Friday, September 28, 2018

MoCo school board approves new redistricting criteria that dodges fixing East County schools

Move to disconnect
home address from 
coveted school districts 
would reduce home values

Your vote in November's election will now literally determine the future value of your home. The Montgomery County Board of Education this week approved new criteria for redistricting of public schools that would force the busing of students from affluent school clusters in Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville. In their comments prior to the 5-3 vote, some board members specifically cited students in the "W school" clusters in the southwest part of the county as having to be bused to other schools around the county. Because the new criteria puts the heaviest weight on diversity, the policy as written could only be achieved by busing students out of their currently-assigned Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, Winston Churchill and Thomas S. Wootton clusters (the districts to which the term "W school" are most commonly applied).
Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer
has made no secret of his desire to change who gets
to attend the most coveted schools in areas like
Bethesda and Potomac
Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Craig Rice have openly endorsed the idea of detaching homeownership or residency from school cluster assignment in the affluent southwest of the County for several years. But the BOE move this week is the first formal codification of this desire in County regulations. Rice mocked Whitman parents from the Council dais in 2016, declaring in an entitled-sounding voice, "I moved to the Whitman cluster, and therefore I must go to Whitman High School! People lose sight that somehow you attending Whitman is better than attending Gaithersburg or Northwest. That should not be the case," Rice said. "It should not be about what your zip code is."

On Monday night, BOE members took aim at those same parents. Jill Ortman-Fouse, who ran unsuccessfully for the Council and doesn't face reelection for the Board, also criticized the idea that "when you buy a house, you buy a school. And [parents] even said that in their emails. They said 'I bought my house for that school.'" Chiding those parents, she said, "all of those schools are owned by all of the taxpayers. They aren't owned by certain neighborhoods." She denounced the belief that "only certain kids get to go to those schools." Jeannette Dixon added that "an easy commute to school" should not be a criteria for school assignment.

Board member Judith Docca explicitly called out the "W school" clusters, and said that busing of students must include those students from more affluent families. Of those who spoke during the public comment period prior to the vote, Docca noted, "only one speaker mentioned a W school. And that's where some of the students are that need to interact with some of our other students. That is not happening. When we talk about all students, we mean those students as well. I know that it's not going to be easy to do."

That could be the understatement of the decade. If there's any doubt this move is coordinated between the BOE and councilmembers like Riemer and Rice, note their similar talking points. In 2016, Rice declared that "boundary changes used to be a third rail." Monday night, Ortman-Fouse called redistricting "the third rail."

BOE members acknowledged the new criteria, which would certainly reduce home values in the "W schools" communities, will be a hard sell. Ortman-Fouse referred to parents hitting the "panic button." "There will be unintended outcomes," MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith - who declined to take a position for or against the new criteria - warned, "and we will all live with them."

Smith is usually dead wrong on most topics, having failed to keep students safe or reduce the achievement gap during his term, but he made one of the best points during the discussion. In regards to what most determines student achievement, "the secret is what happens in that classroom," he said.

The superintendent is correct. Busing did not lead to equal education. Instead, we have an achievement gap that persists to this day in America. You can bus a child to another school, but they still come from the same income-level family as they would have in their neighborhood school. If diversity of race or socioeconomic background were the top factor in academic success for a school, Whitman or any number of elite private schools in the area would be among the worst-performing. They are not.

Some proponents of the new criteria are predictably quick to call opponents "racist." In reality, the new criteria is what is racist. This is a dodge by MCPS to avoid the actual challenging work of improving the worst-performing schools in the County. The Council has wasted yet another term, failing to reduce the achievement gap and geographic educational inequities in areas like East County and the Upcounty. 

