The Montgomery County Council voted 4 to 3 yesterday to confirm John P. Hewitt's nomination to the county Planning Board, ending an emotional racial controversy that had threatened a key appointment by County Executive Sidney Kramer.
The action, capping an afternoon of suspenseful debate that temporarily deadlocked the council, came after a council-ordered investigation found no evidence Hewitt was aware or approved of segregated worker facilities that existed while he was a park administrator in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"I am tickled to death . . . . I think I can do a commendable job," Hewitt said after the council vote. During the session, the 64-year-old Hewitt stood at the back of the packed council chambers as members, in sometimes blunt remarks, questioned his veracity and his ability as a planner.
It does leave "a little bad taste in your mouth," Hewitt admitted, but stressed he has no hard feelings toward anyone. Moments after the council made him one of the county's five citizen planners, Hewitt walked over and shook hands with one of his main accusers, Montgomery County NAACP President Roscoe R. Nix.
Nix had raised the issue of segregated facilities for black workers and white workers at the Meadowbrook Yard after Kramer announced Hewitt's appointment a month ago. Hewitt, a Silver Spring real estate agent, served 29 years with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The segregated facilities existed during part of his tenure, according to the report by the council's Office of Legislative Oversight.
Hewitt, who had repeatedly denied he was aware of any segregated facilities, did so again yesterday when the council called him forward for a round of public questions.
Hewitt is likely to be sworn into the $12,600 part-time post today. Hewitt and Carol G. Henry, who under a new law became the first appointments to the board by a county executive, are expected to change the political landscape of the board, which approves subdivisions and advises the council on important land-use decisions.
Kramer is expected to have more input in some board decisions through his two appointments. Hewitt, regarded by some as a strong supporter of development, replaces Republican Betty Anne Krahnke, who had been a fierce watchdog on growth issues.
The testing ground of the new board's position on growth is likely to be the upcoming debate on major development plans for downtown Silver Spring.
"I don't care to burden Mr. Hewitt with a charge of racism," council member Bruce Adams, an early opponent of Hewitt's nomination, said during the debate. But, he said, "I don't find him sufficiently sensitive to questions of racial matters . . . to win my vote." Adams also said he had concerns that Hewitt's philosophy and management style were outdated.
Joining Adams and member Neal Potter in opposing Hewitt's nomination was Isiah Leggett, the council's only black member. Leggett said Hewitt had made comments that were inconsistent with parts of the report. Leggett later said that Hewitt had assured him there was no substantial problem of segregated facilities at Meadowbrook, contrary to the report's findings.
Council President Rose Crenca and members Michael L. Subin and William E. Hanna Jr. previously had indicated they would vote for Hewitt, so the deciding vote was left to Michael L. Gudis, who tried to delay consideration by abstaining. Gudis voted for the appointment only after the council staff said a 3-3-1 vote would have been a vote of confirmation.