Montgomery County Attorney Clyde H. Sorrell asked the state's attorney yesterday to consider investigating allegations by County Council member Rose Crenca that she was offered money by a civic leader if she voted to limit development in Silver Spring.
Crenca, who was president of the council when it voted last month to open up Silver Spring to major development, said that Joan Ennis, president of the Allied Civic Group and an opponent of large-scale redevelopment, made the offer during a Sept. 22 lunch.
Crenca said that Ennis first warned her of the political consequences of her vote, then offered to pay off Crenca's remaining campaign debt from last year's council election, a sum that Crenca placed at $3,800.
Ennis denied yesterday making any offer, calling Crenca's assertion "a bloody lie."
"I am so amazed I can't even be angry," said Ennis, who heads the same eastern Montgomery civic coalition that Crenca led in her days as a civic activist. Ennis, 61, said that she has no money, her organization is "threadbare poor" and that she has no authority to spend money in another civic group to which she belongs.
"It's awesome that a public official with her power could accuse me in this way," Ennis said, adding she would hire a lawyer to defend herself against Crenca's allegations.
The allegations, first published in yesterday's Montgomery Journal, confounded officials in a county that prides itself on a reputation for clean government, and the incident served as a reminder of the bitter debate that split Silver Spring and the council.
Sorrell, in a letter to Acting State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell, said he had reviewed county law and found that at least two laws may be involved in Crenca's allegations. He said certain criminal provisions in state law also may be involved.
"Accordingly, I would like to suggest that your office assume the primary jurisdiction in this matter with respect to investigation and any appropriate actions leading from that investigation," Sorrell told Campbell, who is serving while chief county prosecutor Andrew Sonner is out of town.
Campbell did not return phone calls last night and it could not be learned if his office was planning to investigate the allegation. Crenca said she had been told by Sorrell to expect a phone call from the state's attorney's office.
Crenca was the key vote when the council, after months of controversy, debate and intensive lobbying by all parties, voted 4 to 3 on Nov. 3 to allow 11,250 new jobs in downtown Silver Spring.
Crenca's vote, as a Silver Spring resident and a politician who got her start in the civic movement, enraged some Silver Spring activists who said the massive redevelopment would cause traffic problems that would destroy neighborhoods. They have vowed to work for Crenca's defeat in any future election.
The 61-year-old Crenca has said she doesn't want to run for Congress, but leading county Democrats are pressuring her to change her mind and run against Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella in the 8th District. The filing deadline is Dec. 28.
Crenca said yesterday that she had not wanted to make an issue of her meeting with Ennis, but that she had no choice but to confirm the account when a Journal reporter confronted her with it. "I did not want to and had no reason to humiliate or embarrass Joan," Crenca said.
According to Crenca, Ennis made the offer as they lunched in the cafeteria of the council's Rockville office building on Sept. 22. Crenca said Ennis told her that her campaign debt could be retired with funds that the Silver Spring-Takoma Traffic Coalition had raised for a traffic study.
Denying she said any such thing, Ennis said that while she is a member of the traffic coalition, she is not on the board that controls its money. Donald Singer, whose wife Pat headed the group and who said he handled its financial matters, said the group now has less than $2,000 and that the money it raised, about $10,000, was used mostly for printing and a traffic consultant.
Crenca said she indicated to Ennis she didn't want to discuss the matter and went back to work. Crenca said she mentioned the alleged offer to her aide, Marilyn Ordway, and was surprised when Ordway told her that Ennis had made the same comment to her the previous day in a telephone call.
Crenca said she mentioned the alleged incident to her husband James, who told her to forget it, and to Sorrell, who advised her on her personal liability in making any statements.
Marilyn Piety, another former president of Allied who now works in the county budget office, said Crenca told her of it.
Ennis said she is shocked at such statements from Crenca's office staff and believes it is part of an effort to discredit citizens who had opposed her. Ennis said she had personally contributed to Crenca's campaign and had thought herself "a friend and supporter."