April 23, 2010

More than one suspect sought in principal's death

Montgomery County Police are searching for a car they believe may be related to the homicide of a Washington, D.C., school principal who was found dead in his Silver Spring home last week. Police also say there could be more than one suspect in his slaying. Police say at 12:15 a.m. April 15, a car was seen leaving an alley adjacent to the home of 42-year-old Brian Betts, a longtime Montgomery County educator and principal at Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School in the District, said Officer Melanie Brenner, a police spokeswoman. Later that evening, Betts was found dead in his bedroom, the victim of at least one gunshot wound. Previously, police recovered Betts's blue Nissan Xterra, which was found Saturday in the 3900 block of Fourth Street SE in the District, 14 miles away from his Silver Spring home.

With two cars connected to the scene of Betts's slaying, police believe more than one person could be responsible for his death, Brenner said. Unfortunately, she added, police were given no description of the car seen leaving the alley.

"We have zero description right now," she said Wednesday. "We don't know if it's a truck or a car, we just know it wasn't his vehicle."

Police have determined Betts's sport utility vehicle was abandoned in D.C. between noon and 3 p.m. April 16 by two men, but there is no further description of the individuals, said Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman. The vehicle was left there intact with no evidence of theft. Police do not know why the car was dumped in that location. Police have also learned Betts was alive until 11:30 p.m. April 14, through evidence of phone conversations he had that night.

Before his death, Betts was a pioneer in D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's program to reform the District's public schools. Rhee recruited Betts to become Shaw's principal in 2008 to revitalize the struggling D.C. school, which temporarily had merged with Garnet-Patterson.

Before coming to Shaw, Betts had taught at Rock View Elementary in Kensington, Redland and Neelsville middle schools in Rockville and Germantown, respectively, and was an assistant principal running the arts magnet program at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Wheaton from the school's opening in 2005 to 2008. A public memorial for Betts will be held May 1 at Strathmore Music Hall in Bethesda. Officials could not be immediately reached to determine the time of the memorial. SOURCE: Gazette

Montgomery Co. looks to curtail budget woes

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- It wasn't news to anyone in Montgomery County government that there was a big budget problem. The county's been wrestling with hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls all year. But this month, the county got hit with a surprise shortfall of $168 million that quickly ballooned to nearly $200 million. How did that happen? Council member Mark Elrich offered a short and sweet explanation during a meeting with County Executive Isiah Leggett.

"I think it's important for people to realize that essentially, you change the numbers when the check comes in from the state, and it's not what the state told you the check was going to be," Elrich said.

That's a result of state income tax revenues that have dropped all year long. Leggett said no one could have predicted just how big a bite the revenue shortfalls would take out of the county's budget.

"Had I walked over here (before the council) a few months ago, and said to you, 'I wanted to cut the budget across the line,' you'd have said 'What are you smoking?'"

So what was the solution? Leggett suggests the county "liquidate encumbrances" and in very simple terms, it means taking a look at county contracts and cutting where possible. He thinks the county can save up to $35 million that way. SOURCE: WTOP

Leggett urges council to double cell phone tax & energy tax

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed doubling energy taxes and raising cell phone taxes by more than 50 percent to help close the county's newly discovered$168 million budget hole. Leggett argued for the tax increases and a number of other quick budget fixes on Thursday, two weeks before the County Council is scheduled to submit a final fiscal 2011 budget that closes a nearly $1 billion budget gap. "You get to the point of diminishing return, where you have to decide whether it's worth further reductions to services," Leggett said. "We need to shift a little bit of this money ... across the board." The county executive also suggested reducing the earned income tax credit by 33 percent, which would slash average annual credits from $530 to $353. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

April 22, 2010

County News

Planning Board Approves the Planning Board Draft Purple Line Functional Plan -The Planning Board approved the Planning Board Draft Purple Line Functional Plan on April 8, 2010. This Functional Plan establishes the alignment, mode, and station locations between Bethesda and the Prince George‚s County line. You can also view the Planning Board Draft Purple Line Functional Plan on our website at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/projects/purple_line.shtm .

31 Cent Scoop Night - Join us for 31 Cent Scoop Night at Baskin-Robbins® on Wednesday, April 28 from 5-10 pm and help us honor America's firefighters. The Baskin-Robbins Community Foundation is donating $100,000 to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation˙ (NFFF). Participating stores will reduce prices of ice cream scoops to 31 cents. At some locations, you may also have an opportunity to make a donation to your local fire charities. For more information go to: http://www.baskinrobbins.com/Spotlight/31CentScoopNight.aspx?cid=2761561&jid=38652433&mc=XX&eid=307138&cmpid=email_ext_000124

Twinbrook Parkway Paving Project - Upcoming road repairs and resurfacing of Twinbrook Parkway, from Veirs Mill Road (MD 586) to the CSX Rail Road Bridge will begin on May 3, 2010. For more information go to: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dot/highway/2010.15twinbrookhma.pdf

Small Business Counseling Services - The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (B-CC RSC) has partnered with SCORE „Counselors of America‚s Small Business Owners‰ to offer free one-on-one small business counseling services at the B-CC RSC. The B-CC RSC is conveniently located one block from the Bethesda Metro Station at 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, Maryland 20814. You can visit us online at: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/bcc . Call 240-777-8203 to schedule your free counseling session today!

