Saturday, January 31, 2015


Using transit, 
"you lose an enormous amount of 
your productive hours waiting"

Tell me about it.

The disrespect of the citizens of Montgomery County in the Independent Transit Authority scandal continued Friday night, as the Montgomery County Delegation to the Maryland state legislature held a public hearing on bill MC 24-15 at the County Council Building in Rockville. After all the deception and dirty tricks of the previous 6 days, the shenanigans extended to the hearing itself.

Despite promises that the hearing would present a balance between those for, and opposed to, the bill that would create an unelected transit authority with unlimited taxing and eminent domain power, the deck was stacked in favor of the bill. Citizens already forced to race home from work to Rockville for a 6:00 PM start time arrived to find County politicians and developer-backed advocates for the bill ensconced at the top of the speakers list. That was just the beginning.

Not only did citizens and Ride On employees have to sit through a whopping 15 supporters of the bill before even getting a chance to speak, but those speakers and their allies in the delegation dragged out their testimony to around 90 long minutes. 90 minutes of mostly hot air. At one point, the delegation's chair, Shane Robinson (D-District 39) even spent time giving shout-outs to former delegates. Why they were even there makes no sense, but how about a "shout-out" to your constituents - the people who pay your salaries?

Earlier, Robinson tucked away the First Amendment, admonishing the crowd to forgo applause, "booing, and hissing." God forbid we'd have to hear any expression of the anger of the public after the outrageous deception that brought forth this ITA proposal.

Speakers for the proposed legislation were given extra time, and more extra time beyond that to fully flesh out ideas, cover all the bases, and complete actual thoughts. The taxpayers who paid for the hearing and the microphones? Two minutes, a full 60-seconds less than the 3-minute standard for public hearings at every other level of government. "I am John Smith, and I oppose the bill because...." [beep beep] "Wrap it up!"

The chair of the County Rapid Transit Task Force, Mark Winston, who was previously found to be in a position to benefit financially from the approval of a Bus Rapid Transit system and the development that would follow, had the laugher statement of the evening: "There is nothing sinister being proposed in this bill." Winston said the formation of the transit authority would "increase the sense of urgency" regarding construction of new transit projects in the county. But all of the urgency is really coming from the developers who will benefit from passage of MC 24-15.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-District 19), one of the few outspoken critics of the bill (and one of the few who wisely voted Nay on the late filing of it in Annapolis) on the panel, asked Winston "are we perhaps putting the cart before the horse?" Kramer compared the idea of granting an unlimited funding mechanism before the details of the authority and the projects are even known to a kid demanding college tuition from his parents. That kid has no specific plans about college, Kramer said, but is simply "lookin' for you to pay for it," an allusion that drew raucous laughter from the packed hearing room.

Another Nay-vote, Delegate Eric Luedtke (District 14) was similarly skeptical of the bill, and the process that brought it to a sudden public surfacing last Friday. He mused aloud whether or not it might be sensible to simply have a public process and discussion on this at the county level through 2015, and then put forward a better bill in the 2016 session 12 months from now.

Luedtke's on-point questions also brought out a very significant aspect of the proposed authority I had never even considered. Because the ITA would not be backed by the "full faith and credit" of Montgomery County, it would therefore have to pay markedly higher interest rates - at taxpayer expense.

A common-sense idea from Delegate Aruna Miller (D-District 15) - who did vote for the bill, by the way - was to have the transit authority issue be put to a voter referendum in 2016.

But voters were still waiting to have their say last night. And waiting. And waiting.

Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, enthusiastically endorsed the bill, saying her group "looks very favorably" upon it. She claimed "the community rallied around" it, but strangely, none of those feverish fans ever showed up at the hearing last night to provide evidence of her statement.

Finally, a few detractors got a turn at the mic. One of them, Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember John Bickerman, scored several blows on the authority, and his testimony was referred to and seconded by many speakers through the long hours that would follow. He noted that the actual language in the bill "doesn't sound at all like what" its proponents testified at the hearing. The bill is actually a "backdoor property tax, an effort to circumvent the cap on property tax," he argued. One of Bickerman's comments which got a favorable response from the crowd, was his astonishment that "you have a public hearing on Friday night at 6:00."

