Shawn Bartley and David Winstead, both longtime attorneys in Montgomery County, said that transparency would be top-of-mind, as they made their best case for an opening on the Montgomery Planning Board on Tuesday, as the County Council conducted interviews for one of three upcoming vacancies.
Bartley and Winstead are Republicans—one of the three openings must be filled by a Republican, according to county and state law. The County Council is interviewing Democrats and unaffiliated candidates in the coming weeks, as one from each category must fill the other two seats.
The three slots opened up after the entire Planning Board resigned last October, following drama involving former Chair Casey Anderson and other members on the board. Gwen Wright was fired by the former Planning Board last October before all its members resigned, and Tanya Stern has been serving in an acting capacity since then. Then-County Council President Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large) and his colleagues selected five new members to serve on a temporary basis. Three of their terms expire at the end of February.
On Tuesday, council members interviewed Bartley and Winstead. The council, after deliberations and some public pushback, is conducting interviews for the Planning Board vacancies in open session, which hasn’t been a certainty in years’ past.
Both candidates have served on a variety of nonprofits, community organizations and in other capacities while living in the county.
Bartley serves on the Maryland State Board of Education and is chair of the county’s Primary Care Coalition. Winstead is secretary of Chevy Chase Village’s board of managers and served as Maryland’s secretary of transportation from 1995 to 1998 under former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.
Bartley said his experience living down county, mid-county and upcounty give him a unique perspective on planning matters.
Winstead said his experience as secretary of transportation, along with work on zoning and land-use matters across the region, has made him well versed on capital planning and transit matters.
County Council member Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4) asked how they would restore trust and confidence in the board after last fall.
Winstead said that the coronavirus pandemic, while challenging, led many local governments to conduct hybrid meetings. The Planning Board and staff should continue that practice and other forms of outreach, to involve as many people as possible in the overall planning and development process.
Bartley said it’s important for planning commissioners to remember that they serve the public, not developers who come before the board with project applications. And the Planning Board and staff should be open to criticism and questions.
“When we avoid questions and we avoid answering … questions, it gives the perception of not being transparent,” Bartley said.
Before the Planning Board resigned in October, there had been multiple complaints about transparency and state Open Meetings Act violations, Bethesda Beat previously reported.
County Council member Albornoz asked what they would look for in a new planning director.
Bartley said the director needs to be communicative and show great leadership and encourage staff to ask tough questions of developers, so applications are well vetted by the time they reach the Planning Board for review.
Winstead said it’s important to consider the challenges the region faces, especially regarding economic development. The new director must consider the issues that long-term hybrid work might create for county officials and the overall taxbase.
He also believes that county leaders need to promote the job, as Montgomery County is a great place to live and work, given the federal government’s presence locally and reputation of planning staff.
“Montgomery County is often held up as a golden job for a lot of people in planning,” Winstead said.
Council member Will Jawando (D-At-large) asked how the pair would approach the use of tax revenue to address school construction and school capacity.
Bartley said planning commissioners and staff could be more aggressive in asking developers for more assistance when it comes to school construction, especially if certain projects cause an increase of students in certain school clusters.
Winstead answered similarly—the board needs to be on top of the county’s adequate public facilities ordinance and apply that to new developments, especially when it comes to schools. That will become more important given the affordable housing goals laid out in the Thrive Montgomery 2050 master plan, he added.
The County Council will deliberate and make its decision on whether to appoint Bartley or Winstead in the coming weeks. Council President Glass said the council will interview unaffiliated candidates next week, and Democrats the following week.