October is the first full month of Fall and full of many events and causes we want you to be aware of. October is Energy Action Month. Each week Montgomery County will be leading the public push to be environmentally conscious starting with Electrify Your Ride Week, which begins on Monday. By the end of the month, we will cut the ribbon at the Brookville Bus Depot which will have a new solar panel canopy and micro-grid that will be the power source for new electric buses.
October is the month when the Montgomery County Family Justice Center Foundation leans on all of us for support. It is hosting a fundraising challenge and hoping you keep count of the distance you travel this month to raise money for the group. You can sign up to participate in the "MCFJC Foundation 13K to Help End Domestic Violence" as an individual, with a team of friends or co-workers or as a sponsoring business. Its mission is to provide wrap-around aid for victims of domestic violence and their children. It also focuses on education—alerting adults and teens to the signs of dangerous relationships. It does not matter if you plan to walk, run or bike your way to 13K—please participate and spread the word.
Court decision paves the way for smoother election in November
October also means we are closing in on another Election Day. I encourage you to make sure you are registered to vote with the State of Maryland by the deadline of Oct. 18. Early voting for the general election begins in a few weeks, on Oct. 27.
Recently, we got some good news that should make counting the ballots not the drawn-out process it was this summer.
A Montgomery County circuit court judge ruled that the Board of Elections can start the process of preparing mail-in ballots for tabulation prior to Election Day. This is great news for voters and candidates.
This decision changes the ballot counting process that was in place for the primary election in July, when the Board of Elections had to wait 48 hours after Election Day to begin its work on mail-in ballots. This resulted in long delays in reporting final election results as the elections workers and volunteers struggled to sort and count tens of thousands of ballots.
The delay was unnecessary. The General Assembly had passed a law allowing the early processing of mail-in ballots before Election Day, but it was vetoed by the governor. The court’s decision last week is an acknowledgment that there is a new normal. Voters expect the process to be convenient and easy, and they expect their votes to be counted quickly.
Sadly, it appears that the Republican nominee for governor has a different view. He has filed an appeal to reverse the court’s decision and once again have our election workers counting ballots for weeks after Election Day.
It is my hope that the Courts will uphold last week’s ruling. I believe the decision is better for Maryland.
Purple Line gets strong support during special event this week
I was glad to see strong community support and focus this week on the Purple Line, specifically on equity and sustained development goals.
Once completed, the Purple Line will have 10 stops in Montgomery County. This project has the potential to touch many lives, from those who seek new job opportunities to businesses eager to find new customers.
It is important to have a report like this come out long before the first trains roll between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. With so many opportunities ahead, we must have a plan so that no group is left out.
I remain highly concerned about the potential impact of speculative real estate investment along the corridor and its effects on affordable housing and commercial rents. That is why the Purple Line corridor may very well be the ideal place to pilot residential and commercial rent stabilization efforts. Many of the neighborhoods along the corridor will face intense gentrification pressure unless we enact policies to protect the people living along that route now.
Businesses also need help. We are engaging our small and locally owned businesses in the impacted commercial areas to ensure that they not only survive construction but thrive afterward.
We cannot forget about the walkers and bicycle users who also need safe access to and from Purple Line stations. We must work hard to make sure our plans are coordinated and user friendly to help get people to work, school and elsewhere across Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
I want to thank the Purple Line Corridor Coalition for the work it has done by thinking ahead on these equity issues and others arising from this massive project. we can make this works for everyone.
South Korean embassy meets with Montgomery County leaders
I joined Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones and Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation COO and President Bill Tompkins this week for a sit-down with embassy leaders from South Korea.
They had many questions about how our government works as topics ran the gamut from economic development to community safety—including how seriously we treat suspected hate crimes. The attaché expressed gratitude for our serious and prompt response to incidents in the county. We also spent time talking about environmental policies and education. I look forward to the partnerships that come from our visit with the Korean consulate.
Montgomery County Schools highly ranked
I’m very proud of how well Montgomery County public schools fared in the latest ranking of schools done by Niche. Poolesville High School was rated number 1 in the State for public schools and seven of the top 10 public high schools in Maryland are in Montgomery County. No school in our County was ranked in the bottom half of the list, which evaluated Maryland’s 232 schools.
These high marks would not be possible without the leadership and guidance from our school leaders and the outstanding teachers we have in our County who have worked hard despite all the challenges we’ve faced in the last two years. Of course, our students deserve a lot of credit too for paying attention, handling adversity, and doing the work.
I’m proud that our County continues to stand out in so many ways, including having the best school system in Maryland. And I am pleased that we are regarded as an example from which to learn.
Hispanic Heritage Month: Art-themed businesses shine
Our Hispanic Heritage Month tour of businesses continued late last week with a trip up I-270.
