Candidates for Montgomery County Executive and candidates for the County Council were asked the following questions by The Washington Post:
Funds: What should the county do to respond to anticipated losses in federal funds?
Housing: What proposals should the county consider to get more moderate-income housing?
Population: How can the county respond to the needs of its increasingly diverse population, including large numbers of Hispanos and blacks?
Views: Many citizens complain that, despite the county's rigorous public hearing process, citizens' views are not reflected in final decisions on such issues as the Laytonsville landfill and cable television. Your comment?
Scott Foster (D), (incumbent) 37, of 4104 Woodbine St., Chevy Chase, elected to the council in 1978, serves on Planning, Transportation, Land Use and Human Services committees. He is vice chairman of the Washington Area Council of Governments and is a past president of the Bethesda Coalition of Civic Association.
Funds: We need to prusue a three-part strategy to deal with the cutback in federal funds; 1) Work to assure a fair deal for local government at the federal level. As chairman of the National Association of Counties' steering committee on intergovernment affairs, I have represented county government in shaping a more favorable response to the New Federalism, including clearly established federal responsibilities for basic income maintenance programs. 2) Improve management of county government. As council president, I implemented reforms in the legislative process to scrutinize bills for cost effectiveness and sponsored inprovements in budgeting, program management, evaluation and personnel systems. These measures have helped the county government maintain or increase services while reducing the real property tax burden (adjusted for inflation). 3) Strengthen relationships with community organizations. The county government should encourage private organizations -- profit and nonprofit -- in their efforts to meet community needs. Support for community-based groups and more effective cooperation among government, private organizations and citizens -- in such tested ventures as parent support groups, merchants cooperatives, legal assistance to the poor, etc. -- can help all concerned to better use scarce resources.
Housing: Recognizing that there was no one simple answer to the housing proglem. I supported, as council president, the development of a comprehensive housing policy for Montgomery County. That policy now permits us to focus our energies during a period of depression in the housing industry. There can be no illusion that local efforts will have much impact so long as mortgage rates remain abnormally high. Nonetheless, the policy identifies nuemrous ways of reducing housing costs principally by reducing construction costs by stre streamlining the permit process; cutting financing costs through the provision of lower cost, county underwritten mortgages assitance (an innovative approach already begun by the Housing Opportunities Commission); improvements in Moderate Price Dwelling Unit Law and operations, and new emphasis on preservation and rehabilitation of existing housing stock.
Population: One can readily cite legislative and administrative actions that have been taken to remove barriers and take affirmative action. All of these are important and need to be advanced. But the real challenge is to ensure that all county citizens, whatever their race, national origin or cultural background, not only are full members of the community but feel and believe that they are. The words and actions, as well as the policies, of community leaders, especially elected officials, are critical in setting the tone and atmosphere. There is no dearth of black or Hispanic citizens in Montgomery County who wish to actively participate in the affairs of the community. As with all citizens, they need to be welcomed and formally involved by assuming leadership positions.
Views: Citizen participation in government involves more than just public hearings. taken fully into account in a fair manner at a point in the decision making process when those views matter most. That may require forming citizen committees early in the planning stage that follow a decision through to completion. No matter how ingeniously structured, citizen participation can be no more effective or satisfactory than effectiveness of the decision making process itself. If the issues are poorly framed, information inadequate, public officials incapable or disrespectful or the wrong body making the decision, the outcome will likely be unsatisfactory for citizens no matter how much they may have participated.
Alfred Muller (D), 40, of 4450 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, a physician, has been chairman of the Friendship Heights Village Council since 1975. He is a founding member of the Montgomery Hospice Society and a medical consultant to the American Red Cross, the World Bank and American University.
Funds: The answer is not simple or easy. The general method I would follow is: 1) Consider a zero-based budget, with the options of decreasing or eliminating funds each year, rather than just increasing costs automatically. However, I do not support across-the-board cuts and oppose TRIM proposals to set preconceived limits on spending. I do favor removal of wasteful spending. 2) Set priorities to determine which programs are most essential for the community. These should include health and safety services and programs for the disadvantaged, elderly and handicapped. 3) Determine where coalescing services can prove cost effective, e.g. the health service agency, responsible for health planning, could assume a new leadership role in a restructured county health department. 4) When waste is removed and efficiency improved, funding may still be inadequate for the priority programs. At this point we must make the difficult decision whether to raise taxes.
