Activists call for ouster of Montgomery County planning director

March 13, 2012

Some civic activists are calling for Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley to resign following comments published in a local magazine where he characterized a group that has questioned his vision for remaking the county as “rich white women . . . spreading fear’’ who “stalk his appearances before community groups.”

The remarks in a story about the county’s push to build more mixed-use, high-rise developments appeared in the March/April issue of Bethesda Magazine and drew an immediate reaction from civic groups, who said the comments were sexist and evidence of Stanley’s disregard for public participation in county planning matters.

Stanley, who became planning director in 2008 and oversees a staff of 140, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

However, Stanley’s boss, Francoise Carrier, the chairwoman of the county planning board, issued a statement last week disavowing the comments.
“The statements attributed to Mr. Stanley regarding certain members of the community, and the sentiments expressed, in no way reflect the views of this board or this agency,” Carrier said before last week’s planning board meeting.

“While we are grateful to Mr. Stanley for the work he has done on behalf of the agency and for this county to date, we did not sanction his interview with Mr. [Eugene] Meyer, nor do we condone the views he expressed,” she continued. “This board does not take lightly the potential implications of his words, and we will be taking appropriate corrective action.”

Carrier declined to comment this week.

The planning board met Tuesday in closed session to discuss issues related to personnel, according to an agenda item. Valerie Berton, a spokeswoman for the planning department would not say whether the discussion was about Stanley, adding that there would be no further comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

Though only one woman was named in Stanley’s reference in the magazine article, those active in county politics said it was easy to determine the identities of others. The four include Meredith Wellington and Pat Baptiste, both former planning commissioners, as well as Julie Davis and Jenny Sue Dunner. All have been active participants in county planning issues as well as in the multiyear effort to rewrite Montgomery’s zoning code.

The four wrote a joint letter to the magazine’s editor decrying Stanley’s comments:

“By dismissing us as ‘rich white women’ (a blatantly racial and sexist slur) who ‘spread fear’ and ‘sow discord’ and by claiming that we describe ourselves as members of a ‘coven’ and thus by implication are not to be taken seriously by local elected and appointed planning officials, Mr. Stanley has impugned our integrity, attacked our credibility, and damaged our personal and professional reputations.”

Wellington said she believes Stanley should resign because his remarks have the potential to have a “chilling effect” on public participation.

“The agency struggled even before Rollin with outreach to a variety of communities that aren’t used to participating,” Wellington said. “It’s very important that the process benefits from public input.”

At least one civic group also has said Stanley should resign.

In a letter to the planning board, Peggy Dennis, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, wrote: “This latest example of his disregard for citizen opinion and disdain for those who do not support his views and tactics is, for us, the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’ As a result, we believe Mr. Stanley should be asked to resign immediately.”

Several days after the joint letter was put online, Stanley wrote a response to the magazine apologizing “for coming across as dismissive of critics of the Planning Department.”

“It was not my intention to denigrate the opinions of any citizen or discourage anyone from participating in the debate over the future of Montgomery County,” he wrote.

Wellington said she received a handwritten note of apology from Stanley after the article was published. Baptiste said Stanley called her and invited her to have coffee. She suggested Stanley sit down with the group and is waiting to hear back from his staff on when they will meet.

“We can laugh it off, but there is a little bit of ouch to it,” Baptiste said. “My bigger concern is for people who aren’t quite as steely as we are.”

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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