We all grieve for the life lost in last weekend’s apartment building fire in Silver Spring. The victim was in her 20’s and had just started to make her impact in the world when she died. Her death is a tragedy, and our sympathies are with her family and friends.
Twenty injuries were reported, including some of our first responders. We hope for quick recoveries to all those who were injured. Dozens of fire victims remained in temporary shelter days after the fire. It is heartening to see the outpouring of support for these tenants from neighbors near and far.
I want to thank our partners at Montgomery Housing Partners for managing donations that have been made. More than $23,000 was collected in just a few days. Here is a link to its website if you would like to help. A link also can be found at the top of my Twitter feed.
This fire is a reminder that safety should be of paramount importance during any emergency. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein reminded everyone during my weekly media briefing that smoke inhalation often is the primary reason people die in fires. Having a safety plan, practicing it and leaving a fire as quickly as possible are ways to stay safe.
Chief Goldstein explained that it is good to pull the fire alarm on your way out of the building to alert others to what is happening. Sometimes, like with Saturday’s fire, 911 callers instruct people to shelter in place until the fire is out or the smoke can be cleared out.
Updating codes to require sprinkler systems in older buildings and implementing other safety measures is in the works, but right now, the State timeline for these changes is 10 years away. In the shorter term, we are exploring other improvements and changes that might be important.
I want to thank the County departments, the Red Cross of the National Capital and Greater Chesapeake Region and the owners of the Arrive apartments for getting victims temporary shelter, food and other essentials.
And special thanks must also go to the DoubleTree Hotel, which is located just across the street from the complex. It provided immediate help to victims by opening its lobby to get people out of the cold. It shared breakfast and allowed our partners to use a conference room to help victims.
Please keep the tenants of this building in your thoughts and lend your support if you can.
Hate has No Home in Montgomery County
For the second time in the last four months, we saw a group of Proud Boys try to stop a Drag Queen Story Hour event. The latest disruption happened last Saturday morning outside a bookstore in Silver Spring. Volunteers formed a wall outside Loyalty Bookstore to prevent demonstrators from entering. This led to some shoving, hitting and kicking. This episode was upsetting for several reasons including the abhorrent messaging protesters were trying to deliver, the violence they were willing to use and how it appears these incidents are escalating.
I do not want to see violence come from these and we are looking at ways to protect people from the threat of violence posed by the protesters. If they try to repeat some of the things we saw captured on video this past Saturday, those people will be cited, arrested and jailed. We will protect anyone's right to peacefully protest, but we are not going to allow assaults.
We will not be intimidated by these cowards who ironically call themselves “Proud,” but refuse to show their faces. They epitomize hate, intolerance and misogyny—all values that have no home in Montgomery County.
Hiring Bonuses for New MCPD Officers
offering a $20,000 bonus for new sworn police recruits.
This is a significant signing bonus, matching the highest amounts offered in our region. These bonuses will improve our competitiveness with other police departments to attract the most talented, committed, and diverse upcoming recruit classes to our Police Department.
Funding for the initial part of this effort will come from savings accrued from personnel vacancies within the Montgomery County Police Department. Full implementation of the bonus program would require County Council approval for Fiscal Year 2024 and beyond budgets.
Currently, the Police Department is down 129 sworn officers. Like police departments around the country, Montgomery County Police are struggling to fill positions. When this bonus is paired with the recent pay increase for officers, I believe it will help us start to reverse that shortfall and anticipated losses over the next few years due to retirements and other factors.
Right now, we are working on changes to the police department including revamping our training procedures. Over the last two years, we have worked with the community and a nationally recognized consulting company focused on public safety. They have helped us identify ways to improve how our officers interact with the public and how they are trained.
I believe this bonus money will help us attract some of the best candidates. We want more of our police officers to come from Montgomery County, and if we can help them afford to live here, that will help grow an already effective department.
Family Forum on Fentanyl on Saturday, Feb. 25
Because of the ongoing concern about teen drug use and overdoses, there will be another community forum on Saturday, Feb. 25, on the dangers of fentanyl. It will be at Northwood High School in Silver Spring starting at 9:30 a.m. Some breakout sessions during the two-hour program will be conducted in Spanish.
Earlier this week Spanish-speakers were invited to an online community forum on the dangers of fentanyl that was organized by our Department of Health and Human Services and our Latino Health Initiative.
We hope that no matter the language, the message is clear to all Montgomery County families: No one is immune to the dangers of fentanyl. Please educate yourself, have conversations with children and teenagers and seek support and treatment if you or your loved one needs help. Here is a link to the County’s online resources to help keep families educated and aware of ways to help.
County Files Lawsuit Against McKinsey & Company Over Its Role in Proliferation of Opioid Abuse
National settlements against drug makers and distributors over opioid lawsuits are expected to bring Montgomery County approximately $34 million over the next 18 years. The same lawsuits are expected to net the State of Maryland approximately $400 million dollars over that period.
