August 27, 2002
Ann T. Somerset
Family: Husband Phil
Office held: Gaithersburg City Councilwoman; 1997 - present
Occupation: Senior Administrative Director
Current employment: American Pharmaceutical Association, national association of pharmacists
Education: M.S. Business, Johns Hopkins University 1994; B.A. Chatham College, 1971
Community ties: member, St. Martin’s Parish; member NOW; Sierra Club; several equestrian organizations
Endorsements you are most proud of: Neighbors for a Better Montgomery; Hispanic American Democratic Club; Glenmont Citizens’ Association
Endorsements: Neighbors for a Better Montgomery; Hispanic American Democratic Club; Glenmont Citizens’ Association
* Why are you running for this position?
* Montgomery County’s quality of life is deteriorating as a result of extremely rapid growth. I want to help turn it around before it goes too far. Rampant growth has strained all of our systems and is negatively affecting even something as fundamental to health as our air quality.
* What is your top public-service accomplishment?
* Playing a key role in slowing growth in Gaithersburg; the city is in a residential building moratorium pending completion of a new master plan which acknowledges the school capacity and transportation shortages we face as a community. It’s time to stop sweeping these issues under the rug and start facing up to them.
* What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them?
* Traffic congestion: Slow down the growth! Continuing rapid growth is like pouring gasoline on a burning house. Build long overdue transportation capacity such as the ICC, the Inner Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. Implement strong incentives for both employers and employees to get cars off the roads. We have to set a firm target and timeline for getting cars off the road through alternative work arrangements. For example, a five percent reduction per year for five years. I would like to see the County evaluate a tax deduction for employees who car pool and employers who allow telework or schedule shifts that reduce traffic. We must get serious about getting cars off the roads.
School overcrowding: Slow down the growth! We are years behind in school renovations and construction. Correct the school capacity measure to produce accurate numbers. The computation method is flawed and has not been completely corrected.
School performance: The County has implemented some good programs such as all day kindergarten and smaller class size. We need more ESOL teachers and trained counselors in the schools who can identify learning issues while the child is young and work with parents and teachers to help the child progress.
Pedestrian Safety: Implement the measures recommended by the Pedestrian Safety task force. More sidewalks and bike lanes, clearer signage, count-down traffic lights, more traffic lights that can be activated by pedestrians.
Access to health care: We must find a way to structure health care delivery so everyone is insured. There is no excuse for cutting large segments of our population off from health care.
* What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?
* First and foremost, I know who I’m working for and it’s the citizens and taxpayers of this County, not developers. My primary interest and motivation is problem solving, not ego gratification. I am known in Gaithersburg for fighting for the interests of citizens and being responsive to my constituents. That’s why I was re-elected in 2001 with 78% of the vote. I’m a highly trained and experienced manager. I dig into problems until it’s clear what is actually going on beneath the surface and what we need to do to make it better. I’m realistic and understand that we live in an imperfect world with many competing interests. I do my best to find compromises that work to move things at least some distance in the right direction.
* How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponents?
* I will be speaking the whole truth about issues, not feeding them misleading half-truths about growth and congestion relief. I respect the public and believe we need to be honest with them and engage them respectfully in solving problem, not manipulating them with half truths.
* What is one thing you promise not to do if elected?
* I will never personalize politics and make it about interpersonal ego conflicts instead of the public interest. I will address every issues that comes up over the years on its merits.
* What do you predict for the short-term (two-year) outlook of the Montgomery County budget and what adjustments will you propose to prepare for your prediction? Where can the county afford to trim the budget?
* Short term I think we have serious problems coming up with the money we need to fund necessary infrastructure improvements. The more we have grown, the more we have deteriorated. The reason for that is that growth does not pay. I have been told that that is a very well established fact in the field of growth economics. But you don’t have to refer to academic studies to see the facts in front of your face. We have not been able to build adequate schools or transportation and our needs for public safety are increasing all the time. There is a reason why urban centers inevitably deteriorate until the middle class flees. We are seeing the early stages of urban deterioration and we must reverse this course. The more we grow the poorer we will get. Growth benefits land speculators and builders. It’s a good thing in areas that need to be revitalized and areas that are well served by existing infrastructure, but endless expansion is not paying the citizens of Montgomery County. Look for proposals to raise taxes to close the budget shortfalls. We will be asked to pay a growth penalty instead of growth bringing prosperity for us. I don’t believe we can redirect enough funds to close the shortfalls that we have in the budget but I will look at every line item to make sure we are using our funds to the greatest public benefit.
