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Time to Choose, Part II

Gaithersburg deciding three at-large members of the city council.

Last week, I wrote the  coming up Tuesday, Nov. 8. Now it's Gaithersburg's turn. In both cases, I am hoping to focus some attention on these key local elections and encourage you to vote.

If you live in either city, your mayor and city council have more direct impact on your day-to-day life than any other layer of government, so it's important to find out more about these candidates and GO VOTE! Far too few people are doing so today.

There are some good places to go for more information, starting right here on Patch.com. The City of Gaithersburg also has its own on-line voter guide and YouTube Channel, and the Gazette has weighed in with its own endorsements and has covered the race with several articles in recent weeks. Each candidate also has their own website.   

Gaithersburg will be electing three at-large members of the city council on Tuesday. On the ballot are three current members of the council and two newcomers. Each council member in Gaithersburg serves for a four-year term, with terms staggered so that all five are never up for election at the same time. This year, the terms for current incumbent Council Members Jud AshmanCathy Drzyzgula and Ryan Spiegel are up for election.  Paula Ross and Tom Rowse are the two challengers in the race.

Council Candidates Offer a Real Choice in Direction

This year's elections offer residents a clear choice in terms of the future direction of the council. If you are completely satisfied with the current policies and priorities of city government and you want more of the same, the three incumbents running for re-election are all committed to giving you just that. 

Jud Ashman and Ryan Spiegel in particular have established a solid record on balancing economic development and neighborhood preservation, and maintaining services in a tough budgetary climate. Both have a pretty consistent vision for Gaithersburg's future, understand the need for investment in transportation infrastructure and more targeted economic development, to meet the inevitable growth in population that is coming. Both also have the interpersonal skills to work well with various segments of the community, including local businesses and their fellow colleagues, and both would be a good choice for voters who are basically satisfied but also want forward-looking leadership. 

The third incumbent, Cathy Drzyzgula, has not been quite as adept at reaching out to all segments of the community, or recognizing the importance of continued business growth as part of her vision for the future, and seems even more committed to the status quo than the other two. However, she does come across as a principled and steady advocate for those who like things exactly as they are so, if that sounds like you, she's a good third choice.

However, the two challengers have articulated what I think is a thoughtful case for change, and also warrant consideration, especially given the continued weakness of the local economy. 

Ross and Rowse have both questioned the current council's priorities, including raising tax rates, and several missed opportunities to grow the local tax base. They point to the council's letter of opposition to the proposed expansion of the nearby Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, and their successful effort to change the name of what had been called the "Gaithersburg West" master plan.

Both challengers see this as a missed opportunity to "brand" the city as a vibrant center of science and technology innovation. While I see their point, the incumbents counter that the name of a master plan is not really the best way to brand a location, a good point, and assert that they did not oppose the entire plan, just the scope of it. Yet, the fact remains that the three incumbents did not support this major expansion of science and technology investment as proposed.  So this is a valid critique for those who want to see a more aggressive approach to job creation and transit-oriented development. 

The fact that the current APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) currently stifles community investment by placing roughly half of the city into a housing moratorium (for reasons having nothing to do with growth) also has been criticized by the challengers. Both have proposed modernizing the APFO so it is more consistent with county standards. Having half the city in a moratorium is no way to position the city as a welcome place for business and, in response to this criticism, the three incumbents have voiced support for modifying the APFO to varying degrees.

Councilman Jud Ashman has proposed adding more flexibility, which all three incumbents now say they support. The differences here may come down to nuances over how much change is needed, not whether change is needed, but there are differences.

In summary, you have three incumbents who have done a pretty solid job of maintaining the status quo, with some recognition that change is needed to meet the economic challenges now facing the city. A more ambitions "change" agenda is being offered by two well-qualified challengers, either of whom could add some urgency and broaden the diversity of viewpoints on the council. Your best bet may be to vote for two of the incumbents and one of the challengers, just to shake things up a bit. 

The bottom line is you have five strong candidates to choose from here, all of whom would do a good job on the council, but who offer different visions for the future.  

