- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

Montgomery County’s inspector general says the county’s top planner, who is scheduled to retire Monday, has not fully cooperated in his months-old investigation of building code violations at Clarksburg.

Charles R. Loehr, director of the Department of Park and Planning, has not provided “routine data and information involving County-funded expenditures and vehicles” requested on Aug. 22 and Sept. 9, Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley said in a memo to County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. on Monday.

“Failure of the Department to provide the requested information within a reasonable time is adversely affecting at least three inspector general projects,” Mr. Dagley said in the memo.

In addition, the Department of Park and Planning, which serves as the Planning Board’s staff, has not cooperated with Mr. Dagley’s attempts to interview several employees, he said.

The inspector general’s memo, which identifies issues of noncompliance in his investigation, is a preliminary requirement before his office can issue a subpoena for the information.

“Prior to issuing a subpoena … please take the appropriate action to require [planning officials] to provide the requested information,” Mr. Dagley told the county attorney.

Mr. Loehr did not return phone calls. A county planner for 26 years, Mr. Loehr, 54, suddenly announced last month that he would retire at the end of this month.

Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage said that his agency is cooperating and that “there is no dispute here.”

Mr. Berlage said the inspector general’s request had “nothing to do with Clarksburg” and pertained only to the agency’s expenses and management of properties and vehicles.

“There is no resistance to provide any of this information,” he said. “Sometimes, it needs to be located.”

What’s more, Planning Board spokeswoman Nancy Lineman said that the inspector general has interviewed Mr. Loehr and that interviews with other planning officials are being arranged.

In a brief interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Dagley said he issued his memo in connection with his Clarksburg investigation and an inquiry of how the county’s planning agency operates.

“I issued the memo as part of three inquiries, which include Clarksburg,” he said.

Mr. Dagley’s investigation, which includes an examination of instances of potential fraud, began in August after a residents group uncovered hundreds of building violations in Clarksburg. He is not required to issue a public report on his findings, but he must refer evidence of criminal conduct to the state’s attorney’s office.

The County Council staff and the state special prosecutor are also conducting investigations into the violations. The council’s staff is scheduled to issue a report on its findings Nov. 8.

The council appointed Mr. Dagley, 54, to a four-year term in April. He is the second person to fill the inspector general position since it was created in 1997 to “prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse in government activities.”

In 1999, Mr. Dagley retired from the Postal Inspection Service’s inspector general office after having worked there 27 years. Since 2001, he had worked as an auditor in the state’s Office of Legislative Audits.

The inspector general is part of the executive branch, but can be removed only by the council.

The inspector general reports to the county executive and the council, but does not need their permission to pursue investigations.

The Planning Board and Department of Park and Planning are part of a state agency, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, that has branches in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Taxpayers in each county fund each branch, but when it comes to oversight, they “enjoy a very protected environment,” a knowledgeable county government source said.

“Park and Planning is a separate organization. They’re not really Montgomery County,” said Mr. Thompson, the county attorney. “They’re a bi-county agency over which we have very little control.”



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