Daily Journal, 11-14-11

First thing this morning I was briefed by council policy experts on the draft of their report on MCPS “category 12” expenditures. You’ll recall this as the debate from earlier in the year where the council reduced funding on health spending for MCPS and recommended that MCPS absorb the cut by reducing the share MCPS pays for health premiums by 5% (from 95% to 90% for HMO’s, for example). MCPS did not implement the council’s recommendation and instead absorbed the cut in funding by tapping a large surplus in the benefit fund that the council was not fully aware of. The council will receive the final report at the end of November.

Then into a Gov Ops committee for several hours of nuts and bolts discussion on technology and the county cable plan. The cable discussion was particularly interesting. I worked hard last year to find several million dollars in savings in the cable plan in order to fund other critical priorities in the county, such as public safety, libraries, parks, and health services.

The county collects 5% of the revenue that telecomm companies (Verizon, Comcast, RCN) earn from using our right of way (i.e, wires on our streets, etc). The question is, how should we use this money?

One of my first priorities, consistent with the Open Government agenda that the Gov Ops committee has been developing, is transparency in government. Today, not all council committee work sessions are recorded on video, and I think they should be.

What principles do you think should guide these discussions? What do you know about our cable operations today and what suggestions do you have?

The outcome of the committee meeting was potentially profound, as one of the managers for the MCPS cable operations, Dick Lipsky, stated that we need to stop focusing so much on what cable has been in the past and start asking ourselves, if we were going to build it today, what would it be?

That is exactly the right kind of thinking and it is what we are going to pursue.