Paula Bienenfeld, representing the Montgomery County Civic Federation, asked the delegation which of them traveled to the meeting by transit. No one raised their hand. The Montgomery County Council has famously had the same response when previously asked. Yet both bodies are asking the public to "get out of their cars." Winston, the Rapid Transit Task Force Chair once said "it has been a while" since he rode the bus. Hypocrisy at its best in all 3 cases.

Finally, someone pointed out the elephant in the room - the dirty tricks speakers list.

Twinbrook Civic Association representative Christina Ginsburg criticized the way the delegation "stacked this hearing" with supporters in the early, favorable slots (several reporters left early, and did not hear [and therefore will not quote] the later speakers). The crowd cheered, and one voice in the crowd bellowed toward Del. Robinson, "You said it would be pros and cons!!" That promise, of course, turned out to be hogwash.

Attacking the decidedly-unusual process by which this bill has been brought forth, Ginsburg said, "I'm appalled that you're lending your names and reputations to this kind of chicanery." She added that none of the jurisdictions cited as models in the county report allow what's in this bill.

"Kill this bill," county resident James Williamson said. He was skeptical of claims that the county should be trusted on this legislation. "Just look at the great work we did with the Silver Spring Transit Center," he noted sarcastically. County resident Tanzi Strafford concurred, citing the county's "history of incompetent transportation management." Williamson seconded Miller's suggestion of putting the matter to the public via referendum.

Joan Fidler of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League called the bill "a solution in search of a problem," and then went on to slice and dice it - and its proponents' arguments - to the delight of the crowd.

Jean Cavanaugh was one of several civic leaders to note that the short notice of the bill and public hearing did not permit enough time to engage membership on the proposal. Her Seven Oaks Evanswood Citizens Association's Executive Board is opposing the bill.

The Greater Four Corners Alliance is also in opposition to the ITA bill, and its representative Kevin Harris referred to the "undemocratic process" it has been rushed through.

Eileen Finnegan said Hillandale residents question the need for such a transit authority, and its Executive Board is likewise opposed.

Allen Myers, representing the Maplewood Citizens Association in Bethesda, said that a similar ITA proposal was only approved in the state of Florida after two voter referendums.

The Cherrywood Homeowners Association was also opposed. Their representative, Paul Jarosinski, said resident opposition was "almost unanimous." Jarosinski called the county's BRT plan "a forced redevelopment plan, rather than a transit plan."

Cherrywood's neighbors, the Greater Olney Civic Association, is equally opposed, particularly in light of the ITA's "unspecified borrowing and eminent domain powers." GOCA is also concerned that ITA debt would ultimately become the responsibility of the County, and its taxpayers.

Union leader Gino Renne expressed several reservations about the bill, including the open question of what would happen to current labor contracts under the ITA, and the fear of privatization. The room and hallway were packed with union members wearing yellow shirts. Some carried signs protesting the bill.

Even supporters of the bill thought it could use some significant changes.

Jay Corbalis, development associate at Federal Realty, argued "we need to offer more than sitting in traffic" as transportation options for young professionals. But he added that the development firm doesn't "support a blank check" such as the bill's language currently implies. Corbalis also said Federal Realty wants checks on the ITA's powers, and a cap on the amount taxes can rise.

Author, transit advocate and Bethesda resident Ben Ross (Action Committee for Transit) said he is concerned that the ITA proposed is not restricted to transit. Ross was particularly concerned that ITA funds could end up going to garage construction. He argued parking districts should not be placed under ITA control, and said the "bill as currently drafted won't provide that."

A spillover crowd, angry constituents, and the first sunlight to hit the ITA proposal since it was drawn up behind closed doors almost certainly will result in some changes to this bill. It could even be delayed a year for more public feedback, if politicians don't want to end up like their ousted counterparts in Arlington County. 

But don't expect the ITA to disappear, with so much developer profit at stake.


Anonymous said...

