State of County Fiscal Health -- a Mixed Economic Bag

By Ann E. Marimow and Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Montgomery County Council's Management and Fiscal Policy Committee got a mixed forecast this week from the county's team of economists and budget gurus.

The county's unemployment rate remains low, but housing construction and residential sales are down. Income tax revenue is flowing better than anticipated, but the slow pace of home sales means the county is collecting less money than projected from taxes on the transfer of property.

Council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County), the heir apparent for the president's slot, and council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) were grateful for the briefing. But they expressed disbelief about the lack of fresh numbers on revenue from capital gains. Turns out, the latest figures available from the comptroller's office are more than five years old.

Not to worry, Praisner hinted, Montgomery County will soon have a friend in the comptroller's office, which tracks such data: Comptroller-elect Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery).

Said Praisner: "Let's make this one of our priorities with the new comptroller. How can you forecast if you don't have the data?"

Franchot Names Transition Team

Speaking of Franchot, the incoming comptroller has announced his 47-member transition team, which features some familiar local faces including two outgoing pols. The team is co-chaired by Douglas M. Duncan (D), who leaves office Monday after 12 years. He is joined by council member Howard A. Denis, the lone Republican who lost his District 1 (Potomac-Bethesda) seat this month to Democrat Roger Berliner.

Among the other members are John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, and Beverley Swaim-Staley, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget.

Some community leaders are working overtime, helping Franchot and serving on County Executive-elect Isiah " Ike" Leggett's transition team. Double-hitters include: Barbara Krumsiek, president of the Calvert Group; Judge Chung Pak, a leader in the Asian American community; and CASA of Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres.

A Fight, and Now Dueling Complaints?

There's an interesting side note to the alleged brawl between two members of Montgomery County's Republican Central Committee -- school board member Stephen N. Abrams and former County Council candidate Adol T. Owen-Williams II. In recent weeks, both men have filed complaints charging the other with assault in an incident that took place Nov. 13.

While prosecutors are still looking into the merits of the men's charges, some watchers have begun to ask questions about what this incident could mean for Abrams's political future in the county. The 63-year-old is a former Rockville City Council member who has two years left on his school board term representing residents in the Rockville-Potomac district. Could his tenure be cut short because of the alleged assault charges?

Turns out under state education law, it would be left to the County Council -- not the school board -- to determine. Under the law, the County Council could remove a school board member for four reasons: immorality, misconduct, incompetence or willful neglect of duty. There is a process that must be followed to avoid the arbitrary removal of a public official. The person would have to know what the allegations are and have a chance to respond during a hearing.

It's important to note that the case is pending, and it's possible that the complaints can be dealt with in a mediation session, scheduled for today.

Owen-Williams claims that Abrams attacked him -- grabbing him by the throat and slamming his head against a wall -- after he inquired about a pledge to settle campaign debts. Owen-Williams, who was a Republican candidate for County Council, stepped aside in October to allow Abrams to take his spot on the November ballot. In exchange, he said, Abrams pledged to help him take care of the $5,000 he'd spent in the primary race.

Abrams said it was Owen-Williams, who is five inches taller, who attacked him that evening in the stairwell at Republican headquarters in Rockville. And while he may have offered to help Owen-Williams with his debt, Abrams said, that didn't mean giving him the money outright.

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