A former member of the Montgomery County Council, Craig Rice, is being considered for a position in County Executive Marc Elrich’s office, according to two sources in his administration with direct knowledge of the decision.
Rice would be a special projects manager for Elrich, focusing on broadband access, particularly when it comes to installing infrastructure in rural areas and providing it to residents in need.
“Having Craig [Rice] on board allows the county to have a leader specifically focused on bridging the digital divide/digital equity. Craig has been immersed in technology for years,” one source wrote in a text to MoCo360.
But County Councilmembers have moved to sunset the position after three years.
Montgomery Perspective, a local political blog authored by former County Council staffer Adam Pagnucco, first reported the news about Rice being considered for the role.
Documents posted on Pagnucco’s blog reveal that Elrich submitted a memorandum to the County Council on March 10 transmitting his appointment of Rice for a special projects manager position related to broadband expansion.
The salary for the position is $175,000 plus benefits, according to County Council documents. The legislation establishing the position does not identify Rice, but documents obtained by Pagnucco—showing correspondence between the county executive’s office and County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) and council staff—do.
Rice did not immediately respond to two requests for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
Elrich wouldn’t say in an interview Wednesday whether Rice was being considered for the position.
Elrich said the position is needed in order to focus on expanding broadband access, especially for rural areas and for low-income families and students throughout the county. It’s important that someone coordinate between county schools, and private sector companies that might help in the issue, like Apple—because otherwise, the county would need to hire a consultant to do the work.
Rice, during his time on the County Council, spoke often of the digital divide in broadband services. He served District 2, which covered much of the upcounty and had many rural areas in the agricultural reserve. He also served as co-chair for the National Associate of Counties (NACo) National Broadband Task Force to Bridge the Digital Divide.
When asked whether he was picking someone versus a more formal application process, Elrich said: “Anytime county executives appoint people, they pretty much pick who they’re appointing. But we haven’t done anything yet … hopefully, the [County] Council thinks it’s a worthwhile position.”
The council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy committee approved Elrich’s bill requesting the new position earlier this month. The annual salary is $175,000, and after benefits, it would cost the county $214,000 per year, according to council staff documents.
Committee members, led by Chair and Councilmember Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4), amended the bill so that the position is no longer funded, three years after the bill is enacted.
“I am very cautious of adding a full time position in the County Executive’s Office specifically,” Stewart said in an interview. “We have added to the county executive staff over the last few years, and it increases the cost of our government. When we’re doing that, I want to make sure it is for a very specific reason. We also have quite a lot of vacancies in our county government right now.”
However, Stewart said Elrich has justified his reasoning for this specific position, and she thinks it will benefit the county’s work on broadband.
“The issue that the County Executive is telling us this person would work on is very important for us, and there are a lot of opportunities right now. So [this position] makes a lot of sense to me,” Stewart said.
The full 11-member council will still need to vote to pass the bill in order to fund the position.