Montgomery’s Rollin Stanley retracts comments about county planning activists

March 21, 2012

Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley has retracted comments he made in a local magazine in which he characterized a group of residents who questioned his vision for redeveloping Maryland’s largest county as “rich white women” who were “sowing discord.”

“My recent comments reported in Bethesda Magazine in which I refer to members of the community as ‘rich white women’ were thoughtless and cast dispersions on the contribution made to the planning process by these individuals,” he said in a statement posted on the Montgomery County Planning Department Web site late Tuesday. “Not only was it inaccurate to characterize these civic leaders as ‘spreading fear,’ ‘sowing discord’ and ‘stalking my appearances,’ it grossly mischaracterized their important and valuable role in the land use process. I retract this statement and apologize for it.”

As a result of the incident, which led to calls for his resignation, Stanley said he intended to enroll in conflict-resolution classes.

Stanley issued the retraction after he, Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier and Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Marye Wells-Harley held a private meeting on Monday with the four women. Pat Baptiste, one of them, said that during the meeting, the group asked Stanley to retract his statement.

“We’re certainly very glad to get it,” she said Wednesday about Stanley’s statement. The piece in the March/April edition of Bethesda Magazine chronicled Stanley’s vision for a more urban county. “It’s very total in correcting the false statements he made. ”

Added Meredith Wellington, another of the women: “I’m very pleased that he has issued this statement to clear the air.”

Stanley did not return calls for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the department said the planning director’s statement “stands on its own.”

Stanley’s remarks caused an immediate uproar among civic activists and community members. Stanley sent a letter to the editor of the magazine apologizing for his remarks, but that seemed to do little to quell the uproar.

Activists — who have clashed with Stanley in the past — said the remarks were sexist and further evidence of his disdain for public participation in county planning matters. Two civic groups — the Montgomery County Civic Federation and the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights — also called on Stanley to resign.

Although the article identified and quoted only Wellington by name, those active in county planning issues said it wasn’t difficult to determine the identities of the others: Baptiste, Julie Davis and Jenny Sue Dunner. Baptiste and Wellington are former planning commissioners. All have been active in county planning issues.

The Planning Board has held at least four closed meetings on personnel issues since the article appeared, but officials would not say whether Stanley was a topic of discussion. But Carrier quickly distanced the board from his comments, issuing a strongly worded statement disavowing the remarks.

“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 said. “This board does not take lightly the potential implications of his words, and we will be taking appropriate corrective action.”

Stanley was appointed planning director in 2008 and oversees a staff of 140.

Wellington said she hoped that Stanley would learn from the flap.

“I hope this leads to a more respectful atmosphere where citizens can express their views and be listened to thoughtfully,” she said.

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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