September 30, 2021

Message from the County Executive 

Dear Friends,

One of the greatest joys I have as County Executive is travelling throughout Montgomery County, talking – sometimes virtually – to residents, meeting business owners, and getting to hear about the issues, complaints, problems, as well as compliments.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Last Friday, I joined residents, business owners, and community-based organizations in Silver Spring in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. At a Latina-owned establishment, we highlighted honorees' contributions to Long Branch and the broader Silver Spring region throughout the pandemic. It was an evening of uplifting stories and a testimony to how this County has united and persevered over the last 20 months. We will continue to honor and pay tribute to our Latino community throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends on Oct. 15.

African Heritage Month

Earlier this month, we proclaimed September as African Heritage Month, which we have celebrated in various venues around the county. We are home to more than 54,000 Africans, who make up 15 percent of the overall immigrant population. Montgomery County has a wonderfully diverse African immigrant community that is part of the diverse tapestry of cultures from every corner of our world that call Montgomery County, "home." Our African brothers and sisters own businesses, teach our children, serve in our government, and are engaged residents throughout our neighborhoods.

Our young people are engaging in climate change issues

I was delighted to participate in a panel Wednesday night to hear from and talk with high school students from all over the County who are part of a group called, "SAPPlings" (Student Advocates Protecting the Planet). SAPPlings was created by and for high school students in Montgomery County. I loved engaging with these energetic and active students; they understand that it’s their generation that is facing the gravest consequences if we don’t take meaningful steps to address climate change immediately and comprehensively. You can watch the event here.

As a reminder, you can read about our Climate Action Plan here. I am pleased that the County Council approved our proposal for the International Green Construction Code, which requires that new buildings use less energy, generate more renewable energy, and create healthy spaces for our residents. We also sent over Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) legislation that will require owners of the largest and most energy-consuming buildings to take action to improve their buildings’ energy performances. We continue our work to increase the availability of transit, including electric-powered buses, electric vehicles for our police fleet, and additional solar energy on both public and private sites.

Better numbers regarding COVID-19 transmission

I am glad that we are starting to see some good trends as this latest wave of cases over the summer due to the delta variant has begun to plateau and subside. Our test positivity rate and case rates are the best in the state and our case rate is almost half of the state’s overall average. We are now hovering between substantial and low transmission rates in Montgomery County, which is good news. And 98 percent of our eligible population (those who are 12 and older) has received at least one dose.

However, this pandemic is far from over. The vaccines have helped to reduce deaths and hospitalizations, but the virus continues to spread. Our case rates this week are about where they were at the end of February after last winter’s surge – that was a time when vaccines were scarce, and we were spending most of time indoors. When we look at who is becoming significantly ill and hospitalized it is predominantly those over the age of 50. We hope that boosters may help with immunity response. Last week, the CDC recommended certain populations receive a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine at least six months after being fully vaccinated. Those include people 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings, people aged 50 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions, and people 18 to 49 who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 due to certain underlying medical conditions or are at increased risk for COVID-19. 

We are currently engaged in an effort to determine how many of our employees are not yet vaccinated. While the vast majority are vaccinated, we do not yet have all employees reporting their status and are working to get that information. While some are advocating for a vaccine mandate for all county employees, I am not yet ready to embrace that strategy because it will lead to staffing shortages, diminished public safety, additional financial costs to our taxpayers, and time-consuming legal entanglements. You can read my statement here.

And you can read about the issue here.

Fewer quarantines for MCPS students

I am happy to report that the number of students in quarantine has declined due to rapid testing and revised procedures. During the first week of school, over 2000 individuals in MCPS were quarantined; last week it was 374. This is incredible progress. And the low 1.3 positivity rate is lower than the general community rate. I appreciate all the work of MCPS staff, school health staff, and others over this first month of school. Managing this situation in our classrooms while also returning to in-class learning has been an enormous challenge, but everyone has adjusted quickly and adeptly. There are going to be tough times ahead as colder weather means more time indoors. We are going to need patience and partnerships with everyone as we focus on ensuring that our students get the education they deserve. I am concerned about the recent learning loss data that MCPS published. We must work hard to get these kids caught up, but as safely as possible for them and their families.

Our COVID success is due to the hard work of thousands of Montgomery County employees. One of our County’s COVID leaders, Dr. Earl Stoddard was unanimously confirmed by the County Council to be our new Assistant Chief Administrative Officer focusing on our health and public safety operations. Dr. Stoddard has been a key figure during the County’s response to the COVID-19 efforts, serving as the Director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security. I have appreciated his advice and we’re fortunate that he accepted these increased responsibilities.

Supporting our small businesses

This week, the Council overrode my veto of legislation to create a Silver Spring Business Improvement District or “BID.” I vetoed this legislation at the request of small business owners, minority business owners, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, Fenton Village Inc., the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce, and the African Advisory Board among others. As I wrote in my veto message, downtown Silver Spring offers much of what is best about Montgomery County but it also has problems that we can and should address. The BID “shifts the power of public district decision-making from a stakeholder group representing diverse culture and income backgrounds to a stakeholder group that predominantly represents the interests of medium and large businesses,” according to the Council’s own Racial Equity and Social Justice impact statement.

I had sent the Council an alternative proposal that would have created an independent structure that reflected the diversity of Silver Spring – large and small business owners and property owners as well as residents. We have a similar, successful model in Bethesda, the Bethesda Urban Partnership. I was disappointed that the Council did not even consider this alternative, which addressed the concerns raised by small business owners, residents, and elected state leaders.

I appreciate Councilmember Will Jawando for supporting the veto and for explaining the importance of moving forward to address these problems together rather than using a flawed approach. It is my hope that going forward we will find a more equitable way to give voice to the diversity of the Silver Spring community.

A good place for your bikes!

Another important event next Friday, Oct. 8, is the Montgomery County Department of Transportation bicycle donation event for kids and adults in need. MCDOT will be collecting bikes from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., outside of the Council Office Building parking garage at the corner of East Jefferson Street and Monroe Street in Rockville. Donated child and adult bikes will be accepted; however, the drive will not accept bike parts or bike helmets. Bikes are good for exercise as well as an efficient, sustainable transportation method, but unfortunately, many of our fellow residents cannot afford to own their own bikes. We were unable to collect donated bikes last year due to the pandemic and our demand for bikes is great. If you have a bike that is sitting around collecting dust or if you are buying a new one, please donate your bikes to MCDOT next Friday.

As always, my appreciation to all of you.

Marc Elrich
County Executive