This story was updated at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 16, 2022, to include comment from Partap Verma.
A former Montgomery County Planning Board commissioner accused former Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson of improper conduct, and two former commissioners said the County Council acted improperly in its oversight of the board during a public hearing before the state delegation Thursday night.
The hearing was about two state bills put forth by State Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Dist 19), which looked at the structure and transparency of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Partap Verma and Carol Rubin, former commissioners on the Planning Board, provided more details into what allegedly occurred in recent months at the commission.
Verma accused Anderson of keeping investigations by the commission’s inspector general open, when they should have been finished or closed. Anderson likely did this in order to use information against people at a later date, Verma said.
Verma said one of the investigations involved “a former commissioner on a state ethics violation, and another against a sitting council member. In both instances, the former chair, in an abuse of power, directed the [inspector general] to not close out the cases, when both cases were either resolved or had no active issues associated with them.”
Anderson and the entire Planning Board resigned earlier this year. An investigation by the commission’s inspector general found a full bar stocked with alcohol in Anderson’s office, and there were allegations that he used vulgar language in the workplace.
Speaking to the Bethesda Beat, Anderson denied those allegations.
“I did no such thing ever, period, full stop. I unequivocally deny that I did anything resembling what Partap Verma claimed at this hearing,” he said.
In a follow-up email, Anderson claimed that Verma was “most directly responsible” for the actions that led to the Planning Board’s resignation.
He added that Verma was acting to use the alcohol violation and vulgar language claims as reasons to oust Anderson from the board, and replace him as chair.
“Partap’s latest false claim – that I asked M-NCPPC’s Inspector General to investigate a County Councilmember and a Planning Board member in order to blackmail these officials is nothing short of slanderous,” Anderson said. “The Inspector General reports to a five-member Audit Committee, of which Partap was a member and I was only a non-voting member. I did not have the power to tell the Inspector General who to investigate or how they should be investigated, and I certainly never asked the Inspector General to do anything in hopes of wielding influence over the target of an investigation.”
In response, Verma said in an interview Friday: “My testimony speaks for itself.”
Verma also claimed at Thursday night’s hearing that this past summer, a sitting County Council Member — who he did not name — asked him to fire Gwen Wright, the then county’s Planning Director, for insubordination. When Verma said this was inappropriate and that Wright was months away from retirement, the council member replied: “The board reports to the council, and we are your bosses.”
Verma said that Kramer’s bill on greater transparency and oversight is needed in order to prevent planning board commissioners from being in these situations.
Rubin said that the County Council did not follow county or state law when asking the Planning Board to resign. Planning Board commissioners must be given a written statement of the cause and allowed a public hearing before removal, she said.
Rubin — who had spent more than a decade working with the county’s Planning Department before becoming a commissioner — said the process for her was much different.
“When the board was recently forced to resign, I still don’t know why I was asked to resign,” Rubin said. “And when I asked about a public hearing, I was told quote, ‘You get two minutes to make a statement. Then we will vote to terminate you as the decision has already been made.’”
During the investigation of improper conduct by Anderson, Wright interfered in that investigation with government resources, Rubin said. That’s why she was terminated, she added.
The County Council also erred in asking the board to resign before that investigation concluded, Rubin said.
Evan Glass, president of the County Council, declined comment on Friday, saying he hadn’t watched Thursday night’s public hearing. Gabe Albornoz, the council president last year, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.