Note: This profile includes excerpts from an interview conducted on June 18, 2015, and so does not take into account events after that date. It is the fourth in a series that has profiled Rockville City Council members and the mayor. The fifth member of the council, Julie Palakovich Carr, declined to take part in the series.
ROCKVILLE — As the current city council session starts to wrap up, Council member Tom Moore said he is proud of what the council has accomplished so far.
Two recent and contentious issues – Adequate Public Facilities Standards and the animal control ordinance – both are successes, he said. Moore initially proposed APFS changes to the council, which passed and aligned the requirements for school capacity for developers with the county’s requirements. He also supported changes to the animal control ordinance, which will allow chickens in the city limits and requires licensing of cats.
Those discussions spanned months prior to the council votes, but Moore said that is because of the importance of both issues.
“The AFPS is probably the single most important regulatory change that this council is going to make,” Moore said. “I think, for my blood pressure’s sake and family’s sake, faster would have been better, but for the sake of the community and the city I think the amount of time we spent, the amount of process we had was justified.”
And part of what he loves about being on the City Council is the ability to make actual change in the lives of residents much more quickly than other governing bodies.
“You look at what Congress does and things take years to happen. You look at even the Maryland State General Assembly, and you know it takes several sessions for things to happen. County Council gets things done pretty quickly, but even then there is a lot of apprehension. Here you know we take a vote and things happen,” he said.
Although Moore felt the APFS and animal control discussions took an appropriate amount of time, he said the classification and compensation study discussions have taken too long because other council members did not ask for information early enough. At a meeting where Moore said they were close to taking a vote, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Virginia Onley wanted to reconsider the cost of a stepped pay system for some employees because they had asked for that information earlier in the process and not gotten it.
In interviews, Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg said they sometimes feel they are not receiving all information they need from staff. Moore said he has not had that problem.
“(For the comp and class study), the staff bent over backwards to ask us over and over again if we needed any more information from them, and frequently there was no response. It doesn’t work as legislating body to later in the process go back and to say we didn’t get x, y, and z. Well you didn’t ask for x, y, and z, or maybe you didn’t like the answer you got, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t get the answer,” Moore said. “In my experience when I ask for information, I get that information when it is sometimes maybe even frequently not the answer I would like, but I don’t then go around and pretend I didn’t get an answer…. And one of the things that I admire most about the city manager and the city staff is that they are absolutely unafraid to tell us what we don’t want to hear.”
He said he has been surprised when his colleagues did not ask for information a couple of weeks before the relevant meeting and encourages them to do so. He said even when he thinks he has not gotten information, he usually has and just forgot.
“I do need to ask for it, and I do need to be clear about what I’m asking for. But I keep every email I send and every email I receive. And when I go back and look at those things, if I ever think that I haven’t gotten the information I need – and, you know, I can invariably go back and check my emails and be like ‘Oh, ,no I did’ – I actually had forgotten I received it or, you know, I blocked it out because I didn’t like it, but I get it,” Moore said.
He also said that tension on the council does not lead to dysfunction and cited the major measures passed this term. Moore said that because he and the other members take the Open Meetings Act seriously, a lot of the tension during Monday meetings shows the public what other councils may have worked out behind closed doors.
“I think it is great for transparency. What it does though is it takes a lot of disagreements that used to be settled behind closed doors and brings them out in public on TV, and what it is that the public is seeing the sausage being made, and that was exactly the intent of the law,” Moore said. “That is the law working great, and I would suggest that if you see a mayor and council or a governing body that is not … that has no tension, is not disagreeing on anything, that they are perhaps not taking the Open Meetings Act as seriously as the Rockville mayor and council are.”
Moore also said he believes Newton runs the meetings well.
“I have my differences with the mayor on lots and lots of policy issues, but I think she runs a pretty good meeting and the level of discussion that she encourages and enforces has been much higher than it was last term,” Moore said. “So, I’ve actually been very pleased with it.”
In past interviews, Newton said she has had conversations with the city manager about staff providing the necessary information. She also said it requires a different relationship between her and the city manager because she treats it more or less as a full-time job. But Moore said Newton can overstep in how much she tries to oversee the day-to-day operations.
“This city runs best when all members of the mayor and council understand their roles and responsibilities and act accordingly. The city manager is well aware of her responsibilities and is doing a terrific job fulfilling those,” Moore said. “My main concern is not whether the city manager is doing her job. My main concern is that the mayor and council make sure it is doing its job. I’m not doing anybody else’s job.”
Moore said he has not yet decided whether he wants to run for re-election, but looking to the future of Rockville, he said the APFS vote will lead the city in the right direction and allow the city to advocate at the county level for what the standards should be.
He also said he hopes the future councils can take advantage of the city’s sometimes “conservative” budgeting practices to invest in infrastructure.
Whether he runs or not, Moore said he now appreciates the city even more and how much work goes into it.
“Rockville is a terrific city, and serving it for four years has given me greater insight to how great a city it is, how many different pieces there are and making that so,” he said. “It was a great city when I arrived and hopefully be even a little better when I leave.”