Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Johnson reappointed to Planning Commission amid controversy

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Controversy arose Monday night over the reappointment of Planning Commissioner Steven Johnson to another term, as a few residents questioned his work experience and the appointment process for the city’s boards and commissions.

The City Council voted to reappoint Johnson for another five-year term by a vote of 4 to 1. Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio said she voted against the reappointment because she does not share the same views on development as Johnson.

‘‘He is a strong advocate and believer in smart growth and I am not,” Marcuccio said before the vote.

Marcuccio also said the reappointment ‘‘misses another opportunity to bring diversity” to the city’s boards and commissions, to which Councilwoman Anne M. Robbins and Councilman Piotr Gajewski agreed.

But Robbins and Gajewski voted for the reappointment of Johnson for procedural reasons, they said.

‘‘Unless something is wrong, the [mayor] can appoint his or her people to the commission,” Robbins said.

As is written in the city charter, the mayor makes the decision on whom to appoint to the city’s boards and commissions without a vetting process. Mayor Susan R. Hoffmann said she reappointed Johnson based on his qualifications as an environmental and land-use attorney.

‘‘He is uniquely qualified to bring an environmental perspective, that’s my most significant issue,” Hoffmann said. ‘‘I’m always focusing on how we can be doing things in a greener way ... and Steve knows that field.”

Johnson said Tuesday morning that he is ‘‘pleased” to be reappointed.

‘‘I’d like to be a part of the city’s planning for the future and I enjoy working with my fellow commissioners,” Johnson said. ‘‘I’m happy to do it for the next five years.”

Judy Miller, vice president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association, spoke during the Citizens Forum portion of Monday’s meeting against Johnson’s reappointment and for more transparency and allowing for public comment in the appointment process.

But, Gajewski said Tuesday, appointments are not a public process.

‘‘That’s not what appointments are about ... it’s a political process, there’s no public comment period, no invitation for public comment,” Gajewski said. ‘‘I think that’s where the confusion comes in.”

Miller said the association opposes the reappointment because of Johnson’s support for development in Twinbrook and that he has not been receptive to community concerns.

‘‘He is the leading proponent for more and more growth in a community that is looking for less,” Miller said.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he was not going to comment on the attacks against him.

‘‘They all completely missed the mark and are based on inaccuracies,” he said.

Councilman John B. Britton defended Johnson on Monday, saying the attacks were part of a ‘‘smear campaign” based on ‘‘distortions and mischaracterizations.”

Britton has worked with Johnson, both environmental attorneys, at Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis LLC. But Johnson will soon leave the law firm to begin his new appointment as the principal counsel to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

‘‘I think we’d be remiss not having his deep knowledge and expertise on the commission,” Britton said before voting to appoint Johnson.