Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New candidate makes trash collection a campaign issue

Mark Pierzchala throws hat into race for Rockville mayoral seat

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Challengers for city office are picking up trash as a campaign issue while the incumbents remain stalled.

Mark M. Pierzchala joined the mayoral race on Monday, announcing his candidacy during a brief speech during the Citizen’s Forum portion of the council meeting.

Calling for a systematic review of the city’s spending priorities, Pierzchala made garbage one of his key issues.

‘‘Voters are clearly embarrassed by the evident discord between council members and their bashing of city staff,” he said, as members of the council, four of whom are seeking re-election, listened. ‘‘They are in disbelief that the trash issue has dragged on and that some council members did not fund their previous decision. And they are not happy with the quality of the discussion on both the budget and trash.”

A senior fellow for a social policy research group, Pierzchala coordinates computer data collection systems. He is the president of the College Gardens Civic Association.

Last week, the council failed to fund a semi-automated, twice-weekly refuse collection program approved by a narrow majority earlier this month.

The same majority in favor of twice-weekly service — council members Robert E. Dorsey, Phyllis R. Marcuccio and Anne M. Robbins — delayed action on a necessary bond decision.

Since the meeting last week, several council members have contacted City Manager Scott Ullery seeking additional information.

Ullery, in turn, has directed staff to work up additional numbers comparing optional once- or twice-weekly pickups with the approved twice-weekly plan. Those numbers, which members of the council majority said they wanted before funding the program, will not be available by the council’s Aug. 6 break.

Pierzchala said he was considering a run for city office for some time, but the July 2 meeting in which the council voted to keep twice-weekly garbage collection over the more cost effective weekly option was the last straw.

On Monday, he took aim at council incumbents seeking re-election and his opponent, Councilwoman Susan R. Hoffmann, who is running to replace outgoing Mayor Larry Giammo.

‘‘I urge voters to give serious consideration to seating a whole new mayor and council,” he said.

Hoffmann, who now faces Pierzchala and Drew Powell in the mayoral race, deflected criticism from herself and placed it at the feet of the majority voters.

‘‘I can’t help but agree with the challenger that the incumbent council members who have decided not to fund their decision have, in fact, given the challengers an issue,” she said in a Tuesday interview. ‘‘So the challengers get to say thank you. But voters don’t get to because nothing’s been moved forward.”

The newly announced candidate was joined by other residents at Citizen’s Forum outraged by the situation for their reasons.

‘‘It would appear we have an approved system of refuse and recycle collection and disposal, but no money for the off-load facility, for carts, for vehicles or anything else needed to deploy the system,” Joseph Jordan of New Mark Commons said. ‘‘This is stunning.”

Another challenger, this time for one of four available council seats in November, also is referencing refuse.

Piotr Gajewski took up the issue while announcing his candidacy at a local pizza parlor Sunday.

‘‘Citizens are becoming disenchanted and it is becoming blatantly clear that we must not let the paralyzing majority on the City Council prevent our city from moving forward,” he said in his prepared speech sent to The Gazette.

Members of the majority who voted for retention of the twice-weekly service defended their positions. Robbins said many other projects and policies move smoothly through the council.

‘‘People are telling me a small minority of people, including would-be candidates, are making trash the main issue when there are many other important issues to address,” she said. ‘‘Citizens like to see positive elections in Rockville. What I’m hearing from would-be candidates against incumbents is selected negativity, which I don’t think will carry the day.”

A once-weekly supporter and the lone member of the mayor and council not running in the November election, Giammo says the trouble does not involve trash.

‘‘For me, the issue isn’t refuse, it’s leadership and decision making,” he said. ‘‘In terms of the refuse question, I’d give the City Council a failing grade. We’ve been at this for two and a half years and a final decision could have been seven or eight months ago.”