Neil Greenberger, a longtime spokesman for the County Council, is being transferred to a new county government role after he announced he will run for an at-large position on the council in the 2018 election.
Steve Farber, the council’s administrator, said in a memo Friday that Greenberger requested the transfer to avoid conflicts that could arise between his campaign activities and his duty to be impartial while providing information to the public about the council.
Greenberger, a Democrat, whose official title was County Council legislative information officer, is being transferred to the executive branch’s Office of Public Information. The office handles information requests and media inquiries about county departments.
Patrick Lacefield, the director of the Office of Public Information, said the department is still determining what Greenberger will work on. “We have plenty to do,” Lacefield said. The department has about a dozen employees.
Greenberger’s salary was $148,000 in 2016, according to county data. He has worked as the council spokesman for 11 years and is a merit employee, a designation that gives certain county employees protections from being fired or reassigned without a compelling reason.
The transfer request represents a change in plans for Greenberger who told Montgomery Community Media earlier this month that he would stay in his position while running for a council seat. The Damascus resident said at the time there’s no provision in the county charter to transfer an employee for political reasons and he didn’t think he should be the first case.
On Friday, Greenberger said he had decided to request a change of roles after “additional thinking.”
“My position has not changed,” he said. “I’m still confident that I could do my job because it’s not political. That was not an issue.”
He said the situation became personal when some of his work friends questioned his decision to stay in the council role. “It has become clear to me that if I continue to stay here their lives would have been negatively impacted by my decision,” Greenberger said.
He added that he doesn’t yet know what he’ll do in his new role. He said he’ll be transferred in a few weeks after he finishes up some long-term projects.
“I work about 60 hours a week for a 40-hour per week salary,” Greenberger said.
If he wins a seat on the council, he would be paid less. Sitting council members are paid about $130,000 per year.
Greenberger’s desire to stay in his position previously raised questions from outside observers. Adam Pagnucco, a former chief of staff for County Council member Hans Riemer, pointed out in a post on the local politics blog Seventh State that Greenberger would be running in the same race as Riemer, the one at-large incumbent who isn’t being forced to step down in 2018 due to term limits. Pagnucco wrote that Greenberger would “be in a position to influence the coverage of his opponents—including those who employ him.”
At-large County Council members Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen must step down from the council due to term limits.
With three open seats, the at-large race is expected to draw a large field—with possibly 20 or more candidates. Earlier this week, several of those candidates said in interviews with Bethesda Beat it would be inappropriate for Greenberger to stay in the race while working on the council
“I do think it would be a very difficult situation to navigate for him,” said Chris Wilhelm, a Bethesda man and Northwood High School teacher, who has filed to run for an at-large seat.
“While he has said it’s legal to do it, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate,” said at-large candidate Danielle Meitiv, the Silver Spring “free range” parent who made headlines during her fight with Child Protective Services in the county. “We need to restore faith in the process not dance around what is technically legal versus what is appropriate.”
Greenberger responded by saying that he doesn’t have access to any information that other candidates don’t have and that he felt those who criticized him don’t understand his role.
“I guarantee not one of them knows what I do in my job,” Greenberger said. “I’m not sure everyone on my staff knows what I do.”
Council members, including Roger Berliner and Riemer, declined to comment on Greenberger’s situation earlier this week.