No Seat at Leggett’s Table
On June 21 there was a meeting between Ike Leggett (County Executive), Ken Hartman (Director of B-CC Regional Services), Diane Schwartz Jones (Assistant Chief Administrative Officer), David Dise (Department of General Services) and Gabe Albornoz (Director, MC Department of Recreation) and five of your local civic leaders. What we came away from the almost 2 hour meeting with is that the County Executive is committed to move ahead with his plan to replace Nick’s Organic Farm with soccer fields. Mr. Leggett fully acknowledges the local, county, state, national and international objections to his plan but will proceed without county resident support or public input!
We approached the meeting hoping it would be productive. After all, this was the first opportunity after well over three months for the public and County Executive who decreed this proposal to have a conversation. While there have been two public meetings – April 4th and June 9th – they were both conducted with the understanding that the decision for soccer fields was a fait accompli. It was our hope that with both “sides” – unilateral County Executive decision verses an open public process – meeting in this small-group setting and allowed to have an open discussion; we might come away with understanding as to how we got here.
Near the start of the meeting, we posed this question to Mr. Leggett:
You are aware, Mr. Leggett, that there is a lot of opposition to the manner in which this has been handled. Even if you feel that you proceeded appropriately and were representing your constituents in the best possible way by unilaterally deciding to put soccer fields here; you are now aware of the myriad of objections to this decision. Why not show the citizens of Montgomery County that you hear them and respect their voices – the voices that elected you – and halt the process? Allow the farm to continue until this issue can be thoroughly vetted. Why not allow the people to be heard, to get their questions answered, to fully understand the implications of this proposed undertaking and ultimately to voice their support or opposition?
Each time the question was raised in various forms throughout the meeting, the response was always the same from Mr. Leggett – “No, I will not do that.”
The following is our understanding of Mr. Leggett’s position on the issues raised at our meeting and questions regarding them:
Public Input – It is the County Executive’s belief the county residents are currently engaged in the only process to which they are legally entitled which includes Public Meetings like those held on April 4th and June 9th and the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Mr. Leggett believes no formal “process” exists that obliges the County Government to seek community input to pursue an “idea.” While we may recognize the absurdity of a public meeting every time an idea crosses the County Executive’s desk, he has been secretly speaking with MSI for more than the last two years and putting together this plan. Somewhere between two years ago when Mr. Leggett was first lobbied by MSI and today where we find the county with a signed lease and gathering comments for an RFP on building soccer fields; there was an occasion for public input. You don’t just magically go from having “many proposals and ideas for this land” over two years ago to having termination of the existing farmer’s lease, a signed lease with language for specific use between BoE and MC, two public meetings to discuss issues pertaining to the building of soccer fields and a deadline of September 1 for Comments on the Request for Proposal (thank you Mr. Leggett for granting us the extension originally set for June 30). Decisions were made to get us to this point and there were several occasions where it would have been appropriate to ask for public input.
Mandatory Referral – Public involvement will increase once the RFP yields the Private Entity to develop the site and a plan goes to Mandatory Referral at the MD National Capital Park & Planning Commission (MNCPPC). Normally at this point is when environmental and traffic studies would be undertaken as part of their review. We were excited to hear the Executive would be following this protocol until we specifically asked if he would honor MNCPPC’s recommendation. The unanimous response from Mr. Leggett and the county representatives was, “No, we will not commit to abiding by the recommendation.”
Master Plan – The County Executive’s office is pursuing an idea proposed roughly two years ago by soccer interests to increase the number of soccer fields in the down county area. It is Mr. Leggett’s belief there exists a need for more fields and that the Potomac Subregion Master Plan provides the basis and rationale for the proposal. To that end, he has signed the lease with the MCBOE for the site and is moving forward with the RFP process. Here is one of the fundamental disagreements – the interpretation of the Master Plan. It is likely the courts will have the final say on the proper interpretation. But even if he is following the Master Plan appropriately, why not listen to all the consternation not only of local residents but County residents, County officials, people of the state, nation and international community?