* Do you support the recently reviewed Potomac Master Plan? Specific elements that might need revision?
* The recent Potomac Master Plan reflects serious attention to citizen priorities and is a fine product. We should implement it.
* How would you characterize transportation issues in Montgomery County and what specific actions would you support as a result?
* Smart Growth is supposed to be the opposite of sprawl. It calls for positioning growth near existing transportation and employment. We’ve done the high-density growth without the infrastructure. That means we’ve actually done high density sprawl and we’re paying the price in traffic congestion.
Metro Purple Line; I believe we need build the Inner Purple Line first to service highly congested areas. We need to expand Metro significantly.
ICC; I support the ICC but it will do nothing but worsen traffic conditions and hasten deterioration of Montgomery County unless developers are denied the opportunity to flood it as soon as it is built. We must control growth to a manageable, affordable level as well as build infrastructure.
Regional Transportation Authority; The Council of Governments has a transportation committee. We need coordination and cooperation to get things done but I don’t support an additional level of government appointed to accelerate growth in the region.
Recently passed County Council plan calling for more than $4 billion in state funding over the next 10 years;
It’s easy to call for state money. Then if we fail to do what we have to do to manage growth we can always say it’s the State’s fault if there isn’t enough money. Naturally we should insist upon our fair share of State funding for the school construction and transportation improvements we need. I promise to call as loudly as anyone but I will do more, I will work to manage growth effectively.
I am a realist and I recognize that we may need to ask the public to pay a growth penalty in the form of new taxes to pay for what has already happened. Failing to accept where we are and pay what we have to pay will harm our community. But we don’t have to keep digging ourselves into a costly hole by continuing heavy growth.
* What is your position on a Techway and new bridge across the Potomac River in Montgomery County? Do you favor a new study?
* We should focus our time and money on the numerous un-built priorities that are already in the pipeline. A costly bridge and highway that will not benefit many Montgomery County citizens and is not Master Planned is a waste of time to even consider right now and I’m against it.
* How would you characterize and prioritize the preservation of open space in Montgomery County? What actions would you take?
* We cherish our open space in Montgomery County and we should continue the Legacy Open Space program. Once lost, open space is gone FOREVER. It is worth preserving the beauty of our environment and I very strongly support efforts to maintain the agricultural preserve. I will oppose efforts to undermine it by increasing zoning densities or extending sewer lines.
* Is the current rate and mix of county fees and taxes appropriate and equitable? What would you do differently?
* No one wants to pay taxes or fees but we have to pay to maintain the quality of our community. I believe developers should pay more into a general fund to support school and transportation but they should not be able to dictate where County funds are used to benefit their projects. I favor funding sources such as a small increase in the state sales tax to pay for schools and transportation. I don’t like punitive fees that seek to control people’s behavior, such as driving, by punishing fees. People will make different choices when the transportation capacity exits to allow them to make different choices and still do what they have to do each day.
* Schools in Potomac and the rest of the county are overcrowded with renovation, additions and new schools behind schedule. What is the state’s role in solving this and what do you propose? How would you balance the need for funding for school construction and transportation infrastructure?
* We may need to increase the State sales tax but our state legislators will be the ones who have to look at the State budget to see if we are not getting our share. Only if we are getting our fair share of funds based on our population, tax contribution to the State and needs, but still fall short, should we face tax increases. I believe there will be a growth penalty to pay.
* Does the special exception process in the county work as it should? Changes you would propose?
* It’s important to have a special exception process to prevent subverting the public’s expectations about land uses in their community. However, I understand that it is too rigid and cumbersome for minor or temporary variations in use and needs to be improved.