Dropping final exams has already led to MCPS gaining an "Easy A" reputation across the country, according to the Washington Post. This will hurt Montgomery County public school students in the college admissions process over time, if not reversed. Now MCPS is dropping the PARCC tests, for the same harebrained reason that the kids can't pass the tests. Can't pass the test? Get rid of the tests, our County "leaders" say. Can't improve failing schools? Bus kids around to try to artificially-but-slightly boost test scores, even if it causes scores at the top schools to drop.

This is the definition of "the soft bigotry of low-expectations."

As Jaime Escalante proved three decades ago, student groups of any racial or economic background can perform at the highest levels. It's the teacher and the curriculum that make the difference. Contrary to Riemer's claim that there must be rich, white students in a classroom for black and Latino students to excel, Escalante's students achieved high scores without "Richie Rich" sitting at the next desk.

How do we know "the secret is what happens in that classroom," as Smith said? After Escalante left Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, student math performance tanked. Kind of like Algebra test scores in Montgomery County in recent years.

Redistricting and busing could be a post-election surprise for many parents, especially with no accurate media coverage of Monday night's change. Several schools are already due for new or changed assignments before the end of this year, such as those impacted by a new high school opening for Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. The clusters affected in that redistricting will be Wootton, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Northwest and Gaithersburg. Clarksburg Village #2, another new school, will also be districted this fall. Development pressures in Bethesda and Silver Spring make boundary changes inevitable in those areas, especially with elected officials showing a new boldness to touch that "third rail."

According to board veteran Patricia O'Neill, who voted for the new criteria, boundary changes will be "happening pretty darn soon." Docca referred to the implementation of the new criteria as "the operation."

Impacts of the changes are clear: reduced home values when a particular address no longer guarantees entry to coveted schools, perpetuation of failure at failing schools countywide, longer bus commutes for already-tired students, and a continuing achievement gap. 

Can "the operation" be stopped? Yes. By electing Council candidates who oppose this dodge of the County's fundamental responsibility to provide good schools in every neighborhood. If elected, I would use the ultimate power to force the BOE to drop the new criteria. It is the County Council that funds MCPS. The BOE would have a hard time operating with no funding.

If you currently live in an area with coveted schools, your vote on Tuesday, November 6 will literally determine the future value of your home, and the futures of children countywide. We need leaders who won't sidestep the major challenges we face for another four years, including failing schools and an unacceptable achievement gap. The failed solutions of the past won't move us forward into the future.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Mr. Tire coming to Burtonsville

Mr. Tire Auto Service Centers is opening a new location in Burtonsville at Burtonsville Town Square, located at 15650 Old Columbia Pike. The shop is currently hiring for all positions. Tire service centers are experiencing a boom in Montgomery County right now, with Goodyear opening new concept stores in high-rent parts of Rockville and downtown Bethesda. Perhaps the market is responding to the many third-world roads the County Council has given us around the county.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Montgomery County 5G opponents turn out in force to urge County Council to delay small cell tower implementation

Montgomery County Council
President Hans Riemer
Opponents of deployment of 5G wireless small cell towers in Montgomery County made an impressive showing at a public hearing on a Zoning Text Amendment on the matter last night before the County Council. Speakers opposing both the towers and the ZTA received repeated applause from the large crowd. Council President Hans Riemer has tried to play both sides with Election Day fast approaching, but if the Council acts next month, he and others will be forced to take a position that could hurt them in November with motivated anti-5G voters.

Concerns went beyond not just the dangers opponents cited 5G would pose to residents, but also the rushed process for the ZTA, that moved forward before all issues raised by citizens had been fully addressed by the Council. While the County is limited in what it can do to stop implementation of the towers, which the industry claims must be deployed to facilitate everything from better cell service to autonomous vehicles and smart appliances, some speakers urged the Council to use the leverage it does have in creative ways.

Resident Edward Myers suggested requiring follow-up inspections for issues like radiation on towers constructed in residential areas. He noted that the current health-impact findings the industry and federal government are using as the standard are based on "1992 science." Resident Anita Prince cited more recent findings that, for example, show radiation impact on the human brain within three minutes of exposure.

