Dec. 3 will a begin a new era in Montgomery County, with one of the largest turnovers in County government in recent memory.
For years, voters reelected incumbents by wide margins, with low voter turnouts in both primaries and general election campaigns. But now, thanks to a term-limit referendum voters had passed in 2016, four newly-elected members of the Montgomery County Council will take office for the first time starting Dec. 3.
At-large Democrats Will Jawando, 35, Evan Glass, 41, and Gabe Albornoz, 42, will replace outgoing at-large council members George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich, who will take over as County Executive. Democrat Andrew Friedson, 32, will replace Roger Berliner in the District-1 seat.
“A lot of us have experience in different ways, be it with government policy or community work,” Jawando said. “I don’t think you have anyone coming in that is totally a novice when it comes to County government operations.”
Jawando touted his experience working in public engagement in the Obama administration as well as having a law degree, making him the only lawyer on the new Council.
The new County Council will be younger, more racially diverse and more male than it previously has been in recent years, with Friedson, at age 32, being one of the youngest County Council members in history.
“I’m coming into this with a really good base of experience, but obviously there always is a lot to learn, and I’m really putting together a really seasoned staff,” said Friedson, who previously worked as a policy advisor, deputy chief of staff and division director for the Maryland comptroller,
For the four newcomers, the priorities seem vaguely aligned. All have said they are focused on improving the County’s poor reputation for business by streamlining the regulatory regime. All four have said they want to find ways to make the County government run more efficiently. And all four have said they want to find a way to expand pre-kindergarten education.
It is unclear just how the four will at-large members will differ from the four they will be replacing, but one thing is clear: they lack the experience that Elrich, Floreen, Leventhal and Berliner have.
“For the last 15 years, I have been a civic leader and a nonprofit leader working closely with County government, so I’m very familiar with how the County operates,” Glass, a former CNN reporter, said. “As for being a new Council member, there will absolutely be a learning curve and adjustment period.”
Glass, who won the vote total among all at-large candidates, will also be the first openly gay member of the County Council after he is sworn in Dec. 3.
One of the talking points against term limits is that it would rob the Council of much of its experience, and the inexperienced legislators who would replace them would find themselves relying on bureaucrats and lobbyists to help navigate local government.
Albornoz, who is the County’s current Recreation Department director, said that he anticipates early in his term that he will rely on the experienced staff he will hire to help guide him through.
“The Council goes on a recess shortly after we are sworn in, which will give us some time to adjust and get our staff in place,” Albornoz said.
One of the first tasks for the new members of the County Council will be dealing with an unpopular issue – budget cuts. County staff is projecting another budget revenue shortfall, meaning that again the County Council will have to make budget cuts.
The budget cuts will be a baptism into the inner workings of County government, line-item budgeting and competing interests for the four inexperienced legislators, who will have to figure out a way to make unpopular decisions and potentially face the ire of activists, residents and community leaders who decry any cuts they decide to make.
Perhaps the most daunting issue of all will be how the County decides what to do on small cell antennas. A proposed zoning text amendment had been introduced by Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large) which would have facilitated the expansion of small cell antennas and towers in the County that telecommunication company representatives said are needed to accommodate a growing demand for service. However, the ZTA failed to pass by the Oct. 31 deadline, as some council members wanted to put more regulations on their placement.
Now the issue will likely be decided by the new Council. In acts of prudence or political caution, Jawando, Glass, Friedman and Albornoz have not taken a position on the contentious issue, saying they are open-minded about what to do and are currently listening to people on both sides.