Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) talks about the county's vaccine rollout and making the tax code more progressive. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) talks about disparities in the District's vaccinations and how the pandemic has affected plans to bring a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
Protests broke out at D.C.’s Fourth District police station this week following the death of Karon Hylton, who sustained fatal injuries from a moped crash after being pursued by D.C. police. The Metropolitan Police Department released body-worn camera footage on Thursday. D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) joins us to talk about Hylton’s death. Plus, we’ll talk about how to cast your ballot in D.C. just days before the election.
Over in Maryland, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich issued his first-ever veto for a bill that would offer tax breaks to companies wanting to build high-rises above Metro stations. The county council voted to override his veto. Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) joins to talk about the back-and-forth with the executive office. Plus, we’ll ask him about a bill to remove school resource officers from schools and why he wants to suspend late-night alcohol service in the county.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with At Large Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer, but joining us now is Charles Allen. He's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 6. Charles Allen, thank you for joining us.
CHARLES ALLENThanks for having me. Good afternoon everybody.
NNAMDIAllow me to tell you all what Tom Sherwood has accomplished in the fixes in the Washington Post report of outstanding politics reporters to follow in every state there is our own Martin Austermuhle of WAMU. And, of course, Tom Sherwood also listen as WAMU. When Tom Sherwood left NBC4 and we thought he was retiring, he said he's not retiring. He is refocusing. Well, he obviously has refocused with a vengeance here because he's still a top reporter. Tom Sherwood, congratulations.
SHERWOODWell, thank you very much. That's a nice list of reporters, particularly Martin Austermuhle who does so much for WAMU and DCist. Now local journalism is under a threat because of the nature of funding local reporters and media in general. Lots of traditional reporters have lost their jobs. There's a lot more social media reporting going on where people have to go for information, but it's very nice to be mentioned.
NNAMDIWell, these reporters are supposed to be the nemesis of politicians everywhere. Do you find that to be the case, Council Member Allen? Nemesis of politicians everywhere.
ALLENI think local journalism is critical if you expect accountability and good government and I think we've got just the absolute best here in D.C. focused on a local level. It's critically important. If you want government to work you need local journalism.
NNAMDIBut Tom Sherwood and yours truly are not without opinions. In the final episode of the podcast 51st, which airs from WAMU we were both featured in that podcast because we have passionate feelings about statehood for the District of Columbia. And Tom told a great story. And I'd like to say that when you're a reporter you leave your opinions at the door, but you don't leave your humanity. You don't leave your human rights and you don't leave your civil rights at the door. And so Mikaela Lefrak was apparently happy to report that Tom and I have strong feelings about statehood. And then she talked about what it is like being a reporter who lives in a city that does not have voting rights and statehood and how she feels about that herself. Care to comment, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I tell journalism students there is -- professors like to say a journalist has to be objective. And I say that the only objective person is a dead person. What you have to do is try to be as fair -- find out as much as you can report, as best as you can and be fair. And that's what I feel about statehood. You know, I think that as a citizen of this city I deserve the opportunity and rights of all United States citizens and I'm for statehood. As a reporter and D.C. Vote will tell you this, I've been quite critical about the episodic way the city has gone about trying to get statehood.
NNAMDIWell, and that is obviously true. Next week on this broadcast we'll be talking about the podcast 51st with Mikaela Lefrak. And so we'll also be talking statehood then. But, Charles Allen, getting on to what's going on now, yesterday the Metropolitan Police Department released body-worn camera footage from a D.C. police officer in the cruiser that pursued Karon Hylton. The video shows the police car following Hylton who can be seen riding a moped with no helmet. During the pursuit Hylton crashed into a passenger vehicle. He died on Monday. What was your response to the footage? Before you respond allow me to invite our listeners to also call. Charles Allen, would you respond?
ALLENYeah. First and foremost, of course, our thoughts are with Karon Hylton's family, young daughter. And, you know, I've spoken with his family a couple of times this week. And they're in grief and trying to put the pieces together here. But as a councilmember and as the chair of this committee as I watch the video that's been released thus far and I've made the request for the full unredacted video, which I'll be able to see later as well. There's a lot of questions and concerns that come up. I mean, first and foremost is why were four officers giving chase to someone on a moped supposedly simply, because they didn't have a helmet on.
