As County Council Member Nancy Navarro (left) watches, Cherri Branson, David Hill, Amy Presley and Jeffrey Zyontz are sworn in Thursday as temporary Planning Board members. Credit: Ginny Bixby

The Montgomery County Council appointed five temporary Planning Board members Thursday afternoon.

The council chose Jeffrey Zyontz, an attorney, to serve as board chair. Zyontz, a Democrat, worked on zoning issues for the County Council from 2006 to 2020. Previously, he worked for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission from 1974 to 2006.

Amy Presley, a former Planning Board member, will serve as vice-chair. Presley, a Republican, served two terms on the Planning Board from June 2008 to July 2016 and is the founder and managing partner of Trusted Estate Partners, a niche real estate company based in Clarksburg.

Cherri Branson, David Hill and Roberto Piñero will fill the remaining seats.

Branson, a Democrat, was the director of the county’s Office of Procurement from June 2015 to December 2018. Previously she was appointed to an interim term representing council District 5 from January to December 2014. In the 2018 Democratic primary, she ran unsuccessfully for a council at-large seat.

Hill, a senior systems analyst for Westat and a longtime civic activist, is a former member of the City of Rockville Planning Commission who served from 2006 to 2016. He is not affiliated with a political party.

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Piñero’s career experience includes working as a senior analyst focusing on financial markets and community investments for the U.S. Government Accountability Office from March 1997 to September 2016. A Democrat, he has been a member of the Board of Appeals of Montgomery County since February 2022 and is a former member and chair of the county Housing Opportunities Commission.

All new members were sworn into office in council chambers Thursday with the exception of Piñero, who was not present due to a family emergency and will be sworn in as soon as possible, Council President Gabe Albornoz said.

After the council made the appointments Thursday, Albornoz said he hopes the group of temporary board members will be able to establish a sense of stability until permanent members are appointed by the incoming council, which will be elected in the Nov. 8 general election.

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The council appointed the temporary acting board members after accepting the resignations of former Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and board members Gerald Cichy, Tina Patterson, Carol Rubin and Partap Verma on Oct. 12. The council accepted the resignations, saying it had lost confidence in the board after weeks of controversy involving its members.

“We want to restore faith in the institution. And we believe that this group will be able to do that by hitting the ground running and doing their jobs. We know that there’s been a lot of unrest and disruption in the overall operation of both the Parks Department and the Planning Department as a result of all of this, but we feel these five members are uniquely qualified to be able to build a bridge to the next full Planning Board,” Albornoz said.

“Each of them brings with them a wealth of experience, whether at the municipal level or the county level. All of them have planning experience in some form or fashion and all of them know the county extraordinarily well, so they have very small learning curves. And we’re excited about the chairmanship of Mr. Zyontz, who the council knows well,” Albornoz said.

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More than 128 county residents applied for the vacant seats and 11 finalists were interviewed Tuesday. The council appoints the permanent 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.

No more than three board members can be from the same political party, according to state law. Board members receive an annual salary of $30,000 and the board chair is paid $227,891, according to the council.

Albornoz said the plan is for the temporary board to serve until March 1, when the newly elected council will replace three of the temporary board members. The other two will be replaced June 1.

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“The temporary Planning Board Chair will serve through the end of June so that we can ensure continuity of service, but we will stagger the appointments of the Planning Board members,” Albornoz said.

The new members told Bethesda Beat on Thursday they were honored to be appointed.

Zyontz said he is excited for the opportunity to serve the community.

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“This is a great honor and I’m humbled by the responsibilities that we’ll have, but our goal is to keep the development process moving, to keep the advice of the Planning Board going forward, and to continue to be a player in the region as the Montgomery County Planning Board,” he said.

Presley said she’s looking forward to returning to the Planning Board.

“I feel that I can help [people], give them what they need to know, treasure their wealth of knowledge and information, and what they need to feel free to do what they do without any fear of top-down pressure,” Presley said. “From a public perspective, [we need to be] making sure that the public knows that this board and the next board are going to be following the things that are promised and make sure they get delivered.”

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Apps Bichu reports on growth and justice. She can be reached at apps.bichu@bethesdamagazine.com