Sunday, December 08, 2013 6:28 AM
Published on: Thursday, July 11, 2013
By Holden Wilen
SILVER SPRING – The independent investigator the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission hired to look into allegations concerning Farm Road in Sandy Spring may not be so independent after all, according to an advocate for a local homeowners group battling with the state about property rights.
M-NCPPC announced Thursday the appointment of Douglas Bregman to investigate the approval of the Dellabrooke subdivision in Sandy Spring in 2001 that resulted in the removal of Farm Road addresses. The appointment comes after the property owners and community advocates alleged the subdivision was approved based on improper documents and faulty information.
Former Montgomery County Inspector General Thomas Dagley, as well as community advocates, also allege Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler shut down two prior investigations into the removal of the property owners’ addresses on the state level.
While M-NCPPC maintains Bregman is an independent counsel, according to campaign finance reports, Bregman and his law firm has contributed more than $10,000 to Gansler’s campaign since 2008, including a $4,000 contribution he personally made in January. When asked about prior relations with Gansler, Bregman said they were minimal.
When asked about his January contribution, Bregman said, “I do not remember.”
According to campaign finance reports, Bregman’s law firm made a $4,000 contribution to Gansler in August 2011. The firm also made a $2,000 contribution in January 2010, as well as a $1,000 contribution in October 2008.
The agency hopes to “clear the air” for the community and the agency’s stakeholders with the investigation, Carrier said. According to M-NCPPC, Bregman is a Bethesda-based attorney who specializes in complex real estate disputes and has previous experience with internal investigations.
Bregman said he is aware of the allegations against Gansler, and he will look into them.
“We really wanted someone objective with unquestioned integrity and who is intimately familiar with the complexities of real estate,” Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Françoise Carrier said.
Steve Kanstoroom, a leading advocate for the Farm Road property owners and creator of the SaveSandySpring.org website, said he is not happy with the Bregman appointment. Bethesda lawyers are some of the most expensive in the state, he said, and based on what he knows, he does not think Bregman can perform an investigation independently.
“I do not understand why someone outside of the state cannot do this or for sure outside of the county,” Kanstoroom said. “Everybody has email. There are no travel expenses involved. There are attorneys across the country that could look at this, although an attorney is not an investigator.”
If the investigation leads to a need to interview Gansler, Bregman said he will have no problem performing an interview with independence and objectivity.
Carrier said Bregman’s contribution history is not troubling to her and the allegations against Gansler are not relevant because Bregman was hired to conduct an investigation of M-NCPPC, not the attorney general’s office. Carrier also said it did not occur to the planning board to undertake the expense of hiring a lawyer outside of Maryland.
“We found Mr. Bregman and a couple of other people that we spoke to about this possibility through attorneys who have broad acquaintance with real estate and land use lawyers in the area, excluding any who practice in front of the commission, or any who have connection to the county government or my agency,” Carrier said. “Our attorneys do not have that base of knowledge in other jurisdictions. I do not know how we would have undertaken to find someone with the qualifications that Mr. Bregman has outside of Maryland.”
“Our view of [Gansler] as attorney general and as a lawyer is that he was somebody that we supported in that role,” Bregman said. “It has nothing to do with my job. My job is to look at what he did do or did not do, or what his office did or did not do and to make an objective assessment. That there is support for him as a political person has nothing to do with the objectivity of our effort.”
The Farm Road property owners made their concerns about Bregman’s independence known after sending a letter to Carrier on Friday and a copy to U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole that asked M-NCPPC to make all materials sent between the commission and Bregman available to Kanstoroom and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus as soon as they are transmitted to ensure transparency.
Posted By: PaulaBienenfeld On: 7/17/2013
Title: Thanks for staying on this issue
Thanks Mr. Wilen for staying on this important issue. What an ugly black eye for Montgomery County.