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Town Of Chevy Chase Wants To See What Purple Line Advocates Are Saying

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 4/30/2014, 9:15am  ET

Purple Line rendering via MTAThe Town of Chevy Chase wants to see what advocates for the Purple Line light rail are saying to the state agency in charge of making the transit system happen.

On April 16, the Town requested all public records and electronic communications between the Maryland Transit Administration and Purple Line supporters in the Action Committee for Transit, Purple Line Now and The Purple Rail Alliance.

The Town’s public information act request mentioned a number of ACT and Purple Line Now members by name, another volley in the back-and-forth between ACT activists and the Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Town Mayor Pat Burda claimed then-ACT President Tina Slater told her the organization would “come after us with all they had,” if the Town decided to open a contract with lobbying firms to work against the proposed 16-mile light rail. Slater denied she made that threat.

Nonetheless, ACT members have made a series of public information act requests aimed at getting more information about the Town’s dealings with its main lobbying firm — Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney.

ACT members made the complaint to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board that resulted in the Board finding the Town violated some procedural rules in a November closed session. The Board ruled that the Town Council didn’t properly vote to go into closed session when it met with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney lobbyist Robert Shuster.

Ronit Dancis, a Bethesda resident and ACT board member who has made a number of the requests, said she’s not sure what significant records the Town would find by asking for advocates’ communications with the state.

“We email them when we are arranging to have MTA speak at our meetings, which happens no more than once a year,” Dancis said. “I have emailed once or twice when I have a question relating to the Purple Line in the course of the past 18 months on the ACT Board — as any transit activist would. No doubt others have over the years.”

Town manager Todd Hoffman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday night, ACT enlisted nonprofit Common Cause to ask why the Town of Chevy Chase was “stonewalling the public” by charging $825 for records related to the public meetings act training of its employees and Council members.

ACT alleged that the Town of Chevy Chase asked the state to waive any fees related to its own public records request regarding communications with Purple Line advocates, just a day before it notified ACT of the charges.

“People shouldn’t have to pay $825 to find out what government is doing with public money,” ACT’s Miriam Schoenbaum said. “It’s not right. And it makes me wonder whether the town is trying to hide something.”

The Town’s request specifies 54 members of the three different transit groups, including Dancis and Schoenbaum and Councilmember George Leventhal, Del. Heather Mizeur and Del. Tom Hucker. The three elected officials are all board members of Purple Line Now.

Rendering via Maryland Transit Administration