Q&A With County Executive Candidate Robin Ficker
This is the second in a series of interviews with the three contenders
Are there road projects currently on the drawing board that you would like to see built?
I’m in favor of M-83 [the continuation of the Midcounty Highway between Derwood and Clarksburg]. In 2002, I had a campaign brochure which said 45,000 people are going to be coming to Clarksburg, the roads are gridlocked, we need M-83. Now, 30,000 of those 45,000 people are here, and we still don’t have it. I’ve been to just about every house in Clarksburg and I know there are people who work in Virginia who have to leave their house at 4:30 a.m. and if they don’t, they’re late for work.
I’m going to build M-83. All the at-large council members who live in the Takoma Park trapezoid—I’ve seen their answers, they’re all against it [Editor’s note: Elrich opposes it, while Floreen supports it.] I will work out something with them … in the capital improvements program. We’re going to get the votes for M-83. And if they just say, “I hate M-83, it’s going to impair the Paris [climate change] accords,” which some of them have said, then I’ll say, “Fine, we may only have M-83 in the capital improvements program, and nothing else.”
One of your opponents, Mr. Elrich, has long advocated a bus rapid transit system along major roads in the county. What are your feelings about that?
We have 150 road projects in Montgomery County that have been on hold. We have been Takoma Parked, we’ve been Garrett Parked. We need to get Montgomery County moving, we need to improve our bottlenecks in the county, we need to get people to work earlier. Just the other day, I’m reading on Facebook, “Oh, we have Silver Spring/Takoma Park restaurant week. Come down for lunch.” I am there on I-270. I’m stuck; I’m going like 5 miles an hour. And I put on Twitter and said, “Why are you thinking about lunch?” This was [council member] Tom Hucker, I think. “Why haven’t you done something about all these people who are here with me on I-270?”
You were tweeting while driving?
Yes, I was. (chuckles). Good point … . I was stopped at the time, I wasn’t moving.
Do you favor widening the American Legion Bridge, and what are your thoughts about a second Potomac River crossing?
I was in high school when they built [the American Legion Bridge]. The population of Montgomery County was 400,000. Now, I think it might be a little more than that—maybe 1.1 million. [My opponents] have had Democratic governors; they’ve had [Parris] Glendening, they’ve had [Martin] O’Malley. They haven’t worked with them to get it done. I’m going to have Gov. Hogan more than likely. And I’m going to work with him and get it done.
I don’t think [a second Potomac crossing] is going to be built. I always have an open mind; I believe in studying things and looking at alternatives. But the way it looks to me, that’s not going to be built, and I live there and know that people are looking for all kinds of reasons to build in the Ag Reserve. So far, I haven’t heard a good one.
In response to a recent questionnaire, you vowed to “be thrifty, eliminate waste.” Can you identify specific areas where you think the county is being wasteful, and how much in cost savings you feel can be realized?
For instance, I don’t think the county secretary of transportation should be earning more than [U.S. Transportation Secretary] Elaine Chao, because I think her job is a little bigger and a little more important. [Editor’s note: Al Roshdieh, director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, earned a salary of nearly $223,500 last year, as compared to $199,700 for Chao.] And I would look to some of these county salaries and make sure they are reasonable. And I’m going to look and see where we can economize. Look, who do you think is going to economize more? People who have had their own business, a thriving law office practice, for 40 years—or people that haven’t?
This is going to be the first time since 1978 [when Republican James Gleason was succeeded by Democrat Charles Gilchrist] when we’ve had rather large change in the people working in the county government. The county executive has a lot of appointments, and we’re going to make a lot of appointments of thrifty people. There’s only one person who is going to bring about change in the county government, and you’re looking at him.
You feel some salaries are too high. Do you believe the county executive’s salary is too high, and, if so, would you take a pay cut?
I think it’s less than $200,000. [Editor’s note: County Executive Ike Leggett earned $192,800 in gross pay in 2017.] There’s a lot of people in the county government who make more. I’d look at some of this overtime, that’s for sure. I’m going to have a new police chief, and I’m going to have him make sure that once the police are done with their court cases, they’re out of the courthouse and out on the street, doing something worthwhile and not standing around in the courthouse.
On another county management issue, would you retain the current country-run system of liquor sales and distribution, or move to privatize it?
I was the only one who served in the legislature, and I introduced, in 1980, legislation to get the county out of the liquor business. It didn’t get enough votes in the [county] delegation. Then, in 1982, I collected the signatures to put a charter amendment on the ballot to say that the county couldn’t be in the liquor business. I collected all the signatures, they were verified—and then the county took me to court and sure enough, they struck the question from the ballot an hour before the deadline for printing the ballot. They said you can’t get the county out of the liquor business by changing county law; you have to change state law first.
I’d be in favor of a referendum. But you have to convince the delegation … . I put the idea in their minds and this is now 38 years later and they still haven’t done it. They’ve had a lot of opportunities.