Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The Montgomery County Council can only seem to create a handful of jobs per year - and they're all in the county government.

No sooner had the council created a Bag Tax Czar and Economic Development Czar (with the lavish salaries for both being paid for by you, the taxpayer), than it came up with another dream position:  something they called, "Chief Innovation Officer."

Recently, that $150,000 job was filled with the county's hiring of Dan Hoffman.  What little has been said about this hiring has been in glowing terms by county elected officials, and the status quo line is that Hoffman is merely a government employee and civic activist who will be doing great, if vaguely-unspecified, things from his new Rockville office.

Given the cost of these positions, and the budgetary context here, you'd think the local media would have some critical questions about all of this, especially when the county "has no money."

So, as Paul Harvey used to say, "now, the rest of the story."

Dan Hoffman is not just a civic activist, but a political activist and donor, as well.  He was instrumental in gaining passage of the controversial White Flint Sector Plan by the county council.  This represented a victory for powerful developers, who stand to rake in millions each in profits.

According to Maryland Campaign Finance records, in 2010, Hoffman contributed to councilmembers Roger Berliner, George Leventhal, Marc Elrich, and Hans Riemer.

In July of that year, Hoffman was appointed to the Montgomery County Organizational Reform Commission by the County Council.

Something else happened during the fall election season of 2010.  One important role Hoffman played in the White Flint Sector Plan process was as the head of the Randolph Hills Civic Association.

The RHCA sent County Council candidates a questionnaire, ostensibly for providing direct information from each candidate to local residents.

Assuming the eventual election-themed community newsletter mailing was paid for with RHCA funds, that is acceptable under Maryland campaign finance regulations.

However, the newsletter that was mailed did not contain actual candidate statements.  Instead, it featured highly-subjective critiques of candidates by several writers, including Hoffman.

The candidates Hoffman donated to were presented favorably in the mailing to residents.  But Hoffman himself wrote a misleading and negative statement about at least one of their challengers, who also was an outspoken opponent of the White Flint Sector Plan.

In order to read the actual candidates' words, residents had to go onto the internet to find them.  Hence, this mailing became a virtual endorsement letter, and entered a very grey area of campaign finance and tax-exempt organization regulations.

Should a supporter and donor of candidates be writing subjective summaries of their opponents for wide neighborhood distribution, assuming the mailing was paid for by RHCA resident dues?

Now fast forward to 2012. 

Just what is the purpose of a CIO, anyway?  Hoffman says don't expect too much.  I'm actually expecting a lot from a county official making $150,000 a year, the equivalent of three rookie police officers who had to go unhired to create the CIO position.   I can't wait to hear his report of accomplishments this time next year.

After all, CIO is as much of a newly-fashionable gimmick as those "-Stat" initiatives.

Started by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, these numbers were originally hard data that could be used to harshly cross-examine city officials at meetings. The goal was to increase efficiency, and it was fairly successful.

But now, CountyStat and StateStat seem to present numbers that make officials sound good.  You get a data set, but where's the data that shows how you got that data set?  I can't find it.

Know what else you can't find on the county website? Still no itemized, complete county budget that you can sort through online, in real time.

Finally, the suggestion that the CIO will facilitate the creation of apps using county data sets?

You could have recruited the best computer whizzes from county high schools to do that for free, and give them community service credits.

In conclusion, I just wonder why, when even more tax increases and budget cuts are on the table, no one is questioning a $150,000 plum job with no clear purpose.  This is not the message to send to the taxpayer at this time.

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