In 1993 when I was on the Takoma Park City Council, we passed one of the earliest domestic partnership laws to allow partners of LGBTQ individuals to have access to their loved ones at the hospital. Our legislation recognized that the partners of those hospitalized were in fact, “family members.” That was nearly thirty years ago, and it was seen as an important step in the progress toward equality. It was just ten years ago when Maryland became the first state to extend marriage rights by popular vote to same-sex couples.
Clearly, it has taken far too long for the LGBTQ community to make progress toward equality – and progress in recent years only serves to remind us how much we still owe this community whose rights and freedoms were denied for generations. This week marks the beginning of Pride Month. It is an important time for us to celebrate the contributions of our LGBTQ residents. At the same time, we must recognize that many continue to deal with discrimination, isolation, threats of violence, and assaults on their freedoms.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed to date in 2022 throughout our nation, most of them targeting trans people. And as we witness the Supreme Court’s rollback of reproductive rights, we fear their regressive rulings may soon extend to laws and policies that protect LGBTQ people. That’s why we must recommit ourselves toward the fight for equality, inclusion, and protection of our LGBTQ residents.
As you have heard us say many times over the past several weeks, hate has no home in Montgomery County. We are also very fortunate to live in a State that is equally committed to protecting our LGBTQ community. I want to thank our Council members as well as our State and Congressional elected representatives who are all as equally committed to this issue.
To mark the beginning of Pride Month, I raised a Pride flag in downtown Silver Spring. I want to thank the community members that came out that morning as well as our Red Shirts – who are wonderful ambassadors for Silver Spring. I look forward to joining Council Vice President Evan Glass and the County Council next Tuesday for our County Pride Flag Raising in Rockville.
One of our County’s greatest attributes is our commitment to inclusion, fostered by the belief that everyone, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identify, can live their lives without the bigotry and hatred they may face elsewhere. I encourage all residents to participate in Pride months events, gatherings, and educational opportunities that the County government and our community partners will be hosting throughout the month.
COVID is still a concern:
Experts tallied 40 million travelers by air and by car this holiday weekend. Airports say they're back to pre-pandemic sized crowds. But the pandemic is still a concern.
Although we've seen case rates steadily rising here in Montgomery County for the last few months, now there seems to be a plateauing of those numbers – which is good news. But our case rates remain the highest in the State even though we continue to have the lowest test positivity. And even though our hospitalization rate has increased in the past two weeks, the percent of hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients statewide is now declining.
Although we are seeing better news this week, we must remain vigilant as variants and subvariants continue to raise infection rates. And there are indications that more COVID cases can be expected over the summer months.
We continue to strongly recommend getting tested if you have been exposed or are feeling ill. And getting your booster shot is the best way to ensure a safer summer. Those who are unvaccinated are catching the current variants at twice the level of those who are vaccinated. And original vaccine protections are waning, which is why you need to get your booster. Finally, continue to carry that mask around in case you need it in crowded indoor spaces or on public transportation.
Testing, Vaxxing, and Masking – they all work, and it helps keep everyone safer.
We will not tolerate actions like this:
This morning, hateful antisemitic flyers referencing the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and featuring white supremacist tags, were posted on a bus stop in the heart of the Kemp Mill Orthodox Jewish Community at the corner of Arcola Avenue and Lamberton Streets in Kemp Mill. We are shocked and outraged at this blatant attempt to intimidate and put fear into our Jewish community. The Montgomery County Police Department is investigating this incident to determine who was behind this horrible act. It is our hope that those responsible will be identified and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law
There is no place for hate in Montgomery County and our community will not tolerate any attempts like this to intimidate religious, racial, ethnic, or minority group in our County. We are committed to creating a community of inclusion and respect. Today – as always -we stand united with our Jewish residents.
In fact, we are the only local jurisdiction in the region that provides grants for operating funds for non-profit entities and houses of worship to protect their members and congregants, and we have money in the budget to continue this practice in the coming year. We also provide classes, assessments and trainings specifically designed for nonprofit and faith-based facilities. Following last month’s hate crimes and tragedies in Buffalo and at an Asian American church in Southern California, faith and government leaders came together to reaffirm our vigilance in our County. In response to today’s incident, we will be meeting with members of the Kemp Mill Jewish Community to discuss safety and security and emphasize that our County stands united against hate.
Moments like this test our vigilance as a community, but we have shown time and time again that Montgomery County embraces its diversity, and we stand up to those who try to divide us with hateful acts. We are united and proud of the people who make this County a great place.
Having conversations can save lives:
Last week’s terrible mass shooting in Texas focused our attention on the need to reassure parents, students, and teachers that Montgomery County is constantly reassessing our school-safety readiness. This week, I joined MCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight, Board of Education President Brenda Wolf, Council President Gabe Albornoz, and MCPD Chief Marcus Jones on a virtual press conference to address questions and concerns in our community. I appreciate the Superintendent’s efforts to organize and communicate clear information and tips for parents during these concerning times.
And I appreciated Chief Jones making it clear that our police and school teams are in regular contact and constantly reviewing security. Our police officers are well-trained to deal with this type of situation, and they have a strong partnership with our schools to make sure that best practices are followed, including locked doors and monitored entrances. According to the Maryland Center for School Safety, all our MCPS schools have adequate law enforcement coverage, and we are the only large jurisdiction that meets these criteria.
It is important that we are prepared, and it is important that we demand as much gun control as possible at the state and federal level. At the same time, we need to think about mental health support for young people.
