EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
The "independent" investigator hired by the Montgomery County Planning Board to untangle the Farm Road dispute is actually a massive donor to politicians who have oversight authority in the case.
It was widely reported yesterday that Bethesda attorney Douglas Bregman was appointed by the board. He was relentlessly described as an experienced attorney, highly-respected, and - in the words of Board Chair Francoise Carrier - a man of "unquestioned integrity."
Those traits are not necessarily in dispute. But the truth is more complicated than the Planning Board press release.
"And now," as the great Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story:"
Douglas Bregman is also a very hefty political donor in Montgomery County. And his donations are to politicians who have legal oversight, and may launch investigations, in the Farm Road dispute.
According to Maryland campaign finance records, Bregman donated $4000 to Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. Gansler has been asked for years, by citizens, and by elected officials, to open an investigation into the Farm Road matter, in which several African-American residents of a historical kinship community in Sandy Spring have been duped out of a road, addresses, and property rights by Planning Department "mistakes" that benefitted a nearby developer.
Gansler now disputes that anyone asked him to investigate Farm Road. But, in fact, Del. Herman Taylor and Councilmember Marc Elrich asked him to do just that, in a joint letter 5 years ago.
Now that the dispute has become high-profile, Gansler could - and should - launch a state investigation. Having a preliminary report produced by a $4000 donor to Gansler is not a good way to start.
Bregman has also donated thousands of dollars to Maryland Senator Brian Frosh (D - District 16). As a legislator, Frosh has oversight authority over the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, of which the county planning board is a part.
But, wait! Frosh is also a rumored candidate for Maryland attorney general.
According to the Washington Post, Bregman was also part of Steve Silverman's staff in his 2006 run for county executive. Silverman was strongly supported by developers in that race. Bregman has also given $1250 to County Executive Ike Leggett.
This is hardly the "objective" investigator we need in this case. Farm Road is a very serious matter. There could ultimately be criminal charges, as well as federal civil rights violations. People could go to jail.
A Bregman investigation that turns up no smoking gun, and recommends modest changes to keep a similar "mistake" from occurring in the future, could defuse higher investigations by Frosh and Gansler. Given the amount of money both have received from Bregman, sadly, there is the - at least - public perception that they would give his opinions more weight.
Given the weight of the issues involved, an FBI investigation is called for. There needs to be a truly independent investigation, with people answering questions under oath, and a thorough search of all existing or deleted computer records, emails, etc. by federal investigators. There is a clear justification for Justice Department involvement regarding the civil rights issues in this case.
I don't believe it's appropriate to "choose your own investigator." Bregman is part of the MoCo political apparatus, that has much to lose if a Farm Road investigation uncovers unflattering details. He may well be of the highest integrity. But that's not the issue here. This case requires a thorough investigation, and one where there can be no perception of favoritism.
Bregman is not the person who can provide that assurance. The state has been implicated in emails uncovered by the group Save Sandy Spring. So it can't provide that assurance of integrity here, either.
We now need a federal investigation of the Farm Road matter, sooner rather than later.