Sunday, October 16, 2005

Brass Balls

If there’s one topic developers, residents and even non-profits can agree on, it’s that Planning and Zoning Director Eileen Fogarty is driving them all nuts. The Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan is taking longer to revise than it took Metro to build the damned station. Projects like the proposed Madison, which may include the first grocery store in the neighborhood in years, are languishing in cobwebs. The whole planning process is starting to resemble a death march. Or at the least the equivalent of watching back-to-back Apprentice reruns.

In the last few months, the Growler has heard a lot of people complaining about Ms. Fogarty, particularly the way she self-importantly swans around Planning Commission and City Council meetings and holds those hallway tete-a-tetes with Duncan or Howard or Bud or whoever is the zoning attorney du jour. One person called it unprofessional and another unladylike.

Now the Growler is kinda charmed by a woman who is deemed unprofessional and unladylike. Them words usually indicate a whole lot of power.

And at the moment Ms. Fogarty, Director of Planning & Zoning, is the most formidable babe in the City . She’s the Messalina of micromanagement who can give the thumbs up or thumbs down to million dollar projects -- the Iago of urban renewal whispering in everyone’s ear as she bustles in and out of the Council chamber. This woman has developers pissing in their REITs and preservationists gnashing their historically correct George Washington replica wooden teeth. And she’s virtually indestructible since successfully punching down a SLAP suit from a spurned developer earlier this year.

Well, this made the ole Growler curious how Ms. Fogarty fared in a similar historic seaport city, Annapolis, when she was Director of Planning a decade ago. So the Cranky One hoisted anchor for a little fishing expedition in that lesser location and …

Hello sailor!

In 1995, according to the Annapolis Capital, the City Council commissioned consultants Tischler & Associates of Bethesda to review the operations of what the newspaper called the “embattled” Planning and Zoning Department. In a March 12, 1996 article the Capital referred to the “lengthy and contentious review process [that gave] city planning a black eye,” and went on to quote the Tischler report, “’There is not a shared vision for Annapolis or clear mission statements for city departments.”

Now to be fair (and the Growler wants to be fair), the report went on to criticize aldermens' interference and inconsistent enforcement of laws. But it also cited “a lack of direction among staffers.”

Reporter Jeff Nelson went on to write that “The department has been criticized by some aldermen and business owners as being too slow and selective in its decisions.“ Alderman Theresa DeGraff complained that questionnaires given to department employees gave them no opportunity to criticize department’s management, including Ms. Fogarty.

The Tischler report also noted that the department would need a “facilitator” to help planning staff members deal with communications issues within the department.

The Capital article, citing then-city administrator Michael Malinoff, also alluded to a retreat of city administrators the previous year that was held to work out management problems in city government but instead erupted into “infighting between department heads.”

Is this déjà vu all over again? Didn’t we hear that Ms. Fogarty clashed so badly with Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier that then-City Manager Phil Sunderland had to send them out to counseling?

On the whole the report stated that the department was doing a “very good to excellent” job, but when Ms. Fogarty resigned four months later to take a better job in Santa Cruz , the Capital again noted that “under her leadership, the department came under fire for the size of its staff and for being overly subject to political whim.”

Hmmmm ....