Nagender Madavaram discussed with Councilmember Evan Glass about his vision, agenda and issues facing the County. This is the second of a 2-part transcript of the interview which covered the topics of jobs, traffic, redistricting of the Council and relations between the Council and CE.
Nagender Madavaram: Amazon and other big tech companies are recruiting most of the high-tech professionals. Small companies are not able to hire these professionals and they are moving to other regions. The county has unemployed youth who have graduated but they do not have the required skills to qualify for these jobs. How do you suggest the county can provide the necessary training to the youth of MoCo?
Evan Glass: This is a very important issue. I think there are two different issues. One is the youth and the other one is job training. We absolutely need to make sure that all the students should have all the skills necessary to enter the workforce when they finish high school. I think Montgomery College has a very important and unique role in our community. It really has the potential to place them in a job. Before being elected to the County Council, I was the Executive Director of an organization called Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, which helped high school students, most of whom were kids of color, who wanted to get involved in media or learning digital skills. We offered them a free opportunity to do so. I think working with some of our non-profit social service providers may be beneficial. They can go into schools and work with the students after school hours and weekends. I think it is really important. We are also working with Worksource Montgomery and some of our larger nongovernmental organizations here in Montgomery County and in the State of Maryland to go into the underserved communities. I’m currently working with a number of providers to try and get Worksource Montgomery, which does the skills training in the county to do skill placement and learning. The service providers improve their skills and their education so that they can find a job and get themselves out of the assistance so that they can move into their own place. We want to help them to increase their skills and capacities so that they can continue moving up the economic ladder and become as self-sustaining as possible.
Nagender Madavaram: The main problem is that the industry is ahead of the academic institutions. The institutions are lagging behind to meet the industry requirements. Local youth is not catching up to the technological advancements and missing job opportunities. What do you suggest can be done to train more people?
Evan Glass: There are incredible entrepreneurs in our community. They just need to be unleashed or they need to be connected to capital to start their business or to take the leap of faith to grow their business. Of course, we need workers, and we need to elevate everybody and provide them with the tools that they need, whether it is technical or financial. So that they can really be a robust part of our diverse and evolving economy. I think that we can capitalize on our strength. For a long time, we’ve rested on being in the shadows of DC. People go into DC; they come back here and start some secondary business for their primary business. What we’ve seen is we have our own economy in Montgomery County. We have a very thriving ecosystem. We have houses in Gaithersburg, there are other systems in Rockville, Wheaton Germantown and in Silver Spring. So, when we provide these pools, opportunities, and other types of decisions like transportation, making sure that every person can get to their jobs. Making sure that we have office buildings for people who want office space, buildings, and restaurants and so forth and recognizing the interconnect of all these decisions. I think, there are land use discussions when we’re talking about transportation. We’re talking about some people might not think this is about jobs and our economy, but ultimately, they all get tie together.
Nagender Madavaram: You mentioned an interesting topic, traffic. We have been facing a traffic problem, particularly on 270 and 355. I have been living in the County since 1999. Since then, there are no additional lanes on these two important roads but at the same time new neighborhoods, schools and offices were built. Residents of Frederick County, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are using the same roads to reach DC. Though it is interstate problem, the residents of Montgomery County are suffering. How do you solve this issue of traffic?
Evan Glass: It is a really good and important question. We must recognize the problem. When we’re talking about housing and the growth patterns that have occurred in Montgomery County, they haven’t always been evil. The infrastructure hasn’t always been built to meet some of those needs that had come. That’s why when we’re talking about land use, I’m a big supporter of smart growth and making sure that we build more housing in areas where we can accommodate. Otherwise, the housing goes to Frederick County or Howard County and as you said, West Virginia people have to drive on our roads and come through our neighborhoods and everybody gets stuck in traffic. There is absolutely a cause and effect that we’re experiencing. The Governor has put forward a proposal that seems to be moving forward to expand the Beltway and to expand 270. I’ve expressed a number of concerns with that quite frankly. The biggest concern has been that it’s a public private partnership. I don’t think the taxpayers of the State of Maryland and Montgomery County will be the beneficiaries of the public private partnership. There was a study that just came out by the State of Maryland Department of Transportation last week, which said that any expansion of 270 and the Beltway will actually be full in the next 10 years. We can’t continue building ourselves out of this problem. We must find another way and that is what the county is currently envisioning as we talked about in a process called slide, which is our personality document recounting where we want to be in 2050. What are we going to be? Are we going to continue building housing and just continue to expand all of our roads? I don’t think that is sustainable. It’s not sustainable for our community. It’s not sustainable for planning, but I am a huge supporter of increasing public transportation, making buses more accessible and free of charge for everybody so that we can encourage more people to ride the buses. I was proud to lead the effort to make buses free for children under the age of 18, any day of the week, anytime of day. Since then, we’ve made it free for seniors and for individuals with disabilities. I’m in favor of making them free all the time for everybody. Also, there’s a proposal to bring a monorail from Frederick down to Montgomery County along the side of 270. I think that is a very unique proposal. We need to build more public transportation. There’s a lot more that we need to do because as you just explained, we can’t continue building housing everywhere, building apartments everywhere and building roads everywhere to accommodate. That is a vicious cycle that will only get us more traffic and more carbon emissions which will harm the planet.
