New Public Hearing Needed on Chevy Chase Lobbyist
After the Facts Come Out
Press release issued February 10, 2014
A new public hearing over the hiring of lobbyist Robert Shuster, brother of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster, was demanded today by members of the Action Committee for Transit in the Town of Chevy Chase.
Shuster's law firm has already received $40,000 from the town to fight against the Purple Line, a planned light rail line along the town's border that would carry 74,000 passengers a day. The town council plans to vote this Wednesday, Feb. 12, on whether to pay the firm an additional $360,000.
Town resident Jean Buergler, a long-time ACT member, said that before the town makes any decision it should release documents about the matter and disclose what was said in closed meetings. “A public hearing held before the facts are known is meaningless,” she added. “We deserve a real chance to speak out.”
John Gill, another town resident, commented that the town should not limit itself to the minimum disclosure required by law. “Openness promotes better decision-making – and the town’s goal should be to set the standard in that regard,” he said.
Shuster and colleagues at his firm began lobbying for the town on December 1, paid $20,000 per month, according to a lobbying report filed with the House of Representatives. But the town made no announcement at that time.
On New Year's Eve, the town called a public hearing for Jan. 8 about whether to spend $360,000 on legal advice. Only after members of the public finished speaking was it revealed that the money would be used for lobbying. Even then, just the name of the firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, was disclosed. The involvement of the brother of an influential congressman came out only later, in a Washington Post article.
Since then, ACT has filed a complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board and moved under the Maryland Public Information Act to require the town to release documents. To date, no information has been made public in response to these actions.
ACT is a grass-roots organization of Montgomery County transit advocates with over 400 members.