"a similar ITA proposal was only approved in the state of Florida after two voter referendums."

So you're predicting that the Montgomery proposal will be approved in a referendum?

Anonymous said...

"your constituents - the people who pay your salaries?"

How much taxes do you actually pay?

Anonymous said...

I saw part of the hearing. Cheers to Miller and Kramer for asking some tough questions about the bill. If they are in my district (I'm not sure if they are), I'd vote for them again.

I turned it off around 9pm, but I'd say that overall, the opponents had more time to have their say, and there were a lot more of them. You're correct that the county stacked the deck but allowing only those in favor to testify first. The Friday night thing is shady also.

Anonymous said...


Why does Dyer always use such violent language to describe discussions? Was he abused as a child?

Anonymous said...

Problem is most opponents were saying the bill would establish things the bill very expressly would not permit....such as no county council oversight or a break-up of the ride on drivers' union.

When Kramer, when he was finished grandstanding, was actually told this expressly, he all of a sudden decided to stop the witness and say he had taken too much time. This after 5 minutes of terrible analogies.

Leggett made the main point at the start, and Robert Dyer illustrates it beautifully. These people whining about the bill and the process are really doing so because they're against BRT. Notice how Robert Dyer, himself who testified against BRT, mainly avoids admitting that during this diatribe.

Anonymous said...

Also LOL at John Bickerman, Town of Chevy Chase councilman. He said three times he is a fan of all modes of transit.

The same man who is spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of Town of Chevy Chase taxpayer dollars for a useless federal lobbying campaign against the Purple Line, all so he can feel important.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention how thoroughly Dumais shut down Gino Renne when she asked directly: How does the language in the bill hurt the union?

He couldn't provide a straight answer, other than to say: Well, we like what we have now and we wouldn't want to deal with the work of having something new.

Great leadership Gino, you hack.

Anonymous said...

And then there's Paula Bienefeld, also a staunch opponent of BRT. Which is fine, but to my memory she failed to mention it during her couple minutes of apocryphal, ridiculous testimony.

The woman literally said it was offensive to Jewish people to hold the hearing on a Friday because Friday night was the most important Jewish holiday on the calendar??? What??

I assume she was referring Shabat which is a weekly event. The most important Jewish holiday on the calendar is obviously Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

Anonymous said...

I also find it pitiful how transit opponents continue to cry "IT'S A DEVELOPER GIVEAWAY" despite the hard evidence that the main objective of transit is to cure our traffic problems....the economic development is what happens when you clear the traffic up, not the main aim but a side effect.

Finally, I find it telling that the regular "hate on everything civics crowd," moco young republicans and moco employees union are teaming up against this one. It's like a museum exhibit of county organizations that are past their prime, completely out of touch and who no average citizens even know exist.

Anonymous said...

Also, I love how Robert conveniently doesn't mention the context of the entire "do YOU ride transit" question.

Paula Beinefeld asked that of the delegates. And they all answered back something to the effect of: "Uh, no, we came from Annapolis you dummy."

She was red-faced in embarassment.

Not to mention the fact that the fact that peple don't ride transit is PRECISELY the problem the county is trying to solve by adding it. Amazing debate strategy right there...not.

Anonymous said...

6:17am you're confusing John Bickerman with John Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

Nope. John Fitzgerald is a private citizen who initiated the lawsuits. John Bickerman is the councilman who voted in favor of the lobbying contract adn funding Fitzgerald's efforts.

Do your research.

Anonymous said...

"Bickerman" is a funny name for a person who is part of a deliberative body.

I once knew an office manager whose surname was "Bickerstaff".

Anonymous said...

It gets even funnier about John "Bickerman"

His real job: professional mediator!

Anonymous said...

"Citizens already forced to race home from work to Rockville"

What exactly is Dyer trying to say here?

Is he implying that only residents of Rockville needed to attend this hearing?

or is he very clumsily trying to suggest that all those attending needed go from work to home, take care of some unknown business there, before going to Rockville to attend the hearing?

Anonymous said...

