July 3, 2024

Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich


Dear Friends,

I hope you are enjoying the Fourth of July and the weekend. This is the time of year when lots of people take time off to relax or travel. There are several topics I’d like to cover this week that I hope you find interesting.
In lieu of my regular video update, we decided to look back at the Montgomery Serves Awards and give you a shorter version of the 2-hour ceremony that took place in late June. Please click on the video link above and enjoy learning more about the great work being done by dedicated volunteers and organizations in our community.

The Montgomery Serves Awards are the County’s highest honor for service and volunteerism. I congratulate this year’s winners and thank them for their dedication to the County.

For more than a decade, the event has honored community leaders for their efforts with the Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Award. I had the pleasure of working with the Roscoe R. Nix. He was a fierce civil rights champion who helped lead the fight against segregation and school closures in Montgomery County. Here is a video produced when the awards were launched in 2012, that gives a brief history of Roscoe Nix. This year, I selected three people for the Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Awards:
  • Catherine Leggett is an attorney and former first lady of the County. She is also a selfless volunteer, helping numerous causes related to public safety, the arts and humanities, and underserved communities.
  • Joyce Seigel is a longtime community leader and activist. Her work on equal rights and fair housing helped countless people. She founded the West Fernwood Civic Association and played a significant role in revitalizing the County's Scotland Community. 
  • Maryland Del. Greg Wims served his first term in Annapolis this year. Previously, he was the Upcounty Regional Services Center director. For decades his Victims’ Rights Foundation has helped provide volunteer support services for victims of violent crimes, including those hurt and the family of those killed in the Beltway Sniper attacks.
Montgomery County’s previous county executive, Ike Leggett, set a standard for inclusiveness that has served us well. It was my pleasure to continue the tradition of honoring recipients who work so hard to improve the lives of Montgomery County residents.

Warren Fleming, president of the Damascus Connection Committee, received the Inez Zeigler McAbee and William Harvey Zeigler Humanitarian Award for his work on community unity and creating positive change in Montgomery County.

Two Neal Potter Path of Achievement Awards were presented. The first went to Bruce Adams, a former County Councilmember and former director of the Office of Community Partnerships. He also taught leadership to students at County high schools and co-founded the Bethesda Community Base Ball Club to improve youth fields.  

Mary Canapary, the volunteer director of The Lord's Table in Gaithersburg, also received a Neal Potter Path of Achievement Award. Throughout her lifetime, she has personally served more than 500,000 hot meals and helped recruit approximately 400 volunteers.

Wendy Kent was this year’s Volunteer of the Year. She co-founded Tommy’s Pantry, which helps improve access to food and other essentials in Greater Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

The Youth Volunteer of the Year was Tejusvi Vijay, a high schooler at Montgomery Blair who helped launch a mentor program for girls focused on science, math and computer science. Her efforts to launch a Lego Club specifically for English Language Learners at Blair is commendable and a wonderful example of inclusivity.

Congratulations to The Monitor Group, this year’s recognized Volunteer Business of the Year. Several of our community partners have relied on the group for financial services, allowing them to focus on helping clients.

Finally, the AARP Tax-Aide program of Montgomery County earned Volunteer Group of the Year. In 2023, volunteers prepared 3,780 returns resulting in a total of $3,530,262 in refunds.

I try to pass along the credit we get as a County for helping residents to the nonprofits coordinating that assistance and the volunteers who help them perform that work. We would not be able to serve the public without the great work done by volunteers. Their selfless work inspires others, exemplifies the true spirit of community, and highlights the profound impact individuals can have when they give of themselves.

These remarkable individuals and organizations prove that one person or one group can make a difference. I encourage you to use the days off we have during this Fourth of July holiday to consider how you can best use your skills and talents to join these volunteers and make the County a better place for everyone.

Summer Meals Program

The holiday marks the middle of summer for many. With most schools closed until late August, they remain an important food distribution point to ensure that young people in need have access to healthy meals.

The Summer Meals Program provides free, nutritious meals to all children 18 years old and younger. The idea is to bridge the “nutrition gap” the occurs when school is out.

This year it is estimated that around 9,500 children will be served by the program across more than 100 locations. The program targets areas where 50 percent of the students enrolled are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. If the school is a middle or high school, the closest elementary school must have 50 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. If you think a nearby school qualifies but is not providing the program, contact the school district’s Division of Food and Nutrition Services at 240-740-7400.

When I was a teacher, I remember seeing the impact hunger had on children and their ability to learn. This program is designed to close the nutrition and hunger gap. I hope every family that needs assistance takes advantage of the Summer Meals Program.

Click here for a list of the 2024 summer food service meal sites as well as the menus. No appointments are necessary, but the meals must be consumed on-site.

Supreme Court Decisions

During the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the key issues was how the next president was going to shape the Supreme Court. As we look at the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, it is very clear how Donald Trump shaped the court. It is another example that elections matter and have consequences. President Trump nominated three extremely right-wing justices. Over the last three years, we have felt the impact of the appointment of these justices. Two years ago, this court overturned Roe vs. Wade, and last year, they ruled that anyone, anywhere, has the right to carry a gun in public spaces. And this year, this conservative court continues to flagrantly destroy democratic processes and trample on the rights of citizens.