Supporters of the ZTA urged the Council to act quickly in approving implementation, so that County residents and businesses can be among the first to enjoy the benefits of the new technology. Some cited the potential boost to telecommuting, as more complex tasks could be completed by more workers from home with the more powerful system. Supporters at the hearing included residents and telecommunication companies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Silver Spring man missing

A downtown Silver Spring resident is missing, and Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating him. He has been in touch with a roommate by text, but detectives say he would not reveal his current location.

Michael Cruz, 49, was last seen on Monday, September 19 at his apartment building in the 8700 block of Georgia Avenue.  Police describe Cruz as a white male, 5’9″ tall, and weighing 165 pounds. He has brown eyes, and black hair worn in a crew cut.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Michael Cruz is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24-7).

Monday, September 24, 2018

City Taste appears to be available for sale in Silver Spring

An Asian restaurant is available for sale in downtown Silver Spring, and the description appears to match City Taste at 930 Wayne Avenue. The asking price is $280,000. An offer of sale doesn't mean a restaurant is closing; they could simply be exploring the potential value and testing the market. City Taste remains fully open for business at this time.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Taylor Gourmet to close all locations after Sunday

Taylor Gourmet, the D.C.-area hoagie chain whose locations include Bethesda Row, downtown Silver Spring, and Pike & Rose, will close all of its restaurants at the close of business on Sunday, according to Washingtonian magazine. Among the reasons cited for the closure were financial troubles with landlords at some of their locations, expanding too rapidly, and a brief downturn in sales after owner Casey Patten participated in a 2017 business roundtable with President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in all of the cities where Taylor Gourmet operates.

The chain has not publicly commented on the closure report on its social media accounts as of press time. Taylor Gourmet had recently experimented with new menu items such as burgers, tacos and fried chicken sandwiches.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Nighttime noise ahead in Wheaton

Nighttime noise is ahead in the Wheaton Triangle. The WSSC plans to replace a water main along Ennalls Avenue between Grandview Avenue and Veirs Mill Road. Work will be performed at night to avoid impacts on pedestrians, traffic and local businesses.

The project is scheduled to commence in October, and the work will be done between the hours of 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM. WSSC's contractor will have to receive a noise waiver from Montgomery County to work at night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Silver Spring construction update: Astro Lab Brewing (Photos)

Progress continues at Astro Lab Brewing at 8216 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. The brewery is currently hiring a Taproom & Retail Manager, and a Kitchen Manager. They've already successfully brewed some test batches.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Another MCPS employee arrested for sexual abuse of minor

Montgomery County police have arrested a Montgomery County Public Schools paraeducator after he allegedly propositioned and inappropriately touched a 16-year-old student at Horizon Child Care, Inc. in Silver Spring, where he was simultaneously employed. Police say Thomas Henry Ridges, 38, of Chase Terrace in Beltsville offered the girl a ride home and propositioned her on July 20.

Ridges had previously inappropriately touched the same victim two years ago at Horizon's summer camp, detectives say. In the latest incident, Ridges allegedly encouraged the girl to send him nude photographs of herself. He also allegedly drove her to a liquor store, and encouraged her to drink alcoholic beverages.
Police have charged Ridges with two counts of sexual abuse of a minor and a fourth-degree sexual offense, but he is now free on bond. Detectives are concerned that there may be other victims in the case. This is just the latest sex abuse scandal involving an MCPS employee, who in this case was also a coach at Springbrook High School, as well as an MCPS paraeducator.

