Candidate’s name: Cary A. Lamari
Birthdate: Sept. 16, 1956
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
Residence: Aspen Hill
Education: Vocational training at Columbia Tech, Arlington, Va.
Experience: Owner, Cary Electric Co.; president, Montgomery County Civic Federation, 2002-2004; president, Norbeck Citizens Association, 2000-present
Family: wife, Wanda; two adult children
Web site: www.carylamari.net
What are your top three priorities for the next four years, if elected?
*To reestablish growth policies: reinstate the Annual Growth Policy, and establish a new form of policy area review where developers pay for infrastructure necessary for their developments rather than taxpayers. Also, to rebuild our Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, putting master plans that don’t have the infrastructure (roads, schools, water and sewer services and recreational facilities) back in moratorium until we can make the necessary investments. Also advocate passionately for the funding of transportation projects like Corridor Cities Transit Way, the Bi-County Transit Way, accessible bus service, and the upgrade of existing roads.
* I would work to protect the existing affordable housing that currently exists in our neighborhoods and create new affordable housing. I would work to establish standards protecting the existing affordable apartment dwellings existing in Montgomery County, thereby preventing the national trend towards condominium conversions. I would also protect public land for public benefit. I believe we may be able to create new and substantial affordable housing on some of this land in perpetuity through what has been termed Community Land Trusts. This is a new concept being used in over 31 jurisdictions across the country as one new method of addressing the need for affordable housing. Government and non-profits work together, buy land, build new housing units and sell only the house, retaining ownership of the land, with equity standards that provide the resale to be affordable. This form of housing, according to national experts, turn over every 7-10 years and would provide a new affordable housing stock for our children and our children’s’ children.
* I would like to complete the work of former council-member Blair Ewing in the area of Mental Health. Mr. Ewing stated over 5 years ago that we have a mental health crisis. Former council member Blair Ewing founded a blue ribbon committee to look into issues of mental health services. Since the last election, not much has been done to improve Access to mental health services in Montgomery County. In fact after Montgomery County privatized mental health services in the mid 90s, other than fund some private clinics, the county’s premier mental health facility today is the Clarksburg Jail, with over 70 percent of its’ population in need of some sort of mental health service. The Surgeon General stated in his first and only Mental Health report that one in five Americans have some sort of mental health related illness. Many have treatable conditions and can lead stable and productive lives. I have learned that government has a choice, and can pay in the front end, which can lead to productive residents and a good quality of life for the many families in need of these services, or they can pay in the back end, with families in turmoil, lives shattered, and many people in our jails, which would be paid for by the public.
How would you rate the performance of the current council: excellent, good, fair or poor? Why?
I am concerned with many of the decisions of the current council. This council, also known as the End Gridlock Council, has increased density in almost every master plan area beyond sustainable growth; they have dismantled our Annual Growth policy, removing Policy Area Review, where developers paid for their infrastructure, which now costs the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more each year. They eliminated any semblance of the adequate public facilities ordinance, by removing moratorium in master plan areas that do not have the necessary infrastructure to support new growth. This council has pandered to special self-interests with new legislation and zoning text amendments, that in many instances has had deleterious effects on our county and only helped specific self-interests, in many instances those that contribute heavily to their campaigns. There needs to be balance in the decision-making. We need new fresh ideas and people to do the work of government, creative ways to promote a new perpetual affordable housing stock and support for our most vulnerable populations. It’s time for change. I believe the residents of this county deserve better, and I would like to bring the changes necessary to do so to Montgomery County.
Is the rate of growth in Montgomery County too fast, too slow or just right?
Too Fast. Montgomery County has a 2.7% unemployment rate, while the National average is 4.7%. Leading experts in Park and Planning recommended to this council an economic growth policy half of what this council adopted. This caused an imbalance between jobs and housing, further congesting our roads and schools, and creating a competition for older and more affordable houses, driving up the cost and assessments of older neighborhoods. While this may be attractive in the short term, it creates significant challenges and problems for Montgomery County. Tax assessments go up across the county the pool of existing affordable housing is lost. Services and infrastructure cost the government over $36,000 per unit: money that this council claims we do not have. The largest problem is that it degrades the quality of life for all of us, with the lack of sufficient recreation, park space, road and transit capacity, and educational facilities.
