Issues on residents’ minds included: transportation (including BRT and station design, buses, senior bus service and road paving); public schools, including their physical condition and how we can close the student achievement gap; development, especially concerns and hopes about Viva White Oak, the possibility of Amazon coming to the county and more consumer choices in Silver Spring; and DACA and immigration, including advocacy for providing legal assistance to immigrants.
I’m happy to report, as many of you know, that Montgomery County has become a national leader on this issue last month by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Last year, the County Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the County Executive vetoed the bill, and we didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.
Councilmember Marc Elrich and I wrote amendments to tweak the latest legislation, giving more time for smaller employers, nonprofits and health-care providers that rely on Medicaid payments to begin paying $15/hour.
I introduced these amendments at our Nov. 7 session, and the council unanimously passed my amendments and the amended version of the bill. The following week, it was signed into law.
There are many humane and practical reasons to raise the county’s minimum wage.
The cost of living in Montgomery County is among the highest in the nation. It’s virtually impossible to live on the current minimum wage of $11.50 an hour here. In fact, according to an MIT study, a living wage in Montgomery County for a single adult is $15.80 an hour. For a single parent with one child, it’s $29.82.
That means that raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 is overdue. This increase will provide at least some measure of relief to thousands of our low-income residents. These are our child care workers, our restaurant staff, our health-care workers, our janitors and maids, our hairdressers and manicurists, our retail sales clerks.
These are people who struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, often on the edge of poverty.
These are real people with real children and real bills to pay: bills for rent, for food, for medicine, for bus fare, for heat and electricity. Most don’t have savings to fall back on. They need every penny they can get in their weekly paycheck.
Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage raises the standard of living for our poorest residents.
And much of the extra money they’ll get in their paychecks will go right back into the local economy — which means a stronger community for everyone.
The council was also sensitive to the concerns of our county’s employers, especially its smaller businesses. That’s why the bill gives them more time to raise their wages and suspends any scheduled wage increases if there’s a recession.
I want to thank the many community groups and labor unions that supported the $15 minimum wage, including CASA, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland, Maryland Working Families Party, Service Employees International Union 32BJ and Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Human trafficking – also known as modern slavery – is rapidly on the rise nationally and right here in Montgomery County, in the form of both sex trafficking and forced labor. I’ve been working on this issue for years. And last month, I organized a first-ever 1½-hour presentation for a joint meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services committees.
The county has a responsibility to not only crack down on human traffickers, but do whatever we can to help the survivors, most of whom are girls and young women.
What do these survivors need? Safe housing. Education. Job training and placement. Drug and mental health treatment.
That’s what experts from law enforcement, nonprofits, social service agencies and the medical community told councilmembers during the briefing.
Among those speaking was Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that provides services to female survivors, including a safe house where the girls — some as young as 12 — and young women can live securely while they receive the counseling, job training and other services they need to get their lives back on track.
FAIR Girls — FAIR stands for Free Aware Inspired Restored — has served more than 1,000 young female survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in the past decade. Annually, it provides safe shelter and life skills to 50 survivors ages 18 to 24; about half the young women are from or were trafficked into Maryland.
Other speakers included Heidi Alvarez, from the University of Maryland’s SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors; Jessica Volz, a registered nurse at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and co-chairwoman of the new county committee’s Victim Services Subcommittee; Sgt. Dave Papalia, head of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Vice and Intelligence Unit; and Assistant County Police Chief Russ Hamill. All are active members of the county’s new Human Trafficking Prevention Committee.
Papalia and Hamill reported on the nearly tenfold rise in human trafficking cases in the past three years in the county, from three to 29 – all of which involved forced sex work. Likewise, the number of arrests and warrants has grown from two to 16. Advocates are confident these numbers are greatly underreported.
Much of the coerced sex trafficking in Montgomery County occurs at its hotels, especially in Gaithersburg, Rockville and Silver Spring. Police are working more closely with these hotels to have staff detect and report suspected sex trafficking, Papalia and Hamill said.
Earlier this year, I sponsored successful legislation creating the first civil penalty our police can now assess on men who are creating the market for human trafficking by soliciting prostitution. We are giving police more tools like this to crack down on sex traffickers and “johns” here in the county, but we can – and must – do much more.
Our police force needs more detectives dedicated to fighting this scourge. Our county’s social service agencies and nonprofits need more resources to help its survivors. We can’t sit idly by and let this horrible business flourish in Montgomery Count
Congratulations to all eight winners of this year’s annual County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County! This year’s winners include Cassie Meador, executive artistic director of Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, who won the Emerging Leader Award; and CREATE Arts Center in Silver Spring, winner of the Education Award. The awards will be presented 7-9 p.m., Monday, Nov. 6, at Round House Theater, 4545 East West Highway, Bethesda. Tickets are free, but reservations are needed.
Councilmember Tom Hucker raised a number of topics with Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Maryland’s senior U.S. senator, during a wide-ranging luncheon talk Monday with other County Councilmembers.
“I truly appreciate Senator Cardin finding the time in his busy schedule to talk with us today and hear our concerns,” Hucker said. “He’s been a strong advocate for Maryland and our county in the Senate.”
The hourlong talk covered a variety of specific issues, but overriding them all were the policies of the Trump Administration.
Cardin, responding to Hucker’s questions, expressed confidence that Congress would reach a bipartisan solution to the Dreamer problem, created when Trump cast a cloud over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and tossed the issue to Congress. Hucker pointed out that the issue, along with that of immigrants with Temporary Protective Status that’s expiring soon, is of particular concern in his district, which has a high immigrant population.