Nine MCPS Students Receive Corporate Merit Scholarships - Nine Montgomery County Public Schools students have won corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarships financed by companies, foundations, and other business organizations. For more information go to: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/press/index.aspx?page=showrelease&id=2741

Customers Should Expect Lengthy Delays on Metrorail This Weekend - Customers can expect lengthy delays of up to 40 minutes this weekend (April 23-25) as old track components are replaced on the Red, Blue and Orange lines, causing inbound and outbound trains to take turns sharing one track on portions of the rail system. For more information go to: http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/news/PressReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=4422

Appliance Rebate Program Overview - Rebate applications will be available beginning April 22, 2010 and are offered for qualified products on a first-come, first-serve basis until funds run out. Applications will be available from your electric utility provider. You may also be eligible for an additional rebate from your utility, made possible by the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act. If you are a customer of Maryland's municipal and cooperative utilities, MEA will have a special rebate program for you beginning on April 22, 2010. For more information go to: http://energy.maryland.gov/appliancerebateprogram.asp

Human Rights Art Festival - More than 40 Silver Spring venues - including local restaurants, art spaces, theaters and community spaces - are participating in the this weekend of events, which includes visual art shows, performance art, film, dance, spoken word, theater, book readings, panel discussions, music, hands-on workshops, art walks from exhibit to exhibit all centered on raising awareness of human rights issues. For more information visit www.humanrightsartfestival.com .

BRAC Implementation Committee Meeting ˆ On Tuesday, April 27, 2010: Meeting of Montgomery County's BRAC Implementation Committee, 7:30 pm at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. Tentative agenda includes a presentation by NNMC on its Consolidated Master Plan, a brief follow-up discussion by NNMC on its traffic mitigation measures, and a follow-up presentation by Park & Planning Commission staff on long range community vision. Agenda, directions and more info on the Community Involvement Page: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/brctmpl.asp?url=/content/exec/brac/community.asp Montgomery County Hosts Eighth Annual Responsible Retailing Forum - Montgomery County‚s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) this week hosted the eighth annual Responsible Retailing Forum. More than 25 states were represented at the two-day national conference held in Rockville. For more information go to: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/News/press/PR_details.asp?PrID=6519 Political Historian Allan Lichtman to Speak at Montgomery College May 4 - Dr. Allan Lichtman, an American University professor and political historian who ran for the United States Senate in 2006, will speak on Tuesday, May 4 at 7 pm at Montgomery College-Rockville. Free and open to the public, the event will be held in the Technical Center, Room 136. For more information go to: http://insidemc.montgomerycollege.edu/showStory.php?id=18921 2010 Free Family Film Festival - We have planned a fun-filled summer of select movies for kids and parents. Regal Entertainment Group has proudly offered this free summer fun since 1991. Oh, did we mention that it‚s FREE! Selected G or PG movies start at 10:00 am every Tuesday and Wednesday during the festival. Tickets and seating are first-come, first-served and are limited to theatre capacity. For more information go to: http://www.regmovies.com/nowshowing/familyfilmfestivalschedule.aspx?state=MD

Councilmember Roger Berliner to Introduce Tax on Major Carbon Dioxide Emitters on Thursday, April 22, in Rockville - Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) will hold a press conference at 12 noon on Thursday, April 22, in Rockville to announce the introduction of a $5 per ton carbon tax on major emitters of carbon dioxide in Montgomery County. The proposed tax, which would generate $15 million per year, would have no discernable impact on taxpayers and would make Montgomery the first County in the nation to have a tax of its kind. For more information go to: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/Apps/Council/PressRelease/PR_details.asp?PrID=6524

Metro Makes New FY2011 Budget Proposal - Richard Sarles, Metro‚s interim general manager, presented the Metro Finance Administration and Oversight Committee today (April 22) with recommendations to close the agency‚s $189 million budget gap for fiscal year 2011. The recommendations considered public input provided during six public hearings, in letters to Metro and responses to an on-line questionnaire. For more information go to: http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/news/PressReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=4423

Invitation to Attend the Wisconsin Place Recreation Center Focus Group - The Wisconsin Place Community Recreation Center invites community members to attend a focus group on May 12th from 6;30-8:30 pm to discuss what classes and program interests for the Wisconsin Place Community Center. Space is limited; please call Judy Stiles at 240-777-6875 to reserve your space today.

Montgomery‚s Got Talent - On Saturday May 22nd from 12-3 pm at the great Bethesda Theatre on Wisconsin Avenue, Montgomery County will sponsor its premier senior event Montgomery's Got Talent. Over 650 Seniors with their families are expected. There are exhibitor opportunities and program advertisement opportunities for local businesses and organizations. It‚s a great event right in the heart of Bethesda. Visitors, guests, advertisers, exhibitors should contact charles@kauffman.com

Tilden Lane to be Resurfaced ˆ Prep work has begun; resurfacing of Tilden Lane, from Old Georgetown Road to Old Stage Road to begin May 10, 2010. For more information go to: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dot/highway/2010.19tildenlane2xmicro.pdf

Berliner proposes carbon tax on major emitters

As drops in buckets go, this is very small drop in a very big bucket. Just in time for Earth Day, Montgomery County Council member and longtime energy lawyer Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) is proposing an excise tax on major carbon emitters in the county. He said his goal is to spur faster action to address global warming. And if he can raise millions of dollars a year with the carbon tax, he said, that will be another welcome byproduct. The proposal would put a $5 tax on each ton of carbon dioxide sent skyward by "major emitters." In Montgomery, that means one facility: the 843-megawatt Dickerson generating plant that Mirant runs near Poolesville.

That facility accounts for about 2.33 million tons of carbon dioxide yearly. The nation's annual greenhouse gas tally has hit about 7 billion tons in recent years. Mirant officials appear ready for a fight. The firm generates power across Maryland, in Alexandria, in California and beyond. Asked whether company executives are prepared to pay the tax, a Mirant spokeswoman said simply: "No."

Berliner said that the tax would help county coffers in a time of serious fiscal challenges and that Pepco officials told him that the tax would have no discernable impact on rates. The county is paying to reduce its emissions, and the biggest emitters should pitch in, he said. "We are spending, and will be spending, millions of dollars on carbon-reducing programs," Berliner said. SOURCE: Washington Post

OPINION: Suck it up: Pay for Saturday

At the risk of bringing enormous vitriol, I have to weigh in on the proposals to charge for parking on Saturday in Downtown Silver Spring. And the rub is this: You people have had your parking SUBSIDIZED ever since the development of Downtown Silver Spring. Times are tough. There’s a huge budget shortfall every time the County Council fires up budget discussions. This is a small, per person price to pay for using county-provided shelter and parking. My take? SHUT THE [HECK] UP AND PAY THE NOMINAL PARKING FEE.

