The Montgomery Council took its first step today in checking County Executive Isiah Leggett’s “unbridled” authority to deal away county-owned assets, despite Leggett's objection that the Council is overstepping its bounds in arming itself with a “legislative veto” over a contract's financial specifics.
Councilman George Leventhal today formally introduced expedited bill 11-12, which would amend county code to give the Council final say on the sale of county-owned property worth more than $100,000 and leases that last three years or more or that segue into ownership. Each such transaction would require a public hearing with at least 15 days notice before the Council approves or rejects the deal.
The point of contention: Leventhal's bill would also give the council domain over contractual details, “including the price or rent to be paid and any associated economic incentives”—a step the executive branch says runs afoul of the county charter.
While County attorney Marc P. Hansen concurs that the Council can give itself the authority to approve land deals, “the Council cannot exercise a ‘legislative veto’ over the terms and conditions of a contract negotiated by the Executive,” he wrote in an email to council staffers.
Co-sponsored by Council President Roger Berliner, Phil Andrews, Mark Elrich, Nancy Navarro and Hans Reimer, the bill comes in response to a string of multi-million dollar real estate deals County Executive Isiah Leggett executed without notice or input, including:
- A $20 million commitment to build a parking garage for the Universities at Shady Grove
- The fates of the soon-to-be vacant police station and library in downtown Silver Spring
- An economic development award that dealt the county’s police headquarters in Rockville to a biotech firm according to a reassessment that valued the land at $3.2 million—down from the $9.2 million the council had for years been told the property was worth.
Those deals showed how far the balance of power has tipped, said Council president Roger Berliner.
“The notion that the County Executive can have unbridled authority to dispose of significant chunks of assets, or lease those assets, without significant participation by the County Council … needs to be redressed,” he said.
And when David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services, responded that the executive branch intends to keep the council abreast of major transactions, Berliner shot back: “I think you understand our desire is to be partners in these efforts, not to be informed with respect to them—it’s a major distinction.”
A public hearing on the bill is set for 1:30pm on March 20 in Rockville, after which the bill will go to council committee.