Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HOW MUCH MONEY DID MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCILMEMBERS RECEIVE FROM BILLIONAIRE BEFORE APPROVING HIS CITY MUSEUM IN THE COUNTRY? (PHOTO)

Five days ago, Montgomery County issued construction permits for two structures on the Glen Road property of billionaire Mitchell Rales. Both are part of the expansion of Rales' private Glenstone art museum, which is currently viewable by appointment.

The expansion, which includes a cafe (serving soup, sandwiches, etc.) and an extension of public sewer and water facilities to the site, was controversial due to its location in a rural area in Potomac.

But Rales isn't done yet: the tycoon - whose net worth is estimated at $3.5 billion - recently purchased a 2.5 acre property, and seven others, near his estate, according to Washingtonian Magazine. What ultimately is the intended size and scale of Rales' estate and museum? Is a facility of such urban proportions, and the stormwater runoff it creates, suitable for a rural area?  And is it fair for wealthy applicants to get approval for public sewer in rural areas, when other citizens and churches have been denied?

The Montgomery County Council might say, "Yes!" That's because they've received a Fort Knox worth of checks from the Rales family.

When the initial argument over the sewer line - which will bisect Greenbriar Branch stream, an arrangement that has caused contamination in Little Falls stream in Bethesda in recent years - occurred, The Washington Post and Gazette did not inform readers of the money councilmembers had received from Rales, his family, and a Rales business entity, Equity Group Holdings.

But I've done the research they declined to do, and here are the loot totals the council - who approved the sewer extension unanimously - have received so far:

Roger Berliner $1500
Marc Elrich $1500
Valerie Ervin $2000
Nancy Floreen $1000
George Leventhal $750
Craig Rice $1000
Hans Riemer $2000

How much does it cost to get sewer in a rural area in Montgomery County? $9750, apparently.

Reportedly, some or all of the County Council attended at least one posh party at Rales' estate prior to the vote. I say reportedly, because the Post declined to identify the entire list of councilmembers who attended the celebration. When I emailed Post reporter Miranda Spivack to ask which councilmembers were present at the party, she did not respond. Lost in the inbox, perhaps? That's vital information the taxpayers deserve to know, and should have been in the media coverage, along with the money totals I provided above.

Photo via Bing:

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ask the councilmembers if they attended.

Anonymous said...

Paying for access and influence. The average citizen doesn't stand a chance against the corporations or 1%ers like Rales.

Anonymous said...

You forgot a large part of the story: Part of the agreement for the museum expansion/sewer line includes opening the museum up to MCPS field trips, similar to the annual Strathmore classical music field trips the Rales help pay for.

Anonymous said...

If this was about getting modern art accessible to the masses and school children, why not build this massive gallery as part of the new White Flint?

The art gallery would be preferable to all of the chain stores and restaurants that are in the works.

Anonymous said...

Robert, didn't you run for County Council against four of the members mentioned? Might be worth it to mention that for full disclosure.

Anonymous said...

Petty and ill-informed. Typical.

Anonymous said...

Let's see...county planning board and environmental groups opposed the sewer expansion.

Rales goes to the council, to whom he's donated thousands. He gets 100% approval from the council.

He wants to make the art available to as many people as possible, but builds the gallery in a remote area with no transit connections.

I haven't been following this story until reading this article today, but it doesn't add up. Why not build such a major gallery on the metro line?

Anonymous said...

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Robert Dyer said...

That doesn't change the land use issue, nor the questions of fairness and influence.

Robert Dyer said...

Didn't the county council, who are current elected officials with active campaign accounts receive the above dollar amounts? Might be worth it for them and the Post/Gazette to mention that for full disclosure.

Robert Dyer said...

I don't believe there's anything petty about serious land use and environmental issues. Ill-informed? How is adding factual information ill-informed? Is the fever for "open data" running out of steam in Montgomery County?

Robert Dyer said...

Exactly!

Anonymous said...

Mitch and Steve rales are major gop donors as well. When you have worked as hard as they have, you support your local officials. The Glen road neighbors arr not complaining

Anonymous said...

Regardless of where one comes down on the issue, It's very telling that you scream "full disclosure" then don't disclose A. The proposed benefit to the county of an expanded art museum and B. the fact you ran, as a Republican, against these very Councilmembers

Anonymous said...

"Full disclosure" tip No. 3: Perhaps link back to the Washington Post and Gazette articles you chastise. (They both carry numerous mentions of the Rales' campaign contributions AND Berliner's pointed response to the accusations you are making)

Robert Dyer said...

I believe the MD campaign finance database shows no evidence of major GOP support from either. Are you referring to donations to other states?

Robert Dyer said...

I am not a current candidate for any office. There are op-eds and commentaries all the time in which former candidates do not mention running against people they are criticizing. Is it not true that Rales can turn away any reservation by a county resident who wishes to tour the museum, on subjective grounds? If it is not open to all, is it then a benefit to some? To whom? If the only criticism of what I've written is that I volunteered to serve the public 4 years ago, that's really avoiding the serious issues.

Robert Dyer said...

I have not seen a list like the one I've compiled here in the Post or Gazette. I'm more concerned about what elected officials do, than what they say, and I think most people would agree with me on that. But that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Calling Potomac "rural" is a pretty big stretch. It never ceases to amaze me how Marylanders define the term "rural." It seems that any place with farmland is automatically considered "rural" in this state.

Given that definition, Potomac still wouldn't be considered rural since it's entirely built up. Yeah, it's pretty low density because all the mansions are built on pretty large chunks of land, but hardly rural. The only large communities in Montgomery County that could remotely be considered "rural" are the artificially "preservered" Damascus and Poolesville communities, which have still turned into suburban oases surrounded by farms anyway.

While I realize that like New Jersey, Maryland is a very densely populated state so the site of any open space/farmland immediately leads one to believe that they're "out in the boonies," you should take a trip across the border to Southern/Western Virginia, 95% of West Virginia, the middle 80% of PA, or the bottom 80% of DE to see what the "real boonies" look like.

The only truly rural counties in MD are the two far Western counties (although one is home to Cumberland) and about 2/3 of the counties on the Eastern Shore.

Anonymous said...

If you understood the truth, you'd know that the Rales are building a once-in-a-lifetime experience that's much more than an art museum. Visitorship will be limited so the road can retain its rural character, yet those who choose to come for free will discover a place like none other on the planet . . . . with the best example of environmental stewardship you'll find in the state.