Members-Elect Stress Cooperation on New Council
City manager selection, the budget, redevelopment and election issues are priorities for the new council.
Rockville voters sent two incumbents, a former councilman and the chairman of the city’s Compensation Commission to victory in Tuesday’s election.
It’s a mix of experience and what council members-elect said they hope will be a working relationship that allows officials to tackle several big issues.
Candidates and voters throughout the 2011 election season said that they would like to see more civility in their City Council after a term marked by disagreements and division that sometimes devolved into bickering at council meetings.
The question is “How can we be nicer to each other, discuss our differences civilly without things getting personal? That’s one thing I think I can definitely do,” said Tom Moore, the compensation board chairman and only member-elect not to serve previously on the council.
“I think we have a fresh start,” Moore said. He cited John Hall, the other non-incumbent to win election, as a stabilizing force for previous councils.
Hall served on the council from 2001 to 2005 before forgoing a re-election bid in order to focus on family.
“John Hall brings a track record of being not just very knowledgeable on the issues, but a track record of working very well with others and building consensus,” Moore said.
Hall said he learned a lesson on cooperation from former Mayor Larry Giammo after what Hall called “a very contentious election” in 2001. It was Hall’s first successful run and a campaign that he forged as part of a slate of candidates. Giammo was on the other side, running to succeed a retiring Rose Krasnow as mayor.
Hall and Giammo both won. After the election, in which Hall said members of his slate took every opportunity to criticize Giammo, the two men “definitely weren’t friends,” Hall recalled.
That changed after the death of Mary Trumbo, 88, an East Rockville resident who died after being struck by a car while crossing Rockville Pike.
Giammo and Hall talked at Trumbo’s funeral, Hall recalled.
“[Giammo] said ‘This is the last time this happens when we are in power,’” Hall said.
That started “very effective governing for the next four years,” said Hall, whose two terms saw the redevelopment of Rockville Town Center.
It was also “the last formal slate campaign the city’s really had,” he said.
Without slates, “We’re all duly elected to the extent that the campaign was about us as individuals and our qualities and appeals,” Hall said. “That must now transform … It’s all about us in the city in a noncompetitive, non-contested, cooperative context.”
The council will address one of the most important decisions of its term early next year when it is tasked with hiring a new city manager to replace Scott Ullery who will retire Dec. 2.
“It will be a quick early test of how we can work together and coordinate our vision for what the city will look like, as personified by the city manager,” Moore said. “I’m confident we’ll do that well.”
The council also must address “the need for responsible growth management in Rockville” while moving forward on the draft plan for Rockville Pike redevelopment and the second phase of Town Center redevelopment, Hall said.
“I think the budget is going to be our biggest challenge,” he said.
Councilman Mark Pierzchala said he is "hopeful that we can continue some basic things like the Rockville Summit," which seeks to build the foundation for the city's economic future. The council also must address the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, Pierzchala said. The ordinance seeks to ensure that transportation infrastructure, public schools, fire and emergency service and water and sewer service can sufficiently handle the impact of new development.
Another challenge: The cost of covering retirement costs for city employees. "Making that whole is just going to be a huge challenge," Pierzchala said.
Councilwoman Bridget Donnell Newton said she’d like to see the council take on election issues that arose this campaign season, including, but not limited to, sign placement and the possibility of lowering individual contribution limits from $1,000 to $500.
“What we want is a good political process that’s collaborative and elects good people and then we move on as a team,” Newton said. “And I think that’s going to happen this time.”
The council members-elect each have different skill sets, she said. “And that’s a good thing.”
The council needs to look at itself as a family “with individual strengths—and detractions,” Newton said.
“We are a Rockville family. We all want the best for Rockville. And that is our job, to bring the issues forward and then work together to find a way to make them work.”
Virginia Onley, who finished .59 percentage points out of the running for the fourth council seat, said she hopes the council will focus on building better relationships with the county school system, with Montgomery College and with the county government.
“Who knows?” Onley said of the members elected Tuesday. “We might have the right mix for turning the city around with the [same] passion I have.”