In an age when security measures have turned the once-simple acts of boarding an airplane or entering a courthouse into feats of gymnastics, some public buildings in downtown Rockville are a bit of a throwback to a simpler time.
Want to pop in on a Montgomery County Council session? No problem -- and no ID badge, X-ray machine or metal detector. The same is true for the Executive Office Building, where County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has his offices.
Since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Duncan has pushed to have security "hardened" -- in the lingo of our time -- at both his office building and the council's office building, at a cost of about $700,000.
The council has consistently balked at the idea, saying the financial cost, and the cost of restricted public access, isn't worth it.
It appears the same will be true this budget cycle. On Tuesday, the council forwarded without comment a budget item that once again rejects Duncan's call for more security at both buildings. While the final vote on the budget won't happen for weeks, the security item appears all but finished.
Duncan proposed a $4.02 million security budget, about $715,000 of which would go toward upgrading security at the council building and the executive building. But the council has all but approved a security budget of $3.3 million. The council did endorse several of Duncan's recommendations, including adding security guards and new security technology at several county facilities.
"We have supported a great deal of [Duncan's security initiatives] but we just don't see the need, as a practical matter, to lock down the Executive Office Building and the Council Office Building," said Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large).
"We are comfortable with the level of security we're receiving here at this building," said council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).
In an interview, Duncan said he was disappointed with the council's move.
"The employees [who work in both buildings] have been asking for this," Duncan said. "We've been trying to make things safer for them. . . . God forbid something should happen."
County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) is worried about a property tax revolt. Silverman wants to give those homeowners in need a break.
In recent weeks, both officials have put forward different plans to address what has most homeowners in the county concerned: the skyrocketing assessed values of their homes.
Both property tax relief proposals depend on raising the energy tax paid by county homes and businesses. Whereas residents bear the brunt of about 70 percent of all property taxes in the county, they only shoulder 30 percent of the energy tax. Businesses and institutions pay the bulk of it.
Silverman says his tax cut proposal is better because it would help about 10,000 homeowners with lower incomes and increase their average annual tax break from the current $193 per year to $968. Silverman's plan also would generate $40 million in additional funding.
The Andrews proposal would reduce the property tax rate about 2 percent overall.
"But what about schools," Silverman said. "What about traffic congestion?"
To that, Andrews replied that, if property values continue to appreciate and tax rates do not change, homeowners could find their tax bill doubling within seven years.
"It's imperative we do something to help everyone," Andrews said. "Or voters may take the matter into their own hands with an initiative that may unwisely tie council's hands."
Montgomery County police gathered Tuesday to honor Lt. Joseph A. Mattingly Jr., who died in September when his car slid off a rainy street and struck a tree in Bethesda (Mattingly was promoted posthumously to the honorary rank of captain after the accident).
The ceremony, held at the county's public safety training academy in Rockville, was dedicated to the 14 officers who have died in the line of duty in the department's 82-year history. Before Mattingly, no officer had died since Officer James E. Walch was killed Jan. 25, 1994, in a one-car collision while responding to a report of a stolen vehicle.
Under hazy blue skies at the "Fallen Heroes Memorial Service," officers fired a 21-gun salute outside the training academy, while taps were played.
Chief J. Thomas Manger recounted the story of a letter of commendation Mattingly received from a person whom he had pulled over during a routine traffic stop. The person wrote in to compliment him for being "firm but kind," Manger said. "I don't know of too many officers that get commendation letters after writing a ticket," he said.
Board Opening Draws Interest
Board of Education Vice President Reginald M. Felton announced recently that he would be stepping down because he is moving, and interest in his position is already starting to rise.
The remaining board members will select a replacement to serve out the next two years in the District 5 seat, which includes eastern Silver Spring, Burtonsville, Olney and Brookeville, from among the District 5 residents who apply by May 28.
Among the names popping up: Gwendolyn Harris-Gale, a director at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority who is active with the NAACP Parents Council; Catherine Hobbs, who was school board president in the early 1990s; Henry Lee, a dentist who serves on various school system committees; Charles McCullough, a student member of the board in 1995-96; Ruby Rubens, a former school system ombudsman; and David Fishback, Philip Kauffman and Paul Rankin, who are all involved with the NorthEast Montgomery Political Action Committee.
Staff writer Linda Perlstein contributed to this report.