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

Late on the night of April 23rd, the last night of the Monrovia Town Center hearings, Blaine Young, the President of the Board of County Commissioners and candidate for County Executive, read a letter into the record. The record was purportedly from the Frederick Area Committee on Transportation (FACT). Blaine read the letter into the record – word for word – as evidence. More than that, he read it into the record as weighty evidence backing the County’s position in favor of the proposed development.

As Blaine read aloud, we were told that FACT supported the development decision as something to benefit the County at large. We were told that FACT supported the development because it would provide significant funding to fix multiple major issues with MD Route 75. Blaine said that the 17 names of the FACT directors that he read had authorized the letter.

BYreadsFACTletter

There are many and serious problems to discuss about this letter, including how it came to be written, signed and sent to the Board of County Commissioners, and how it was used…at the last moment.

To begin with, the letter was a lie.

As reported in the Frederick News Post on June 3rd, FACT had little to do with the letter other than the use of their official letterhead. There was no vote. The president of FACT, Carol Krimm, wasn’t even aware of the letter until afterwards.

Rather than the seventeen members of FACT that Blaine Young testified as authorizing the letter, it was reported that the letter was written and reviewed by only two people. One of those people – Michael Smariga – is related to a member of the MTC development team – an obvious and blatant conflict of interest. In addition, the letter was manufactured at the request Paul Smith, one of the county commissioners presiding over the MTC review and approval. Did Mr. Smith request the letter to justify his support for MTC or did he do it on behalf of Blaine Young? These are among the questions that demand answers, and RALE will be persistent in seeking them.

RALEverticalaerialroute75Abuse of Process

As we wade through the latest sordid episode of “Frederick County: Open for Business,” we begin by highlighting the gross procedural injustice over the way it was handled late in the evening on April 23rd. All of the public comment was complete. Cross-examination was over. Our opportunity to challenge evidence in the hearing had been exhausted. And that is when Commissioner Young introduced the letter.

It’s almost hard to believe, and it wasn’t an accident. There was no warning. No advance copies were provided. Blaine pulled it out of thin air, more than four hours into the last meeting, and when he could deny any attempts to question the letter or its content. As evidence introduced into the record, the law demands that citizens should have had the ability to cross-examine those providing the evidence. Yet, no one from FACT was there, and no inquiry ws allowed.

Everyone who was there, on either side of the issue, knows the letter was given significant weight and gravity, by the commissioners and the attorney for the developers. And it was allowed to become part of the official record, unquestioned. RALE’s attorney, Michele Rosenfeld, noted her strong objection, not once but twice, and was dismissed and ignored by Mr. Young.

One reason it was so important to be able to question the members or leadership of FACT is because the letter was presented and received as an authoritative and credible conclusion about the prospects for improving MD Route 75. The FACT letter was treated as expert testimony – albeit an “expert” in absentia – and unambiguously recommended the approval of Monrovia Town Center.

In an April 24th article discussing the approval of MTC, the Frederick News Post quoted Rand Weinberg, attorney for the developer team, as saying that “the letter was a significant piece of evidence that spoke to residents’ concerns about road safety.”


Two minute video.

MD Route 75 was a critical concern and issue throughout the many hearings with the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners. A substantial record had been created during the thirteen long evenings of hearings about the significant risks posed by additional MTC-generated traffic to the health, safety, and welfare of residents who living along MD 75 and drive its twisting, hilly path. According to Matthew Seubert, my colleague and Vice-President of RALE, the letter was “a deliberate ploy to alter the weight of the evidence presented by [RALE and the local residents].” That’s how the letter was used and that’s one more way the process was so cynically abused.

The FACT letter was drafted at Paul Smith’s request. And yet, when it was introduced, read aloud and discussed, he didn’t say a word about that fact. When Blaine said the letter was authorized by the all the FACT members, Smith was again silent.

Did Commissioner Smith request the letter on his own behalf? Perhaps it was meant to provide fodder for the memo he would later use to document and rationalize his vote. Did Smith request the letter at Blaine’s behest? I don’t know – but do any of the commissioners that aren’t David Gray do anything without Blaine’s approval? There are some important things we don’t know, yet. But what we do know is that the letter was a false affidavit, and it was used to steamroll over strong concerns about the adequacy and safety of MD Route 75, and the tremendous cost of mitigating those concerns.

FACTletter1080w

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

The Two Faces of FACT – the Letter and the Candidates Forum

Only a few weeks after the FACT letter was read into the record by Blaine, FACT held a forum for candidates.

The FACT letter had extolled the benefits to the county of approving the Monrovia Town Center. The letter indicated that the development itself would be the source of funding to correct the existing and potential problems associated with MD 75.

Shortly thereafter, however, at the FACT candidates forum, there was a completely different depiction of the future for MD 75. Attendees heard State Highway Administration officials express their concern about the real challenges of funding MD 75. For instance, they described how it is mostly outside of Priority Funding Areas (PFA) and, therefore, is considered to be completely outside of the PFA. We heard it would require a special exception from the MD Department of Public Works. All of these and other comments were meant to dampen expectations about funding for the project.



Then we heard a real bombshell from Ron Burns, the county’s senior traffic engineer and a member of FACT’s advisory board. Through thirteen evenings of hearings, we referenced the county and state estimate that the necessary improvements to MD75 project would cost $262,000,000.00. Clearly, this was, and remains, an insurmountable cost, with no real prospects of being funded. But, at the FACT forum, Ron Burns said the estimate could be as high as $500,000,000.00 (half a billion dollars!) — nearly twice the earlier estimate and one that was NEVER mentioned during all the MTC hearings.



Think about it. How could FACT express these completely divergent views about MD75, just a few weeks apart – one in the letter and one at the forum? It doesn’t make sense!

Either the letter doesn’t represent an educated and accurate assessment about the challenges and costs expressed during the forum (i.e., FACT isn’t an expert on this matter), or the letter doesn’t represent FACT’s actual views (i.e., the letter is a lie, manufactured to support the agenda of the majority of the BOCC).

It has to be one or the other. And either option should be cause for concern, and sufficient reason to have the letter stricken from the record established during the hearings.

What Next?

That last point raises one of the more vexing questions over this episode. How to redress the situation?

The record is closed. The hearings are over. And the ordinances are signed.

FACT is now suggesting that the letter was submitted as public comment and not as evidence. Yet, it was presented as evidence at a time when public comment was already completed and closed. FACT now states that they “regret” some of the language in the letter. But how do you un-ring the bell at this point?

RALE will most certainly raise these issues – and many more – as part of our legal appeal of the approval of the development project and the eighteen-year Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement that goes with it. More immediately, RALE will be seeking an investigation into how this letter was requested, drafted, signed and delivered, and how it was used at the hearing.

At best, the FACT letter represents a cynical and significant abuse of power and influence. And it is yet another example of these commissioners bending and twisting the public process and information-gathering to serve their agenda.

Led by Commissioner Young and supported to a reliable majority, this board operates as if they can make it up as they go, do what they want, and limit the ability of citizens to inquire about manipulated data or refute pre-ordained conclusions…as long as they go through the motions of the process required by state law.

Well, RALE is questioning. RALE is refuting. And RALE will be asking the State Attorney General’s office to investigate. We also hope that the broader public will support a proper process, and our inquiry, and help keep up the pressure to do the right thing, the right way.

In my life, I have learned that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand tall and push back. RALE will keep standing, and RALE will keep pushing.


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


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:

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