Ryan’s answers as printed in the Kentlands Town Crier - October 2011 edition.
1. Please describe your professional experience that qualify you to be Mayor/Council Member of Gaithersburg and why do you feel you would be the best choice for Gaithersburg?
I have served for the last four years as a City Council member during difficult times in which we experienced a major recession and other significant challenges and changes. Despite those challenges, I have worked with my colleagues to provide leadership that has been inventive, thoughtful, and effective. We bucked the national trend and managed to create jobs and maintain the quality of city services while cutting the budget by 10%. This experience of proven effectiveness even during extremely tough times is the best qualification for continuing to be a Council member, and the best evidence of why I am the right choice for another term on the Council.
Beyond my prior experience on the Council, I bring a number of unique qualifications. As an attorney, I am able to use my specialized legal training to draft and interpret legislation. Through a wide range of clients, I have grown to understand the needs of businesses both large and small. By performing hundreds of hours of pro bono work each year, I reinforce my commitment to serving others.
Prior to joining the Council, I served on the City’s Education Committee, helping to advise the City’s leaders on educational policy, promoting exemplary teachers and programs in our schools, and distributing approximately $50,000 a year to support after-school activities and other innovative programs for students. In addition, as the City Council’s liaison to the Community Advisory Committee, and the former liaison to the Market Square Advisory Committee, I have worked closely with volunteers to serve the Kentlands community and to ensure that resources are provided to assist the needy with housing, food, and health programs.
I serve on the executive board of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Municipal League. I also sit on the Climate, Energy and Environment Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, as well as serving as an alternate on MWCOG’s Transportation Planning Board. Additionally, I am a member of the National League of Cities’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Serving on these committees allows me to influence regional and national policies that benefit Gaithersburg and to share best practices with other jurisdictions. As many residents know, the decisions made by other levels of government can significantly impact our quality of life in Gaithersburg. Issues ranging from the scope of Montgomery County’s “Science City” to the route of the Corridor Cities Transitway, from the amount of federal funding for research agencies like NIST to the overcrowding at Rachel Carson Elementary School, need to be studied and addressed by our own local leaders to ensure that our voice is heard. I have been an effective advocate for Gaithersburg on many of these fronts, and I will continue to lobby for the interests of the City.
Finally, on a personal level, as a husband, father, neighbor, and active member of Shaare Torah congregation, I have developed skills and relationships, and strengthened core values, that help to provide important perspective on the issues facing our City.
2. What do you feel are the three most important issues facing Gaithersburg and its residents today?
The first two issues – economic development, and protecting the quality of existing neighborhoods – go hand in hand. At a time when many are struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades, the City has taken bold steps to encourage smart investment that revitalizes targeted areas and creates jobs. As just one example, we were able to keep hundreds of jobs at GXS from relocating outside the City, and instead helped GXS move from the GE Tech site to the Rio/Washingtonian Center. Our innovative Gaithersburg Accelerator facility is home to emerging biotech stars Zyngenia and Intergrated BioTherapeutics. We are bringing hundreds of high quality, science-based jobs to Gaithersburg. We also played a key role in jumpstarting stalled Smart Growth projects from Olde Towne to Crown Farm. My signature initiative, Bank on Gaithersburg, helps families achieve financial stability, further sparking economic growth.
But economic development must be balanced against the need to protect the quality of existing neighborhoods, roads, and schools. I have consistently fought to ensure that our neighborhoods are not sacrificed in the name of economic development. I spoke out against the scope of the county’s initial Science City plan. I continue to support the need for an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, with some reasonable amendments, that discourages more development in areas where schools and roads are already too overcrowded. And I supported a budget that realized significant savings without reducing services like bulk pickup and snow plowing. Protecting neighborhoods also means protecting the unique feel and design of special places like Kentlands, and ensuring that community resources like parks, playgrounds, the Mansion, and the Arts Barn are protected and maintained for the enjoyment of everyone.
The third key issue facing Gaithersburg is public safety. We have significantly increased the number of police officers and funded new equipment and technology to help them protect us. Since I was first elected, violent crime is down 33%, and overall crime is down 16%. Subscribership to our ‘Alert Gaithersburg’ emergency notification service has shot up, and we are using a variety of tools – community listservs, Facebook, the new CITE web form that I initiated – to communicate about safety issues. We are installing a flashing beacon at the crosswalk near Lakelands Park Middle School. But public safety also involves our quick response to the many severe weather events that have struck Gaithersburg recently. We continue to be known throughout the region for excellent snow-plowing. Public safety also means helping the most vulnerable among us with housing, food, and medical assistance and other safety-net programs like those that assist at-risk youth. I am proud that we have maintained these important programs. Public safety also means protecting our environment through our innovative approaches to recycling and preservation of open space. Finally, public safety means holding Pepco accountable for its poor performance, so residents aren’t stuck without power for days. I was one of the first officials to lead the charge to demand better service from Pepco, and I will continue to hold them accountable.