ALLENI can tell you, there's no way that we're going to be able to separate, I think, race from what we saw. I feel pretty damn sure if I didn't have a helmet on riding my bike or a moped, I'm not going to be chased through an alley by an MPD cruiser with four officers in there.
ALLENSecondly, I think I'm very concerned about the way in which our body-worn camera was activated. And so the officers click it on essentially after Mr. Hylton has the collision with the vehicle. And because we have essentially video that gets buffered and captured along the way, we have some video, but we have no audio. We don't know if the other two officers turned their BWC on. There's a lot more, and there's a lot more questions that now come up.
ALLENAnd then I got to say, watching the video, hearing the officers when they first get out and they don't appear to run. They appear to walk. Call out. They clearly knew Mr. Hylton because they called him out by his first name. But we have somebody lying unconscious and injured on the street and it doesn't feel like there's a sense of urgency. And I think it makes me certainly question why, you know, why wouldn't we see that urgency, because in what ways do we see this as a part of the entire nature of policing and structural racism that we're talking about, not just in D.C. but around the entire country.
ALLENI think the video -- it's important to release the video. But I think it also raises many more questions that deserve answers not just for Mr. Hylton's family, but for the whole city.
NNAMDIDid you get any answers, because Police Chief Peter Newsham has said that officers are not allowed to pursue vehicles for traffic violations if they refuse to stop? Did you get any answers about why all -- these four police officers were pursuing a moped?
ALLENI think we've heard pretty clear. MPD has put out their statement that this was a pursuit, because they were following someone, who wasn't wearing their helmet. That is not consistent with our policies. We have a don't chase policy for a reason, and I think you see exactly how this plays out. We've seen security video, which also shows -- private security video that shows the chase going on in an alley. So we still have questions around exactly what prompted the initial start of the interaction. But I don't think there's any question from watching this that there was a pursuit. I do not believe it's consistent and followed our MPD policies.
ALLENAnd at the end of the day we also have to ask the question, what were folks hoping to gain with this? Why would we pursue and chase somebody over a helmet purportedly? In what ways did it make our city and our neighborhoods safer? In what ways was it achieving safety injustice to chase somebody through alleys? That's a question that we need to really be working on and struggling with around what is the role of policing, you know, what ways are we doing this in a way that keeps our city safe and do so in a just way?
SHERWOODCouncil member, thanks for being here today. Do we know the race of the four officers involved?
ALLENI do not know the race of the two officers in the back. And I don't believe the race information was released yesterday on the officers in the front.
SHERWOODOkay. You issued a very strong statement in which you say you did speak to the family. And you said you still need much more information. I want to quote you in your statement. You saying, "What we do know is that he should be alive today and that how Mr. Hylton was treated and why he was killed cannot be disconnected from his race." And that you later say, "I find it hard to believe the officers would have acted with a similar lack of empathy with a white resident." Would you comment on that? And also, earlier this week, Chief Newsham at a police -- had a press conference. Also it strongly indicated that this might have been an improper chase, but he couldn't say it, because it's under investigation. But how much does race play a factor in this?
ALLENWell, I think that for most people -- I don't think very many people actually believe that this chase was about somebody not wearing a helmet. I just don't think that's a plausible argument. I think that within our own lived experiences, again, as a white guy if I was riding down the street or on the sidewalk on my bike without a helmet on, I don't think there's a single scenario were I'm ever going to have a cruiser with four officers give chase to me.
NNAMDIAnd there's a large amount of that has to do with the color of my skin. I think that when we talk about the nature of policing and when we talk about the over policing that we often see in our Black and brown communities this is where this comes from. Mr. Hylton should be alive today. He should be able -- I mean, his daughter should grow up with a father. This is wrong. And I think there's absolutely a concern here.
SHERWOODRight. Whatever the race of the officers, the misconduct is the issue not necessarily the race of the four officers. But let me ask you about the Twitter war that erupted, I think this morning or last night. You tweeted about the family suffering this loss. The D.C. Police Union has also entered the Twitter war telling us that -- in a tweet they say that "A reminder that 12 officers were hospitalized last night," it's a reference to the violence at some of the demonstrations at the 4D headquarters. And they say that some had career ending injuries. And they say that Charles Allen, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has yet to show one iota of condolence or concern for the police officers. How is it different from being concerned about Mr. Hylton's family and the police officers in these violent protest situations?