It was troubling to hear the Texas elementary school shooters’ father talk about his child and the lack of access his family had to mental health resources. This should not happen anywhere in America. We must prioritize “intervention” as a preventive measure.
People with mental health concerns often keep their struggles to themselves for a variety of reasons—including fear and embarrassment. If you suspect someone is suffering, don’t wait for them to come to you. Directly ask them questions like: Are you thinking about killing yourself or hurting others?
There are many resources available for someone who is struggling, but when people are in crisis, connecting with resources can seem difficult. Our children need to talk to a teacher or an adult. If there is no one to turn to or if someone is just too ashamed to share their struggles with loved ones, they need to utilize the County’s EveryMind mental health resources. EveryMind offers trained staff and volunteers for supportive listening, information and resource referrals, and crisis intervention - including suicide assessments - through telephone, text, and chat services. 24/7 phone service is available at the Montgomery County Hotline at 301-738-2255. Services are free, confidential, and available at everymind.org. We want everyone to know, save and share this information with others.
The County also offers help for uninsured residents to obtain mental health resources. If you or anyone you know needs mental health assistance and don’t have insurance, please call 240-777-1770 and we will help you find a therapist.
Additionally, I would like to see this County return to having community mental health clinics where any resident – whether they are insured or not – can get walk-in access to the help they need. These facilities were available in this county in the past and are now needed more than ever. I have asked our HHS team to investigate partnerships, feasibility, and the costs to make this happen.
Just like “see something, say something,” all of us can help a person in mental health crisis. Having conversations can save lives.
FY 23 Budget Approved - record funding for education, combatting climate change and affordable housing:
Last week, the County Council unanimously approved our FY23 budget. I am pleased the Council agreed on 99.8 percent of my recommended budget. This budget will grow our reserves, help preserve our AAA bond rating, and provide improved compensation for our employees. It features the largest budget ever for MCPS, initial funding for Montgomery College’s East County Education Center, record funding for our efforts to combat climate change and the highest level of investment in affordable housing in our County’s history.
A key to our ability to fund all of these things was an increase in revenue, something we have not experienced over the past several years. And projections indicate that our revenue growth is sustainable for the next several years. This allows us to make key investments and re-establish many priorities after many lean budget years that required us to hold the line or make cuts. We are a long way from just three years ago when I inherited a $90 million dollar deficit in our first budget, a same service budget in our second year at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a budget last year that relied on federal funds just to deliver a same-services budget despite increasing needs. Budget priorities area reflection of the conscience of a government. It is evident that in Montgomery County we are a community committed to education, sustainability, equity, safety, and opportunities for all.
Our FY23 budget begins on July 1st, and I encourage you to review the full highlights here. I want to thank our CAO, Richard Madaleno, and all our Assistant Chief Administrative Officers, Budget, and Finance teams, and County departments for their work. I am also appreciative of the County Council Members and their staffs for their collaboration and approval of the FY23 budget.
Tornado touches down in Olney, Hurricane Season begins:
Last week, an EF-1 Tornado touched down in Olney, damaging some homes and automobiles but fortunately causing no serious injuries. Now we must face the beginning of the 2022 Hurricane Season this week. We want to remind all residents to be prepared for storms, flooding, and potential loss of power. Due to climate change, our storms are becoming more frequent and intense year after year. Our Office of Emergency Management recommends the following 5 steps so you can do your best to be prepared.
First, stay informed. Please make sure you are signed up for County text alerts – these alerts will inform you when we are in severe weather watches and warnings – and can give you immediate notification when the National Weather Service is detecting bad weather in Montgomery County.
Second, make a plan. Every family needs to have an emergency plan that everyone in the household understands. We have emergency plan workbook templates on our website that will help guide your family’s planning.
Third, make a kit. Every home should have an emergency kit ready in case the power goes out, especially for an elongated time period. These kits should include several days’ supply of food and water, flashlights, first aid kits, a battery powered or hand-crank radio, activities for your kids, and supplies for your pets.
Fourth, get involved and help your community be prepared. There are classes that our Emergency Management department offers for free. And make sure you check in with your family, friends, and neighbors – especially those who are elderly, live alone, or have limited mobility.
“African rock’s great global star” performs at Strathmore:
This week, Strathmore hosted Africa’s top performer, Youssou N’Dour of Senegal. Called “African rock’s great global star” by the New York Times, this was a sold-out performance and attracted the African community from around the region to this special event. I was proud to give Mr. Ndour a special Proclamation declaring “Youssou N’Dour SeneGambia Mbalax Day” in Montgomery County. I was joined by, Strathmore Center CEO/President Monica Jeffries Hazangeles, Councilmember Hans Riemer, former U. S. Ambassador to The Gambia Carl Paschall, and former Gambian diplomat to the U.S. Juliana Baldeh. Many other Montgomery County based Senegalese, Gambians, Guineans, Sierra Leonians and other African/International diaspora leaders and admirers were also in attendance.
This was a special evening in our County and an amazing performance. We are fortunate to have a performing arts center like Strathmore in Montgomery County that offers diverse and world-class cultural arts programming for our County and region. Please visit Strathmore.org and consider attending a show there this summer.
Congrats to the Class of 2022!:
This week begins the start of MCPS graduation season, and I congratulate the Class of 2022! These students were robbed of some of the best and most important years of their student life due to the pandemic, but they were resilient, and they succeeded. This had to be one of the most challenging educational experiences for any students to go through.
Their perseverance and adaptation during these unprecedented times will be recognized for years to come. This is a very special class, and we look forward to watching them do great things.
As always, my appreciation for all you do,