@ 6:53 AM - Ha ha! I guess those mediation sessions don't necessarily end well.

And don't get me started on surnames starting with "Fitz-".

Anonymous said...

@ 6:27 AM - I've read at least one Jewish theologian who has argued that Shabbat, even though it is weekly, rather than once-a-year, does outrank Yom Kippur in significance.

That said, if the lady who made that comment actually believed it herself, she would not have actually been present at the hearing.

Robert Dyer said...

6:19: Read the actual language of the bill. It is totally different from what you and other proponents are claiming. For starters, the ITA would not have to submit its budget to the Council for approval.

Robert Dyer said...

6:21: Bickerman is doing his job - protecting his constituents. Maybe the County Council could learn from him. Oh yeah, that's right - unlike Mr. Bickerman, the County Council didn't bother to show up last night. Did Hans Riemer have another wine and cheese reception to attend in Potomac?

Anonymous said...

OK, for the sake of argument I will assume that your claim about "not having to submit its budget for approval" is true.

But would you actually be in favor of improving mass transit if this was not the case?

Robert Dyer said...

6:23: Actually, Mr. Renne was very effective in explaining precisely what the union's concerns are - having the current labor agreement expire and then having to negotiate with a new management that might be more hostile to labor than Ike Leggett. And second, the threat of privatization, which was floated in one of the reports.

Robert Dyer said...

6:27: So, you don't think it's a big deal that some Jewish residents were denied the opportunity to testify last night?

Anonymous said...

So the failed Republican candidate is now adopting a pro-union and anti-privatization stance, just because he believes it is opposite of the Council's position?

Too funny.

Anonymous said...

Great summary. Thanks for providing the details. PS looks like the White Flint Developer (aka "Friends" of White Flint) is camped out in your comments section with abusive comments. Why not get rid of them? violates the policy.

Robert Dyer said...

6:32: You're doing a lot of hating yourself. How do you clear traffic up with BRT? Traffic congestion is forecast to increase by 70%. BRT will reduce lane capacity by 33%. BRT fanatics have floated a fantasy potential 16% of drivers switching to BRT. For the sake of argument, let's pretend that's true. You are left with a net INCREASE in traffic congestion after BRT. You spend billions, and traffic is actually worse!

Congested roads scare away business, and drive up the cost of mail order and store merchandise, both of which require more driver hours and gas to deliver.

The only jobs created by BRT will be baristas and jeans-folders in the ground floor retail of the luxury apartments for rich white people. No wonder Hans Riemer and Bain Capital are supporting BRT.

Robert Dyer said...

6:35: Why didn't they use transit from Annapolis? Lower the oceans! Heal the planet! You can work on your laptop and feel refreshed when you draw up a biased testimony list when you arrive at Rockville Metro! And enjoy a brisk walk in 4° wind chill!

Robert Dyer said...

7:37: You obviously don't know my positions on labor issues. Unlike Hans Riemer, I actually came out to testify in January 2009 to try to stop the County Council from taking away retirement benefits from disabled police officers.

Robert Dyer said...

7:39: Yep. Unfortunately, my blog platform doesn't offer a tool to ban people. But I am getting closer to learning the identities of the 1-3 people who post the nasty comments on here. They are absolutely in violation of Google policy.

Robert Dyer said...

7:32: Yes, I am in favor of increasing capacity on Metro and MARC. I don't believe we need an ITA to do that, however.

Robert Dyer said...

6:55: I'm talking about people working in Northern Virginia and DC (where most of the jobs are) having to get to their county seat by 6:00 PM to testify. That's why most legitimate public hearings start at 7:00 or 7:30.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

@ 7:54 PM - what is your proposal for "increasing capacity on Metro and MARC", and what is your proposal to properly fund such?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I like how if you disagree with Robert you're suddenly "violating Google policy." I also like how Robert Dyer, the great big independent thinker, is apparently governed by the online policies of Google.

Anonymous said...

I stopped after reading "the bill that would create an unelected transit authority with unlimited taxing and eminent domain power"

That's the latest blatant lie from Dyer. You're such intellectual scum, Dyer. Just because you can't win an argument based on reality doesn't give you license to make shit up.

