Opinion: The Montgomery County Council faces a defining moment (Letter to Editor of The Washington Post)

This letter appeared in The Washington Post on April 23, 2023 at 1:28 p.m. EDT

The Montgomery County Council faces a defining moment as it considers whether to eliminate the Office of the People’s Counsel. Will the council act on its stated values of integrity and inclusion and keep the OPC?

As reported in The Post over the past several months, including in the Oct. 24 editorial “A permanent Planning Board” and the Feb. 13 Metro article “Fixes for Montgomery planning expose tensions,” the integrity and independence of Montgomery’s Planning Board have been challenging issues. The chair of the council’s Planning, Housing and Parks Committee is now proposing to decrease public input with Bill 18- 23, which would eliminate the OPC and replace it with a resource officer for one-way communication from the county to residents.

The OPC was created in 1990 to increase equity and balance by having a representative for the “public interest” on land-use issues and has considered issues that “impact the public and have an effect on the public health, safety, and welfare.” The council’s own Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) concluded last week that eliminating OPC may “widen racial and social inequities” in land use and recommended that the council require racial-equity and social-justice reviews for all land-use proposals.

The sponsor of Bill 18-23 contends that it is too difficult to determine the “public interest” and, therefore, we should not even try. OLO recommended a citizen’s advisory board to provide guidance to OPC on the public’s interest. Defining what’s in the public interest might be complex, but having informed legal counsel at the table is requisite for a meaningful voice. Otherwise, who will represent the public interest in land-use proceedings?

Susan N. Labin, Bethesda

Posted in Montgomery County, Office of the People's Counsel.