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House joint committee grills Metro Board, union and FTA

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WASHINGTON – Members of a joint House committee pointed fingers at witnesses called to testify, including a federal safety official, Metro’s board chairman and a Metro union representative, during a hearing for Metro SafeTrack Friday. 

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and subcommittees on Transportation & Public Assets and Government Relation hosted the hearing.

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Hate Crimes Spike in MoCo

Acts of vandalism motivated by the presidential election have caused a surge in hate crimes, according to police.

In the last few weeks, vandals have drawn racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on private and public property.

On Sunday, a Silver Spring resident who lives along Williamsburg Drive found a red swastika spray-painted on his front door and saw noticed his American flag was stolen from his yard, according to Montgomery County Police spokesperson Rick Goodale.

Goodale said the homeowner had a “Trump/Pence” sign in his front yard late last month.

 These incidents are part of the more than 75 hate crimes or bias incidents reported to police in Montgomery County this year.

“We did see an increase you know during the election cycle, just prior to the election and immediately after the election,” said Goodale.

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Combating racism

DD At Klan Rally in MarylandLocal musician Daryl Davis has unique way to combat racism. COURTESY PHOTO

Daryl Davis has spent most his life trying to answer one question: “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”

The 58-year-old African-American author, musician and actor from Silver Spring, has spent years studying, interacting and befriending white supremacists.

Since the presidential election of Donald Trump, who he said has energized white supremacists; Davis maintains the best way for people to confront racists is to talk with them face to face.

“The way I would challenge them is to invite them to the table,” he said. “Not shout at them but invite them to the table for a roundtable discussion.”

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Council passes bill to protect tenants

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ROCKVILLE -- Seeking to increase inspections and generally give more rights to tenants, the County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to require the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) to annually inspect properties that have frequent housing code violations.

The bill requires landlords give three months notice before increasing rent 100 percent or more a month and give more power to tenants to make repairs.

The bill also creates a publicly available database from the County’s rental data housing survey, including a list of the average rent increase for each unit at a property.

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Metro contemplates closing early

Metro folo -Fort Totten 11-22-16- courtesyBack ups at Fort Totten Metro station. COURTESY PHOTO  

After hosting a public hearing and analyzing survey responses, Metro staffers said Monday they recommend Metro close at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays, half an hour earlier than its current closing time of midnight.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Metro needs to reduce its hours of service to allow more time for crews to perform maintenance and inspect tracks.

Otherwise, he said Metro will develop another backlog of deferred maintenance.

“We cannot get through (SafeTrack) and then go back to business as normal,” Wiedefeld told the Metro Board of Directors in July.

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Council hopeful for Purple Line continuation

Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) said Leon’s ruling to allow the Federal Transit Administration to decide the significance of Metro ridership brings him new hope.

He said he is confident the end of the Purple Line hiatus is near.

Berliner said he believes there is no turning back after the judge’s order Nov. 22. He ordered the FTA to assess Metro’s ridership and safety issues and determine whether either will harm the Purple Line project. From there, FTA and the Maryland Transit Administration would determine whether they need to write a new environmental impact statement pertaining to Metro’s impact on the project.

“By opening the record and allowing the agencies to show him why they don’t think this Metro issue is relevant, he (Leon) will no longer be able to say they were arbitrary and capricious,” Berliner said. “He can only say, ‘I don’t agree but under the law, I can’t substitute my judgment for the agencies, therefore we’re done here.’”

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School Board mulls policy changes

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The Montgomery County Board of Education is considering whether to add gender identity and familial status to its anti-discrimination policy.

The proposed change would also specify that disabilities are both physical and mental.

County school staffers discussed with school board members possible changes to the policy and the possibility of combining it with Montgomery County Public Schools’ human relations policy Nov. 22.

Committee member Pat O’Neill (District 3) said students and teachers should already practice respecting everyone in schools, so adding to the group of protected classes would not be a significant change.

“I hope they’re already treating people respectfully, even if there are categories of people listed,” O’Neill said.

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Takoma Park finds homes for the homeless

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Takoma Park is working with Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs on a plan to buy two condemned properties and convert them into affordable mixed housing.

Once the county purchases the homes, they will be transferred to Coalition Homes, Inc., an affiliate of Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH), which develops housing for homeless and low-income households.

“The county knows that we are a very trusted partner in not only purchasing properties but managing them,” said MCCH executive director Susie Sinclair-Smith.

Sinclair-Smith noted affordable housing in Montgomery County is scarce and the development of cheaper options should be a focus for the county.

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Warren, Raskin rally with progressives in Silver Spring

MPI JR-0192Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin (D-8) stands with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during progressive rally at Silver Spring Civic Center. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

SILVER SPRING – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rallied with progressives Wednesday at the Silver Spring Civic Center, urging them to “fight for the people who sent us here” during a fundraiser for Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin (D-8).

“We are not the minority party, we are the opposition party,” said Warren to a packed crowd of several hundred people.

Raskin billed the rally as the “Democratic Resistance and Revival in Dark Times” in response to the Democratic Party’s losses in this year’s election cycle.

“The depression ends today and revival begins tonight,” said Raskin. “We are not a racist and we are not an ‘alt-right’ country.”

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Living "Under the radar"

Outgoing MCPS CFO quietly put time in and kept the school system on target

CFO Sue DeGraba- courtesy 2Outgoing MCPS CFO Susanne DeGraba   COURTESY PHOTO 

Montgomery County Public Schools’ chief financial officer is retiring Dec. 1 after working for MCPS for 14 years.

Susanne DeGraba, the school system’s CFO, said she “lives to stay under the radar.”

“I’m one of those people you never hear about but my team helps MCPS do all the things we do,” said DeGraba, who started as MCPS’ CFO in 2002.

She said part of her job involved keeping MCPS in compliance with new laws at various levels of government.

“The schools always keep me on my toes,” DeGraba said. “New laws -- federal, state, local. It’s been a real challenge but a job. I will often say I have the most interesting job in Montgomery County.”

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