ALLENYeah, you know, I've worked actually with the FOP leadership in the past. You know, they've supported body cameras, for example. I've worked on legislation with them to ensure that officers that are seriously injured on the job are able to keep working. And the FOP is right in one regard in their statement. And that is that everyone deserves to be free from violence and that includes officers.
ALLENBut importantly, I'd like to add that also included Karon. I think the current leadership just has its head in the sand and they're pretending that policing somehow doesn't need to change. I don't think that's reflective of the many men and women in the department actually who are frustrated with the status quo. I know as a council member I talk with officers ...
NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left in this segment.
ALLENSure. They want to tackle this difficult issues. They're tired of being asked to do everything for everybody. And they want to be able to have the support to have the right type of response to get the right type of help to the person in need.
SHERWOODMaybe you'll have to answer this after the break, but the law requires this police video to be released. But it apparently only requires the immediate action video to be released and not all of it. Will we get to see all the video of all the officers or we have to change the law to make that happen?
NNAMDIIndeed, the council member is going to have to respond to that after the break because the break is right now. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with D.C. Council Member Charles Allen. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Council Member Charles Allen. He's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 6. We're talking your calls. Council Member Allen, when we took that break you were about to respond to a question from Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODIs the law tough enough? The law requires police video to be released, but is it broad enough that all the video be released?
ALLENYeah. So the law currently has that responding officer's body-worn camera. And that's -- we're actually considering permanent legislation right now to try to examine how far that should go. Should it be every officer on the scene, every responding officer? There's also the question around how much should be redacted. Right now currently officers aren't shown. They're serving in their official function. They're in uniform serving the public. Should their faces be redacted? There's a lot of questions that we're working through right now on permanent legislation to be able to handle and, I think, address the question that you've got.
NNAMDIHere now is Marty in Bethesda. Marty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTYHi, Kojo. I very much appreciate the opportunity to talk on the show and certainly hear the comments of the Council people. I got to tell you something. Before I knew anything about this person, I knew the story. I knew he was African American. Nobody told me that. I didn't have to wait to hear it. The police officers turned on their lights and ordered him to stop. That's a lawful order. He chose to disobey that. I've been stopped by cops and I pull over. I don't fight them. I follow the lawful orders of the police.
MARTYI do -- you know, you live in a society of law. And if you disobey the law, there's consequences. He also chose to ride a moped without wearing a helmet. That's against the law. So there's two violations that he committed. He chose to make these decisions and it ultimately led to his death. It's unfortunate. But the problem is are we living a society -- I mean, D.C. wants statehood or many residents of D.C. want statehood. But what they don't want to do is extract or demand accountability of the people that live in the city.
NNAMDINo. I think -- I think making that relationship between D.C. wanting statehood and requiring accountability from its residents is a false comparison. I think what we are looking for in this situation is accountability from the police officers, because police officers according to the police chief are not allowed to pursue people, who seem to be getting away from them. But I'd prefer to have Council Member Allen respond.
ALLENYeah. I appreciate that. I think it's a pretty ridiculous argument to try to loop statehood into something like that. We have a very clear policy around a chase. In trying to follow the caller's logic, are we saying that if I don't put a helmet on then that equals the death sentence. I mean, that just doesn't make any sense, especially trying to loop this into statehood in some way. We have clear policies and guidelines about what this is and what is to be followed. I mean, a comment like that -- if you want to ask what systemic racism looks like that's what you just heard from your caller. That's just a ridiculous statement.
NNAMDIOne more thing we do have to talk about and Jennifer in Virginia wants to address that. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFER (CALLER0Yes, Councilmember. First of all (unintelligible) not wearing a helmet is a death sentencing. There's death, unfortunate deaths, sad deaths, happen because of a traffic accident, because the victim pulls out in front of another innocent victim and was hit by a car, not because of a pursuit. And the pursuit everybody is not a high chase pursuit. The moped at max 20 miles per hour. How fast is this chase really happening? It's not. The rules in D.C. and the laws for high chase pursuits are to protect innocent victims that are walking around -- innocent citizens.
NNAMDIOkay. We don't have a lot of time, but I thought you wanted to talk about the violence that took place in the protests?
(CALLER0The media is missing on the responsibility of reporting (unintelligible) heightening it, sensationalizing it in one avenue has brought down the aftermath of all the people reacting emotionally, just as (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, like I said, we don't have a great deal of time for lectures, Jennifer, but Council Member Charles Allen, what do you say to people who say, how about the violence on the part of some of the protestors, who injured police officers and attacked the fourth district?
