Despite internally acknowledging the cemetery's location, and that there was no evidence that remains were ever legally removed from the graveyard, the Planning Department covered up this and other information related to the cemetery during the Westbard sector plan process. As a result, the public - and even the Planning Board initially- were not fully informed about the cemetery at the time when public comment was being allowed on the plan. Once the Planning Board and County Council were aware of the cemetery, they doubled down on institutional racism, and have backed the developer and Planning Department officials.
Church leaders have sought to have qualified, independent observers participate in the developer-funded cemetery investigation. County Executive Ike Leggett suggested a mediator resolve the impasse with the Planning Department, which dismissed the two anthropologists suggested by the church. It later was revealed that Leggett knew that Planning Director Gwen Wright had already secretly given Regency Centers the go-ahead to start a cemetery investigation. At that point, mediation was no longer relevant. The results of a secret investigation funded by the developer would by necessity be tainted.
Last Thursday, church leaders and attorney Michele Rosenfeld met again with Leggett, and have released a list of demands going forward:
"A fair and equitable mediation process must start with agreement on the following issues:1. The parallel process Montgomery County has been engaged in must stop. The Montgomery County Planning Department must cease and desist from proceeding with the Ottery Group investigation of the Bethesda Africa Cemetery and any and all contractual agreements between Ottery and the applicant (Equity One aka Regency Group) must be terminated.1a. Qualified team (e.g., minimally composed of a register of professional archaeologists (RPA) archaeologist, ethnographer who specializes in African-American culture and a historian who specializes in African-American history) will be retained to complete all specialist studies of the properties. The research team will be selected from academic institutions or the private sector.2. The Planning Board, the County Council, the Regency Group and Macedonia Baptist Church must respect the outcome of the mediation process.3. The mediation process must result in a binding General Development Agreement (GDA) and a binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for all involved parties.4. The existing sketch plan must be stayed until the GDA and CBA agreements listed in item 3 above are finalized in the cemetery mediation.5. Moderately priced homes will not be BUILT on the African Burial Ground but moved to other sites, including but not limited to the Giant Westbard Shopping Center site.6. [Planning Director] Gwen Wright will not participate in the mediation and will have no further involvement in the Bethesda African Cemetery project.7. A commission will be established with Macedonia Baptist Church having equal status with the County in determining how former African residents of River Road will be compensated for the loss of their homes, properties and the economic futures that could reasonably have been derived therefrom, and determine reasonable market value compensation for those former African residents for the land, homes, properties and economic future they lost through coercion and/or other spurious means."
Leggett has not yet publicly responded to the demands.