Race for county executive, county council touched by public financing law

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Robin Ficker remembers raising $200,000 for his unsuccessful 2014 run for State Senate.

Now, public contributions to his 2018 campaign for County Executive can be matched up to $750,000 by the County Public Financing Fund, a potential fundraising boon to his campaign. Even more importantly, his campaign could change the political landscape of Montgomery County. Public financing itself could create a more democratic election and encourage voter participation in 2018.

According to Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, the County Public Financing Fund “gets the big moneyed interests out of [the race] and gives power to the average person in Montgomery County.” Ficker notes that the fund’s ability to match citizens’ donations “gives the average person some clout” especially since the first $50 donation to a campaign is matched six-to-one and adds $300 to the campaign, something that Ficker considers unique, saying “There is no jurisdiction in the United States that has anything close to this.”

Although Ficker says he has never taken contributions from PACs, unions, or other groups, this law forbids participating candidates from taking such contributions, another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to expand the impact of private citizens and limit the influence of large organizations. Furthermore, officials say that the Public Campaign Financing law requires candidates to accept only donations from Montgomery County residents and only donations between $5 and $150.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of the program’s limits on donations from large organizations. According to George Leventhal, the program is “an experiment in democracy which is intended to reduce the influence of big money in local politics.”


Sentinel claims awards

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Sentinel Staff Photo 1bThe Sentinel Staff with owner Lynn Kapiloff, seated. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER   ANNAPOLIS - The Montgomery County Sentinel Newspapers was awarded the Maryland Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association “News Organization of the Year” award for the second time in as many years in a ceremony here Friday.

“It is an honor to be awarded this distinction for the second time in as many years and the third time in the last five years,” said Sentinel owner Lynn Kapiloff. “It is vital for independent publications to remain vibrant – especially at this time in our history.”

The Sentinel won 35 awards out of a possible 48 categories, picking up first and second place in categories such as Investigative Reporting, State Government Reporting, and Multimedia Storytelling (news).


MoCo sees slight dip in number of homeless residents

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Homelessness in Montgomery County decreased by 9 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to an annual survey conducted by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

According to the survey, which was a one-night snapshot of the homeless population on Jan. 25 of this year, there were 894 homeless people in the County, as compared to 981 in 2016 and 1,100 in 2015.

The 894 people included 86 families and 172 children, according to the survey.

The survey, in its 17th year, tallied the homeless population in nine jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. area. Overall, there were 11,128 homeless individuals in the nine jurisdictions, according to the survey which was released last week.

Amanda Harris, Montgomery County’s chief of special needs housing in its Department of Health and Human Services, called the numbers in the survey “typical,” although the survey noted that day was unseasonably warm.


MoCo delegation satisfied with legislative session

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Three members of Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly say they are satisfied with their achievements of the 2017 legislative session.

"The 2017 session was quite productive in terms of getting some progressive legislation passed that had been stalled for years," said Del. David Moon (D-20) who represents Takoma Park.

"It was a really busy session, we got a lot done," said Del. Kirill Reznik (D-39) who represents Germantown and Montgomery Village. "From a progressive point of view, from a productive point of view, I think it was a very good session," he added.

The legislation which passed into law included paid sick leave, a fracking ban, and changes to the crime of rape.


County Council considers new BRT idea

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ROCKVILLE – The County’s plan to fix traffic just got a bit more complicated.

On May 4, the County Council Transportation, Infrastructure Energy and Environment Committee instructed the Montgomery County Department of Transportation to explore a new idea for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit System on U.S. Route 29.

The BRT is a proposed bus route with limited stops that would use the shoulder lanes as well as drive in mixed traffic to help shorten the commute for riders in the East County. During the public hearing for the BRT, some residents criticized County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposal, saying it would not significantly shorten commute times.

Now MCDOT is looking into a new idea originally proposed by East County resident Sean Emerson that would put the proposed U.S. Route 29 BRT in the median to avoid driving in mixed traffic.

“That testimony was really persuasive. Our professional staff likes it,” said Berliner of Emerson’s idea.


Green Party candidate to run for council seat

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Tim WillardTim Willard.      FILE PHOTO   Tim Willard of Kensington has formally entered the race for one of four county council at-large seats as a candidate of the Green Party.

“I’m running on a platform of sustainability,” Willard said. “I am going to be the only candidate looking at the limits of growth seriously,” he added.


County leaders urge vigilance to help quell hate crimes

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Representatives from the County police, FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and the Anti-Defamation League urged everyone who attended a Hate Crime Prevention Forum on Monday to take pictures and call police every time they see any incidents of hate, no matter how minor the incident.

“Everyone’s got a phone. Record it,” urged County Police Chief Tom Manger. Send a message that hate is not welcome here, he said.

“We need help from citizens so we can get in front of it before it becomes a crime,” added Gordon Johnson, special agent from the Baltimore office of the FBI.


Shay named MCPS 'Teacher of the Year'

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MPI MoCoTchr 0010Nancy Shay, 2017 Montgomery County Teacher of the Year, strives to bring out the best in her students. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

Nancy Shay sat perched atop her chair, encouraging her Richard Montgomery High School students not just to sing “Happy Birthday” to a fellow student, but to do it with as much feeling as they could possibly muster.

Whether it’s a simple song, a book the class is reading or a review of a movie they just saw, Shay, who was just named Montgomery County Public School Teacher of the Year, is determined to challenge every single one of her teenage students.

And her students know it.

“Her intonation, the way she gives life to books and films, and the way she is passionate” are the things that make Shay such a good teacher, said Emma McLeond, a junior.

“She’s always energized,” said junior Skyler Bozeman.


Tax credit could lead to higher taxes

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Because of the order that Maryland calculates residents’ property taxes, a small group of taxpayers who receive a County property tax credit actually end up paying an extra couple of hundred dollars in property taxes. 


Federal shutdown looms over county economy

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A potential partial federal government shutdown – with Montgomery County at “ground zero” for many immediate cutbacks – looms at midnight on April 28 if Congressional negotiators and the Trump administration fail to reach an agreement to fund the federal government through the end of its fiscal year on September 30.

Joy Nurmi, special assistant to County Executive Ike Leggett, noted the dual “uncertainties for [the County’s] budget” stemming from both the potential shutdown and the proposed cutbacks in President Trump’s FY 2018 budget. The County Council is reviewing Leggett’s proposal for local FY 2018 budget, and is scheduled to vote on it in May.

If there was a shutdown, “essential” functions such as national defense and homeland security would continue, while services deemed “non-essential” would be suspended. The distinction between essential and non-essential services in a shutdown is also reflected in Trump’s proposed budget priorities for FY 2018, Nurmi noted.

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