Category Archives: Montgomery County Planning Board

Council Informed about Presley’s Conspiracy Theory Filled Social Media in Advance

After the appointment by the Montgomery County Council of Amy Presley as an interim Planning Board Member, I reported here about her right-wing conspiracy theory filled Facebook posts.

Turns out that the Council was informed about them in advance through a public submission. Not only that, but Council Executive Director Marlene Michaelson wrote to a resident:

We will be checking the social media comments of those the Council chooses to interview so they will have that as background for their decisions

The Council could offer a number of rationales for appointing her. They had advanced only three non-Democrats to the interview stage and needed to appoint at least two of them on a Board of five members. It turned out one candidate lives out of town and is ineligible.

Except these excuses don’t wash. They could have appointed just three members total and still had a quorum for Board business. Alternatively, they could’ve gone back to the pool and done more interviews.

Instead, after adjourning to a private closed session, the Council appointed someone who is part of the “but her emails” crowd and gives credence to coronavirus conspiracy theories among others.


New Planning Board Member Believes in Right-Wing Conspiracies

Amy Presley, a former Clarksburg activist and Planning Board Member, has now been given a “temporary” appointment in the wake of the previous Planning Board’s en masse resignation. Presley has a very interesting Facebook page that reveals she believes in many right-wing conspiracy theories.

The Council has to appoint some non-Democrats to the Board. But one still wonders that the Council couldn’t find one who was not so wedded to conspiracy theories propagated by Tucker Carlson and the other usual suspects. Here is a review of some highlights:

The Origins of the Coronavirus

Coronavirus Prevention Measures

Hillary’s Emails and Benghazi

Harriet Tubman

Michael Flynn

Presley now runs a real estate investment liquidation company and it seems likely that her decisions will represent the real estate investment perspective strongly:


And the Planning Board Nominees Are…

The Montgomery County Council has whittled down the nominees for temporary appointments to the Planning Board to eleven people:

Raj Barr‐Kuma
Cherri Branson
Francoise Carrier
Norman Dreyfuss
Barbara Goldberg Goldman
David Hill
William Kirwin
Vincent Napoleon
Roberto Pinero
Amy Presley
Jeff Zyontz

This rushed appointment process is turning into a train wreck with a number of problems already emerging:

First, showing a lack of transparency let alone interest in public input, this information was posted less than 24 hours before the interviews that are to be held tomorrow with the appointments made on Thursday. Normally, the Council must appoint a politically balanced Board but the Council has failed to provide information on the political party of applicants. The Council hasn’t posted any minutes since July, so this lack of transparency is now seemingly the rule rather than the exception.

Second, though avowedly temporary, the appointments are for indeterminate length: “Temporary, acting appointees will serve until a successor is qualified and appointed under Section 15-103 of the Regional District Act.” This could be a long time. The Council has also decided that these “temporary” appointments are immune from the county executive’s veto despite their potentially lengthy nature.

You can review the resumes submitted by the applicants below or at this link:


Elrich on Planning Board Resignations

The Planning Board is overseen and appointed by the County Council, though the County Executive can veto appointments and is obviously deeply involved in planning and land use processes. The following is County Executive Marc Elrich’s statement:

Statement from County Executive Marc Elrich on the Resignation of the Montgomery County Planning Board

Like many in the County, I have followed with growing concern the unfolding events at the Park and Planning Commission.  As County Executive, I have not been a participant in the conversations about the details. I think where people are implicated, a resignation is appropriate. This cannot be the end of the conversation on the dysfunction and structural issues at Planning. The Planning Board faces a deficit of trust, and continued questions about management, transparency and process must be addressed.  I stand ready to work with the Council to ensure transparency in choosing the interim members of the board and ensure that the investigations continue. 

Beyond the recent reports regarding infighting and questionable behavior and decisions, the Planning Board has also been cited with multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act. Furthermore, the problems with Thrive 2050 and equity and community input should have been recognized and dealt with instead of a push for quick adoption of this significant guide for the next 30 years of development.  As noted by one racial equity consultant hired by the Council, “compressed timeframes are the enemy of equity.”

