In a curious move, somewhat reminiscent of President Trump’s recent cabinet appointments, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) has selected someone with no formal training or professional experience in planning to serve as the director of the Prince George’s County Planning Department. No other jurisdiction in the Washington region has made such a choice, and for good reason: such a decision defies common sense, and it likely contravenes Maryland law.
Attorney M. Andree Green (Checkley), of Upper Marlboro, began her tenure as Planning Director on January 18. She replaces Dr. Fern V. Piret, who retired after serving 26 years in that position. For the past six years, Green worked as the County Attorney for Prince George’s. Before that, she worked for approximately eleven years in the legal department of M-NCPPC, the quasi-independent state agency responsible for planning, zoning, parks, and recreation in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Without question, Green is an experienced government lawyer, with nearly two decades of experience working in Prince George’s County. But Green is not a planner. She has never worked as a planner as has no educational background in planning. So how and why is she now being paid $192,000 a year to be the county’s Planning Director?
Green is Unqualified for the Planning Director Position
The Prince George’s County Planning Director is supposed to be an experienced planning professional. The position description for the job, which we obtained from M-NCPPC, states that the minimum qualifications are “at least 12 years of progressively responsible and broad-ranged planning experience that includes four years of planning experience at the managerial level, preferably five years at the department manager level.”
Green has zero years of professional planning experience, either at the managerial or non-managerial level. The American Planning Association’s American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) is the national body that verifies and certifies the professional qualifications of planners. According to AICP standards, Green lacks even the minimum level of professional planning experience to be eligible to take the certification exam.
Thus, Green did not meet the minimum qualifications for the job when she was hired. Indeed, Green does not even meet the minimum qualifications for the currently-posted position for Deputy Planning Director, which requires 10 years of professional planning experience and preferably two years at the managerial level.
By contrast, nearly all of the other planning directors in the Washington metropolitan area had more than 15 years of prior management-level experience in planning before assuming their respective positions, and most are AICP-certified. [UPDATE: For a comparison of the qualifications of the region’s planning directors, see this chart.]
M-NCPPC Likely Violated State Law By Hiring Green
The state law creating M-NCPPC specifically provides that the Planning Director and Deputy Planning Director in Prince George’s County “shall have education or professional experience in a field relevant to the responsibilities of that department.” As judged by the agency’s own criteria, as set out in the job descriptions, Green does not possess the requisite education or professional experience for either position. Therefore, M-NCPPC’s hiring of Green was arguably arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to Maryland law.
M-NCPPC spokeswoman Andrea Davey stated that the Planning Director position was posted on a variety of websites for approximately three months, from August 2–October 31, 2016, and that a total of four candidates were selected for interview. The agency would not disclose the identity of the other three candidates, citing confidentiality laws. However, Davey did indicate that the agency “did not deem it necessary to employ an executive search firm” in connection with this position.
Dorothy Bailey, Vice-Chair of M-NCPPC’s Prince George’s County Planning Board and a member of the selection committee, stated that Green was “second-to-none in her commitment to Prince George’s County, and in her know-how of the critical nuts and bolts involved in the planning process.” Board chairwoman Elizabeth M. Hewlett also cited favorably to Green’s “proven managerial experience and keen legal acumen.”
Green may well be a committed public servant, and she certainly has relevant legal knowledge and managerial experience. But she lacks any prior professional experience or training in planning—and that makes her selection as Planning Director untenable, and possibly unlawful.
How Can M-NCPPC Fix This?
Green’s employment contract is for two years, and it contains a “sweetheart” severance provision requiring the agency to pay her 12 full months of salary ($192,000) if it breaks the contract without cause. However, M-NCPPC could likely still void the contract without penalty, since Green did not have the requisite experience for the job to begin with. Additionally, the severance provision could itself be unlawful, since state law requires that the Planning Director and Deputy Planning Director shall “serve at the pleasure of the Prince George’s County Planning Board.”
Ideally, M-NCPPC should consider reopening the Planning Director position and conducting a national search for a truly qualified and experienced professional planner with a proven track record in leading a large urban planning department. If possible, Green could be offered another position within the agency that meets with her actual qualifications and experience (e.g., a position in the legal department or in intergovernmental affairs).
Perhaps more than any other jurisdiction in the Washington region, Prince George’s County needs an experienced and innovative professional planner to lead its planning department—someone who can advocate effectively against the county’s overdependence on outer-Beltway sprawl development, help develop a workable plan for transit-oriented development and revitalization around the neighborhood gateway Metro stations near DC’s border, and oversee the implementation of a new 21st century zoning ordinance, among other priorities. Let’s hope M-NCPPC will make that happen.