The protective status, in place for more than 16 years, is set to expire for Honduran immigrants on Jan. 5 and for Salvadoran immigrants on March 9. Cardin and some Senate colleagues have written to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke urging the renewal of this status.
Cardin also said that by undercutting the Dreamers as he has, Trump erodes the nation’s moral authority to speak out on global humanitarian disasters, such as the Burmese government’s genocide of its Muslim Rohingya population.
Hucker asked Cardin about steps Congress can take to curb human trafficking, a growing problem in Montgomery County that Hucker has focused on in the County Council. With both Republicans and Democrats lined up on the same side of the issue — a rarity these days, Cardin said — prospects are good for some federal action.
Hucker and Cardin also spent some time discussing congressional Republicans’ budget and tax plans and how disastrous they would be for the middle class — on top of “blowing a $1.5 trillion hole” in the federal budget deficit, Cardin said.
Hucker blasted GOP plans to get rid of the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which would cost Montgomery County households thousands of dollars each. In the face of local opposition from higher-tax states such as Maryland, New York and New Jersey — and most recently from the National Association of Home Builders — Republicans appear to have abandoned that proposal.
“I believe in federalism,” Cardin said, likening the GOP plan to robbing local jurisdictions of their authority to set their own taxing priorities.
Cardin criticized the cynical GOP tactic of doubling the standard income-tax deduction, but cutting personal exemptions. That means a family of three would break even, but a family of four or more would see their taxes rise under the Republican plan.
Furthermore, the Republican budget proposal completely ignores the nation’s growing and serious infrastructure needs, Cardin said.
Cardin also touched on a number of other issues raised by councilmembers, including affordable housing; the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s actions to gut it; North Korea; and gun control.
“Senator Cardin is fighting for the people of Maryland, not the special interests,” Hucker said. “We’re fortunate to have him as our senator.”
Downtown Silver Spring residents may soon have a new, convenient grocery store, after the Montgomery County Council cleared the way through a zoning change.
“I sponsored this zoning change because I regularly hear from constituents about the lack of grocery choices in the Ripley District and near the Metro station,” said Councilmember Tom Hucker, who led the initiative.
“The population of this area has increased greatly over the last 10 years, but the retail options have not, and many residents don’t have cars to shop at other grocery stores,” Hucker said.
The council approved the zoning change, called a Zoning Text Amendment, on an 8-1 vote at its Oct. 10 meeting.
Essentially, the change paves the way for Washington Property Co. to have a small, niche grocer on the ground floor of the 440-unit apartment project it plans to build at the former Progress Place site at 8120 Colonial Lane.
“Washington Property on the whole is really excited,” said Janel Crist Kausner, the company’s associate vice president of development. “We see the [zoning text amendment] as transformative for the Ripley District. We’re extremely grateful for Councilmember Hucker’s leadership and that the County Council sees the potential of the Ripley District.”
The new high-rise will be just off Ripley Street, between Georgia Avenue and the Metro and MARC train tracks.
The Bethesda company expects to start construction in spring 2019 and open in fall 2021. Construction will begin after the company finishes building its Solaire 8250 Georgia, a 20-story, 339-unit apartment complex at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Bonifant Street, Kausner said.
The new project will be near Washington Property’s Solaire Silver Spring on Ripley Street, which was built in 2012. The company hasn’t settled on a name for the new complex, but it will incorporate the Solaire brand, Kausner said.
Washington Property received the Colonial Lane property from the county in exchange for building a new $15 million county-owned facility for Progress Place, which serves the area’s homeless community through its Shepherd’s Table and Interfaith Works programs. Progress Place is now about a block away from its former location, on Georgia Avenue.
The plan has been supported by the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee.
Specifically, the zoning change allows Washington Property’s new project to have a height of 270 feet, rather than 200 feet.
Kausner said the company needs the additional height for above-ground parking spaces. Adding the ground-floor retail space will require 85 parking spaces dedicated for shoppers, which would have meant one or more additional levels of underground parking. Given the geology of the area and its close proximity to the rail tracks, that would have been cost prohibitive, she said.
Under the zoning change, in exchange for receiving the added height allowance, Washington Property will provide a 10,000- to 18,000-square-foot, ground-level retail store. Also, the developer must provide a significant public amenity in the area.
“We hope to have a niche grocer — we’re talking to a few potential tenants,” Kausner said. “Or it could be another type of retail amenity for the community. Whatever it is, it will be a good amenity and useful for residents of the community.”
Hucker emphasized that the zoning change won’t increase the area’s population density or affect the historic one-story buildings on the east side of Georgia Avenue.
And because the new store will be within walking distance of many current and future residents, it should actually help reduce traffic in downtown Silver Spring, he said.
“This zoning change is a great example of how county government can work with the private sector to give our residents what they want and need,” Hucker said. “It’s also part of the evolution of downtown Silver Spring into a vibrant community where people can live, work, shop and play.”
It’s time to grab your purple poncho, hop in your Delorean, head to Gotham City and get ready to rock out.
The American Film Institute of Silver Spring on Friday starts its annual Silver Screens weekly series of outdoor movies in Veterans Plaza, with four popular movies that together have racked up more than $850 million in worldwide ticket sales.
But the Friday screenings are all free — no tickets needed.
“Thanks to the generosity of our own American Film Institute, Silver Screens is a great way for families to get together and enjoy some fun movies,” said County Councilmember Tom Hucker, who helped launch the series last year.
