Update: County Council Meets Planning Board Chair Nominee Byrd

From the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, Inc. comes a wrap-up of the County Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development (PZED) Committee’s conversation with David J. Byrd. If you have not been following this, catch up here, here and here. Please share your opinion with all council members and copy the Clerk of the Council.

Note: this report is impressionistic, is not comprehensive, and is not verbatim, but it is reflective of the substance of the interview. Seven Members of the County Council interviewed David J. Byrd on March 3. After ninety minutes of pointed questions and wishy-washy answers, it was clear to this reporter that Byrd is not qualified for the job he already has, nevermind being promoted to head one of the most important agencies in the county.

Byrd was pressed repeatedly about failures in the county agencies he oversees, notably the revenue authority, the housing authority, public works and transportation, and the economic development corporation. Byrd never acknowledged any personal sense of responsibility, nor did he accept any blame for failures in those agencies. All the problems and shortcomings were attributed to ineffective subordinates and/or to forces beyond his control.

Councilman Dernoga pressed the issue, noting that Byrd was the invisible man who rarely came to a Council committee meeting, rarely conferred with Members of Council on issues regarding any of the agencies Byrd oversees; where have you been for three years? Byrd said that all the Council Members had to do was contact him. He showed no recognition whatsoever that he is staff and it is his responsibility to brief and work with the Council regarding those agencies, not the other way around.

When pressed about his oversight of the agencies, Byrd said that he met with the heads of the agencies the third Friday of every month in the morning. No mention was made of what he does with himself the other days of the month.

PZED Committee Chairman Dean pressed Byrd on BRAC, noting that Camp Springs, Westphalia and Laurel were all losers. Byrd was responsible for BRAC; why did we lose? Byrd was defensive, said: BRAC was oversold; people had unrealistic expectations; it was not his fault; it was the fault of Annapolis. No recognition of any responsibility on his part.

Councilman Olson asked about the M-NCPPC budget: how would Byrd handle financial hard times ahead? Byrd said: employee furloughs, budget cuts, no cost-of-living adjustments, no raises, and getting employees voluntarily to work part-time. M-NCPPC also could save money by doing energy retrofits; he did not address where the money would come from to cover the up-front costs of retrofitting.

When asked about gang activity and how to use idle school and parks and recreation facilities after school, Byrd said we needed those kinds of projects and he would staff them with Park & Planning personnel. He did not seem to notice the disconnect between his answers to the questions about finances and making do with less in times of scarcity, and with the monies required to fund such programs.

Councilman Olson also asked about economic development: how did Byrd plan to balance the interests of competing constituencies like the business community, environmentalists, historic preservation, civic activists, ordinary citizens? Byrd repeated the question in various ways, but never answered it. Indeed, many questions on many issues got restated but went unanswered.

When pressed about his credentials to run such a large and complex organization as M-NCPPC, Byrd replied that his three years experience as Deputy Administrative officer was the perfect apprenticeship for running Park & Planning.

Council Chairman Dernoga asked Byrd if he was serious about addressing the problems at Park & Planning. Mr. Dernoga said we need a Chairman who will ask tough questions and make unpopular decisions. Byrd’s reply was: I’m your man!

Councilman Dernoga noted that only a few business people supported Byrd’s nomination at the Council hearing on March 2. Mr. Dernoga asked Byrd how he planned to lead and instill public confidence in his leadership considering that civic leaders from all over the county came out heavily against his appointment?.

Byrd replied that there was no need to win over the community, because he was not the problem, the process was the problem. He noted that most witnesses did not challenge his credentials, only the issue of whether it was appropriate for a lame duck County Executive to appoint a M-NCPPC Chairman with whom the next executive would have to live for about three years. Byrd showed no comprehension that the subtext of most witnesses’ testimony was that they consider him unqualified for the position.

Council Member Turner and others pressed Byrd to describe his accomplishments after three years on the job; what was he most proud of? He replied: (1) getting a Wegmans to come to the county; (2) getting National Harbor open on time; and (3) being the catalyst that brought the Brandywine Crossing Shopping Center into being.

On the last, Byrd expanded on a recurring theme that Park & Planning needed to be taught new tricks, to think outside the box and blamed them for nearly killing the project. No explanation was provided about his personal role in securing a Wegmans commitment to invest in the county, or in opening National Harbor on time.

Councilman Dean asked Byrd what he would do if, like former M-NCPPC Chair Betty Hewlett, he found that his vision of the county was different from that of the incoming county executive? Would he resign? Byrd declined to answer.

Yes, but what would you do? Byrd replied that he would “salute” and “follow the orders” of the county executive and the county council. There was no recognition of the independence of M-NCPPC from the county, nor the fact that it is a Maryland State agency established by and functioning under state law.

Byrd was asked about outward migration from the District of Columbia into Prince George’s County. What could M-NCPPC do in the developed tier to mitigate the impacts? Byrd restated the question, adding some rhetorical ones of his own, but never answered any of them.

Other questions were asked, but most answers were just words devoid of substance. Byrd demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is ineffective in his current job, does not have a clue what and how M-NCPPC is supposed to function, and would–in this reporter’s opinion–be an unmitigated disaster as Chairman of M-NCPPC.–William Cavitt

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Filed under Elected Offcials, Environment, Planning Board, Public Input

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