ALLENYeah, well, as I've said before. You know, I support the right for all Americans to be able to peacefully protest, and violence against anyone, police officer or civilian is unacceptable. I want the officers that have been injured to have a safe and healthy recovery along with the protestors. But to turn the death of Karon into a conversation around that is a bit of a distraction. We need to remember what this is about and about the changes that we're trying to make within policing.
ALLENAnd this is not easy work. This is hard. But we also have to think about what is the power differential that you within protests? There are significant challenges that we have to tackling and we also have to stay focused on trying to make sure that we have a safe and just city. That we are working toward that. That violence against anyone is unacceptable and that's where I start from.
ALLENAnd then we have to do the hard work of making sure that we're building that out within our systems, within our policing, within all of our public safety apparatus that goes beyond just law enforcement to work on gun violence in our city, to work on all violence to make it so this is -- we live in a great city. And we want this to be a safe and just place for everyone.
SHERWOODI appreciate that you want more information. I think the whole city wants more information about what happened here. And I hope we all get it. And I hope you get it. But let me ask you also about going into this election weekend. The police department is concerned about violence in the protests that are -- they occur during the elections. Have you been briefed? People are downtown are once again boarding up some of their stores. Have you been briefed by police on what they expect in the coming days? And are you confident that we're ready?
ALLENI have been briefed. Our police departments, our emergency management, Homeland Security departments have been working collaboratively not just in D.C., but within the region to prepare to for this. You know, we even go through, you know, kind of your worst case scenarios to try to help think through how we would respond and what those plans are. I think that like a lot of people folks are concerned about what this current occupant of the White House is going to do and what lengths he may go through. We saw what they did this summer activating National Guard, intimidating, threatening, harming protestors, peaceful protests.
ALLENThe federalization that we are going to potentially see is very concerning. And I think probably if at the beginning of the summer if we thought that's what we would see come out of the White House and see those forces turned against peaceful protests maybe not everybody thought that would have happened, but it did. And so we have to prepare for many contingencies, but there's a lot of really hard work and thought that's going into that to be prepared as the nation's capital to be ready for this.
NNAMDIIf there are D.C. voters who still need to vote, how should they do it?
ALLENThanks. You know, we're closing in. We're, I think five days away. And I want to say D.C. voters, I think you guys have done a fantastic job. We're already over 70 percent of the total ballots cast from four years ago have been cast early. And there's three main ways that that's taking place. First is by mail. Second is by drop box, which over 100,000 people have used. And then also our early voting centers.
ALLENI would say at this point I would encourage people to make their plan to vote either with a drop box or the in-person early voting. With the post office we're starting to see those delays pileup. In D.C. our law is that as long as it's postmarked by the 3rd the Board of Elections has 10 days to receive it. But I think we're nearing the timeframe and we're seeing the delays stack up. My recommendation to all voters, if you haven't voted already, would be either use one of the drop boxes. There's about 50 all over the city. You can find them on the Board of Elections website. Or use our early vote centers and that's the best way to cast your ballot.
ALLENI still think even with the great early vote turn out if you wait until Tuesday to vote you should still expect a line, but I think we're doing a great job with early voting. I'm really proud of the way folks have embraced the new ways to vote safe and vote early and get those ballots in so that those ballots and your voice and your vote will be counted.
NNAMDIHere is on the phone LaRuby May in Washington D.C. I assume this the former councilmember for Ward 8. Am I correct?
LARUBY MAYYes, sir.
NNAMDIWell, go ahead, please. We only about a minute left in this segment. We going to ask Charles Allen to stick around for a little while longer, but you might be able to get your question in. Go ahead.
MAYYes. First I want to extend my condolences to the Hylton family. We know, as personal injury lawyers, that the Hylton family will likely bring litigation in this case. And then Mr. Hylton's daughter will be faced with the reality of the discrimination that will happen in the civil litigation. And so I appreciate Councilman Allen's aggressive posture in this place. But I want know why -- ask him why he's not been as aggressive in moving forward and marking up the (unintelligible), which will remove the discrimination that will likely happen again ...
NNAMDIOkay. I'll have Charles Allen answer that after we take this short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We'll be talking shortly with Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer. We're still talking with the D.C. councilmember who represents Ward 6, Charles Allen. And Charles Allen, when we went to that break you were getting a question from your former colleague on the council, LaRuby May. Care to respond?
