Report Shows Development Interests Largely Funded Term Limits Effort

Report Shows Development Interests Largely Funded Term Limits Effort

'Strange politics' were part of effort, supporter says

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At an October meeting of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, Bob Lipman shares his view of special interests and county government.

Douglas Tallman

One of the arguments espoused by proponents of term limits for some Montgomery County politicians was that restricting the number of terms for some elected offices would help drive development interests out of county government.

Developers might have seen things differently.

About 75 percent of the contributions collected by “Voters for Montgomery County Term Limits” came from companies or individuals in the real estate industry, according to the contents of the group’s state campaign finance report.

“It’s indicative of what our county government has become. Support for term limits was so widespread regardless of what your interests might be,” said Jim Zepp, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, a coalition of homeowners associations and civic groups that supported term limits for the county executive and the nine County Council members.

On Nov. 8, voters approved Question B, which proposed amending the county charter to limit people elected to those offices to serving three consecutive terms.

The latest vote count—which includes early voting, Election Day, and absentee and provisional ballots—showed 299,483, or about 70 percent, voting in favor of Question B and 129,704, or about 30 percent, against.

“Voters for Montgomery County Term Limits” raised $25,505 for its pro-term limits effort. About $19,500 came from the real estate and development industries, according to the state campaign finance report.

Steve Silverman, a former council member who is now a lobbyist at the state and county level, said he doubts development interests had much to do with the term limits vote.

“Nineteen thousand dollars is not a lot of money when you factor in the entire real estate community,” he said.

“I don’t share the premise that nearly 70 percent of voters in Montgomery County wanted to reject development interests on the council,” he said. “It was a combination of interests that created the perfect storm that led to the passage of term limits.”

Zepp agreed.

“There are strange politics these days all around, but this was reflective of broad feeling in this county that change needs to happen, and the political establishment has lost touch,” Zepp said.

However, Bethesda resident Bob Lipman thought otherwise. He attended a civic federation meeting in October during which he described how development interests were influencing the council.

Lipman, a vocal opponent of development plans for the Westbard neighborhood of Bethesda, said Monday he was part of an effort by residents to improve the county planning process.

“We realized that to improve the county planning process, we needed to replace many members on the County Council that were driving the planning process in a bad way,” Lipman said.

“We believe that term limits were the first step to sending a message to the County Council that the voters did not approve of the way they were handling the planning process, in particularly they were favoring developers over the interests of the community,” he said.

“No on B,” a group formed to oppose term limits, has yet to file its latest campaign finance report.

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