Without debate, the Montgomery County Council today unanimously elected Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) as its president and Roger Berliner (Potomac-Bethesda) as vice president as the panel confronts a budget shortfall that has doubled since September.
Andrews, a former executive director of Common Cause of Maryland first elected in 1998, succeeds Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) for a one-year term. In taking the gavel, Andrews called on county workers to forgo planned pay raises to help close a projected $515 million shortfall and for a series of legislative changes to make the government more open and accessible to residents.
Andrews is one of County Executive Isiah Leggett's (D) closest political allies on the nine-member council, but he is not afraid to challenge Leggett on policy when he disagrees. He has been the most outspoken opponent of Leggett's proposed ambulance transport fee because of his concern that residents would hesitate to call for emergency services.
In his decade on the council, Andrews has been out front on several issues that were initially slow to gain traction with his colleagues. He was the leading sponsor of the county's living-wage law and restrictions on smoking in restaurants.
Andrews, 49, is also one of the most fiscally conservative members of the council. He was a leading voice during last spring's budget debate for rolling back employee raises if property taxes were going to rise for homeowners. He called today for tackling Montgomery's underlying imbalance between spending and revenue.
"The county cannot sustain simultaneously the size of the current workforce and provide the level of pay increases employees expect and continue to obligate future taxpayers to ever-larger retire health care and pension benefits," he said. "We need to scale down in a thoughtful and targeted way the size of the workforce."
The selection of Berliner, an energy lawyer elected in 2006, puts him in line to succeed Andrews next year.