Rockville political differences rise to the surface in routine commission appointment
ROCKVILLE – In most jurisdictions, board and commission appointments are usually toward the bottom of the list in terms of public interest and controversy -- but not in Rockville.
For many municipalities, mayoral appointments are a formality often given rubberstamped approval by the city council, but in Rockville what may have seemed like a harmless appointee to the City’s Historic District Commission turned into a heated debate highlighting the City’s main political division.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton called the City Council’s rejection of her pick for Historic District Commission – former three-term Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo – political.
“I find it absolutely disappointing that politics has entered into the boards and commission nomination process once again,” Newton said.
The appointment was rejected by the three members of “Team Rockville,” a Rockville politicalblock made up of Council members Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala and Virginia Onley who ran on the same platform with mayoral candidate Sima Osdoby and city council candidate Clark Reed.
While Onley and Palakovich Carr said they opposed Giammo’s appointment based on his lack of qualifications, Giammo said it was his political opposition to Team Rockville, not his qualifications is what prevented him from serving on the HDC.
The HDC is responsible for reviewing applications for modification to the exteriors of historic buildings, as well as recommending boundaries for the City’s historic districts. If approved Giammo, would have replaced Matthew Goguen, whose term expired in May.
Giammo previously endorsed Newton in her campaign against Pierzchala and said he considers himself a frequent political opponent of Team Rockville, especially Pierzchala. Giammo even said under that if Newton decides not to seek another and Pierzchala decides to run in 2019, he would announce his bid for mayor next day.
“The day after Mark (Pierzchala) announces he’s running for mayor…the day after, I’m going to announce I’m running for mayor again,” Giammo said. “So we can take all of this up in the next mayoral election.”
Giammo was first elected Rockville’s mayor in 2001 after serving on the City’s planning commission for five years. Newton touted his experience as mayor, on the planning commission and his current work as a real estate agent as qualifications for his appointment for the HDC.
But that was not the case for Pierzchala who said it was the mayor, not team Rockville, that made the HDC appointment political.
“It is political in the sense you brought this forward, when you sent us an email maybe three weeks ago about this nomination,” Pierzchala said to Newton. “Three of us very quickly said that we would not vote for Mayor Giammo – former Mayor Giammo – and the fact that you’re brining it forward means that you wanted to make a political spectacle of it, and you have, and you gave a very nice speech.”
Pierzchala explained he specifically did not like how Giammo acted during the debate over a proposed development at Chestnut Lodge. While Pierzchala ultimately sided against the seven townhome development along with Giammo, Pierzchala said that Giammo misrepresented the City’s zoning ordinance by omitting two sentences when quoting it saying this -- at least in part – disqualified Rockville’s former mayor from serving on the HDC.
“I thought he was dismissive of City staff, I thought he was disrespectful to mayor and council,” Pierzchala said.
Though in response Giammo, contested Pierzchala recounting of the discussion saying that Pierzchala misrepresented his statements to the mayor and council.
Unlike Pierzchala, Palakovich Carr and Onley only cited a lack of credentials as to why they voted down Giammo’s appointment citing City code that said people on the HDC need to have formal training or practical experience in historic preservation, architecture, planning, archeology, anthropology or a related field.
“The positions that are open are very specific and they need to be a certain level of expertise and Mr. Giammo’s application didn’t have that,” Onley said. “It had nothing to do with politics.” This is not the first time the mayor and Team Rockville debated an issue under the accusations of “politics.” During its last session when the City passed the Fostering Community Trust Ordinance, which prohibits City employees from helping to enforce federal immigration law, Newton accused Pierzchala, Palakvovich Carr and Onley, who voted for the ordinance, of having political motivations.
“This should be written by our chief of police and our police officers and our city manager,” Newton said at the time. “It shouldn’t be written by those of us who – for some –have political motivations on this.”