All five members of Montgomery County Planning Commission step down after controversy

all five members A member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission resigned Wednesday after the county council said it had “lost confidence” in the board and needed to “get back to work” after weeks of escalating misconduct allegations, media leaks and damaged employee morale. .

The board appointing the board voted unanimously on Tuesday in a closed meeting to demand the entire board resign, according to two people familiar with the matter. Those who did not resign will face public hearings to be removed from their posts, the people said.

The upheaval in the governance of the planning agency has shocked even longtime political observers in this fast-growing county. One of Montgomery’s most powerful institutions has seen a string of scandals and leaks since mid-September.

“The Commission lost confidence in the Montgomery County Planning Commission and accepted these resignations to reopen business,” said Montgomery City Council President Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large). “We are moving at a measured pace to appoint new commissioners to advance Montgomery County. We thank the commissioners for their service to our county.”

Board Chair Casey Anderson, Vice Chair Partap Verma and members Gerald R. Cichy, Tina Patterson and Carol Rubin resigned.

The committee said it would “expeditiously” search for their replacement and would select “interim acting” members on October 10. The term of 25 is until the appointment of new permanent members. It is unclear to what extent the restructuring may delay pending development applications.

Controversy has recently been sparked by confidential emails between board members, planning staff and the county council, which have been continuously leaked to the public. Allegations of misconduct by board members have escalated, first in August, when an anonymous tip sparked an investigation that found Anderson was keeping and sharing alcohol in his office.

Anderson, Velma and Rubin were reprimanded by the county council in October for consuming or receiving beverages, and their wages were withheld as punishment. Anderson faces further scrutiny after the county council received a complaint alleging he used misogynistic language in the workplace.complaint Leading another investigation by the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission.

Montgomery council withholds pay of officials who drank in office

Anderson sidestepped himself after the board voted 4-0 in a closed meeting Friday to fire planning director Gwen Wright, a day after Wright defended Anderson in an interview. WJLA. The board did not give a reason for Wright’s firing. Residents actively involved in planning issues said the sudden and unexplained firing of Wright, a nationally recognized planning expert, raised the biggest concern for the board.

On Monday, the park’s deputy director, Miti Figueredo, filed a complaint with the council, accusing Verma of misconduct in both investigations, including allegations of improperly soliciting Anderson’s language and firing Lai. To take revenge. The allegations will also be investigated, Albonos told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Verma wrote to The Washington Post on Tuesday night to say he was on medical leave due to stress. He expressed confidence in Montgomery’s future in a text message Wednesday, saying, “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this amazing county.”

The five-member planning committee is appointed by the county council. Members are part-time, except for the chairperson, who earns more than $200,000 a year for his job and is considered highly influential in a county where development issues often dominate political discussions.

The board approves individual development proposals and recommends a detailed master plan to the council to determine where and how fast the community should grow. It also manages the county’s park system and recommends historically designated sites to the council. Members have term limits after two four-year terms.

Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich (D) called the situation “a bit of a mess” when asked about the planning committee’s controversy at Wednesday’s weekly media briefing. Ehrlich said he had only heard rumors of a possible resignation, but added: “I do think there must be something to be done.”

The upheaval comes as City Council finalized the county’s 30-year growth plan, Thrive 2050, based on recommendations from the Planning Commission. The plan sets out broad policies for how the county should grow long-term and has sparked controversy among opponents seeking to reduce density and slow growth.

The board unanimously approved the draft plan, which will be presented to the county council in April 2021. The committee plans to move forward with the plan while it approves it in October. 25 Despite the planning committee controversy, Albornoz said on Tuesday.

“Increasing controversies could cloud some of the board’s decisions,” Albonos said Wednesday of his resignation. “With the growing number of competing disputes, we believe this is the best course of action.”

The council manages a county that continues to transform from a once-majority white and wealthy bedroom community to a suburb of more than 1 million people with lower incomes and more racial diversity. Planners say Thrive 2050 will help the county attract jobs and economic development while becoming more environmentally resilient.

Planners say the policies will also make the county more equitable to low-income residents and communities of color, many of which have become and remain segregated by race and income under previous planning policies.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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