Friday, October 29, 2010

Gazette: Dana Beyer Ethics Hearing

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010
Trachtenberg's former aide appears before Montgomery County Ethics Commission
Beyer: Claims are politically motivated
by Erin Cunningham | Staff Writer

A Montgomery County ethics panel will determine whether an elected leader's former aide used her position to intimidate potential voters in the 2008 election.

At issue is whether Dana Beyer, a former candidate for state delegate and senior policy adviser to Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda, violated the county's ethics law by threatening people working to overturn a county law protecting transgendered people from discrimination.

Beyer, who is transgendered and helped write the law, appeared before the county's ethics commission for a rare four-hour hearing Friday that was open to the public at Beyer's request. The five-member panel did not indicate when it would release its findings.

If the panel rules against Beyer, the results will be released publicly, according to the group's bylaws.

The county's anti-discrimination bill was passed by the County Council and signed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) in November 2007. The petitioners seeking to overturn the law by referendum failed to gather enough signatures to place the question on the ballot.

The complaint against Beyer, filed by Gaithersburg-based Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government, stems from an incident in February 2008 at the Arliss/Piney Branch Giant supermarket.

The group claims that Beyer interfered with its efforts to gather petition signatures to place a question repealing the county's new transgender protection law on the November 2008 ballot. Witnesses, including one who works for Giant, said they heard Beyer say that the county might penalize Giant for asking that Beyer and some members of her advocacy group, Teach the Facts, not interfere with the signature gathering.

The group also claims that Beyer intimidated members and those who wanted to sign the petition, saying they would be labeled as bigots and their information would be published online.

Beyer denied the claims and said she is not in violation of the county's ethics code.

"I was not representing the council, the government in any way, shape or form," Beyer said during the hearing.

Both Beyer and members of Citizens for Responsible Government said the other became physical during the incident.

Several witnesses Friday had trouble remembering key facts from the nearly three-year-old incident, and one key witness, a Giant manager, was not present to verify his affidavit.

That affidavit, in particular, was called into question when it was revealed that it was written by members of Citizens for Responsible Government, who said they typed it from the manager's dictation.

Beyer said the charges against her are politically motivated, and her legal counsel referenced the citizens group's apparent dislike of transgendered individuals. Throughout the hearing, Harold Steven Schaal, a member of the group, called Beyer "him."

"I can't really say what he is," Schaal said, referring to Beyer, when asked why he used the male pronoun when referring to Beyer.

In November 2009, Beyer filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission against the county, claiming the ethics commission launched its investigation of her because of her "gender identity."

When the human rights commission did not respond to her complaint, Beyer filed suit against the county. Her case was dismissed in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Oct. 1.

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