There. I said it. It provides revenue for the county, and the detriment to local businesses isn’t half of what the Chamber of Commerce and others make it out to be. Plus it’s CHEAP. $0.75 per hour? Even at a dollar an hour, that’s a steal. The East Silver Spring Civic Association people (who you know are my near and dear friends) have sent out links to online petitions that I won’t have the decency to post here decrying the parking fee as unfair, business averse, blah blah blah. And then there was this:

A big part of the Market’s success is the fact that parking in the lots and garages next to it is free on Saturdays so losing that would be a serious blow to the Market’s chances of success. In a word: [CRAP]. I love the Fenton Street Market. I walk to it almost every weekend it’s in session, and this is a red herring if I ever saw one. Any of these people will pay a dollar to park if they have to. And let us not forget: They’re using County-provided resources that took time and money to build. If they want to drive here and use the public garages on Saturday, let them pay some pocket change to the County to get our revenue back up. Or they can schlep several blocks from free parking elsewhere. Because, according to the “petition”:

For starters we believe that extending parking meters to Saturdays will unfairly benefit the new Downtown Silver Spring development since they will have the distinct advantage of being able to offer free parking on Saturdays. Like I said, they can park at the Wayne Avenue garage, drop by the Fresh Farm Market on Ellsworth and then walk down Fenton to the “other” market. I, for one, have seen a dramatic increase in foot traffic between the two since the inception of Fenton Street Market. And isn’t getting people out of their cars and walking by local businesses part of economic development?

To be fair, I don’t have to pay for parking. I live walking distance from all these things. I park my car in my driveway on Friday evening and rarely move it until Monday morning. And if I do want to park it on the street, I have an orange East Silver Spring parking permit sticker. So there. Unfair, you say? Not in the least. That little bit of bonus added a good 10-20% to the cost of my home, with the additional property tax percentage to boot. You want to come into my neighborhood and park in my garages? Reach into that pocket and pull out a couple of quarters. You’re gonna need them. And well you should. SOURCEThayer Avenue

MC Democrats announce Spring Ball on May 2

Following is the press release from the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC):

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee presents the Calling All Democrats to Stay Connected and Dial for Democratic Victory at its Spring Ball, Sunday, May 2, 2010, from 4:30-9:30 PM at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road. The event starts with a reception and silent auction at 4:30PM, dinner at 6:30PM, followed by the presentation of the Democratic Party 2010 awards and then dancing until 9:30PM.

Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Doug Gansler and County Executive Ike Leggett will individually present the following awards:
• Kathryn “Kate” Rhudy - the Democrat of the Year Award,
• Lucille “Lucy” Freeman and Sylvia Diss - the Precinct Official Award,
• Francine Towbridge - the Community Service Award,
• Carol Petzold - the Lifetime Service Award,
• Eliot Greenwald - the Volunteer of the Year Award,
• Gene Counihan - the Outstanding Services by a Former Elected Official Award.

Tickets are $100 each ($125 at the door) and up at sponsor levels. Guests are asked to bring a can of food for a local food bank. For more information, call the Committee at 301-946-1000.

REUTERS EDITOR: What I want from the Pentagon

This op-ed by Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger appeared in The Guardian.

When Wikileaks published the harrowing video of the deaths in Iraq of my colleagues Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, the world finally had the transparency it should have had about this tragedy. It was impossible for me to watch and not feel outrage and great sorrow – but this is not about trying to tell anyone else what to feel. This is about trying to find out exactly what happened and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What I want from the Pentagon – and from all militaries – is simple: Acknowledgment, transparency, accountability.

Acknowledgment means both understanding at headquarters and training in the field that journalists have a right to be on the battlefield, and not just those embedded with a military unit. A journalist’s mission is to provide understanding, provide context and provide the reporting that citizens deserve. That mission requires journalists cover the story from multiple angles, including ones that potentially put them in harm’s way. A war prosecuted in darkness is a war without accountability. The journalist’s role is vital for a democracy and it must be acknowledged.

Then, there must be acknowledgment that true journalists come in every race, both sexes and a multitude of nationalities. Within Reuters, our 2,800 journalists come from 80 different nationalities. They all have a right to safety. As too many tragic deaths, including those of Namir and Saeed, have proven, soldiers in tense warfare repeatedly mistake cameras and tripods for weapons. They’re not. There must be a way of training soldiers to distinguish the forms. It is imperative to have the consciousness that the shape in the scope might not be a threat.

Transparency is vital. This is the honesty for all to learn lessons from what has transpired. Soon after the incident, Reuters editors were shown only one portion of the video . We immediately changed our operating procedures – the first portion of the video made clear that anyone walking with a group of armed people could be considered a target. We immediately made it a rule that our journalists could not even walk near armed groups.

However, we were not shown the second part of the video, where the helicopter fired on a van trying to evacuate the wounded. Had we seen it, we could have adjusted our procedures further.

Transparency saves lives. We have been trying for more than two and a half years to get this video from the military through formal legal means without success and in fact have an appeal to their last denial of our request still pending; now it transpires that officials who repeatedly told us that what the video contained was important enough for security reasons to withhold it from us, made no efforts to secure it and weren’t even clear where it was. It took a whistleblower to make sure the world had the transparency it needed and deserved. I want the Pentagon to join me in a search for thorough and complete transparency.

