Nancy Navarro: Gallagher's Vision of Montgomery County Council Misses the Mark

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By Nancy Navarro

As the Montgomery County Councilmember who represents much of the central and eastern portions of Montgomery County, I am compelled to respond to John Gallagher's March 10 blog post, "A Lack of Vision in Montgomery County." I would agree with Mr. Gallagher’s analysis if the headline-grabbing items he lists were all the Council was doing. Had the self-proclaimed "political hack" bothered to check in with me or any of my colleagues, he would understand that our work is about improving the quality of life in Montgomery County.

Mr. Gallagher is right—we do have real issues in Montgomery County.  Nearly 70,000 people are living under the federal poverty line in our county. Many families spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on childcare. The Latino population in the County has grown by more than 600% in the past three decades, significantly increasing the number of English as a Second Language (ESOL) students. The number of students receiving free and reduced priced meals in our schools has swelled to more than a third—a higher number of students than the total enrollment of DC Schools. I have not shied away from these issues—I’ve worked to address them head-on. 

Since 2009, I have focused on issues that are important to working and low-income families such as raising the minimum wage, protecting workers' rights, expanding opportunities for child care and creating centers for positive youth engagement. As an appointee to the President's Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, where I serve on the Early Childhood Education Committee, I have worked in partnership with our school system and private providers to expand prekindergarten programs and to address issues associated with eliminating the achievement gap. I have championed legislation to make affordable health insurance available to sanitation workers, promoted the senior agenda, and developed an educational outreach initiative focused on improving the knowledge base and civic participation of our growing Latino community. 

The notion that the Council isn't doing anything to address economic development is laughable.  Unlike other jurisdictions, the Montgomery County Council is responsible for all land use decisions. I have had the privilege of serving on a Council that has passed more master and sector plans than any other in recent memory. I have worked aggressively to promote an economic development strategy that does not leave any part of Montgomery County behind. I led the effort to expedite the White Oak Science Gateway Plan, which will be a tremendous economic driver for eastern Montgomery County. The Council approved the Long Branch Sector Plan to put zoning in place to prepare for the Purple Line, which will bring jobs and increase tax revenue from new development. The Council approved the Glenmont Sector Plan and I worked closely with our State Delegation in establishing the Glenmont Enterprise Zone to encourage the much-needed redevelopment of the Glenmont Shopping Center. Recent assessment numbers from the State of Maryland show property values in my district increasing, demonstrating that our land use decisions are having a positive impact and overall our economy is improving. In addition, the Council created the Montgomery Business Development Corporation to provide strategic planning for retaining and attracting businesses to the County. 

On the subject of helping businesses, I sponsored legislation that the Council approved that created the Small Business Assistance Program, which will provide technical and economic assistance to small businesses impacted by County-initiated redevelopment projects. One such project is Wheaton Redevelopment, a $144 million County initiative that will bring jobs, amenities, and increased opportunity to a long-neglected area of the County. The Council has also approved funding for a state-of-the-art combined library and recreation center in Wheaton. Additionally, a new Wheaton and Thomas Edison Technical High School is currently under construction. 

The Council not only keeps our residents safe from unwanted second-hand smoke and toxic chemicals, but we have made great progress increasing the number of uniformed officers on our streets and better equipped firefighters and emergency medical services. At my initiative, the County Executive and Council approved an increased police presence in the IDA Sector (Briggs Chaney) and is currently expanding police efforts in the KING Sector (Bel Pre), which are the County's top two crime hotspots.  I have also led the effort to increase staffing of the Street Outreach Network, a youth anti-violence, gang prevention initiative run by the Department of Health and Human Services.  

I encourage Mr. Gallagher to spend some time meeting with people who live across the 500 square miles of Montgomery County. He will find that County residents are not one-dimensional.  While there are socioeconomic issues in all parts of the County, that doesn't mean Councilmembers don’t also hear concerns about environmental and health issues. All our constituents want a safe, healthy place to live and work, jobs that are stable and rewarding, reliable transportation options, and a quality education for their children. This is what my colleagues and I work to provide our constituents each and every day.

Nancy Navarro is a Montgomery County Councilmember and Commissioner on the White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.  She serves on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors. Since 2010, she has chaired the County Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee.  Prior to joining the Council, she served on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

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