Thursday, December 29, 2005

MCPS fights parents of handicapped 9 year-old

MCPS continues to "fight on and on" against the parents of 9 year-old P.J. Lindner, a handicapped boy who is dying of a degenerative disorder, the Montgomery County Sentinel reports.

"This is the longest hearing I've ever done," family representative Michael Eig told the paper.

Eig alleges that the school system is dragging out the process on purpose. According to the Sentinel, "The Lindners must provide the burden of proof in this hearing, but Eig and Theresa Lindner said that goal was accomplished in the first day of the hearing.

"'The first witness, who was the MCPS director of the school system's proposed placement, testified that the school system's proposed IEP could not be implemented in her placement [at Forest Knolls Elementary School],' said Eig.

"'What occurred in the hearing [after that witness testified] should have ended the due process appeal right then and there,' said Theresa Lindner. 'But MCPS wanted to fight on.'

"And MCPS has continued to fight on and on," adds reporter Amy K. Rowland.

Eig says MCPS is going to unusual lengths to grind them down and drag out the process as the boy's health deteriorates.

"To do a six to seven-hour cross-examination of a parent - I've been doing this for 30 years and this has never happened," Eig told the Sentinel. "I think that explains itself."

"Of all the parents who appeal Montgomery County decisions, to decide to do the most aggressive cross-examination against a family who divides its time between going to the hearing, getting their sons to school and hospice is unexplainable and tragic," Eig said.

The Sentinel reports, "P.J.'s mother has become increasingly upset that her son's illness has caused him to be a political pawn. 'P.J. is not his disabilities, he is not his illness,'said Theresa Lindner. 'He is a little boy who loves and laughs and cries and blesses our lives.'"

Congressman Van Hollen asks Weast to help disabled boy

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D) of Montgomery County has written to Superintendent Jerry Weast on behalf of P.J. Lindner, the 9 year-old handicapped boy whose condition deteriorates as county officials allegedly drag out his hearing process.

"In a statement released on Dec. 9, Van Hollen continued to express his support for P.J. Lindner and said that he wanted to make sure that . . . 'every effort was being made to provide the Lindners with the services to which they are entitled,'" according to the Montgomery County Sentinel.

"Despite Van Hollen's support, the hearing has not been conducted as expeditiously as possible according to the Lindners' attorney, Michael Eig."

Van Hollen 'expressed outrage' at MCPS 'foot-dragging'

"Van Hollen also expressed outrage at what the Lindner's have called the county's foot dragging. 'What makes this case especially difficult and urgent is the gravity of P.J. Lindner's illness. P.J. has a degenerative neurological disorder; his doctors have said that his prognosis is poor. Given that time is of the essence, it is important that P.J. Lindner's administrative due process hearing be conducted as expeditiously as possible,' Van Hollen said," the Sentinel reports.

Weast 'not moved' by plea for dying child

Superintendent Weast was "not moved" by Congressman Van Hollen's letter on behalf of the handicapped Lindner boy, and when contacted by the Montgomery County Sentinel he "declined to comment" on the alleged foot-dragging by MCPS officials.

"I'm not going to discuss that," Weast said.

MCPS budgets $1.8 billion for 2007, with no public safeguards against corruption

School Superintendent Jerry Weast's unveiling of a $1.8 billion school budget for 2007 is raising eyebrows in the Seven Locks area and elsewhere around Montgomery County, where parents are increasingly concerned about waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.

Montgomery County Public Schools officials continue to disregard parents' repeated questions about how MCPS has handled cases of alleged corruption in school construction over the past 25 years.

The proposed $1.8 billion budget marks an increase of $122 million, over the current year, with $18 million marked for new school construction. About half the proposed 2007 budget increase is expected to come from state and federal sources.

Some of the $18 million will fund the controversial Kendale Road elementary school project in Potomac. The project is controversial in part because of the improper and possibly illegal way in which County Executive Doug Duncan, Weast and others attempted to get rid of valuable school property for favored high-density housing construction projects.

