Public testimony calls councilman’s hiring initiative ‘vital’ -- Gazette.Net







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Of two amendments to Montgomery County’s Charter proposed to appear on the November ballot, at least one has gathered significant public support.

Twenty people testified June 28 in support of an amendment by Councilman Philip M. Andrews that would create a special hiring authority within the county’s merit system to recruit, select, and hire persons with significant physical or cognitive disabilities, such as those that limit one or more major life activity.

Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park also has proposed an amendment that would exempt the county fire tax from the charter limit, allowing it to become a dedicated source of funding for Fire and Rescue Service.

All but one person who testified commented on Andrews’ bill.

“This hiring initiative before you is vital,” Patricia Gallalee, chair of the Commission on People with Disabilities testified.

“We have an obligation to take bold and proactive measures now,” Charles Short, assistant chief administrative officer testified on behalf of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). “We can no longer wait for the right time or hope that things will simply get better for this population.”

Although neither Smith Mamboh or Judy Stout is able to hear, both were able to tell the members of council present for the hearing of the challenges they face finding employment.

“I think that when an employer sees me they do not see a strong young black man who is hard working, willing to learn new things, dependable and fun to be around,” Mamboh testified. “I think they see a youth with a disability who will be difficult to communicate with, unable to follow directions, and train, and will cost the business a lot of money for expensive accommodations.

Deaf persons face challenges, but the amendment would give the county greater opportunity to hire the deaf for jobs that they are qualified to hold, Stout testified.

Some who testified held internship positions with the county, like Russell LeFurgy, a 28-year-old with Asperger’s who works at the county’s Pre-Release Center doing filing.

“When my PRC internship ends, I don’t know what job I’ll be doing next, especially since this job is a real help to the PRC itself,” he said.

In 2008, Michelle Engelmann entered the county’s customized employment public intern project working in Outpatient Addiction Services as a data entry clerk, she testified.

When her internship ended in 2010, she said she was told that, because of a hiring freeze, she could not pursue a permanent position with the county.

“So despite the gains that I have received from being employed by the county, I, again find myself disabled, willing to work, but unfortunately unemployed,” she testified.

Not every public hearing makes a difference in how council members see an issue, but Andrews said he thinks testimony heard on June 28 could grow support for his amendment.

On Leventhal’s amendment, Joseph Beach, county finance director, testified that it risks making the county’s ability to raise revenue more inflexible by undermining efforts to gain support for the new Emergency Medical Transport Reimbursement Program — where the county will seek reimbursement for ambulance rides from insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid. It also could grow support for a possible charter amendment to cap fuel-energy tax increases at the rate of inflation.

Robin Ficker, a lawyer who challenged U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Dist. 6) of Buckeystown for the party nomination in the April GOP primary and lost, has been gathering signatures to put the county’s energy tax as well as a question to eliminate collective bargaining for county employees on the November ballot.

A work session on the council’s proposed amendments is scheduled for July 17. State law requires the council decide by the second week of August what if any amendments it will put to voters in the November election.