Since You Asked: Sept.-Oct. 2010

Since You Asked: Sept.-Oct. 2010

Questions and answers about the Bethesda area.

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Is anyone ever successful in challenging parking tickets or speed-camera tickets in Montgomery County court?

—Christopher Olsen, Chevy Chase

Yes, but not often. Capt. John A. Damskey, director of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Traffic Division, says less than 1 percent of speed-camera citations end up in court, and “the vast majority” are upheld.

Rockville defense attorney Michael Dobbs says few drivers contest speed-camera or parking tickets “because people don’t want to take half a day off work to fight a $20 or $40 ticket.”

As for the few drivers who succeed in challenging tickets: Dobbs says speed cameras must be calibrated daily, so citations have been thrown out when there was no record of calibration for the day the ticket was issued.

Drivers contesting parking tickets because of faulty meters have succeeded by recording the meter number, parking space number, date, time and the amount they deposited, Dobbs says.

No matter what the reason or plea, Dobbs says drivers with clean records stand a better chance at success in front of a judge.

Is there such a thing as a Maryland accent? If so, what defines it?

—Becky Keteltas, age 11, Bethesda

Ralph Fasold, professor emeritus of linguistics at Georgetown University, says there’s no doubt many Marylanders speak with an accent. The problem is, there are too many dialects within the state to define one as being distinct to it.

Maryland straddles some major dividing lines for dialects, with the “midland” dialect defining the northern part of the state, and the Southern dialect defining the south, Fasold says. Maryland also is home to a number of distinct regional dialects, such as one on the Delmarva Peninsula in which the word “brown” is pronounced “brain.”

Confusing matters further is the fact that the Washington, D.C., area is home to so many people who grew up elsewhere and speak the regional dialects of those places.

“Speech patterns don’t know anything about state lines,” Fasold says. “Someone from the Eastern Shore will most likely sound more like someone from Delaware than someone from Hagerstown.”

Was Bethesda ever an incorporated town with its own mayor? Rockville, Gaithersburg, parts of Chevy Chase and even tiny Garrett Park have their own mayors, yet Bethesda does not.

—Leslie Ford Weber, Bethesda

Bethesda is in good company—it shares its unincorporated status with large, developed Montgomery County communities such as Wheaton and Silver Spring. This stems from a time when Montgomery County was a collection of unincorporated farm villages with no need for their own governments.

Growing communities such as Rockville and Gaithersburg incorporated to provide services to their growing populations—and to collect taxes from those populations—but William M. Offutt, author of Bethesda: A Social History (1995), says efforts to do so in Bethesda never took off.

“As the 20th century developed, a centralized county government seemed the most efficient way to go,” says Carol Trawick, former president of The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of the Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation. “When you ask a century later why Bethesda wasn’t incorporated, it’s because the model worked.”

Instead of incorporating, Trawick and other Bethesda leaders worked to create the nonprofit Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) in 1994. David Dabney, executive director of the BUP, says this provides local authority for marketing, maintenance and landscaping of downtown Bethesda without having to provide services like police and fire.

“We think we’ve got the best of both worlds,” Dabney says.

What does it cost to support the county council in terms of salaries for the staff and members?

—Elizabeth Brennan, Kensington

Each of the nine Montgomery County Council members received, on average, $372,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30 to staff and outfit his or her office, according to Montgomery County Council spokesman Neil H. Greenberger. Some council members spend less, while the budget allows for a ceiling of $407,000 for offices with longtime employees earning higher salaries, Greenberger says. Fiscal year 2011’s budget reduces the average to $354,000 per office to reflect actual spending in 2010.

Council members have four to six staffers who work on one-year contracts, Greenberger says, and their salaries vary depending on their area of expertise and the contract. Salaries for “confidential aides,” similar to chiefs of staff, range from $92,205 to $121,048 per year. That’s on top of the $94,351 salary paid to each council member, and the $104,022 paid to the council president.

Do you have a question you’d like answered about someone or something in the Bethesda area? If so, e-mail your question to Please include your name and the city in which you live.

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