Lanny Davis is ruffling some feathers in Montgomery County.
Last week, the county’s police union hired Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, as a consultant for a referendum campaign on police collective bargaining rights.
Since then, he’s asked the county inspector general to investigate the county’s involvement with the campaign, and he’s challenged county council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) to a debate on the referendum issue. The inspector general said Monday that he would speak with the union, and Berliner sent a testy letter to Davis on Tuesday rejecting the offer.
The referendum is about a county law, passed unanimously by the council last year, to curtail certain bargaining rights that the union has had for decades. The law permits the union to bargain on traditional rights, such as wages and vacation time. But the law prevents the union from bargaining on other aspects of a police officer’s job — even something as seemingly small as checking e-mail.
County officials said that the additional rights hamstrung police managers. Union officials dispute this, and said they protect police officers from arbitrary and potentially harmful decisions by police management.
Using a petition with nearly 35,000 signatures, the union successfully put the law to referendum, and now the county is urging residents to uphold the law, using, among other things, the county’s homepage.
“Who do you think should run the Montgomery County Police Department,” the Web site asks. “The Police Chief or Police Union Leaders.”
Last week, Davis asked county Inspector General Edward Blansitt to investigate whether taxpayer funds were misused because county employees used public resources to campaign against the referendum. In the letter, he added that claims by Berliner and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) that the additional bargaining rights hamstring the police chief were “false and misleading.”
In a memo last week, County Attorney Marc Hansen wrote that the county has a “unique stake” in the outcome of the referendum, so it should be able to choose a side in the “debate.” “Depriving the County of a voice in the debate would unfairly stifle the County’s voice and defense of its policy,” Hansen wrote.
Blansitt said Monday that he has read Hansen’s memo and intends to speak with the union about its request.
Davis also sent an e-mail to Berliner last week asking for a debate. In a letter Tuesday, Berliner said there were numerous debates about the issue before the council voted on the law. Berliner added that it was “unseemly” that Davis “essentially accuse[d]” him of lying.
“Here in Montgomery County, we hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to our public discourse,” Berliner wrote. “To date, you have failed to meet that standard.”
Davis said in an interview that he did not say Berliner and Leggett were lying, and that he still wants the debate. “I assume they have been misinformed, and I still think they’re misinformed,” Davis said.