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Finally, progress is being made at Fort Ritchie

Don't blow it

Don't blow it

February 08, 2004|On behalf of the Cascade Committee

We commend Commissioner Jim Kercheval and other members of the BOCC for taking renewed interest in the operations of PenMar Development Corporation (PMDC). However, we take strong exception to his position (Jan. 18, letter to editor) that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) must have new authority to remove PMDC board members "at will." The PMDC board recently revised its bylaws to give the BOCC "authority to remove a member of the board for cause such as malfeasance or other illegal activity." We believe this change provides the BOCC with more than sufficient authority to remove individuals from the PMDC board. Contrary to what Kercheval claims, we believe the BOCC never lacked the power to make changes to the PenMar board. Perhaps it just lacked the will.

In accordance with Maryland law, the BOCC has sole authority to appoint individuals to the PenMar Board. In addition the BOCC, unlike private citizens, can request formal and informal opinions from the State Ethics Commission and the Maryland Attorney General on any matter regarding potential conflicts of interest, malfeasance and similar issues involving their appointments to the PenMar board.

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This also applies to PenMar corporate officials. Our organization even wrote directly to the commissioners last spring requesting "the BOCC, in conjunction with the Maryland State Ethics Office, conduct a thorough review of all PMDC board appointments and ethics filings to ensure compliance with all applicable state ethics laws." The BOCC can take these actions at will.

Kercheval, in his effort to justify "at will" removal authority, likens PMDC to the many other boards and commissions over which the county has such authority. In reality though, PMDC is unlike any of those other entities. PMDC is an independent agency of the State of Maryland, organized under the executive branch of state government, and created by the General Assembly precisely because Washington County did not want the risk or responsibility of owning and redeveloping the closed military base. PMDC is not an advisory board to the county, and its board members are not employees of a restaurant.

However, PMDC has even more unique responsibilities. PMDC, in addition to being a state agency, is also the official DOD-recognized Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) for Fort Ritchie. According to DOD's Community Guide to Base Reuse, PMDC should be "representative of the impacted community" and "have sole responsibility for planning reuse of the property and serve as the community's point of contact for all matters relating to the base closure." Some local elected officials seem unaware of these additional federal obligations of PMDC. However, following the recent changes to the board membership, the PMDC board itself is finally performing like an LRA as Congress envisioned.

The State of Maryland has given the PMDC board sole responsibility to manage the affairs of this unique type of corporation and exercise all of its corporate powers. The federal government has recognized PMDC as the official LRA of Fort Ritchie and given it sole responsibility to redevelop Fort Ritchie and be the community's single point of contact. PMDC can apply for loans, sign contracts and sue and be sued in its own name. It can borrow and lend money, purchase, sell and condemn real property and do just about whatever else it takes to redevelop Fort Ritchie. It can exercise virtually any power possessed by private corporations, even though technically, it is not one. There's simply nothing else remotely like PMDC on the county's list of boards and commissions.

Kercheval argues that giving the BOCC unlimited removal authority would not limit the ability of PenMar board members to have views that differ with members of the BOCC. Yet, he also argues that unlimited removal authority is needed so that PMDC board members can be removed just as easily - and for the same reasons - as employees can be fired at his restaurant: for failing to represent his personal goals and objectives. Maryland statute indicates PMDC is supposed to "cooperate with the governing body of Washington County" in redeveloping Fort Ritchie. We believe this is a far cry from the micromanagement and further unnecessary politicization that Kercheval and others are espousing.

There has been some "new thinking" on the PenMar board lately and community relations have never been better. For the first time, the board is representative of the impacted community and is responsive to local community concerns. Elected officials such as Commissioner Kercheval should encourage these positive developments, not threaten them.




Robin Biser, Wayne Buhrman, Jim Lemon and Karl Weissenbach are members of the Cascade Committee steering committee.

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