When Mayor Bridget Newton brought former Mayor Larry Giammo’s name forward for the Historic District Commission (HDC) on Monday, the vote was 2-3 with her and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg in agreement and Councilmembers Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Mark Pierzchala opposed.
As Rockville View reported when Don Hadley was not reappointed to the Planning Commission in the same public format, the City used to respect those who volunteered by only bringing names forward that had majority support.
“I find it absolutely disappointing that politics has entered into the boards and commissions nominations process once again in the City,” explained Newton, “This is once again a really bad situation for the City. We all know there was a problem before with where we are in preserving the historic attributes in the City of Rockville and I think Mr. Giammo would have done a good job in helping the Historic District Commission with their work, their obligation to preserve those historic resources.”
But there were solid reasons to deny Giammo a seat on HDC.
Onley was the first to explain, “For me, my not voting had nothing to do with politics. It had to do with the state law that the Historic District Commission operates under, and we have adopted that same law as Rockville law. The positions that are open are very specific and they need to be a certain level of expertise, and Mr. Giammo’s application didn’t have that. It had nothing to do with politics. It was simply that I was going by state law and by city law that I didn’t vote.”
Newton then went so far as to ask her to be more specific about which criteria Mr. Giammo didn’t have.
“The two openings are for someone who either has – and the person who is serving now who’s term has expired but is serving – actually has a masters in historic preservation. The person needs a masters in historic preservation or they need to work for a historic preservation company. And that individual just happens to have both, which is very unusual. The term has expired and according to the state and city law, the person filling that position needs both of those requirements. So unless you can show me different …”
“I’m going to,” said Newton, “I’m going to read the qualifications from the code, and I thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight Councilmember.” She then read the section of the Code:
(a.) Each member and alternate member must be a resident of the City;
(b) Each member and alternate member must possess a demonstrated special interest, specific knowledge or professional or academic training in such fields as: history, architecture, architectural history, planning, archaeology, anthropology, curation, conservation, landscape architecture, historic preservation, urban design, or related disciplines.
(i) The requirement for commission membership under the category of demonstrated special interest may be satisfied either by formal training in one (1) or more of the above-listed fields or two (2) or more years of active membership in a preservation-related organization as cited in a letter of recommendation from that organization.
(ii) Formal post secondary education, employment and/or practical experience in one (1) or more of the above-listed fields may satisfy the requirement for membership under the category of specific knowledge.
(iii) The requirement for commission membership under the category of professional or academic training may be satisfied by, at a minimum, two (2) years experience as a professional or a Baccalaureate degree in one or more of the above listed fields. (iv) A “related discipline” may be conservation of historic resources or a building trade or profession with a specialty in structural restoration.
“I will point out, Mr. and Mrs. Giammo live in an old home. I don’t know if it has been deemed historic but it definitely is as old as mine which means it’s over 50 years. #2, Mr. Giammo is a Realtor. #3 Mr. Giammo served five years on the Planning Commission protecting the entire city not just the historic resources, and #4 Mr. Giammo served three terms as the Mayor of the city. So, in my humble opinion, Mr. Giammo has more than satisfied the requirements of informal learning of the city’s historic resources. I’ve tried to work with this council in terms of people who apply for positions who may or may not always have the exact same viewpoint of all of us. It has been my privilege and honor to bring forward names of people who have worked very hard against me and worked hard for all of us and I really am very disappointed.”
After her speech, she then offered that someone could change their vote and she would ask for a recount.
Noting that “informal” is different than “skilled qualifications”, Onley asked the City Attorney to weigh in. Debra Yerg Daniel said it was up to the Mayor and Council to determine each applicants qualifications.
Julie Palakovich Carr then brought the whole situation into the light, “You’re right that that’s what the City Code says but that’s not the only criteria that we are considering with this nomination. Rockville is a certified local government for historic preservation. That’s a state program run by the Maryland Historical Trust and the National Park Service. By participating in that program, Rockville is eligible for additional, special funding for historic preservation and for Rockville to maintain our certification we’re required to have two members who possess certain criteria and I’m going to read directly from the state qualifications.”