The screenings start at 8 p.m., rain or shine, in Veterans Plaza, 1 Veterans Place, in downtown Silver Spring. Moviegoers are invited to bring their own seats.
Here’s this summer’s lineup:
Aug. 11: “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Elisabeth Shue.
Aug. 18: “Lego the Batman Movie” (2017), an animated feature with the voices of Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis and Conan O’Brien.
Aug. 25: “Purple Rain” (1984). Yes, it’s been 33 years since this film starring Prince and its Oscar-winning score was released.
Sept. 1: “School of Rock” (2003), with the irrepressible Jack Black.
Despite some rainy weather in parts of the county Tuesday evening, hundreds of county residents turned out for the 34th annual National Night Out (NNO). In District 5 alone, Councilmember Hucker and staff attended events in the East County, Fairland, Four Corners, Forest Glen, Lyttonsville and Oak View communities.
“It was great to see so many residents meet with our police and firefighters,” Hucker said. “National Night Out is a terrific opportunity for people and our law enforcement personnel and first responders to learn how, together, they can work to make our neighborhoods safer.”
NNO is a nationwide event held on the first Tuesday in August to generate neighborhood support and participation in crime-prevention efforts and is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch.
Hucker began the evening at the West Hillandale pool, where he was joined by Congressman John Sarbanes and McGruff the Crime Dog. Hucker spoke to residents about the county’s efforts to crack down on nuisance neighbors who are causing blight and unsafe conditions in the community.
Hucker also agreed to work with the Hillandale Volunteer Fire Department and the federal General Services Administration to look into the possibility of expanding Station 12 near the FDA campus. Station 12 needs the additional capacity to be able to serve the proposed development at Viva White Oak.
Hucker’s next stop was at Fairland Estates, where he recently got the county to take action on dead trees that were causing dangerous driving conditions for residents. “Fairland Estates can count on two things during our annual National Night Out event — great food and refreshments and the support of responsive county officials like Councilman Tom Hucker,” said Mark Fine president of the Fairland Estates Civic Association. “This year, we again had the pleasure of Mr. Hucker spending some time to meet, greet and answer questions from the neighborhood.”
Hucker’s third stop in East County was perhaps the biggest event of the night. Dozens of residents showed up to the event sponsored by the East County Regional Services Center, the Calverton Citizens Association and public safety officials. Children were able to participate in soccer mini-clinics, pickup basketball games and other lawn games, while their parents learned about a wide range of county services and businesses in the area.
Hucker ended the night at the Northwood-Four Corners and the Forest Estates communities in Silver Spring. Residents in Forest Estates expressed a range of concerns, from parking in Silver Spring to lenient sentencing in drug crimes related to a recent shooting in the Forest Glen area. Hucker agreed to follow up with Police Chief Tom Manger about the need for better communication following these types of crimes and with State’s Attorney John McCarthy about the typical sentence for felons convicted of intent to distribute large quantities of drugs.
Please join us to kick-off
Tom Hucker’s Re-Election Campaign
180 High Park Lane
Silver Spring, MD 20910 RSVP online: tomhucker.com/kickoff
Or contact Nik Sushka at: firstname.lastname@example.org | 309-530-3775
**************************************************************** Special Guests Include: Senator Chris Van Hollen Congressman Jamie Raskin Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart and D20 State Senator Will Smith
Family, friends, and neighbors welcome!
Honorary Host Committee
Emily & Phil Ackerman, Hon. Dan Adcock, Sam Agger, Jason Alinsky, Brian Anleu, Dave Asche, Johanna Berkson, Dana Beyer, Shruti Bhatnagar, Alan Bowser, Hon. Chris Bradbury, Betsy Bretz, Hon. Karen Britto, Scott Brown, Jean Capps, Del. Al Carr, Julio Cerón, Lorig Charkoudian, Del. Bonnie Cullison, Hon. Hoan Dang, Eric Devereaux, Sean Dobson, Joe Edgell, Holly Fechner, Meg Finn, Kit Gage, Tom Gagliardo, Quincey Gamble, Barbara Goldberg Goldman, Hon. Seth Grimes, Tsega Hailemariam, Hon. Mimi Hassanein, Tony Hausner, Mike Hersh, Hon. Marlin Jenkins, Del. Anne Kaiser, Pepita Coulibaly Kragbe, Lynn Koiner, Hon. Peter Kovar, Del. Ben Kramer, Elissa Lichtenstein, Del. Eric Luedtke, Amouzou Maickel, Hon. Tim Male, Sen. Roger Manno, Janet & Richard Metcalf, Del. David Moon, Scott Moore, Del. Maricé Morales, Karen Murphy, Jumana Musa, Paula Ndirangu, Andrea Nunez, Lorraine Pearsall. Brenda Platt, Anita Powell, Kim Propeack, Richard Reis, Marie Ritzo, Mardokai Russom. Abe Saffer, Isaac Salazar, Jerry Samet, Cathy Sarri, Hon. Terry and Joyce Seamens, Daniel Seligman, Paul Shapiro, Hon. Emily Shetty, Jessica Simon, Sen. Will Smith, Hon. Rebecca Smondrowski, Thomas Squire, Hon. Kate Stewart, Nik Sushka, Jeffrey Thames, Sylvia Tognetti, Ellie Trueman, Abeba & Lene Tsegaye, Laura Van Etten, Ada Villatoro, Hon. Janet Williams, Jen Wofford, Mark Woodard, Sen. Craig Zucker
**************************************************************** Getting to the Pearl:
Silver Spring Metro
Giant Parking Lot (towing will be suspended)
Eastern Ave Street Parking (follow permit signs!)
