Civic Federation

Civic Federation (60)

Parents cheer back to school

mccivicfedYes, folks, it’s that time of year again! Public school in Montgomery County begins on August 31st. And with it, the Board of Education (BOE) and Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) staff turn to thoughts of cash. Fiscal Year (FY) 17 is coming up, and the MCPS Department of Management, Budget and Planning (DMBP) has released its annual Operating Budget Guide and schedule for internal MCPS use.


Legislative Oversight releases report


mccivicfedThis past Tuesday, July 28th, the Office of Legislative Oversight released four reports. These are: OLO Memorandum Report Excel Beyond the Bell, Behavioral Health in Montgomery County, MCPS Revitalization/Expansion Program, and a memo report on Procurement Performance Metrics.


Time to promote cycling, alternative transportation

mccivicfedOur county government wants to promote more residential development. But more development results in more congestion on our roads and more demand for parking; both forms of infrastructure that are costly for the government to build and maintain. And our reputation for bad congestion deters people from moving into Montgomery County.



Question independent transportation

mccivicfedThe following Testimony was presented at the Montgomery County Executive’s Transit Task Force Public Forum, which was held on June 17th, 2015. Nancy Abeles represents the Bethesda Crest Homeowners Association, which is located along MD State Route 355, the Rockville Pike.


Punch your smart transit ticket

metro logoWhat do the residents of Montgomery County want? We want—and need—a flexible, 21st century, affordable system, or set of public transit pieces. We do not need, nor do we want, last centuries’ shopworn model. That is, we don’t want a fixed route diesel bus system, especially one that takes our property, using the ‘quick take’ method. No need for that in this day and age.


We suggest these options for effective rapid public mass transit, or ‘smart transit.’

  1. put money towards an excellent Metro system
  2. make Ride On free, saving time and attracting riders
  3. encourage the use of Bridj
  4. implement real-time computer traffic signalization controls rather than fixed signalization, which encourages idling, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions
  5. take a close look at the existing network of buses, as was done in Houston and route buses where people use and need them
  6. ask the riders what they want, and ask neighbors what it would take to get them to use public transit and implement a system that addresses our transportation needs

Set the reset button and begin again, this time with data and facts, to come up with solutions to our transit and congestion issues.

And just say no to an ‘Independent’ Transit Authority.

Again, an ITA is an end run around our Charter. The original purpose of the Charter was to take control over our affairs from those in Annapolis and move it here to the people. This bill reverses that intent absolutely. It creates a private authority appointed by one person, an authority with unlimited rights to tax, above the charter limits on which we voted. It creates an authority with no oversight, one that, according to the information we have seen, would create its own procurement process; have the authority to control the destiny of thousands of our public employees, with no oversight. It would take on all Ride On bus system functions; all bus systems; including finance, maintenance, planning, and operations; the parking lot districts; any transit funded by the people. With a poor track record, as evidenced by the wasteful spending on the Silver Spring Transit Center, essentially a money pit parking lot, the County government has already shown it is incapable of these tasks.

The County Executive would have the power to appoint five people each for a five-year term, at least, with no term limits. This oligarchy would have powers to raise taxes as they wish with no oversight or control as we expect in a Democracy. This oligarchy would have the power to enter into contracts with other governments and private parties with no oversight; and establish its own procurement policies and procedures with no oversight. This oligarchy would be granted the power by you to seize our property from us with no public oversight or accountability by the public.

Please stop this process. We are tired of going to endless meetings, tired of paying staff and dozens of consultants to push this ‘system’ which at this point is OTE, tired of testifying for something no one wants and certainly no one wants to pay for.

No one wants the B“R”T and certainly no one wants the ITA. Let’s move on and let’s do something creative here in Montgomery County. Let’s initiate public discussions on a flexible, responsive, 21st-century transit system. One that even the members of the Transit Task Force would use.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect formal positions adopted by the Federation. To submit an 800-1,000 word column for consideration, please send an email attachment to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



No to the ITA. Yes to free Ride On.


mccivicfedLast week the Transit Task Force, a creation of County Executive Leggett and Council member Marc Elrich, held a public forum and took testimony regarding the proposal for an Independent Transit Authority. The overwhelming response – again --was, no to the ITA.  Again our Civic Federation members turned out and again testified in opposition to the ITA, which would bust our charter.  Here is the testimony from Jerry Garson, our hard-workingMontgomery County Civic Federation Transportation Chair.


