By Nickolai Sukharev @Nickolaiss
GERMANTOWN — With the 2018 election finished, Germantown residents had the opportunity on Saturday to ask County Executive-elect Marc Elrich questions about his plans for leading the county.
Following a simple Q&A format in the first of five listening sessions, residents received two minutes each to ask questions, with Elrich providing a response or an assurance to pursue a particular issue.
Several residents asked the incoming County Executive if he would support the municipalization; Elrich said he would.
“We’re going to try to make sure that we hear people’s concerns and we address those concerns,” Elrich said after the event. “If [the county’s services] aren’t meeting expectations or if there are issues with service delivery, then I expect us to work to work to address those issues.”
“I would not oppose any part of the county municipalizing themselves,” he added.
With the recent guilty plea of Byung Il Bang, who admitted to defrauding the county of $6.7 million, Dan McHugh, president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, asked if Elrich would acknowledge the “Sage Report,” which forecasts slow economic growth for the County.
Drafted by Sage Policy Group, Inc., and submitted to Empower Montgomery, a nonprofit founded by developer Charlie Nulsen, Elrich dismissed the report, saying it can be “taken apart in two seconds. ”
Adding that McHugh conflated two different things, Elrich reiterated that the issues surrounding Bang’s guilty plea, which included lack of supervision and allowing one person to handle payments and invoices, would be mitigated through proper oversight and delegation of financial tasks.
On housing, an organizer with CASA del Maryland asked about inflated utility bills. Elrich said that he sponsored a tenants’ rights association in 2016 that provided enhanced tenant-landlord relations, Among numerous provisions of the association were annual inspections of certain rental properties, requiring the publication of certain information related to rental housing, and allowing the County to review certain rent increases.
“Part of [the legislation] was to make sure that we had inspections and better inspections,” Elrich said. “A third of the people in this county are renters, and many of them live in conditions that are … deplorable.”
Attendees asked if he would fully fund the Montgomery County Public Schools’ operational budget and if he supports an audit of the school system. Since budget authority primarily rests with the MCPS Board of Education, Elrich explained, the County Executive’s authority is limited to only broad areas while audits are handled by the state.
One resident asked when the County would stop burning coal for power. Elrich said he would work to bring renewable and clean energy to the County, adding, “I think we have to do everything that we can do.”
Elrich said converting to other power sources would require multiple approaches when it comes to cars and buildings.
A middle-school student from Westland Middle School asked if Elrich would support a ban on straws and single-use plastics.
“I do think it’s time for us to move past straws, and we do have options that cause problems that plastic straws have,” Elrich said, adding that he plans to also work with the future County Council to consider legislation on the issue.
Responding to a question about the future placement of small cell towers around the county, Elrich said that due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the county is prohibited from challenging the Federal Communications Commission on the health effects of wireless technology but added the County plans to sue the federal agency for not carrying out a health study on the technology.
The remaining listening sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m., at the East County Community Center; Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m., at Olney Elementary School; and Saturday, Dec., 1 at 3 p.m., at Takoma Park Middle School.
A session originally scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m., at Cabin John Middle School, was canceled due to inclement weather but will be rescheduled.