Thirty years ago when Montgomery County was booming and bustling I was a young know-it-all newspaper guy that loudly used the newspaper to fight for up-county citizens and their concerns. One of those people I beat up pretty hard was Gus Bauman, who I opposed for planning board chair because he was from the “Enemy” down-county, as all appointed leaders were in my young and therefore never wrong opinion, and we just didn’t need more of that in the person of one Gus Bauman who I felt typified the down county attitude, although truthfully I knew little of the man beyond the image formed at these planning board meetings, where I had little one on one contact with him.
I was wrong about Gus. He turned out to be a terrific planning board chair. I was wrong about his attitude toward the up-county, something he demonstrated repeatedly over the years. Gus actually called me after he was sworn in and the dust had settled and he and I spent an entire afternoon riding around Germantown in my car, looking at all the places and streets and fields where issues either existed or I thought they did . That day was an eye opener for me. Gus was smart of course, I had known that, but he really understood things from a long range perspective. Recently when I moved back to Germantown, as I drove around, many of the things Gus had told me decades before rattled around in my head and it occurred to me how right he had been about a lot of those things.
Don’t get me wrong, our issues were real; our police per capita, pools per capita, libraries per capita and most importantly classrooms per capita, were all statistically deficient in a big way and the battle we were waging for attention from the down county interests which controlled all these things – was a tough one despite Gus’s eventual fairness.
I bring all this up, not merely out of fond remembrance and to offer overdue Mea Culpea — but because it had crossed my consciousness around a year ago that Gus had issued some kind of grand challenge to the County Executive, County Council, and MNCP&P Board concerning the dismal economic state of affairs in Montgomery County and I had never heard a peep of follow-up.
Turns out his idea was so accurate, so specific, so important and so well presented by such an authority with such a pleasant manner and polite way that it did what all such important documents presented in such a correct manner do, it sat there.
I was gonna say Gus was an Eagle Scout, but it’s like being a Marine, Gus will always be an Eagle Scout. This time we should ignore all the noise, put aside momentarily the necessary and unnecessary social change and focus on what Gus has written here. If you were born in Montgomery County or live here or think of it as home, you should read what he’s written, and consider what our future will be like here, in a poor suburb to more richer vital centers around us, having planned our way out of Eden.
Here, word for word, is Gus’s email to the leaders mentioned before:
Friends, the July 31 “Washington Business Journal” includes a remarkable 20-page advertising supplement that, if nothing else will, should scare the hell out of anyone thinking about the future viability of Montgomery County and its way of life that people dangerously take for granted. Those detailed pages lay out for all to see the current and immediate future City of Tysons, Va. Tysons, mind you, is larger than downtowns Silver Spring, Bethesda, Wheaton, Chevy Chase (Friendship Heights), and Rockville combined. Just to walk around the sidewalks there today in the vicinity of its four year-old Metro Stations is already an eye-opener: economic activity is everywhere, and exploding.
And this isn’t even counting in Reston and Herndon, nor the coming of six more Silver Line Stations in just five years, nor the seven large CBD’s of Arlington.
There is rapidly developing in the region an east-west steel chain linking DC-National Airport-Arlington-Fairfax-Dulles Airport of enormous power and vitality. Montgomery County must understand this and must think about “What is our place in this rapidly-changing region? How do we compete in this dynamic environment?”
As a small start, just check out those 20 pages now sitting on the desks of key business and governmental leaders all over our region.
This message was preceded by this one last year that lays out the plan to solve this problem:
Dear Mr. County Executive, Council Members, and Planning Board Members:
I hate sounding like a broken record, but everything I warned about last year (below) and in 2009 (attachment) is inexorably unfolding. Just check out the latest cover story in the March 6 “Washington Business Journal” by two knowledgeable reporters titled “MoCo’s Marriott Problem”—Bechtel is gone and Marriott is going. And this is by no means the end of it. Also notice, just as I warned, the sidebar piece on all the many alternative locations where Marriott is most likely to land—every single one is in DC (which has one-tenth the land area Montgomery County has) and Virginia. Every. Single. One.
Montgomery County has got to grasp, finally and fully, how it is truly viewed by the business and economic worlds out there. The County must do something dramatic, and soon, to change that image decades in the making. Our very economic viability is at stake right now, today, at this very moment.
Let’s be candid enough to look at our systemic faults:
1) We have not one but two transportation tests for new development; no other jurisdiction does that. And the tests are so complex and mind-boggling that no one but the three people who invented them can understand them, meaning they pose not only a double hurdle but a dangerous one. Imagine how a company located here and looking to expand somewhere in the region eyes that peculiar, unique hurdle.
2) We effectively have two County planning/permitting agencies, two environmental agencies, two transportation agencies, all too often grappling with each other. Guess who invariably gets ensnared in the middle of all that time-consuming, highly risky bureaucratic grappling? Imagine how a business person from, say, Seattle looking to land in the DC region views this arthritic process when stepping into the shoes of a potential land use applicant.
3) We don’t have a County economic development corp. run by people who, in their bones, get economic development, in which achievement metrics are required in order to be suitably compensated, but, rather, an economic development department run by well paid, well meaning people more experienced in the ways of politics. Imagine how a corporation from overseas being wooed by DC-area jurisdictions interacts with these two competing ways of dealing and communicating.
4) We have an entrenched bureaucracy in the County and MNCPPC that is rewarded more easily for saying “no” than for saying “yes.” Imagine how a local firm used to this day-to-day culture is liberated when it decides to inquire about maybe moving to a neighboring jurisdiction.
Taken together, these systemic faults are a cumulative anchor weighing upon our mutual necks that every jurisdiction in the region knows well and quietly appreciates.
So what is the solution? Given our history and reputation (whether earned or not as to any particular point is irrelevant because the overarching perception of being a general pain in the neck is real and therefore grave), we can no longer just do the usual pointless tinkering while the ship of state remains on its unwavering course to the ultimate withering of the tax base and thus our social order.
Accordingly, we must have the vision and gumption to scrap the two transportation tests for one, and make the one understandable. To bring the functions of MNCPPC under the County government and its 10 elected representatives. To create an economic development corp. and dissolve the department of economic development. To reward employees and management for saying “yes” when a proposal meets the laws and regulations or offers another creative way of advancing community building and economic viability.
We either dither or change. There is no other option if we wish to remain what we once clearly were—creative and quick, competitive and wise, always looking out for the big picture and the long view. In short, on top and for good reasons.
Gus Bauman, Silver Spring
Gus is wordy but his points are dead on, our county is dying and it’s our own fault. Our system is broken and this good man has a plan for fixing it. We should listen, before it’s too late.