Roger Berliner will hand over his title as Montgomery County Council president to Nancy Navarro (D-Colesville) tomorrow, concluding a year in which the Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac representative says the county made strides despite ongoing fiscal restraints.
“I look back on it with some sense of satisfaction because I do believe we have advanced Montgomery County’s public good during the course of this past year,” Berliner said. “First and foremost, I think we were responsible fiscal stewards.”
For the first time in 11 years, the county did not raise property taxes to the full limit the county’s charter allows, which Berliner said was a sign the council recognized residents’ struggles in a floundering economy.
The council president position typically serves a one-year term, during which he or she gets to set the agenda and serve as the public face of the county’s nine-member legislative body. Berliner held a weekly Monday press conference to talk about issues facing the county, something his predecessor Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) didn’t do as often.
He said those media sessions were an enjoyable part of the job. He even awarded the reporter who showed up to the most of them with a proclamation during his final press conference as council president on Monday.
Some of Berliner’s pet issues – utilities, Pepco, transportation and business development – did take center stage at times throughout the year.
Berliner, an energy lawyer, often took the lead in criticizing Pepco for its performance during last summer’s derecho and on Monday discussed in great detail his stance against another requested rate hike from Pepco. He did say anecdotal evidence, particularly the company’s performance during Superstorm Sandy, indicates Pepco is improving.
Berliner spearheaded a meeting with Fairfax County officials, what he called the first-ever of its kind between the two suburban counties that typically make headlines competing for businesses, to talk improvements to the American Legion Bridge. He said one of his disappointments was the lack of a funding solution for the county’s major transportation needs and projects.
He also introduced a Small Business Navigator tool through legislation in the council that’s designed to help businesses wade through county regulations. He pushed for the county to hire a chief innovation officer, similar to positions in major cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago.
“My goal quite frankly is that Montgomery County become known as a small business sanctuary. We’ve been more nimble and more entrepreneurial and we will also spread the wealth,” Berliner said, referring to master plans in Wheaton, Takoma Park and Burtonsville the council presided over in the last year.
Navarro, who served as council vice president during the past year, will be given Berliner’s position tomorrow. The decision on the next vice president isn’t as clear.
Berliner wouldn’t reveal his choice on Monday. The council will decide on Tuesday during council elections scheduled for 9:30 a.m.