It is clear that new people and new voices are needed on the Planning Board. Park and Planning has been run by a group of insiders for far too long. There needs to be a respectful balance of the views of developers and those of the community. I hope that the new Planning Board appointees reflect the demographics of this community and are committed to our residents, community input, and an efficient and transparent process.


Planning Board Resigns

The entire Montgomery County Planning Board has resigned at the Council’s urging. Daniel Wu and Katherine Shaver over at the Post have the story. They were going to face removal proceedings if they didn’t resign.

It’s a start but more work needs to be done.

High level staffers seem way too invested in the political outcomes and agendas rather than providing separate information and insight. Senior staff also need remedial training on how to deal with harassment claims, as they clearly don’t know or abide by accepted practices.

No outgoing councilmember should be appointed to any temporary or full-term on the Board. That it got to this point was a failure of oversight, a core function of the Council, and occurred despite the Board sending up numerous flares about its dysfunction. Too many cozy relationships are part of the problem.

Instead, the Council should appoint citizens who are not professional planners but represent the community and know something about the related issues. There is entire staff of planners, so let the Board exercise informed judgement separate from them.

No doubt there will be more recriminations but I’m more interested in seeing how the Council can continue to untangle this morass that goes well beyond the Board’s self-immolation.


Knives Out at Planning

It’s hard to keep up. Since I last wrote, a lot has happened.

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson was removed from the Kojo in Our Community segment on WAMU on Thrive. (Disclosure: WAMU is owned by American University, my employer.)

Planning Board Vice Chair Partap Verma has gone on medical leave from the Planning Board.

Parks Department Deputy Director Miti Figueredo filed a complaint against Partap Verma. Fired Planning Director Gwen Wright says that the complaint is accurate. Though employed in the capacity of professional staff, both are staunch allies of Anderson. Figueredo, highly personable and well-regarded, previously worked as Anderson’s senior advisor. Extremely effective and well-connected, she also worked for two current members of the Montgomery County Council and the Chevy Chase Land Company.

Does anyone at Planning know anything about harassment law? Figueredo’s complaint against Verma could well be seen as illegal retaliation for his original complaint, especially since it was made public. Even if every word is true, and I don’t know the veracity of any of the complaints flying around, the information in Figueredo’s complaint related to the Verma’s complaint should have been given to appropriate person investigating these issues.

As with Wright’s comments before she was fired, there should be procedures in place–enforced by the Board and Staff leaders–to handle this correctly. Figueredo complained about the firing of Wright as retaliation for speaking out in defense of Anderson but nobody should be commenting publicly, let alone dismissing, harassment complaints whatever one thinks of Verma’s complaint or Wright’s dismissal.

Both Verma’s and Figueredo’s complaints appear like timely power plays. Verma had hoped to have Anderson’s support to become Chair. But Anderson hurt Verma’s reputation with his office booze offs and is rumored to support Councilmember Hans Riemer, another ally who has run up against term limits and came in third in the exec primary.

Now, Anderson’s supporters—Wright and Figueredo—are striking back even though both are supposed to be professional staff and not involved in Planning Board disputes. (One also wonders which staffers, if any, drank with Anderson in his office.)

The County Council seems to be unable to get a grip on this. While expressing grave concern about Wright’s dismissal, Council President Gabe Albornoz has not expressed concern, at least to my knowledge, about the massively inappropriate handling of these issues by virtually everyone concerned.

The debate among Planning Board members isn’t about Thrive 2050, as they all support it. But it does reflect on the process. These scandals indicate both political and staff leadership being willing to take extreme measures to achieve their goals.

Albornoz’s statement regarding the great community consultation during the creation of Thrive is naïve and uninformed at best. Most of the consultation consisted of Planning staff telling people positive spin about it rather than seeking input. Only input from firm supporters has been truly considered by either the Planning Board or the Council. Anderson’s approach is a big part of the problems at Planning.

Much about Thrive 2050 makes sense. We should have more density in urban nodes, which has been a consistent part of Master Plan revisions. But this document is visionary only in the sense that it looks backward. It takes no account of the massive rise in telecommuting and its impact on either transportation or housing patterns. Fewer people are riding public transit or riding in cars because of systemic changes. People working form home are likely to want more interior space and privacy as well as easy access to a little green. Thrive 2050 would have been a great plan to adopt in 1990.

Thrive 2050 represented an opportunity to bring the community together around a land use vision for the future. This was far from impossible. It occurred around the Bethesda Master Plan, which pleased many of the constituencies at odds here. But both the Planning Board and the County Council have failed in this endeavor and assured intense acrimony into the future. The current pile up of scandals shows why.

Rather than saving the next Council from these issues, the current one is simply storing up trouble. Adam and I disagree about lots of issues around Thrive but we agree that the Council needs to fix this.


Scandal, Drama Enveloping the Planning Board

On October 6, WJLA reported that Planning Board Vice Chair Partap Verma sent an email accusing Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson of creating a “toxic misogynistic and hostile workplace.” The Montgomery County Council appoints and oversees the Planning Board, which is part of M-NCPPC and an independent agency.

Lots of questions remain to be answered beyond the veracity of the allegations directed at Anderson. For starters, when did Verma learn about these problems. Is Verma a required reporter who must report allegations like these immediately and cannot keep them confidential? Did he report them to Human Resources or other appropriate personnel in a timely manner?

Commissioner Partap Verma sent his letter only to Carol Rubin and Marlene Michaelson, so who leaked the allegations to the press? These matters should be kept confidential to protect everyone involved, including Casey Anderson.

Planning Director Gwen Wright issued a statement defending Anderson: “There may be people who have concerns with Casey, but they are not my employees.” Except that there is no way for her to know the experience of every staff person at Planning. Wright’s definitive statement could discourage other employees who might want to come forward with similar experiences.

It’s a sign of how gone wrong matters are at the Planning Board that Wright also thinks it’s appropriate for staff to lobby the Council in support of Thrive, rather than providing information when requested. It gives credence to views that staff joined Anderson in skewing this process to a pre-determined outcome. In any case, Thrive is now supposed to be with Council staff.

In a shocker, the Planning Board voted 4-0 to dismiss Wright on October 7. Casey Anderson recused himself from the vote. Wright is an at will employee, so the Board did not have to give a reason for her dismissal. It’s also a personnel matter, so they may be constrained in discussing it. But it’s still stunning to see a longtime, highly experienced senior staff person fired just a few months before her retirement.

The commissioners voting to remove Wright included Carol Rubin, who worked 16 years at M-NCPPC as an attorney and special projects manager, prior to her appointment to the Board and thus knew Wright from both the perspective of a staff member and planning commissioner. Like Verma, Rubin was caught in the undertow of Anderson’s office bar scandal. The County Council reprimanded and docked one day’s pay from both Rubin and Verma.

On Facebook, Wright said that she suspects that she was “fired because I showed support for Casey and attempted to protect my staff from being dragged into the Board’s conflicts.” But the Planning Director should not be taking sides in Board decisions or intervening in investigation of these and other serious allegations beyond relaying what she knows to the appropriate people and ensuring that proper processes are followed.

Meanwhile, at least some defenders of Anderson are already parading “locker room talk” excuses for his alleged inappropriate statements. Here are several tweets from former Council Candidate John Zittrauer:

And now the County Council has scheduled a meeting for later today to discuss a personnel matter:


Less Oversight Proposed for M-NCPPC and WSSC

Even as problem after problem continues to envelop the M-NCPPC and the Montgomery County Planning Board, three county councilmembers have put forward a bill that would reduce oversight of M-NCPPC (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) and WSSC (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission ).

Councilmembers Nancy Navarro, Andrew Friedson and Sidney Katz have proposed legislation (also embedded below) that would remove both agencies from oversight by the county Inspector General. The stated grounds for this change is that each agency now has its own Inspector General under state law.

Normally, I’d support ending duplication of this sort. But the ongoing mess at M-NCPPC mitigates against reducing oversight. Over the past year, the following has occurred:

All of these failures lead me to wonder that anyone is doing oversight, not that there is too much of it. Until the situation is brought under control, this portion of the bill needs to be binned.

UPDATE: Sonya Healy, the Legislative Information Officer for the County Council, writes that the county Inspector General already lacks authority over M-NCPPC and WSSC in the wake of the county’s successful advocacy for “dedicated oversight” at the state level. Whether this was a good idea remains an open question given the serious problems and seeming lack of oversight that continue to plague the Planning Board.