Montgomery County has long prided itself on having transparent government. But several statements and actions by County Council members recently could raise questions about commitment to that practice. During this spring's budget debate, council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) told The Washington Post that a final budget would be finalized during "closed-door meetings." Silverman later called back to clarify his remarks, saying he meant to say that council members would caucus with each other individually.
And when the council decides how to divvy up community grants, usually in May, the council president has traditionally made the final decision on who gets what in a private session. This year was no different.
Last month, council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) accused council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) of orchestrating a response to building violations at Clarksburg Town Center "in the dark of night."
Subin said Perez held secret meetings with Clarksburg community leaders and didn't let several other council members know.
Earlier, on July 1, council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) wrote an e-mail to Perez about the council's response to the Clarksburg controversy.
"Tom, I think the Council needs to do more to get in front of this issue," Praisner wrote. "I would recommend that we have a closed session on Tuesday to review what is planned and assess the magnitude of the problem and assess process for remedy and review."
Later in the e-mail, Praisner wrote: "Besides the closed session, I think the council needs to get the [inspector general] involved. . . . Short of this we raise more serious questions that will surface in the media and we will eventually respond. Not a pretty picture."
According to the Maryland attorney general's office, the County Council cannot hold closed meetings unless discussing personnel matters, ongoing litigation, public security, labor negotiations or competitive bids. The council also is allowed to close a meeting to talk about "an investigative proceeding on actual or possible criminal conduct."
Praisner said in an interview that she wanted a closed-door meeting so the council could discuss the circumstances surrounding a senior planner's resignation, which would be a personnel issue. But Praisner's e-mail makes no reference to that matter.
Either way, Patrick Lacefield, a council spokesman, said the issue is moot. He said the council never had a closed-door meeting to discuss the Clarksburg matter.
"We are fairly transparent. The only time we have closed-door meetings is when it has to deal with litigation or personnel matters," Lacefield said.
Trachtenberg Mulls Options
After Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) dashed Duchy Trachtenberg's hopes of being elected to Congress in 2006, she set her sights set on running for the County Council.
And, ironically, thanks to Van Hollen, she may already have a lot of money for her campaign.
When Van Hollen was contemplating leaving the House of Representatives to run for the U.S. Senate, Trachtenberg was an early contender for his 8th District seat.
She established an exploratory committee, which quickly raised more than $200,000. But Van Hollen decided against a Senate bid last month, ending Trachtenberg's hopes of running for Congress. (He also ended the congressional hopes of at least a half-dozen other Democrats).
Now, Trachtenberg says she is strongly considering running for the County Council, either for an at-large seat or the District 1 seat to represent the area that includes Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
"I have not quite decided which one," Trachtenberg said, adding that she hopes to make up her mind by the end of the year.
In 2002, she was the Democratic nominee against District 1 council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda). Denis barely defeated her in the heavily Democratic district.
Since then, she has served as the Maryland president of the National Organization for Women. Trachtenberg, co-chair of the Women's Leadership Network of the Maryland Democratic Party, was an adviser to Howard Dean during his 2004 presidential bid.
If she runs in District 1, she is likely to face Roger Berliner, a lawyer and Potomac resident, in the Democratic primary. If she runs for an at-large seat, she will face three incumbents -- Subin, Nancy Floreen (D) and George L. Leventhal (D) -- and perhaps other challengers.
Because her exploratory committee wasn't descriptive about whether she was running for a state or federal office, Trachtenberg expects that she can transfer the money raised for her potential congressional race to a council race. She won't disclose the exact amount she raised but said it's between $200,000 and $300,000.
Terry Harris, deputy director of the Maryland Board of Elections, said state law on exploratory committees is murky, so further review of Trachtenberg's intentions would be needed.
Ervin Mum on Council Run
If Perez decides to run for state attorney general next year, school board member Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring) could become a candidate for his council seat.
Ervin, who is an aide to Leventhal, said such talk "keeps coming up."
But Ervin, who is the only black member of the school board besides student member Sebastian Johnson, said she "hasn't given it much consideration."
Still, she gave a carefully worded response to keep her options open.
"I am very flattered my name is floating around, but I do not think I am serious about it right now, at this moment," Ervin said.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) appears to be everywhere this summer.
He's been traveling the state in his all-but-declared bid for governor, spending at least two days a month in each of Maryland's 23 counties. In the past 10 days, for example, Duncan has been to Baltimore, Frederick and Anne Arundel counties, according to his campaign.
Before that, Duncan spent a week in Hawaii attending a National Association of Counties conference. Yesterday, he was to set off on a four-day trip to El Salvador to discuss possible economic partnerships and recent gang activity.
He will attend a Maryland Association of Counties conference next week in Ocean City.
"While many are away on vacation, the county executive is hard at work," said David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman.