Montgomery Co. executive, council at odds over possible vaccine mandate for county workers

County Executive Marc Elrich and the council in Montgomery County, Maryland, are butting heads over proposed legislation that would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all county workers.

Elrich slammed the bill Tuesday as the “wrong approach.”

The legislation that has been introduced — whose lead sponsors are council members Hans Riemer and Will Jawando — would require vaccinations for all county workers, without an option to submit weekly test results instead.

Elrich said the council previously supported his efforts to create a mandatory testing requirement, calling it “a constructive and collaborative approach embraced by our unions.” The statement added, “Unfortunately, several County Council members now want to rip up this plan and upend the collaborative approach we have developed with our employees.”

The county executive called the new bill “brinkmanship legislation,” and said “it will lead to staffing shortages, diminished public safety, additional financial costs to our taxpayers, and time-consuming legal entanglements — all outcomes I have successfully worked with our employees to avoid since the beginning of the pandemic.”

In an interview with WTOP, Elrich said the council didn’t speak with him or the unions.

He said that emergency personnel and police are “rarely interacting in a closed space with large numbers of people.”

Beyond that, he said he’s worried about county workers walking off the job.

“It’d be different if there was a law … at the federal level that said everybody has to have a vaccine. Then this gets relatively simple, because it becomes something that applies to everyone,” Elrich said.

But he said the council bill wouldn’t apply to everyone, and workers might quit.

“What does that create? In terms of a public health issue? I don’t have backup substitute firefighters, don’t have backup substitute corrections officers,” Elrich said.

“I have to manage all these other aspects of public safety. And unfortunately, they’re colliding right now.”

A public hearing on the mandate before the county council is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.

During the formal introduction of the bill Tuesday ahead of that hearing, Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said he strongly supports the measure.

He praised county workers, calling local government service a “noble profession,” and he noted nearly 80% of Montgomery County employees have already had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

But of the small percentage of employees who either have not been vaccinated or have not shared their status, Albornoz said, “I get very frustrated, and I’ve just had it at this point with people who are holding out for God knows what reason,” he said.

“I believe it’s our responsibility as legislators, and the county executive’s as well, to protect the health of our entire community, all of our county employees, and not the very small percentage (who) through some combination of fear, stubbornness, misinformation, political ideology or maybe just plain laziness, have not yet decided to sign up for a vaccination, whose efficacy is absolutely unquestioned at this point,” he added.

Earlier, Riemer, one of the bill’s sponsors, told WTOP the council is “doing this in the open,” referring to the process of introducing legislation and eventually holding a vote on the matter.

The council member said the current policy to allow weekly testing “is really no policy at all.”

He added getting a weekly test isn’t hard, and said, “It’s not going to compel you to get vaccinated. And … that’s the problem.”

“We have, unfortunately, a share of our workforce that is trying to make some kind of statement and refuse to get vaccinated. And they’re putting their fellow employees at risk, and they’re putting the public at risk, and we need them, as a condition of employment, to go ahead and get vaccinated. That’s the right thing to do,” Riemer said.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan and Jack Moore contributed to this report.


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.


Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up