The questions posed to our residents and businesses are1. Can significant improvements be made to our current transportation systems, and 2.,Can the residents and business in MontgomeryCounty afford all the proposed costs.  These proposals will result in significant increases in real estate taxes, probably well over 25% and should be disclosed in advance of any proposals being introduced in the State Legislature.  The question that needs to be answered is what are the total costs and the related benefits to the current residents.  A full analysis of these proposed costs and the benefits has not been performed or provided to the residents and businesses.  The proposed BRT bus routes on MD 355, US 29, and Veirs Mill Road would cost $1.8 Billion with operating costs exceeding $80 million per year.


In January, the County Executive requested new state legislation that would allow Montgomery County to overhaul the current government structure for providing transit services by creating an independent Transit Authority (ITA) and perform an end-run around our County Charter and the County Charter’s taxing limits.


The bill would create a countywide special taxing district and raise real estate taxes above those allowed by our County Charter.  The ITA would be an independent agency run by a five-person board appointed by one person – the CountyExecutive.  No oversight of its operations is provided for.  It would have its own procurement process, the authority to enter into contracts with other governments and private parties, and take property through eminent domain. (Note: because of the way the subject property has already been assessed, in fact, a ‘quick take’ is possible). It would be neither answerable to, nor accountable to us – the taxpayers and residents.  The authority could build bridges, tunnels, ports, freight or rail terminals, tracks, subways, parking areas, parking structures, and building structures.  This is extremely broad language and should be changed.


Some easier and cheaper alternatives are possible.


One. Provide free Ride On bus services, which would provide more mobility and cost less than 10% of the cost of the BRT lines proposed.  The cost last year would have been $22 Million. Next year it probably would be $23 Million.  This is the amount of fare contribution made by riders.

Two. Another proposal, reported in the Bethesda Beat, is Premium Bus Service.  The Beat said, “Montgomery County officials think they have a good shot at getting federal funding for a ‘premium’ bus route that would run with all-electric vehicles along some of the most congested portions of Rockville Pike.”


Gary Erenrich, the County’s Acting Deputy Director for transportation policy, said the route would have 14 buses that would provide more frequent service with fewer stops between Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg and the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in North Bethesda.  The bus route would cost a total of $21 million.  A duplication of the Maryland Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit operation.


In the Official Statement dated May 1, 2012, for the Montgomery County, Maryland Parking System Project Revenue Bonds, the Pledge of Net Revenues is stated, on page 7, and Appendix A has provisions that affect the revenues.  Does this pledge permit the transfer of the Bethesda Parking System to the new Montgomery County Independent Transit Authority?

The principal reason for this radical change in the County Government is to finance the construction and operations of the proposed BRT system, but the new ITA would have far-reaching powers that would extend to the creation of bridges, ports, subways, tunnels, and any other related projects if it so desired.  The extent of the County government’s control would be limited to the approval of ITA projects in the CountyCIP budget and provisions in relevant master plans.



Time to say 'No' once again

mccivicfedWell, this was an easy column to write. The County Executive re-constituted the Transit Task Force, and this Wednesday, June 17th, a public hearing on the Independent Transit Authority was held. Again. So, it was tempting to merely reprint what I had written the first time, in January, when this ITA was stealth-introduced by Mr. Leggett. And, here we are again. The ITA language has not changed from what we see online. And neither has the position of the Civic Federation. We oppose the creation of an Independent Transit Authority.


Birth pains of the Federation

mccivicfedThis ends the tale of the birth of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. The other segments (Sentinel, 7 May and 21 May 2015) told of the “belt line” freight railroad proposed to encircle most of D. C. Two very influential belt line opponents were Col. E. Brooke Lee, a developer and political figure, and Oliver Kuhn, news editor of Washington’s Evening Star. ( Citations to the Star are in square brackets.)