ALLENYeah, I appreciate that from Councilmember May. The bill she's referring to was just introduced, I think it was in early August. We held a hearing on it already in October, and we're moving it forward in the next couple of months. So, from the legislative standpoint, it's actually moving pretty quickly. But it's an important issue that I know she is advocating for -- and others, as well -- that I think it really gets to some of, frankly, the structural racism that we see within civil litigation in several of the wards. And so, I think it's a really important issue, and I'm proud of the fact that we're moving this forward.
SHERWOODMr. Councilmember, one last quick question. Last Friday, you were very critical, along with other council members, of Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee's plan to reopen some schools on November the 9th. It sounded like to me and other people that the schools should not do this on November 9th, but stay with remote learning. Do you have any more stronger feeling about that? Should schools delay this November 9th reopening?
ALLENYou know, I've got two little kids of my own. I'm dealing with virtual learning every day. And there is nothing I would rather have than to have them safely back in their classroom. And I've talks with hundreds of teachers that feel the same way, that there's nothing they would like more than to be able to see their students and see their kids safely in their classroom. But the key word there is safely.
ALLENI remain very concerned about the plan to do so safely, but I'm also very concerned about the issues of equity. The current plan is treating every single school -- whether you are in Ward 3 or Ward 8 -- the exact same way. And I don't think that's going to be reflective of what our students' needs are and how we can best serve our students that are going to be struggling with learning loss and many other challenges in this virtual setting. So, I continue to be very concerned...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do you think...
SHERWOOD...it would be better -- do you think it would be better to delay the November 9th opening?
ALLENYeah, I don't see how it's going to be ready by then. And I think that it would benefit from having more time to get this right. And I think, especially as we see infections around the country continue to increase, I question whether or not we're going to be able to do this safely. So, any parent I talk to, I know they would love to have their kids back in a classroom, but it's got to be done safely, because we care about our students. We care about our teachers, and we want to make sure this gets done right.
NNAMDICharles Allen, thank you so much for joining us.
ALLENThank so much for having me, everybody.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Hans Riemer. He is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. Councilmember Hans Riemer, thank you for joining us.
HANS RIEMERIt's great to be back, Kojo. Thank you so much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, can we talk briefly about this race in Virginia? The 5th District is no longer considered the most competitive race in the country, but it is still one of the most competitive races in the country between Republican contender Bob Good and Democratic challenger Cameron Webb.
SHERWOODYes. Very quickly, the 5th District pretty much runs through the center of the state, and it's been largely Republican. But in a state that's increasingly turning blue, the Republicans in the 5th district thought that their incumbent Republican Congress member Denver Riggleman was not conservative enough. So, this summer, they threw him out and nominated Bob Good, who's very, very conservative. And now, the Democrat, Dr. Cameron Webb, is seen as having at least a 50/50 chance of maybe taking that seat back for the Democrats. It's a sign of how the Republican Party may not be listening to the changing demographics of the state of -- the Commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIHans Riemer, last week, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich vetoed the first bill of his career, a bill that you cosponsored which would offer incentives to developers who want to build high-rise buildings above Metro stations. This week, the county council voted to override the veto. Why is this bill important to you, and where do you and the county executive not see eye to eye?
RIEMERThank you so much. The issue is that Metro does not have the funds to support development on their stations. And developing on Metro stations is extremely expensive, due to replacing parking, reinforcing tunnels, modifying entrances. And Metro has to spend its money on trains and buses and the system.
RIEMERSo, as a local jurisdiction, we really want the benefits of high-rise development on our Metro stations to bring new housing, to support our climate objectives, to support our transportation objectives, to support our economic development objectives. But if we aren't willing to partner with the private sector to make that happen, what you see now is what you're going to get for decades. And the county council felt very strongly that it was time for a change, that having barren concrete, you know, Metro station areas is just completely anathema for our smart growth vision.
NNAMDIWell, both the county executive and a couple of your colleagues on the council say this would not create a significant amount of affordable housing. What say you?
RIEMERWell, at full bailed out, the county stations in the county could -- Metro stations in the county could fit 8,500 or so housing units, including 12 or 1,300 housing units devoted to our county's own affordable housing programs, many of them made available to very low-income residents. So, 8,500 market units, first of all, is just a good thing. Like, we need more housing. We have a big housing shortage in the county, and we're just not going to get it in these locations unless we make a change.
