The Montgomery County Council plans to provide money for the legal defense of undocumented immigrants facing deportation and is sticking with its decision to reject a proposal to privatize storm water management, despite a veto threat by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
Also Tuesday, the council moved to revise a proposed zoning amendment designed to attract a signature business headquarters to the county. The change would reduce the minimum number of employees such a business must bring to potentially accommodate Apple, which is quietly exploring a possible campus in Northern Virginia. Montgomery economic development officials say they are urging the Silicon Valley giant to consider their jurisdiction as well.
The legal aid for low-income immigrants was initially supposed to come in the form of a grant to the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR) and be available to detained immigrants with few financial resources. But CAIR said it would decline the grant after the council attached a lengthy list of criminal convictions that would disqualify many applicants.
Under a motion introduced by council Vice President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County), the funding would be available to other legal defense organizations and could be used for immigrants who are not in detention. Immigrants convicted of charges on the council’s list would not qualify.
“As local elected officials, our number one priority is to preserve public safety,” Navarro said after the meeting. “I think it’s possible to do that and at the same time to provide support for the most vulnerable. This particular action does that.”
The item is part of the county’s 2019 budget, which the council is scheduled to approve Thursday.
Joanna Silver, coordinator for the Montgomery County Deportation Defense Coalition, said she was “disappointed” by the council’s decision to exempt recipients based on such a broad list of convictions.
“We are glad they intend to give the money to other legal services organizations, and we just hope the money will in fact go to deportation defense and not generic legal services,” Silver said.
The council did not change its stance on a separate budget provision that would keep storm water management mostly in-house.
Leggett wanted to spend $48 million on a design-build-maintain contract to remediate roughly 530 acres of storm water runoff. The council voted against the idea 6 to 3 earlier in the budget process and had a 5-to-4 straw vote last week in favor of continuing several storm water projects that were in mid-design but had been halted.
Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the county executive will issue a rare line-item veto of the storm water management funding when the council sends the budget over.
It would take a supermajority of the nine-member council — six votes — to override the veto.
The council tweaked a pending zoning text amendment designed to streamline the process for a “signature business headquarters” — such as Amazon — to locate in the county. An amendment introduced by council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) lowered the minimum number of new employees such a headquarters must have to 20,000 from 25,000.
“We want to send a signal, in addition to what we’re doing with Amazon, that we’re also open to hosting Apple,” Lacefield said.
David Petr, president and chief executive of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., said his team reached out to Apple after they heard the computer giant was looking for a new location.
“I don’t believe they had us on their immediate list,” Petr said. After officials shared highlights of their proposal to lure Amazon, Apple “became more interested in continuing the conversation,” Petr said. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The council unanimously approved an amendment by council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) requiring applicants for signature business headquarters zoning to hold a community meeting during the process.
The council plans a final vote on the matter on Thursday.