- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday said he would support changing a state law to give the county inspector general more authority over the Department of Park and Planning, after the inspector general recommended such a change earlier this week.

“We agree with the inspector general that there needs to be additional oversight and investigatory authority over Park and Planning. We would support any effort to achieve that goal,” Duncan spokesman David Weaver said.

Mr. Weaver noted the impact of last summer’s building scandal in Clarksburg, where hundreds of home were built too high or too close to the street.

“Clarksburg has shown that Park and Planning was not getting the job done and that there’s a need for greater oversight authority,” he said. “We would support his efforts to have the law changed.”

In a letter to Mr. Duncan this week, Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley said the current law does not give him “authority to investigate all land development complaints because [the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission] operates under … state law.”

The county Department of Park and Planning is subject to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), not county officials.

Mr. Dagley also sent the letter to County Council President George Leventhal and Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage.

He said he has not yet “formally referred” to a prosecutor any of the findings of his investigation of “malfeasance and/or criminal conduct” related to Clarksburg.

He advised the County Council to work with state legislators to change the law to give his office power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The issue of his authority over Park and Planning “has repeatedly surfaced during our investigation of the Clarksburg Town Center project,” he said.

“The current land development controversy has cost the county and its residents large sums as measured by lost time and public trust,” Mr. Dagley wrote.

In a letter to the county attorney in October, Mr. Dagley said Park and Planning had not provided “routine data” and was not cooperating with his attempt to interview several employees.

Mr. Berlage yesterday repeated his criticism of Mr. Dagley’s assertions, saying Park and Planning has cooperated fully with the investigation. He said he does not think Mr. Dagley needs more authority.

Mr. Leventhal, at-large Democrat, said he expects to talk to state lawmakers about changing the law, even if nothing can be done during the current session.

“I support the idea of having a strong inspector general with clear powers,” he said. “If the inspector general believes his role needs to be clarified, I need to know more about the details of the proposal and its political feasibility.”

Mr. Dagley said in his letter that neither Park and Planning nor the Department of Permitting Services has had independent audits over the past five years.

Both departments are state agencies under MNCPPC.

Most state agencies are audited by the Office of Legislative Oversights (OLA). Because of a loophole in state law, OLA cannot review Montgomery County’s Department of Park and Planning without a request from the Joint Audit Committee of the General Assembly, the Prince George’s County executive or the Prince George’s County Council.

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