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Shank says PenMar board needs more state oversight

December 02, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Del. Christopher B. Shank said Monday during a meeting with the Cascade Committee that he thought the state should have more oversight of the PenMar Development Corp., possibly by appointing some members of the agency's board of directors and having a state representative on that board.

He also repeated a position he made public last month that PenMar board members should be residents of Washington County, but that he would consider that it be open to state residents as a compromise.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the approximately 600-acre former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade. The Army shut down the base in 1998.

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The agency has faced controversy over the last few months, including allegations of fighting among board members and criticism of the progress in redevelopment efforts.

Shank and Del. Robert McKee, both R-Washington, met with the Cascade Committee civic group to discuss the committee's concerns about the future of the base and other PenMar issues.

A representative of Sen. Donald Munson's office also was present, Cascade Committee Director Karl Weissenbach said.

The meeting was closed to the media when it began, but it became an open session after about 30 minutes.

Shank said PenMar was created as an instrumentality of Maryland, therefore, "the delegation should have a larger role in policy-making" of PenMar.

He did not say how many members he thought the state should appoint, saying that needs to be discussed more with the Washington County Commissioners and other local delegation members.

The 15-member PenMar board is appointed by the County Commissioners.

Since September, seven members of the board resigned, leaving eight people on the board, just enough for a quorum.

"Since the County Commissioners have an ex-officio member, the delegation should have an ex-officio member," Shank said.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell is a voting member of the PenMar board.

Shank suggested last month that the delegation have more oversight of the PenMar board, which he called "dysfunctional."

Shank said during the meeting that he has had discussions with the Maryland Attorney General's Office about the commissioners having the authority to remove PenMar board members.

He said, for example, should a board member be caught in a criminal act concerning the agency, there's nothing in the state legislation that created PenMar that addresses removing such a member.

Some commissioners recently have said that the number of PenMar board members should be reduced, possibly to nine or 11, instead of the 15 there is supposed to be now.

Cascade Committee members expressed concern that changing the makeup of the PenMar board might have a negative effect on that community.

"We're concerned that there might be efforts ... to make some changes to the detriment of the county," Weissenbach said. "Since Fort Ritchie is in our back yard, we do have a stake (in this)."

Weissenbach said the current PenMar board members have been responsive to the concerns of Cascade residents and are "community-minded," whereas some of the board members who resigned were not.

"We could not get them to hear our vision for Fort Ritchie," Cascade Committee member Robin Biser said. "If you don't listen to a person, you don't seem terribly concerned about them."

Biser said she has applied to the commissioners to serve on the PenMar board.

Weissenbach said he would like there to be at least four Cascade residents on the board.

Shank said the makeup of the PenMar board should represent all of Washington County, not just Cascade, as written in state statute.

"This is not just for the benefit of Cascade," Shank said. "This is for all of Washington County, and that needs to be reflected" in the makeup of the board.

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