Finally there is accountability. There are rules of war as there are in peace. The lack of transparency has meant there’s been absence of accountability. Let’s dig behind the video. Let’s fully understand the rules the military were operating under. Let’s have a complete picture of what was going through the fliers’ minds. Let’s hear the Pentagon explain its interpretation of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention and how the actions either did or did not accord with them in its view. And importantly, let’s keep in mind that while we focus on this particular tragedy, it is the rare circumstance that when a journalist is injured or killed in a conflict area, there is a video of the death, and even more rare as this case demonstrates, for the public to see such a video.

And then let’s have the debate. Seeing the hundreds of articles and thousands of comments in the wake of the video’s release, it’s clear that people on every side of the issue have strong feelings. Let’s have a debate based on fact and not on emotion. Acceptance, transparency and accountability – these add up to true justice. And that, in the end, is what I am after. I want justice for the journalists who lost their lives.

Justice is not vengeance. Justice is about holding all to account to make sure that proper lessons are learned, that mistakes aren’t repeated and that tragedies don’t happen again. SOURCE: Reuters

April 21, 2010

Slain D.C. middle school principal was gay

Lou Chibbaro, honored last evening with a GLAA Distinguished Service Award, reports in DC Agenda:

Brian Betts, the highly acclaimed D.C. middle school principal who was found shot to death April 15 at his home in Silver Spring, Md., was out as a gay man to a circle of friends and D.C. public school system colleagues, multiple sources have told the D.C. Agenda. Montgomery County police said they discovered Betts’ fully clothed body in a second floor bedroom in his house along the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring. Police noted there were no signs of a forced entry into the house, leading them to believe that Betts, 42, invited his killer or killers inside.

Police spokesperson Sgt. C. Thomas Jordan said he could not comment on whether Betts’ murder was related to the slain principal’s sexual orientation, saying only that homicide detectives were investigating all possible angles of the case to identify a suspect or suspects.

“I know our investigators are talking to everyone they know of to get to the bottom of the case,” he said. “We are going to investigate every avenue. Our role is to solve a homicide.” SOURCE: GLAA Forum

Purple Line planner concerned Ehrlich election would endanger light rail line

Returning former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to the state’s highest elected office in November could spell trouble for the planned Purple Line, according to the Maryland Transit Administration planner who is supervising the project. Michael Madden said in an interview that planning for the Washington area’s $1.5 billion light rail line has likely advanced far enough to avoid being axed outright — he expects to begin the $50 million preliminary engineering process by the end of this summer. The Ehrlich administration delayed the project earlier this decade, calling for further studies, Madden said, while current Gov. Martin O’Malley has been more “supportive” — making a potential Ehrlich victory at the polls a bit worrisome.

“I mean, if the governor was lukewarm or not really supportive of the project, then I would worry, but under this current administration, that’s not a problem,” Madden said.

“I don’t believe [Ehrlich] was nearly as supportive of the project as our current governor.” Madden said, suggesting that delays and scale-backs could be possible under a second Ehrlich term.

The Purple Line had the backing of Gov. Parris Glendening, but the region’s transportation focus was redirected toward the Inter-County Connector toll road when Ehrlich took office in 2003. The long-planned ICC — which faced stiff opposition for its environmental impact and the cost of the tolls — is under construction.

“We just want to point out, we think reducing congestion is a top priority for Bob Ehrlich. In fact, we proved that with getting the ICC going,” said Andy Barth, Ehrlich’s press secretary, who at first said he was not personally familiar with the transit project. “The Purple Line must be among potential solutions that are considered, and we would absolutely do that.” Barth would not commit to an Ehrlich administration funding the Purple Line, however.

“We just have to consider the [financial] circumstances at the time,” Barth said.

As planned, the Purple Line would be a dual-track light-rail line running 16 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, just inside the Capital Beltway. The light rail line would connect the spokes of the region’s Metrorail system, which radiate from the center of town and force commuters to go through Washington to get from one Maryland suburb to another. The line could also spark redevelopment projects along its route, and local planners are examining sites in Langley Park and College Park for potential dense growth.

“It’s a useful thing, frankly, because one of the Governor’s main priorities is smart growth, transit-oriented development,” O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said. “But it takes a commitment in terms of upfront investment.” SOURCE: Maryland Daily Record

Funeral Plans for Shaw Prinicpal Brian Betts

WASHINGTON - Brian Betts' family will receive friends from 6:00-9:00 P.M. Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at Pierce Funeral Home, 9609 Center Street, Manassas, Virginia. Private services will be held Thursday, April 22, 2010 followed by burial at Stonewall Memory Gardens, Manassas. Brian Keith Betts, age 42 of Silver Spring, Maryland, formerly of Manassas, Virginia died unexpectedly Thursday, April 15, 2010. Brian was a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School, Manassas; a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and received his Masters Degree from Hood College. He was currently the Principal of Shaw Middle School, Washington, DC and was previously employed by Montgomery County Schools.

Survivors include his parents, Delbert and Doris Betts of Winter Haven, Florida; one sister, Jennifer Altomare of St. Leonard, Maryland; two nieces, Nicole and Emily Altomare and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Expressions of sympathy are accepted in lieu of flowers. Go to DC Public Schools web site and click the donation icon to the left. Make a donation then to DC Public Education Fund and include a note saying this donation is in memory of Principal Brian Betts.

Where is this sign pointing?

I took this picture today in White Flint. This sign has been there, uncorrected, for years. Can you figure out where this sign is located? SOURCE: Friends of White Flint

Montgomery rewriting 33-year-old zoning code

Matt Johnson works for the Montgomery County Planning Department. Normally, his posts are his own opinions and not those of the Planning Department, but is writing this series on Montgomery County's rezoning in his capacity as an employee of the department. Zoning, the main tool to enact land use plans, is perhaps the most important part of planning. By specifying what, where and how new structures can be built, zoning gets things done.

