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The delegation meddles

February 09, 2004

The Maryland General Assembly uses numbers to keep track of proposed bills, but the one being offered to change the PenMar Development Corp. really deserves two numbers.

Why? Because it would accomplish two things, neither positive - soothing the bruised feelings of the members who resigned from the board and providing a slap in the face to those who remain.

The fact that most of the county commissioners are accepting this without protest is a measure of how little they value the work of citizens they ask to give of their time.

PenMar Development Corp. was created to redevelop the Fort Ritchie Army base, closed in 1998. It has been hampered in that effort by the discovery of unexploded ordnance on the grounds, getting embroiled a legal action with Role Models Academy and its own overly secretive methods of operation.

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Last fall seven of 15 members resigned, some citing infighting and a clash of ideas. At the time, Del. Chris Shank expressed concern that such "pillars of the community" were departing.

Since their departure, however, the PenMar board has managed to restart stalled talks with would-be master developer Lerner Enterprises, a Bethesda, Md., development with a 50-year track record of success.

Apparently the prospect of progress is too much for members of the delegation to contemplate. To roil the waters, they have proposed a residency requirement for PenMar board members and reducing county Commissioner William Wivell to a non-voting member.

That would effectively remove PenMar Chairman Ron Sulchek, Elizabeth Morgan and George Griffin.

Commissioners' President Greg Snook said he doesn't "have heartburn over any of this."

Ironically, last week Snook said that a residency policy shouldn't apply to the county's rural land-use task force, because it's not a typical board.

We would argue that a residency policy makes sense for the land-use board because it's Washington County landowners' rights which will be affected. In contrast, many of the jobs lost at Fort Ritchie - and which will be created there in the future - will be filled by people from Pennsylvania and nearby Frederick County.

The delegation was happy to sit on the sidelines when little or nothing was happening at Fort Ritchie. Now, in the middle of negotiations with a developer with a proven record of success, its members want to meddle. They should back off, before they do some real damage.

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