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Flagpoles at PenMar in dispute

February 26, 2001

Flagpoles at PenMar in dispute



By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

PenMar Development Corp. wants a judge to bar Role Models America Inc. from installing flagpoles at the former Fort Ritchie Army base and to order the school to remove two existing poles that fly the United States and Maryland flags.

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PenMar filed a lawsuit with the injunction request on Feb. 22. The suit alleges that Role Models wanted to install up to 56 flag poles on the former Army base in Cascade.

A state official asked the U.S. Department of Labor, which is Role Models' largest funding source, to order the flagpoles removed.

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Robert Alexander, president and founder of Role Models, said Monday his plans to erect additional flagpoles were dropped late last year.

"This is absolutely absurd and ridiculous," Alexander said. He asked how anyone could oppose placing a flag on a base owned by the U.S. Army.

PenMar is subleasing 30 buildings at the former base property to Role Models for its academy for high school dropouts. The sublease was signed March 10, 2000.

The U.S. Army still owns the base. The state formed PenMar to convert the base into a technology and business training center.

Role Models installed two flag poles in front of an administration building without PenMar permission, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in Washington County Circuit Court, asks the court to issue an injunction barring Role Models from installing additional unauthorized flagpoles or signs on the property.

It also asks that the two flagpoles already installed, one with the American flag, one with the Maryland flag, be taken down.

PenMar alleges in the suit that Role Models has breached, and continues to break, the lease by installing unauthorized flag poles and sleeves on the base. Sleeves, the foundation for flagpoles, are below ground.

Alexander said Role Models will fight the injunction request. He had not received a copy of the lawsuit, he said.

Role Models plans to remove the sleeves as soon as the weather improves, he said.

Fort Ritchie had one flagpole in the past, and the lease did not give Role Models permission to erect additional flagpoles, the lawsuit says.

PenMar Executive Director James LaFleur said he couldn't comment on the litigation or respond to Alexander's remarks.

Alexander said he was told by LaFleur that he would not need permission to install flagpoles and therefore does not think he violated the terms of the lease.

Additional documents and correspondence filed in court said Role Models last year said it planned to erect two 35-foot flagpoles and 56 25-foot flagpoles in front of a building.

PenMar officials denied the request and ordered Role Models to cease installation of additional flagpoles or be in default of the lease, the documents allege.

Alexander said the flagpoles idea was dropped late last year because "there was so much fuss." More than 56 flags now fly from wooden poles inside the building itself, he said. The flags represent the 50 states, the District of Columbia and American territories.

Meanwhile, when Role Models failed to remove the two flagpoles, PenMar contacted the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

That prompted a Jan. 7 letter, included in the court documents, from J. Rodney Little, director and preservation officer of that department, sent to the Labor Department.

In the letter, Little asked Labor officials to order the flagpoles removed and plans eliminated for the construction of other, smaller flagpoles.

The Department of Labor had no immediate comment on Little's request, a spokesman said Monday. Little said he had not received a response from Labor.

Little expressed concern the flagpoles would affect the Fort Ritchie Historic District, which is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

In a Feb. 15 letter to Little, Alexander called the idea that the installation of two flags would violate the National Historic Preservation act "baseless."

In the response, Alexander expressed displeasure with Little for sending a letter to the Labor Department without first contacting him.

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