County Executive Marc Elrich (D) is pushing back against claims that newly proposed legislation would strip the Montgomery County Council’s authority to make land use decisions and shift the power to the executive branch.
State Sen. Ben Kramer (D-District 19) has drafted bills that impact aspects of how the executive and legislative branches interact with the county’s Planning Board, including the appointment process for commissioners.
Gus Bauman, former chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission; Nancy Floreen, former County Council member and former M-NCPPC vice chair; and Patricia Baptiste, former M-NCPPC commissioner sent a letter to state and county legislators. In it, they argue that the proposed bills would lead to an overreach in county executive powers over land use decisions.
“If the people of Montgomery County wish to blow up venerable State law to suddenly make County land use policies (including zoning) a strictly political affair, then, by all means, do what County Executive Elrich and State Senator Kramer are seeking,” the letter says. “And if the people of the County wish to largely strip the County Council of its land use powers and hand them over to the County Executive, then, by all means, do what Mr. Elrich and Mr. Kramer are seeking.”
“And if the people of Montgomery County further wish to eviscerate the largely apolitical, bipartisan independence of the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission and its Montgomery County Planning Board and professional Planning Department, then, by all means, do what Mr. Elrich and Mr. Kramer are seeking,” the letter continues.
Elrich called the letter “utterly dishonest” in a media briefing Wednesday.
“What we’re trying to do is look at what we can do structurally with parks and planning and some of the processes they have there. That will enable us to more quickly and more efficiently process applications. None of that has to do with shifting power to the executive branch,” Elrich said. [The parties who wrote the letter] are creating basically an entirely false narrative. We’re not interested in any power grab or shifting land use powers to the executive.”
Elrich argued that Planning Board processes have changed since the former officials who sent the letter were involved.
“The thing is, we have major problems in this county with planning and permitting. And we know this, and everybody likes to talk about it until you talk about trying to propose a solution,” Elrich said. “And then it turns out [people say] ‘we don’t want to change everything, we have the best system.’ No, we do not. If you talk to the developers in the community, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Kramer introduced the two state bills last week related to the state’s Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a bi-county agency serving Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
One bill would establish a task force to examine the possibility of restructuring the commission. According to the bill, the task force would “study the feasibility of transferring Montgomery County–specific duties of the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission to the Montgomery County government.” It also would “make recommendations on restructuring the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission to no longer include Montgomery County.”
It would consist of over a dozen members, ranging from picks from statehouse leaders to appointees from the county executive’s office, county departments and the County Council. The task force would have until Dec. 1, 2024 to submit a report to the county executive, County Council and state leaders from the county’s delegation.
Kramer’s second bill relates to transparency and appointment processes involving the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
It would change the number of votes required by the County Council to confirm commissioners to the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission from seven to eight — the council now has 11 members instead of nine, thanks to a ballot issue passed by county voters in 2020.
It also would require a unanimous vote of the County Council to pick a member over the disapproval of the county executive. Previously, that had been nine members (under the current council, a unanimous vote).
The bill also gives the county executive the ability to appoint the chair of the Planning Board, and chair or vice chair of the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission (both positions are served by the same person). Broadly speaking, it also would set discipline procedures and powers that allow the council to discipline commissioners or remove them with eight votes, with the approval of the county executive.
The parties who wrote the letter aren’t the only ones opposed. County Council Member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) has publicly called one of the bills a “power grab,” saying it would transfer many land use and planning powers currently vested in the council to the county executive. Jeff Zyontz, the county’s acting Planning Board chair, shares similar concerns.
County Council will discuss the proposed bills at its meeting next Tuesday.