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County Disregards Warnings of Public Outcry Over Brickyard

Documents show that Montgomery County Public Schools warned county officials of public outrage should the Brickyard land be leased for soccer fields.

 

Montgomery County failed to heed warnings of public outcry when it pushed forward the Brickyard Road soccer field project, according to documents released to the Brickyard Coalition after its members filed a Public Information Act request with the county.

Email messages between county officials and Montgomery County Public Schools indicate that the Montgomery County Board of Education was aware that the Potomac community would heavily oppose a decision to lease the land to the county for soccer fields, but that both parties went along with the lease agreement anyway.

A Feb. 3, 2011 message from Cynthia Brenneman, director of the county's real estate office in the Department of General Services, to DGS Director David Dise states that BOE was hesitant to sign a lease without having notified the public.

"I spoke with Mary Pat [Wilson, real estate management specialist with MCPS]. She doubts that the Board will sign a lease until there has been some kind of public notice process of our intent to do this project. [The Board is] concerned about public reaction and don't want to be caught in the middle… They also don't want to lose their tenant if something happens and our project doesn't go forward," Brenneman wrote.

In an email dated two weeks later, on Feb. 14, 2011, Brenneman reiterated the BOE's issue with public process to Dise.

"They [the school board] really do have a concern that we haven't notified the community yet. I think they believe the outcry will be so overwhelming that we won't proceed," Brenneman wrote.

Despite these concerns, the of the county's intentions for the land didn't come until March 2011, when the BOE informed Nick Maravell of Nick's Organic Farm that his lease to farm the land would not be renewed. Maravell had operated an organic farm on the Brickyard plot of land for 30 years. At the the board heard comments from the public and ultimately decided to sign a lease with the county.

The wasn't held until April of 2011.

The Brickyard Coalition, made up of individuals and civic organizations opposing the county's decision to lease the land for soccer fields, submitted a Public Information Act request for the documents from the county and the BOE.

The coalition has with the county's public notification process in the Brickyard issue, and in 2011 the Maryland Open Meetings Law Compliance Board found that county residents were not made sufficiently aware of the proceedings. in July 2011 claiming that the Open Meetings Act was violated and that the court should therefore reject the county’s claim on the land. before the case was to be heard.

MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said, "the Board was acting upon a request from the county," when asked about the BOE's concerns with public process.

"I think the school board was pressured into [leasing the land] by the county, and I think these documents illustrate that," said coalition member Curt Uhre.

David Dise confirmed the emails to Patch on Wednesday.

According to Dise, the county wasn't ready to go to the community without first knowing if the project would come to fruition.

"We had no idea if the board would accept the lease or not. A decision was made not to get everyone excited until we knew where we were going." Dise told Patch. "We go to the public for projects with land that we control."

Had the county anticipated the public's outcry after the decision to lease the land was made, it might have acted differently, Dise said.

"I think that's obvious knowing the community's reaction to this, knowing what we know now. But you can't second guess yourself," he said.

When asked about community reaction and if the county had anticipated public outcry, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield responded to Patch in an email:

"We were and are pursuing the public interest to get more soccer fields for kids as per the Potomac master plan. I understand that some folks don't want soccer fields or previously affordable housing on 20 acres of a commercial farm. They want nothing in their back yard. That however is not in keeping with the master plan or the public interest. As a Potomac resident myself I know that plenty of folks favor more fields for kids."

