Council Ignores Judge on Monrovia Town Center

On Tuesday, June 9th (at 6:00pm), the county council will hold a public hearing on the Monrovia Town Center.

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The hearing is intended to be their response to circuit court Judge Nicklas’ decision to remand the case back to the council. There is only one problem — the council is ignoring the issues and clear intent of the Judge’s remand order.

Judge Nicklas remanded the case for the council to conduct additional proceedings, including taking testimony, to resolve the issues identified by the court. So what issues did the court identify?

paulsmith250wFirst and foremost, the court made two definitive findings — former Commissioner Paul Smith discussed the pending Monrovia Town Center case with the Frederick Area Committee on Transportation (FACT) and Smith failed to report those communications as required under the State’s ex parte communications laws applicable to Frederick County.

This is highly suggestive of an ethics violation, one that carries potential criminal penalties. Is the council addressing these issues? No.

Judge Nicklas also found that the letter from FACT incorporated Smith’s observations and that the letter was intended to influence the pending vote.

Lastly, he found that it was highly suggestive that the Board of County Commissioners relied on the letter. He specifically called out former commissioners president Blaine Young in his conclusions.

To summarize – a sitting county commissioner used an outside organization to help influence the vote on a pending zoning application before him. This is an important issue in the Judge’s remand order and it leads to questions. Were other commissioners involved? After all, the former commissioners rarely seemed to do anything this significant without Young’s awareness and approval. Was the developer or members of his team involved?

One of the reported letter writers is closely linked to the developer. We know that the Judge took great interest in FACT’s conflict of interest because it was being paid by the BOCC. I imagine he would take equal – if not greater – interest in the letter writer’s conflict of interest with the developer’s team.

Is the council addressing any of these issues? No.

PLEASE NOTE: For good background information, including a copy of the original FACT letter, links to the key videos, take a look at:

FACT-Gate and Monrovia Town Center
by Steve McKay on March 7, 2015

If not addressing these issues that were actually raised by Judge Nicklas, what exactly is the council trying to do? Based on the motion put forth by council member Tony Chmelik, and then passed by the council, they are trying to read minds. They are trying to determine whether the FACT letter had a major impact on the Commissioners’ approval of the case.

How can they do that you might wonder? How can they really know what the Commissioners were thinking and how much (or how little) weight they put on the letter? The simple answer is – they can’t. In fact, nobody can. It’s objectively impossible to prove one way or another.

Oh, they’ll try. They’ll take affidavits from Smith, Young, and former Commissioner David Gray. I’m sure Smith and Young will solemnly swear that the letter meant nothing to them, but what good will these self-serving affidavits really be? Plus, why not ask council members Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter for affidavits?

Based on the council’s approach, Shreve and Delauter should also render affidavits, then – and this is key – they should be recused from voting on the matter. How can Shreve and Delauter vote as council members on an issue revolving around an opinion about their prior decision?

This is an inherently biased and flawed approach.

Since the council will probably follow this approach despite my objections, let’s consider one addition point. If you believe that the commissioners were going to approve the case and that the FACT letter didn’t matter, ask yourself this question: Why did they do it? Why go through all the trouble of having the FACT letter ginned up like this, including potentially putting Smith’s law license at risk, if they didn’t have a reason?

I believe there was a reason. I believe they were worried about the case record on MD Route 75. Safety and congestion issues were never resolved during all thirteen nights of hearings. MD Route 75 remained a central weakness in the Commissioners’ approval. I believe they wanted to strengthen the case record and provide a public justification for their approval and what better way than with a showy display of a letter from a group of supposedly “neutral” transportation experts.

That is how I think the FACT letter influenced the approval of the Monrovia Town Center case. By providing justification and rationalization for their decision, the letter had a clear and material impact on the approval. Considering this point, and the picture of covert influence painted very clearly by Judge Nicklas, the county council has a clear responsibility to do more to correct these injustices.

The Council should re-open the case for a full, open and untainted set of new hearings.

Steve McKay
President, RALE

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A few links related to the previous county council discussion about this…

FCG Video Coverage of the Council Meeting on April 29th
The MTC discussion begins at about the 2:39:00 mark, but you can click directly on the relevant agenda item, entitled: “Discussion of Further Action of Monrovia Town Center Remand”

WHAG Coverage of the Meeting
VIDEO: Debate Over Monrovia Town Center Continues with Remand From Circuit Court Judge
April 29, 2015

Frederick News Post coverage of the meeting
Council to reopen portion of Monrovia Town Center case
Thursday, April 30, 2015
By Jen Fifield and Bethany Rodgers


RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on the web.

RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on Facebook.

@RALEMonrovia on Twitter.

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More information

The complete letter from FACT

RALEpressreleaseaboutFACTletterPress Release from Residents Against Landsdale Expansion

“RALE CALLS FOR STATE PROSECUTOR TO INVESTIGATE FREDERICK AREA COMMITTEE FOR TRANSPORTATION LETTER”

(click the small image to open a larger, readable version):

Frederick News Post
FACT letter supporting Monrovia Town Center sent without group vote
June 3, 2014

Frederick News Post
Group calls for investigation of Monrovia transportation letter
May 31, 2014

Frederick News Post (with the Rand Weinberg quote)
County OKs Monrovia Town Center
April 24, 2014

EXCERPT:

Rand Weinberg, an attorney for the developer, said the letter was a significant piece of evidence that spoke to residents’ concerns about road safety.

