Wednesday marked County Executive Marc Elrich’s first formal address after his inaugural year in office — a year of change after the 12-year tenure of his predecessor, Ike Leggett.
That didn’t stop him from ad libbing. “Quite a bit,” he admitted after his speech.
His departures from the teleprompter were mostly to congratulate county employees for their dedication during a significant administrative transition.
Under Aseem Nigam, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the administration developed a new approach to building and maintaining affordable housing, Elrich said.
Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine earned a mention for efforts to streamline local government. Kendra Jochum, the re-entry services manager for the county’s Department of Corrections, had done great work in connecting inmates to services as soon as they arrived in the system, Elrich said.
“There aren’t many places where you’d hold up the jail as one of the best programs in the county,” he added during his speech.
Elrich’s State of the County address at the Silver Spring Civic Building was a chance for him to herald the work of his administration and emphasize the county’s importance as an “economic driver” for Maryland. Montgomery, often heralded as one of the richest areas of the country, has been recently dogged by reports of slow economic growth and stagnating tax revenues.
Elrich focused on economic development as one of his biggest priorities, citing the importance of growing the local tax base to fund local programs and initiatives.
“If we want to make this place better, we need more money to spend on things,” he said during the address. But he also highlighted what he viewed as some of the biggest accomplishments of his first term as county executive: an executive order formally barring collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a wide-ranging racial equity bill that aims to reduce disparities countywide.
“I think we sent a message to the region and the world that Montgomery County is and will continue to be a safe and welcoming place,” he said. “… It’s important to remember that the county is a model others hold up as a success.”
Wednesday’s speech was a return to a more formal State of the County address, which Leggett had largely foregone in the later years of his administration, said Barry Hudson, a spokesman for Elrich.
Leggett generally chose to give an overview of the county’s progress during his annual budget meetings, Hudson said. But Elrich decided to time a more formal address around the unveiling of his latest capital improvements program, a five-year agenda for major infrastructure projects.
Elrich said the latest CIP, and his ongoing vision for the county, reflected seven priority areas he selected at the start of his term. They include youth and families — including an emphasis on early childhood education — economic growth, environmental initiatives, traffic, affordability, safe neighborhoods, and streamlining local government.
Some of those priorities would require collaboration with larger agencies, Elrich said. He promised to advocate for changes in Annapolis, where he was scheduled to attend a statewide county executives’ meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
The full address can be viewed on the Montgomery County, MD YouTube channel.