RIEMERSo, you know, I know the county executive has had a longtime hostility to market rate housing, and we've had a lot of battles over that. But I think the county council felt strongly that we've got to make a change, that having parking garages and parking lots on top of our Metro stations is just not going to generate any revenue, not going to support economic development, not going to support climate or housing, any of those very broad-based goals.
SHERWOODI think one of the criticisms is that there's a tax abatement of 15 years for the developers, but you clearly are not a fan of Marc Elrich's. Let me get right to the politics of the council. You are term-limited on the council as of 2022. Are you going to run for county executive in 2022, or would you support someone like David Blair, who lost to Elrich by only 77 votes in the primary of 2018? Where are you in your politics, since you're term limited and out of office two years from now?
RIEMERWell, you know, with COVID, I've been focused on getting the job down at the county council. But stepping back...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Are you going to -- have you -- what are you going to do? Are you going to look at running?
RIEMERWell, I was going to say, stepping back, I think the county has a bright future, but I think in order to make that possible, we've got to make a lot of changes, and we have to embrace changes. It takes leadership to do that. I think it's no secret that I think we can do a lot better than County Executive Elrich. I think he is out of touch. So, I'm certainly looking at it, but, you know, right now I'm focused on working with my colleagues on COVID response in the county council.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Okay. Got it. Here's another -- we have lots of questions for you. Here's another one which is immediate work of the council. After an ethics issue, County Chief Administrator Andrew Kleine had to resign. And Marc Elrich nominated, and the council in September confirmed, Rich Madaleno as the new county administrator. He has at least quieted some of the criticisms about Marc Elrich. How is Rich Madaleno doing in terms of dealing with the council, since you're so disappointed with Marc Elrich?
RIEMERWell, I think Rich has been helpful. I think council members know him, and I think there's a lot of respect for Rich. So, I think he is constructive in relationships with the council. I think, at the same time, the public policy issues are really what's driving the divide between the two branches. And Rich isn't brining a different public policy to the table than Marc Elrich. So, I think you might hopefully see perhaps a little less personal friction over time but the clash is really a clash over ideas and direction of the county. And I don't see that changing.
NNAMDIHere is Sam in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHello. I was just calling to comment on the topic that you just discussed about possible high-rises and private development above Metro stations. To the councilmember, I do understand, you know, the funds that a lot of these developments will bring in does help with Metro repairs and the upgrades and things like that.
SAMBut if you could comment, what kind of developments will these be? Will it be mainly for the population around those stations, like, for example, around the Silver Spring stations, where it's more middle-to-somewhat-lower-class residents? Are will it -- are you -- like, are these being considered more so for, like, luxury high-rises and, like, luxury office buildings and things that really don't, you know, cater to the population around some of these parts here?
SAMBecause a lot of times...
SAM...when you look into private developers coming in and doing things like these, they're not doing it for people that, you know, are really not...
NNAMDI(overlapping) They're doing it for higher-income people. What do you say, Hans Riemer?
RIEMERWell, first of all, it's the private sector that will be doing the development and every market is different. You know, the rents commanded at a station in Bethesda are going to be different from Shady Grove or Wheaton. So, it will always be context-sensitive. We are seeking high-rise development with this incentive. It's not open to low and mid-rise development.
RIEMERAnd it will be market. You know, it'll be market-rate housing, which, you know, the reason why housing is so expensive in the county, a lot of it has to do with a long-term slowdown of the market. We're not producing housing. That drives up the prices for everybody. So, what we're trying to do is bring a shot in the arm to the housing market, bring more housing at the market level, but also at the affordable level. More than 1,000 units in our set aside affordable programs for low-income people. That's a win-win.
NNAMDIYou were the only member of the council who voted to suspend late night alcohol sales, which allowed some restaurants and bars to serve alcohol between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. Why did you want to shut this program down?
RIEMERWell, I didn't want to allow it to open. This was a reopening that the executive branch proposed, the council voted on a couple weeks ago. I think it's a bad idea to allow late-night drinking. Keep in mind, this is indoor. It's socializing without masks, generally speaking. And, you know, I think the facts have borne out my vote. I was the only vote against it.
RIEMERWithin days, the daily case count in the county exceeded the allowed limit in the regulation. And we are now, unfortunately, on an escalator upwards in our daily case count. And I think this is going to be one of the very first -- it should have already been suspended, but it's going to be one of the first things that gets lifted.