3. What distinguishes you and your platform from this Election?
My philosophy focuses on striking the right balance between economic development and smart growth, on the one hand, and preserving the quality of our neighborhoods, schools, roads, and environment on the other hand. Some may want to pursue economic development at all costs, no matter what negative impacts on existing neighborhoods will be. Others may want to preserve the status quo at all costs, missing key opportunities to improve our city. My voting record over the last four years reflects my belief that we need to strike a balance that ensures the quality of our existing neighborhoods while allowing for targeted, thoughtful economic development that creates jobs and strengthens Gaithersburg. As a result, I study the facts of each issue on a case-by-case basis and make an independent decision.
I have also distinguished myself by my constituent service and responsiveness. Residents and businesses know that when they contact me for assistance, I respond promptly and I work hard to fix problems. One of the first things I did when I was elected to the City Council was to arrange for recycling pick-up in Kentlands to be re-routed from the streets to the alleys and mews, so residents wouldn’t have to drag their recycle bins through their houses and front yards or clutter the streetscape with bins on pick-up days. Additionally, signage to advertise Kentlands shops and restaurants had been discussed for years but never implemented. I streamlined the process and got the signs, helping to promote local businesses to the commuters who drive past Kentlands but may not have known how many great shops are here.
As the Council liaison to the old Market Square Advisory Committee, I proposed that the business community create an organization that could coordinate to get things done for their collective benefit. Soon thereafter, the Kentlands Downtown Partership was born. Despite a recession that forced the city to cut its budget in many areas, I secured $50,000 for Kentlands to implement charrette recommendations and fund other improvements that would benefit the community. And during the City Council’s annual retreat a couple years ago, I was the one who initiated the discussion of the Kentlands Firehouse and asked that it be added to the City’s Strategic Directions document to generate a plan for the building.
I also believe in demonstrating leadership by being respectful and collegial and by building consensus, rather than by being adversarial. Sometimes it’s appropriate to take a tough stance, such as when I challenged the County on its plans for the GE Tech site and the “Science City” at Belward farm. But generally I believe in working together with others, even if we sometimes disagree, to pursue the best interests of the City and its residents and businesses and to deliver concrete results. My relationships with county and state officials make me an effective advocate for the best interests of the City when other levels of government are making decisions that affect us.
4. How do you feel your position as either Mayor/Councilmember will benefit the Kentlands community and its residents specifically? What do you feel are specific issues or areas of improvement within Kentlands (such as the Kentlands Firehouse) and what do you propose to do to address them if elected?
My work as a Council member has already benefited the Kentlands in many ways: installing signage to benefit Kentlands businesses; securing funds to implement recommendations from the Kentlands charrette; improving recycling pickup routes; helping with the progress of Market Square; encouraging the formation of the Kentlands Downtown Partnership; and lobbying the state to select the western alignment of the CCT along Great Seneca Highway – just to name a few.
I am a regular at Kentlands shops, and at events throughout the year. I attended the KCF’s One Community Leadership Forum, the opening of the community garden, and the ten-year commemoration of 9/11 at Inspiration Park. Additionally, I am a booster for Kentlands businesses, and I often cite Kentlands as a national model of New Urbanism. I am also the only Council candidate who is a property owner and taxpayer in Kentlands. My wife Rachael, a photographer, has had her work displayed at the Arts Barn, and we are strong supporters of the special role that the Arts Barn and Mansion play in the cultural life of the community.
Because the Historic District Commission’s recommendations regarding the Firehouse will soon come before the City Council for a vote, I am prohibited from making any premature judgments or statements about the possible designation of the Firehouse as an officially historic building. However, I can say that I have actively endorsed the refurbishment and use of the main building in a manner that would serve the neighborhood well. I look forward to hearing the recommendations of our partners from the KCA, and I am hopeful that we can work together to find a great use for the Firehouse. In fact, a few years ago, I was the one who initially asked that the future of the Firehouse be placed on the City’s Strategic Directions list of priorities. In the meantime, the Council has directed City staff to move forward with short-term stabilization efforts to preserve the building.
Specific issues that require attention include making progress on the charrette’s long-term vision, by funding some of the charrette recommendations and by advocating for the CCT. I also plan to work with our new Economic Development Director to see how the recent purchase of Kentlands Square by Saul Centers might benefit Kentlands. I will also work to ensure that the county’s transition into the National Geographic building and Peapod warehouse goes smoothly. Importantly, I intend to continue drawing attention to the need to relieve overcrowding at Rachel Carson Elementary. The City is also installing a new flashing beacon at the crosswalk near Lakelands Park Middle School. In this great walkable community, we need to continue to explore ways of reducing dangers from narrow roads, curbside parking, blind spots, and speeding drivers. I also want to work with our staff to reduce instances of graffiti and other misdemeanors. Finally, I want to work with small businesses to ensure a vibrant retail sector in Kentlands.