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Montgomery Planning Department head fired amid planning board controversy

3 min

The Montgomery County Planning Board announced that it removed the Planning Department’s director, Gwen Wright, after an unscheduled closed board meeting Friday afternoon, the latest episode in a series of controversies to hit the county’s planning board and department amid a contested development plan.

In a statement, the planning board did not give a reason for Wright’s dismissal. Deputy Director Tanya Stern will serve as acting director effective Friday, according to the statement.

Four of the board’s five members voted to remove Wright — vice chair Partap Verma and commissioners Gerald R. Cichy, Tina Patterson and Carol Rubin, Wright said. The board’s chair, Casey Anderson, recused himself from the vote.

The meeting that led to Wright’s dismissal came a day after Wright spoke to WJLA in defense of Anderson after the outlet’s reporting on a leaked email in late September that accused Anderson of inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace. Anderson denied the allegations.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Wright said she was fired without cause but felt her removal was connected to her defense of Anderson. On Sept. 30, Wright sent an email, undersigned by several planning department employees, to the Montgomery County Council expressing her support for Anderson after allegations had been raised against him.

“I believe their main reason for dismissing me was that I supported Casey Anderson in a number of the difficulties that he’s recently been in,” Wright said.

Verma confirmed that the board voted 4-0 to dismiss Wright but said he couldn’t comment on personnel matters or on Wright’s assertion that she was dismissed without cause.

“Conjecture on any other parts of this issue are merely just that, conjecture,” Verma said.

Rubin did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Anderson came under fire last month after an investigation found he kept a bar of alcoholic drinks in his office and shared them with other employees, including once with Verma and once with Rubin. Anderson apologized, and the Montgomery County Council announced Wednesday that they would dock four weeks of his pay as punishment. The board members who were found to have accepted a drink from Anderson were docked one day of pay.

Questions about planning and development have long been among the most controversial political issues in Montgomery.

Wright’s firing and the allegations against Anderson come as the county council considers Thrive 2050, a plan that will guide the county’s growth and development over the next 30 years. Wright and Anderson have been the face of the plan for the county’s planning department as it has been debated publicly since mid-2019.

Supporters of the plan say it will provide more housing for different income levels and help the county grow in an environmentally sustainable way by concentrating development around transit lines. Opponents say it would lead to too much dense development, which would overwhelm schools and traffic-clogged roads while destroying tree canopy and worsening flooding.

Wright was due to retire in December and had served as planning director for nine years.

Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.