NNAMDICollin in Silver Spring, Maryland. Collin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COLLINHi, Councilmember Riemer. So, this is Collin, head of the Montgomery County Backyard Chicken Keepers Coalition. So, I'm curious to hear from you if we're able to continue moving forward on changing the rule on what is allowed for folks to raise chickens in their backyard. Currently, it's like a 100 foot setback and just an equity issue.
COLLINObviously, there's many more important issues to be talked about with COVID and all that's going on, but this is an easy way for low-income families to provide, you know, a daily source of protein in their backyard for their children. And so, I'm wondering how we can move forward on this, and if you have any timeline suggestions for how this will go through in your committee. Thanks.
RIEMERThank you for that question. Believe it or not, most of Montgomery County is really off-limits to backyard chicken coops, because you have to have 100-foot distance to your neighbor's house. And that was a battle we fought six, seven years ago. I lost the vote on that one. I do think we need to change that rule.
RIEMEROur bandwidth is pretty strained right now with the COVID environment, and it's hard to get to every priority. But I strongly believe we need a change, here. I think anybody who knows someone with backyard chickens, I think it's very questionable as to whether that is allowed. And, yet, it is typically a harmonious, you know, experience for the owner and for the neighbors. So, you know, we've got to tackle that one. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. I wanted to get to school openings. Montgomery County residents have been protesting the county public school system keeping in-person learning closed. Other jurisdictions are bringing some students back. Montgomery County Public Schools will be closed at least through the first semester. When and how do you think the schools should reopen?
RIEMERThank you. This is probably one of the more challenging questions we're facing at this time. You know, right now what's happening is cases are rising, and nobody knows how long that's going to continue. What might have seemed safe two weeks ago, seems a lot less safe today. And I think two weeks from now, we could be in a very different situation.
RIEMERSo, I think there was wisdom in the school's decision to go virtual while we weren't sure what a fall wave would look like. And, you know, again, two weeks ago, we had 75 cases average a day. We're up to nearly 125 today. Where are we going to be in a month? What if we're at 2 or 300 a day, you know? We don't know. So, there is a way to reopen safely. I think we know what that is, but it also is much safer in the context of lower community transmission of the disease.
RIEMERAnd, you know, right now, it's hard to be optimistic that, in two or three weeks or a month, we're going to be in any kind of place that is safe. And what I think is really damaging is when the school systems have to go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. What we have right now is executing as best we can on virtual learning. We're trying to open up community hubs for in-person learning for disadvantaged kids as much as we can. And if we can get this virus more under control, I think we can really look at reopening. But the transmission numbers are very concerning right now.
NNAMDIWell, here's what George, in Maryland, has to say about that. George, your turn. George in Germantown.
GEORGEThank you. I wanted to ask Mr. Riemer, some school worker union representatives were immediately invited to the table for the planning on getting the kids back to school. And I'd like to ask him if he has any insight on why representatives from the MCGEO, the union representing the school nurses, were not initially invited to the planning on this reopening of the schools? They're there now after MCGEO's action, but that omission seems preposterous, how the school nurses were not there from the outset and had to take action on their own to get there. How could the county have let that happen?
RIEMERInteresting question. Frankly, that information's not been shared with the county council. I'm inferring that the MCGEO is at the table at this time. The nurses are absolutely a central part of a reopening strategy. So, I hope that that is back on track, and I'll follow up on that.
SHERWOODThank you. County Executive Elrich and every member of the council has expressed concerns about a wave of tenant evictions expected, once the public health crisis is over. Can you summarize what the status of the county is in terms of helping to avoid hundreds, if not thousands, of evictions by large and small landlords?
RIEMERYeah. Well, first of all, we are...
RIEMER(laugh) Yeah, summarize. We're providing a lot of rental assistance, first of all. We're helping tenants get out of arrears. And we're going to continue to help tenants get out of arrears. Secondly, we're educating tenants about their rights. Tenants have rights in court, you know, whether it's federal eviction or state eviction legal frameworks, tenants have rights in court.
RIEMERSo, that's really where we are focusing, is getting help to tenants so that they are not in arrears and...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Legal help.
RIEMER...educating them so that they can defend themselves in court.
RIEMERLegal help, absolutely. We are providing legal help. We are providing...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) If I can speak...
