By Rande Davis
The final public candidate forum at the Poolesville Town Hall on June 19, sponsored by the Poolesville Elementary School PTSA, featured County Executive Ike Leggett, who won his party’s nomination for another term on June 24. The summertime attendance was about a third of previous forums. The more intimate environment allowed for an informal group discussion over the previous question–and-answer format.
In making his third appearance in Poolesville in as many weeks, Leggett related his experience as a youth in growing up in a small farming town in Louisiana in a house not much larger than the conference room of the event. The seventh of thirteen children, he gave credit to his mother, a woman with no more than six years of education, for stressing the importance of education. “It was from her I learned that education was the great equalizer, the key, the foundation that allows one who works hard and plays by the rules to make it.”
In the discussion of issues, Mr. Leggett emphasized that his primary interest is education and called it the crown jewel of the county. In answer to inquiries about getting more funds for education for Montgomery County from Annapolis, he pointed to two things that hinder that from happening. The first is what he called the “equalizer” requirement by the state to allocate funds to school systems based on community financial needs that ultimately shifts resources from the affluent areas to the more impoverished areas; nevertheless, the county has had a seventeen percent increase in funding. Receiving more funds requires leadership and relationships which he maintains he can provide. As evidence, Leggett, who is seeking his third term of office, noted that he was recently elected the president of the County Executives of America. He also noted that his opponents have not garnered the kind of public support of state officials that he has. The second hurdle is the continuation of rising costs based on changing times. As an example, he pointed to the school population increasing at the rate of 2,000 students per year, and the costs in technology such as computers, security cameras, etc. as costs that did not even exist in the past. He named five pillars of good education: motivation of students by teachers and parents, quality teachers with adequate resources, reasonable student/teacher ratios, proper facilities, and advancements in technology. Despite these two obstacles, Leggett noted that the county’s state delegation does a good job of getting funds, especially if one considers that the perception throughout the legislature is that Montgomery County is the rich county and doesn’t need more funds. In terms of fiscal efficiency, he called for an inspector general to oversee educational spending as the best way to root out waste but is doubtful the state would do so.
As the discussion turned to issues regarding the Ag Reserve, he pointed to his support of the Ag Reserve when he was a councilman and continued support as county executive. He referenced the concern that protection of the Reserve is going to depend on educating voters outside of the area, especially against those seemingly good causes that ultimately chip away at the boundaries. For example, he used proposals to use small portions of the Reserve for good causes such as additional programs for housing for seniors and the homeless or for recreational programs that take small bites out of the Reserve as the most threatening. “The big development projects, with the obvious good versus evil aspects, can be easier to fight.”
Questions were raised about the county’s economic status and concern about jobs. Mr. Leggett listed his priorities toward fostering growth in the county: attracting cyber security firms through tax credits and other county support, relocation of biotech health incubators to Montgomery College, and support of nonprofit associations in the county as ways to move the county away from its dependence on the Federal government for employment.
In his closing remarks, Leggett compared the process of running the county and solving problems like making repairs to a ship at sea rather than in a dry dock. Despite major problems like the recession and sequestration, he pointed to highlights of success by his administration: the largest financial reserves in the county’s history, a AAA bond rating, a crime rate three times better than the national average, police and fire rescue response times at their lowest levels, and the construction of five new fire stations. He credited his decision on ambulance-use fees that have been in effect for a year and a half as providing $15.6 million.
Mr. Leggett holds a Juris Doctorate from Howard University where he graduated magna cum laude. He was an infantry captain in the army in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star and other awards and honors, and he was a professor at Howard University and an assistant dean in its law school. He was first elected councilman in 1986, county executive in 2006, and re-elected as county executive in 2010. He lives in Burtonsville with his wife Catherine.