NOAA Parking Garage on East-West Highway
Kennett Street Parking Garage
By Authority: Friends of Tom Hucker, Dennis Desmond, Treasurer.
All funds solicited in connection with this event are by Friends of Tom Hucker, and not by Senator Chris Van Hollen or Congressman Jamie Raskin.
He is the first candidate to file for the District 5 Council seat, according to the BOE website.
As the District 5 County Councilmember, Hucker represents the communities of Briggs Chaney, Burnt Mills, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Fairland, Four Corners, Hillandale, Lyttonsville, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and White Oak.
“Montgomery County is making a lot of progress, and I’m very proud we have achieved so much for Silver Spring, Takoma Park and East County,” said Hucker. “During the last two years we’ve shrunk class sizes, invested in efforts to fight the achievement gap, strengthened our transportation network and developed new programs to help working families. But we’re far from finished so I am running for re-election to ensure our community continues the progress we’re making.”
When asked what he is most proud of in his first term, Hucker referred to the County Council’s commitment to education.
“I’m most proud of the historic Council budget that funds the first reduction in class size in many years and attacks the achievement gap, as well as a large increase in funding for school construction,” he said.
The 2018 Gubernatorial Primary Election is just a little over a year away. It takes place on June 26. Early voting takes place on June 14 – 21, 2018.
You can find out more about Hucker’s campaign, here.
Please support County Councilmember Tom Hucker, and hundreds of workers, shoppers and students in their efforts to save the J5 Metrobus by signing this petition. The J5 is the only express bus between Silver Spring and Twinbrook. Click here to sign the petition to WMATA to save the J5.
“Many people depend on the J5 route every day,” Hucker said. “If Metro needs to save money, it should consider other options such as reducing the number of daily runs or reroute it, rather than eliminate it entirely.”
So far, more than 125 residents have signed a petition asking the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to reconsider its decision.
The petition – which can be found here – is organized by Javel “Jay” Wilson of Takoma Park, who for two years has been riding the J5 from Silver Spring to his job across Rockville Pike from White Flint Mall in North Bethesda.
“Until two years ago, I drove to work,” Wilson said. “Then I learned of the J5 and it made no sense to drive and sit in traffic. So I was able to give my car away to a friend in need and now I take the bus every day.”
The mass transit alternatives, such as Ride On’s Route 5, would be a downgrade, he said.
“On a good day, I’m on the J5 bus 25 minutes to get to work,” Wilson said. The Ride On bus would take 15 minutes longer, he said.
Wilson figures he’s gotten the word out about his petition to only about half of the J5 riders – those who, like him, ride from Silver Spring to Twinbrook in the morning.
“I have to work every day, so I haven’t had contact with the southbound riders in the morning,” he said.
Hucker is asking Paul J. Wiedefeld, WMATA’s CEO and general manager, to consider less drastic alternatives than eliminating the J5 route. Those include fewer daily bus runs and rerouting the bus off the Capital Beltway and onto Routes 410 and 355, which would also relieve pressure on other Ride On routes.
“Elimination of this route will significantly impact the daily commutes of many County residents who rely on it to get to work, school, and home in a timely manner,” Hucker wrote in a letter to Wiedefeld.
“As you know, residents who rely on public transportation often do so of necessity and avoid costlier modes, including Metrorail, to make ends meet,” Hucker wrote. “While WMATA has suggested alternative routes, including the Red Line, it is important to note that each alternative route would require additional fare payment, longer travel time, or route transfers, all of which directly affect a rider’s commute.”
Many merchants in Silver Spring’s Fenton Village have taken a hit from the construction of Studio Plaza, a major new mixed-use project in downtown Silver Spring. The loss of parking spaces, combined with heavy construction equipment and trucks in the streets, is taking its toll, merchants say. They’ll receive help from the county after the County Council’s May 16 sign-off of Councilmember Tom Hucker’s proposal to spend $15,000 to develop a short-term marketing plan to help the businesses weather the construction phase. Final approval is expected on Thursday, 5/25.
The council must “do everything it can to make sure these affected businesses are able to succeed and keep their doors open in Silver Spring,” Hucker said.
Their top need is a marketing plan to raise their visibility and let residents know they’re open for business during construction, he said.
The money will go to the Silver Spring Urban District, which will contract with Silver Spring Inc., a local marketing agency to develop the plan.
Hucker said the county had a particular obligation to help the merchants because the project involves swapping a county surface parking lot in exchange for public spaces in the new 152-space underground garage under construction.
At a meeting in February, several business owners reported that road closures, lack of parking and daily blasting had cut their sales by as much as 30 percent, Hucker said. Work on the project started last summer.
When completed in two years, the 739,553-square-foot, 110-foot-tall complex is expected to have 749 apartments and 114,180 square feet of commercial space, including 36,180 square feet of retail and 78,000 square feet of office space. There will also be public green space. The development is on the block bordered by Silver Spring and Thayer avenues, Fenton Street and Mayor Lane.
The impact of the construction on his business “has been so huge, more than you can imagine,” said Tesega Haile, whose Kaldi’s Social House, an Ethiopian coffee shop and restaurant, has been on Silver Spring Avenue for a little over three years.