In Montgomery County, a three-year project seeks to greatly simplify an unwieldy, outdated code and achieve strategic growth in a largely built-out county. The zoning rewrite won't dramatically rezone the county to change the land use patterns, but the zoning code could improve the quality of development in Montgomery County by encouraging more sustainable and compact development and better public amenities. Tonight and Wednesday, the Planning Department will shed light on the rewrite project to date, from its diagnosis phase to the current draft of the revised zoning code's outline/approach. Open houses at 7:30 pm tonight (Tuesday) at Park and Planning Headquarters, and noon tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Rockville Library will feature half a dozen interactive displays.

Montgomery's first zoning code was enacted in 1928. That year, the code had 5 zones and was 15 pages long. Over the years, it has been revised several times. When the code was last rewritten in 1977, Montgomery County was a vastly different place socially, politically, and economically. Perhaps the most significant difference is that today the county is running out of developable land. With only about 4% of land in Montgomery County available for development, the new zoning code can play a crucial role in guiding redevelopment of areas like surface parking lots and strip shopping centers. The rules controlling that redevelopment are built into the zoning code and play an important role in achieving the kind of growth county residents want.

The open houses feature a visual presentation of what's allowed in different zones, such as the mix of land uses, building design and public amenities. Other displays shed light on how zoning can help achieve sustainability goals, how to simplify the listing of land uses allowed in zones, and better define development standards like landscaping, lighting or parking to improve overall project quality. The open houses are our latest attempt to show the public what we're up to. We will be both showing our progress and listening to public input.

It's important to note that the Rewrite is not a rezoning of the county. Changing the zoning of individual parcels typically occurs through a master planning process, like the one recently approved for White Flint. Using the rewrite to rezone would be comparable to using a sledgehammer to do the work of a screwdriver: it's not only the wrong scale, it's the wrong tool. I'll talk more about some of the difficulties of the current code and potential solutions in future installments. Meanwhile, we hope to see you at one of the open houses. If you can't stop by, check out our virtual open houses. SOURCE: Greater Greater Washington

Some county employees to be offered $35,000 to retire early

Some Montgomery County government employees will be offered $35,000 to retire early — a plan that officials say will save the county money if those positions are not refilled within three years. Just how much is not yet known because it is still unclear how many employees would take advantage of such a program. However, a document presented by the Office of Legislative Oversight on Monday shows that the proposal would save the county money — correcting an objection to last year's proposal, which OLO found would have cost the county money over time.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed the retirement incentive to help reduce the need for layoffs in his fiscal 2011 budget proposal. He is calling for as many as 232 layoffs. During a council committee meeting Monday, council Vice President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring asked what would be done to ensure that employees were not rehired within three years — a move that would negate budget savings. SOURCE: Gazette

Md. cities to raise property taxes

Cities across Maryland are slashing services to make up for state funding losses and finding out that the cuts just won't be enough. Gaithersburg is considering a property tax increase for the first time in four decades, and Rockville is mulling fee increases.

"Our main objective right now is to get to 2015," said Gaithersburg finance director Harold Belton. "And we're looking at anything that will help us sustain the city through 2015."

Maryland cities' main source of funding comes from the state in the form of highway user revenues -- money allocated for transportation infrastructure, construction and building maintenance. The Maryland General Assembly slashed that funding by $244.5 million -- or 90 percent -- by extending cuts from last year into fiscal 2011. Belton said Gaithersburg is considering a 5-percent property tax increase, which would cost residents about $250 more annually on a house appraised at $495,000. The increase would generate about $5 million in a year. Rockville cut enough fat out of the fiscal 2011 budget to avoid tax increases, but fee increases are still being considered, said city spokeswoman Marylou Berg.

"This is an enormous hit," she said, adding that Rockville is set to receive $240,000 in state funding next year, compared with $2.67 million in fiscal 2009.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's proposed energy tax increase also would affect residents in Gaithersburg and Rockville. Leggett's plans could raise county residents' utility costs by an average of $60 annually. Officials in Maryland's third-largest city, Bowie, have proposed a 2.5-cent property tax rate increase to raise $1.6 million in the next year. City Manager David Deutsch said Bowie budget leaders have exhausted all their optionswhen it comes to raising revenue. Two-thirds of the city's $60 million proposed budget for fiscal 2011 relies on city-generated revenue -- a 20 percent increase from last year.

Much of that revenue will be coming from a speed camera program Bowie has the authority to expand, thanks to new legislation. But Maryland's cities are left with relatively few options when it comes to raising revenues, and the Maryland Municipal League wants to change that. Director Jim Peck said he will push Annapolis next year for more revenue-raising authority on behalf of Maryland city governments -- additional fees and taxes could be near, with the state's local cuts set to continue into 2012. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

April 20, 2010

Maryland's job growth soars in March

Maryland's diverse economy, highly educated work force and financial stability are key factors behind the state posting the nation's largest job gain in March, Christian Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said Monday. The state added 35,800 jobs last month, according to federal figures. It was the largest one-month gain in Maryland since 1970 and the second greatest since 1939, Johansson said. The upswing reversed a 19-month negative trend.

"While one record-setting month does not constitute a trend, we remain optimistic that Maryland is beginning to rebound from the recession," Johansson said.

Industries across the board showed gains last month, even in sectors that have declined significantly over the past year, such as construction and manufacturing. The only sector that declined was real estate. Among the state's wins this month is French energy company EDF International's selection of Chevy Chase for its new North American headquarters. EDF signed a 10-year lease for 16,000 square feet at 5404 Wisconsin Ave. and will have about 25 employees there. The company is moving from Washington, D.C. SOURCE: Gazette

Maryland Sexting Case Calls for Police, and Societal, Examination

Police investigators in Bethesda, Maryland are currently looking into a widespread sexting scandal at a local middle school, and, as the Washington Post reports, say they've traced it back to one entrepreneurial student. According to the Montgomery County Police, a student at Pyle Middle School was recently caught passing around his iPod touch to all his friends, and charging them for the chance to look at provocative photos of female classmates stored on the device.

