December 11, 2022
Montgomery County Council
Council Office Building
100 Maryland Ave, 6th Floor
Rockville, MD 20850
Re: Letter of opposition to MC/PG 104-23 and MC/PG 105-23
Dear President Glass and Members of the County Council:
We are writing to express our strong opposition to bills MC/PG 104-23 and 105-23. Both bills would reduce the oversight and appointment powers of the County Council, granting control over critical Planning Board appointments to a single individual, the County Executive, rather than the eleven members of the Council.
The Montgomery County Parks and Planning Department has long been a regional and national leader on innovative, effective approaches to land use and affordable housing. Under the leadership of the Council-appointed Planning Board, Parks and Planning has put forward decades’ worth of visionary plans for our county—from the pioneering MPDU program in the 1970s to Thrive 2050 and the county’s first Pedestrian Master Plan and Complete Streets Design Guide in 2022.
Bills 104-23 and 105-23 would—without clear justification—lead to a consequential restructuring of the democratic process that has yielded these and other defining plans.
Bill 104-23, presented to the Council on November 28, would create a task force to “study the feasibility of transferring duties of the Montgomery County Planning Board, Planning Department, and Parks Department […] to the Montgomery County government.” The task force would “make recommendations on restructuring the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission to no longer include Montgomery County.”
We are concerned that such a task force would not be a starting point for thoughtful, inclusive conversation on the Planning Board appointment process, but rather—as the plain language of the bill itself makes clear—jump to the endpoint of restructuring long-standing county precedent before substantive conversation has even begun.
Bill 105-23 was introduced on November 30, two days after Bill 104-23 was initially reviewed by the Council, and will first be reviewed by the Council on December 12.
Upon reviewing this bill, it will become clear to the Council that the content of Bill 105-23 is fundamentally at odds with an interpretation of Bill 104-23 as a mere conversation starter.
Bill 105-23, also introduced by Senator Ben Kramer, would require that no future Planning Board member could be appointed without either the direct approval of the County Executive or the unanimous support of all eleven councilmembers. Under this process, two individuals— the County Executive and a single councilmember—could block the votes of the other ten councilmembers and the interests of the constituents they represent.
Even more concerning to us is Bill 105-23’s removal of the checks and balances governing the appointment of the Board’s most powerful member. Under current law, the County Council appoints all Planning Board members, including the Planning Board Chair. Under Bill 105-23, the County Executive would appoint the Planning Board Chair unilaterally with no opportunity for input from the County Council (see section 15—103.1).
Because Bill 105-23 was introduced as an emergency bill—which is to be used in cases “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health or safety”—these changes would become effective immediately upon the bill’s passage. Certainly, there is also no immediate threat to public health or safety.
Bills 104-23 and 105-23 have been represented as urgent measures to improve “trust and transparency” in county planning, but it is unclear how diluting the powers of an eleven-member body on which each county resident has five democratically elected representatives in order to grant increased power to a single individual will achieve this goal. Additionally, it is unclear why the changes these bills propose are necessary in response to personnel issues that were handled transparently and expeditiously by the County Council under existing processes.
These two bills propose hasty and unjustified changes to the operation of a successful department that is currently accountable to the eleven members of the Council and through them to the public. We strongly urge you to oppose both bills.