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County board, delegation must resolve PenMar issue

December 01, 2003

As this is being written, Maryland General Assembly Dels. Chris Shank and Bob McKee are planning to meet privately today with the Cascade Committee about issues surrounding the former Fort Ritchie Army base.

It's the wrong approach. The entire delegation should instead meet with the Washington County Commissioners and decide what should happen to the PenMar Development Corp., the group set up in 1997 to redevelop the base, which closed in 1998.

Since then not much has happened, in part because of the discovery of unexploded ordnance there and legal action by a former tenant, Role Models Academy.

Recently, after an internal struggle, five members of the board resigned. That prompted Shank to observe that there was something "dysfunctional" happening with PenMar, adding that those who resigned were "pillars of the community."

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The possibility that the delegations might belatedly get involved with what's happening with PenMar is apparently keeping the commissioners from making new appointments to the board.

Up to a point, that makes sense: Why ask people to serve if there's a chance the board will be eliminated with legislation in 2004?

But in the meantime, only eight members remain and PenMar's by-laws require eight members for a quorum. If one member gets sick or has a scheduling conflict, no business can be done.

That means that if the group now negotiating with master developer candidate Lerner Enterprises concludes its work, PenMar might not be able to make an agreement. If there's urgent business to be done and there's no quorum, it won't get done.

The members who remain joined the PenMar board in good faith and seem ready to move forward with the attitude that the public has a right to use some of the facilities that its tax dollars paid for.

But if the commissioners and the delegation are considering moving forward in another way, they ought to meet and decide now. It's no favor to those board members or Washington County residents to keep them in limbo until the General Assembly session starts in January.

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