Delegation wants PenMar's focus back on the jobs

February 06, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

Washington County lawmakers plan a shake-up of PenMar Development Corp. in response to criticism of the agency and its failure to lure business to the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

Lawmakers said Thursday they will introduce legislation requiring, among other things, that all voting board members live in Washington County.

The main purpose of the legislation is to reaffirm PenMar's mission to restore jobs lost when Fort Ritchie closed in 1998, Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank said.

Some feel the agency has drifted from that goal in recent years, as the board has considered residential development for the base and people in the surrounding community have called for more recreational uses, said Shank, R-Washington.


"We want to make it absolutely crystal clear that's where we're going. PenMar is about replacing jobs, it's about economic development," said Shank.

Other proposed changes would give more control and oversight to Washington County residents and government officials.

"I think we need to increase the level of scrutiny," Shank said.

The requirement that voting board members live in Washington County would mean the removal of Chairman Ronald Sulchek, of Sabillasville, Md., and two other board members who live in neighboring counties.

Some have argued against a residency requirement, saying the base is closer to Pennsylvania and Frederick County, Md., than it is to Hagerstown.

But lawmakers said it's consistent with a policy the commissioners have had in place since 1995 for members of other boards and commissions.

Because the base is in Washington County, its county commissioners and the State of Maryland will be held accountable for the redevelopment's success or failure, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington.

Under the proposal, two of the nine voting board members would have to live in the Cascade area.

"The community up there has been long concerned about how this has affected them. This is going to give them their input," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Lawmakers said they came up with the proposal after talking to current and former board members, people who live in the area and the commissioners.

Shank said the delegation's proposal is a compromise among suggestions made by those groups as well as the eight members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

"It's become very obvious over time that some revisions were needed. Without destroying PenMar entirely, the delegation was able to come to a compromise," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Munson said the changes aren't radical, but will allow PenMar to "get things done more effectively and efficiently."

Shank said the board has done some good things in the past seven years, the most important of which was refusing to accept the land from the Army before it was cleared of environmental hazards.

The multimillion dollar cleanup, which was done by the Army, along with legal challenges by former tenant Role Models Inc., have bogged down the redevelopment efforts.

While the legislation would not remove Executive Director Richard Rook, it would require that any future executive directors live in Washington County and have no outside business interests.

"With the importance of what they're doing there, it requires their full attention," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Lawmakers said they have come to a consensus on the legislation, which will be formally discussed at a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.

Public hearings on the legislation will be held before the session ends April 12.

If passed by the Maryland General Assembly, the legislation would go into effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.

Proposed changes to the PenMar Development Corp. would:

  • Reduce the number of voting board members from 15 to nine.

  • Require that all voting board members live in Washington County.

  • Initiate term limits for the board. Members could serve no more than two consecutive two-year terms.

  • Direct the Washington County Commissioners to appoint five members, including the chair of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission and two people who live near the former Army base.

  • Allow the local House delegation to appoint two members.

  • Allow the local Senate delegation to appoint two members.

  • Increase oversight of the board by requiring the county commissioners to sign off before any master lease is signed or any money is borrowed.

  • Increase state oversight of the board by requiring the secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development to provide input on any master lease agreement.

  • Require the board to prepare an annual report and to hold a public hearing at least once a year.

  • Clarify that PenMar is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

  • Require any future executive directors to live in Washington County and have no outside business interests.

Source: Washington County Delegation

The Herald-Mail Articles