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Rice Takes Over As Council President, Talks Small Business

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 12/3/2013, 3:25pm  ET

Council President Craig Rice (left) with Council VIce President George Leventhal

County Councilmember and Germantown resident Craig Rice on Tuesday officially took over as president of the nine-member governing body for the last year of its four-year term.

Rice, who represents the Upcounty area, is a former state delegate who won his first Council term in 2010. He served as Council vice president during the last year and took over the role from Councilmember Nancy Navarro.

The council president position is typically doled out to a new councilmember each year, during which he or she gets to set the agenda and serve as the public face of the Council.

Rice said one of his major priorities is emphasizing how important jobs of all types are to Montgomery County:

Now it is the end of 2013 and the opportunity to build upon the great work of my colleagues as we shepherd our County into an evolving era. An era in which jobs are paramount and opportunity is for the taking for ALL of our residents. It is that opportunity to follow their own career path that will be the cornerstone of our success because we are a diverse County, with diverse needs. We need automotive technicians and construction workers just as much as we need bio-tech scientists and engineers.  Our quilt is a patchwork of all kinds of backgrounds and skill sets. We need to have the jobs to support those myriads of careers. And to provide those jobs means we need to have a strong economic base.

So let me be clear, and I want Virginia to hear me:  Jobs are important to Montgomery County.  And we know the No. 1 contributor of those jobs is our small business sector.  Yet there is so much more we can do to support our small businesses, especially those that are located here in Montgomery County.

This past Saturday, we celebrated Shop Small or Small Business Saturday, where the nation dedicated a day to patronizing our small businesses. Shouldn’t Montgomery County Government do the same?  We need to do a better job with County procurement in supporting our locally owned businesses. We need to show our businesses due deference by prioritizing doing business with them, as we all stand to benefit as a result.

Rice played a crucial role in last week’s Council vote to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, a move business groups vocally opposed. Rice, who originally hoped to delay the bill until the state legislature acted in 2014, switched sides late in the debate in favor of the $11.50 per hour bill.

That decision allowed bill supporters the room they needed to get it passed by a final 8-1 vote.

Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) criticized Rice in the Council session for changing his mind, eliciting a defensive response from Rice. It wasn’t the first time the two went head-to-head during a Council session. Earlier this year, Rice and Leventhal battled over a proposed zoning change study in Aspen Hill that could allow for a Wal-Mart.

Leventhal will serve as Rice’s Council vice president and, as is tradition, nominated Rice on Tuesday. The two have led the Council’s charge for more permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Rice is also expected to play a big role in the Montgomery County Delegation’s hopes of securing more school construction funding in Annapolis.