Q&A with County Executive Candidate Nancy Floreen
This is the third in a series of interviews with the three contenders
Are there areas outside of development where you differ with your Democratic opponent, and consider his views to be on the “fringe”?
I’m not saying these are fringe views; I’m saying these are the views of the past, not the views of the future. One area where we certainly disagree is on transportation. The last I looked, the vast majority of my residents drive from place to place. I think the issue of congestion, and how we move forward, needs to be based on a balanced solution that involves transit and roads. I read on [Elrich’s] website that he’s still railing against road decisions made years ago. We have to build out our community infrastructure, and that’s something we certainly diverge on.
Mr. Elrich has contended on frequent occasion that private development has gotten ahead of the public infrastructure needed to support it, and a couple of his rivals in the primary appeared to voice some similar complaints. Do you agree that this has been a problem and, if so, what do you do going forward to prevent it?
I’d say, No. 1, that Mr. Elrich has been at the table as we revised the rules, and that’s probably most of the 9-0 [council] votes. We have some of the most demanding standards for development. Ask any developer—not to mention the fees and the costs of satisfying the various criteria, the public engagement requirements, all that stuff. We have put that in place collectively. There’s no debate about that.
What the county hasn’t done—well, what the council doesn’t want to do—is do things like build roads. I’ve lost that vote time and time again. The solution is to study, for Pete’s sake, rather than to construct. At the end of the day, we have infrastructure on the books that has not been built and my colleagues, bless ‘em, they respond to folks —neighbors typically—who don’t want to see roadways constructed. And I think that’s short-sighted. The fights over the [Intercounty Connector] went on for 40 years. And part of M-83 [part of the proposed Midcounty Highway] was intended to continue that road, at least up to Clarksburg. But folks don’t want to do it.
You don’t finance it by saying no to investment in Montgomery County; you find ways, you have to be creative. I’m not suggesting any of this is easy. I keep losing the fight on Montrose Parkway East—a long-term master plan improvement for that part of the county. It’s designed to replace one of the most dangerous roadway/railway intersections in the state of Maryland. But if we don’t push it, we don’t get any money at the state level. And people naturally shy away from things like roads. But what people would really rather is that everyone else get on the bus—so that we can drive in our cars.
In terms of major new roads, you’ve pushed for building Montrose Parkway East. In addition, do you think M-83 should be constructed?
Yes I do. Can we afford it? I don’t know. There’s a proposal to make it into a parkway. But we’ve constructed—permitted construction—of a community in Clarksburg that met all the rules, paid all the fees, did what we told them to do … . Our job as community leaders is to advance the other necessary infrastructure.
They’re not all going to take the bus. They’re not all going to take the Corridor Cities Transitway [a proposed bus rapid transit line along the I-270 corridor]. That became a state project; maybe we’ll get that done as well. Rose [Krasnow] would always talk about the promise of the Corridor Cities Transitway. She’s right. But this stuff it hard, it’s complicated—and it takes forever.
During his three terms on the council, Mr. Elrich has pressed for a network of bus rapid transit lines throughout the county. What’s your feeling about moving ahead on BRT?
One of the toughest nuts to crack, and this has been kicking around for a long time, is what we do on Route 29. I think we’re all on board with that solution of BRT [there]. What I would like to do is accept the fact that we’re dealing with regional needs. And we need to ultimately come up with a plan that extends that up to Columbia [in Howard County].
Likewise on I-270: Why can’t we do bus rapid transit up to Frederick City to a multimodal location? I’ve talked to the county executive of Frederick about that. Everyone is open to regional solutions because we are not an island. And so we cannot come up with a solution that just serves Montgomery County.
In the 70 years since charter government has been in effect in Montgomery County, you’re among just a handful of County Council members to serve four terms or more. What do you see as your legislative legacy during your 16 years on that body?
Two things really. One was my work on affordable housing, trying to find creative ways to fund and support that. We worked through a lot of technical [issues] on the rules that created incentives for the production of more affordable housing. We’re talking about the moderately priced dwelling unit [MPDU] program, and how we enhanced that.
At the end of the day, if you want more affordable housing—ask any expert—they will say you need more housing. This is actually an area where Mr. Elrich and I disagree as well. [You need] to encourage the production of housing, find ways to do it where there is opportunity left. In Montgomery County, the opportunities now are mostly in our urban areas and in our commercial areas. So we hope we have created some new zones that will create the opportunity for redevelopment that will include a good mix of housing.
The other thing I feel really good about … is on school funding. I led the charge in 2016 to work out a deal with the Board of Education where, if we were going to exceed what are known as the maintenance of effort [funding] requirements, they would agree to make some changes in how they were spending their money … . That was designed to address needs in our school system that hadn’t really been addressed before.
These are not things that are going to get a lot of attention, but they go to the fundamentals of what we care about in the community—a place for people to live and thrive, and a fair and equitable school system.
To the extent that the county has had problems in attracting new businesses in recent years, is this largely a problem of outside perception—or are there specific policies that need to be adopted or changed?
I think we need a cheerleader in chief, and that’s a role I intend to play—both locally and throughout the region, throughout the country and, frankly, internationally. We do not sell ourselves. During the recession … we came to appreciate as a community that we couldn’t support ourselves based on our relationship with the federal government. And we didn’t have the infrastructure, really, to advance that. Fairfax [County, Virginia] did.
So I’m the one actually who led the creation of the Montgomery [County Economic Development Corp.] that turned into, finally, the privatization of our economic development initiatives. I’m the one that led the charge to create a workforce development corporation, that brought together all these various workforce training programs into a more rational system—which is still evolving because we need to be nimble, we need to be forward-thinking about what the world wants, and remind them of how much of that we offer right here.
I think we need to make the statement that Montgomery County is welcoming to businesses, whether it be Amazon [or] any employer with high-paying jobs. We know we have what they want, which is an educated workforce, a great school system, a tremendous community—amenities, parks, arts, all those things that people want. Our zoning is designed to accommodate that sort of thing.
You can’t provide all the amenities and educational opportunities that everybody here wants without a really thriving school system—because that’s what defines us. I think all the candidates would probably agree on that. But the only way you do that is by having a galloping economy. And that’s the challenge that I think we need to focus on moving forward.