He’s particularly feeling the pinch in the morning, he said. Customers who used to park out front and run in to grab a cup of coffee on the go aren’t stopping by as much. There’s a parking garage behind his eatery, but it’s not as convenient, Haile said.
The construction is coming at a tough time for Haile, who recently expanded Kaldi’s, from 1,800 square feet to close to 4,500 square feet, he said. With the expansion came higher rent, plus a 34 percent increase in his payroll for more staff. Yet, his revenues have remained flat.
“In other words, I’m losing,” Haile said.
The new marketing campaign might help, he said, but in the end, “marketing will be in vain without space for parking. Marketing is great, but we need parking.”
Still, Haile sees a silver lining. When Studio Plaza opens, “obviously it will help us somewhat.”
“The line will be going out the door,” he said.
The marketing plan will focus on “leveraging digital channels and direct mail,” said Peter Tan, director of marketing for Silver Spring Inc.
The agency plans to launch a new website featuring the 200 or so businesses in the Fenton Village area. The campaign might also include a scavenger hunt, with the website containing clues that would lead people to various businesses.
Ideally, Tan said, the campaign’s target would extend beyond the Central Business District into nearby areas such as Wheaton and possibly neighborhoods just over the D.C. line.
A new budget proposal by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation would extend fees charged for weekday parking in downtown Silver Spring until 10 p.m.
In a letter to his fellow councilmembers on the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, which considered the administration’s recommendation on April 27, Councilmember Tom Hucker fought back against the proposal.
For one thing, extending the parking fee hours can only hurt downtown merchants at a time when bricks-and-mortar retailers are already suffering, due to the growth of online commerce.
“The County government should be supporting our vulnerable local retailers and should not give any of our residents an additional incentive to stay home and shop online,” Hucker wrote.
Hucker also pointed to county efforts to support “fragile, new small businesses” through initiatives such as microlending.
“Why would we undermine this goal by creating a new disincentive to retail shopping?” he wrote.
Lastly, charging for nighttime parking in downtown Silver Spring could sabotage the reform efforts of the county’s new liquor control chief, Bob Dorfman, to rejuvenate Montgomery’s bars and restaurants, according to Hucker.
Film buffs, bar patrons, concertgoers and foodies enjoying downtown Silver Spring’s burgeoning nightlife scene still have free evening parking for now, after the T&E Committee voted 3-0 to back Councilmember Hucker’s suggestion.
May 1 is International Workers’ Day, an annual celebration of workers around the world. With help from Councilmember Tom Hucker, local custodial workers were able to mark the day with a victory.
Certified Building Services of Derwood, which for a decade has provided custodial services to buildings from Rockville south to Silver Spring and Chevy Chase under a $3 million county contract, agreed to pay almost $20,000 to settle complaints that it intimidated workers trying to join a union.
“Tom was actively engaged and sharing support to the workforce during the organizing campaign,” said Ray Lee, organizing director for UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO. “He was actively involved in the campaign, writing letters that were distributed to workers and the company.”
Hucker praised the settlement. “Workers have a right to organize and join unions to get better pay and working conditions,” he said. “And employers should be held accountable to respect that right.”
The settlement, approved by the National Labor Relations Board, calls for the company to pay a total of $16,000 to three workers who were illegally fired for their organizing activities, according to a news release from the union issued May 1. The money will compensate the workers for back pay and lost benefits. The company will also pay the union almost $3,000 for its expenses incurred during its organizing campaign.
The company’s intimidation efforts paid off, Lee said, as the union lost the election to represent the workers by only three votes.
“The workers were so afraid,” Lee said.
Among them was Rosa Ortiz of Hyattsville, who worked for Certified Building Services for five years, cleaning the county’s Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring.
Ortiz was fired, she said, because the company accused her of union organizing at the clinic, but she wasn’t.
“That wasn’t true,” she said. “We were just talking about what’s going on in the building.”
But it’s not as if Ortiz didn’t want to join the union, as it could have helped stop what she saw as employer abuse. Not only did her supervisor treat her and her co-workers in a “degrading” way, but her paychecks bounced, she said.
“That was the No. 1 thing I complained about,” she said.
The settlement was fair, in that it “acknowledged that I wanted to have a voice in the union family,” Ortiz said. “It was something.”
The settlement stems from a complaint filed by the federal agency’s Baltimore office in March, claiming that Certified Building Services not only fired workers but threatened them with deportation for their organizing activities, according to the union. Besides compensating the workers and union, the company agreed that in the future it will not ask workers about their union activities or threaten them with pay cuts if they select the union to represent them, among other steps.
In addition, the settlement calls for the company to grant representatives of the federal agency access to its facilities to train its supervisors on worker rights under federal labor laws — an important concession, Ortiz said. Also, the company agreed to let agency personnel teach employees about their rights.
As for Ortiz, she’s been working as an organizer for MCGEO since she was fired last year.
“I’m very happy,” she said. “I get to help ladies working with cleaning, helping organize other workers doing the same work.”
Councilmember Tom Hucker took the county’s water utility to task at a recent committee meeting, saying it’s unwittingly steering ratepayers into buying underground pipe insurance from a company that’s been fined for misleading customers.
During the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee’s April 21 discussion of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission budget, Hucker raised questions about the utility’s relationship with HomeServe USA, which sells repair plans to homeowners to cover .
Those fixes include repairs to water pipes that break between the utility’s water main and the house. Some homeowners think such repairs, which can cost thousands of dollars, are the responsibility of the utility, but they’re not: The homeowner is on the hook.
