Housing, economic development, mental health issues and recovery in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic top the priorities for the six new incoming Montgomery County Council members , the council president told reporters Monday.
Council president Gabe Albornoz said that the members-elects — Laurie-Anne Sayles (at-large), Marilyn Balcombe (District 2), Kate Stewart (District 4), Kristin Mink (District 5), Natali Fani-Gonzalez (District 6), and Dawn Luedtke (District 7) — will bring “tremendous diversity” to the incoming council. They were part of a Democratic sweep of the County Council seats last week.
The current council, consisting of nine members, will grow to 11 members in December, after county voters approved a ballot measure in 2020 to expand the number of council districts from five to seven. Four at-large council members remain in the new structure.
Albornoz said Monday that the new council will focus on any solution to help create more affordable housing options for residents.Rent stabilization is on the table, but there needs to be a “holistic” approach to solving that issue, Albornoz said.
On public safety, amid higher levels of crime countywide, Albornoz said there may be some disagreement. But actions will be taken by the council, he said.
“I think everybody has different perspectives on helping to address some of the wave in crime that we have seen, but also some of the historical inequities that have been created within our criminal justice system,” Albornoz said. “And I know everybody’s going to be looking at tackling this from various angles.”
Many of the incoming council members have said that solutions to crime need to be holistic, not just focused on policing levels. For instance, there needs to be more social programs and violence prevention initiatives, especially among youth in the county, they have said.
Albornoz, health officials look forward to Kisha Davis as permanent health officer
The council is also expected to vote Tuesday on County Executive Marc Elrich’s pick for the county’s new health officer, Kisha Davis.
Davis, who lives in the county, is a family physician and was most recently the vice president for health equity at Bethesda-based Aledale. That company works with independent medical practices, health centers and clinics to support the delivery of high-quality, equitable patient care, Bethesda Beat previously reported.
Albornoz, who hopes to remain as chair of the council’s Health and Human Services commission in the next term, said that he’s interested in working with Davis on health inequities that were exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic. Local elected and health officials have spoken about the lack of access to health care, cost barriers to service, and how certain areas are more vulnerable to diseases, not just COVID-19.
Albornoz said that Davis can help lead efforts to provide more telehealth and mobile health opportunities for those communities.
Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, said that Davis will provide another valuable voice at the table, especially as health officials navigate the coronavirus, influenza and other diseases this winter.
James Bridgers — the county’s acting health officer — will serve as division chief of public health services.
Health officials are closely monitoring all types of diseases in the coming months, he said.
“Last year when there was a huge omicron [coronavirus] spike, the influenza spread dipped considerably during that spike, because people were staying home and people were getting sick with something else at the time,” O’Donnell said. “I hope we don’t have another huge spike like that this year, but … it’s hard to tell.”