Detectives are requesting that parents of juveniles who attend Horizon Child Care, Inc. or who have had contact with Ridges to talk to their children about possible interactions with Ridges and contact SVID detectives at 240-773-5400 if they believe their child was victimized.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Silver Spring construction update: Jerry's Subs and Pizza (Photos)

Jerry's Subs and Pizza looks somewhat closer to opening at 8517 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. There's even a Pepsi beverage dispenser in place inside. But other parts remain to be finished. Then there's that weird sign on the door about "urgent notice." Jerry's has shrunk in size around the county in recent years, so it's good to see a new one opening.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Silver Spring man missing

A man who lives in the Montgomery Knolls area of Silver Spring off of University Boulevard near Long Branch is missing. Police say Randall Herbert Renjilian, 51, was last seen by a family member at Renjilian’s home on Daleview Drive the evening of September 12.

Detectives revealed that Renjilian has been in communication with a family member by text message, but will not reveal his whereabouts. They have received a tip that Renjilian may have traveled to Connecticut.

Renjilian is described by police as a white male, 5’ 09” tall, and weighing 180 pounds. He has balding white hair, and is driving a 2007 white, Mazda3 with Maryland tag: 6DHY56.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Randall Herbert Renjilian or his vehicle is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24-7).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Maryland Hispanic Gala to award post-graduate scholarships tonight in Silver Spring

Denise Venero
Two past Maryland Hispanic Gala scholarship recipients will be awarded again at the 2018 gala, to be held tonight at The Fillmore in Silver Spring from 7:00-11:00 PM. Fabian Leon and Denise Venero will be the inaugural recipients of the postgraduate scholarships.
Fabian Leon
Myriam Torrico, Maryland Hispanic Gala Scholarship Committee Chair, said MHG has added the scholarships for postgraduate work, because even successful past winners "continue to face financial challenges to pay for their higher education."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Have you seen this Wheaton-Glenmont package snatcher?

Montgomery County police are searching for a thief who is accused of snatching several packages from doorsteps in the Wheaton-Glenmont area. Detectives have caught the individual on camera in several incidents, and now want to catch the alleged thief in-person. They have released photographs of the suspect in hopes that the community can identify this person, whom they believe drives a dark-colored Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SUV.

If you had a package stolen from your doorstep, but did not report it to the police, you might want to now. The package thefts reported so far are as follows:

  • July 24 at approximately 6:00 p.m. – 3900 block of Isbell Street
  • July 31 at approximately 5:24 p.m. – 3500 block of May Street
  • August 26 at approximately 4:37 p.m. – 1400 block of Billman Lane

Anyone with information regarding this suspect is asked to call the 4th District Patrol Investigations Unit at 240-773-5476. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest in this case.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hogan declares state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence

Potomac River at 
flood stage at
Little Falls, 
White's Ferry closed,
National Guard alerted

Will Hurricane Florence hit Maryland hard? We don't know yet, but Gov. Larry Hogan isn't taking any chances. "While we're hoping for the best, we are preparing for the worst," Hogan said at a press conference, where he announced he has declared a state of emergency. The governor said the declaration would allow the state to mobilize the resources and personnel potentially needed in the areas expected to be hardest hit.

Hogan warned of the strong possibility of "historic, catastrophic, and life-threatening flooding," in coastal and low-lying, flood-prone areas. "At my direction, the state is currently taking action to activate all available resources," he told reporters, "including alerting the Maryland National Guard."

Sporting a yellow-trimmed polo shirt, Hogan said he is in constant contact with the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center, to obtain up-to-the-minute briefings on the storm's track. He said the state's Emergency Management Center is "fully-staffed" at this hour, at that emergency shelters around the state are now standing by to receive displaced residents.

Pepco will face its first real test of its "new" system. The utility will have no excuse to be short on personnel, because Hogan explicitly mentioned that he has personally alerted the state's electrical companies to mobilize now.

The governor urged residents to "start now to prepare your families and your homes for potential heavy rains, wind and possible flooding." He recommended citizens "have water, batteries, and flashlights at the ready in case of power outages."

Hogan said he expected to know more about the storm's potential impacts by later today.

