Inaugural Remarks by County Executive Isiah Leggett

text of Speeches & Testimonies

icon of facebook icon of twitter icon of YouTube icon of Flicker

Inaugural Remarks by County Executive Isiah Leggett

Monday, December 1, 2014

Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, MD

Today, on this stage in the auditorium of Richard Montgomery High School - a magnet school that symbolizes the quality education that is Montgomery County - I stand before you with great humility and excitement about the future as I begin my third term as your County Executive.

I have learned throughout my life that families are our “links” to our past, our anchors in the present, and bridges to our future. So, to my family, your love, support and patience have kept me grounded.

Congratulations to the members of the County Council who were sworn in with me today. And to their families, thank you for all of your sacrifices as our Council serves the people of Montgomery County.

I would like to welcome Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz to the County Council. I know you are ready for the adventure.

I have worked with both of you previously and look forward to continuing and strengthening those relationships.

Cherri Branson, thank you for giving so much of yourself during the past several months. As the Councilmember from District 5, you represented your constituents and all of Montgomery County so very well.

And to Phil Andrews—it’s been an honor serving with you for all these years. I wish you the very best as you depart the Council after 16 years of outstanding public service.

We, the residents of Montgomery County, are fortunate to be part of a community that places its peoples’ needs, issues, security and safety before all else.

We are justifiably proud to be part of such a resourceful, successful, diverse, and nationally recognized community that we call “home.”

Today during this ceremony, let us reflect on the incredible journey of the past eight years, but more importantly, let us look to the exciting landscape on the horizon of the next four years and beyond.

While together we have scaled great heights, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and are in a much stronger position to make our vision for the future a reality, we must recognize that we still have much more work to do to help our beloved Montgomery County live up to its full potential.

As Thomas Edison said, “We shall have no better conditions in the future, if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.”

So, where have we been? Where are we now? And where do we go from here?

Eight years ago, I said to you that we would carefully examine what was working in County Government and fix what was broken.

And, while the challenges back then did not appear to be overwhelming, they were indeed, once coupled with the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Decisions, very tough and unpopular decisions, needed to be made almost immediately.

This was not an easy time for any of us as we witnessed and experienced job losses, undue hardships for small business owners, homeowners, and renters.

As our nest eggs began to dwindle, I felt the frustrations and disappointments of many of our residents.

Dreams were deferred and some, sadly, were lost. Yet, as a community, we looked after one another, made shared sacrifices, and came out stronger than ever.

Throughout the past eight years, my top priority was to strengthen our fiscal foundation so we could build a prosperous future.

And in doing so, we closed nearly $3 billion dollars in budget gaps, and successfully fought to maintain our Triple-A bond rating, which is critical to our ability to advance much-needed capital projects such as building new schools, libraries and improving roads.

At the same time, we made tremendous progress and investments in our future.

Let me just highlight a few examples:

Both the Corridor Cities Transitway, which will connect the major employment centers in the heart of our science corridor, as well as the Purple Line, which will connect two of our best known destination centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring, are now well into the pipeline, and we have begun the work on a Bus Rapid Transit system.

I have always maintained that people who grow up here in Montgomery County should be able to afford to live here as adults.

It is my goal that decent, safe and affordable housing should be available for County residents of all income levels.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

To that end, we have constructed, acquired and preserved a record number of affordable housing units in the County over the past eight years.

And, such an achievement not only provides homes where people live, it also translates into hundreds of new jobs – a positive economic domino effect.

But housing alone is not the answer. Without a safe and secure environment in which to live, it doesn’t matter the price of our homes or where our homes are located.

This is why it was so important that we decreased serious crime by 33 percent and overall crime by 27 percent. These were unprecedented accomplishments.

In addition, we opened five new fire stations in only eight years. The response time to 911 calls for fire and ambulance service has been reduced by up to half and fire related deaths reduced by 80 percent.

Thanks in part to the resources we obtained from the ambulance fee that was first rejected by our residents, we have made vital improvements in our fire and rescue services.

Our County’s nationally recognized OpenMontgomery initiative has given our residents and businesses online access to all segments of our government.

I strongly believe that there should be a seat for everyone at our table and a voice in decisions we make as a government.

It is clear to me that enhanced green space, well-maintained parks and streams are part of what makes our County a destination of choice.

We have the broadest recycling program in the region; bag pollution in our streams has been reduced by up to 50 percent. And we are expanding our libraries’ hours to more fully provide services to our residents.

Our Smart Growth Initiative has turned County-owned properties into tax generators.

We “streamlined” our timeline for Development projects and shortened it, in some cases, by a year. And we are stimulating future growth in key areas such as White Flint, Wheaton, Glenmont, downtown Bethesda, the White Oak Science Gateway and the Great Seneca Science Corridor.

Each and every one of these target areas is an integral part of our continued economic growth and community vitality.

Eight years of hard work is paying off, during that time we laid a new foundation upon which to build our dreams. The County’s momentum is accelerating.

But in order to continue to move forward we must eliminate additional barriers to remain competitive regionally, nationally and globally.

Montgomery County will never shy away from competition as long as I am your County Executive.

Over the next four years, I want to refocus on our economic growth and shared prosperity and put to rest some misperceptions about the business climate in Montgomery County.

Right here and now, we must dispel any myths about a lack of a welcoming business environment.

I want us to usher in and foster a “culture of yes” when it comes to doing business in Montgomery County.

As your County Executive, I welcome the challenges and I am excited about the prospects of creating a stronger business environment.

