County has responsibility for its board members

January 18, 2004|by Jim Kercheval

The Herald Mail's "Local Viewpoint" on Jan. 9, misrepresented the issue regarding the Washington County Commissioners' desire to have the ability to remove board members at will. Let me explain my reasoning behind that decision.

First, it needs to be noted that this desire did not just materialize as the result of some concern over actions of the current board or negotiations with Lerner Enterprises.

Instead, this issue came to light months ago when the commissioners were dealing with a PenMar board in gridlock.

At that point, we realized we were powerless to make any changes necessary to keep the board moving forward. Because, after reviewing the by-laws, it was clear the state did not give us that authority.

I felt, as did the majority of the board, that this was an oversight that could lead to problems. And the majority of the board made it clear that this was an area we were going to pursue, through the delegation if need be.


A few weeks ago, we were told that this concern was going to be handled by the current board changing the by-laws on its own. However, after being briefed of the changes, we realized that they were not to the level we desired. Instead, they only allowed us authority to remove a member for illegal activity or malfeasance.

It's important for the public to know the function and purpose of the many boards the county oversees. It's impossible for five commissioners to be everywhere for everybody.

Therefore, we appoint a variety of boards to be the county's representatives to advise, oversee and handle many of the day-to-day issues of that particular group. But the bottom line is, it's the commissioners who will ultimately be held accountable should the board we appoint fail in its duties.

If the landfill turns into a biohazard, who will the citizens look to, the commissioners or the solid waste board? If water and sewer rates become too high, who will the citizens blame, the water quality board or the commissioners? The same thing holds true with the Pen Mar board. It's the commissioners who will ultimately be held responsible should those efforts fail or result in expensive liabilities to the taxpayers.

That is why the commissioners need to have the ability to remove board members at will. This is not a new issue, but a policy that is used for other boards we appoint.

This policy will not become one that limits the ability for board members to have differing views, even ones that a particular commissioner may oppose. It's only a necessary safeguard to ensure that all boards are moving in the direction that's in the county's best interest, which is exactly what the citizens elected us to oversee.

As a businessman for over 17 years, I handle my business the same way. My employees are chosen by me to represent my goals and objectives. If they are not performing or moving in a positive way, it is my livelihood that is affected. Sometimes an employee who looks good on paper does not perform once hired.

Therefore, I must be able to remove any employee who is not benefiting my business or is putting my business at risk. I should not be limited to only removing one who did something illegal or go through a load of bureaucracy to prove malfeasance.

Let me make something perfectly clear. I believe we have many competent members on the current board and they have been working hard to keep the redevelopment at Fort Ritchie moving ahead. I also support the negotiations with a master developer, such as Lerner, to use its talents to redevelop the fort, as long as it's a fair partnership with safeguards.

In addition, I believe some of the members who have resigned have been misrepresented as "problem members." Many of them have not only protected our citizens from acquiring huge liabilities, but also helped create an organization that banked over $3 million to be used in the redevelopment efforts.

The current PenMar board has my support as do other county boards, and I will encourage them to freely express their opinions and respect all points of view. However, if we believe they are moving in a direction that will be damaging to the county, we need the ability to make whatever changes necessary to protect the citizens from future liabilities or stagnation in the redevelopment efforts, because that's exactly what the citizens elected us to do.

Jim Kercheval is a Washington County Commissioner.

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