Although it's unclear exactly how much money was exchanged in the operation, it is clear that the student had somehow managed to collect a pretty massive collection of salacious photos. The anonymous photographer apparently convinced a lot of girls to voluntarily pose for the photos off school grounds, and outside of school hours. He then passed them around to all his friends for at least a few months, investigators say.

Melinda Henneberger, whose children attend Pyle Middle School, wrote a circumspect article in Politics Daily, in which she both defends the school's record and its student body. ("I'm not sure this is as much about exhibitionism as about access to technology our kids are just not ready for.") At the same time, she made sure to commend Principal Michael Zarchin's decision to involve the police in the investigation. Perhaps the most chillingly insightful part of her analysis, though, is her discussion of the long-term effects of sexting, and the potential victims that are so often left out of our dialogue. She asks: "Will the sexting generation be too worried about what might or might not be out there on the Internet to run for office? No matter how common this sort of self-inflicted humiliation becomes, this is young women we're talking about, and I'm sorry to say I have a hard time envisioning the day that voters won't care."

It seems too often that any dialogue about sexting reverts to the same ideological or moralistic discussions, without so much as a mention of who might actually bear the brunt of the behavior. Instead of talking about the people in the photos, we focus primarily on how or why it was taken. It may simply be a case of hormonal teens colliding with new technology; but that doesn't mean that it's benign. [From: The Washington Post, via: PoliticsDaily] SOURCE: Switched

Former Md. trooper found not guilty of 3 sex offense charges

A Montgomery County jury Monday acquitted former Maryland State Trooper Marlon Iglesias of three sex offense charges related to a woman handcuffed after a DUI stop but found the trooper guilty of a charge of misconduct in office. Charges against the trooper hinged primarily on the word of the alleged victim, who nearly a year after the traffic stop told authorities Iglesias has inappropriately touched and fondled her after she'd been pulled over on Interstate 270, handcuffed and taken to a nearby station. But during testimony, the alleged victim's record for honesty was cast in doubt.

At the trial, the alleged victim testified that Iglesias handcuffed her and placed her in the front seat of his police car. She said that on the way to the station, he touched her thigh. She alleged that after she'd gotten to the station, he touched or fondled her at least two more times. And as he was letting her go from the station, she said, he also kissed her. The jury deliberated for about four hours Friday. Jurors came back Monday morning and deliberated for nearly an hour. The split verdict may have reflected jurors' thinking that something untoward happened after the stop but not enough to deliver a more serious finding. SOURCE: Washington Post

east county's fast-food boom

Sure, all those Downtown Silver Spring folks get to brag about their speakeasies and honey-lavender roasted chicken, but we've got our own culinary renaissance happening Up The Pike. If you've been down Randolph Road in Colesville lately, you know we're getting another Wendy's.

That's right, y'all: it's the same spicy chicken fillet and frozen dairy dessert you've come to enjoy in Wheaton, Briggs Chaney, Aspen Hill and Calverton, now just ten minutes away from all of those places. With those kind of eating options, it's only a little disappointing that despite a change in liquor laws, an ongoing lack of investment in our local economy (other than things that can bring profits back to corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio), continue to render East County a fine-dining wasteland.

While the urban planner in me is cautiously excited about the provision of on-street parking, sidewalks, and outdoor dining at the Colesville Wendy's, it's frustrating that this new branch will look much like the other four within spitting distance of my house. Of course, this means that a restaurant that broke ground last month could have the fry-o-lators up and running by May Day, if not sooner. SOURCE: Just Up the Pike

Venture capitalist investment falls off in first quarter

Venture capitalists in the first quarter were less enthusiastic, both nationally and in Maryland, as total investments fell from the fourth quarter. In Maryland, 14 VC investment deals totaled $61.0 million in the first quarter, down from 21 deals totaling $105.3 million in the fourth quarter, according to new data from the latest MoneyTree Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters. Nationally, VC investment fell 8.9 percent to $4.73 billion from $5.18 billion. Still, total investment for the quarter was up both nationally and in Maryland from the first quarter of 2009. In the U.S., first-quarter investments last year totaled $3.4 billion; in Maryland, they totaled $43.3 million.

"Despite a great deal of economic uncertainty in the first quarter, the venture capital industry moved forward with a more active start than it did in 2009, which bodes well for the remainder of the year," Mark Heesen, president of the VC association, said in a statement. SOURCE: Gazette

O'Malley defends police in questionable police beating, with video

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley seemed caught off guard in a radio interview on Monday when asked to comment on the apparent police beating of an unarmed University of Maryland student that has drawn international attention and led to a civil rights probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In his monthly appearance on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program, O'Malley stopped short of condemning the beating in similarly tough terms used by Prince George's Police Chief Roberto Hylton or State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. After a video of the March 3 altercation surfaced last week, Hylton said he was "outraged and disappointed." Ivey vowed to take officers before a grand jury, saying "excessive force will not be tolerated." When asked by WTOP host Mark Segraves, O'Malley repeated Segraves' description of the beating as "a very serious matter" and said that although he has not discussed the matter with Prince George's officials, he thought county leaders were responding appropriately.

O'Malley, however, then went on to say that "very few of us were actually there, on the scene" and because of that and other improvements made to Prince George's long troubled police department "we owe it to that good work to conduct this investigation [into officers' conduct] fairly and properly and following due process." A tape released last week shows three Prince George's County police officers in riot gear using their batons to beat John J. McKenna, 21, following a University of Maryland-Duke basketball game on March. 3.

The video shows McKenna skipping along a sidewalk before he stops in front of a phalanx of officers on horseback. As he stood there, two Prince George's officers ran and attacked him. A third officer later joined the beating. McKenna required eight staples to close a gash on his scalp. An initial police report appeared to be falsified, saying McKenna was injured by horses. The FBI is investigating and four Prince George's officers have been relieved of police powers while they remain under investigation.

