One of the biggest sideshows emerging from the controversy over building violations in Clarksburg is the increasingly bitter relationship between Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage and Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).
Floreen, a former planning board member, has emerged as a leading critic of Berlage's management of the planning department.
She has hired Patricia Baptiste, also a former planning board member, as a part-time staffer in her office. Floreen, with Baptiste's help, is expected to play a major role in efforts to reform the agency -- which could include the hiring of a new chairman once Berlage's current term expires in the spring.
Last month, Floreen sent a staff member on a covert mission to the planning department's headquarters in Silver Spring to test planning officials' claims that the agency has improved its controls over who gets access to site plans and other development records. Floreen said the staff member was able to walk out of the agency with a file, causing her to berate planning department leaders. Floreen served on the planning board from 1986 to 1994, before Berlage was named chairman.
When he learned of Floreen's actions, Berlage sent her a letter, saying he was "disappointed" she did not inform him about the exercise before going public with her findings.
Last week, County Inspector General Thomas Dagley wrote a letter to county leaders saying the planning agency has not been cooperating with his office -- a charge that Berlage strongly denies. Floreen was quoted in both The Washington Post and the Gazette saying she was appalled that Berlage's agency was allegedly not cooperating with Dagley.
Floreen was even quoted by the Gazette as asking: "Are they hiding something?"
Berlage, a former council member, has apparently decided to fight back.
On Monday, he appeared before the council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, on which Floreen serves. During his opening remarks, Berlage took the rare step of publicly implying that Floreen had tried to intervene in the planning department's investigation into allegations that some homes in the 28-unit Bethesda Crest development were built too tall or close to a church.
"Mrs. Floreen, you have expressed great interest in the Bethesda Crest situation, which I appreciate," Berlage told the committee. "We hope you appreciate that staff cannot discuss the specifics of an ongoing investigation, not even with council members."
One council member later said it was the first time in years that an agency head had attempted, although subtly, to publicly embarrass a council member.
After Berlage's presentation, Floreen was asked what she thought of it. She grimaced, then said, "It stands on its own."
Silverman vs. Soccer Clubs
There's also a feud between council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) and some members of the county's recreational soccer community.
Here's the abridged version:
Silverman has been trying to quell a revolt by six soccer organizations -- Montgomery Soccer Inc., Bethesda Soccer Club, Damascus Soccer Club, Potomac Soccer Association, Seneca Soccer Association and Washington International Soccer League -- that are threatening to pull their games from the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds because of high fees.
The mediation was to begin last month. But the six clubs did not attend the first scheduled mediation session.
The leaders of the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which manages the SoccerPlex, took that to mean the organizations were not interested in mediation.
On Friday, the foundation announced a $6 million donation from Discovery Communications Inc. Chairman John Hendricks, who was instrumental in raising millions to get the complex built. The grant includes money for a new soccer league that will play at the SoccerPlex even if the other organizations decide not to.
A press release announcing the grant said the new league was in part necessary because the six clubs weren't interested in mediating their dispute with the foundation.
But Rick Heilman, president of Seneca Soccer Association, said the release wasn't true. Instead, Heilman sent an e-mail over the weekend to about two dozen people and media -- including The Washington Post -- saying Silverman had told them they didn't need to attend the mediation.
"The six clubs did not appear with the complete awareness and agreement of Steve Silverman," Heilman wrote.
Silverman responded with an e-mail saying he never said that the clubs shouldn't show up for mediation.
"If you or any of the other clubs believed that I somehow gave you the 'ok' to not show up at mediation, I'm surprised," Silverman wrote.
Leon Reed, president of Montgomery Soccer Inc., then replied to Silverman, saying he agreed with Heilman's recollection of events.
Heilman wrote another e-mail to Silverman, which, like earlier ones, was copied to about two dozen others. Here is Heilman's e-mail: "With this response, you have shown that you have no integrity but only political expediency. You and I both know what was said in that conversation and to hear you now spin the conversation and create revisionist history is shameful.
"I am certainly recommending to anyone who has a conversation with you to tape it so that there is an accurate record of your statements that you cannot refute when the mood strikes you.
"We put our trust in you to be a non-partisan voice in this issue and you have violated that trust in every way.
"You played us for suckers and unfortunately we bought your line. Go collect your 30 pieces of silver from your big donors. You've served them well."
Silverman didn't respond to Heilman's last e-mail. But in an interview, Silverman said he is still trying to figure out why Heilman is so upset.
"I have no idea what would prompt him to make such outrageous statements," Silverman said. "I'm interested in helping Montgomery County kids play soccer on Montgomery County fields. It's disappointing to me that people want to personalize what should be about getting kids to play soccer."
Leggett Shifts Out of Neutral
Former County Council member Isiah Leggett, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for county executive in 2006, appears to be backing away from earlier statements that he is staying neutral in next year's race for governor.
Last month, Leggett said he had no plans to endorse County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in his race against Baltimore Mayor Martin J. O'Malley for the Democratic nomination for governor.
At the time, Leggett's neutrality was seen as an attempt to appease some of his strongest supporters in the county, many of whom are supporting O'Malley because of Duncan's record on growth and development issues and his support for the planned intercounty connector highway.
But in the past few weeks either Leggett has had a complete change of heart or, as some political observers suggest, he came to realize Duncan is still a formidable political force in Montgomery County.
Two weeks ago, when Duncan officially announced his candidacy in Rockville, Leggett was in the audience wearing a "Duncan for governor" sticker. When asked if he was now supporting Duncan, Leggett said he would "be making an announcement in the future" about whom he supports.
"I'm reasonably assured Doug will be pleased," Leggett said.
By endorsing Duncan, Leggett will remove an issue his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Silverman, had planned to use against him.
Silverman, a strong Duncan backer, has been criticizing Leggett's neutrality, saying Montgomery County will get more state support with one of its own in the governor's office.
O'Neill Opts for School Board
Patricia O'Neill, president of the Montgomery County school board, who had been considering a run for Montgomery County Council, announced that she will instead run for reelection to the Board of Education.
"I wanted to let you know that I have decided to follow my heart and run for re-election to the Montgomery County Board of Education,'' she wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
O'Neill said she plans to file and announce her intentions in January 2006. A formal campaign kickoff will follow around St. Patrick's Day, the e-mail said.
Staff writer Lori Aratani contributed to this report.