SHERWOOD...I have one more political question I want to sneak in before Kojo cuts me off. Statewide vote on sports betting, with the idea that money would go to schools. That's always -- that's what everyone says. Where are you on the statewide ballot measure to allow sports betting, yes or no?
RIEMERYes. You know, I don't love it, but, at this point, I think the horse has left the barn, so to speak.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHey, Kojo, great show. And, Hans, thanks for your work. I just got a question about all the recycling. And I live in Chevy Chase. We try and recycle everything. You hear all these stories about how recycling ends up in landfill. I was wondering, does the county audit the subcontractor you guys use and make sure that the recycling gets -- just doesn't get shipped to China, thrown in a landfill, etcetera?
RIEMERGreat question. You know, with the changing in the market, a lot of communities are finding that their recycling is not that valuable, and they've stopped being able to sell it. But, as far as I know, the county has managed to remain on track.
RIEMEROne of the reasons is that residents separate their recycling. So, your paper goes in one container, your mixed products go in another. That makes the products themselves much more valuable in the market. And we have continued to be able to sell our materials to companies that are recycling. So, we've received several briefings. My understanding is, right now, things are good. You can have high confidence when you put -- as long as that product is recyclable, when you put it in there, it will actually fulfill its intended -- you know, what you're intending.
RIEMERWe are trying to address some of the issues about confusion with products. There are a lot of products now that are actually not recyclable that are saying that they are recyclable. And we really need to make some changes so that products like expanded polystyrene -- that's the hard plastic polystyrene -- gets out of the way stream, because it can't be recycled. So, there's more we have to do, but right now, things are actually on track.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You and your colleague Councilmember Will Jawando planned to introduce a bill to remove school resource officers from schools. Tell us about that plan.
RIEMERThank you. Yeah, this is a big one. You know, I'm very concerned about the school-to-prison pipeline, about using a criminal legal response for school discipline and school behavior, for teen behavior. And so, I am proposing with Councilmember Jawando that we roll back the student resource officer, the police officer function and replace that position with counselors and other kinds of trusted adult figures who can really help the kids, you know, work through issues and, you know, be more constructive. You know, I think the idea of using a police-based response in schools should be the absolute last resort, and I think we need to make a change.
NNAMDIYou're leading an effort to allow solar arrays on farmland in Montgomery County. What exactly are you proposing, and what are the benefits for the county?
RIEMERThank you. Well, like I said, I'm excited about our ability to clean up the grid, to have 100 percent clean energy every time we plug in our phone, turn on a light switch, plug in our car, to be powered from solar and wind. But the only way that's going to happen is if we actually allow solar to be built on the ground. Rooftops and parking lots is not enough. We have to allow property owners to build it on the ground.
RIEMERAnd I am -- right now, it's prohibited in one-third of Montgomery County, all the land that's zoned agricultural reserve. And so, I have been proposing for the last year, with several of my colleagues, that we should allow very limited installations of solar arrays that continue to have agricultural use underneath the arrays, and can support our plan -- support about 50,000 houses’ worth of electricity, clean renewable electricity into the grid. And it's part of a bigger vision here of transitioning our electricity grid to 100 percent clean renewable.
RIEMERIt has been controversial. County executive has opposed many voices of commodity farming. You know, it's hard to get a combine under a solar array. So, there's a lot of friction there, but we're trying hard to come up with solutions that can get us a yes.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Hans Riemer is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. Councilmember Riemer, thank you for joining us.
RIEMERGlad to be here. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, what does the Day of the Dead mean in a year when so many in our Latinx community have been lost to COVID-19? A folklorist from the National Museum of the American Indian explains how the traditional honoring of ancestors will continue amid the pandemic.
NNAMDIPlus, it's Kojo for Kids, the election edition. We are taking kids’ calls on everything from the electoral college to ballot boxes and anything else about this messy democracy that makes them wonder. That all starts, at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend, and stay safe. Any big plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to check out the early voting centers around Washington this weekend.
NNAMDIWe'll see what happens with the early voting centers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
For almost a year, many local theaters and music venues have been entirely shutdown. How are they coping, and could the $15 billion federal aid set aside for the arts be enough to "Save Our Stages?"
The D.C. crime writer talks about his latest projects and other local authors you may want to discover.
Gun homicides reached a 15-year peak in 2020. How are D.C.'s communities responding to the violence?