Rockville City Council candidates faced off Wednesday during the first debate of election season.
The debate was hosted by the Rockville Community Coalition. The moderator, former lawmaker Cheryl Kagan, allowed each candidate one minute to respond to questions generated by the RCC and members of the community.
Rockville’s City elections are Nov. 5. Eight candidates are in the race.
Six have filed for council seats—Claire Marcuccio Whitaker, Virginia Onley, Donald Hadley, and Tom Moore, Julie Palakovich Carr and Beryl Feinberg.
Council members Mark Pierzchala and Bridget Donnell Newton are running for mayor. Their debate took place after the council debate.
Feinberg was unable to attend because she was recuperating from a hospital stay. Her husband, Ed Feinberg, read prepared opening and closing statements on her behalf.
Here are City Council Candidate Moore’s responses:
1. What do you think are the three most pressing issues currently facing the mayor and council and how do you believe that these issues should be resolved?
I think the three most pressing issues are growth, schools and the Rockville Pike plan.
With growth, it’s how do we best balance it? How do we express all the goals of the city through the way that we want to grow? The APFO is one tool for that. It's not the only tool. It may not even be the best tool for a lot of the challenges that are facing us.
With schools, obviously it's a county issue, not directly a city issue but what the city can is make absolutely sure that Richard Montgomery Elementary school number five gets built on schedule. That is absolutely a top city priority no matter who is elected.
Third would be the Rockville Pike Plan. This is our chance to remake what Rockville Pike's going to look like over the next 30, 40, 50 years. I think this will echo throughout the rest of the city. We have to make sure we protect our neighborhoods. We have to make sure we improve traffic. We just have to make sure that our goals are expressed the way we want them in that plan. It will be a busy two years for any of us.
2. In your opinion, are there places in the Rockville city budget where changes could be made? And that could be either in cut of services or in cut of personnel, cut of fees, cut of anything … . Just speak broadly, if you would about fiscal savings.
The budget of the city is actually pretty healthy. In 2013, even though property tax assessments actually went down by a couple of percentage points, we managed to keep the rates steady, tightened the belt, we actually balanced the budget it actually worked out.
In 2014, property values started rising again, so we actually got a little extra money. We got extra money from the state for police officers; we got extra money from the state for transportation projects. The rate has held steady for probably close to 10 years now. It’s at a point where the growth we’re experiencing in the city and the growth in property values over time is pretty much keeping pace with the needs of the city to maintain our excellent services.
We want to keep an eye on it, but we don’t need to make major changes.
One thing we do need to do is we do need to be socking away more for capital projects—bridges are going to be a big expense. There are a lot of roof projects and buildings like this throughout the city. So we’ll have to work on that a bit, but I think our growth will take care of it.
3. What do you see as the long-term vision for the ultimate development of Rockville’s Town Center?
The thing we want to see in Town Center II is that the city’s and the county’s massive investments in Town Center I are protected. The city spent tens of millions of dollars on garages in that area. The county spent a lot of money building that library. The reason we did it was to provide a spark for the rest of the area. We don’t own a lot of land in Town Center II. The county doesn’t own anything there. The idea is if we put first-class development right there that things would grow organically after that.
One of the things that I’ve been concentrating on is the parcel where the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department is. That’s a tough nut right now because of the restrictions that we have in place. That property is just not that valuable. They would very much like to move somewhere else. … I used to be a volunteer with the fire department. I care very deeply about their future. With the way our rules are right now, their future is tied to that parcel. That parcel is not as valuable for them as it could be. That’s one of the things I’m going to focus on if you send me back to office.
4. Which aspects of the Rockville Pike Plan do you support and why? And the other part, is with development around Rockville, what do you think the mayor and council should do, if anything, to make sure the city has adequate green space?
One of the things I like best about the Rockville Pike Plan is the cross-section that it’s mapping out right now. We will have green space, local lanes, express lanes, bus rapid transit, perhaps, in the middle—that’s something we need to take a look at. The county’s moving forward with that. We’ve had a lot of information from the county on that recently. That will be years away. But if that goes down the middle of Rockville Pike, that will transform the way that we use that part of the city.
It will be tremendously friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians. My kids and I are sometimes biking down through parking lots and up and down sidewalks trying to get from one place to another on the pike it is harrowing. We need a friendlier pike for pedestrians and bicyclists.
For green space, the area encompassed by the pike plan doesn’t really have any green space. It doesn’t have any parks and that is a key part of the plan. And if the planning commission ever finishes up with it, that would be great. We absolutely want to make sure there are good parks built into that, all along.
5. In addition to our candidates for mayor and council, there are going to be some charter questions. We’d like each of the candidates to speak to not only their views on the charter questions, but also the weight to which they would offer our views as voters once we speak out … We’d love to hear whether they’d … defer to the voters or what they think mayor and council should be informed by.
I’ll start with the citizen part first. We are going to have an advisory vote on this. And in the past, it’s just been a “yes” or “no” matter. This year it’s going to be a little different. Voters can say “yes”, “no” or “no opinion.” In the past it almost worked as a referendum, which I don’t think was healthy. The way our charter is set up, council members are supposed to listen to the people and make their own decisions, but the referendum is not supposed to decide the matter.
This time, [council members] will be able to look at it and make an informed judgment based on what they see from those numbers.
There are three questions. One is to increase the size of the council from four to six members. I kind of think that’s a solution chasing a problem. I really don’t have an opinion on that, one way or the other.
One is to increase the length of the term from two years to four years. On its own, not a big deal.
The one that is a big deal is changing our elections to the presidential years. In 2012, 70 percent of Rockville voters turned out. In the last election we had here, the last few, it was 17 percent for city elections. That’s too low.
6. What can you do for independent small businesses in Rockville?
I can tell you what I did do. During this term I asked the city staff to look at what was the maximum thing we could do to look at city businesses who are looking for city contracts. Turns out, it’s not a lot. There are a lot of things in place to protect tax payer money.
One thing that we could do that we did do is to the tie goes to the local business. If two bids are substantively equal, the tie goes to the local business. And that was a good change. When I was out listening to folks out at one of our local businesses, Schnabel, an engineering firm up on Shady Grove Road, our side, they said we can win contracts all over the world but we can’t win them in the city of Rockville. That was designed to help that.
The other thing we can do is clean up our permitting process. We need to make them one-stop-shopping. We need to make them more predictable. We need to just make them easier so if a local business wants to renovate, if a local business wants to expand, they don’t have to jump through as many hoops as they’re jumping through now.
7. How can we engage populations that are not engaged now? How can we make people feel really welcome and support increasing diversity in the city? What sort of changes or enhancements should we offer?
This is kind of a sideways look at it, but I think that the best way we can engage our minority community in this city is to change to the presidential year for voting. The folks who vote during presidential years are a much more diverse group of people than the folks who vote in our city elections right now.
There’s this theory that if you make people committed citizens, you’ll increase voter rates. That’s true, but I also think the reverse is true. If you increase your voter turnout, you’ll make those people into committed citizens. People who vote in city elections look at that and say, for the next two years, I voted for that idiot Moore, what’s he up to? It invests them in their city government. I think the single thing that we could do that would invest our minority community into the life of this city more is to move elections to the presidential. It seems a little backwards, but think there’s a pretty direct link.