Monday, October 18, 2010

Eyewitness Account of Ethics Hearing Against Dana Beyer

The Montgomery County Ethics Commission held a hearing on October 15, 2010, to determine whether Dr. Dana Beyer, senior aide to outgoing Montgomery County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, intimidated and threatened citizens during a referendum petition drive sponsored by Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government (MCRG).

After a controversial "gender identity" law was passed by the County Council and signed into law by the County Executive on November 13, 2007, the MCRG gathered nearly 27,000 voter signatures in an effort to put the law on the ballot.  During this petition drive, the MCRG alleged that Dana Beyer, formerly known as Wayne Beyer, used her influence as a County Council employee to intimidate the manager of a Giant food store in Silver Spring, where a petition drive occurred in February 2008.

While the MCRG lodged a lengthy ethics complaint {read entire complaint at } involving multiple incidents of harassment involving Beyer, including a video where Beyer is caught on tape telling petitioners not to sign the petition, the County agreed to consider only one incident, which occurred at the Arliss Street Giant in Silver Spring.  The question revolved around whether Dr. Beyer violated Montgomery County Ethics Law Sec. 19-A-14, which states that "a public employee must not intentionally use the prestige of office for private gain" and "a public employee must not intimidate, threaten, coerce or discriminate against any person for the purpose of interfering with that person's freedom to engage in political activity."  See MCRG Press Release and accompanying video

Beyer's lawyer kicked off the hearing by telling the Ethics Commission that his client (Beyer) did tell citizens that their names could be published if they signed the petition. 

One witness, Harold Schaal, who was collecting petition signatures at the Arliss Street Giant for the MCRG, testified that Dr. Beyer arrived at the Giant and began following him (Schaal) around while he tried to collect signatures, and even knocked him into a railing twice.  Schaal testified that he overheard Beyer telling a Giant manager that she (Beyer) was with the County Council and the Council would not approve of the Giant allowing the petition drive to continue. 

On a related note, the County then called Arliss Giant Manager Aaron Williams to testify, who said that Beyer did tell him that she was going to report Giant to the County Council, though Williams could not recall whether Beyer had said she was an employee of the County Council. Williams also said that the Giant policy is to schedule only one group at a time, and the MCRG had properly scheduled itself for that time slot at the Arliss Giant in February 2008.

The cross exam of Schaal turned a bit contentious when Beyer's lawyer questioned Schaal about why he repeatedly referred to Beyer as a "he."  Schaal, who alternated between the use of "he," "she" and "Dr. Beyer" throughout the testimony, said that he perceives Beyer to be a male, despite the fact that Beyer showed him a Maryland Driver's License at the Arliss Giant which, Beyer had told Schaal, is proof that Beyer is, legally, a woman.  Schaal stated that he is just not sure what Beyer really is.   Beyer's lawyer also tried to get Schaal to admit that he was afraid of transgendered people, but Schaal forcefully dismissed that charge.  Schaal also expressed disappointment that Beyer and her friends also stopped him from collecting an additional 75 signatures that day.  He noted that an outing like that normally brought him 150 signatures, but he ended up with only 75.

Also testifying on behalf of the County was Dr. Ruth Jacobs, president of the MCRG. Jacobs recounted, sometimes tearfully, how she got several panicked calls from Steve Schaal while he was at the Arliss Giant, and how Schaal had told her that Beyer was using her position as a County Council staffer to intimidate one of the Giant managers.  Jacobs said that, 10 days after the incident, she and then-MCRG member Alberta Bertuzzi (who also testified) interviewed Vernon Lee Mason, one of the Giant managers involved in the February 18 incident, to receive his testimony.  This taped testimony confirmed Schaal's assertion that Dana Beyer used her connection with the County Council to threaten Giant.

Beyer's lawyer, along with an ethics commissioner, questioned Jacobs on why she handwrote the manager's testimony.  In his opening statement, the lawyer had claimed that the Arliss incident was "completely fabricated by Ruth Jacobs" and told the commissioners that "it wasn't Oprah Winfrey" who interviewed Mason and took his deposition.  The lawyer also noted that the tape recording had been turned on and off during the Mason interview, suggesting that perhaps some discussion between Jacobs and Mason took place while the tape was off.  