When asked about the incident at the beginning of the program, O'Malley initially tried to steer the interview to recent positive news for the state.

"You don't want to start with the fact that Maryland led all states in job creation for the month of March? You don't want to talk about the rebound of the blue crab?" O'Malley said.

Later, O'Malley said, "So long as we have human beings who do these difficult jobs, and indeed human beings in any profession, there will always be times that call upon us to investigate, and where necessary, act, in order to address behavior that is outside of what is expected." O'Malley, who will likely face former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. in a November rematch for a second term as Maryland's governor, won four years ago in part on a reputation as a tough on crime Baltimore mayor. In 2006, the state's largest law enforcement union backed Ehrlich.

Asked in an e-mail following the radio interview if O'Malley shares Hylton's reaction of "outraged and disappointed" to the beating video, O'Malley press secretary Shaun Adamec said, "It's obviously very disturbing, and the governor has said as much. I think it's appropriate to stick with the words the governor has used to describe his feelings on the matter." In that spirit, here's the transcript of the governor's full response:

Mark Segraves: "...Let's talk about this video, you must have seen it by now. It's a very serious matter. And to make sure our listeners are up to speed, it shows several Prince George's County officers beating an unarmed University of Maryland student. The initial police report that was filed said the student was injured by horses. We now know from seeing that video that's not the case, several officers have been suspended. There's an investigation, in fact a federal investigation. Your thoughts now?" O'Malley: "My thoughts are that this is a very serious matter and it's one that's being taken seriously by not only the chief of police for Prince George's County but also by the county executive. So long as we have human beings who do these difficult jobs, and indeed human beings in any profession, there will always be times that call upon us to investigate, and where necessary, act, in order to address behavior that is outside of what is expected.

And so, this is a very serious matter. Everybody, I mean, lots of people have seen the video. Very few of us were actually there, on the scene. But I'm sure this matter will receive the attention that it deserves from the chief of police of Prince George's County. And I think that, um, you know, part of the responsibility that we have in any police force is to not only police the streets, but to police our own force when necessary.

I'm very proud of the strides Prince Georges' County has made in violent crime reduction and their reduction of auto thefts. And we owe it to that good work to conduct this investigation fairly and properly and following due process, because the most important thing that protects officers on the street is the trust the public has in their integrity." SOURCE: Washington Post and Associated Press

April 19, 2010

Veteran banking pair heads to Monument Bank

April 19, 2010 (Bethesda, Md.) – A seasoned banking duo is leading the charge as Monument Bank plans to branch out into another market in Montgomery County. Monument Bank, a Maryland-chartered community bank based in Bethesda, announces today that longtime banking partners Lawrence J. Bolton and Deborah J. Keller have joined Monument as development officers in preparation for the bank opening its second location. Pending regulatory approval, the business-focused bank plans to open a branch in Silver Spring at 8602 Georgia Ave., situated at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, in mid-May. The bank currently has one branch, in Bethesda, near its administrative office.

Bolton is now a Senior Vice President and Area Business Development Officer for Monument in the Silver Spring market, while Keller serves as a Vice President, Branch Manager and Business Development Officer in that same market.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome Larry and Debbie to Monument’s development team,” says H.L. Ward, the bank’s President and CEO. “The banking landscape in Silver Spring is quite competitive, and for our new location to succeed in that market, we need veteran professionals running this office. We have found those people in Larry and Debbie. They have decades of experience in Silver Spring and consistently set the standard in customer service.”

Bolton’s more than 40 years in banking includes 25 years in the Silver Spring market; all of Keller’s more than 30 years in the industry have come in that geographic area. For the past 24 years, the two have worked together at various banks, most recently at Bethesda-based EagleBank, where Bolton was a Senior Vice President and Regional Sales Manager for the Silver Spring market and Keller was a Vice President, Branch Manager and Business Development Officer, also in Silver Spring. The pair also previously worked together at Allegiance Bank of Maryland, Suburban Bank of Maryland, First Union Bank and First American Bank.

In their new roles at Monument, Bolton and Keller will serve high net worth individuals and small and medium-sized businesses in a wide variety of industries, including accountants, attorneys, doctors and other professional-service firms.

“We’re very excited to call Monument Bank our new home,” Keller says. “Growing a branch in Silver Spring is a challenge that we eagerly accept, and we know that this office can flourish, because the personal service that we provide to customers is second to none.”

As the Silver Spring office gets up and running, Bolton and Keller will hire an assistant branch manager and teller, with other hires likely to come further down the road. Monument Bank is in an expansion mode this year. The bank recently doubled the amount of administrative space it occupies in Bethesda and looks to add at least 10 people, and possibly between 16 and 18, to its current staff of 32 employees.

“Monument is a growing community bank that is all about providing excellent service to its customers,” Bolton says. “Debbie and I look forward to opening this new branch in the near term. Our customers will always have two people to go to when doing business with us. That really sets us apart.”

About Monument Bank:

Monument Bank, founded in 2005, is a privately held, Maryland-chartered community bank based in Bethesda. Relying on quality service and state-of-the-art technology, the bank currently has one branch, also in Bethesda, and a work force of 32 people. Monument’s board of directors consists of business owners and senior executives from companies in the Washington, D.C., area across various industries, such as banking, finance, professional services, and real estate. For more information, please visit: MonumentBank.com

Media Contact: Neil Adler of D*MNGOOD®. 202-683-8975 office. 410-499-5004 cell. neil.adler@dmngood.com

UPDATE #3: Detectives search for more clues in principal's slaying

Montgomery County homicide detectives spent more than four hours Sunday inside the home of slain school principal Brian Betts as the probe into his shooting death entered its third day. Detectives are trying to learn who was with Betts in his final hours. At one point, an officer retrieved a black toolbox and other items from the evidence van and brought them into the house. Detectives could be seen carrying at least one brown paper bag, the kind typically used to store evidence, from the home. Forensics experts also showed up at the house in Silver Spring, just south of the Capital Beltway.

