Council divided on whether to reject position to improve communication with executive

Council divided on whether to reject position to improve communication with executive

Majority agrees to table bill, reconsider issue later

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A majority of the Montgomery County Council agreed Tuesday to hold off on deciding whether to approve a new position requested by County Executive Marc Elrich.

Elrich has asked the council for a new position, called director of strategic partnerships. A report describing the position says it would be “focused on engaging with the Council, helping coordinate responses and communication in a timely manner.”

The responsibilities would include developing positions and testimony on council matters and coordinating and reviewing regulations for the county executive.

Elrich has proposed plugging the new position into a budget slot for a vacant position — the director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission (CJCC).

The council, though, has been skeptical and declined to go along with Elrich’s plan.

The council, in a 7-2 straw vote on May 14, agreed that it would defund the CJCC position, knowing that that that money would have been used for the new liaison position. Council Members Tom Hucker and Will Jawando were opposed.

Even with that tentative vote, though, the council had to come back to the issue this week. The CCJC position remained, even without funding.

On Tuesday, the council considered whether to eliminate the position, since the work is being done by another employee and the duties are no longer considered full-time work.

The bill under review this week still had Elrich’s proposed liaison position attached to it, too.

Council Member Nancy Navarro made a motion to remove the liaison position. After there was a second and more discussion, Jawando made a motion to table the bill, arguing that it should be discussed later.

By a 5-4 straw vote, the council agreed to table the bill.

Council Members Sidney Katz, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer, Evan Glass and Jawando voted to table.

Council Members Gabe Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Craig Rice and Navarro were opposed and wanted to proceed.

The council is going through its budget and taking straw votes on items to include, change or leave out, leading up to a final vote on Thursday.

Friedson said Tuesday that he didn’t support creating the new liaison position under a “continuity of services” framework that the county has followed in forming the budget for the next fiscal year. “Continuity of services” refers to preserving current programs and not including new ones.

Fariba Kassiri, deputy chief administrative officer for the county, told the council on Tuesday that staff members preferred to have the new liaison position, even if it was unfunded. She asked the council to consider discussing it in the future.

Jawando said he thought Kassiri’s request was reasonable and that the council should revisit the request later in the year.

“I think the issue that you’re seeking to solve as far as communication with [the] council is a huge issue. … That needs to happen regardless of what action we take today,” he said.

Glass said another position would not necessarily improve communication between the council and the executive.

“I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I don’t think that we have the luxury of throwing more resources at trying to improve communication and a working relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch,” he told Kassiri.

The council directly works with many staff members in the executive branch, he said.

“There’s a lot of conversation. Does there need to be more? Absolutely,” Glass said. “But given the fiscal realities and the very tough votes we made last week, I’m not sure that more resources are the answer to improving communication.”

Albornoz said adding the position would create “another cook in the kitchen” and having an unfunded liaison position would be unnecessary.

Friedson said the communication problem stems from a leadership issue, not a resource issue.

“Clearly, there is a problem but this is not the appropriate solution,” he said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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