Potomac residents raise ethics concerns over public land

A public hearing over Montgomery County public land in Potomac.

There are new developments in the battle over 20 acres of public land in Potomac.

In 2009, County executive Ike Leggett proposed turning the organic farm on public land into soccer fields. Residents didn't find out until 16 months later.

"It's really a tale of corruption, stonewalling and cover-up," said resident Dennis Kelleher.

The county has been no less animated in its defense.

"Basically these are folks in an exclusive community, who think in the county, soccer fields and affordable housing should only go in places like Silver Spring and Rockville and shouldn't go in Potomac," said County executive spokesman Patrick Lacefield.

Residents are raising questions about lobbying, campaign contributions and transparency. A recent letter written by a lawyer charges the county with refusing to release public records.

Residents say the only interested developer is Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI). According to the minutes from a 2009 MSI board meeting, the group set aside $350,000 for lobbying purposes.

"It should be viewed that this significant expenditure is in place of land acquisition costs," the minutes read. "But at a fraction of the cost of what we would otherwise have to spend to secure land."

MSI, a non-profit, says it set aside the funds to pay for practical matters--not to corrupt the process.

"We've been around for 41 years doing good things for our community not just doing youth soccer programs, but all our outreach programs," said Doug Schuessler, Executive Director, Montgomery Soccer Inc. "We have a responsibility to the children of our community to advocate on their behalf."

Residents also raise concerns about campaign contributions. Since 2005, a member of the MSI Board donated a total of almost $10,000 to Leggett and his Director of Economic Development.

MSI said none of its other 15 board members gave anything.

"Ike Leggett doesn't give a damn whether you give him campaign money or not," Lacefield said.

As for the request for public documents from the county, the county says the residents haven't gotten them yet because they haven't paid a required fee. Residents dispute those charges and say if the county had nothing to hide, it would release the documents.

"Get the documents out there, and let's see what this secret planning for the last two years was all about," said Kelleher.

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