Jerry February 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM
The Montgomery County public school system has once again demonstrated that, at best, it is not in tune with the homeowners who fund it with exorbitant property taxes. "More soccer fields for kids" at the expense of disrupting adjacent homeowners who pay through the nose to fund public schools? Gimme at break! It's time to seriously review the funding and agenda for Montgomery County public schools. They have country club campuses, frivolous electives, and now land available for more soccer fields. This is not what the taxpayers want.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 23, 2012 at 01:46 PM
At what point does the lack of transparency and the pattern of backroom deals in both the county government and the Board of Education equal full-blown corruption? And then what do we do?
Maria Fusco February 23, 2012 at 02:12 PM
THese are the issues that the overwhelming majority of residents are concerned with: If circumvention of process; strong-arm tactics are allowed ~ w/only recourse for residents is to pool their money to hire lawyers to get our elected officials to follow laws... then everyone in Mont. Co. need be worried: Which neighborhood next?
Janis February 23, 2012 at 02:28 PM
These are the elected officials that the Apple Ballot endorses. Backroom deals instead of public deliberations as mandated by the Maryland Open Meetings Act.
Elisabeth Waugaman February 23, 2012 at 04:43 PM
As a resident of this area that has both affordable housing and five soccer fields, I have been deeply offended by the remarks of Mr. Lacefield, Mr. Leggett's spokesman, who maintains "we" are NIMBY's who don't want affordable housing or soccer fields near us. Mr. Lacefield should have looked at a map before he hurled those accusations. In addition to these inaccurate denigrations, Mr. Lacefield said the county had numerous meeting with residents about this issue without clarifying that these meetings were only held after the neighborhood was notified of "a done deal." Nothing about this process has been fair or democratic. Since I have always voted for Mr. Leggett, it has been especially painful for me to see our executive branch disregard due process and dismiss citizens' concerns by attempting to portray them as elitist snobs. This is the ugliest kind of politics which tries to divert attention from the issue at hand by portraying any opposition as monstrous. It should not be tolerated and must be exposed if we are to have a civil, democratic society in which everyone has a right to be heard.
MS Liu February 23, 2012 at 07:24 PM
You mean to actually fight the big, bad interest group - MSL?
MS Liu February 23, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I thought the government is suppose to be of the people, by the people and for the people? I guess it does not apply to "county" governments!! Why can't the Montgomery County and its BOE do what the people wants?????? Apparently, Montgomery Count is for the profits, by the powers-to-be, and of the interest groups.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 23, 2012 at 07:53 PM
MS Liu, I'm not sure what you mean by MSL. Scale-it-back was formed to oppose the size of the development proposed by the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan and particularly Johns Hopkins' plans for Belward Farm on Darnestown Road. We can relate to the problems with Nick's Organic Farm because we feel that the master plan was, for the most part, a done deal before the first resident heard anything about it. The County execs and the developers put the plan together without regard to the effect that approximately 50,000 additional people will have on our neighborhoods.
NatureLover February 23, 2012 at 08:57 PM
I just heard an announcement on WAMU that they are hosting something called the Public Insight Network. This is a program to link 'citizen journalists' with professional reporter. The Brickyard Coalition should nominate someone (Maria?) to be the public spokesperson. You sign up through WAMU and give your contact information and the story of the issue. A journalist will contact to discuss the issue. You will be responsible for providing updates as events warrant. Sounds like a good entre to a wider media audience.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 23, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Great idea...the website is: http://wamu.org/about/public_insight_network
Maria Fusco February 23, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Thank You Patricia ~ I may/may not be the right person, but there are quite a few of us involved, and I'm going to contact Brickyard Coalition so we can "get it done!" Thank You! ~ Maria
Colatlas February 23, 2012 at 09:25 PM
It is disappointing to read that our county spokesman is attempting to pit Montgomery County residents against each other by mislabeling and mischaracterizing the motives of those of us who have chosen to speak out on an issue of real concern to both the local neighborhood and the county as a whole. Do you care about your neighborhood? According to our county spokesman, if your neighborhood is in Potomac, you are an elitist snob. Do you care about a fair and open process? According to our county spokesman, you are frustrating the public interest. Do you believe that the public should be able to rely upon the County's pronouncements, such as the Master Plan? According to our spokesman, not if it would inconvenience county officials from making backroom deals with favored interests. If Mr. Lacefield truly speaks for our County, and not just himself, perhaps we should call into question the character and judgment of those we elected to serve us. Our county can, and should, do better than this.