Your Most Important Choice:  Show up and Vote on Tuesday

If you care about your community, then show it.  The choices you make matter, and whoever you choose on Nov. 8, please GO VOTE. Turnout in past Gaithersburg and Rockville elections has been abysmal, far under 15 percent most years. Let's shoot for at least 20 percent this year.  Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Bob Drzyzgula November 06, 2011 at 02:15 PM
Mr. Parsons appears to have a selective memory regarding the history of "Science City". There were in fact good reasons to be skeptical about the plan, and to oppose the association of the project with Gaithersburg: * The plan as proposed ignored the severe traffic problems that would be created. The plan called for a critical lane volume of 1600, significantly above the standard used elsewhere; it was estimated that, under that standard, rush hour traffic in the area would drop to less than 10MPH by 2030. * The construction of grade-separated interchanges would have required the taking of both commercial and residential properties in the area, would have had significant detrimental impact on established neighborhoods, and would have seriously degraded the ability of pedestrians and bikers to travel existing routes. No provision was made for walkable access from established neighborhoods in Gaithersburg to the new commercial developments, effectively walling off the new from the old, and the County from the City. This proposed isolation is routinely ignored by the challengers. (Continued...)
Bob Drzyzgula November 06, 2011 at 02:17 PM
* The plan did not adequately stage development so as to require the improvements in infrastructure prior to the construction of new, high-density developments. * The analysis used by the County to justify the plan was largely bogus. For example, the County counted the income tax of all the new employees in the development as increased revenue, regardless of where in the County they lived; however, they only counted the households within the new development as contributing additional students to MCPS, thereby ignoring over $100 million annually in new school costs. Also, the estimated selling price for new housing units did not line up with the projected income of the new employees, effectively invalidating much of the claimed benefit to the County's budget. * There was no requirement in the master plan that the actual developments serve the "science" or "research" functions that were claimed. For example, the office of a family doctor would count as "research". It was smoke and mirrors, just using the Johns Hopkins name to sell yet another town center development. (Continued...)
Bob Drzyzgula November 06, 2011 at 02:18 PM
This is just a sampling of the problems with the Gaithersburg West Master Plan as proposed, and the City was understandably concerned. Regarding the "branding" issue, the use of the "Gaithersburg" name in the title of the master plan was at best misleading. Many who were concerned about the irresponsibility of the proposal were looking to the City of Gaithersburg to do something about it -- but the project was not in the City -- was never going to be in the City unless the developers asked to be annexed -- and the City had limited ability to deal with the problems. Note that the projects called for in the master plan were never going to use "Gaithersburg" as part of the name, there was no assurance that the street addresses would even be in "Gaithersburg", and thus any hope that the City might bask in the glow of whatever got built there were most likely unfounded. If voters are hoping to bring to Gaithersburg this sort of irresponsible blindness to the details of development proposals, then I guess that yes, they should vote for one or both of the challengers. However, if they want someone who will actually read the background materials, and ask the hard questions, then they should be voting for Jud and Cathy.
Richard Parsons November 06, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Each one of the bullets above contains major factual errors and innacuracies. Irresponsible blindness goes both ways, it seems. Just one example (of many) the plan was always staged, from the beginning, to the provision of new transportation facilities including the CCT. Facts are facts, and you clearly got all your "facts" from the opponents of the plan, for whom accuracy was never a strong suit. We obviously have different views on this, and voters are free to make a choice, which is what elections are all about. However you feel, just get out and vote Tuesday.
JoAnn Schimke November 06, 2011 at 05:04 PM
In the last two years I have seen over 30 employees leave the City of Gaithersburg, many of whom were senior employees who had devoted their careers to serving our city. A dedicated, experienced, and positive staff is essential to any well run city and is lacking in our city at present. I have also seen print communication to citizens cut out of the budget, except at election time. The one thing that can unite us a city is not a priority with the current M&CC and you are left to try and find information on your own if you want to be an informed and involved citizen. From my research of other municipalities in Maryland, we are the exception, not the norm to this way of thinking. So, VOICE your CHOICE on Tuesday and get out and VOTE!!
Bob Drzyzgula November 07, 2011 at 09:30 PM
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12686/rockville-gaithersburg-races-involve-transit-and-growth/ "Parsons' summary of Gaithersburg's races, on the other hand, are a lot more suspect because he was previous paid by Johns Hopkins to promote their so-called "Science City" development. The Gaithersburg council opposed the project at its proposed size, and Parsons criticizes this decision without disclosing his conflict of interest."
Richard Arkin November 08, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Is Richard Parsons speaking for Patch? Are they official endorsements of the publication or is he merely expressing his own personal opinion. I believe readers have the right to know.
Sean R. Sedam November 08, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Mr. Arkin: Mr. Parsons is, as you write, "merely expressing his own personal opinion," the same as any columnist writing for any publication. Patch has not endorsed any candidates. Thanks for asking the question.
Richard Arkin November 09, 2011 at 07:46 PM
There is no language published along with Mr. Parsons' essays disclosing the nature of his association with patch.com and the language and presentation of Mr. Parsons' endorsement essay suggest that the endorsements are publication endorsements rather than "columnist" or mere reader opinions. Patch may wish to make those distinctions clear in future additions. Further, if Patch is to have official "columnists," I would respectfully suggest that you might wish to publish columns from writers with varied points of view who reflect the various streams of opinion within your readership. The election results in both Gaithersburg and Rockville clearly indicate that Mr. Parsons does not have his finger on the pulse of the majority of voters in each jurisdiction. Thank you.
Doug R November 09, 2011 at 08:46 PM
I agree with Mr. Arkin--with regard to the Rockville election Patch's "guest columns" were clearly biased toward Mayor Marcuccio. There should have been more balance to them.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) November 12, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Rich Parsons is a "talking head" or "hired gun". He speaks for the benefit of his clients and Patch has given him the opportunity to express these views as if he is just "Joe Neighbor" who is interested in the greater good of the community. If you look back through his postings, others have confronted Patch about the lack of disclosure but here he is, still spouting off with impunity.
Joseph Jordan November 12, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Parsons is a paid contributor for Patch. When I asked why there were no disclaimers on articles such as his endorsements for the Rockville election, Doug Tallman, Regional "editor", said he didn't think it was necessary, and made reference to columnists writing for the NYT and WP.
Theresa Defino November 12, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Uh, hardly a majority if you look at the results! The current mayor ran an dirty campaign and it got her elected. I agreed with most of Mr. Parson's endorsements and I am not representing anyone or have any "clients" for which you can try to disparage my opinions. As I said before, anyone who spent any time on the issues and where the candidates stood on specific projects, programs, expenditures and otherwise, would not have supported the mayor--it wasn't clear where she stood on anything beyond nastiness and negative campaigning. She did not articulate any vision for the future.

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