Suburban News Network
Storm Center Update

The National Weather Service has put a Dense Fog Advisory into effect until 10:00 AM this morning. A Flood Warning remains in effect until noon Wednesday. The many preceding days of heavy rain have put the area behind the 8-ball before Florence even arrives near the end of the week.

Already, the Potomac River is above flood stage at Little Falls, and high water has closed White's Ferry for now.

Current temperature in Silver Spring and Takoma Park is 69 degrees. It is 68 in Wheaton, Glenmont Leisure World and Aspen Hill; and 67 in White Oak, Burtonsville and Olney.

The high today will be 80, with a shower or thunderstorm expected this afternoon. Winds are from the WSW at 2 MPH, gusting to 6 MPH.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Coalition relaunches effort to declare MoCo a sanctuary county

A group calling itself the Montgomery County Trust Act Coalition is again urging the County Council to officially declare Montgomery County a sanctuary county. The County is already unofficially a sanctuary jurisdiction, as it has repeatedly released prisoners from the County jail on whom U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed detainers, so that federal agents can arrest and deport those individuals.

ICE reprimanded County officials in 2017 for forcing them to chase down an individual the County let go, despite a retainer being lodged. A second man was released despite a detainer last December, and was shot and killed in Takoma Park by another gang member.

The sanctuary effort may have been revitalized by the Trump administration's failure to follow through with any sanctions against existing sanctuary jurisdictions, including threats to cut federal funds. Despite tough talk, Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly backed down from publishing lists of prisoners with detainers that jurisdictions like Montgomery had released, when County officials cried foul after the inaugural list was published. And public outrage over the separation of families at the border earlier this year may have created a more-favorable environment to raise the issue in progressive Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Trust Act Coalition is asking community groups to sign onto its letter to the Council by noon today. It plans to send the letter on September 13. Members of the coalition include the ACLU of Maryland, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland, and Showing Up for Racial Justice - Montgomery County.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Silver Spring man missing

Montgomery County police are searching for a missing Silver Spring man, and seeking the public's help in finding him. James Leonard Stowe, 32, was last seen at the Oakview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at 2700 Barker Street on September 4, around 6:30 PM.

Detectives describe James Stowe as a black male, 5’ 7” tall, and weighing 170 pounds.  He has short black hair, brown eyes, and facial hair.  He also has a tattoo (which - give him extra points here - includes the Cadillac emblem) on his neck and chest.  Stowe uses a wheelchair.  When he was last seen, he was wearing a red shirt and dark blue jeans.

Police say Stowe requires medical treatment that he now - obviously - is not receiving.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of James Leonard Stowe is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24-7).

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Riemer a no-show at Council debate

Coward of the County

Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer continued a historic streak of not showing up for major candidate forums yesterday, when he blew off a morning debate sponsored by the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce. A packed house of business owners turned out to hear from the candidates for Montgomery County Council At-Large. But Riemer was a no-show, leaving myself, Gabe Albornoz (D), Evan Glass (D) and Shelly Skolnick (R) to have a substantive discussion of the issues our business community faces in our moribund economy.

Riemer has not attended a general election debate since I destroyed him in a forum televised live by Montgomery Community Television/MyMCMedia in 2014. He did not show up to the next and final debate that year, which was hosted by the Greater Olney Civic Association. Riemer's action was a historic first in Montgomery County politics - the first time a sitting councilmember had skipped a formal general election debate hosted by a prominent community group. After Wednesday in Clarksburg, his record streak is now up to two.

No Council sessions were scheduled yesterday; in fact, the Council's lazy, endless summer doesn't end until next Tuesday, September 11. But you can understand why Riemer would be hiding. He has failed to deliver any of the priorities the residents and businesses in Clarksburg have sought. And Riemer vehemently opposes their top two priorities - building the M-83 Highway, and widening I-270.

Hans Riemer's failure to show up was an insult to the taxpayers who pay his $137,000 salary, and to the democratic process. Once again, Hans has demonstrated he doesn't care about his upcounty constituents.

