Cronyism and secrecy appear to be hallmarks of Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Al Lang’s administration.
Previously, I reported how Election Board Member Anthula Gross resigned from the Board after the election due to threats of lawsuits under the Ku Klux Klan Act during the Board’s deliberation over certification of the election. Gross has now revealed that Lang is the one who exerted pressure on the Board.
Lang replaced Gross with Robert Charrow without putting out a call to the community for anyone else to apply, as had been the past practice under the prior mayor that Lang had strongly supported. Charrow has refused to answer questions about whether he was the one who gave Lang advice over the KKK Act or other election law matters, telling the public that it is “none of your business.”
According to a report on the Town’s unofficial listserv, Al Lang and Fred Cecere now want to create some sort of finance or budget committee. Again, Lang also would not agree to allowing advertising the committee publicly and considering other Town residents beyond those he and Councilmember Fred Cecere, his ally, have already identified, so more cronyism appears in the works.
Lang and Cecere along with their ally, Councilmember John Bickerman, have trumpeted their commitment to transparency. In a post-election statement to the Town, Fred Cecere expressed strong support for the Open Meetings Act. During the campaign, Bickerman also emphasized his commitment to transparency, and Lang promised a “new openness” in his 2014 election statement.
Yet Cecere said publicly that he did not think open meetings of the new finance committee would be needed and pointed to a technical exception in the Open Meetings Act. Bickerman, an attorney, also did not express any qualms about the closed meetings. Lang stated that he thought that the committee would be a “working group” and did not commit to open meetings, though said he would consult the Town Attorney.
The Open Meetings Act seemingly prohibits efforts to skirt the law by calling municipal committees “working groups.” It certainly appears to violate the spirit of the law. Even if citizens cannot participate, they have a right to observe this sort of meeting and it needs to be advertised in advance. These are not meetings about contract negotiations, personnel, or legal matters which require secrecy and are normal exceptions under the Act.
Indeed, one wonders why Councilmember Kathy Strom, also an attorney, even had to express her strong concerns about openness and adherence to the law with all of this piety regarding transparency by Lang, Cecere, and Bickerman. Why the hunt for technicalities in the law? However, even after Strom raised it, Lang would not commit firmly to an open process and neither Cecere nor Bickerman urged him to open up the meetings.
Lang and Bickerman continue to refuse comment, let alone publicly own, their participation in the unethical stealth campaign to elect Cecere. Now, all three seem to have the instinct to appoint only their friends to meet illegally in secret for Town business. As Anthula Gross recently put it:
[W]e’ve all just had a wonderful civics lesson. Conduct a secret, stealth campaign, assume office and appoint one’s cronies to continue the secrecy in governing.
Let’s hope the Town Attorney sets them straight soon.