Montgomery County's unity as well as its diversity will be the keys to keeping the state's "economic engine" revving next year, said Nancy Navarro, the new Montgomery County Council president.
The council president, which changes hands at the end of each year, sets the agenda and steers the council on broad policy initiatives.
"It is clear that a majority of residents are minority, so it is fitting that the face of our council leadership reflects that change," said Councilman Craig Rice, referring to Navarro, who is the council's first Latina president. Rice was chosen to serve as the council's vice president.
Rice, (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, Tuesday announced Navarro's nomination in Spanish, spurring a standing ovation and a unanimous vote from the nine-member council.
In her first remarks as president, Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, emphasized unity within the council and across Montgomery County as a whole.
"To me, 'One Montgomery' means recognizing the differences among us while emphasizing that however different our backgrounds or lifestyles may be, we are connected," she said. "'One Montgomery' also means embracing our diversity. Our county is incredibly diverse by any measure you can think of. … This diversity is indeed our greatest strength."
With federal uncertainty on the horizon, the county's workforce diversity is an asset that must continue to be nurtured, she said.
The council has put tens of millions of dollars in recent years toward incentive programs, economic development grants and public-private partnerships, she said. But those efforts could "grind to a halt" if the state doesn't come up with ways to fund the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway.
"Montgomery County is the economic engine of Maryland," Navarro said. "... Of course we still have much work to do. We have to make sure our master plans encourage the right balance of housing, jobs and amenities in every part of our county. And we need long-term transportation solutions."
"I have heard for too long that Montgomery County is not open for business. Today I want to be absolutely clear: Montgomery County is one of the best places in America to grow a business of any size. When it comes to schools, housing, office space, consumers, workforce and amenities, Montgomery county is the place to be.”
Navarro joined the council in 2009 after twice being the president of the county Board of Education. Working to preserve and improve the Council’s relationship with the school system will be a priority, especially with more than 72,000 county residents live below the poverty line, and nearly one-third of students receiving Free and Reduced Meals.
“One Montgomery also means fairness and opportunity for everyone. Our guiding principle must be that our children’s academic achievement will not be predetermined by their socioeconomic status,” she said.
This year, the council approved $1 million to fund more gang prevention specialists, expanded teen programs and after-school activities; supplied another $500,000 for child-care subsidies; increased subsidies for low-income families to pay their electric bills; and restored some of the library system’s funding cuts.
“We must double down on these efforts,” she said. "... We are One Montgomery. Our future is bright, and our fates are intertwined."