FACT meeting ignores the elephant in the room

Monday morning, the Frederick Area Committee for Transportation (FACT) held their regular monthly meeting. As reported in the Frederick News Post, a discussion about the recent FACT letter supporting the controversial Monrovia Town Center was on the agenda.

FACTmeeting140609_500w

I attended the meeting, hopeful that the members of FACT would engage a serious and thoughtful inquiry and discussion about how the letter came to be drafted and submitted to the Board of County Commissioners, on the last day of public hearings about the Monrovia Town Center, as an unequivocal and blanket FACT endorsement of the massive development, without ever having been discussed or voted on by the members of FACT.

But that didn’t happen.

Under “Old Business,” the agenda included “Letter to BOCC concerning MTC Public Comment,” and under “New Business,” was “FACT policy for providing public comment.

If you are not yet familiar with why the FACT letter ought to be the basis for more than a preliminary discussion about whether or not and how to establish a new policy or guideline about how such letters will be vetted and approved by the members or the executive committee in the future, please take a moment to read this recent guest column by Steve McKay, President of RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE):

Monrovia Town Center – When is a FACT NOT a Fact?
June 5, 2014

…and this short and excellent editorial from the Frederick News Post:

Misrepresenting the FACT: Strong response needed from transportation group for misuse of its authority
June 6, 2014

You can also see the original letter here (click on the image to open a larger version):

FACTletter1080w

I couldn’t agree more strongly with the News Post editorial, which clearly stated that “FACT’s leadership must issue a strong response and immediate condemnation of its rogue members’ actions if it wishes to retain its sterling reputation as a sensible advocate and source of sound advice and research on major transportation projects in the region.”

And, regardless of my expectations about how likely it was that FACT would “demand that [Michael] Proffitt and [Mike] Smariga resign their seats,” and that [Commissioner Paul] Smith should be barred from meetings for the remainder of his term,” I certainly expected the committee to raise and discuss either those options or, at least, some other means to express strong disapproval and hold the rogue members accountable.

Instead, the closest the discussion got to that was an apology from FACT president Carol Krimm, who said,“I want to apologize to FACT membership that the letter went out without our knowledge.”

After she said that, some members even took issue with the idea that she ought to make such an apology. And Mike Smariga, who drafted the letter, went further, taking some time to make a vigorous defense of the letter, both on process and content. He also noted: “I just drafted the letter,” and suggested that anything could have happened to the draft letter after that.

Of course, that statement suggests that he drafted it for a review and vote by the FACT membership, rather than simply handing it to FACT secretary, Michael Proffitt, who signed it and sent it to the Board of County Commissioners — again with no other FACT members knowing anything about it at all.

In fact, the only references to the News Post editorial were a dismissive and joking remark by Commissioner Paul Smith when he observed that he was “still here” (and had not been “barred from meetings for the remainder of his term”) and a smug comment by Howard Levine (who owns Ramar Moving Systems, Inc.), who said:

“They just want to attack FACT. If I had written the letter, they would have said I did it because I wanted to move everyone into the Monrovia Town Center.”

Krimm did make a motion that FACT “withdraw” the letter. But after some disagreement and debate, along with uncertainty about what that would mean, or if it was practically possible (since it is in the record, and the record is closed), the motion to withdraw the letter was tabled for further discussion at a future meeting.

The other item associated with the FACT letter was a proposal and discussion about establishing a new FACT “public comment policy.”

Here is the draft proposal as presented at the meeting:

FACTproposalscan1080w

(Click on the image to open a larger version.)

The conversation bounced around quite a bit. Through it all, however, some suggestions were made and discussed, including one to give the Executive Committee the ability to bypass the longer process above, and one changing “shall” to “should” in the statement that “A FACT officer or member as designated by the President shall attend the public meeting when a public comment is presented.”

In the end, there was no vote on that matter, either, and the decision was made to send to the draft policy to all members for their consideration, and further discussion at a future meeting.

During the wide-ranging discussion about the policy change, it was noteworthy that FACT president Krimm commented that “We are not assessing blame, anywhere. We are just putting in place a policy.”

FACTlogocolorThe meeting moved on to other items, including a short discussion about cleaning up the FACT membership list by removing a few individuals who had very rarely attended or participated, or once did but have not attended any meetings for a while, for various reasons.

To her credit, Carol Krimm made the suggestion that, in addition to cleaning up the membership list, FACT look to expand and diversify the committee. She even commented that it would be good to have someone from a group like RALE make a request to become a FACT member.

In the end, although no votes were taken and decisions made Monday morning, the meeting agenda, and the discussions by the members in attendance, covered some worthwhile ground, including an apology from President Krimm, consideration of a motion to withdraw the letter, establishing a process to avoid such things from happening in the future, initiating an effort to clean up the membership list, and the possibility of an expanded and more diverse committee…that might even include representatives from local citizens organizations.

And so, the most notable aspect of the meeting, the agenda and the discussions was the complete absence of any inquiry into the drafting and submission of the unapproved letter, and zero sense that anyone would be held responsible and accountable for it, now or later.

But if the president or other members of FACT think that there is no point in assigning blame, and no need for anyone to be accountable, and nothing more that needs to be done beyond following through on the items discussed at the June meeting, they should know that others will not be so willing to ignore the elephant in the room.

After all, it appears that two FACT members were involved in a very intentional and planned fraud, in which a major and controversial development and it’s BOCC supporters were being given cover by an inaccurate letter that traded on the credibility of a long-established and generally well respected committee whose members did not know about the letter, had not discussed it, did not vote on it and had no formal statements or findings in place about the subject (of the Monrovia Town Center).

Call it one thing or another, but by any name that is a purposeful and crafted deceit.

That is serious.

To quote from the News Post editorial:

“FACT has some rebuilding of its reputation to undertake, and Smith, Proffitt and Smariga have some questions to answer. Not only do we need to know how this happened and why FACT didn’t immediately react to this hijacking of its authority by two of its development-industry-connected members, we need to be assured it won’t happen again.

It’s not a criminal matter, and the state shouldn’t waste its time investigating this, as RALE has demanded, but, at the very least, FACT members must demand that Proffitt and Smariga resign their seats. For good measure, Smith should be barred from meetings for the remainder of his term.”

Michael Proffitt and Mike Smariga can not be treated as though they just made a modest mistake or an error in judgment.

And Paul Smith…and perhaps Blaine Young…can not and should not be let off the hook, either.

It’s incredible that Michael Proffitt and Mike Smariga would think that they could do this under the radar, without anyone following up, without real consequences. But, apparently, they did.

Now it is up to FACT to do the right thing.

If they don’t find a way to address this matter more seriously on their own, it may require sustained public attention and pressure.


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 to discuss Monrovia letter
June 9, 2014

Frederick News Post Editorial
Misrepresenting the FACT: Strong response needed from transportation group for misuse of its authority
June 6, 2014

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


RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on the web.

RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on Facebook.

@RALEMonrovia on Twitter.

Previous Guest Blog entries about this issue:

Monrovia Town Center – When is a FACT NOT a Fact?

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

A citizen speaks out about the Monrovia Town Center and the county commissioners

Controversial Monrovia Town Center comes down to final…and vital…public hearings

New Monrovia Town Center Hearings Start on Wednesday, March 19

$77,000,000.00

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

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

‘Friends of Frederick County’ testimony regarding the Monrovia Town Center

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

Open Letter to the Frederick County Planning Commission

Fighting for our community by fighting against the Monrovia Town Center

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