ROCKVILLE – In her final press conference as Montgomery County Council President on Nov. 25, Nancy Navarro reviewed the recent passages of bills and the successes of the Montgomery County Council to close out the calendar year.
Navarro, who was first elected as the District 4 representative in a special election in 2009 and re-elected two other times, was the first Latina member in the council’s history. In 2013, she was elected by the council to be its president.
Even with her longevity within the county government, Navarro said that this year was a very productive one despite all the changes made following the 2018 election cycle.
“I can say that I’m really proud because, in my opinion, it was a very productive year under a lot of trying circumstances with all the changes,” Navarro said. “But this council was able to produce a lot of really important not only pieces of legislation but also launch important initiatives so for that I am really grateful and really proud of the work.”
To start, she reflected on the recent passage of the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act that has already garnered the attention of several other jurisdictions and counties. The bill, which passed on Nov. 19, will establish a racial equity and social justice program as well as an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice in the Executive branch of the county government.
The work in making the bill possible started after a workshop in January, where 42 members of the county’s leaders came together to examine the county’s racial equity issues, Navarro said. Out of that meeting, county officials held community conversation town hall events that allow residents to provide more feedback that the new office positions will work to examine further.
“This is a county that is the microcosm of the nation and the world,” Navarro said. “We do need to understand that this is not a homogenous issue, and it is important to know where we have been and where we would want to go.”
For Navarro, the passage of the bill is “a start” to bring more racial equity to county alongside other legislation that was passed during the year that focused on community policing and education.
Navarro gave the example of the passing of the CROWN Act back on Nov. 5. CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) prohibits discrimination based on natural hairstyles such as braids, locks, afros, curls and twists. Anyone caught discriminating someone based on appearance can receive a penalty up to $5,000.
Navarro worked together with Councilmember Will Jawando to sponsor the bill. Both stated the importance of the bill and how it can affect their daughters in the future.
“I will never forget the first time one of my daughters asked me why her hair wasn’t straight like the girls on television,” Jawando said. “I told her she was beautiful the way she was created. That is why I introduced the CROWN Act with my colleague Nancy Navarro, to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles in Montgomery County.”
However, there is still work that needs to be done in terms of housing in the county. While the council passed a resolution to support the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (MWCOG) housing goals, the council president called affordable housing “a challenge” for the county that needs to be addressed. Navarro recently met with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks to discuss better housing strategy for both counties as more businesses come into the metropolitan region.
“When Northern Virginia lands Amazon, we know the whole region benefits from that,” Navarro said. “So anytime that we are able to work collaboratively and land big economic development assets, we know that the region benefits. We would rather them be here than anywhere else in the country.”
Despite her term as council president coming to an end, Navarro is still busy as she is the lead sponsor for a bill would establish an Office of Grants Management in the county. According to the legislation, the office would be the “central point of contact” for those who receive an award from the county council in the hopes that the process of releasing grants is more efficient and manageable.
Currently, the county has two separate grant programs, Community Development Block Grants through the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and Community Services Grants with the Department of Health and Human Services. Navarro, who co-founded two different nonprofit organizations before entering public office, said bringing more clarity to the process and centralizing everything to making it easier for organizations to plan out their budgets as well. The bill will go up for a vote on Nov. 26 before the Thanksgiving break.
“It has been for me, an honor, to look back in a year at all the change and see the body of work and see how productive we have been,” Navarro said.
Sitting in with Navarro was Council Vice President Sidney Katz, who is expected to take over Navarro’s role during the next session. Council officers will be elected on Dec. 3.