The transit authority has ZERO taxing and eminent domain power. Everyone even marginally educated on this issue knows the County Council would have to approve any taxes and funding for programs proposed by the transit authority. The transit authority is just like any other government agency - they propose ideas and then our elected officials decide whether they're a good idea or not. STOP LYING YOU PIECE OF SHIT, DYER.

Paula Bienenfeld said...

First, I want to thank Mr. Dyer for writing this column and for his testimony and thank all our civics who turned out with such short notice from our elected Delegates. Second, I want to correct Anonymous. The Sabbath, for Jews is the most important holiday. It is the only holiday mentioned in the Ten Commandments and as such takes precedence over other holidays, even those most think of as more important. If you look at the prayers on those other holidays, when they fall on the Sabbath, the language is changed to acknowledge the more important holiday, our humble Sabbath. To the other Anonymous,why was I there? Really, none of your business.
Paula Bienenfeld, President, Montgomery County Civic Federation

Anonymous said...

"Lower the oceans! Heal the planet!"

LOL, that was totally random. Distracted much?

And are you sure you want to call attention to your denial that anthropogenic global warming is happening?

Anonymous said...

Many of the commenters do not appear to have been at public hearings before and don't know the usual way things are done and therefore complained as if it was unique.

1. Elected officials and others involved in creating the proposed legislation always go first. That was nothing unusual. It was simply protocol.

2. State delegates had already held all their hearings Rockville for this year. Again, it is nothing special or unusual that they do it that way. Because this bill in question had been filed late, and residents were upset that they would now be required to go to Annapolis because the Delegation is in session and hearings are held there, the Delegation graciously--and at the last minute which probably upset some of their Friday night plans--agreed to hold this hearing in Rockville as soon as possible, which was Friday evening.

They deserve our sincere thanks, not approbation or scorn. I was glad to have the opportunity to share my disdain of the proposed legislation. The delegation deserves our thanks. They went way out of their way to accommodate us. We should be grateful.

Lest there be any misunderstanding about where I'm coming from, I wholeheartedly OPPOSED the legislation.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"...noting that you are perpetuating..."

Anonymous said...

Blogger Policy:
Harassment: Do not harass or bully others. Anyone using Blogger to harass or bully may have the offending content removed or be permanently banned from the site. Online harassment is also illegal in many places and can have serious offline consequences.

Robert - glad you are tracking down the stalker/harrasser. It's not too hard to do. I'll try to contact you offline w/ list of attorneys who specialize in this area if you wish to pursue further action. There are now criminal and civil remedies. Be sure to save any comments before deleting.

Anonymous said...

"Be sure to save any comments before deleting."


Anonymous said...

Do all bills filed by the county get such attention or only ones that include taxes that upset the NIMBY, anti-transit crowd?

Seems like the bill was proposed using the proper procedures. I am failing to see how this is falls outside of what is permitted in the legislative process of Montgomery County or the state of Maryland. Perhaps a lawyer or judge could enlighten me why the courts might strike this down if passed.

Do we need to amend the procedures so that all eligible voters can assemble Athens style and vote on every single piece of business? Did we have two years of public meetings and a referendum prior to MC 10-15 or MC 2-15 being submitted to the legislature?

I-270 said...

I watched the hearing online and opposition to the ITA was bipartisan and overwhelming.

At the end of the day, if you're against this ITA, you'll have to keep pressure on our Council and Ike. They'll respond only if they think they'll lose power.

One cringe-worthy moment caught by the TV cameras: the guy from MoCo Young Dems taking a selfie after testifying for the ITA.

George Leventhal said...

