This document was submitted to the Mayor and Council of the City of Gaithersburg as part of the package submitted to express my interest in becoming a member of the city council, late in 2014. It covers many of my priorities as a council member, and is still relevant.
Fiscal Responsibility and Budgeting
The top priority for any organization, before any other priorities can be addressed, is fiscal responsibility. The City of Gaithersburg is in an excellent condition in this regard, with recent budget surpluses and well-funded capital accounts. Maintaining and continuing to improve this status is a top priority for me.
I have a strong, demonstrable history in this area, having worked as chair of the Kentlands Citizens Assembly’s budget and finance committee, as the KCA president, and currently as its board chair. Before moving to vision, let me address how I approached fiscal and budget issues in my years with the KCA.
In 2005, soon after earning my MBA, I joined the Kentlands budget and finance committee. At that time, the organization had a limited process for budgeting for reserve funds, and occasionally this money was spent on capital improvement projects. I organized the committee into teams with short-term projects involving analyzing best practices in HOA budgeting, comparing our budgets to others, and others, and over the course of a year we had presented to the Board a new way of looking at reserve funds. I was then elected President of the HOA and was able to implement the new system. The result was that, in the past 9 years, the KCA more than doubled cash reserves to more than $2 million, and is following the recommendations of our reserve advisory consultants so we are able to make repairs and replace infrastructure going forward. The KCA has been able to accomplish this with minimal increases in monthly assessments and with no debt.
Likewise, the City is in a strong financial position, with strong capital reserves and surpluses in the general fund as well as remaining debt free. I have read every slide of the City’s budget presentations in the last several years, and there is little to find issue with. I would expect to look at the capital reserves and see if there are ways to move forward with capital projects. At present, a large number of projects are partially funded. I would look to the existing Council members to understand whether it would be practical to move ahead with some projects in the near term rather that following the current path – it appears that the City is years away from fully funding almost any existing projects, which would not seem like the most efficient direction for this process – if there is a need for capital projects, then a simple reordering of priorities would enable critical projects to move ahead sooner.
The City’s Strategy
I would like to see the City implement a strategic planning process that is an upgrade from the existing system. The current annual strategic planning is more of a set set of deliverables by department, which is important but which, typically, should follow the development of a clear set of overall strategic goals for the City. What does Gaithersburg want to be in 20 years? How is Gaithersburg different than, say, Rockville, or Bethesda, or other nearby municipalities? What are Gaithersburg’s inherent strengths, and inherent issues, and how would a stronger Gaithersburg be envisioned going forward? Once there is a consensus vision for the future of the city, then the Council, the planning commission, the economic development team, and the rest of the city can work toward the goals that lead toward the city’s vision.
The most important element in strategy making, and the most challenging, is deciding what not to do. Trying to be all things to all people most often leads to mediocrity. Do we want to be a bedroom community? A place to work? A shopping destination? A biotech research hub? There are many possible answers and tough choices. Do we want to attract 20-somethings? Scientists? Software companies?
We need to work together to determine our priorities for the future and then make plans to realize the vision.
Gaithersburg has many advantages, and also many challenges. We have NIST, access to universities (even if not housing their main campuses), we have large and small companies, and we have safe and affluent bedroom communities. We also have an aging Olde Towne core, which has presented ongoing challenges, challenges on the 355 corridor, and we have less strong transit and night life than closer-in suburbs and the District of Columbia. Many of our businesses are strong Federal contractors but we do not have the access to startup capital that Northern Virginia, and recently the District, enjoys. Our public schools are excellent but also crowded, and we need room for students if we want to grow our population of families. We have little crime for a community our size, but we still need to address areas where safety is not up to our high standards.
It seems to me that a key challenge facing the City is that it consists of a set of commercial centers rather than a single core. Olde Towne, Kentlands, Crowne Farm, Washingtonian, Lakeforest, the 355 Corridor, and the forthcoming Watkins Mill developments are all separate geographies and commercial districts. Bethesda has a single downtown that abuts the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, and likewise for Rockville. Is there a way to provide viable connections that knit these commercial districts together? Rather than looking at each area as a discrete opportunity, can we look at the entire City holistically and see if we can knit it together?
Gaithersburg’s Book Festival has put a healthy focus on reading and literacy as core community values. I would work to expand this to add a focus on STEM, leveraging NIST, the underutilized observatory park, and other local institutions to expose our citizens and our students to the values and career opportunities in this area.
I want our city to partner with educational institutions and business sectors to develop good jobs.
I want our shopping to improve at LakeForest, on 355 and nearby Olde Towne, in the Kentlands, and throughout the city.
I want to work with the county and the state to alleviate our traffic jams on route 270 and on our other arteries.
I want to see the parts of the City that struggle with higher crime and poverty rates become safe places to live and productive places to work and raise families to achieve the American dream.
If appointed to the Gaithersburg City Council, I will make every effort to build a consensus vision and make Gaithersburg an even better place to live, work, and shop in the years ahead.