Supporters of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) appear to be turning on Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage, whose management of the agency has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the controversy over alleged building violations at Clarksburg Town Center.
With Duncan running for governor, some of his loyalists appear to be worried that the planning agency's woes are undermining his campaign.
The Planning Board reports to the County Council, not the county executive. But some Duncan supporters don't think that's an easy distinction to sell to voters, especially because Duncan has the power to veto the County Council's nominee for Planning Board chairman.
When Berlage was appointed in 2002, Duncan objected but didn't veto the nomination.
Berlage's current term expires in June. Council members appear divided over whether Berlage should be reappointed. David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman, said the county executive has no comment on Berlage's future.
But in recent weeks, Duncan and other administration officials have used increasingly harsh language to describe the Planning Board's leadership.
Last week, Duncan said, "There is a culture of dysfunction at Park and Planning."
Other Duncan supporters are chiming in.
In an interview last week, Stanton Gildenhorn, former chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and a member of Duncan's campaign steering committee, said that "we are all very disappointed in Derick Berlage."
He added, "I think we have all been shocked since Clarksburg at his very defensive attitude and his disdain for elected officials who are now calling him to task. Derick surprised a lot of people. He simply wasn't on the job."
In an interview, Berlage made it clear he wasn't looking to pick a fight with Duncan loyalists. But he said that Duncan shares part of the blame for what happened in Clarksburg.
"The reasons people respect Doug Duncan is he understands you have to own a problem in order to fix it," Berlage said. "At Park and Planning we have owned our part of the problem. I know that Doug is going to own his share of the problem, and together we are going to fix this."
Montrose Rd. Extension Starts
Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) didn't mind showing her support this week for the controversial extension of Montrose Road, even saying she's happy about the appearance of bulldozers.
On Monday, Floreen joined Duncan in North Bethesda to officially start construction of Montrose Parkway West, a 1.8-mile highway project to connect Interstate 270 with "old" Old Georgetown Road.
Duncan heralded the project as proof that the End Gridlock slate on the County Council he helped elect in 2002 is following through on its promise to build more roads.
Some environmentalists and North Bethesda residents have been critical of the Montrose Road project, saying it will harm the environment -- including wetlands and Old Farm Creek -- while doing little to ease traffic congestion. Two dozen opponents protested at Duncan's announcement on Monday.
But Floreen, the only council member appearing with Duncan at the groundbreaking, made it clear she believes the highway must go forward.
"Seeing the plan go from the master plan to the bulldozer makes my day," Floreen said in a speech.
One of the protesters then yelled, "Do you like seeing trees come down?"
Floreen appeared unfazed and continued her prepared remarks.
Felton to Run for Council
Reggie Felton, who served on the county school board from 1994 and 2004, has announced his candidacy for an at-large seat on the County Council.
Felton, a Democrat, was the first African American to serve as school board president. The County Council does not have any black members.
Felton's campaign platform includes expanding early childhood and adult education, boosting public safety and addressing residents' concerns about traffic congestion and the lack of affordable housing.
"We have a great community, but we must do more to preserve the character and commitment that we have traditionally had to all citizens," said Felton, a Capitol Hill lobbyist for the National School Boards Association. "I am concerned that as we grow we are forgetting that it is the people who make our county a great place to live."
High-Schooler Blasts Duncan
Duncan might have spent the last decade in office promoting the investment of tens of millions of dollars in the county's public schools, but that didn't stop Montgomery Blair High School's award-winning student newspaper from publishing a scathing opinion column against his campaign for governor last week.
Jordan Fein, a junior and a page editor for the Silver Chips newspaper, wrote an opinion piece headlined "Maryland deserves better than Duncan."
In the column, Fein accuses Duncan of working "harder for real estate developers than for the county's citizens."
The piece tries to draw links among Duncan's campaign contributions, his growth policies and his initial opposition to a smoking ban in bars and restaurants.
Fein also criticizes Duncan's support for exceeding the county's charter limit on property taxes and accuses Duncan of "flagrant dirty politics" for his recent attacks on Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, his opponent for the Democratic nomination.
"Duncan's record has made one thing clear for next fall's democratic gubernatorial primary: A vote for him is a vote wasted on a man who has failed his constituents as county executive," the last sentence of the column says.
Jody Couser, a Duncan campaign spokeswoman, said she suspects the O'Malley campaign had a role in the supplying Fein with information in the article.
"We're glad to see that Mayor O'Malley's opposition research shop is committed to communicating and going negative with all members of the media, even high school reporters," Couser said.