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.
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:
In a blow to Montgomery County’s increasingly debatable reputation for clean government, the County Council gave Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson a slap on the wrist earlier today for his open bar in his M-NCPPC office. Planning Board Vice Chair Partap Verma and Commissioner Carol Rubin were also reprimanded. Apparently, Anderson didn’t feel badly about it as he was all smiles and business as usual around the Council building yesterday. How this compares to punishments for others one can only wonder. The Council statement is below.