The controversy over Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman's property holdings came to a head at Monday's Town Council meeting, as critics questioned his ethics and town residents came to his defense.
Fosselman co-owns three Kensington properties with his domestic partner, Duane Rollins, a fact highlighted in a recent Washington Post article.
The mayor has long been an advocate for the town's proposed sector plan, and Kensington resident Ken Timmerman said at Monday's meeting that Fosselman's personal stake in town properties is a conflict of interest.
"This is the kind of thing that happens in third-world countries," he said. "I've been to banana republics, Pete, and I've seen it before."
Fosselman said he purchased his holdings in Kensington in 2009, after the Town Council's vote on the sector plan, and that he looked to the town's ethics committee for advice on how to proceed as mayor.
The committee, in a letter Fosselman provided to Patch (posted above), ruled that he could continue to participate in discussions of the sector plan as a whole but should abstain from talks about specific zoning. Fosselman said he has obeyed the ruling all along, and that he has no vote on any town issues anyhow.
John Huber, who lives in Chevy Chase View, said that's not good enough. The mayor should not have even been in the room for discussions related to the plan, Huber said, and the Post article was an embarrassment for everyone who lives in the Kensington area.
But many town residents at the meeting came to the mayor's defense.
Sean Neary, who lives in Kensington, said he was embarrased by the article, too, but for the opposite reason. Fosselman has worked hard to improve the town, he said, and the rancorous tone of the sector plan debate has been counterproductive.
"I want to applaud the mayor and council for putting up with this B.S., for lack of a better word," he said. "I wouldn't be able to do it."
Darin Bartram, who also lives in the town, said Fosselman followed all of the rules throughout the sector plan debate, and that 11th-hour criticisms do little to help the town.
"We have an ethics code," he said. "You went through that, got a result, and you complied with it."
Town Councilmember Mackie Barch said everyone who owns property in Kensington, whether residential or commercial, stands to benefit from redevelopment, and that Fosselman has done nothing wrong.
Not everyone on the Town Council agrees, however.
Councilmember Lydia Sullivan, who missed the meeting to deal with a personal issue, said in an interview with Patch that Fosselman has not been forthcoming with his personal stake in redevelopment. Most people in town first found out about the mayor's properties from the Post article, she said.
"I find it problematic that the chief spokesman for the plan is also one its chief beneficiaries," Sullivan said.
The proposed plan is currently making its way through the County Council, with the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee recommending its most recent zoning changes last week. The full council is expected to vote on it by early March.