Montgomery County's Charter Review Commission is recommending that membership on the County Council be considered full-time work, paving the way for the council to pay itself more. But first, the voters get to have their say.
The commission is an 11-member bipartisan body appointed every four years to consider changes to the county's charter, or basic law. If the council agrees with the commission's recommendation this summer, a proposed amendment will be placed on the November ballot for voters to approve or reject.
The matter of what council members earn will then be considered by another commission that will convene in 2005 to make recommendations to the council on the salaries of the county's elected officials. Any changes would take effect only after the 2006 election.
Charter Review Commission Chair Kenneth K. Muir said the salary panel had asked the commission to study the matter, since the charter does not specify whether council membership is full-time work or whether outside employment is permitted. By contrast, the charter specifies that the county executive "shall devote full time to the duties of the offices and shall not participate in any private occupation for compensation."
This year, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) will earn $143,569, Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) $82,222 and the remaining eight council members $74,474.
At a council meeting Tuesday, council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) indicated that she and her colleagues feel as if they work full time. "I don't think a single person up here could tell you what a part-time job is," she said.
Council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) said she would be wary of a charter revision that prevented council members from earning outside income. "We may respond to one issue and create another," she said.
Floreen Strikes Back
It ain't easy being green.
This month, the federal Census of Agriculture released figures showing that the amount of farmland in Montgomery County has continued to decline, despite an aggressive agricultural preservation program.
On word that the county's much-heralded agricultural preserve program -- one of the first of its kind in the country -- seemed to be losing ground, experts from around the region took some potshots, with one official from the National Center for Smart Growth Research calling agricultural preservation programs "just another form of NIMBY."
Those are fighting words in Montgomery government circles, where the county's efforts to preserve open space have taken on almost sacrosanct status.
County officials fired back this week with a report of their own, showing that 47 percent of the county's "forever green" open space has been protected. The report, compiled by the Montgomery County Planning Board at Floreen's request, defines "forever green" space as parkland, agriculturally zoned land, homeowner association open space and "other conservation land" -- a broad selection of protected open space.
The report represents the county's first effort to compile a comprehensive census of different types of protected open space, officials said.
"I really felt the word hadn't gotten out as to how much we really had done" to protect open space, Floreen told reporters Tuesday. The report, she said, "is a piece of information that I've felt has long been missing from the debate."
As if to emphasize the point, Floreen also introduced a resolution Tuesday to reaffirm the council's support for the county's agricultural preserve, thousands of acres of protected upcounty land, and to oppose the construction of a second Potomac River crossing, commonly known as the Techway, through the area.
Rating the Council
The Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club took some shots of its own this week. The group released an environmental scorecard that rated all nine County Council members based on how they voted on what the Sierra Club deemed to be issues "with significant environmental implications."
At the bottom of the list was Floreen, who received a 33 percent rating, meaning she voted in a way favorable to Sierra Club interests in just five of the 15 votes that the organization deemed to be important for environmental matters. The group focused in particular on council members' positions on transportation matters such as the intercounty connector and a proposed regional transportation authority.
Floreen played down the rating, saying she has taken many environmentally friendly positions on issues the Sierra Club didn't take into account.
"This is a group that is politically motivated," she said. "They're more focused on litmus-test issues rather than looking at the big picture."
Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) topped the Sierra Club's list, scoring 100 percent. Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and Praisner also scored in the "excellent to outstanding" range, according to the Sierra Club.
In the middle range were Silverman and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) with 53 percent, Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) and Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) with 47 percent and Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) with 38 percent.