These monies are from settlements against pharmaceutical companies that the County joined in 2018. Despite the large monetary amounts, it still is not enough restitution for what these companies did to our nation.
If anyone else in society committed an act that led to thousands of deaths, they would be facing life in prison, not fines. It is frustrating that the people who masterminded the explosion of these drugs have escaped responsibility for their crimes. It is another example of the unequal treatment under the law for white collar criminals—even when their actions kill people.
The fact that they have paid out this money in no way exonerates company leaders from the tragedies they have created.
Montgomery County this week joined other jurisdictions in a lawsuit against McKinsey and Company, Inc.—another culprit for its role in marketing opioids to the public and medical providers. The County Council recently approved a law firm to represent the County in this matter.
The suit alleges that the McKinsey served as a marketing advisor for more than a decade to several opioid manufacturers, and in this role helped counter the “emotional message” from the families of overdose victims. The lawsuit also alleges that McKinsey advised Purdue on how to “turbocharge” the sale of opioids.
I am glad these legal efforts are moving forward. These companies made billions of dollars while families suffered the consequences of drug addiction. They must be held accountable.
COVID-19 Community Health Update
We have had another big drop in COVID-19 cases and new hospitalization numbers have declined to levels we have not seen in more than a year. Our Community Level Status remains 'low."
We remain committed to the providing vaccines and boosters to walk-in patients or by appointment for anyone seeking one. You can schedule those appointments in Silver Spring, Rockville, Germantown and Burtonsville online, by calling 240-777-2982 or by scheduling a visit with your local doctor or pharmacy. Staying up to date on your bivalent boosters is still the best protection for a serious bout with COVID. Most people who have received their booster shot since last September have not been seriously ill.
COVID test kits and facemasks are available for free and at County libraries and other County facilities.
Black History Month: Holly Grove
As we near the end of Black History Month, I would like to highlight an historic corner of Montgomery County. The Holly Grove Freeman Community was established at the end of 1879. Back then, it was just a handful of families on 85 acres of land Ever since, it has become a home for generations of Black families.
The Holly Grove Historical Preservation Association has done a wonderful job of tracing the history of this area. After the Civil War, Quakers were among the few groups that would sell their land to freed slaves. Holly Grove helped establish Montgomery County as one of the first places to receive a primary education with Black teachers working at Sandy Spring School, Sharp Street School and Spencerville School through the early 20th Century. After World War II, families in the area were forced to fight the "community renewal program" to keep their homes from being relocated. It is that tenacity that has led to at least nine generations of family members sharing the same land. The Holly Grove Historical Preservation Association encourages the protection of that long history by fighting for archaeological sites that are important to the area's history.
One of those lifelong residents is Judy Mauldin. Ms. Mauldin is the founder of the Holly Grove Historical Preservation Association. She has been working diligently to make sure that the history of this area is not forgotten. Today, it is an area with native trees and stream valleys that are among the cleanest feeding into the Anacostia River. I want to thank Ms. Mauldin for her work to preserve this important history.
There is a lot of history in Montgomery County that is not always known or shown. It is important to showcase our historic communities and share their history with new generations and visitors.
This weekend I plan on visiting King’s Auto Care, the Breakfast Club and the Sebrof Forbes Cultural Arts Center. At the arts center, a Black Business Expo will be held to talk to Black business owners and entrepreneurs. Even though we only recognize Black History Month in February, highlighting the contributions of Black Americans and learning about their history is something we must be committed to do year-round.
If you missed my conversation with Jim Stowe, director of the County’s Office of Human Rights, to start Black History Month, please click this link.
Governor Moore Visits to Learn About UM-Institute for Health Computing
We met with Maryland Governor Wes Moore and Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller last week to go over our plans for the future UM - Institute for Health Computing in North Bethesda. Along with leaders from University of Maryland-College Park, University of Maryland Baltimore, the University of Maryland Medical System and WMATA, we discussed the project and answered questions. In a press conference afterward, Governor Moore praised the project, saying ideas like this give him hope for Maryland's future.
Gov. Moore and I see this as a transformative project for the Washington region and the State. We are already situated in the heart of the nation's fourth-largest bio health cluster. Adding this research facility focused on artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual and augmented reality will strengthen our ability to draw life sciences companies. The project offers the promise of using the technology and research to improve health outcomes for the nation and the world.
It also will be a strong anchor for the North Bethesda Metro Station. While Metro is important, we also need support in order to put in place the BRT lines that are critical to serving the 355 corridor. There is an enormous potential here for development, but the existing road network will not handle the future growth. That is why the previous governor’s offer to try to attract Amazon included a major investment in the BRT lines that will be necessary to accommodate the future workers who would come here.
I am excited about the future of this project and the State's partnership in bringing it to Montgomery County.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,