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Leventhal: County-Owned Land Deals Need Oversight

Councilman George Leventhal is drafting legislation that would empower the County Council with the final say on property transactions worth $250,000 or more.

The Montgomery County Council is looking to give itself authority over the sale and lease of county-owned property, after a string of multi-million dollar deals came to councilmembers' attention only after the contracts were inked and dry.

Councilman George Leventhal broached the issue today during an update on the county’s $25 million plan for a new police station in Silver Spring. While groundbreaking is set for April 21, county officials were unable to tell the council what will happen to the 3rd District’s 50-year-old station when officers move out late next year.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin fretted over the police station and the soon-to-be-vacant Silver Spring library. Councilwoman Nancy Navarro took issue that a county project to build a health center in Bel Pre Elementary came to the council’s attention only after she noticed it in already approved budget documents. Leventhal cited the county’s $20 million commitment to build a parking garage for the Universities at Shady Grove and the recent sale of the county’s police headquarters in Rockville, which was sold to a biotech firm according to a reassessment that valued the land at $3.2 million—down from the $9.2 million the council had for years been told the property was worth.

"Things have come up where it’s presented to us councilmembers very much after the fact … the contract is already signed and the agreement is already reached and the County Council is learning about it after the fact," said Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park. "… We all want to be cooperative. We want to work as a team. We’re one Montgomery. But the council really needs to have a role here."

The County Executive’s authority to dispose of county land was meant to be for small projects, said Council President Roger Berliner, but now, the issue "needs to be redressed."

The specifics of Leventhal's legislation are still in flux; his latest draft sets a threshold of transactions worth $250,000 or more. He wants to give other councilmembers a chance to look it over before proposing it March 13 or March 20.

"It shouldn’t be any different than appointing a department head or members of boards and commissions," Leventhal said in an interview. "It should be a very routine process, if it’s not controversial. Now, if it is controversial, then there should be oversight."

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