But again, it's understandable Hans would be hiding - he has a lot to hide, with so many controversial questions about him still unanswered, and to be investigated by the press:

- Why does so much of his campaign cash come from outside the County, and largely from Wall Street crooks who caused the Great Recession, and their K Street lobbyists?

- Why has he accepted campaign checks from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and Mitch Rales' Danaher Corporation, two pioneers in outsourcing American jobs overseas, while claiming to be a "progressive Democrat?"

- Why did he fail to disclose illegal activity in the County Department of Liquor Control he was aware of in October 2014 until after Election Day, when he was safely reelected, a violation of his oath of office?

- Why did he vote to create a $360,000,000 federal tax shelter for his sugar daddy Mitch Rales, after receiving at least $4000 in campaign contributions from Rales?

- Why has he repeatedly touted his role as "Obama's Youth Vote Director" in Barack Obama's 2008 victory, when a source from the Obama campaign has said Riemer was actually out of that position in the spring of 2008 - long before Mr. Obama had even clinched the nomination, much less his general election victory?

It's astonishing that Hans Riemer was able to win election, and serve two full terms, without any scrutiny by local media on these and other controversies. With at least two debates remaining, it's time for Hans Riemer to man-up and face the music on his scandals and utter failure in office. For now, he's earned his title as the "Coward of the County."

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Talbot Avenue Bridge 100th birthday celebration set for September 22

A critical transportation link for the historic African-American community of Lyttonsville is turning 100, and a birthday celebration is now planned for Saturday, September 22, 2018 from 2:00-5:00 PM at the Talbot Avenue Bridge. The bridge is located at the end of Talbot Avenue, and connects Lyttonsville with North Woodside in Silver Spring.

Not only is the bridge a classic piece of engineering expertise by the famed Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but it played a key role in keeping the community connected to the rest of Silver Spring during segregation in Montgomery County.

The birthday program will be headlined by African-American a capella ensemble Jubilee Voices; music by Silver Spring singer-songwriter Lea; a performance of “The Talbot Avenue Bridge” instrumental by Silver Spring resident Jay Elvove; storytelling and remembrances of the bridge’s significance to local residents; children’s activities; and festive food and drink. All activities are free and open to the public.

The program’s rain date is Saturday September 29, 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Follow the Talbot Avenue Bridge website for information and weather-related announcements as the date approaches.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Washington Post waters down MS-13 Destroyer House in Silver Spring

The Washington Post reported this weekend on the sentencing of several MS-13 members, who were discovered in what the gang terms a "Destroyer House" in Silver Spring by a Purple Line construction worker last year. Montgomery County officials had covered up the discovery until their secret was outed by ABC7 reporter Kevin Lewis.

In a bizarre attempt to sanitize the gang at a time when the Montgomery County Police Department says violent gang crimes are up 72%, the Post is now referring to the Destroyer House - which came complete with decorative skulls, skeletons, graffiti, candles, masks...and drug paraphernalia - as a "clubhouse."

As if the kids from The Little Rascals were sipping juice boxes and watching cartoons after school there, when in reality it's a gang with the motto, "Kill. Rape. Control." The benign headline was made even more absurd by the fact that the article itself quoted the judge referring to the gang's activities as "urban terrorism."

Monday, September 3, 2018

Last day for BBQ menu at Not Your Average Joe's

Today, Labor Day, is scheduled to be the last for Not Your Average Joe's special summer BBQ menu. Special entrees include a pulled pork sandwich, a bucket of fried chicken, and a whole rack of baby back ribs. Side items on the BBQ menu are grilled corn on the cob, 5 cheese mac & cheese, homemade baked beans, sweet potato fries, and Not Your Mother’s Cornbread. Finish off the meal with strawberry shortcake. Not Your Average Joe's is located at 8661 Colesville Road, in the Ellsworth Place mall.