At the height of vacation season, Montgomery County citizens managed to hold a mass meeting at the invitation of the Bradley Hills Community League to formally react to the belt line. A crowd of 400 filled “a large assembly room” at the Montgomery Country Club. Washington’s Evening Star was a big help by prominently publicizing the meeting in advance [“Maryland Communities Fire First Gun Tomorrow Night”, 6 Aug 1925, p. 2]. Afterwards there was an extremely long, blow-by-blow report of what various speakers had said. [8 Aug 1925, p. 2]

Oliver Kuhn, a colorful speaker, recalled how property values fell due to other belt lines and said history “showed that property owners got out with the first announcement like rats running from a burning building”. He had brought a copy of the railroad’s petition to the PSC and “proceeded to tear it to pieces”. [8 Aug 1925, p. 2] Brooke Lee, by letter, recommended that rail and industrial development be confined to those areas where it had already started. The meeting voted to reject the belt line without a dissenting voice and formed a special committee including Mr. Kuhn to present their views to the Public Service Commission and to others.

In the next two weeks, documents of opposition were being prepared by, at least, the Town of Somerset, Glen Echo, the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, Woodside Civic Association, Woodside Park, and North Woodside.



Having shown overwhelming public opposition to the belt line, activists assembled in small groups where the idea took hold of a federation of civic groups to address affairs that affect the County as a whole. It should have “a number of standing committees” whose “duty will be to keep an eagle eye on every project” and on legislation so as to promptly handle those meriting federation attention. [11 Nov 1925, p. 11]   Walter Tuckerman hosted a meeting at his home that drafted a constitution.

By mid-November they were ready to call a second mass meeting to form a federation to fight “attempts to industrialize the area” and to urge “developing the county into one of the most beautiful residential suburbs of the National Capital”. [17 Nov 1925, p. 22]  The constitution was adopted and Maryland’s Secretary of State, Brooke Lee, “spoke highly of the great good “ an MCCF could do.   He urged cooperation between farm and town interests and said “the influence which we will have … will undoubtedly be in direct proportion to the extent and value of our proposal”. [20 Nov 1925, p. 16]

The Montgomery County Civic Federation was fully born on November 30, 1925 in Takoma Park when delegates from 18 civic associations elected Oliver Kuhn of Alta Vista as the first MCCF president and Frank Hewitt of Silver Spring as vice president. President Kuhn stressed that MCCF must be nonpolitical and said it was “formed of both Republicans and Democrats, … acclaimed by Socialists and indorsed by Prohibitionists”. The Evening Star printed pictures of six elected officers. [1 Dec 1925, p. 4]


From the start a strong committee structure was built in to fully study issues before presenting them to all delegates. Initial concerns of members were zoning, police and fire protection, and poor road restoration by WSSC after laying pipes. Areas west of Rock Creek had no local fire protection. Magnanimous crews from D. C. were putting out some of their fires for free. MCCF stimulated our localities to seek better fire solutions. [13 Jul 1926]  

The MCCF prepared an extensive study of the legal basis of zoning for presentation to the state legislature from which they would seek enabling authority for zoning in Montgomery County.

Only two years after its birth, the MCCF and the business community achieved the creation of the Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). One year later they obtained the first county zoning law, applying to southern areas.

There’s one thing we’ve lost since then. They had a spirit for making Washington and its suburbs the finest-looking capital in the world.   In 1925, that included its “beautiful boulevards leading into and out of the city”. [2 Sep 1925, p.1 and p. 2] How sad to see some of our main roads today.

I have been a delegate to the MCCF for 25 years. With the normal ups and downs as officers change, the group still strives to uphold the original standards---a nonpartisan federation of civic groups from all over the county, identifying issues of countywide significance, considering them in committee, deciding their fate in the full assembly of delegates, and then lobbying official bodies to act in the broad public interest.



On the birth of Montgomery County Civic Federation

mccivicfedThe Federation was formed 90 years ago in reaction to plans for a freight railroad called the belt line that would have circled most of the District of Columbia inside today’s Capital Beltway. This is part 2 of my report that began in the Sentinel, 7 May 2015. (Square brackets cite Washington’s Evening Star newspaper.)

