Thursday, April 22, 2010

Next Planning Board Chair will Likely be a Woman (Updated)

Five candidates are vying to succeed Royce Hanson as Montgomery County’s next Planning Board Chair. We can not predict who will win, but our sources in Rockville lead us to believe that the County Council will make history by appointing the first woman ever to lead the Planning Department next month.

The two leading candidates at the moment are Tedi Osias, who is a lobbyist for the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission and has worked as Chief of Staff to former Council Member Howie Denis and with the Board of Appeals, and Francoise Carrier, who is the Director of the county’s Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings. Both have experience with one of the most critical duties of the Planning Chair: dealing with community members on land-use issues. Both are well-known to Council Members because they have worked directly with them.

The other three candidates – Planning Board member and developer Joe Alfandre, former Planning Board Vice-Chair John Robinson and Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman – have been lobbying the council for the job for months. Robinson has wanted it for years. If any of these three had five votes, the council would not have extended the deadline in March.

Part of the reason for the council’s delay is that no one is seen as an ideal candidate to replace Hanson by many Council Members. When your author asked one Council Member who was looking good for the position, this person replied, “No one – on any level.” Another remarked, “None of the candidates have broad management skills which is a challenge with a $120M, 800+ person operation that has been operating too autonomously for too long.” Osias and Carrier are not managers while Fosselman hired a town manager to run Kensington.

Both Osias and Carrier have supporters but neither has locked it up. We believe that neither Alfandre nor Robinson has any support. Council Members are divided as to whether Fosselman is in the mix. Two said he was, another called him a “possible dark horse” and a fourth said, “Pete doesn’t stand a chance although he thinks he does.” Fosselman’s testimony on the Purple Line, which called for continued study of alternative routes to light rail on the Georgetown Branch, was spotlighted by rail opponents and may be a problem for some Council Members. Slow-growth civic activists have begun emailing the council on behalf of Carrier, which will bolster her in the eyes of some Council Members but hurt her in the eyes of others.

We believe the council is split down the middle between Osias and Carrier. At the moment, one Council Member favors Carrier, one favors Carrier with Fosselman as a second choice, two favor Osias, two see the job as between Osias and Carrier, one sees it as between Osias, Carrier and Fosselman and two have not indicated an opinion. That is about as up in the air as it gets.

Whoever gets the job as Planning Chair may regret it. The Department faces years of budget cuts, continuous demands for master plans, project reviews and growth policy reviews, a possible merger of its Parks Department with the county’s Department of Recreation and the ever-complicated relationships on the County Council. The council could very well make history by picking a woman as the next Planning Chair, but that does not mean the next chapter in the Department’s own history will be an easy one.

Update: We made a mistake in this post. One of our sources tells us that Caroline Freeland was Planning Chair from 1963 through 1971. So Osias or Carrier would be the first female chair in thirty-nine years.