Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taking on downcounty concerns

Center director will serve as a bridge between residents and county executive

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Back in 2000, Montgomery County Council analyst Kenneth Hartman approached the executive director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center — Gail Nachman at the time.

‘‘I want your job, Gail,” he said in a joking manner.

Now, eight years later, he finally has it.

Hartman, 40, was named director of the center on Feb. 6, replacing Deborah Snead. The position serves as a link between the Bethesda-Potomac area and County Executive Isiah Leggett, who recommended and eventually approved Hartman for the job.

‘‘He’s very attune to what we think should be going on in Bethesda,” said Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for Leggett (D). ‘‘Basically Ken is our eyes and ears in Bethesda; he’s the best.”

Hartman is in charge of a staff of five at an office on Edgemoor Lane in downtown Bethesda. Their charge is simple: to be a liaison between the community and Leggett.

Since taking the position in February, Hartman has been busy. He’s dealt with issues ranging from drainage problems in Cabin John to garbage and graffiti outside his office in downtown Bethesda.

The area Hartman is responsible for —from Chevy Chase to Potomac to North Bethesda — is vast, and each neighborhood has its own set of concerns and problems. More than 175,000 residents fall under his jurisdiction, but he said his approach is straightforward.

‘‘I really just need to be an honest broker,” he said. ‘‘I get to be at the forefront of future decision making, but that also means I need to be fair.”

One of the first projects Hartman worked on was an ‘‘aging in place” initiative in Bethesda’s Burning Tree neighborhood. Members of the 1,300-resident community approached Hartman to help create a program that would connect volunteers with senior citizens living in Burning Tree. These were seniors who did not want to move to a retirement community or senior living center, but still needed help with some day-to-day activities. Hartman helped the group establish itself as a nonprofit, Burning Tree Village, Inc. The group is kicking off its program Sunday. Bethesda’s Bannockburn neighborhood is now working on a similar program.

‘‘We handle everything that comes through the door, we don’t prioritize,” Hartman said. ‘‘That’s why we’re here, to help everyone.”

While his office is in downtown Bethesda, Hartman said it’s important to look beyond the view from his window, to Potomac and North Bethesda. Proposed sector plan changes to the White Flint region — slated to go before the Montgomery County Planning Board Thursday — will bring to the area thousands of new residents who need services Hartman said.

He’s starting work on plans for transportation routes and recreation centers for White Flint.

‘‘A lot of sector plans don’t talk about the needs of the residents until it’s too late,” he said.” We need to begin the planning process now.”

Prior to his current position, Hartman, who lives in Bethesda with his wife and two children, worked for former County Council members Betty Ann Krahnke and Howard Denis, as well as the City of Rockville.

A graduate of Magruder High School, Hartman also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

In addition to his duties at the service center, Hartman also serves on a host of committees, including the Glen Echo Partnership, the steering committee for Bethesda Green and Bethesda Urban Partnership.

Despite his extensive background at the County Council, Hartman said he isn’t eying a run for the body any time soon.

‘‘I’m happy where I am,” he said. ‘‘I never do the same thing two days in a row.”