Montgomery IG will not investigate Ervin, consultant proposal -- Gazette.Net


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Montgomery County’s inspector general will not investigate Councilwoman Valerie Ervin over a proposal to streamline the county’s development process.

“In my opinion, no investigation is warranted,” Inspector General Edward L. Blansitt III wrote.

Last month, Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1994, requested that Blansitt launch an ethics investigation into Ervin, alleging she pushed for a no-bid contract with a developer who resides in her district.

In his request, Renne alleged that Ervin wanted Chris McGoff’s management consulting firm, The Clearing, to receive a no-bid contract to revamp the planning and zoning system. The contract would be a conflict of interest, Renne said previously.

McGoff presented a proposal to select council members that outlined a $1.3 million plan to streamline Montgomery’s oft-criticized and allegedly inhibitive development process.

But without a contract with McGoff or formal council action, Ervin was not acting unethically, Blansitt said in a letter to Renne on Thursday.

“If Councilmember Ervin promoted the concept because she believed it to be a good idea, or because her constituent wanted her help in presenting the concept to Councilmembers, such usual and customary constituent services are not prohibited by the ethics law,” Blansitt wrote.

Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring — who previously called Renne’s request another bullying tactic against her — declined to comment on the decision.

Renne said he respects Blansitt’s decision.

“He determined there was no smoking gun,” he said. “I will defer to his judgment.”

Renne said that MCGEO requested the investigation to ensure that, as an elected official, Ervin was held to the same standard his membership would be in their dealings on behalf of the county.

“There was no witch hunt on our part,” he said.

McGoff’s proposal, pitched behind closed doors to select council members, raised both eyebrows and blood pressure, in part because McGoff was party to a proposal to build townhomes near the Wheaton Westfield Mall.

Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said previously that McGoff’s 12-page proposal suggested a contract and bore a “mind-boggling” price tag. But Leventhal also said he neither met with McGoff nor was privy to the proposal until council colleagues brought it to his attention.

Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Takoma Park said previously that his meeting with McGoff felt like a full-court press to get everybody to agree to fund the contract.

Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said his meeting with McGoff was not out of the ordinary. Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park questioned media interest in the meetings, saying that should the council actually undertake changing its development process, that would be news.

The meetings with McGoff were only “a bunch of conversations,” Ervin previously remarked, saying he met with council members to talk about what would happen if the council engaged in a grand plan to streamline the development process.

kalexander@gazette.net