The audacious railroad plan came to light on 17 Jul 1925 when the Evening Star reported that the company had petitioned the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) for permission to exercise its charter rights as granted by Virginia. This included the right to seize land for the route and for sprawling switching yards and terminals.

Permission for the Belt Line was already a done deal in Virginia. They had approved the belt line quietly, even though they must have known the populace would be angry when finally aware. [ ”Virginians Join Fight on Belt Line”, 22 Aug 1925, p. 2] Later the Washington Chamber of Commerce would be told “how the project was railroaded through the Corporation Commission of Virginia and left citizens of the latter state no redress except an appeal to a body of a sister state” [2 Sep 1925, page 1].

The same secretive rush job seemed set up for Maryland. Our PSC had scheduled a public hearing (and maybe immediate approval of the project) only six days after their perfunctory notice on 16 July in the Montgomery Advocate (Rockville).   That notice was the very first time the public learned that this freight line around Washington had been proposed. [23 Jul 1925, p. 1]

People knew they had a lot to fear. In their not-too-distant past, several railroads were allowed to seize land from mid-continent to the Pacific Ocean. They had seen belt lines built around a several eastern cities. The precedent of the Virginia Corporation Commission was not encouraging. Montgomery County residents knew they would need widespread protests and need some powerful or very influential supporters. Fortunately, two remarkably well located individuals stood up to help.

                                                                                -----MAJOR SUPPORTERS-----
Colonel E. Brooke Lee
was born in 1892 in Blair House (across from the White House). He served in France as a U. S. Army major during World War I, receiving several high medals. Later he became a colonel in the Maryland National Guard. At birth, his family was already prominent and remains so (e. g., his grandsons in Montgomery County: Blair Lee IV, columnist and Bruce Lee, president of Lee Development Group).

Brooke Lee was elected in 1919 as Comptroller of the State of Maryland where he expanded its scope toward the powerful office it is today. Then, Governor Ritchie appointed him secretary of state (1923-1925). Clearly, he was well integrated into the power structure and the Democratic Party by 1925.

Lee’s business was real estate development, to which the belt line posed an obvious threat. He strongly favored creating the Montgomery County Civic Federation (MCCF) and would co-author its plan to obtain zoning authority for the County. He also chaired two MCCF committees, not simultaneously.

Oliver Owen Kuhn was the News Manager of The Evening Star, a perfect position to inform and influence public opinion. He published extensive coverage of the belt line and, especially, of efforts to mobilize the citizenry to derail it. I found 27 of their articles on these matters. In 1925 the Star had the largest daily circulation (100,000) and printed twice as many pages as the Washington Post on a typical weekday. Its importance continued until the 1960’s when widespread television viewing gradually killed off America’s evening newspapers.

Mr. Kuhn’s actions as a private citizen were of comparable significance. He was a leading figure in bringing civic groups together, organizing public meetings, and inspiring their opposition to the belt line. For example, when representing a special committee formed at a mass meeting, he told the Washington Chamber of Commerce that the belt line “was one of the greatest menaces which had faced Washington and its development in a long time” [2 Sep 1925, p. 1]. After his crucial work, Oliver Kuhn would be elected as the first president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.

Also opposing the belt line were the Washington and Silver Spring Chambers of Commerce and, of course, many neighborhood civic groups in Montgomery County.

When news of the belt line’s petition came out on July 17th and 19th, Brooke Lee immediately asked the PSC to delay the Public Hearing scheduled for July 23rd. He pointed out that southern Montgomery County “is not a commercial area but is entirely devoted to extensive residential development”. He asked the PSC to make no final decision until the people “that may be so vitally affected can determine what the proposal really is, and consequently, their attitude toward the proposal”. [23 Jul 1925, p. 1]

The belt line company responded that “Washington and its environs will be tremendously benefitted by the belt line and terminal project”. [26 Jul 1925, p. 16] They repeated that residential values would not be hurt.

Having heard from Lee---such an important Maryland official---the PSC postponed the hearing for “three weeks at least”.

Next week, Part 3 will conclude this tale about the birth of the federation.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect formal positions adopted by the Federation. To submit an 800-1,000 word column for consideration, please send an email attachment to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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