When she did, the criteria indicated that at least two members who possess professional or academic training in history, architectural history, architecture, or archeology in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards must be on the Commission.
This is where the truth finally came out. The current commissioner in the seat, who Onley mentioned was doubly qualified, wants to continue.
“He’s one of the two people who keeps Rockville’s certification in the program current. If he were to be removed, Rockville would no longer qualify to be a certified local government. We’d be giving away the opportunity to get additional funding for historic preservation.” Palakovich Carr said.
The Mayor then continued down this dead end by pointing out that jurisdictions had to follow the rules “if possible”.
Palakovich Carr pointed out the obvious that they did have another applicant who was completely qualified.
The City could not possibly make a written case for an exemption and claim that it was not possible. An extremely qualified commissioner was already serving and had reapplied.
Councilmember Mark Pierzchala then took his turn to speak, “It is political in the sense of the way you brought this forward. You sent us an email maybe three weeks ago about this nomination. Three of us very quickly said we would not vote for Mayor Giammo, former Mayor Giammo, and the fact that you are bringing it forward means that you wanted to make a political spectacle of it, then you gave a very nice speech. You sent, when I said I would not vote for Mr. Giammo, you sent me an email saying why not and I said I needed to carefully consider my words, but then I sent you an email saying why do you think Mr. Giammo is qualified especially with respect to the HDC code 250404 that we have, and you never responded to that.”
“I want to emphasize, maybe put it in a little different terminology, that with this vote we are going to reject one person or another. It’s not that we are rejecting only the applicant. So, if we approve Mr. Giammo, we are rejecting Matthew Goguen, who has excellent qualifications both professionally and work-wise for that position. So, I’m not willing to reject Mr. Goguen by approving Mr. Giammo.” Pierzchala then emphasized that we need people with a fresh perspective and that very rarely does the City get an applicant like Mr. Goguen.[Read Mr. Goguen’s bio on the History Associates, Inc. website.]
“Additionally I just don’t think Mr. Giammo at this time is a good fit for the Historic District Commission,” continued Pierzchala, “To be honest, I didn’t like the way he purported himself in the Chestnut Lodge affair. I thought he was dismissive of City Staff. I thought he was disrespectful to Mayor and Council and I’ll describe that. Mr. Giammo at one point came before us very authoritatively and he does have the number of years on the Planning Commission and the three terms as Mayor and he read through several sections of our zoning ordinance to describe how what the Mayor and Council did in allowing the applicant to modify their application, how this was wrong, but he omitted two sentences. He omitted the very two sentences that allowed the applicant to modify their applications. Now if he had come forward with those two sentences and said, ‘Well I disagree with them’, that’s fine and we could have had the discussion right then and there. But I had to go afterwards and review his tape. It took me an hour and a half to two hours to trace through his steps in the City Code which he did correctly, but he left those two sentences out. I did not appreciate that. But in doing so, he made our City Attorney look bad and I didn’t appreciate that either.”
Pierzchala stated that there were other Boards and Commissions to which he would appoint Mr. Giammo but added, “I don’t think he would be a good mix with the current HDC. I don’t think he would be a good mix with the City Staff.”
Pierzchala then noted there was a narrative coming out of the West End that City Staff was representing developers and “that kind of thing is not correct. I don’t agree with it but we keep seeing that and from the West End.” Giammo served as President of the West End Citizens Association Executive Committee last year.
Feinberg said this was brought forward for transparency which she thought had value. She framed it as politicizing by those who opposed the nomination. Newton agreed that transparency was exactly why she brought it forward.
It’s true. The decision to bring the nomination forward made it very transparent that, unfortunately, the appointments for Board and Commissions are now political in Rockville while under the control of the Mayor. In this case, funding is on the line and a qualified, professional volunteer is being disrespected.