The first stop was the new Art Gallery in the Kentlands. It is the second space opened by the two women behind RoFa and Beta Galleries. Their original location, La Morada in Potomac, is also open to the public, but by appointment only. The women behind these galleries are proud of the Latin American artists they have been able to showcase here in Montgomery County, giving examples of strong voices and cultural awareness.
I was impressed with the political protest art from the streets of Colombia featured at the new Kentlands location on Main Street in Gaithersburg. When I was there last Friday, it was great to see people browsing and curious about the art inside. Gabriela Rosso has many stories to share. I wish her success as she brings 20 years of art world experience and a love for daring art to Montgomery County.
Next, I traveled to Germantown to a more interactive art experience. We Art Fun is located just a few blocks from the BlackRock Center for the Arts. It was started by Roxana Rojas-Luzon, who enjoyed the paint-your-own ceramics stores in other parts of the County and wanted to bring that experience to Upcounty. In her store, I saw people painting small mementos for their homes and children working on things to hang on the wall. It is wonderful to see a small business owner see their dream realized and impacting the community. I hope you have a chance to check out these businesses and others we highlight across the county.
We are sharing pictures from all our visits through my Facebook and Twitter pages and they are also available on Montgomery County’s Flickr page if you want to see more.
Grant money available for vulnerable groups in need of security help
The County continues to be concerned with the security needs of nonprofit organizations and faith-based organizations, especially those that face public criticism for political reasons. It is why Montgomery County has opened a new round of grants through the Office of Emergency Management for groups that could be targeted for hate crimes.
The County has reserved $800,000 in this year's operating budget for the Nonprofit Security Grants program. Organizations have until Oct. 26 to apply. There are three informational sessions remaining to get details about the program and have your questions answered. Here is list of the remaining webinars:
- Monday, Oct. 3 7-8 p.m.
- Wednesday, Oct. 19 1-2 p.m.
- Monday, Oct. 24 7-8 p.m.
Montgomery County will continue to be an inclusive place to live for our diverse communities and we will work to prevent crimes of hate and bias. Hate has no home here.
Flu shots highly recommended this year
Flu shots are now available at pharmacies across Montgomery County. You may be thinking, ‘I can’t remember the last time I got the flu.’ That’s exactly why making it a priority this year is so important.
One side effect of the pandemic is that we have been spared a significant flu season. We have had our defenses up for so long with the COVID-19 threat that our bodies may not have the resistance to flu that you would expect without a flu shot. We are also more active and around more people again, even compared to last fall.
Consider booking an appointment to get your flu shot. The County will host a few flu vaccine clinics in October and November and you can call 311 to set an appointment through the Department of Health and Human Services. Flu shots are already widely available at pharmacies and doctor offices in our area.
COVID-19 continues to pose ‘low’ community risk
Our COVID-19 case rates continue to fall with fewer than 125 cases per 100,000 people. Our community level status remains at ‘low.’
The main thing we want to stress is the continuing need for people to get vaccines and boosters.
Preventative shots have helped us reach the 'low' level we are at now, and without those protections, we have seen what happens. Mortality and hospitalization rates are not following a downward trend the way cases are. That is because the very small number of unvaccinated people in our County account for most new severe cases we are seeing.
The new bivalent vaccine increases protection against two different variants of Omicron. Since its introduction, we have seen a slight increase in demand throughout the County. We hope that continues and that people realize their best protection moving forward is with vaccines and boosters.
Even if you have not kept up with booster recommendations in the past, there is no need to play catch-up: this new booster is the only one being administered now.
Slowdown in Monkeypox cases
We now have a date set for our next town hall forum on monkeypox. It will be held virtually Monday, Oct. 10, and will focus on the Black community. Recent data indicates that a greater percentage of Black men and Hispanic men impacted by the virus.
We also recently expanded eligibility for our monkeypox vaccine, allowing anyone who is at high risk of contracting the disease to receive a vaccine through the County.
Our case count in Montgomery County remains at nearly the same level it has been for the past three weeks, with around 80 cases reported. That accounts for about 12 percent of the cases across Maryland.
We will continue to provide vaccinations and inform the community about the spread of this highly contagious disease and do our best to make sure the treatment and distribution of preventative education is fair and equitable.
Takoma Park Street Festival this Sunday
Finally, Takoma Park will host its 41st annual Street Festival this Sunday, Oct. 2.
The festival celebrates Washington, D.C.’s first suburb. In 1883, train riders commuted to D.C. from the newly established area. Nearly 150 years later, the town continues to celebrate its independence, diversity, and unique spirit.
The all-day festival expects to have 18 local bands, food trucks, and hundreds of people. Vendors from the area will pack into a three-block stretch of Carroll Avenue that will be closed to cars. The easiest way to get there is by taking Metro's Red Line to the Takoma Station.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,