 ppb.

Several jurisdictions in the area, including the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, have set their lead exposure levels much lower than that. D.C.’s action level is 5 ppb, while Prince George’s is 10 ppb — much lower than our county’s level.

That’s why I plan to introduce a bill on Feb. 5 to lower our county schools’ action level to 5 ppb. It would require the schools to remediate and conduct follow-up testing on drinking fountains with lead levels higher than this.

We have an absolute responsibility to protect the health of our children. They deserve public health protections that are at least as robust as those in our neighboring jurisdictions.

Thank you for your continued trust and confidence! It is an honor to represent and serve you on the County Council. I can’t succeed without your continued guidance and support!

Please don’t hesitate to share your views, invite me to your community meetings in your neighborhood, your PTA, your social club or your church, synagogue or mosque. And of course, let me know if I can be helpful with any constituent services. You can reach me at my office at 240-777-7960 or at , or, for urgent matters, at my cell, 240-481-4825.