Takoma Park Officials Frown Upon Foie Gras

By Ann E. Marimow and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Takoma Park's elected leaders are taking a stand against foie gras, the fatty goose liver and French delicacy. At the urging of Mayor Bruce Williams, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution last week opposing "the production and sale of foie gras" and encouraging residents "to avoid supporting this extreme form of animal cruelty."

Animal rights groups oppose the production because it involves force-feeding ducks and geese with a pipe down their throats. More than a dozen countries and the state of California have banned the production and sale of foie gras, according to Compassion Over Killing, a nonprofit group.

Foie gras is not produced in Takoma Park or elsewhere in Maryland, but it is served in restaurants and sold in specialty shops. A proposal in this year's General Assembly to ban the sale of foie gras was opposed by chefs who defended the delicacy as safe and humane. The measure never made it out of a Senate committee.

Williams said the council is considering going a step further and banning stores and restaurants within Takoma Park's borders from stocking foie gras. He said that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop residents from bringing it across the border to consume in their homes. He has heard from one fan of foie gras who said she plans to continue serving it to her guests.

"We knew some people would say, 'Why are you wasting time doing this?' " Williams said. His answer: "It's important to educate folks about the humane treatment of animals."

The council passed a resolution earlier urging stores to supply and residents to buy eggs only from cage-free chickens.

Budget Shortfall Forecast

Fresh from a tough round of budget talks and days into the new fiscal year, the county's budget writers are forecasting a shortfall of $250 million for fiscal 2010. The projection assumes spending growth at the 10-year average rate of about 8 percent and revenue growth of 4.2 percent.

With weak housing and employment markets, it seems certain that County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council will be back at the table in the spring to try to bring spending increases down to 3 or 4 percent.

Chief administrative officer Timothy Firestine said in a memo that it is too soon to say whether Leggett will ask the council to make budget trims before then.

"We hate to redo the budget as much as you do," Office of Management and Budget Director Joseph Beach told the council Tuesday. But, he said, "We can't rule it out at this point."

Slow Pay Irks Poll Workers

One casualty of Montgomery's ongoing budget constraints appears to be the hundreds of residents who served as poll workers during the special election contests in April and May to fill the County Council seat of the late Marilyn Praisner.

As of early this week, many were waiting for their paychecks because of what elections officials said was a request from the county's budget office to delay payments until the fiscal year started July 1.

Glenn R. Johnson of Rockville put in more than 59 hours in training, preparation and the elections. "If I performed this much work for a company and did not get paid for services rendered, some agency of the government would be clamoring all over the company and probably threatening to fine or shut it down," Johnson wrote in an e-mail to the Board of Elections and Leggett. "It is easy to understand why the board is always seeking new workers year after year."

Elections workers are paid $50 to $200 for each election, depending on their role, and $30 to $50 for training sessions.

In response to Johnson's e-mail, elections spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said that processing typically takes six weeks but that elections staff members were swamped because they were preparing for the special elections. Roher initially said that the board also was asked to delay payments until July 1 because of the "current fiscal situation of the county."

That was news to Joseph Beach, the budget director. In a follow-up conversation, Roher explained that she had been given inaccurate information and that the idea to delay the checks was actually initiated by elections officials during a discussion about the budget shortfall. She said budget officials had "concurred" with the plan.

Checks for the April and May elections were cut July 3, Roher said, and should arrive today. Payment for service during a special election in June, to fill the congressional seat left vacant by the resignation of Albert R. Wynn (D), is scheduled to arrive within the usual time period, by the end of the month.

"While the Board of Elections certainly sympathizes with the frustration, it is really important for people to remember that we had three extra elections," said Roher, who has been fielding daily calls from unhappy election judges. "We have done the absolute best we could do within our limitations."

'Proper Mix' of Green

A controversy over how much green space should be included in new developments has been shelved temporarily, while council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) tries to craft a measure that does not boost the requirement throughout the county.

The issue was pulled off the council's agenda Tuesday, moments before it was to be debated. On a recent committee vote, Elrich had split on the proposal with council President Mike Knapp (D-Upcounty) and member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). Both sides realized this week that they could not muster the five votes needed to win passage of their opposing bills.

The pivotal vote could have belonged to council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), but he was at an energy conference in Aspen, Colo., where he was to give a speech. Lou D'Ovidio, Berliner's top aide, said that his boss had been planning to side with Elrich, who grew interested in the issue when he realized several months ago that county planners sometimes count cement slabs as green space -- and that some of those slabs are not at ground level but contained inside high-rise buildings, not adjacent to them.

Elrich said he is not necessarily against counting those slabs, but he is going to try to revise the bill to come up with some language that treats areas next to the urban areas as a "transitional zone" that would give the planning agency some discretion to determine how much green space is needed at each development. There would be a minimum amount required, he said, because current law requires no setbacks from lot lines or any minimum green space.

"I am just trying to find a proper mix," he said.

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