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Four more have left PenMar leadership

November 06, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Four members of the PenMar Development Corp.'s Board of Directors have resigned within the past week, and the Washington County Commissioners and state legislators plan to discuss where the board might be headed, state and county officials said Wednesday.

PenMar has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks, and some County Commissioners publicly have criticized the agency, which is based in Cascade at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

"To me, clearly there are things that are rather dysfunctional (concerning PenMar) ... That is a detriment to our community," said Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington.

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

PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said board Chairwoman Paula Lampton, former Chairman Brett Wilson, and members Wayne Alter and Thomas Newcomer resigned from the 15-member board recently.

Rook said another board member, Regis Binder, resigned a few weeks ago because of changes with his job with Allegheny Energy.

The resignations leave seven openings on the board, members to which are appointed by the County Commissioners. The eight remaining board members are enough for a quorum, which requires eight people, Rook said.

Board member James LaFleur resigned in September following controversy over an Aug. 8 e-mail he sent to Rook, alleging Rook was pursuing his own "personal gain at (PenMar's) expense."

Board member Terry Randall resigned shortly after LaFleur.

In a Sept. 5 e-mail to PenMar board Vice Chairman Ronald Sulchek, Rook wrote that Lampton had allowed a former employee who had been on administrative leave unsupervised access to her office and computer files. Rook was not in the building when Lampton and the employee, former Deputy Director Eileen Kerslake, entered the building.

Rook wrote that a day before the incident he had witnessed Kerslake deleting files from her computer.

Kerslake denied that she had been deleting files, Rook wrote.

The commissioners hired a law firm to investigate the possible deletion of files. They concluded that no criminal charges would be filed, Snook said last month.

Lampton and Alter did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Wilson declined to comment, saying it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on internal affairs. He did not say what those internal affairs were.

Newcomer could not be reached for comment.

Shank said Lampton, Alter, Newcomer and Wilson were "pillars of the community" and that he was sorry to hear that they had resigned.

"That tells me that there's something wrong up there," Shank said. "These are the people we look to to get things done."

"When you have these numbers dropping off, there are some problems with the board ... and you need to look at that," said Del. Robert McKee, R-Washington.

Shank said he may raise with the commissioners and other state legislators the possibility that the state play a more active role in appointing PenMar board members. He said PenMar has operated well until recent weeks.

"That board from my knowledge ... has functioned very well," Shank said. "It just seems like recently, because of some appointments that have been made, it's taken a wrong turn."

Sulchek and board members Philip Ulzheimer, George Griffin, John Hershey and Elizabeth Morgan have been appointed by the commissioners to the PenMar board over the past several months.

Shank said he found it troubling that some PenMar board members do not live in Washington County or in the state. He declined to identify those board members.

"As a policy maker for the state of Maryland, I find that to be disconcerting," Shank said. "I'm troubled by that. I think the delegation ... might want to (increase) our level of oversight."

Snook, Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said the commissioners planned to soon discuss what the next step would be for the PenMar board.

Wivell, who is on the PenMar board, said last month that some commissioners might be interested in receiving state authority to remove members from the board. The commissioners now only have the power to appoint members.

McKee said he thought the delegation would be receptive to such a request from the commissioners.

Wivell said Wednesday that another option would be to reduce the number of board members from 15 to 11 or nine.

"Fifteen is a pretty big board," Wivell said. "I personally think nine or 11 is enough."

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