Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Hoffmann to nominate ally to Planning Commission

Some claim ‘cronyism’ and call for more diversity

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Rockville Mayor Susan R. Hoffmann intends to nominate a close political ally to the influential city Planning Commission, sparking criticism from some who point out that the city did not advertise the open position.

The reaction came after the mayor informed the City Council via an e-mail that she would nominate Tracy Pakulniewicz-Chidiac for appointment later this month.

But the absence of any public call for applicants coupled with close ties between Hoffmann and Pakulniewicz-Chidiac brought an accusation of cronyism from another commission applicant.

‘‘If you keep doing cronyism, how would you expect to get more diversity?” said Theodric Anderson, who ran against Pakulniewicz-Chidiac and nine others for City Council in November. ‘‘How would you attract qualified, diverse citizens and encourage them to step forward?”

Anderson, an African American who chairs the city’s Human Rights Commission, said a vast majority of the city’s boards and commissions do not reflect its diverse population.

That sentiment was echoed by Elbridge James, active with the Montgomery County NAACP and former District 17 candidate for the House of Delegates. He also worked for one of Hoffmann’s opponents in the last election, Drew Powell.

‘‘Currently, we’re lacking people of color in great leadership positions in the city of Rockville,” he told the council during Citizens Forum on Monday.

Hoffmann defended her nominee.

‘‘She’s young, female and from the east side of [Route] 355, which often feels under-represented,” Hoffmann said. ‘‘She is head of her homeowners association and has worked diligently on behalf of her community to get concessions from JBG, the company developing Twinbrook Station. She’s a tough negotiator.”

Hoffmann refused to comment on charges of cronyism.

City Councilman John B. Britton, a Hoffmann ally who vacated the Planning Commission seat in question following his November election, defended the decision not to advertise for the position.

‘‘The day I got elected could have been the best advertising possible,” he said. ‘‘I had to resign from the commission the next day, which I did. The entire world knew there was a vacancy.”

Pakulniewicz-Chidiac echoed that sentiment.

‘‘I can’t say much about the process because I didn’t create the process,” she said. ‘‘But I think anyone who was paying attention to the election knew there was going to be an opening on the Planning Commission.”

Upset that the nomination process did not include a public call for applicants, Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio agreed more diversity is needed on volunteer city bodies.

‘‘We need minority representation in the city, big time,” she said, ‘‘not just the black community, but the Latino community and the Asian community. We profess to be a city of many, many groups and many, many languages and backgrounds. I would like to see us be more representational.”

Pakulniewicz-Chidiac agreed with the concept, but not the conclusion.

‘‘I am always for diversity and I am always for finding the best candidate,” she said. ‘‘I don’t think somebody should be shunned just because they don’t fit someone’s description of diversity. I am a woman. I think it’s important to have additional female representation on the Planning Commission.”

If appointed, Pakulniewicz-Chidiac would be the fourth woman on the seven-member commission.

Marcuccio recently pushed a resolution through that calls upon the mayor to give the council at least a week’s notice before placing a nomination on the agenda for a vote. Originally, Marcuccio proposed that available positions be advertised, but that language did not make it into the final wording of the resolution.

By City Charter, the mayor is not obligated to advertise for available board and commission openings. Since former Mayor Larry Giammo took over in 2001, the practice has been to advertise the positions for all such openings, except the Planning Commission.

When Hoffmann became mayor, she did away with a system that allowed for some nominations to be made by council members.

The charter gives the mayor nomination powers. Three votes are needed to appoint a nominee. The vote on Pakulniewicz-Chidiac’s nomination is expected to take place during the next council meeting on Jan. 22.

The commission is arguably the most influential city body, aside from the City Council.

Pakulniewicz-Chidiac is a public relations consultant who volunteered for Hoffmann’s political campaigns before making an unsuccessful bid for council in November. Hoffmann publicly urged voters to support Pakulniewicz-Chidiac.

A relative newcomer to Rockville politics, Pakulniewicz-Chidiac also garnered endorsements from other key Hoffmann supporters, Giammo and former City Councilman John F. Hall Jr. But her political campaign took a hit when election records indicated she had not voted in a city election, despite having lived here for five years.

Pakulniewicz-Chidiac repeatedly claimed to have voted in 2005 via a same-day voter registration process. But records show no evidence of the vote being cast or of her signing up as a same-day voter, according to the city clerk, who conducted a review.