Seven Locks PTA members have complained about lack of due process, lack of transparency, and lack of public accountability that could hide corruption that many say runs rampant in the public construction industry.

Fueling the controversy further, MCPS construction official Jim Tokar and others continue stonewall parents' questions about what the county is doing to safeguard against corruption. To avoid receiving constituent questions about corruption, they have blocked individual citizens' e-mail addresses from their MCPS e-mail system.

Inspector General continues probe of county planners

"The Montgomery County inspector general is continuing his investigation into fraud or abuse on the part of county planners or developers. He plans to issue a report sometime next month, a source said," according to the December 13 Washington Times.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Residents call for end to 'opaque' county planning

Covering the Clarksburg Town Center scandal, the Washington Post reports that several residents have found the Planning Board staff to be "responsive and helpful" to their concerns about sleazy relationships between developers and county officials.

"However, they said, the development application process seemed designed to serve the needs of politically influential developers rather than the people who will live near their new shopping centers and subdivisions," according to the Post.

One resident shared the concerns of the Seven Locks community when she said, "There's a perception that citizens are on the outside and can't really participate."

The Post headline is "A Call For End to 'Opaque' Planning."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Developers start front groups to fight community coalitions

An area construction developer has set up a front group to battle citizen-based coalitions seeking to save their neighborhoods form sprawl.

In a move surely to be copied in Montgomery County, a Fairfax developer is running a front organization called "Citizens for a Better Life." Other developers and construction trade associations like the model and indicate they will replicate it.

"Citizens for Better Life is not an ordinary citizens group," the Washington Post reports. "Instead of coming from the community where the projects would be built, Citizens and other groups like it are organized by the builders themselves."

The front group looks like a normal grassroots community coalition and "masquerades" as an organization of local citizens. It has its own nonprofit status, T-shirts, and a website. It was set up to fight local residents opposed to the developer's plan to build 2,000 new homes and the controversial MetroWest development near the Vienna Metro station.

The developer's family members recently appeared at the hearing to counter local residents' testimony, even though the members of the front group do not live in the community, according to the Post.

The success of poorly funded, all-volunteer community groups inspired the developer to create the phony organization. The Post says the group does not reveal its connection to the developer on its website.

"They see how organized their opponents are and have determined that they need to fight fire with fire, appropriating the very tools that community groups are using to influence public opinion," according to the article.

"We get involved because these are our homes," a local resident tells the Post. "We are legitimate local residents. These special interest groups are driven entirely by profit. They're distorting and subverting the public process."

Duncan says he's 'outraged' that developer would 'break faith'

"No one was more outraged than I was at the situation that developed" in Clarksburg, says County Executive Doug Duncan.

"At its core, this is an issue of a developer breaking faith with a community and a planning agency failing to enforce its own rules and get the job done for the people we are all here to serve," he added in his last State of the County speech.

According to the Washington Post, Duncan hinted that Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage might have to take the fall. He announced other after-the-fact measures to handle the Clarksburg corruption issue.

Some community leaders aren't impressed.

Amy Presley, one of the Clarksburg community leaders who exposed the fraud, called Duncan's comments "laughable."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Seven Locks and Clarksburg coalitions join forces

Joining forces to protect their neighborhoods against Montgomery County's often un-democratic and opaque development processes, the Seven Locks Coalition has joined forces with the Clarksburg Accountability Coalition.

At a November 9 planning meeting, Clarksburg area citizens broke into applause when the Seven Locks issue came up, according to the Potomac Almanac.

"Sandy Vogelgesang, a leader of the Save Seven Locks Coalition, said that was no coincidence.

"'We joined the Clarksburg Accountability Coalition. We’re very actively supporting them, because we think these issues are related,' she said. 'The core issue is accountability.'"

The Almanac's Ken Millstone reports, "The Clarksburg affair had propelled Save Seven Locks’ claims that Seven Locks’ fate has already been sealed in behind-the-scenes deals between officials and developers."

Seven Locks PTA chief paddles school board

In another sign of how the Montgomery County Public School board is at war with local Parent-Teacher Associations that stand in its way, the Potomac Almanac reports about "poisonous" accusations against school officials.