Dual Use – We made it clear in the meeting that we would like the process halted and an opportunity to offer community input and preference for the use of this land. However, since Mr. Leggett is set on proceeding, we were hopeful to hear his assertion that his preference would be for “dual use” of the property – a combination of soccer fields and organic farm – but with the caveat that it would need to be ‘economically viable’ for the private soccer entity of the partnership. Our encouragement came from the fact that if there are fewer soccer fields, there will be less impact on our neighborhoods and this wonderful farm could continue. Mr. Leggett’s true position is unclear as there have been emails to citizens that he “would evaluate the possibility of dual use” but then the lease with BOE states only ball fields and now the county website has flipped back again to “will encourage the addition of compatible amenities, dual use with soccer fields, if possible.” It looks like it will be predicated upon the soccer interest’s best use and not the citizens of the county.
Use and Traffic – It was asserted by the Executive that there would be no artificial turf, no lights and no sound system. When we tried to bring up traffic issues, Mr. Leggett equated ‘no lights’ with ‘no traffic impact’ and refused to discuss it any further. Later when we tried to broach the subject again, he stated there would be “very limited use on weekdays” and therefore no traffic impact. Unfortunately, at a different point in the meeting, the idea of the fields being ‘halved’ for younger kid’s use brought to mind a doubling of use and traffic. The vagueness and avoidance of any conversation on the topic is cause for apprehension. For safety, the local community has fought hard to control the traffic along Brickyard Rd. How will the county implement the increased traffic demand on this and other local roads? The possibility of removing speed bumps, speed circles or other measures to move a larger volume of traffic through the area more quickly is of grave concern. What of bicycle traffic particularly on the weekends when use of the fields should be at their maximum?
Clearly we have fundamental differences in how we view pertinent information but to us, the bigger picture is we have a County Executive who has forgotten his own words from his Inaugural Address on December 6, 2010, in which Mr. Leggett stated:
I will continue to work hard and to always put the public interest above politics… to give every County resident a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that shape their lives... to make government accountable, responsible, ethical and transparent.
Mr. Leggett, where was our seat at the table when this decision was being made? Where is the transparency in holding secret meetings with soccer representatives? You failed to give our community a voice in this decision that shapes our lives.
Unfortunately, we are left with many unanswered questions and continued mistrust as to what has taken place over the last two years since the idea of soccer fields was first brought to Mr. Leggett by MSI. We believe Mr. Leggett has prepared a path to get these soccer fields in place despite public sentiment, civil disagreement, legal appeals, calls for an open process, common sense and rational arguments. Why would the county, in secret, to this degree have developed this plan if they were not ashamed of, had something to hide or concerned it would not be acceptable to the county residents?
Precedent - This is a precedent-setting battle we are undertaking. It is not about soccer fields or farms, it is not about county youth or traffic studies, it is not about soccer only or dual use – it is about the County Executive ignoring the County Residents. If Mr. Leggett gets his way on this, a Precedent will be established by which he or future Executives can unilaterally decide what is in the County Executive’s best interest not what is in the Resident’s best interest!
Time for Action - We entered the meeting on Tuesday afternoon at Mr. Leggett’s office with the hope that he would hear us – hear the community’s voice. He did hear us but has decided NOT to listen! It is time to raise our voices so he hears us clearly and is forced to listen.
We are looking forward and have already set in motion our next steps including legal proceedings. You will be hearing about these in the coming days along with ways for you to participate. In the mean time, here are some excellent sources to gather more information and to be heard:
BrickyardCoalition.org (information, newspaper/county email addresses)
Savenicksorganicfarm.org (petition and information)
If you are feeling as we – disregarded but now more fired up to fight – please email @email with “Volunteer” in the subject line. Join your friends and neighbors in this fight to have our voices heard.
And please take a moment to send an email to the county with your comments regarding the purposed RFP at the following link.
Thank you –
Ted Duncan – President of Civic Association of River Falls (CARF)
Ginny Barnes – President of West Montgomery County Citizens Association (WMCCA)
Elie Cain –Board Member of WMCCA
Curt Uhre – Member of Brickyard Coalition
Keith Williams – Vice President of CARF