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Vigil held on two-year anniversary of Flower Branch fire

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Candles stand ready to be lit in memory of the lives lost two years earlier during a fire at the Flower Branch Apartments. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAKCandles are ready to be lit in memory of lives lost two years earlier during a fire at the Flower Branch Apartments. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  SILVER SPRING — It’s been two full years since Kenya Mayorga and her three children heard the loud boom and watched flames engulf a section of the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring, resulting in the death of seven tenants. No one in her family sleeps through the night, and they all still panic whenever they hear a fire truck siren, she said.

“Honestly, I am not” over the gas explosion and fire on Aug. 10, 2016, at the apartments on Piney Branch Road.

“I am not feeling better. I don’t feel safe,” she said, adding she remained there so her children can attend the area schools.

“It’s traumatic,” agreed Anna Martinez, lead organizer at CASA de Maryland. Residents at the apartments “don’t have the certainty it won’t happen again.”

In memory and in honor of those who died, were injured or displaced, a vigil Friday was held at the scene.

“We are here to show our respect and our solidarity,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA president.

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Council reviews police internal affairs policy

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countysealIn the wake of a Montgomery County police officer shooting, the County Council held a committee hearing to review Montgomery County Police Department’s internal affairs-investigation process.

While the June 11 officer-involved shooting, in which Montgomery County Police officer Anand Badgujar shot and killed unarmed African-American man Robert Lawrence White, is being investigated by prosecutors in Howard County, the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee held a hearing Monday to review how MCPD conducts its internal affairs investigations.

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Minimum wage hike affects local businesses in MoCo

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When Ron Newmyer closed his family restaurant for good right before the July 4th holiday, it marked the end of a popular restaurant that had been serving customers in the Silver Spring area since 1989.

Newmyer blamed several factors that led him to shuttering Armand’s Chicago Pizza on Seminary Road, including the County’s decision to increase the minimum wage each year between now and July 2022.

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Elrich wins by 80 votes

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Board of Elections still needs to certify closest County Executive race in recent memory

Council member Marc Elrich.  FILE PHOTOCouncil member Marc Elrich. FILE PHOTO  With all the ballots counted, Council member Marc Elrich is the unofficial winner of the Democratic Primary for Montgomery County Executive.

After days of vote-counting, and a race that was too close to call on Election Night, Elrich edged businessman David Blair by just 80 votes after Montgomery County Board of Elections officials finished counting ballots late Sunday evening.

With all ballots counted, Elrich has 37,529 votes, with 29.02 percent of the total count, while Blair came in second, with 37,449 and 28.95 percent of the vote.

The results are unofficial as the Montgomery County Board of Elections has yet to certify the results, which it will do during its meeting on July 16, but as of now Elrich is the leading vote-getter with no more ballots yet to be counted.

“I’m excited, there’s a lot of work to do... but I’m excited to have the opportunity to take that on,” Elrich told the Sentinel shortly after he learned of the results.

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Environmentalists weigh in on stormwater compromise

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MoCo LogoWhile the County Executive and Council have reached a tentative compromise on the issue of the future of stormwater-management projects and their contracting, environmental groups say they are skeptical about the plans.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on the compromise bill, which would bridge the divide between members of the County Council and the County Executive on the future of contracting for stormwater projects.

While some members of the County Council said they are hopeful about the prospects of a compromise, the environmentalists who testified Tuesday said they still have doubts about the plans.

Plans originally proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett to streamline the permit process for stormwater projects has caused worry among environmentalists, who believe that the contracting work, done by companies for profit, could lead to a reduction in the quality of environmental standards for stormwater projects.

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Riemer, Jawando, Glass, and Albornoz advance

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In a field that included 33 candidates, incumbent Council member Hans Riemer, along with newcomers Will Jawando, Evan Glass, and Gabe Albornoz emerged victorious to secure Democratic nominations for the County’s four at-Large County Council seats in November’s general election.

“This has been an amazing race. There’s so many people running for Council, a lot of really wonderful and qualified people. The county's in a really good position and we have a lot of great people serving on the Council,” Riemer said during a watch party at the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring.

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County Council incumbents among Democrat winners in primary

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Celebrating their election victories Tuesday night were (from left) Council member Tom Hucker; Democratic candidates for State Delegate in District 20 Jheanelle Wilkins and Lorig Charkoudian; and District 20 State Sen. Will Smith. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAKCelebrating their election victories Tuesday night were (from left) Council member Tom Hucker; Democratic candidates for State Delegate in District 20 Jheanelle Wilkins and Lorig Charkoudian; and District 20 State Sen. Will Smith. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  Democrat County Council members Tom Hucker, Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Sidney Katz won their party’s support again and will be joined by Andrew Friedson on the Democratic ticket in November to represent their districts.

If they, as well as the Democratic at-large candidates, go on to win in the general election, there will be one less woman on the Council from a ballot that was heavy on women of color.

Rice, who was first elected in District 2 in 2010, was pleased with the support he received but “kind of disappointed” more women weren’t chosen by Democratic voters when so many ran for at-large positions, he said.

“One sole woman on the Council is a little disconcerting,” he said, referring to Navarro, who was reelected to represent District 4.

The goal of Rice’s next term will be “to take ourselves up to the next level,” he said, adding that he plans to focus on expanding educational opportunities and “growing our economic base.”

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Leggett Makes History With Veto

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First line-item veto by any county executive in 25 years affects stormwater management

Leggett 20091001 104316County Executive Ike Leggett. FILE PHOTO  Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett broke precedent and issued a line-item veto in the County Capital Improvements Programs budget over a fight with a majority of the members of the County Council over the future of stormwater management.

Leggett’s line-item veto, which is narrowly tailored to specific parts of the $4.5 billion capital budget, is the first in Leggett’s nearly 12-year tenure as County Executive and the first line-item veto by any county executive in 25 years. The veto blocks the current status quo of how the County awards contracts for its stormwater-management programs.

In January, Leggett proposed reforming the way the County Department of Environmental Protection awards stormwater-management contracts. Currently, the County offers separate contracts for different companies to plan, design, and build stormwater-management projects. Leggett proposed putting the entire process – the planning, designing, and building – of a stormwater-management contract into one contract for a company to bid on, saying it would make the process more efficient and save taxpayers money.

“I regret that you and the Council majority have made this veto necessary,” Leggett wrote in a letter to Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large). “Playing politics with a critical environmental issue, doubling down on a costly and inefficient status quo, and kicking the proverbial can down the road will never be confused with efficient governance.” 

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Stormwater runoff causes new council rift

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countysealThe final votes to approve the County’s operating and capital budget are usually a formality, with both budgets almost always passing unanimously.

However, last week Council member Nancy Floreen (D-at large), voted against the County’s capital budget, saying she could not support a budget that cut many stormwater management projects. While Floreen was the lone vote against the capital budget, she is not alone in the way some Council members feel about County Executive Ike Leggett's proposed capital budget, particularly about how it affects the County’s stormwater management programs.

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Council passes funding for immigrant legal services

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countysealThe Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved $373,957 in funds for legal services for immigrants facing deportation, as the Council was set to approve its budget.

The vote was met with protest from both immigration and legal advocates, who had originally supported the measure, and by opponents who said they do not want the County to spend taxpayer dollars on legal services for immigrants.

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