VIDEO: Fountain 'Rains' on Mayor's Campaign Announcement
City staff and mayor should have followed campaign policy, city manager says.
A few stray raindrops fell as Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio delivered her reelection campaign announcement speech on Friday evening at Rockville Town Square Plaza.
But it was water that sprang from the ground that cut short the mayor’s campaign message and produced a City Hall controversy.
On Monday, the mayor said that she “did everything right” in securing a permit for the announcement. Meanwhile, city manager Scott Ullery said that both the mayor and city staff should not have “used city resources to support campaign activity.”
Shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Friday—midway through Marcuccio’s speech and about a half-hour before she was expecting it—the Town Square Plaza fountain activated, sending Marcuccio supporters scrambling from chairs set up near the fountainheads embedded in the plaza’s brick pavers.
“It’s raining on our parade,” Marcuccio said over the splashing of the mini-geysers that shot seven feet into the air.
After a few moments of chaos as supporters regrouped at the fountain’s edge and near either end of the plaza stage, the mayor forged ahead with her speech even as children in swimsuits took to the fountain.
Marcuccio spoke for several more minutes before wrapping up her speech prematurely. Former City Councilwoman Anne Robbins and Frederick W. Newton—speaking on behalf of his wife, Councilwoman Bridget Donnell Newton—fought to be heard over the fountain as they delivered brief speeches after Marcuccio’s remarks.
Afterwards, Marcuccio said that it was her understanding that she had the plaza reserved from 6 to 8 p.m.
“I even got The Rooftop to turn the music down,” she said, referring to the rooftop terrace that hosts dance parties on the weekends. “I can’t control what city staff does.”
A call placed on Saturday to the office of Burt Hall, the city’s director of recreation and parks, was not returned by Monday evening.
In an interview after Monday’s City Council meeting, city manager Scott Ullery said that he spoke to the mayor late Friday “within a couple of hours of her event” about whether she had considered the implications of shutting down the fountain for the announcement.
“I was concerned that we were turning off a city facility basically for a campaign statement,” Ullery said. “I was concerned too about [taking] two hours for that announcement on one of the hottest days of the year when there’s going to be people—kids—expecting to use the fountain.”
Ullery said that Marcuccio was amenable to finding an alternative, such as moving to the side of the pavilion stage. A short time later, Ullery said, he received a call from Marcuccio’s sister and agreed to turn the fountain off from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m.
Ullery eventually called for staff to set the automated timer to turn the fountain off from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., he said. Ullery said he did not call on city staff to turn the fountain on and off manually because that would have meant using city resources in support of a campaign activity.
“Basically, I made a decision of splitting the baby,” Ullery said. “And that doesn’t usually work out for the baby.”
With various events on at Town Square Plaza throughout the summer, the schedule for the fountain’s operation is posted on the city’s Web site. According to the schedule, the fountain was to be turned off from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday.
Marcuccio said in an interview on Monday afternoon that she had received “a long memo” from Ullery explaining that a person from Marcuccio’s campaign who was organizing the announcement event had agreed to the fountain being turned back on at 7:30 p.m.
That person was Marcuccio’s sister, the mayor said.
Ullery said that he suspected that Marcuccio did not receive the memo documenting what happened, which he sent via email, until after the announcement.
“I get an ‘F’ on this one,” Ullery said. “The lesson learned is follow the policy—for everyone, the administration and the elected officials. Sometimes we try to accommodate things that we shouldn’t.”
For now, the controversy is “a campaign problem,” said Marcuccio, who a year ago this week joined Newton in voting against renewing Ullery’s contract.
Marcuccio said that she has “tried to be discouraging” of people who have cried foul and volunteered to come to her defense.
An op-ed by Joseph Jordan appears on Rockville Patch today. In it, Jordan blasts Ullery for his handling of the announcement event.
Jordan served as Marcuccio’s campaign manager during her successful 2009 run but is not serving in that capacity this time “for various reasons that I discussed with her several months ago,” Jordan said in an email.
Marcuccio said on Monday that she does not have a campaign manager at this time, but is relying on “people who will take a piece of my campaign.
“I have a potential [manager], but I don’t want to say [who it is] until they agree,” she said.
Marcuccio answered questions about the fountain incident on Monday, but seemed reluctant to elevate the controversy.
“I’m not telling the story,” she said. “I don’t want to be the one out there telling the story. The bottom line is I did everything right. I have emails that were sent. I have permits that were issued.”
Jordan, who can be seen in the background of a Rockville Patch video of the incident shaking his head as Marcuccio attempts to continue her speech, wrote that Ullery should apologize to the mayor.
“I would apologize to the mayor and council for not enforcing the policy and to the people who attended the event who were adversely affected due to the fact that I didn’t follow the policy,” Ullery said. “They were unwitting victims of that. It’s regrettable that they didn’t conclude the event within the time period they asked for.”