“FACT cares strictly and solely about funding for transportation,” Weinberg said. “If you want to fix … the existing problems in this corridor, it’s got to happen by way of private sector contribution.”

Video of the letter being read into the record by Blaine Young (beginning at 04:11:45 in this link):
http://frederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=4365

Video of the FACT candidates forum, with comments on MD 75 (beginning at 01:35):
http://frederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=4337


Some previous Guest Blog entries about this issue:

Monrovia Town Center update following the County Council meeting
May 4, 2015

Monrovia Town Center now in the hands of the county council (please contact them!)
April 4, 2015

RALE subpoenas Paul Smith and two others about unauthorized “FACT” letter
January 20, 2015

Open Letter to the Frederick County Planning Commission
November 20, 2014

Going, going…gone!? Is Frederick County’s future for sale?
November 2, 2014

FACT meeting ignores the elephant in the room
June 9, 2014

When is a FACT NOT a Fact?
June 5, 2014

Monrovia Town Center Phase 2 Hearing (Wednesday): Patronage or Planning?
November 16, 2014

Final Monrovia Town Center Public Hearings: April 23rd & 24th
April 20, 2014

A citizen speaks out about the Monrovia Town Center and the county commissioners
April 12, 2014

Won’t Back DOWN! (video)
April 4, 2014

Controversial Monrovia Town Center comes down to final…and vital…public hearings
April 3, 2014

New Monrovia Town Center Hearings Start on Wednesday, March 19
March 16, 2014

$77,000,000.00
March 7, 2014

Say NO to the Monrovia Town Center! Say no to sprawl, congestion, overcrowded schools and massive subsidies to developers
January 12, 2014

Monrovia Town Center Public Hearings Postponed to Jan. 14 & 15, at Urbana High School
December 11, 2013

BOCC hearing on Monrovia Town Center next week matters to all county residents and taxpayers!
December 5, 2013

‘Friends of Frederick County’ testimony regarding the Monrovia Town Center
October 31, 2013

MDP letter corrects misstatements from Monrovia developers and Planning Commission members
October 26, 2013

Make Your Voice Heard on October 23rd (oppose the Monrovia Town Center)
October 19, 2013

Open Letter to the Frederick County Planning Commission
October 2, 2013

Fighting for our community by fighting against the Monrovia Town Center
September 17, 2013

Some of the other media coverage about this issue:

Monrovia project opponents scrutinize Young’s campaign donations
Frederick News Post
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A missing balance
FNP column by Fred Ugast
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Proposed Monrovia Town Center draws crowds to county hearing
Frederick News Post
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Maryland planning official says state not responsible for town center density
Frederick News Post
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dozens speak out on Monrovia Town Center
Frederick News Post
Thursday, October 31, 2013

Development and death in Monrovia
Frederick News Post
Friday, November 8, 2013 2:00 am

Proud of citizen involvement
FNP Letter to the Editor by Jan Gardner
Sunday, November 10, 2013

Monrovia residents say impact fee elimination would be developer boon
Frederick News Post
Sunday, November 17, 2013

Commission votes favorably on Monrovia Town Center rezoning
Frederick News Post
Thursday, November 21, 2013

RALE: Town center study underestimates increased traffic
Frederick News Post
Thursday, November 28, 2013

Traffic study’s flaws need addressing
FNP Editorial
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It pays to pay attention to local government
FNP Letter to the Editor
Thursday, December 5, 2013

Development burden
FNP Editorial
Saturday, December 7, 2013

Monrovia Town Center hearings begin tonight
Frederick News Post
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hundreds show up at Monrovia Town Center hearing
Frederick News Post
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Monrovia Town Center: Round 2
Residents voice concerns during second hearing with county
Frederick News Post
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Scaled-back Monrovia Town Center passes commissioners
Frederick News Post
Friday, January 17, 2014

Not impartial
FNP Letter to the Editor
Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blaine Young’s full transparency
FNP Editorial
Monday, January 20, 2014

Frederick County’s one-man band
FNP column by Bill Pritchard
Sunday, January 26, 2014

Surprise! Surprise!
FNP Letter to the Editor by William Bugg
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Monrovia Town Center developer meets with public
Frederick News Post
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Commission OKs revised zoning map for Monrovia Town Center
Frederick News Post
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Planners OK Monrovia Town Center plan
Frederick News Post
Thursday, March 27, 2014

Habitat…For Humanity
Frederick Gorilla column by Matt Edens
March 28, 2014

On the record inconsistencies during Monrovia hearing
Frederick News Post
Letter to the Editor by Steve McKay
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blaine’s boondoggles
Frederick News Post column by Boyce Rensberger
Monday, March 31, 2014

‘Just plain arrogance’
Frederick News Post Letter to the Editor by Amy Reyes
Friday, April 4, 2014

Traffic concerns raised at Landsdale development hearing
Frederick News Post
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Commissioners hear testimony on Monrovia Town Center plan
Frederick News Post
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Night 3: Monrovia Town Center opponents question county staff
Frederick News Post
Friday, April 11, 2014

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