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 Julie Palakovich Carr'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?
Rockville is a great place to live, but that doesn't mean there aren't problems. As I've been out knocking on doors and every neighborhood in Rockville, I've heard concerns from residents. I've heard about people's concerns about traffic congestion on Rockville Pike, I've heard about school over crowding as well as pedestrian safety. I think those are some of the issues that are an appropriate place for the mayor and council to be delving into during the next two years and to be helping to fix some of those problems.
In terms of traffic congestion, clearly we need a new plan for Rockville Pike. It's been about 30 years since we've dealt with that issue and other opportunities to add mass transit, making it more bike friendly and more pedestrian friendly. In terms of school over crowding, the biggest issue, the nut to crack: We'll need to work with the county, school system to make sure we have funds available to expand on schools. In terms of pedestrian safety, of course there are infrastructure projects that we can pursue but it's also about personal responsibility.
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.
When I served on the Rockville Summit, the task force that I was on was charged with looking at the city’s fiscal health, both in the short term but also in the long term. I’m thankful we didn’t identify any crises in the short term, but there certainly will be some issues in the out years, 10, 20 years from now.
That committee did make a number of recommendations in terms of efforts that the city should be pursuing. One was actually the idea of a save award, like the federal government does. Where city employees and residents could nominate programs or ways to save in the city.
Another recommendation that came out of the committee that I believe is a good one has to do with evaluating program efficiency and to actually ask the hard question of is this something the city should be doing, is it duplicative something the county or private sector is offering? If the answer is “no” to those questions, great. We want to be making sure we’re running those programs in the most effective way possible.
Lastly, I think this is also a revenue problem. We need to pursue ways to expand the tax base through thoughtful development and perhaps even annexation of adjacent lands outside the city.
3. What do you see as the long-term vision for the ultimate development of Rockville’s Town Center?
I think the original phase of Town Center has been a big success. It’ certainly is a vibrant center to our community that attracts all walks of life—families, seniors, single people. It is a very interesting place culturally, in terms of the restaurants and shops. I was just there yesterday in the afternoon and saw the number kids that were playing in the plaza in front of the library.
I think those are all laudable goals that we should be looking at implementing the second phase of town center. But I think unfortunately, though, we are ham-stringed by the APFO.
I should say I support having an APFO for the city, but some of the unintended consequences at this point are that we cannot build residential housing that will generate children in the second phase. So right now, the only residences planned for phase II is senior housing. We’re somewhat limited to what can happen in Town Center, as Tom said. But we certainly need to be planning for that future so that we can continue to have a vibrant city center.
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?
I actually read the entirety of the Rockville Pike Plan as it stood a few months ago—cover-to-cover, all few hundred pages of it. And I think it’s great that the planning commission has been engaged in this process to think about the future of the pike because we certainly want to be engaging in thoughtful redevelopment along that commercial sector. Certainly supporting mixed use with retail, commercial and residential should be the future of the pike, although I have my reservations about the density that’s proposed in the current Rockville Pike Plan. Thirteen–story-tall buildings may not be appropriate.
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.
Clearly, increasing voter turnout is an important goal for the city. As Tom was mentioning, only 17 percent of Rockville voters turned out in the last city election, which was just not where a democracy should be at. These are important questions because the number of people that represent us and how long they serve fore are the basis of our democracy.
To be honest, my views on these questions have been evolving over time. In terms of the timing question, I think there have been good arguments made on each side of the issue and I appreciate the debate that RCC held in the spring of the year to examine that. But there are some key differences between how the city runs its elections versus how the county and state runs theirs. Amenities like offering curbside voting—I’m not sure how those get rectified if we change our elections.
In terms of how I would deal with the referendum questions and how voters feel on that, that’s certainly going to be an important data point, but it’s not going to be the only one. There are logistical questions that we need to pursue in terms of cost and staff resources.
6. What can you do for independent small businesses in Rockville?
Well clearly, local and independent businesses are the heart of the business community here in Rockville. The economic return from local business is much greater than for chains—not to say that they’re not an important part of the commercial base here in Rockville.
One thing I’ve heard repeatedly throughout the past few months is that Rockville may not be as business friendly as it could be. Particularly in terms of some of the processes that we have. We’re not talking about weakening processes, but just making them a little more streamlined so it’s more effective from city staffs’ perspective and for applicants and people seeking permits. Time is money for businesses, so if we can streamline processes we can help save money.
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?
Rockville’s diversity is actually one of the reason’s my husband and I chose to make it our home. I think it’s one of the real treasures of our community. I think with the new city website that launched a few months ago—the fact that you can translate any web page now into a multitude of languages is really important in terms of being an inclusive community. But beyond that, I think one of the key steps we can take is to try to recruit more diverse people to serve on our boards and commissions. These are the groups that are thought leaders in the community and are helping to provide important advice to the mayor and council. If we can make the effort to include more people there and to make the effort in recruiting them, that should help with further steps down the road.