Thursday, September 22, 2016

MoCo Council embroiled in new scandal after White Oak vote

The Montgomery County Council's vote Tuesday to approve the hiring of attorneys Francoise Carrier and Douglas Bregman - to represent taxpayer interests in negotiations over a White Oak development - was an unforced political error. An astonishing breach of ethics, the 8-1 Council vote plunges the body into yet another scandal, even as a November 8 ballot question will ask voters if councilmembers should be limited to 3 terms.

Carrier and Bregman would represent the County in negotiations with developer Percontee, which is purchasing 115 acres of land from the County at White Oak, a deal already steeped in conflicts of interest for County Executive Ike Leggett.

Why is this a problem?

Herman, set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980s.

Leggett at that time began a close relationship with the developer that Carrier and Bregman will be negotiating with at White Oak. Contributors affiliated with the developer have donated thousands of dollars to Leggett's campaign accounts since that time. Negotiations between the developer and County Attorney Marc Hansen have been contentious and lengthy - in other words, Hansen appeared to actually be doing his job.

Now, mysteriously, Hansen is calling for outside legal counsel to take over the negotiations, citing a lack of resources in his office.

Hansen has 26 years of professional experience in the County Attorney's office. He serves at the pleasure of Leggett, who appointed him County Attorney in 2011, and of the Council, who unanimously approved his appointment. The sudden move to hire Carrier and Bregman creates - true or not - the public perception that Hansen is obeying a directive from Leggett and the Council to do so, or it might no longer be "their pleasure" for Hansen to continue in the position. That's just a fact.

Why is the selection of Carrier and Bregman a problem?

"I'm now on the
developers' side"

That Carrier was Chair of the Planning Board when the White Oak sector plan was passed is just the beginning of the conflicts of interest in this case. After leaving the Board in 2014, Carrier was appointed to the board of directors of a developer-backed non-profit, Communities for Transit. An instrumental figure on that board of directors? Jonathan Genn, Executive Vice-President at...Percontee. Yes, the White Oak developer Carrier will now "negotiate" with.
Look who teamed up
to deliver a presentation
at a development conference
this year
Earlier this year, Carrier and Genn teamed up at a Montgomery County conference to present a developer-friendly PowerPoint presentation on the so-unfair costs to developers (and the uninformed NIMBYs) that make "smart growth" urban development difficult in MoCo. "I'm now on the developers' side of the table," Carrier declared late in the presentation.

Carrier is also close to her now-partner in the Percontee negotiations, Douglas Bregman. Together, they helped stifle an objective, truly-independent investigation into the Farm Road scandal in 2013. As Chair of the Planning Board at that time, Carrier appointed Bregman to "investigate" Farm Road.

The Farm Road debacle began when African-American landowners were cheated out of their property rights in Sandy Spring. A road that served their properties mysteriously disappeared from documents and records, a move that benefited a developer building homes there, but preventing the black landowners from developing their properties.

How did this happen? There was enough evidence of foul play to spur the County Inspector General to call for an investigation of the Planning Department. Activists and Councilmember Marc Elrich were among those who called on Attorney General Doug Gansler to launch a state investigation (Elrich was the only councilmember to vote against hiring Carrier and Bregman Tuesday).

What could possibly go wrong?

It turned out that Gansler would decide whether an investigation was warranted based on the conclusions of Bregman's "investigation." Problem: Bregman had donated $4,000 to Gansler's campaign account. Bregman also contributed to current Attorney General Brian Frosh, and wrote a $1250 check to Leggett's campaign.

When Bregman's report - shocker! - cleared the Planning Department of wrongdoing, Gansler declined to investigate. The local press ceased covering Farm Road, and no true, independent investigation of the Planning Department ever took place.

When Carrier left the Planning Board, she joined the law firm of...Douglas Bregman. I am shocked. Shocked. You can't make this stuff up, folks. This is the proverbial revolving door, now coming around yet again.

Keep all of this in mind when you consider Carrier and Bregman will now represent your interests in this sweetheart deal to sell County land (a.k.a. taxpayer-owned land) to Percontee, "at below market value." God help us. This is happening at a time when developer-beholden County elected officials are telling us there is no money, and no land for new schools or bus depots.

According to a report by Bill Turque of the Washington Post, Carrier and Bregman will be paid $425-$525 per hour, to do the work we are already paying $190,000 a year for Mr. Hansen to do.

How, knowing all of this full well, could eight councilmembers have voted to hire Carrier and Bregman? Couldn't they have simply declined the nominations, and held out for truly-independent outside counsel? And why wouldn't they? Well, for starters, it suggests that they are, along with Leggett, behind the move to hire the pair.

And, let's be honest, this is the same "progressive" County Council that created a federal tax shelter worth $360,000,000 for one of their biggest campaign contributors. The same County Council that - minus Elrich - receives 82% of its campaign funds from developers. And the same Council that, after defeating the once-powerful Columbia Country Club and Town of Chevy Chase in the Purple Line battle, believes they are now invincible and entitled to do anything. In other words, they will intentionally engage in a massive breach of ethics simply because they can. It's just that attitude and chutzpah which have created the wide support among tax-stomped voters for term limits this year.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for fully presenting the issues with this flawed approval of Ms. Carrier to represent the County in dealings with Percontee and the Planning Commission/Staff.
    I was entertained by Tuesday's discussion. Now to show their oversight, Council will have a FUTURE meeting to discuss and amend the new more permissive GDA that Leggett signed back in June. Furthermore, at some later date Council has requested an update on the unknown/unspecified/over-hyped development potential of Viva White Oak from the Executive Branch. This will most probably happen when they approve the ~$50M Supplemental CIP item to do road improvements ON the Viva White Oak site!
    Oversight? What oversight?