I appreciate Robert Dyer's report on the hearing last night. I attended two public hearings last week on bills pending before the County Council. Tuesday night we held a hearing on my bill to ban sales of dogs and cats (other than rescue animals) by pet stores and Thursday night we held a hearing on my bill to require paid sick and safe leave. Both bills are very controversial, featured many witnesses, and went quite late. So given than MC 24-15 is not pending before the council, I opted not to attend the hearing but instead to listen to the testimony on video when it becomes available (which should be in the next day or so). For that reason, I appreciate Robert's detailed description of the hearing even more, regardless of the fact that it contains Robert's colorful interpretation of the issue. At this point, it appears that County Executive Leggett has decided to pull back on the transit authority proposal.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the opposed side is against public transportation. Most of the opposed testifying said they are in favor of it, but not how this bill implements it.

I can see their point. There is already an MCDOT, they already operate Ride-On, and it works relatively well. Why not work within the framework of MCDOT? There is nothing to prevent them from adding or adjusting Ride-On service, is there?

Anonymous said...

I attended the hearing and Mr. Dyer's article is a very accurate account of what happened. Mr. Dyer has done nice work here and with his testimony last night. I just wish they would not have cut off Mr. Dyer's testimony before he had a chance to finish.

Robert Dyer said...

11:21: You are flat-out lying. There is no place in my article that says any such thing. No, you don't have a right to post libelous, false statements.

Anonymous said...

I think you do a great job with your Blog!
What can we all do to stop this madness, you know they will keep trying!

Robert Dyer said...

10:38 AM: It says right in the bill, that the authority is being given the power "to impose a certain special tax." It doesn't say "recommend to the County Council a certain special tax." It says this body will be able to impose the tax directly. If you want it to mean something else, they will have to change the language before bringing this bill back in the future.

It also exempts that imposed tax from any County Charter provision - now or in the future.

Section 5: II

Gives the ITA authority to "Acquire property by condemnation in accordance with Title 12 of the real property article."

You're the one making things up. I'm quoting directly from the bill! Meanwhile, you were not only lying about what's actually in the bill, but posting libelous claims about things that were not even discussed in my article!

All the foul language in the world won't change those facts.

Anonymous said...

Great to know that John Bickerman is fighting the Purple Line, another financial disaster for MOCO taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Dyer 11:46 PM: you seem to not even have a basic understanding of how government works. Just because a department (in any level of government) has taxing authority doesn't mean said department is the one who sets the tax. The IRS has taxing authority, but they tax at a rate set by Congress. Do you understand? Do I need to explain this to you another way? Please let me know. I would very much like for you to understand the world around you so that you might stop writing absurd posts that make you sound dumb as a brick.

Robert Dyer said...

9:15: The bill says impose, not "collect." It says nothing about anyone else setting the rate. We have to talk about the actual language in the bill, which is a moot point now that it has been (temporarily) withdrawn. Remember, this body didn't even have to get its budget approved by the Council under the language in this bill, which appeared to have been drafted either by a law student, or someone intoxicated with hubris and contempt for "the little people" of Montgomery County. If you think a body can set a tax that funds the budget of another body without seeing that body's budget, who are you calling a brick?

Anonymous said...

Robert, thank you for your thorough report and your attention to this issue.

Some of the arguments by the other side seem bizzarre. The bill content is what matters and it speaks for itself. Why trust an agency if this is the manner in which it is created.

Anonymous said...

The fact that those *advocating* transit by pushing this bill do not USE transit speaks for itself and is a totally valid argument.

emmet said...

Mr. Dyer's analysis and recap are accurate. I attended and gave the testimony of the draft resolution for GOCA. Not all opponents are anti-BRT or mass transit. I know because I'm one, and have served for 13yrs on the Citizen Advisory to the Transportation Planning Board and worked on transportation issues in our region for 15 years. I'm not a developer, ROW land owner, or have any other professional connection to anything that could benefit from better transportation in our region other than to enjoy less congestion now and in the future. The anonymous bullying here of Rob Dyer are so childish. And whoever said Dumais did a great job stumping Gino Renne must have had poor reception. Delegate Dumias sounded very weak when trying to take on and debate Gino where she was easily bested by him repeatedly and left without the ability to complete a cogent sentence. I dunno, but some of this discourse sounds like the same poor sportsmanship displayed at the end of the Super Bowl last night.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:42 AM - so what are the current transit options between Annapolis and Rockville?