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Q&A With Isiah Leggett

Tuesday, May 25, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and to key Washington Post reporters and editors.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com
Bob's guest today was Montgomery County Council president, Isiah Leggett.

First elected to the Montgomery County Council in 1986 as an at-large member, Leggett is currently serving his third term as Council President. On assuming this position in 1991, Leggett became the first African American to hold this office in Montgomery County.

Leggett was a member of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission and was also chair of the County's Employment Discrimination Review Panel. In addition to government service, Leggett has been a Howard University Law School professor for the past 15 years and served as that school's Assistant Dean.

After graduation from Southern University as a Distinguished Military Cadet, Leggett served as a Captain in the United States Army and received a Bronze Star during service in Vietnam. Leggett is a graduate of Howard University Law School.

Isiah Leggett
Isiah Leggett
Here is a transcript of today's session:



Silver Spring, MD: Is Montgomery County full prepared for the potential Y2K computer problems--i am particularly concerned about the water system and electricity. Thanks

Isiah Leggett: I believe that Montgomery County, based on all indications is better prepared than most jurisdictions in the country. We were recently cited for our outstanding efforts by a piece on "60 Minutes." To date, we have spent nearly $50 million in preparation. Our next effort is to help ensure that the general public is also well prepared.


Rockville, MD: Mr. Leggett: Several years ago, while you were campaigning for -re-election to the council, we shook hands, looked each other in the eye, and you promised to do something about the growing problem of trash-garbage being strewn about in the county. The problem has only gotten worse. It is almost impossible to drive, walk, run, or bicycle on some roadways and sidewalks in the county. What are you -the council- going to do about this appalling eyesore-health hazard? Do we not have the funds or resources to clean up? How about enforcement of littering laws? This must stop!

Isiah Leggett: Thank you for reminding me of our meeting during the campaign. The county has redoubled its efforts to collect trash and other debris in all public places throughout the county. Often, debris located in municipalities within Montgomery County have been cited as a county problem, which is not true. None the less, I will confer with the Department of Public Works to more fully evaluate your complaint. You may also contact me directly at (301) 217-7955, and give me more details and locations regarding this matter. Thank you.


Bob Levey: You scoffed at the lawsuit filed the other day by Montgomery County restaurant owners (they want to overturn the smoking ban that you got passed). You said the lawsuit is just "smoke." Cute line, but tell the truth: Aren't you a little bit worried that a jury will be sympathetic to people whose livelihoods might be at stake?

Isiah Leggett: No, I am not worried. The lawsuit is baseless. Even the opponents of the ban, including the County Executive, do not question our legal authority to pass such regulations restricting smoking in bars and restaurants. I believe this is simply a ploy to generate public awareness and politically pressure on those of us who passed this measure. This tactic will not work.


Rockville MD: I understand that you claim the smoking prohitition was as much a workplace issue as a health-for-patrons issues, would you explain yourself.

Isiah Leggett: In my opinion, the ban accomplishes both. More importantly, it is designed to protect the workers who must endure smoke in confined locations for long periods of time, which by all indications adversely affects the health of such workers. Despite the comments in the media, we received a great deal of positive encouragement from employees working in bars and restaurants, not only in Montgomery County, but throughout the entire metropolitan area.


Gaithersburg, MD: There is a concerted effort on the part of some bar & restaurant owners to render the decision to ban smoking in bars and restaurants invalid. Regardless of the grounds for the decision, how likely is this to happen? I have been genuinely loking forward to going to the local haunts in 2002 but now I see that I may not be able to do so because I can't tolerate the tobacco smoke. Am I doomed to never being able to socialize in public?

Isiah Leggett: From all indications, the lawsuit is baseless. The Montgomery County Council not only serves as the legislative arm of local government, but it is also by Charter, the county's Board of Health. The opponents may not like the authority vested in the Council, but it exists and it is legal. We acted consistent with appropriate procedures and legal authority granted to the Council by law.


bethesda,MD: Why did the county invest in speed bumps-which studies have shown happers ambulances getting to the trouble spot and ruins cars instead of improving the county roads and education system?

Isiah Leggett: I agree that the county has overly invested in too many speed bumps. Recently, I attempted to significantly reduce the amount of revenues appropriated to install speed bumps, and to use the time to further study some of the adverse affects similar to those you mention over the next year. Unfortunately, the measure failed on a 5-4 vote. Please continue to articulate your position to my colleagues on the Council so that we may reverse the current status.


Silver Spring, MD: Please explain what happened with the decision to nix the mixed-paper recycling deal. I understand that there was a belief that it would cost too much, but the Council needs to understand that many in the County are willing to spend something in order to reduce the flow of waste into landfills. -I know you voted against the decision to cancel -- thank you!- I was storing up my mixed paper in anticipation, and have half a mind to send it to the Council's office! Is there hope for curbside mixed-paper recycling in the County?

Isiah Leggett: Unfortunately, a majority of the Council rejected the mixed-paper contract proposed by the County Executive. Although this contract raises questions of potential increases in cost in the out years. I believe, on balance, it was better to approve the contract, which would have allowed us to move much sooner to recycle mixed-paper than to reject it. As it stands now, unless we are able to successfully renegotiate the current contract, we may be mired in a long, protracted and costly legal dispute that far exceeds the potential increase costs contained in the original contract. We have a goal of achieving 50 percent recycling by the end of year 2000. There is no way for us to achieve that objective without an aggressive and timely mixed-paper recycling program.


Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining with today's guest, Isiah Leggett, chairman of the Montgomery County Council.


Rockville, MD : Mr. Leggett: What role, if any, does the county have in determining whether, and, if so, when an East-West highway -such as the Inter-county Connector- will be built and the route such a highway would take?

Isiah Leggett: Ultimately, if it is a state road, such as the ICC, the final determination is made by the state's Department of Transportation. The county's recommendations contained in its master plan and other local planning tools will usually be accomodated by the state. In addition, most roads are built on a cost-sharing arrangement with the county either providing the right away or some other financial incentives to construct the road. Seldom has the state disregarded the local jurisdiction's concerns on such an important project. None the less, there's no legal authority to force the state to adhere to a position of the county.


Fairfax, VA: Mr. Leggett -
kudos on the recent resurfacing work of side streets between Bethesda and the Beltway. Makes my daily commute much more comfortable.

What else is in the works?

Isiah Leggett: Thank you very much for your comment. We recently passed a $2.6 billion budget for Montgomery County. A significant level of expenditures are designated to resurface additional roads throughout the county. If we are able to maintain this increased level of expenditures, we will seriously reduce our backlog of roads needing resurfacing throughout the county.


Bob Levey: In early March, several news stories said you might be a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002 on a ticket headed by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. You said at the time you wouldn't be interested. Is that still your position?

Isiah Leggett: I am flattered by the comments regarding a possible position on Ms. Townsend's ticket for governor. But, as I have repeatedly stated, I am not interested and thoroughly enjoy my work on the local level and teaching at the Howard University School of Law.


Potomac, MD: I lived in Vermont during their successful smoking ban, and as a smoker I resented the ban. But despite restaurant and smokers' fears, turns out businesses didn't suffer at all, and I admit, after time I really came to appreciate it too, and firmly support MoCo's efforts. Been there, doubted it, heard all the same arguments you here now, but saw it work beautifully!

Isiah Leggett: I am delighted to read the success you cite in Vermont. It is my expectation that after a reasonable period of adjustments, we will experience similar results in Montgomery County. I also hope that other jurisdictions throughout the area will take note of our efforts and follow the example of Montgomery County. Thank you for your comment.


Bethesda, MD: I heard that the county council recently lowered both property tax and the piggy-back tax. Is this true, and what is the amount of the tax cut?

Thank you.

Isiah Leggett: Yes, you are right. We lowered the local piggy-back tax from 60 percent to 58 percent. It is my hope that in the near future, we can reduce that amount down to 55 percent. We also reduced the property tax by 2.6 percent. In addition, we eliminated the tax on cellular telephones. All of this was accomplished within the budgetary guidelines and we increased the county's reserves by an additional $12.5 million. Thank you.


Bob Levey: Your relationship with County Executive Doug Duncan has been all over the place. The other day, The Post described you as a "sometime ally" of Duncan's. How would you describe yourself? Friend? Enemy? Political rival?

Isiah Leggett: I would describe myself as a very strong friend and ally of Doug Duncan. I think that he has done a very good job as County Executive, and I applaud him on many of his initiatives. None the less, as head of the legislative branch, there are some times serious and legitimate differences that we must resolve. I believe this is healthy for our county because it allows for the quality and substance of positions to be openly debated and resolved in our strong democratic tradition.


Rockville, MD: [L]ook around the whole county, It's a police state, run by a bunch of soccer moms in Potomac. Because 50 people in the county do not want smoking in the restaurants they go to you impose tyranny on the thousands of people that do not need the government telling them what to do and were to work. [edited for space]

Isiah Leggett: I am sorry that you feel that the county is run by soccer moms. Although they are an important segment of our county, their influence is no more important than any other resident of Montgomery County. I disagree that only 50 people are concerned about smoking in restaurants in Montgomery County. This is a health matter and we have acted to better protect our workers and patrons consistent with our legal authority. Thank you.


Bethesda MD: Mr Leggett:

As a parent of 2 children in one of the most over-crowded school clusters in the county -Burning Tree Es & Pyle MS-, I am very disappointed in the recent vote to give $58 tax refunds instead of spending the money on reducing class size. My 1st grader's class has grown to 26, including 2 kids who speak no English. Because the student population is way above the poverty level, we have no aides or assistants in class. What is the council going to do to reduce class size for all schools?

Isiah Leggett: I believe that we can provide both tax relief and respond to the concerns that you have raised. The county is providing over $1 billion for MCPS in FYOO. In addition, we are providing an additional $20 million as the first installment of a three-year effort to reduce class size and address the issues you have raised. The County Council also provided an additional $3.8 million as the first installment of a four-year program to address the specific needs of children. This program is called the "Children's Intiative." Thank you.


Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks to our guest, Isiah Leggett. Please join us next Tuesday, June 1, when our guest will be author Miriam Horn. Her new book, "Rebels in White Gloves," takes a look at the Wellesley College class of 1969 (which includes Hillary Rodham Clinton). And if you haven't yet checked out our Friday anything-goes show, "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," what's stopping you? The Friday show appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.


© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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