Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ficker files complaint over council’s interviews

Restriction violated state’s open meetings law, he claims

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Robin Ficker, who has made a name for himself opposing tax increases, has filed a complaint with the state open meetings compliance board asking the panel to decide if the County Council can bar applicants for a seat on the county’s Planning Board from sitting in on public interviews of other applicants.

Specifically Ficker asks if applicants may be barred from interviews of applicants for the same seat or for a different seat.

His complaint arises from an incident June 12 in a Council conference room in Rockville when Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 1) of Germantown and Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park interrupted planning board applicant interviews and told Ficker, who was still hoping to be added to the interview list, that he should not be in the room.

Ficker protested, noting that Council Clerk Linda Lauer told him earlier that he could stay.

‘‘When you get down to open meetings law and council practice, open meetings law takes precedence,” Lauer told The Gazette last month.

Security arrived but Ficker remained calm in making his protest and was allowed to remain.

Knapp said the policy was intended to keep candidates from gaining an advantage by listening to other interviews.

Council lawyer Michael Faden said that whether or not the Council could bar applicants from listening to interviews of other applicants for the same seat ‘‘is a legitimate question” but not one he could answer yet.

Ficker’s complaint also questions the process council members used to select the candidates to be interviewed. Council members were sent lists and asked to check which applicants they wanted to interview, Faden said. The checks were tallied and used to make the interview list, then the individual lists checked by council members were shredded, Faden said.

‘‘Wonder why they would shred that? ... It was also unannounced what the process would be,” Ficker said. ‘‘What have they got to hide? What other votes are they shredding?”

Faden said there is no violation because there was no meeting and no vote.

The board has not received Ficker’s complaint, a representative said Tuesday, but Ficker said it has been mailed.

Ficker’s law license was indefinitely suspended by the Maryland Court of Appeals a year ago for carelessness in running his Bethesda-based law practice. He was allowed to apply for reinstatement after a year passed.

Court spokesman Darrell Pressley said Tuesday that Ficker had applied to the court for reinstatement.