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GAITHERSBURG — When longtime Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz was elected to the County Council in 2014, Jud Ashman’s colleagues on the City Council appointed him to serve as mayor. The council selected Neil Harris out of a dozen applicants to serve the remaining year of Ashman’s final term on the council.
In 2015, Harris was elected to a full term and he served as council vice president in 2017. In this fall’s municipal election, three of the city’s council seats are up for election, and Harris is seeking a second full term.
Harris, grew up in Philadelphia, earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and worked for many years in the software industry. In the mid-2000s, Harris became active with the Kentlands Citizens Assembly, one of the largest homeowners associations in the area, and served as president and chairman of the board. He also served on the city’s Economic and Business Development Committee before his appointment to the council.
Harris also serves on the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments Transportation Advisory Committee.
“Early in my time on the council, I was told by a mentor of mine not to rock the boat,” Harris said. “My answer to that was, ‘Why are we here if not to make things happen?’”
Harris said his background in business helps him find concrete and workable solutions to issues confronting Gaithersburg.
“Gaithersburg has a vision for the city which is nice but very generic,” Harris said. “It just listed the things all cities want: good schools, good jobs, affordable housing, and the like. I want to see the data. I want qualitative analysis to determine how we can actually get to where we want to be.”
Harris said that as a result of his advice, Gaithersburg created a software program to gather data on every asset maintained by the city.
“I’m very proud of my role in proposing long-term solutions to congestion and other traffic issues that affect our area,” Harris said. “When the president of the council of governments came to the city, he described me as a ‘thought leader’ on the issue[s].”
Funding for school construction has long been a hot-button issue in Gaithersburg, where several of the elementary schools that serve the city are operating over capacity.
“School capacity came up at the first city council meeting I served on,” Harris said. “The current system isn’t very effective. Cities are supposed to let MCPS know what they need and basically hope they find it in their hearts to give it to them. We’re becoming much more vocal in expressing the needs of the city and proactive in terms of finding solutions. For instance, the proposed expansion of the Kentlands could bring in another elementary school’s worth of children, so we’ve already identified potential sites to MCPS.”
Harris said that his influence had led the city to adopt a more concrete approach to its goals.
“We’ve hired a consultant to help us realize our vision for Gaithersburg,” Harris said. “In the past, early in the year, we’ve held a planning retreat where the department heads outline how they’ll spend the budget in the coming year. This year, in place of that, we’re going to hear a presentation from the consultant about how to realize our vision.”
Harris lives in the Kentlands with his wife, Michelle, and son, Sam. He also has two adult daughters, Elizabeth and Jessica, from a previous marriage.