By Lena Williams, Guild-CWA :: Kim Persaud, president of the Wheaton Regional Neighborhood Association in Maryland, wasn’t about to be shaken down by government officials. So when the general services director of Montgomery County demanded Persaud pay $58,407 to obtain information about a proposed new library and recreation center for the community, she laughed in his face.
“I didn’t have that kind of money,” Persaud told Right to Report in April. “And even if I did I wasn’t going to hand over a dime to government officials who are paid with my taxpayer dollars.”
Last month, Persaud filed a request under the Maryland Public Information Act, for all correspondence between county officials and the architectural firm hired to design the library and community center. Persaud said she simply wanted to know why the county decided to scale back the size of the project.
But David Dise, the county’s general services director, claimed it wasn’t that simple.
As reported by The Washington Post, county officials said it would take three months for information-technology staff to retrieve data from thousands of pages of designs and road plans, about $50,000 worth, another 20 hours of review by the county attorney’s office, at $74 an hour, and 13 hours of work by the general services staff at $50 an hour, which adds up to a whopping $58,407.
Persaud said she couldn’t understand why county officials were being so secretive about a project that has been in the works for nearly two decades, going as far as to hold private meetings in undisclosed locations to discuss the project. She acknowledged that the $89 million price tag for the library/center might seem exorbitant but noted that a new library in Silver Spring, Md., along with the cost of a recreation center in North Potomac cost $106 million.
So when Dise and Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett, said the cost of the library and recreation center was “unreasonably high,” Persaud wanted to know how they reached that conclusion. She wanted answers, she got stonewalled.
Not even Nancy Navarro, a council member who represents the district where the library is planned to be built, was able to get answers from the county. Navarro was trying to get details on what the building would look like and how it would function. She told the Post, she was “exasperated” with the lack of information coming from Dise and Leggett about the progress of the project.
“We need to have some transparency,” Navarro said. “The community has been waiting a long time for this.”
At a public meeting on April 13, county officials and the architects finally presented drawings and plans for the library/center but didn’t go into details about the costs.
Persaud said she still wasn’t satisfied with what she heard that night.
“They are still saying they want to scale back,” said Persaud. “But I’m still stuck on the money issue. Our tax dollars have gone to other communities to build their libraries and rec centers, so why are county officials telling us that $89 million is too much for one of the busiest libraries in the county.”
Persaud said she never got the documents she originally requested and wasn’t holding her breath for the information to be turned over voluntarily. But this much she knows for sure, if county officials expect her and the neighborhood association to pay for access to information that citizens have a Constitutional right to, they have another thing coming.