Thursday, December 12, 2013 5:33 AM
Published on: Monday, November 19, 2012
By Christa Puccio
POTOMAC – The Brickyard Coalition filed a 48-page, nine-count lawsuit against defendants Montgomery County, County Executive Isiah (Ike) Leggett, the Board of Education (BoE) and Montgomery Soccer, Inc. (MSI) and is separately appealing the decision of the BoE to lease the Brickyard site to a private corporation to build a commercial soccerplex.
“It is outrageous when county citizens are forced to seek legal recourse for what they should have had by right in the first place,” said Ginny Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association. “We’ve worked for eighteen long months to restart a process that took place in secret and without any public knowledge. We are simply asking that the BoE and the county obey the law. By consistently and even arrogantly refusing to do so, they’ve left us no other recourse than to turn to the courts.”
The County’s leasing of the Brickyard Road 20-acre organic farm site to construct soccer fields has stirred controversy over its compliance with the Potomac Subregion Master Plan and the effects of losing the organic farm.
According to James Song, director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management, the 20-acre site is owned by Montgomery County Public Schools and was previously leased to Nick Maravell, an organic farmer. Maravell’s lease expired March 22, 2011 and the lease between the MCPS Board of Education and the Montgomery County government was executed in April 2011. The County Executive requested the lease to expand ball field opportunities for citizens of Montgomery County and Song stated that the lease to the county does comply with the Potomac Subregion Master Plan.
The lawsuit filed on Nov. 13, 2012 by the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, Inc. and four private plaintiffs, all members of the Brickyard Coalition, alleges:
• Leggett unlawfully conspired with the BoE to deliver the Brickyard public school land to a private corporation, MSI, at little or no cost.
• The board of Education breached their fiduciary duties as trustees of the Brickyard property.
• The county violated the Maryland Express Powers Act.
• The county violated County Code 11B-46 regarding leasing property.
• The county violated County Code 11B45 regarding the disposition of the property.
• The county defendants violated the county procurement laws.
• The BoE and the county violated state laws regarding mandatory referral by failing to seek the approval of the Montgomery County Planning Board before a change of use was authorized for the Brickyard site.
• The BoE violated the Maryland open Meeting Act.
The spokesperson for the county executive, Patrick Lacefield, said the county is not budging. “There is no change in Montgomery County's position – public land should be used for public purposes, as per the Potomac Master Plan approved unanimously by the County Council,” said Lacefield.
The Brickyard Coalition is separately appealing the decision of the Board of Education to lease the Brickyard site to a private organization to build a commercial soccerplex. In that action, the court issued a stay until the case is heard on the merits, now scheduled for Feb. 8, 2013.
“We are appealing the judge's stay and look forward to the project moving forward,” said Lacefield.
Maryland Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg issued a stay on the case where the BoE was found guilty on two accounts of violating the Open Meeting Act, according to Ted Duncan, a member of the Brickyard Coalition. “We feel good about that because judges don’t issue stays without good reason,” said Duncan. “We don’t know what the outcome will be, but we feel we’re in a decent position. The judge gets to decide if we’re right that the lease that they signed is no longer valid because they violated the Open Meetings Act. There should have been a lot of disclosure and open meetings before they entered this lease with the county.”
If Greenberg rules that the lease agreement is void because of the BoE’s violations of the Open Meetings Act, Duncan said the fight should be over. “Most likely it will be done and we will welcome that because we’ve been fighting this battle for a year and a half and we’d like it to be done,” said Duncan.
Duncan is one of the private plaintiffs suing the county, Leggett, BoE and MSI. “My complaint and suit that has been filed because I have a daughter in the Montgomery county school system and I pay my taxes that support the Montgomery county school system, the BoE who owns the land has a responsibility fiduciary responsibility to use this land basically for educational purposes and for all those county tax players who have kids in Montgomery county schools to be able to use it,” said Duncan. “So by the county making this public-private deal with MSI it has violated my rights because unless I pay MSI my daughter cannot use this land that I pay taxes for.”
MSI representatives did not respond to phone calls by press time.