The Montgomery County Council has received “dozens” of applications to temporarily fill the five vacant seats on the county Planning Board, including from former board members, council President Gabe Albornoz said Monday.
“We have received a fair amount of interest in these temporary positions,” Albornoz said during his weekly press conference.
Tuesday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for submitting applications for the vacancies that were created when the council last week accepted the resignations of board Chair Casey Anderson and members Gerald Cichy, Tina Patterson, Carol Rubin and Partap Verma. The council is set to select Oct. 25 new temporary acting board members.
The council is “looking for individuals who have experience and will be able to hit the ground running,” Albornoz said. “We have received letters of interest from former Planning Board members, from other community members who are very familiar with the land-use process, and we want to help ensure that we put them and the Planning Board as a whole and the planning staff in the best position to be able to succeed.”
The council appoints the board members, known as commissioners, who serve four-year terms. Board members also serve as commissioners of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The temporary board members will be “caretakers” who will “build a bridge” until the next council, to be elected in the Nov. 8 general election, appoints permanent board members, he said.
The council announced Wednesday that it had accepted the resignations, saying it had lost confidence in the board following weeks of controversy involving the board, including the reprimand of Anderson and two commissioners after revelations that he kept a full bar in his office against Planning Department rules; allegations against Anderson about the Planning Department workplace; the board’s abrupt firing this month of longtime Planning Director Gwen Wright, who had led the department since mid-2013 and was set to retire; and a published report of new allegations that Verma violated ethics laws during recent investigations involving Anderson.
On Monday, Albornoz would not confirm whether the council had requested the resignations. When asked if the council should have been aware of the board’s brewing issues, Albornoz said he didn’t know if it was possible to anticipate the events that led to the resignations, noting that the council’s primary responsibility is to appoint and dismiss Planning Board members.
“Things really spiraled out of control fairly quickly, and the council did its best to manage what has become a very difficult situation,” Albornoz said “Obviously, there was a lot of conflict that clearly had arisen and the feeling from my colleagues and I was that we needed to move forward and that’s why we accepted the resignations.”
He noted that “some of the conflict that arose was not specifically with regards to the job assignment” of board members.
“There were external factors … that created conflict that was really starting to bleed into the morale of the staff in a very significant way,” Albornoz said. “It wasn’t any one specific incident. I think it was the sheer number of them that had the council lose its faith in this board’s ability to be able to carry out their work effectively.”
Albornoz noted that the resignations and appointment of interim members do not impact the council’s plan to vote later this month on Thrive 2050, the controversial proposed update to the county’s general master plan that will guide development for decades to come.
The Planning Board “has already done its job in making recommendations to the council,” he said. The board would next be responsible for working with the council to implement the recommendations, but the “next council decides ultimately how and when” the recommendations will be implemented.
When asked whether the county’s land use code sets out a procedure for making the interim appointments, Albornoz said the council and the county attorney “felt strongly we were on a strong foundation here to be able to move forward with these temporary appointments.”
The interim board members “will have the full authority of Planning Board members, but we are laying forward a temporary position” to provide a bridge to “a more permanent participation moving forward,” Albornoz said. “We do anticipate appointing all five and we will be adhering to the guidelines set forward regarding party affiliation requirements even for the temporary appointments.”