Who should have more control over the planning process, the council or the executive and why?
The County Council. The General Assembly designated the district council AKA the Montgomery County Council with all authority over land use zoning to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the public, and to provide for orderly growth for Montgomery County. The Charter Re-affirms these goals, and the final accountability of government on these land use matters should remain with the Montgomery County Council.
What should have been done to avoid the development problems that happened in Clarksburg?
Clarksburg is a symptom of larger systemic problems. There is an appearance that the current council panders to special self-interests. I believe this appearance is based in reality. All one needs do is look at the large significant developers and special self interests in Montgomery County, look at the decisions and who have benefited in the past 4 years, and one sees that in many cases they are the same people who donate significantly large sums of money to our elected officials. County employees, in my opinion, are incredibly intelligent, and of a caliber that far exceeds those of adjoining jurisdictions. However, many of the directors of county agencies work at the pleasure of politically elected officials, and therefore some decisions appear to be made with undue influence. Clarksburg was the most dramatic abuse benefiting self-interests, but we have in the past seen similar abuses in special exceptions, zoning decisions, parking waivers, zoning enforcement and other areas. We must elect a group of individuals who are not only above such corruptive influences, but demonstrate the integrity to promote Democratic ideals above special self interest, This is the basis for our system of government, with the voters holding elected officials accountable in the voting booth.
What’s your plan to provide more affordable housing in Montgomery County?
It is my opinion we must have a strategic plan to address the affordable housing crisis in Montgomery County. First, we need to bring our policies into balance with a hierarchy of polices. With respect to affordable housing we must protect the current existing stock of affordable housing and create zoning standards to protect affordable apartments from succumbing to the national trend of luxury condo conversion. We must remove exceptions from the MPDU program, and I have a new initiative, which I would promote entitled Community Land Trusts. This is a new concept, being used in over 31 jurisdictions across the country as one new method of addressing the need for affordable housing. Government and non-profits form a Trust Corporation, buy land, build the new housing unit, and sell only the house, retaining ownership of the land with equity and other standards that provide for and control the resale of the unit, creating an affordable housing stock for generations. National experts say that this new type of affordable housing has a turnover rate of every 7-10 years, which creates significant opportunities to help many of Montgomery County’s young first time homebuyers.
Do you think the county is doing enough to meet the needs of its growing diverse population? If not, what do you think the county needs to do?
This is too complicated to just say yes or no. We must remind people that our diversity can and should be recognized as strength. We cannot presume to know the answers to all questions affecting diversity. Again, I look to residents for their needs and solutions. I am a first generation American, and I know the challenges besetting an immigrant family well. We must provide educational opportunities for the youth and support funding educational and occupational training for adults. ESOL and adult literacy are major needs to many new immigrant families. Elected officials must humble themselves by doing the work of the government. We must provide a good quality of life, fund Infrastructure, education, create and protect our affordable housing stock and finally look at the most vulnerable residents of our county and address their needs. We must become sensitized to cultural differences and work to bridge those differences. We all have a great deal to contribute to Montgomery County and its family of residents. I will work to listen and to address any concerns raised. Government should be of the people and most especially for the people.
Do you support Montgomery County’s day laborer centers?
Yes. On my journey to become a County Council person, I have been asked several times what I would do to stop illegal immigration. The answer is that this is a federal issue and Congress needs to address the concern of protecting our nations’ borders. Having said that, once people are here they deserve to be able to work, feed their families, and be provided education. People deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I have personal experience living as a son of a legal immigrant and I know too well the challenges the entire family deals with. I believe it is a basic human and ethical responsibility to provide a living wage and a decent quality of life for all residents in this county, and as councilperson, I will endeavor to treat all people with respect and protect their fundamental needs.
What programs would you add to the budget, and how would you pay for them?