Hucker has two major concerns.
One is that WSSC’s two-year contract with HomeServe, which expires in May 2018, provides the company with access to the utility’s mailing list of ratepayers. Under the deal, HomeServe can solicit business via mailers that carry the WSSC logo. Such an arrangement leads ratepayers to think HomeServe has the imprimatur of WSSC, Hucker said.
The utility provides water service to 1.8 million residents through about 475,000 customer accounts in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Hucker’s other concern is that HomeServe has landed in legal hot water over its business practices.
Six states have taken action against the company, Hucker noted – including Maryland.
Two years ago, the company settled allegations by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office dating to 2010 that the company solicited business by implying that it was acting on behalf of municipal governments, according to a news release from the office. The company also was accused of providing only 11 months of coverage during the first year of its “annual service” offer.
While the agreement with the state was not an admission of guilt or a finding of violation of law, the company agreed to pay $115,000 and remedy the allegations.
Hucker noted that companies such as HomeServe are not regulated as conventional insurance carriers are.
“Our own Office of Consumer Protection has warned ratepayers about engaging in a contract with HomeServe,” Hucker told WSSC officials at the meeting, referring to the county agency.
Plus, D.C. Water, Washington’s water utility, has rejected a possible partnership with HomeServe, he said.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s a great look for WSSC,” Hucker said. “I’m not sure I’d recommend you renew the contract when it’s up.”
Instead, Hucker recommended that WSSC send out a list of repair companies and insurers to ratepayers, who could then choose. “There are other companies out there,” he said.
Carla A. Reid, WSSC’s general manager, said the utility would follow up on Hucker’s recommendation.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen agreed with Hucker. “It’s very confusing,” she said. “Homeowners think you’re recommending them.”
The WSSC website does say that the utility and HomeServe “have worked together in creating this program to ensure it is worthy of WSSC’s endorsement.” The website has a link to a page on the HomeServe website that carries the WSSC logo and reads: “Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) has selected HomeServe to provide you with an optional repair plan that can help protect you from the expense and inconvenience of plumbing emergencies. For its part, WSSC justifies the contract in an October memo, saying that HomeServe agreed to clean up its business practices under the agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office. It also says that HomeServe agreed to pay $300,000 annually into a “hardship fund” to help low-income ratepayers pay their bills.
Actually, broken water lines leading to homes are not all that common in the first place.
Investopedia, a financial information website, lists water line coverage as No. 7 under its list of “15 Insurance Policies You Don’t Need.”
“The odds are in your favor that you will never use this coverage, particularly if you live in a newer home,” the site says. “If you live in an average suburban neighborhood and you need to repair the water line, the distance to the street is short, the likelihood of a problem is low and repair costs are a few thousand dollars or less.”
In its memo, the WSSC says it does not track how often such repairs are needed, as they are made by homeowners, not the utility.
HomeServe sells a variety of home repair plans. The one covering this type of break costs $3.99 a month in Montgomery County.
The company has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, which awarded it 3.92 out of five stars.
Still, 78 percent of 50 customer reviews received by the agency were negative, with a total of 244 customer complaints.
At the committee hearing, Reid pointed out that HomeServe has a 97 percent customer satisfaction rate. But Hucker pointed out that that’s 97 percent of all customers, not just those who’ve needed repairs.
“We should take the 97 percent rate with a grain of salt, considering the rareness of this occurrence,” he said.
HomeServe USA, with offices in Connecticut, is a division of HomeServe plc of the United Kingdom.
As of Sept. 30, 2016, it had 2.8 million customers in the United States, up from 2.1 million a year earlier, according to the parent company’s most recent annual report. It collects $96 annually per U.S. customer.
It offers plans to 49 million homeowners through a utility brand in the U.S., up from 31 million a year earlier.
And even though its annual revenues rose 29 percent to $117.2 million, HomeServe USA posted a net loss of $1.6 million for the year, vs. a net loss of $2.2 million the prior year.
Bethesda Magazine published a new article about a proposal by Councilmembers Berliner, Navarro and Hucker to help entrepreneurs access capital by means of the simple microloan service they can apply today.
“In a letter to colleagues, Berliner and council members Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker said the microloan program would be run through the county’s Workforce Development Corp., and loans would be limited to Montgomery County residents. Recipients would be required to receive business education and technical assistance.”
“We believe,” Berliner, Navarro and Hucker wrote, “our county can and should play a more direct and aggressive role in bridging those gaps in order to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed and prosper.”
Every new parent deserves some time off work with their babies, whether they are newborns, adopted or foster children. But today we heard testimony about new mothers leaving babies in the NICU for a few days while they return to work to pay their bills. I’m Glad WRC-TV is making sure people know about efforts to provide paid leave for parents in Montgomery County and DC. And thanks to Del. Ariana Kelly, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), Working Matters, Public Justice Center, MomsRising.org, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Womens Democratic Club and Jews United for Justice for supporting this common-sense protection for working families!
Get your chew toys and Frisbees ready — Montgomery County’s first dog park inside the Capital Beltway is nearing completion.
Montgomery County currently operates five dog parks, but all are north of the Capital Beltway. The new Silver Spring dog park, which takes up a portion of Ellsworth Urban Park, is being built as a pilot park to test urban dog park designs. This will be the first constructed as part of a county plan to add 11 more dog parks by 2022.
The popularity and demand for dog parks is not surprising — There are now more households with dogs than with kids! The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates there are nearly 80 million pet dogs in the United States. Dogs motivate people to get outside, exercise, and connect with others, and dog parks are one of the fastest-growing park amenities in the country.