While Seven Locks PTA President Harlivleen Gill has made no such public accusations, she did paddle the school board the night before Superintendent Jerry Weast suddenly flip-flopped and said he would not recommend the surplusing of the Seven Locks school.

“I am very concerned about the decisions you have made and the manner in which you have made these decisions,” Mrs. Gill testified to the school board.

“We expect the school board to be impartial and transparent in its dealing with the community and I am disturbed that it has been neither.”

Friday, December 02, 2005

School torn down for apartment complex; thugs wound 16 protesters; police refuse to intervene

"About 40 men dressed in black attacked" a group of women protecting the local government's closure of an elementary school, injuring at least 16 sending five to the hospital. One woman lost her eye.

The Washington Post reports that the local authorities "closed the school and prepared to sell the land to a developer who planned an apartment building on it."

Demolition workers came in "under cover of darkness and began demolishing the school" on November 22.

When between 30 and 40 women tried to stop the demolition, "about 40 men dressed in black attacked the women, knocking them down and beating them with clubs and sticks," the Washington Post says, citing a witness.

"A witness to the assault said that police summoned to the scene rebuked the [women] for interfering with the demolition and did not arrest the men who attacked them. The witness also suggested that local officials had approved the attack in an attempt to resolve the land dispute in their favor."

The government agreed to pay a token amount "in compensation" to each of the injured women, "thus acknowledging some responsibility for the incident."

News organizations closely tied to the government "have not reported the attack," the Post says, stating that the news became public on a website. "Site managers have been ordered to delete all references to the incident," according to the account.

Luckily for us, this horror didn't happen in our neighborhood. Seven Locks Elementary School is still full of happy kids this morning. But the report is true.

The thugs and crooked government officials, as far as we know, aren't from our beloved Montgomery County. The injured women are Catholic nuns who were trying to save their school from crooked local Communist Party politics in Xian, China.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Facing state criminal probe, County and developers agree to settle Clarksburg in secret

The Montgomery County Planning Board has shunned a public hearing and agreed with Clarksburg developers and community figures to handle the scandal in secret.

"The decision to mediate does not appear to have an impact on ongoing probes by the state special prosecutor, who handles criminal matters, and the county's independent inspector general," the Washington Post reports. "They are examining the documents that have been challenged by residents to see whether any laws have been broken."

County Council President Tom Perez, himself a former special prosecutor, indicated that he wants to settle the issue quietly before the criminal probes find something. "This case simply jumps out at me as a classic example of a case that should settle," he says.

[Flashback: Two weeks ago, Perez implied that county development growth policy allows schools to become overcrowded, but that the statistics are rigged "so everyone passes."

Cancellation quashes public hearing on planning documents

Cancellation of the Clarksburg hearing has quashed the ability of "more than a dozen people" to talk publicly "about planning documents that some Clarksburg residents claim were produced to validate construction changes made without proper approval," the Washington Post reports.

Clarksburg advisor hopes people don't suspect cover-up

"I don't think anything will be hidden," Amy Presley, a less-than-convinced-sounding leader of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee tells the Washington Post about the planned secret meetings.

Presley's group discovered hundreds of violations and led to the scandal that has rocked the Montgomery County government and given County Executive Doug Duncan unwanted headaches as he launched his campaign to become governor of Maryland.

"I would be disturbed if people were viewing this as some closed-door settlement," she says. "We will do as we always have done and give the community updates."

Separately, she says that she hopes the closed-door process will "hasten the results versus going through the other hearings."

[Editor's note: The citizen committee should be warned that the county does not keep its word with citizen organizations when there is a dispute over county-driven development. As the Seven Locks/Kendale school issue shows, county officials will lead the citizens' committees on with discussions and opportunities to make their voices heard, but will in practice ignore the committees and stigmatize their members.

[Montgomery County citizens adversely affected by the Clarksburg scandal should keep everything in the public eye, keep raising issues about corruption, and help with any criminal investigations that may be underway.]