GAITHERSBURG — At Gaithersburg’s annual planning retreat, held Monday night at the Casey Community Center, the heads of various city departments presented Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council with their goals and strategies for the coming fiscal year.
Britta Monaco, director of the Communications and Public Relations Department, said her department would focus on new means, such as increased social media presence, to promote the city’s activities. But one of her department’s objectives – leveraging existing community groups such as homeowner associations, neighborhood watches and other groups as “Citizen Influencers” to promote city events – sparked some questions from the Council.
“I think it’s a good idea, but I do have some concerns about who decides what an influencer is, what our criteria are,” said Council member Michael Sesma. “I’m a little bit leery of the idea because we could be accused of playing favorites or of endorsing certain groups and their viewpoints at the expense of others.”
Community Services Division Manager Maureen Herndon outlined several steps for ensuring that vital support services reach the city’s homeless and other vulnerable sectors of the population, including healthy lunch subsidies to area schools, eviction prevention services and using the Homeless Information System to link homeless individuals and families to supportive services, including those offered at the Wells/Robertson House, a recovery facility managed by the city.
“The Homeless Services team is in the process of developing an annual report that will measure the impact of these important initiatives,” Herndon said.
“I’ve had a number of residents ask in the last several days whether there’s something the city can do about the opioid problem in general,” said Council member Neil Harris. Do we have any programs going forward?”
“The best thing that we’re doing right now is training our staff to be first responders,” answered Jimmy Frazier-Bey, Homeless Services Division Chief.
Tom Lonergan, the city’s Economic Development Director, presented a number of strategies for revitalizing Olde Towne. The historic neighborhood on the east side of the city which borders Route 355 and includes City Hall, has long been a contentious issue, as many residents have said that they feel it has been neglected in comparison to the west side of the city, which has been heavily developed through neighborhoods such as the Kentlands, Rio and Crown.
The key action items identified by Lonergan include developing a program with county and state partners to support investment incentives to expand lab and biotechnology space, repositioning or redeveloping the Lakeforest Mall property and developing a parking garage revenue plan.