I see Montgomery County as an expanding incubator cultivating ideas, innovation, and progress.

To build on the success of our urban livable, walkable communities, we need to move the Rapid Transit System (RTS) forward now.

Only through a 21st century system such as RTS will we be able to transform key destinations for people and businesses to grow quality jobs and expand an innovation economy in the County.

I fully expect Montgomery County to be the national and global leader for civil cybersecurity.

The County’s forged partnership with the federal and state governments; academic institutions and the industry help create the new National Center for Cybersecurity Excellence, which will give us a head start in this all-out competition in cyberspace.

Our partnership with John Hopkins University, the University System of Maryland, and the biotech industry leaders led to the creation of the BioHealth Innovation, which is an innovation catalyst actively driving the commercialization of biohealth Research and Development in Central Maryland.

This partnership will better leverage the presence of NIH and FDA in our community to help us capture a sizeable share of this $114 billion a year healthcare industry.

It is clear that our region’s economy is going through fundamental changes with a shrinking federal footprint. I intend to refocus our County’s mission to further grow entrepreneurship, middle-class jobs and the innovation economy beyond our federal and local sectors.

Therefore, today, I am announcing a six point economic plan that will take advantage of our already formidable strengths and better position Montgomery County for the future.

First, to remain competitive, I am recommending that we accelerate our program to turn vacant office space and land into productive assets.

Earlier this year, I established the MOVE program to provide incentives for eligible companies to locate in Montgomery County.

It is our long term interest to hone this approach and provide even greater incentives for businesses to locate in the county.

Therefore, I am recommending a $30 million tax abatement BUILD program to expand the current MOVE initiative to attract additional companies to existing office space, and further support shovel-ready commercial office projects.

Second, to better nurture our entrepreneurial culture, I plan to create a new start-up business accelerator called “MC Squared” to nurture the next generation of tech savvy entrepreneurs.

Montgomery County already has a vibrant small business community, but we need to create value generators by taking emerging start-ups and unleashing their potential by pairing them with managers from successful tech companies and VC funding opportunities.

This is truly the future for transforming budding businesses into stars.

Third, given the strong possibility of continuing budget challenges on the State level, I will recommend the creation of an independent transit authority for Montgomery County to move transit projects forward.

The authority would focus attention and resources on our growing transit needs as we compete for jobs, talents and investments.

A state-of-the art transit network is essential to unlocking our County’s economic potential and linking our economic centers of excellence throughout the County.

Fourth, we have made enormous strides in streamlining our development process but, I want to go even further because businesses need more certainty.

I am ready to commit in this coming year to a timeline that guarantees that if you come to us with a project that is ready, we will turn your plan around in 30 days.

To that end, and with the advice and counsel of the business community, I am recommending appointing a Development Ombudsperson to help facilitate problem-solving and ensure transparency and responsiveness for our business community.

Fifth, we live at a time when Internet connectivity and network infrastructure is just as fundamental to our economic future as are transportation systems, which requires us to have robust fiber networks to connect people with opportunities, and move our economy at the speed of our ideas.

I am, therefore, launching Ultra Montgomery, a high-speed fiber network that will connect our business, academic and federal institutions along major corridors and transit-oriented smart-growth communities.

And my sixth and final initiative today, I am recommending the county support the Montgomery Workforce Coalition agenda by consolidating all our workforce programs and developing innovative ways to address both community needs and market demands.

Our partnership with Montgomery Moving Forward, a network of community leaders from public, private, education and nonprofit sectors, will place us in a leadership position in the nation for workforce development.

Montgomery County has one of the most highly educated and accomplished workforces in the nation.

We have one of the finest school systems in the country, a nationally known community college, and satellite locations for internationally recognized of John Hopkins Universities and the University of Maryland at Shady Grove.

Yet we face the reality that 22 percent of our MCPS graduates do not attend any form of college.

Therefore, today, I am also announcing the establishment of a work group comprised of members of our business community, MCPS, and community leaders to work hand-in-hand with Montgomery Moving Forward to expand and create additional vocational apprenticeship programs in the County.

By matching our workforce to our businesses, we will be poised to take advantage of our best human and institutional assets to build an even stronger economy and thriving community.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Montgomery County, Maryland, was named one of the “Most Enlightened Communities in America.”

And for good reasons, Our County is considered one of the most desirable places to live. We are a global talent magnet because of it.

Montgomery County has more than 33,000 acres of parkland in over 400 parks, 60 museums and art galleries, 22 theaters, and 50 historical venues.

Whether its musical concerts and entertainment, sports and recreation, historical sites, art museums and galleries, you can find it right here in our own backyard.

We are home to a culturally rich, diverse, well-educated and community-minded people whose needs are continually evolving.

Meeting those needs is a challenge that collectively we can resolve! After all, we are the home to some of the most extraordinary people in the world.

We are home to a world-class global center for biotechnology and life sciences, a community of more than 300 bioscience companies and five expanding hospitals.

The Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League play at our SoccerPlex with its 5,200 seat soccer stadium in Boyds.

And of course, our own shining gem just down the Pike, the world-class Music Center at Strathmore. I could go on and on but you get the point.

It is indeed an honor to be your County Executive again for the next four years.

I pledge to you today that I will do all I can to continue our journey and lead this outstanding community to even greater heights as we now enter a new phase in our quest to make this an even more attractive place for people and businesses.

We have come very far in the past eight years. But, we still have further to go. Let’s do it together.

God bless America and Montgomery County.