Summer is over, and the kids are all back at school. The routine has returned, and with it the District Council goes back into session Sept. 15. Our first legislative meeting will be held later this month.
Although the council doesn’t formally meet between July 15 and Sept. 15, a ward councilmember’s work is never done. My staff and I were busy all summer long addressing constituent issues around Ward 2, such as parking, sidewalks, traffic and city services. I was also pleased to attend a number of community events, such as the groundbreaking for the former Hurt Home. The Home is a public-private partnership that features a new residential development, while also offering an affordable housing component for visually impaired District residents.
On the subject of education, our public schools will continue to be a primary focus of mine this year. I was pleased to attend the annual school beautification day this summer and am committed to providing top-notch facilities for every student in Ward 2. I structured the funding for the School Modernization Act several years ago, committing $100 million per year to ensure that students in every ward in the city would have access to state-of-the-art facilities. Unfortunately, despite unparalleled facilities and the highest per-pupil operating budget in the nation, our schools continue to underperform. Despite having the most richly funded education system in the country, we don’t have a librarian or art teacher or music teacher in every school. This is unacceptable. I introduced a bill for increased library hours before recess and plan to introduce a bill relating to school librarians later this month. I just read that Montgomery County has library hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Compare that with nearly all our locations being closed on Sunday, and only limited alternating morning hours on weekdays. Finally, I believe it is important for our children and young adults to have arts education. I identified an additional $6.8 million in our last budget to fund arts initiatives in the District, filling a gap in programming left in our public schools.
Campaign finance reform is another area of focus for me this year. There will be a lot of discussion about new laws and regulations, even as the election cycle is in full swing, in light of Mayor Gray’s legislative proposal this week. Keep in mind that the legal troubles several members of the government have been facing are not because the laws need changing, but rather because the laws that are already on the books have been allegedly violated. For ethics and campaign finance rules, I have consistently supported enhanced disclosure requirements, more rigorous enforcement when violations are discovered and more meaningful penalties assessed on violators. Current practice is to simply assess a penalty a year after an election is already won. For example, politicians can view a penalty as simply a cost of doing business, and it is invariably paid with campaign funds rather than out of an elected official’s own pocket.
Finally, the mayor and council must continue to focus on economic development and job creation. As the economy continues to improve, we must take advantage of opportunities to enhance our city.
I look forward to the upcoming council session and working on the challenges ahead.