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KENSINGTON — County residents had a final opportunity to voice their concerns as County Executive Marc Elrich held his last listening session on Dec. 20 at Albert Einstein High School.
“I heard consistent themes around the County, and I’ve learned about issues in areas that I didn’t know about,” Elrich said after the event. “It’s been kind of illuminating … and I feel like people are really appreciative.”
Questions focused on countywide issues such as housing and transportation and on localized issues specific to particular communities, including County services, traffic flow and code enforcement.
Thursday’s event marks the eighth and final session held by Elrich around the County since winning the Nov. 6 election over Republican Robin Ficker and unaffiliated candidate Nancy Floreen.
Previous sessions took place in Germantown on Nov. 17, Silver Spring on Nov. 17, Olney on Nov. 29, Takoma Park on Dec. 1, Poolesville on Dec. 11, Bethesda on Dec. 15, and Potomac on Dec. 17.
The final session began with a man asking Elrich what the County could do for County athletes to become “more functional members of the community.”
Elrich, 69, recounted his son played basketball against some teams who would not shake hands with each other and “our involvement in athletics ought to be more than whether or not you bring back a win for the school, but it should be about building character.”
A woman, who did not clarify which part of the County she resides in, asked the County Executive about regional services centers around the County.
Elrich responded, saying that he will look into “reinvigorating” the regional service centers — adding that “cuts were made under a very difficult time.”
A homeless woman, who said she is currently residing at the Interfaith Works Women’s Center in Rockville, said the shelter is overcrowded and lacks toilet paper.
Elrich said he would look at the shelter’s immediate needs and added that “long-term homelessness is an issue that we’re going to have to continue to look at.”
Another homeless woman, who said she is a “licensed educator,” asked Elrich about the criminalization of homeless individuals for offenses such as trespassing, explaining that the infractions prevent her from obtaining employment.
“Something is wrong in this country when we care more about immigrants than multi-generational citizens,” she added. “I am appalled how I have been treated in my own country … and so I can’t achieve the American Dream because the ‘Americans’ want other people to come here and achieve the American Dream.”
Elrich responded that the County’s “responsibility is to take care of everyone” but did not provide a specific response. Instead, he advised the woman to follow up with his staff.
One County resident said he had observed the County becoming increasingly congested and suggested the County regulate businesses hours as a means of reducing traffic during certain times of the day.
Elrich explained that the County cannot dictate when businesses open and close but said he would like to encourage teleworking to reduce the number of cars on the road.
The County Executive further explained that improvements to the American Legion Memorial Bridge, as opposed to widening Interstates 270 and 495, would relieve much of the congestion further east and north.
A man presenting himself as a former construction inspector for Baltimore said he would like to see a more- significant effort on revitalizing unused and underused residential buildings in the County.
Citing one of his campaign promises, Elrich said he is in the process of changing the inspection program to prioritize apartment buildings and would create a “bad list” of buildings that routinely violate housing codes.
Recalling President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural speech, a woman asked Elrich “What can we do to help you do your job better?”
“When I was a young girl, I remember President Kennedy saying that to us as a nation, and it did have an impact on my household and on my parents and on my brother,” she added while receiving applause.
Elrich explained that he would like to expand volunteer opportunities to “make good use of people … and create a culture of continuous improvement.”
At the end of the session, a man asked Elrich the most-common question he had received during the listening sessions.
“People in the County are a lot alike, and then there are differences,” Elrich said.
“Immigration is a big issue … everyone is concerned about traffic, and there are lots of comments on rapid transit and infrastructure.”