Thursday, April 23, 2009

Duchy Trachtenberg Walks Out

In the most extreme symptom of a general unrest that has been permeating the County Council for months, Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg became so aggravated with a colleague that she did the unthinkable: walk out on a vote.

The event occurred on April 21, which perhaps not coincidentally was the District 4 special election primary day. During the morning session, the council was considering Bill 4-09, a component of the County Executive’s stimulus package that would delay impact taxes paid for development projects. Council staff expressed concerns that the bill would cause problems in financing the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The bill fell under the jurisdiction of the council’s Management and Fiscal Policy (MFP) Committee, of which Trachtenberg is Chair. At 2:26:38 of the morning session video, Trachtenberg says, “The issue that’s been raised by some on the committee, although I haven’t polled the entire committee, is that this would have an impact on the CIP.” That raises a process question: the MFP Committee had not considered the staff’s newest memo in a work session. Furthermore, Maryland’s open meeting law requires committees with quorums to meet in public. Since the Montgomery County Council’s committees all have three members, two constitute a quorum and should therefore discuss committee matters in public. What exactly did Trachtenberg mean when she said she had not “polled the entire committee?”

Council Member George Leventhal pursues the issue at 2:42:17 of the video. Here is the exchange:

Leventhal: I also wanted to understand, of course it’s the Council President’s prerogative to take something off the agenda at any time and I appreciate that but earlier the Chair of the MFP Committee had said that she had polled the committee and that... but, she hadn’t polled the committee? I just wasn’t clear. Had the committee been contacted, or... ?

Trachtenberg: I said that I had not been able to poll the entire committee. I have not spoken, obviously, directly to Councilmember Ervin [a member of the committee]. I’ll be very specific.

Leventhal: Uh-huh. You polled some of a three-member committee.

Trachtenberg: No, I didn’t poll them actually. I had colleagues come to me about the item and obviously one of them was the Council President. [Phil Andrews is a member of the MFP Committee.]

Leventhal: Poll was the Chair’s word.

Trachtenberg (clicks tongue disapprovingly): George, I actually think that your comments are not being made in the spirit of collaboration.

Leventhal: So, just for the record, the chair spoke with one member of a three-member committee.

Trachtenberg (clicks tongue disapprovingly): When I walked in this morning, I had several e-mails and voice mails from colleagues. I don’t need to name names. And obviously I walked up here to this dais with my pocketbook and my bundles, OK? I didn’t have a lengthy period of time in my office to go contact Councilmember Ervin. No one is looking to isolate a colleague from discussion. And I did not want to represent what I was saying as a committee recommendation because I did not have the opportunity, the benefit, of having a direct conversation with Councilmember Ervin. I think that should clarify what went on. Again, I do not appreciate the spirit in which your remarks are being made.
The council chose to defer Bill 4-09. Six minutes after her exchange with Leventhal, Trachtenberg gathered up her papers and walked out of the room. She missed a vote taken on Bill 5-09 at 2:50:24 of the video. She missed the public hearings scheduled for later that day and was a half-hour late for the afternoon’s MFP meeting, for which she was the Chair.

This was the second bout of erratic behavior from Trachtenberg in less than a week. On Thursday April 16, Trachtenberg attended a meeting of the Leisure World Democratic Club. She had been invited as a guest months earlier to discuss the budget. Instead, she talked for 45 minutes about herself, her family and her background in the women’s movement before complaining of “dissension” on the council and then plugging Ben Kramer’s District 4 candidacy. The meeting’s organizers stood by helpless to stop her. Multiple attendees who supported other candidates left the room and others were simply appalled.

The County Council building has been an increasingly tense place in the last few months with the awful budget situation, the special election and thoughts of 2010 mixing into a foul and bubbling stew. But this is the first time during this term that a Council Member has actually missed a vote due to aggravation with a colleague.

What’s next?