The Town of Chevy Chase is bringing in a legal team to press its case for what some say are necessary mitigations to make the Purple Line running through town palatable.
In a 3-1 vote Thursday , the Town Council agreed to hire Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney as a legal and lobbying firm to represent the town’s interests in discussions about the Purple Line. The town will pay $29,000 a month for a maximum of $350,000 to the firm and two subcontractors, Alexander and Cleaver, and Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell.
The town wants somebody to lobby for it as various government agencies sort out the details of the light rail line that is supposed to eventually run through the town on its way from Bethesda to New Carrollton. The town had hired the firm on a month-to-month basis at a cost of $20,000 per month, The Gazette reported, but delayed voting on a longer contract.
A pro-Purple Line group, the Action Committee for Transit, has in recent weeks criticized the town’s decision to hire a lobbying firm. The group submitted a public information request, filed an Open Meetings Act complaint and called for another public hearing before a vote on the longer contract.
Before the council took a vote at a Thursday special meeting, Mayor Pat Burda said the council had explored a variety of firms and approaches before making a decision. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney will take a “multi-pronged approach” to Purple Line discussions, she said, and the town can feel confident in the council’s decision.
“We have a variety of angles we are pursuing,” she said. “... We will have our voice heard.”
She voted in favor of hiring the firm, as did council members Kathy Strom and David Lublin. Strom said the town has expressed many concerns that have yet to be answered.
Lublin acknowledged that people in the town have different opinions on the Purple Line, but said he supported hiring a lobbying firm to get answers to its concerns.
“The state has yet to propose meaningful mitigation,” he said.
Lublin said other governments and interest groups have lobbyists, and the town is providing a public service by pointing to the plan’s flaws.
“I don’t see why there’s any reason our small town can’t participate in the project,” he said.
Councilman Al Lang voted against the measure.
Lang said he wanted the town to hire lobbyists, but did not think the Town Council had done enough to negotiate pricing.
“I just cannot vote for this given the way we ... picked the firm,” he said.
Councilman John Bickerman was not at the meeting. He recused himself from the vote because he knew people at one of the firms the town had been considering. He said when the town first hired a firm, he opposed it.
“I felt that they were overcharging us and didn’t have a particularly good strategy,” he said. The mayor asked Bickerman to identify some alternative firms, he said, and when he did, he realized he had identified the firm of someone he knew.
“I knew it would be inappropriate to participate in the discussions or to vote on it, because it would give the appearance of impropriety,” he told The Gazette. “... I’m a mediator, so my integrity is the [cornerstone] of my job, so I’m very, very careful about conflicts of interest.”
He said he plans to prepare a statement for the next Town Council meeting.