Council Election Pushing Ethical Boundaries

The letter starts innocently enough:

Dear Supporter of RedGate Golf Course,

This year is a crucial election for the City of Rockville.

Okay, so what’s so crucial?

The future of RedGate Golf Course hangs in the balance.  As Mayor of the City of Rockville, I have been a strong and consistent advocate for keeping RedGate open as a well-run natural resource for today and for the future.

Hmm, that’s sounds good.  Who can be against a well-run natural resource? . . . although I’m not sure a golf course is a natural resource.  Whatever.

However, my challenger in this election is actively campaigning against me and against RedGate by misleading the public about the financing of the golf course.  If he succeeds in his efforts, this beautiful 140-acre green space will be lost forever, paved over for an entertainment venue, a Sportplex or a new housing development.

Oh my.  The election is still two months away and I’ve already stepped into a bit of political mudslinging.  But is this really true?  Is Piotr Gajewski misleading the public?  Is he planning to pave over 140-acres of green space?

Last year, you signed a petition to the Mayor and Council to save the RedGate Golf Course, and I thank you for your support of the golf course and for your civic participation.

I’m beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Where did you get my name and address?  From a petition I sent to the Mayor and Council?

I am now asking for another kind of help, so that we may keep RedGate open for future generations to enjoy.  Please support my re-election campaign with a financial contribution (see enclosed card) and in any other way that you possibly can.

Wait a minute–now you’ve stepped over the line.  You’ve taken the names and addresses of people who signed a petition to the City Council and used it for political fundraising purposes?  Is that legal?  It certainly isn’t ethical.  When I send a letter or sign a petition, I know it’s part of the public record but I’m conducting serious business with the City.  I don’t expect to see my name land on a mailing list for political fundraising or campaigning.   Am I automatically going to get listed as one of your supporters?  Are you going to send threatening letters to those who oppose the golf course?  What happened to my privacy?  Who’s responsible for this?

Phyllis Marcuccio, Mayor

By Authority, Michael Sweet, Treasurer

Technically, the election season doesn’t begin until the September 9 when the City Clerk announces who will be on the ballot in November, but we’ve already crossed an ethical boundary. If it does happen (and it’s rare in Rockville), it’s usually not until the final weeks before the election when candidates are tired and anxious. But this early is ridiculous, so I’m throwing a flag down on the field and asking that candidates not build their fundraising mailing lists by taking names and addresses from petitions or letters sent to the City Council on city business.  Residents are sending their letters and petitions to government to address an issue and solve a problem, not to become targets for fundraising and campaigning.  If you insist on doing it, at least get their permission first.

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7 responses

  1. Max,
    Sorry state of affairs. I don’t believe the Mayor actually writes any of this rhetoric but leaves it to her campaign people. I don’t beleive she really believes half the stuff that is attributed to her. Unfortunately, the Mayor does not show the leadership to stop the wrong statements. I also agree that it is questionable behavior to use petitioners emails for campaign solicitations. I would be angry if that was done to me.

    I have suggested that Redgate be put on a survival budget and operation so that we stem the bleeding of red ink and keep it open while a future use plan can be developed. Piotr has indicated that he supports a well-thought our environmental approach should the golf course close. The Mayor’s campaign is not telling the truth about Piotr’s position and should correct it immediately.

  2. Max: Not to take sides in the Mayorial race, but I have to completely disagree with you. Signing a petition is the epitome of a public act. You are going on record with your view, and standing up for it. So there is no secrecy there. As for the ethics – again, I don’t see the problem. Petitioners have expressed an interest in this issue, and the candidate is claiming to support that interest. Seems like a very savvy move to motivate an energetic group of voters.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jonathan–but I’m not sure we completely disagree. I wrote the post in this unusual fashion because there are parts that are okay, parts that raised my eyebrows, and parts that made me feel very uncomfortable. Petitions, letters, emails, and testimony to our government are all part of the public record and everyone should know that it’s like posting it on the front door of City Hall. So, yes, there’s no secrecy–and it’s a good thing because we’ve given government great responsibilities and power, and we want to be sure there is as much transparency as possible to ensure government works for the good of the community, not for personal gain. So using this information to identify those who support or oppose an issue is a good strategy to build a coalition. Where I become very uncomfortable is when a public act is also used for private gain or personal fundraising. Perhaps we disagree there, but I think (again this is all opinion) it would be as inappropriate as using this petition to send advertising for a golf store (“because you signed a petition in support of Red Gate, we know you love golf and this week we’re having a great sale on golf clubs…”). If it had been for a fundraiser for the golf course (e.g., repairing a green, adding benches), I wouldn’t mind because it benefits a public facility. I wouldn’t mind if it was used to solicit funds to support a cause (“Friends of Red Gate” would like to put a sign in your yard to show support). But using it to raise money for an individual to win an election crosses the line–it’s using public interests for personal benefit.

  3. “Misleading the public.” It sounds like I am being called a liar, and with no facts backing up the charge. Does not feel terribly civil.

    I do talk a lot about the RedGate golf course and cite the figures in the Rockville FY12 Budget. I believe that the Mayor finds the Budget misleading. That must be what she is referring to.

    1. Good morning Piotr!

      (Sarcasm alert!) Glad to see you standing up for yourself, and dang that mayor for calling you a liar, would you claim she is hyprocritical?

      Misleading is ” Giving the wrong idea or impression.” a liar is “A person who tells lies.” Those are two different words with vastly different definitions.

      When you cite the numbers for RedGate, you talk about a small component of the Parks and Rec budget, and play on the fact that folks won’t dig in and look at all the facts. That is misleading!

      And bless her heart for fighting for the last public golf course in Rockville, and keeping it open for all the seniors who cannot afford the country club option!

      1. Good morning Joe Busch from Bethesda!

        (Sarcasm alert!) As much as you love for Rockville tax payers to subsidize your golf play, perhaps you can drive right next door and enjoy Montgomery County’s Needwood Golf Course. Rockville will save $630,000 per year, and you can still spend money in Rocvkille on your way home (which you seem to love to do so much)!

        Rockville and Montgomery County should be cooperating and not competing or duplicating services.

        For my part, I would rather apply that $630,000 of Rockville taxes to Rockville’s infrastructure than on making sure that Bethesda residents have a greater variety of golf courses to choose from!

  4. Wow, thank you. You are doing great journalism, here, Max, and a service to the voters of Rockville. I hope that this information reaches the local media and more attention can be brought to it. As you asked, is it legal? I’d like an answer to that. It shouldn’t be, nor should presenting falsehoods in a campaign letter.

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