In the week since all five members of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Planning Board abruptly resigned, the county council is working to “move forward,” according to council president Gabe Albornoz.
Albornoz told reporters at his weekly briefing that “dozens” of applicants are interested in filling the vacancies on the board, whose duties include voting on planning and zoning decisions that can shape Maryland’s largest county.
“Our hope, and our intent is that by Thursday, October 27th, we will have five new members of the board that will be able to begin their work right away,” he said.
“I can only confirm that we accepted those letters of resignation,” Albornoz said, referring to the departures of Board Chair Casey Anderson, Vice Chair Partap Verma, and commissioners Gerald Cichy, Tina Patterson and Carol Rubin.
Conflict at the county’s Planning Board boiled over after reports that Anderson kept liquor in his office, and that he had shared drinks with members. Soon afterward, Anderson and board members Verma and Rubin were subjected to reprimands.
A flurry of accusations, including claims of a toxic workplace, surfaced. Then, on Friday, Oct. 7, Planning Director Gwen Wright was fired just months before her retirement.
Albornoz was asked about oversight of the Planning Board, which shapes how development and land use are carried out in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, and whether the council should have anticipated the controversy.
“Things really spiraled out of control fairly quickly,” he said. “Obviously there was a lot of conflict that clearly had arisen,” and that the council had “lost faith” in the board’s ability to continue its responsibilities.
Once the temporary board is in place, the council will begin a more in-depth search to find permanent replacements, “but that will be decided by the next council because that process takes typically two months,” said Albornoz.
Montgomery County’s council structure will expand from nine members to 11 members after the election in November. This comes as a result of the 2020 ballot question that created two new districts.