"They're revisiting the scene, seeing if there is anything they missed," said Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman.

Detectives who went in and out of the house Sunday declined to comment. Well-wishers came by Betts's house as well, leaving flowers just off the curb in his front yard. Shelagh Smith, who knew Betts through her daughter, drove 30 minutes from Rockville to leave green roses. "He really believed he could turn kids lives around, and I think he did," Smith said. "He showed a special kindness."

Neighbors said they saw Betts in his back yard Wednesday evening. The next day, he didn't show up at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, in the District. That evening, a co-worker went to his house to check on him, was able to go inside, saw a light on upstairs, left the house and called police. Officers found Betts's clothed body in one of his bedrooms. Police remained tight-lipped about the case Sunday, refusing to divulge new information.

On Saturday, Betts's SUV turned up 14 miles away in Southeast Washington. Investigators have made no arrests in the death of Betts, who was remembered for his dedication to students. SOURCE: Washington Post

Rockville City Council Now Accepts Comments Online

Long overdue but much appreciated is the City of Rockville’s recent introduction of eComment, an online comment system in which the public can support, question, or object to items on the Mayor and Council agenda prior to a meeting. According to the City, “the pilot program began with the Monday, April 12, Mayor and Council meeting. Agendas are typically published on the Thursday prior to the Monday meeting. The comment page can be found on the City’s Web site, www.rockvillemd.gov, and will close at 4 p.m. each Monday that there is a Mayor and Council meeting. Comments will be delivered directly to the Mayor and Council through the City Clerk’s Office. All comments are considered public information.”

The City launched eComment as “an opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard; help focus citizen comments to items already on the agenda; let citizens give input when they are unable to attend meetings; and provide the Mayor and Council with an organized report of comments prior to meetings.” I applaud their efforts to increase the ways that citizens can speak to the City (usually it’s the other way round), especially in the Internet Age when online communications are so common and pervasive. It’s an ideal complement to watching the Mayor and Council meetings on the Web and I hope this tool will also be made available with the two dozen Boards and Commissions, and there eventually will be some way that the comments will be posted publicly and promptly so that everyone can “hear” the discussion (just like at a public hearing).

BTW, at the last Historic District Commission, we had a public hearing on the Victory Housing project that included comments from staff but it didn’t require their attendance. I often wonder how we can be more efficient and respectful of staff time when they have to stay into evening to speak for just 5-10 minutes on an agenda item. It usually seems like a waste of time and money. In this instance, the city forester was watching our meeting at home and as we had questions, sent responses via email to the staff person at the meeting, who relayed them to everyone in the room at the appropriate time. By using email, we have an immediate response and a document for the record–and the staff member didn’t have to come in just for our meeting. SOURCE: Max for Rockville

Quince Orchard High School evacuated for suspected gas leak

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) -- Montgomery County school officials say students have been let back into a Rockville high school after the building was evacuated for suspected gas leak. School system officials say Quince Orchard High School was evacuated after people smelled gas in the building. The leak was reported to the central office around 7:30 a.m. Monday. Students were let back into the building around 9 a.m. The cause of the suspected leak is under investigation. SOURCE: FOX Baltimore

Actor Danny Glover, 11 others arrested in Md.

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Actor Danny Glover and 11 others have been arrested during a labor union protest at the Maryland headquarters of a food service company. Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks says Glover and others stepped past yellow police tape and were asked to step back three times at Sodexo headquarters. When they refused, Starks says officers arrested them. The dozen were issued citations for trespassing and let go. Starks says they face a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail. Starks says organizers told police beforehand that some would risk arrest. The Service Employees International Union was protesting what it calls Sodexo's unfair and illegal treatment of workers. Sodexo says the union was spreading misinformation. A publicist for the "Lethal Weapon" actor declined to comment. SOURCE: Associated Press

April 18, 2010

How Obama Administration's subsidies killed a Maryland green business: BP Solar

UPDATE #2: Police recover SUV of slain D.C. Principal Brian Betts

A dark blue sport-utility vehicle that belonged to beloved D.C. schools Principal Brian Betts turned up Saturday, parked next to a church van and tucked behind a children's ministry in Southeast Washington. The clean, apparently undamaged Nissan Xterra was 14 miles from the Silver Spring home where Betts, 42, was found dead Thursday of at least one gunshot wound. Montgomery County detectives retrieved the car and searched it for evidence.

"Somebody was in it," said Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery police spokesman. "We want to find out about the person who was in it."

Betts was a rising star in D.C. public schools as principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, where he had gone to work in 2008 with a handpicked staff of young teachers as part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's citywide school overhaul movement. Colleagues alerted police Thursday after Betts did not report for work. Police say they think he was killed by someone he let into his home. Betts's clothed body was found inside a bedroom, police said Saturday. Detectives quickly learned that the Nissan was missing, as were items from Betts's home. Since discovering the body, the police department has released few details, concerned that doing so might tip off any suspects to what they know.

Police are trying to piece together a timeline of where Betts was and who he was with in his final hours. Neighbors have said they saw him in his back yard Wednesday evening. It wasn't uncommon for him to have friends over. In his back yard Saturday was evidence of those gatherings: two grills, and a hot tub perched on a deck. From the start of the case, detectives wanted to find the Nissan, which residents said appeared in the 3900 block of Fourth Street SE between noon and 1:30 p.m. Friday.

"We just figured it was a stolen vehicle, because it was hidden behind our vehicle," said Sherrita Mullen, who lives and works at the Metro D.C. Kids' Konnection, housed in the building next to where the car was found. SOURCE: Washington Post