ROCKVILLE – The Rockville City Council voted on Jan. 6 to discuss violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The first meeting of the year started off with a notion to move agenda item ten: Discussion Regarding Letter on Open Meeting Act Violations, but the motion failed by a vote of 2-3.
The State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the Rockville Planning Commission violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act by having two closed sessions on Nov. 5, 2018, and Aug. 7, 2019.
During the Community Forum, almost every person that came up to speak was voicing their opinion on the idea of “transparency.”
“We voted to speak about the item, but how we go about it is the difficult part, said Councilmember David Myles. “We have to follow the spirit of the law.”
They argued that the planning committee and city council failed to provide sufficient transparency to the public regarding developmental proposals for 107 W. Jefferson Street.
Representatives of the West End Citizens Association (WECA) were consistently present at commission meetings during the developmental proposal process last year, and in one case, were waiting outside of the meeting chambers during a closed session at which commissioners departed the room without returning to open session.
WECA’s purpose is to promote and protect the interests of the West End community as well as fight for the continuous protection of historic resources.
Brian Shipley, of WECA, reiterated that people don’t want the case reopened, and the committee violated the district’s zoning to approve the project.
“It’s not a narrow issue, it’s a wide-reaching issue,” Shipley said.
Councilmember Mark Pierzchala agreed with Shipley reiterating, “This is just an instance of a much wider problem.
He also stated that the council had received information from the city attorney that they cannot disclose.
Noreen Bryan, also of WECA, noticed violations in 2018 and said that the committee did not address her concerns. In September of 2018, she filed for reconsideration and was denied by November.
“An independent investigation is needed,” Bryan said.
Councilmember Beryl Feinberg strongly opposed this suggestion stating, “it would just prolong the process.”
Former planning commissioner, David Hill, brought this matter to the board’s attention last year. He also informed the mayor and council of the issues and the Compliance Board ruling at their Dec. 16 meeting. The council immediately put the findings on the next meeting’s agenda.
Hill challenged the committee to take action since the Open Meeting Compliance Board does not issue punishments or fines.
This is not the first time the committee has violated the Opening Meetings Act.
Rockville resident Joe Jordan said he filed two complaints 10 years ago. The committee was found in violation of one and was given a warning for the other.
Each councilmember agreed that transparency needs to be improved but did not know how to combat it ultimately.
Other suggestions given to the committee regarding the violations were providing a more extensive public forum about the case and posting the meeting minutes and reconsiderations.
Other topics of discussion at the meeting were education and road widening.
Maryland State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan of District 17, opened up the meeting by giving her goals for the county for the year and listed education as her top priority.
“The top item on the agenda for the year is education, education funding and education policy,” said Kagan. “There are very comprehensive, important and expensive recommendations being made.”
The former vice president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, Melissa McKenna, cited the educational inequality that exists in Rockville.
“Bottom line, this is a matter of equity,” said McKenna. “My mission now is just the same as in the former role: the best education and school facilities for all our MCPS schools, not just at one school, but all of our schools.”
McKenna suggested Rockville make a $500,000 capital budget investment towards the new Marigold Elementary School and an enhanced gym at the Carl Sandburg Learning Center.
Sally Stultz, who has lived in Rockville for 39 years, is concerned about Gov. Larry Hogan plans to widen and add tolls lanes on roads that bisect Rockville. She summarized two key flaws with the proposal: lack of transparency and the creation of bottlenecks.
“The agreement between Gov. Hogan and Virginia Gov. (Ralph) Northam will be part of the approval, but no one has yet seen this accord in writing,” said Stulz. “How could the Board of Public Works vote on a document its members haven’t even seen?
Stulz believes that the proposal will lead to increased traffic.
According to a report in December, Hogan postponed the Board of Public Works vote on the project.
The Board of Public Works is made up of three people: The Republican Governor, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Kopp’s already voted no on the project. Franchot had supported it, but the comptroller’s office in recent days had voiced concerns over changes to the plan, giving hope to Marylanders who oppose the plan.
With the governor supporting the project and the treasurer opposing it, Franchot has the swing vote.