Over the past week, the Supreme Court has delivered a series of cataclysmic opinions. These decisions have created a heightened sense of worry for many people about the future of our Country and our planet.

Just like in my weekly media briefing (which you can watch here), I’d like to focus on just a few of them and express my concerns about their potential impact.

First, allowing jurisdictions to criminalize homelessness. It would be hard to be more inhumane than passing laws that make it impossible to sleep. Individuals experiencing homelessness need help. They also need services that lead to recovery. They need some compassion, and they need a place to lay their heads at night. If our community cannot provide that shelter, at least let them be able to find a place to sleep and rest for the night. It is not ideal but throwing them in prison is inhumane and fundamentally unjust.

Second, the high court put limits on a federal law aimed at eliminating public corruption. The ruling will allow gifts and payments to politicians as long as those rewards come after favorable action is taken by state and local officials instead of before. It basically creates an IOU for bribes. Something as simple as telling a legislator, ‘I’ll remember your kindness’ in order to have our legislators making decisions based on their personal gain and self-interest. This is a fundamental attack on democracy.

Giving the Supreme Court the power to decide on challenges to regulations has the potential to significantly impact the health and safety of Americans because the Court will not have the expertise or capacity to properly evaluate and assess these cases. As difficult as it is to produce complex legislation, this only gets worse if Congress can obstruct the rule-making, and let anyone at any time challenge an existing regulation.

This has the potential to eviscerate the regulatory system. Think about how long it took to get regulations to deal with asbestos, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas regulations. Today we are dealing with polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS – the forever chemicals that are apparently everywhere in our environment – permitted to be used in a way that made that happen because the regulatory process was weak to begin with. Now as agencies like WSSC are taking action to remove PFAS from the water, it will become incredibly difficult to create regulations that will have to be approved by Congress to deal with the latest impending health crisis.

PFAS usage is a poster child for a poor regulatory process, and not the only example, but now that we need a concerted effort to get this stuff out of our water, our food, our clothes, we’re going to have to convince this Congress that public safety is a higher priority than corporate profits – this will not be easy.

The decision that most Americans were awaiting was probably the one on Presidential immunity. The Court determined that the President is immune from criminal charges when the acts are done in line with the duties and responsibilities of the Office of the President.

The idea of executive immunity is outrageous because no one should be above the law, and that includes the President of the United States. It is a threat to our democracy and could significantly change the way a president operates. The court provided no clear answer as to how far a president could go – could he declare political opponents to be terrorists, or agents of a foreign power and have them arrested? This is what Putin does, is this something we should emulate?

These Supreme Court decisions could literally be life-threatening, particularly if they hinge on someone who lacks the competence to make scientific decisions. These justices would become the arbiters of what is safe and what is not.

Deadline for Firefighter Recruits Approaching

On Saturday, June 29, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) hosted an on-site application event for potential new hires. If you have anyone in your life who is thinking about becoming a firefighter, I encourage you to look out for events like this in the future. Visitors got to watch a candidate take our physical ability test, meet with recruiters and get their questions answered.

Applications for the next academy are due July 10. The recruitment section of the MCFRS website provides more information about our requirements.

Celebrating Diversity with BBQ

Last Saturday, the Asian BBQ Festival took place at Rockville Town Square. It was great to celebrate the County and region’s diversity. I was also able to share with the crowd the benefits of some of my recent economic missions to China, South Korea, India, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Celebrating Pride Month One Last Time

We also wrapped up Pride Month last Sunday with the County’s annual celebration of our diverse LGBTQ+ community at Veteran’s Plaza in Silver Spring. This is both a celebratory and educational event. There were opportunities for free HIV testing and other health screenings. Our Health Department tested double the number of people they had anticipated testing. I also want to thank our sponsors and the volunteers who came out to make sure this year’s Pride in the Plaza was a success.

Heat, Drought and Fireworks Dangers

Turning back to the Fourth of July holiday, I want to end with a reminder to be careful. There are many dangers, from the heat to fireworks, that land many people in the emergency room around this time of year.

Fireworks are illegal throughout Montgomery County, but that does not stop some people from buying them elsewhere and setting them off at home. If that happens, report it to the police through the non-emergency number, 301-279-8000. Only call 911 if there is a life-threatening situation like a wildfire or critical injury.

Every year, careless use of fireworks leads to burns and injuries. Nationwide numbers from the National Fire Protection Association show that most of those injuries (detailed above) occur to hands, fingers and legs. Around 20 percent of those injuries impact the eyes. Fireworks started more than 32,000 fires nationwide in 2022. That accounts for structure fires, car fires and outside fires and more than $100 million dollars in direct property damage.

Our dry weather and drought conditions make playing with fireworks even more of a concern this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows our area as abnormally dry. Data from the National Integrated Drought Information System shows that more than 500,000 people in the County are affected by drought. This comes despite Montgomery County having had the wettest May in the 130-year history of recorded rainfall.

With dry conditions come heat dangers. Often, with temperatures in the 90s, people can get themselves out of the heat before heat illness sets in, but pets may not. Please look out for your pets and those in your neighborhood this summer. To have an Animal Services Officer Dispatched in a non-emergency situation call 301-279-8000. More information about Montgomery County animal control laws can be found on the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center website.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive