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County wants more control over PenMar

October 11, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners plan to ask the state for more authority over the PenMar Development Corp.'s board of directors following an investigation into the possible deletion of files by a former employee.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop former U.S Army base Fort Ritchie, which the Army shut down in 1998.

An investigation into an incident raised in an e-mail written by PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook was completed Tuesday, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

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Snook said there will be no criminal charges based on the conclusions of a law firm the county hired to investigate the matter.

Rook said Thursday he could not elaborate on the investigation. He confirmed writing the Sept. 5 e-mail, a copy of which The Herald-Mail obtained.

"All I can say is that an investigation was done," Rook said. "The county looked at it, and I don't know the results."

In an e-mail to PenMar board Vice Chair Ron Sulcheck, Rook wrote that he had witnessed former PenMar Deputy Director Eileen Kerslake delete e-mails from her computer on Sept. 3, shortly after telling her he was placing her on administrative leave.

He wrote that he had told Kerslake "she was not to touch the computer again and that she was not to delete any files ..."

Kerslake denied deleting any files, Rook wrote.

Rook wrote that he had told Kerslake to clean out her desk and turn in her keys, and that he planned to get the hard drive on Kerslake's computer analyzed.

He wrote that on Sept. 5 he learned from an office worker that Kerslake and board Chairwoman Paula Lampton had entered the PenMar administrative building the night before to pick up some of Kerslake's belongings. During that time, he wrote, "Paula then allowed Eileen unsupervised access to her office."

Rook wrote that he told Lampton in a telephone call later that day he was angry she had allowed Kerslake unsupervised access to her office and computer files. Lampton replied that she had no knowledge of Kerslake having access to her computer, and said she had a right to escort Kerslake into the building to retrieve personal belongings, Rook wrote.

Lampton did not return a phone call placed to her home Thursday. Kerslake said she had no comment when reached by phone at home Thursday.

Rook said he could not say whether the investigation revealed if files had been deleted.

"It's a legal issue and will be addressed through the proper channels," Rook said. "To my knowledge, there's been no criminal actions."

Snook said the law firm interviewed all those mentioned in Rook's e-mail and that he was satisfied with the firm's conclusions. He said he could not reveal what the firm decided, because it was a personnel issue.

He said the investigation will cost the county $2,000 to $3,000.

Snook said the commissioners in the next 30 days will discuss asking the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for more power over some aspects of the PenMar board to "have a little better working board."

While the commissioners appoint the 15-member PenMar board, they do not have the authority to remove members, Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said. Wivell, who is a member of the PenMar board, said some commissioners might be interested in having that power.

Some commissioners expressed concern over the progress and makeup of the PenMar board after former board member Jim LaFleur sent an Aug. 8 e-mail to Rook that alleged Rook was pursuing personal gain at PenMar's expense. LaFleur, a former PenMar executive director and base commander, resigned from the board several weeks later.

Another board member, Terry Randall, resigned a few days after LaFleur, Snook said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said that some changes may have to be made among PenMar staff and board members. Commissioner John C. Munson said PenMar Development Corp. and its board of directors should be eliminated.

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