Councilman Benoit Responds to Allegations About Cohen's Relationship With Developer ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Monday, October 5, 2009

Councilman Benoit Responds to Allegations About Cohen's Relationship With Developer

The following was sent by Councilman Jamie Benoit in response to yesterday's post by county resident Chris Groobey regarding the Priests Point Development: I have been following the Annapolis elections on your blog and commend you for your thorough coverage of the various races.  One of the more curious themes in the Mayoral race has been the repeated and often outlandish attacks against Councilman Josh Cohen published both on your blog and elsewhere. The latest installment from a Mr. Groobey which was posted on your blog yesterday merits a response.

The notion that Josh is “cozey” (sic) with the owner of Priest’s Point because the owner’s lawyer contributes to Josh’s campaign is completely outrageous and doesn’t deserve to be published on a credible media outlet like yours.  While I do not know Mr. Groobey or the owner of Priest’s Point, I dare say that I know Josh Cohen better than anyone in government and can tell you he is above reproach. Still, I want to make a few points about Groobey’s letter, your decision to publish it and the Josh Cohen I know:

1)     The suggestion that it follows that if a Councilman accepts campaign contributions from an established Annapolis law that the firm’s clients will get special treatment from the Councilman, is complete and utter nonsense.  In fact, I bet that firm donates to Josh knowing he will vote AGAINST most of its clients’ interests. If Mr. Groobey had a clue, he would know that Josh votes against almost every development that comes before us.

Paul, you however, do know Josh’s record (or at least should) and you owe it to your readers to complete the picture if you are going to publish the ridiculous tripe of a disgruntled neighbor.  That law firm donates to Josh because he is good for the County (and the City) not because the firm wants special legislation. During the Comprehensive Rezoning of Annapolis in 2007 for example, I joined Josh as the lone votes against a plan that upzoned many properties in Annapolis that were owned by developers represented by the same law firm that Mr. Groobey now suggests has “Cohen's ear on this and similar issues.”  In fact, my roundest criticism of Josh is that he votes against development too often.

So in the rare cases that Josh Cohen supports an upzoning like the one at Priest’s Point, I know he’s done his work with the community and put in a lot of thought beforehand. It appears he has done that in this case also. I was first briefed on Priest Point by Josh almost two years ago when he began his dialogue with the community on this matter. He has been thinking about this carefully for a long time.

2)     A final point about some of Mr. Groobey’s conclusions at the end of his e-mail (my responses are in italics). Groobey suggests that if Josh supports rezoning Priest Point it demonstrates that:

a.      Josh “values the views of out-of-staters and campaign contributors over the views of his current constituents (perhaps especially since, if elected Mayor, he would no longer represent or need the votes of those constituents).” This is just patently absurd. If Josh supports rezoning Priest Point it demonstrates that on balance, this is, in his view the most appropriate and fair use of the property.  

b.      Josh “believes it is appropriate to change by legislation decisions already properly made by officials who do not depend on campaign contributions for their livelihoods….” To this, I’d only respond by urging Mr. Groobey to revisit his Government class from middle school for a reminder that this is the core function of the legislative branch in a republic like ours. We make policy. Everyday, legislatures around America just like ours reverse judicial (or in this case quasi-judicial) decisions . It’s how the judiciary is kept accountable.

c.      Josh “thinks it is appropriate to take land currently zoned as "open space" and repurpose it so that it can be used for private family compounds without regard to environmental damage or impact on the surrounding community.” Mr. Groobey fails to disclose or just doesn’t know that other permitted uses in the Open Space zoning classification include: kennels for the sheltering, breeding, boarding, hiring, or selling of an animal raised on the premises; Commercial telecommunication facilities; Golf courses, Structures for hunting, golf courses, ice skating, and stables, and fire stations. Would a resident think one house was that bad when the potential alternatives are considered? I wonder.

The bottom line, Paul, is that this inflammatory material should not be published without some editorial oversight by you to make sure everything is portrayed in balanced manner. The fact is that any suggestion that Josh is “Cozy” with the development community is simply disproven by his consistent record of protecting the taxpayers and our waterways from inappropriate development.

You may feel free to publish all or part of this letter.

Kind regards,

Jamie Benoit  

To which CP responded:


Thanks for your comment. There is nothing curious about my coverage of Josh Cohen, nor is there a pattern of repeated or outlandish attacks. In fact, I have refused to publish countless anonymous attacks against Cohen. Here we have an example of a well-written and well-documented citizen laying out a story.  As with a political figure with a record, there are people who like and people who don't like what Josh does. I'm providing a voice for all sides. What came from Mr. Groobey was unsolicited, represented his views and Josh was given an opportunity to respond.

I've covered Josh's campaign and have consistently given his campaign excellent ratings, except at the start because he did not file in a timely fashion. I have amply promoted his events and campaign activities as I try to do with any candidate--but he probably gets more free publicity from me about that because he is active and his staff keeps me updated. I have scrutinized his finances because he gets so much money--and most of it from big developers, lawyers, out of state interests and people he says he does not even know. It's all part of being treated like the front-runner he fashions himself to be--and may very well be.  I believe I have been fair with Josh as shown repeatedly and while I strongly oppose his position on the council-manager form of government for example, I have given him plenty of space to make his views on that issue known. I have taken him to task for not signing either of the petitions currently circulating because he asks for our vote but by not signing these petitions he is telling us that we the people can't be responsible enough to vote on changing our form of government or amending the power of the future mayor.


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