Nagender Madavaram: I received email stating that Silver Spring is getting a new neighborhood with 2000 new homes. The Planning Board approved the new project. How is it going to impact schools and other infrastructure?
Evan Glass: Well, if you go down to Silver Spring these days, you’ll see that there are a number of very tall high rises right next to the metro. In my opinion, if there’s any place to build a high rise in Montgomery County, it is right by the metro. That’s where they belong. People who moved there will be encouraged and probably move there intentionally so that they can get on the metro and go to wherever they need to go. Whether it’s downtown Washington or somewhere else along the vast metro system. That’s the whole point of having a robust transportation. The alternative is if we don’t put 2000 homes there, then where are they going to go? Do we want to put them in the agricultural reserve? No, I don’t want to do that. Do we want to put them in Frederick County or Howard County? Well, there might be space for them, but then those people are not going to be near public transportation and so they’re very likely going to be taking 270, route 29, Georgia Ave, Connecticut Ave, and any other way to get to Montgomery County or Washington DC for their job. The residents of Montgomery County are going to face more traffic because those people are coming through. So, these are the holistic ways in which we need to think about our land use and our transportation network. Otherwise, if we don’t think about it in this cohesive way, then we will find problems down the road.
Redistricting of the County Council:
Nagender Madavaram: Another one of your landmark initiatives is to increase the Council Districts from 5 to 7. The Council is getting two additional members in 2022. How will that impact the functioning of the Council?
Evan Glass: Before getting involved in politics and joining the Council, I used to work at CNN. I worked as a journalist for 12 years. I think now more than ever we need to have good government, which is the reason I introduced the Charter amendment, which overwhelmingly was passed by the voters in the last election. Interestingly, the structure of the Council with five districts and four at large members had not changed in last 30 years. The county’s population has increased by 50%. I thought that it was the time to make local democracy closer to the people, which is why I introduced the Charter amendment. Right now, the Redistricting Commission is redrawing our maps because of the new census, and so instead of just redrawing the five districts, they are creating seven almost new districts. The process is concluding in the next few weeks and will come to the full Council in November. We’ll have a conversation about it, but ultimately, whatever happens is going to be good for the people of Montgomery County. We’re going to have districts that are a little more manageable. And not only are we doing that based on the Council districts and the Council makeup, but we’re also adding two more early voting locations. We’re going to have more diversity in the Council. I hope we have more women in the Council and ultimately, continue to have a thriving democracy.
Relations between the Council and CE:
Nagender Madavaram: The County Council and County Executive are not on the same page on many issues. CE vetoed the resolution of the Council recently. As a freshman, what do you suggest can be done to improve the relations between the two institutions?
Evan Glass: The office from which I am talking with you right now is the office that used to be held by the County Executive Marc Elrich. I inherited his office, and he came from the Council. He knows how we operate, and I always think that communication is easiest way to resolve issues and to build relations. The relationship between the County Council and County Executive is not always an easy one because there are nine members of the Council, and everybody has a different opinion. People have different agendas and issues that they care about. It’s always going to be a somewhat strange relationship. I have a good relationship with the County Executive, and I speak with him regularly. I have a good relationship with all of my colleagues here and hopefully it shows in the legislation that I’m able to pass and the work that I’m able to do in other areas. I think you know that there is an election that will be happening next year. There are three members of the Council who was term limited out. There are two additional seats that are going to be created, so we’re going to have five new members in the Council. I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure that Montgomery County succeeds. I’m going to do that regardless of who the County Executive is and regardless of who my colleagues on the Council might be. I’m going to do it in collaboration with the people of the county.