J Frederick Barr MD February 23, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I think the County Executive is a disgusting personality, who totally ignores the interests of the citizens who placed him in office. I( understand he does not plan, or can't reun for re-election, so "who cares," is his attitude. I am sure we will fight this appropriately. My question is, whatand/or how does he personally benefit from his stubborness....Any decent official, when confronted with an overwhelming opposition, were he intelligent, and decent, would back away from this internecine matter. Is there any more we need say?
we, the people February 24, 2012 at 02:49 AM
I was in both meetings between March 8th BOE vote and the date the lease was signed. Dise repeatedly mentioned that County Executive “wants” these ball fields to be built on this piece of land. Mr. Dise and his boss knew very well through those meetings that residents were strongly against their wishes. Nevertheless they pushed forward with their schemes. What can I say about Lacefield? He claims he is one of the 99% yet he lives among the 1%. What a hypocrite! Patrick, this neighborhood is united like you have never seen before. We don’t care about your derogatory remarks. Next time there is a public meeting, show up and say these things to our face you coward!
LRW February 24, 2012 at 03:17 AM
I work for the federal government. I am outraged by the lack of a clear, open and respectful process to gather input from the community on this issue and to work to develop a solution that meets the needs of the residents and the County at large. Why has there never been an open dialog to attempt to resolve this issue? The County must take a step back and consider the views and opinions of all involved.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 24, 2012 at 04:01 AM
The appalling behavior of some of the county execs has been a long-standing pattern and as the saying goes, “the fish rots from the head down”. The obnoxious comments made about the Potomac residents by Patrick Lacefield are inexcusable. During the County Council hearings for the Master Plan, Mike Knapp said “The residents deserve my disdain.” During another Council meeting, George Leventhal mocked the residents. During the PHED Committee meetings, Mike Knapp and Nancy Floreen sat like statues even when faced with obvious flaws in the transportation and financial analyses. The deal had been struck and nothing would move them. That is not the way it is supposed to happen.
Mimi Schaefer February 24, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Lacefield makes it sound as if soccer fields are like public parks - kids playing and having fun. Only that parks are open to the general public and used for public good. These soccer fields will only benefit families who paid money to the soccer club and the fields are not being used for their purposes, the area will be closed - as in locked up. I have a problem with companies receiving free land, that will generate a profit for themselves and no one else benefits. There must be some benefit that one particular person is receiving which is unknown to us. Ike Leggett is somehow going to profit and we'll only find out about that after the farm is destroyed. Doesn't anyone realize what a treasure this farm is? It's absurd to say Mont Cty needs it's 500th soccer field at the expense of the ONLY organic farm. We all need to get involved. This is plain wrong.
Alex Hamilton February 24, 2012 at 04:00 PM
When Ike's Chauwawa Patrick Lacefield attacks residents of this county, he is doing it on behalf of and at the best of his boss, Mr. Leggett. Don't give Leggett a pass. Lacefield is doing exactly what Leggett wants him to do, and by our getting mad at Lacefield, Leggett is getting what he wants. Hold him accountable.
Maria Fusco February 24, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I've been meaning to ask Janis: Who comprise the "Apple Ballot?"
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 24, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Alex, you've got that right! During the Master Plan process, Ike had Diane Schwartz-Jones as his mouthpiece. The county execs put so much effort into avoiding the truth...it must be exhausting. I would really like to know who is pulling Ike's strings. Then we would be on to something!
Alex Hamilton February 24, 2012 at 04:43 PM
When Ike's Chauwawa Patrick Lacefield attacks residents of this county, he is doing it on behalf of and at the behest of his boss, Mr. Leggett. Don't give Leggett a pass. Lacefield is doing exactly what Leggett wants him to do, and by our getting mad at Lacefield, Leggett is getting what he wants. Hold him accountable.
John Kane March 11, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Grow up and move on. Build the fields for the kids. You are the same ones who would not build the ICC or a 2nd crossing. More hospitals, schools and roads are a fact of life.

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