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Tense Times for MoCo's Council

Last night's union meeting in Montgomery County was meant to improve communication between labor leaders and elected leaders, but it also exposed lingering unease among council members as they jockey for committee assignments following the death this month of their colleague Marilyn Praisner

The rift emerged when a union leader questioned why some of the millions the county is setting aside for retiree health benefits couldn't be used to help balance the books.

New accounting rules require state and local officials to report and begin covering the cost of providing health care benefits to current and future retirees or risk their standing with the bond rating agencies.

Council President Michael Knapp was sympathetic, saying he too was "caught off guard by the size" of the commitments made over the years by the county's finance team and the council members who have met with the Wall Street rating agencies.

Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, chair of the council's fiscal committee, was on last year's trip and interpreted Knapp's comments as criticism.

"In the past few weeks, there has clearly been some attempt by the council president to marginalize me," said Trachtenberg, who explained that the "misrepresentation" had forced her to speak out.

"I am very concerned about some of what was said last night, most notably the suggestion that I was involved with some sort of backroom deal."

When asked about Trachtenberg's reaction this morning, Knapp said he is "certainly not picking any fights with my colleagues" and that it was a "pretty significant misunderstanding on the part of my colleague."

The funding commitments were reached over the course of three years - long before Trachtenberg joined the council, he said. "I thought I explained that last night," Knapp added. "Clearly, she didn't have anything to do with it."

By Ann Marimow  |  February 28, 2008; 11:49 AM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
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Isn't it true that someone who has worked for the county for only fifteen years can get all their health benefits paid by the county till age 65? Isn't it true that many county employees who have left county employment can get "retirement" checks before age 55?

Posted by: Too costly | February 28, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"The rift emerged when a union leader questioned why some of the millions the county is setting aside for retiree health benefits couldn't be used to help balance the books."

I guess this guy doesn't care if his members get their benefits in the future.

Posted by: spendspendspend | February 28, 2008 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Silver Spring, MD - Mark D. Fennel has announced his candidacy to run for Montgomery County Council in District 4 in the up-coming special election. A life-long resident of Montgomery County, Mark Fennel lives in Silver Spring with his wife Estela, who immigrated to the United States from Honduras, and their 6th month old son Caleb, who was born at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. Mark Fennel graduated from Walter Johnson High School in 1984 and holds a B.A. in political science from Vassar College.

A writer and marketing analyst, Mark Fennel is the long-time Director of Membership for Citizens Against Government Waste, a nationally known, non-profit organization that exposed the infamous, "Bridge to Nowhere," and other notorious earmarks. Previously, Mark Fennel worked for four years in the development department of The Heritage Foundation following a stint in the private sector.

When Mark Fennel launched his previous campaign for County Council in District 4, he was quoted in The Gazette as saying, "This year [FY06] the budget has ballooned to an incredible $3.5 billion, and there is talk of a $4 billion budget. . .For the future prosperity of Montgomery County and its residents, it's critical that an austerity program be put in place to curtail this vicious pattern of unrestrained and unsustainable spending" ("GOP newcomer making bid for County Council," Dec. 14, 2005).

On Oct. 9, 2006 shortly before the election, Montgomery Community Television videotaped Mark Fennel saying, "Tragically, Montgomery County is facing a financial crisis. During the first eight months of 2006, we've seen a $300 million falloff in transfer and recordation taxes; a new federal law requires $200 million to pre-fund some county employee benefits; the county employees' retirement system is $674 million in deficit; and, we're facing a $67 million shortfall in facility maintenance. All the while, the council irresponsibly went on an election year spending spree."

Today, Montgomery County is facing a $300 million budget deficit and the threat of higher property taxes is looming on the horizon. Having just received increases in Maryland state computer, sales, income, car, and corporate taxes, it appears the County Council is preparing to override the county's charter property tax limit which will cause hundreds more foreclosures especially for minority families, and price thousands more out of the county housing market. Under this dire background, according to the February 14, 2008 edition of the Montgomery County Sentinel, Council President Mike Knapp inexplicably said, "Right now we're looking back to see how committees were structured 15 or 20 years ago and seeing if we even need an Management and Fiscal Policy committee."

Mark Fennel has pledged not to support an override of the county's Charter Amendment, because the Charter Amendment was put in place to protect families from unfair tax increases. According to Mark Fennel, "The solution to this budget crisis, is to go through Montgomery County's budget with a fine tooth comb and root out waste, mismanagement and inefficiency while slowing the rate of growth of Montgomery County's budget." This is a task Mark Fennel is well prepared to handle, because he's been working on this issue for many years at Citizens Against Government Waste. Mark Fennel went on to say, "an integral part of reigning in over-the-top spending and the associated high level of taxation to support it, is to end the decades old symbiotic relationship between special interests and the County Council, where the County Council and special interests win, and Montgomery County families lose."

Posted by: VoteFennelforCountyCouncil | February 28, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

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