I believe that we should probably review programs that are ongoing to see how successful they are. I understand our council is understaffed and has not in the past done a complete comprehensive review of the 4 billion dollar budget. They do, however, add to it on a yearly basis. I believe it is time to do an outside audit, looking into the success or failure on a case-by-case basis of former initiatives and streamline government spending. In the past 4 years this county has funded the $100 million dollar Strathmore Hall, a $100 million dollar Conference center, the $100 million dollar Clarksburg Jail, and completed a $600 million dollar investment to the revitalization of Silver Spring, I would promote the affordable housing initiative Community Land Trust, which I would fund from the general fund. I believe our kids should have the opportunity to live and raise their families where they grew up, and that it is worth investing in our kid’s future.
Are there any programs, taxes or fees that should be cut? What would you do with the money from the savings?
I answered this above.
Does council have too much, not enough or the right amount of oversight of the school system?
Not enough. The council has the budgetary purse strings, however the School Board has a line item veto, which may undermine the council’s effort to promote a specific initiative. I believe we have witnessed a disconnect in the past between the school system, School Board, and County Council. This lack of continuity does not lend itself to accountability. The School Board is an elected body, however the council should have more leverage to holding School Board members accountable for decisions made in-between election years.
Do you think the current system for renovating schools is adequate, or does it need changing?
It definitely needs changing. There are over 700 portable trailers in our school system today, and this overcrowding affects the orderly operation of many core facilities in these schools. Children have more distractions, play areas and parking that may be needed are being taken up by portables trailers, and many other schools have been waiting far too long for basic gyms. We should be able to do better. I understand that there may be budgetary constraints, but elected officials, when challenged by the state, should go to Annapolis and have their voices heard. They represent the people of Montgomery County, and as our representatives they need to express our needs.
What is the No. 1 public safety concern for Montgomery County? What would you do about it?
The number one safety concern is the lack of fire stations and fire apparatus in our up-county areas, due to over development and a lack of infrastructure. I testified several years ago to this issue and it wasn’t until the Clarksburg incident that this County Council felt the need to address it. Fire Apparatus has been shifted from other parts of the county to address safety concerns in Germantown and Clarksburg. This lends our residents to the potential for harm if the necessary apparatus is not available. I would make sure any master plan developed had safety infrastructure and apparatus funded and in place before approving its’ development.
Do you support an east-west Metro link, and where should it go?
The Bi-County Transit Way is now under study and a report will be out soon from the State Highway Administration as to the mode of travel and suggested alignment. I would support a community friendly east-west bi-county connector that went the entire route from New Carrolton to Bethesda. I would hope for it to be underground where necessary, to reduce community impact. But, we shall see what is presented.
Do you support the Montgomery Cares program, and are adequate audit controls in place for accountability?
Yes, I support The Montgomery Cares Program. I am not sure if adequate audit controls are in place. The County Council is looking into expanding the program. The program could use additional funding and I would support expanding it. The Montgomery Cares program provides primary medical care and access to prescription medications for low income, uninsured adults. The services are provided at a network of clinics and health centers. The program is projected to serve 13,000 low income uninsured adults by the end of the current fiscal year. The County Executive suggested an additional $5 million in funding, which should subsequently help an additional 4000 people by the year 2007, but more still needs to be done.
What should be the county’s role in mental health?
I would love to see investment in public psychiatric clinics. Former council member Blair Ewing stated over 5 years ago that we have a mental health crisis. I believe that crisis is currently ongoing, and there is a lack of funding of substance abuse programs. The Clarksburg Jail is our premier mental health facility, with approximately 70% of its’ inmates having some sort of mental illness. On December 19, 1999, the Surgeon General issued his first report on mental health. In that report he stated that one in five Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness. Many fail to get treatment even though effective treatments are available. The report cites social stigmas and financial hardship as being the main barriers. Blair Ewing formed a blue ribbon committee to look into the issues related to people with mental illness. They completed their report on a strategic plan to address the needs of consumers with mental illnesses in 2002. To this day, many initiatives recommended in that report have not been promoted. ‘‘Why should I be concerned”, you might ask? You should be concerned because these people are our neighbors, our friends, and even our children in many cases. Their quality of life is being threatened and they are being victimized by an under funded system, and it is our responsibility to help whenever possible.