Housing: Affordable housing is our county's most pressing need. Builders must be given incentives to buidl both single family and tenant apartments. Consider low-interest bonds and a private-public housing fund of $10 million to $15 million to be used as "seed money." We must face up to the fact that some community leaders do not wish such housing in "their" neighborhood. I would call a community conference on housing needs, inviting moderate leaders of both the civic associations and building industry. Together we would try to work out specific compromises to increase the stock of affordable housing. Factors to be considered include: distribution by census tracts (i.e., prevent concentration in one area), increased density for affordable housing near Mentro and consideration of abandoned school sites. It will require much innovation, persistence and courage on the part of our elected leaders to "bridge" the suspicions of some community activists and some developers.
Population: The council should concentrate on getting more affordable housing, and attracting more jobs to the area. Efforts should be made to award county contracts to qualified minority businesses. The council should also be sensitive to increased representation of qualified minorities on appointed boards, commission, etc. The most important need for the future is an excellent education for all Montgomery County children. The public school system must be seen as a major avenue for advancement, rather than another form of alienation. The council must therefore use the full force of its moral authority and budgetary control to assure success of this goal.
Views: Too often the County Council has tried to please everyone, while ending up pleasing no one. The public hearing process is then seen as an excuse for delay and inaction, as, for example, during the recent handgun-ammunition bills, when a different decision could be postponed until after the fall election. The Laytonsville decision was delayed until the last minute. And then the president admitted his council had "been led astray by our lack of expertise." Citizen concerns about a safe environment had, in this instance, not been set. It might speed the hearing process if written testimony were requested in advance of public summary, thereby enabling better questioning of witnesses. But whatever reasonable reforms are made, justifiable complaints will continue so long as indecisive politicians have the final seven votes.
Phillip B. Ochs (D), 30, of 5218 Rayland Dr., Bethesda, a lawyer, has been a member of several community groups, including Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, Rockville and Bethesda Chambers of Commerce, Big Brother, Citizens Committee to Save Our Sligo Creek and Anti-Pornography Task Force.
Funds: If Montgomery County is to maintain the quality of essential services currently subsidized by federal funds, without increasing taxes, we will have to (a) expand our tax base and (b) better manage our spending priorities. In regard to the tax base, the county should actively seek high-technology industries and should streamline the process for permits, licenses and related approvals for opening a new business. As for management, the county should refrain from buying large luxury items that do not serve a substantial public purpose; for example, the Potomac Horse Farm purchased by the current council.
Housing: In todays market, the question should be broadened to include middle-class housing, Our young families, many of whom grew up in Montgomery County, cannot afford to live here and yet these household incomes are above what the county defines as moderate. The County Council has spent the bulk of its time studying this problem and trying to determine how many people fall into the category of what constitutes moderate-income households and how many units are needed to house this group. The council has neglected to review the county's procedures for streamlinging the permit procedure to build housing, which currently is cumbersome and can add what is estimated to be 20 percent to the cost of the final product.
Population: The best way to respond to the needs of our diverse population is to provide good schools in all neighborhoods, with high quality academic and extracurricular programs. A neighborhood school can be the anchor of community life and help to facilitate delivery of necessary information and services. Second, the county should prioritize its funding into outreach, grass-roots services as opposed to purchasing luxury items, again, such as the horse farm, and trim the upper level bureaucracy. Third, the county needs to be more supportive of our small-business community, which is hard hit by the recession and traditionally has employed substantial number of our lower income citizens, black and white.
Views: The council has not been responsive to citizens' input in its major decisions. The current election system, where every council candidate has to run at-large to be elected, discourages council members from listening to citizens who reside in communities that are perceived not to turn out a large vote or make substantial political contributions. I would change the system to one where a council candidate is elected from the district in which he or she lives, while preserving two at-large council seats. Second, the council should allow direct citizen participation in the council work sessions where legislation is prepared. Currently, citizens are limited to voicing their concerns at the public hearings, which are usually late at night before a sleepy council.