Montgomery planning department head fired amid planning board controversy


The Montgomery County Planning Board announced it had removed Planning Department Director Gwen Wright after an unscheduled closed board meeting on Friday afternoon, the latest in a series of controversies to hit the council and county planning department amid a disputed development plan.

In a statement, the planning board did not give a reason for Wright’s dismissal. Deputy Principal Tanya Stern will serve as acting principal beginning Friday, the statement said.

Four of five board members voted to remove Wright — Vice Chairman Partap Verma and commissioners Gerald R. Cichy, Tina Patterson and Carol Rubin, Wright said. Board Chairman Casey Anderson withdrew from the vote.

The meeting that led to Wright’s dismissal happened one day after Wright spoke to WJLA to defend Anderson after the outlet reported a leaked email in late September that accused Anderson of inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace. Anderson denied the allegations.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Wright said she was fired without cause, but felt her firing was related to her defense of Anderson. On September 30, Wright sent an email, signed by several planning department employees, to the Montgomery County Board expressing his support for Anderson after allegations were raised against him.

“I believe their main reason for firing me was that I supported Casey Anderson through a number of the difficulties he had recently faced,” Wright said.

Verma confirmed the board voted 4-0 to fire Wright, but said he could not comment on personnel matters or Wright’s assertion that she was fired without cause.

“The guesswork on other parts of this question is just that, guesswork,” Verma said.

Rubin did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Anderson came under fire last month after an investigation found he kept a bar of booze in his office and shared it with other employees, including once with Verma and once with Rubin. Anderson apologized and the Montgomery County Board announced Wednesday that it would take four weeks off his salary as punishment. Board members who accepted a drink from Anderson had a day’s pay cut.

Questions about planning and development have long been among the most contentious political issues in Montgomery.

Wright’s dismissal and the allegations against Anderson come as the county council considers Thrive 2050, a plan that will guide the county’s growth and development over the next 30 years. Wright and Anderson have been the face of the County Planning Department’s plan as it has been publicly debated since mid-2019.

Proponents of the plan say it will provide more housing for different income levels and help the county grow in an environmentally sustainable way by focusing development around transit lines. Opponents say this would lead to overly dense development, which would overwhelm congested schools and roads while destroying tree canopy and worsening flooding.

Wright was due to retire in December and had served as director of planning for nine years.

Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.


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