Free Library Parking, Perhaps, But No Free Discussion of It

By Steve Hendrix and Aruna Jain
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 17, 2007

The itinerary did say "public hearing," and these members of the public were definitely ready to be heard.

Three Rockville activists familiar to anyone who has followed the fight over free parking at county libraries, Irwin Cohen, Lora Meisner and Jacques Gelin, were eager to opine at the open hearing last week on the parking budget proposal. (In short, they didn't like it -- too little money for the program and too much likelihood that the council might step in later and end the free-parking plan). The three prepared statements, signed onto the speakers list and showed up in the seventh-floor hearing room ready to talk.

But Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County), the council's president, had other ideas. The chairman of the planning, housing and economic development committee invited the three down to the witness table (they were the only speakers) and promptly short-circuited their plans by strictly limiting the hearing to the budget proposal at hand: action on a council committee recommendation to fund free parking until the fall. A simple for or against the budget item, fine. A soaring defense of the principle of free library parking, not allowed.

Cohen, forced to ignore his prepared remarks (titled "Don't Bring Back Discrimination") gamely tried to slip in a few entreaties not to tinker with the free-parking plan that the council approved last year. But Praisner brooked no straying.

"I remind you that there is nothing before us right now but this budget supplemental," interrupted Praisner.

The meeting was over in minutes.

"We hadn't expected Marilyn to be quite so Marilyn," Meisner said. "There were only three of us there to comment. How big a deal would it have been to let us say something?"

Praisner defended her action, saying: "They did speak, but they wanted to testify about the future of free parking at the Rockville Library, but that was not an issue in front of the council."

The council eventually agreed to include money for free parking until the fall in the proposed budget, and it is expected to review the parking policy later this year. The final vote on the budget will come next week.

Bid for Rockville Mayor

Drew Powell, a telecommunications consultant and long-time civic activist, announced Monday his bid for mayor of Rockville, billing himself as the candidate who will cut taxes, rein in "runaway development" and reduce city spending.

Standing in front of the Montgomery County Council building before about two dozen officials and activists, Powell called for a property tax cap and more government transparency. He proposed cuts such as hiring in-house lawyers rather than contracting for legal services and criticized city contracts with law firms that have ties to the development industry.

He said he would not accept campaign contributions from the development industry.

"If the city government were freed from subsidizing special interest, the city government can live within its means as other local jurisdictions do," he said. "It's time for a city tax cap, which means your taxes level off to a predictable, tolerable rate year after year."

Powell, who serves as executive director of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, a political action committee vocal in its criticism of development interests, will face City Council member Susan R. Hoffmann. Mayor Larry Giammo announced in February he will not run for another term.

In attendance for the announcement were activists Amy Presley, head of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, members of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, County Council members Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), whom Powell backed during his candidacy.

Piotr Gajewski, music director and conductor for the National Philharmonic, said Tuesday that he plans to run for a seat on the Rockville City Council.

"Rockville is a great place," said Gajewski, 48, from his office at Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda. "I'd like to see it continue to do very well, and I think I can play a role [so] that it continues to be a nice city to live in."

Gajewski said he wants to address the city's taxes, eliminate inefficiencies and look into the possibility of more private-public partnerships in the city's recreation department. In addition to his music career, the Warsaw-born conductor has a law degree and a long-held interest in politics. He has supported various local and national Democratic campaigns, he said. He became interested in running for the council when he found out Hoffmann, a friend, was going to run for mayor.

Gajewski said he plans to formally declare his candidacy in the coming weeks.

Civic Federation Awards

The Montgomery Civic Federation, an amalgam of neighborhood organizations, hosted its annual dinner Friday and handed out several honors.

County Council members Marilyn Praisner, Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) attended.

Honored were Life Skills Workshop Inc., Common Cause Maryland and Jim Humphrey, a longtime activist and self-taught planning expert who heads the federation's land use committee.

Life Skills serves women who are homeless, incarcerated, domestic violence victims or in recovery from substance abuse as they enter or return to the workforce and has helped more than 300 women. The group got the Gazette award for public service.

Common Cause Maryland received the Sentinel award for its contribution to "good government" for work on publicly funded election campaigns, single-member districts, paper trails for balloting, nonpartisan redistricting, sunshine laws for government meetings, merit-based legislative scholarships and ethics in government.

The Star Cup went to Humphrey, a Bethesda resident, for mastering "the minutiae of zoning law and land use regulations, annual growth policy, building moratoriums [and] the master plan process," and learning "how our county government affects these laws and rules." Also noted was his "unfailingly cheerful demeanor."

Staff writer Miranda S. Spivack contributed to this report.

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