Jacobs explained that, at the time, taking Mason's deposition by hand seemed to be the most expedient method of creating the affidavit, and after she wrote it, Mason, Jacobs and Bertuzzi walked to a nearby bank, where the document was signed by Mason and notarized.   Bertuzzi testified that the tape recording went on and off three times because, as she later discovered, her tape recorder has an automatic feature which shuts the tape off if there is a three-second pause.  Bertuzzi corroborated Jacobs' assertion that no significant conversation took place while the recorder was off.

At the outset of the hearing, Beyer's lawyer told the commissioners that "Schaal and Jacobs have hatred and fear of transgenders," which has led to "utterly false charges" by the MCRG against Dana Beyer. He also referred to the MCRG as the "so-called" Citizens for a Responsible Government.

In an effort to prove his point regarding hatred and fear of transgenders, Beyer's lawyer pointed to 2007 testimony, written by Jacobs and presented before the County Council, which stated that Jacobs did not believe that businesses should be forced to hire those with a mental illness.  When asked by the lawyer to explain this statement, Jacobs noted that certain people have a mental illness, as classified by theAmerican Psychiatric Association, called Gender Identity Disorder (GID).  Under the American with Disabilities Act, Jacobs explained that businesses are given some leeway when working with individuals with a mental illness.  She said that the County's gender identity law, as broadly written as it is, could apply to those with GID (thus removing any leeway for employers).

When the County attorney finished with her witnesses, which also included the policeman who was called to the Arliss Giant, Beyer's lawyer called on Dana Beyer, Andrea Klein, Christine Grewell and James Kennedy to testify.  Beyer, Klein, Grewell and Kennedy are all with the organization/website, Teach the Facts, and all testified that they were at the Arliss Giant in February 2008, working to convince Giant shoppers from signing the MCRG's petition.    

Beyer said that while her job as aide to County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg (the sponsor of Bill 23-07), was "lobbying the County Council to get the bill passed" and to "counter lies {about the bill}," she never used her position to intimidate or harass any citizen into not signing the petition.  Beyer also said that while "the point of our presence {at the Giant} was to reduce the number of signatures they {MCRG} collected," she had very clear conversations with Trachtenberg in which they both decided that Beyer could never use her influence as a County Council staffer to counter the petition drive.   In addition, in response to Schaal's claim that Beyer yelled at some potential petition signers, Beyer claimed, in a loud, clear voice that could be heard more clearly than any other witness in the room, "I am not capable of screaming."  When questioned about that, Beyer said that her transgender transition rendered her vocal chords incapable of screaming.

In addition, Beyer brought up a number of unsolicited and random statements, including the fact that she and her colleagues actually call "MCRG" by "CRW" {Citizens for a Responsible Whatever}.  Beyer also claimed repeatedly that MCRG used a flyer called "Just the Facts" to confuse and delude potential petition signers into believing that they were actually supporting Teach the Facts, and she said that MCRG worked with national groups which "flooded" their offices with correspondence.  Beyer also expressed dismay that the Council office received hate mail and death threats -- "even my children received hate mail," Beyer said.

Klein, Grewell and Kennedy all testified that they were within their legal bounds to arrive at the Giant and block petitioners from signing the MCRG petition, and that they listened to the police instruction when they were told to move away from the petition signers and into the parking lot.   Klein said that she held up a "Decline to Sign" sign and that one petition collector told her that she was a fascist and another told her that she should have been aborted.   Jim Kennedy said that while he and Beyer tried to talk the Giant manager into removing MCRG, he never heard Beyer say that she was with the County Council. All testified that they did not harass potential petition signers, although at the outset of the hearing, Beyer's lawyer admitted that Beyer did tell {threaten} citizens that their names might be published on a website if they signed the petition.  However, he said that Beyer did not do this at the Arliss Giant location.

The hearing adjourned after Kennedy's testimony. The Ethics Commission chair, Stuart Rick, did not give any indication about when their decision would be released.  All Commission members were present, including Ms. Barrow, Nina A. Weisbroth, Gilles W. Burger and Antar C. Johnson.

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