The Silver Spring dog park will feature a smaller area for “timid dogs” and a large area for “well-socialized” dogs. Each area is surrounded by a 5-foot-high fence that includes a double-gated entry system. The half-acre dog is scheduled for completion in May.
The Great Recession may be over, but the aftermath is still being felt in communities all across the country. Here in Montgomery County, we have more than 400 abandoned properties that continue to drive down nearby home values and attract neighborhood crime.
Abandoned homes are a magnet for dangerous criminal activities, such as squatting, arson and defacement. Unused houses are nearly twice as likely than occupied houses to generate calls for fire or police service, and they lower neighboring property values by as much as 10%. Not only are abandoned houses an eyesore, they pose a serious public safety risk and deter new families from purchasing homes in our county.
I am introducing legislation to reduce the number of abandoned homes and make our community safer. My bill will require unoccupied homeowners to register with the county, and will increase inspections and implement graduated fees for unmaintained homes.Enacting this bill could deter homeowners from leaving properties unused and unkempt for long periods of time, and gives absentee owners incentives to repair and then to sell, rent, or occupy their property.
Here are the basic guidelines of my proposal:
Establish a vacant property registration
Require an initial inspection within a month of registering.
Allow homeowners 30 days to fix any code violations.
Charge any subsequent inspections performed by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs(DHCA) to the homeowner using a graduated fee schedule (similar to the False Alarm Response Fee Schedule).
Properties that are no longer in use are more than just a symptom of macroeconomic forces — their links to crime and sinking property values make them unique problems in and of themselves. In order to stave off community decline and disinvestment, we have to act now.
If you know of any abandoned properties in your community, I am asking you to please send your photos and locations to email@example.com. Together, we will keep our community safe and strong.
Last week, the County Council unanimously supported my amendment to restore funding for the Maydale Nature Center, we passed $7.5 million to revitalize Hillandale Park, and we broke ground on the new Washington Adventist Hospital in White Oak.
Hillandale Park Hillandale residents will be able to enjoy long-overdue renovations to Hillandale Park, which includes, a new entrance and sidewalk, hard surface internal trail loop with exercise equipment and heart-smart trail markers, restrooms, full size soccer field with irrigation and fencing, themed multi-age playground with public art, Snake Path and Dinosaur Egg Nest, two picnic shelters, two tennis courts with lighting, two basketball courts with lighting, stormwater management facilities, and landscaping.
Maydale Nature Center It’s no secret that there has been a lack of investment in East County. I will continue prioritizing much-needed projects like the revitalization of the Maydale Nature Center. We’re very fortunate to live in such a beautiful region, and we need to expand opportunities to connect our youth to the wonders of our natural environment. Since many Montgomery County Public Schools cannot afford to send their students far across the County to attend outdoor education programs, many educators have expressed to me an interest in seeing new options, closer to them.
The idea to restore the nature center and improve outdoor education opportunities to the historically underserved children of East County received unanimous support. My amendment locks down $250,000 in funding and directs Montgomery Parks to transport and install a modular classroom, which will serve as a year-round Nature Center. Maydale was a widely popular Parks resource that served thousands of students annually between 1994 and 2007, and I am glad to see that we are committing to its restoration and revitalization.
Washington Adventist Hospital East County residents deserve access to quality healthcare. Through a partnership with the FDA, Washington Adventist Hospital is relocating from Takoma Park to White Oak, in a move that transforms White Oak into a hub for biomedical research. In fact, it’s estimated that the regional impact of post-construction spending of $214.8 million will support 1,901 jobs and generate an economic boost of $307.9 million. As part of the White Oak Gateway Master Plan, the modernized healthcare facility will bring critical investments into the County, and contribute to a vibrant and diverse local economy.
Last week’s victories for East County are just the beginning. If you have any questions or concerns about the upcoming improvements to the Washington Adventist Hospital, the Maydale Nature Center or Hillandale Park, please feel free to reach out to Councilmember.firstname.lastname@example.org or call (240) 777-7960.
Many of us know how hard it can be to keep up with student loans. With national student loan debt soaring over one trillion dollars, this issue has become a crisis for those wishing to purchase a home or start a family. Student loan refinancing is a critically important public policy challenge, and we now have the chance to implement a program that could allow teachers, nurses, attorneys and others to save thousands of dollars each year.
Many of our local business leaders, including Julie Verratti – Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring – have a unique experience with student loan debt. According to Julie, having the ability to refinance loans at lower rates may have helped free up more cash to start her business. We need to make it easier for our young entrepreneurs to thrive.
Last week, the Montgomery County Delegation in Annapolis unanimously supported the creation of a Montgomery County Student Loan Refinancing Authority (bill MC 27-16). Enacting this legislation would mean that Montgomery County could provide student loan refinancing for residents that would substantially reduce the financial burden on our young people and working-families, free up funds that will be reinvested in our economy, and improve our county’s regional competitiveness to attract new talent (following the example of Las Vegas business loans by Credit Professor and similar organisations). We all want to lessen the economic burden on our neighbors and provide incentives for young workers to live in Montgomery County, as well as encourage businesses to start and grow here.
The House version of the bill (HB1079) will have a public Ways & Means Committee hearing on March 7th at 1:00 p.m. Please contact your local officials and ask them to support HB1079!
