Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Trachtenberg claims Knapp is trying to marginalize her

Council president denies her allegation and plans to meet with her

E-mail this article \ Print this article

While a meeting last week between the County Council and union leaders had tense moments, the biggest split came between the chairwoman of the council’s finance committee and the council president.

During a meeting with union leaders Wednesday night over the county’s projected $297 million budget gap, a union official asked why the county was setting aside so much money for future health benefits for retirees to satisfy Wall Street bond rating agencies and keep the county’s triple-A fiscal rating.

Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said he and some council members were surprised by the amount the county was expected to set aside for the pensions. He said the commitments had been made during discussions over the years at annual meetings in New York attended by county officials.

Although he said the meetings were attended by past county executives and financial officers, council presidents, and heads of the management and fiscal policy committee, he did not mention any names because different people held the titles over the years.

However, Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, the current chairwoman of the Management and Fiscal Policy committee, took exception to Knapp’s remarks, saying she felt Knapp had thrown her under the bus.

‘‘The very clear suggestion was that there had been a backroom deal,” said Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda. ‘‘I really feel that issue was fully debated and discussed with my colleagues. I really am very concerned that it was suggested there was a backroom deal made by me and by the then council president and the fiscal team. It was misleading to say that, and I think it puts a cloud over my chairmanship of the MFP committee.”

Knapp said he intended nothing of the sort and never implied it was a ‘‘backroom deal.”

Knapp said he thought he made it clear that the discussions preceded Trachtenberg’s election to the council. She joined in December 2006.

‘‘It had nothing to do with Duchy,” he said. ‘‘I have the greatest respect for all of my colleagues.”

Trachtenberg disagreed.

‘‘I feel he’s trying to marginalize me as chairman of the MFP and I don’t understand that,” she said.

Trachtenberg said Knapp has talked to other council members about committee assignments since the passing of long-time Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner on Feb. 1 of complications from heart surgery, but not to her.

Trachtenberg called The Gazette on Thursday to say she felt ‘‘obligated” to defend herself.

‘‘Last night underscores I am being singled out, and why that is I’m not quite sure,” she said. ‘‘I’m just assuming that there is a political motivation here and my values and interests are not necessarily something the council president is comfortable with. Why would you attack a colleague and call into question their judgment?”

Knapp said he would be meeting with Trachtenberg.

‘‘I have no issues with Duchy,” he said. ‘‘I have no issues with any of my colleagues. We need to build the strongest, collegial relationships we can.”