Fund the Office of the People's Counsel

subject: in SUPPORT of funding for the Office of the People's Counsel (OPC)

County Executive Marc Elrich included OPC funding in the 2013 county budget. Next, we need to get the council member to include this funding in the actual budget.

I am urging you to restore full funding of staff for the Office of the People's Counsel (OPC) in the FY 2023 Operating Budget -– last funded through FY 2010 before removal of OPC budget allocation. The OPC is essential to the voice of the County’s citizens. In fact, the OPC still exists under Article XII Sec 2-150 of County code –- but goes ignored. Equally important –– and still in the County Zoning Ordinance –– is Zoning Amendment Procedure Appendix B. which requires participation of "Zoning Text Amendment Advisers" –– including the OPC at multiple steps within the ZTA development and review process. That consultation between Council staff and Advisers must occur prior to ZTA introduction and prior to drafting any staff reports [1]. Appendix B, therefore, also evidences that residents are being denied a seat at the table during ZTA development and are cut off from the expertise required to fully address their concerns and questions.

During the pandemic, Montgomery County Council has done its best to limit contact with the public by:

    • limiting private meetings between residents and Council Members

    • reducing the people's time to speak at hearings from 3 minutes to 2 when, indeed, we should have more time to speak during the pandemic -– not less

The negative effect on ZTA 19-07 is especially evident since January 1st, 2021.

    • CMs refused to speak with members of and other advocacy groups

    • Council refused any additional hearings since 11/19/2019 –– despite radical changes to the ZTA made by the PHED Committee on 3/10/2021

    • CMs refused to speak with outside legal experts and/or properly address the City of Portland case decision (and Fourth Circuit effective prohibition still alive and well), actual small cell signal strength, fire/safety, protective ordinances from other jurisdictions (local and/or Ninth Circuit) –– just to name a few

    • CMs refused to honor residents’ amendments to/through 7/15/2021

    • CMs refused to address major issues regarding the Transmission Facility Coordinating Group (aka Tower Committee) -– including its lack of public input

    • CMs refused to address (resident support of) the formation of a working group comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders, including industry, residents, municipalities and homeowner/tenant associations and/or non-profit organizations

    • CMs either ignored or made incorrect statements about the ZTA’s climate action impact, racial equity/social justice impact, fiscal/economic impact, Digital Divide, health and other effects (especially in legal regard to the imminent 8/13/2021 RF standards case decision in EHT/CHD et al.v FCC) -– the ZTA’s sponsor additionally resorting to derogatory and off-topic comments in unrelenting and abhorrent fashion

    • CMs waved a huge red flag by not following the intro-stated, Appendix B requirement –– the (defunded) OPC (obviously absent) as an Adviser at multiple steps within the ZTA development and review processes. Said oversight is a potential procedural and legal defect in the July 27th adoption of ZTA 19–07. Both the Council and the legislation fail for failure to follow Montgomery County regulations!

    • Council Members made incorrect statements about the zoning’s climate, racial/social impact, health, and other effects -– the ZTA’s sponsor, Hans Riemer resorting to derogatory and off-topic comments in unrelenting and abhorrent fashion

Funding the OPC would

    • allow access to –– and support by –– this essential pillar to participatory democracy

    • allow citizen input and exhortation to Council via the OPC

    • reduce the number of unsupported statements by Council Members

    • increase the public’s crucial ability to engage in –– and comprehend complex legislative matters (especially regarding zoning)

    • ensure that Montgomery County regulations are followed

    • allow residents to provide a review to the author of the ZTA upon its introduction since amending an amendment as per Appendix B part I (2) (a) requires a representative from the People's Counsel to do so

    • ultimately allow –– and guarantee -– legislation representing a mutual process (from draft through introduction through hearings and enactment) reflective of both resident and local government power and authority

    • potentially allow legal assistance for post-enactment actions and, in the case of a ZTA, for enforcement of permit and inspection strategies that address non-compliance and other systemic deficiencies (that CMs and the ZTA failed to address)

County residents urge you to take the first crucial step to reverse this more-than-decade-long denial of statutorily authorized access to legal and advocacy resources for County residents. The pandemic's last 22 months of constraints have additionally and sorely limited citizen participation in their government –– tantamount to clear evidence of the extent to which the People's Counsel would benefit all levels of government –– even in the worst of times. Please immediately restore funding of the People's Counsel.

Your consideration of this request is greatly needed –– and appreciated.