Today, Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker introduced a resolution to formally oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing along the Atlantic Coast. If it passes, Montgomery County will become the largest local jurisdiction to oppose offshore drilling – Ocean City, Baltimore and 100 other local jurisdictions have already taken a stand.
Councilmember Hucker made this statement after introducing the resolution, “Opening up our Atlantic shores to drilling would endanger Maryland’s coastal wetlands, exacerbate climate change, and pose a serious threat to marine wildlife. We need to get serious about protecting our nation’s long-term energy needs by expanding investments in renewable energy, while continuing to protect our state’s coastal environment.”
More than 700 federal, state and local elected officials and over 1,000 business interests have all publicly opposed drilling off the Atlantic Coast, citing threats to local ecosystems and economies. Click here to sign a petition to Governor Hogan and share your support for opposing offshore drilling.
Today, Montgomery County Councilmember Hucker and DC Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd met in Silver Spring to coordinate efforts around the 16th Street Traffic Circle. The Traffic Circle has been the site of routine traffic and safety incidents for several years. Both representatives are in the first years of their respective terms, and they are looking at this problem with fresh perspectives, and a commitment to bring their respective jurisdictions together to make progress.
Earlier in the month Councilmember Todd’s office organized a site visit of the area with DC Department of Transportation, DC Department of General Services, and the Mayor’s Office. Councilmember Hucker’s office is also working to schedule a similar site visit with officials from Montgomery County Department of Transportation, and the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Both Councilmembers agreed to facilitate coordinating meetings with their offices as well as stakeholders from DC, Montgomery County, and the State of Maryland to discuss both immediate and long-term actions to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at the 16th Street Traffic Circle.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback about this please contact our office at email@example.com.
A number of other bills have been posted on the county delegation’s website for consideration this year. The public will have an opportunity to comment on all the bills at a 7 p.m. Nov. 30 public hearing at the County Council office building in Rockville.
Here is some of the legislation proposed by the county’s delegation this year:
To increase the number of early voting centers – MC 14-16
This bill would increase the number of early voting centers from eight to 10 in the county. The legislation follows controversy surrounding early voting centers after the Board of Elections voted to relocate centers in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase. The Republican majority board later reinstated the voting centers after Democrats vehemently protested the change. However, after the controversy was settled, County Executive Ike Leggett said in a letter he would support state legislation that would add an early voting site in Potomac.
To enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority – MC 27-16
More than a dozen county representatives signed on to support this bill, which would enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority. The authority could help local students finance the cost of higher education through loans it would offer, according to the bill. Because this is “enabling legislation,” the bill would not automatically set up the authority upon passage; county officials would have to establish the authority and appoint a five-member board to run it. If established, the authority could then raise funds by issuing bonds in order to provide college loans to students.
The county school system’s proposal to outfit all high schools with artificial turf playing fields ran into some early opposition this week from County Council member Tom Hucker.
Hucker, who represents Silver Spring, testified at a Board of Education (BOE) public hearing Monday on the recommended six-year capital budgetreleased late last month by Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers.
After testifying in support of the addition projects Bowers proposed for elementary schools in Silver Spring, Hucker spoke out against the interim superintendent’s proposal to include $11 million in the $1.72 billion budget to begin installing the artificial turf fields at the 19 county high schools without one. Six high schools already have artificial turf fields.
Hucker told BOE members that money shouldn’t be spent on artificial turf fields until Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) addresses a backlog of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades to Goodman brand heating at schools around the county.
“As long as we face huge needs on maintenance, to me we shouldn’t be spending millions on unnecessary luxuries like artificial turf fields until we have a safe classroom and adequate heating and air conditioning for each of our school children,” Hucker said. “We should commit ourselves together not to spend any dollars on luxuries like artificial turf until that day.”
Panorama of the artificial turf field at Walter Johnson High School, via Flickr user WJ Soccer
Hucker and the other eight council members will have final say on the school system’s capital budget when they take up the county’s entire six-year capital budget next spring.
Bowers recommended the $11 million over the next six years to complement any private fundraising from school booster clubs or other organizations that would be put toward paying for artificial turf fields.
The Thomas S. Wootton High School athletics booster club, MCPS and Bethesda Soccer youth soccer league combined to pay for a $1.2 million artificial turf field that now serves as the Rockville school’s main field.
Bowers said constant use of existing grass fields, by school teams and by outside community groups, was contributing to unsafe playing conditions.
“MCPS school fields are constantly used by schools and the community and the artificial turf will provide safe playing conditions for all participants in sporting activities,” Bowers said.
He recommended budgeting $2.5 million toward the program in fiscal year 2017.
His recommendation didn’t detail what kind of artificial turf fields MCPS and partner groups will pursue. Concerns about the possibly carcinogenic chemicals in crumb rubber, which fill traditional turf fields, inspired the County Council to pass a resolution earlier this year pushing for turf fields filled with organic materials only.
In his recommended capital budget, Bowers proposed a substantial increase in funding to address a backlog of about $160 million worth of HVAC projects, according to recommended budget documents.
MCPS says the school system would require $28 million per year for the next 10 years to address the entire backlog of HVAC projects, meaning Bowers’ recommendation of $122 million over the entire six-year budget “only begins to address this problem,” according to Bowers’ budget proposal.
“One family is in need of two twin beds and some chairs. Donations of food, water, or other large items can drop them off at A Wider Circle, 9159 Brookville Road, from 9am – 6 pm Monday -Saturday, and 12 to 6 pm on Sunday. Contact Anne Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org; 301-608-3504.”