PenMar officials meet with delegates

December 06, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

PenMar Development Corp. officials said Friday they don't need more state oversight and are on the right track toward redeveloping the former Fort Ritchie Army base.

But Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who has called the volunteer board "dysfunctional," said local lawmakers will still consider making changes to the board's structure through state law.

At the meeting between lawmakers and PenMar officials Friday, PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook defended the board, saying problems of infighting are behind them.


A Baltimore law firm recently conducted an audit of the board's by-laws and minutes in order to recommend structural changes to the organization.

The board plans to review the report at a meeting later this month, Rook said.

"In the opinion of the executive director, this board is not dysfunctional. I won't say we haven't had periods of dysfunctionality," he said.

Shank, R-Washington, said he's been frustrated by the board's lack of progress in finding new uses for the 638-acre base since the Army closed it in 1998.

Even though most of the delays have been caused by circumstances out of the board's control, such as the discovery of unexploded ammunition and a lawsuit by evicted tenant Role Models Inc., Shank said the group suffers from a negative public perception.

Shank said lawmakers have a duty to fix whatever caused several highly respected people in the community to leave the board. Seven of the 15 board members have resigned since September.

Shank said he didn't want to reveal what the former board members told him.

It's impossible to defend such phantom allegations, Board Chairman Ronald Sulchek said.

Rook said board members resigned because they disagreed with the direction of the majority.

"I don't think it's any more than that," he said.

Sulchek said the new board is making an effort to involve the public and repair relationships.

"There's a lot of public fence mending that's going on," said Rook, who cited meetings with the Cascade Committee and Bill Spigler, base transition coordinator for the Army.

Spigler, who has watched the process since the Army identified Fort Ritchie for closure in 1995, said he's happy with the new board's outlook, which is more open than it had been recently.

"They went into that closed-curtain phase," Spigler said.

Sulchek said the new board has jump-started talks with Lerner Enterprises of Bethesda, Md., about becoming the base's master developer.

The commissioners have appointed a five-member negotiating committee that's trying to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year, Sulchek said. The committee will make a recommendation about Lerner to the PenMar board.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, the only other local lawmaker who made it to the former Army base on the snowy Friday, said community members he has talked to are pleased with PenMar's direction.

In a separate interview earlier this week, McKee said he doesn't share Shank's zeal for making changes to the PenMar board.

McKee said he thinks it's the county's job to oversee PenMar and lawmakers should abide by the wishes of the Washington County Commissioners.

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly is scheduled to meet with the commissioners Dec. 19.

Some commissioners, who appoint the board, have said the number of PenMar board members should be reduced from 15 to nine.

Shank has said he would like to consider having a delegation member sit on the board.

He has also talked about limiting the geographic makeup of the board to people who live in Washington County.

Right now three of the 10 board members live in neighboring Frederick County, Md., or Franklin County, Pa.

Board member George Griffin of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., said he and his neighbors have a stake in what happens at Fort Ritchie.

"The Pen in PenMar is there for a reason," Sulchek said.

Commissioner William Wivell, who is also a member of the PenMar board, said commissioners look at the background and community connections of board candidates.

Wivell urged lawmakers to give the board a year to make progress before making any major changes to the law.

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