Several irked at plan for PenMar

February 12, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

Accusations of misconduct and conflicts of interest flew as state lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday about their proposal to revamp the board redeveloping the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade.

The Washington County Delegation's plan drew fire from PenMar Development Corp. board members, Cascade residents and one Washington County Commissioner.

It drew praise from two of three former PenMar board members who attended the meeting.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet today to discuss changes to the proposed legislation and possibly take a vote.

Most of the controversy surrounded the lawmakers' proposal to require that all voting board members live in Washington County, which would effectively remove four board members, including Chairman Ronald Sulchek of Sabillasville, Md.

"These are the people who have been the most active in bringing reform" to the PenMar Development Corp., said Jim Lemon of the Cascade Committee. "If filed, this bill will be an embarrassment to Washington County and this delegation."

Plan as revenge

Lemon and other Cascade residents said the delegation's plan was disguised retribution on behalf of board members who recently resigned, including Terry L. Randall and Paula Lampton.

Lemon accused Randall of missing meetings and Lampton of allowing a former board employee to have access to an office.

As chair of the county's Planning Commission, Lampton had a conflict of interest on the PenMar board, he said.

Lampton, who attended Wednesday's meeting, denied the accusations.

"I really didn't think this was going to be a slander session when I walked in here. I'm very upset about it," she said.

Lampton and Randall congratulated lawmakers on their efforts to increase state and county oversight of PenMar.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said lawmakers got involved in PenMar to reaffirm PenMar's mission to restore jobs lost when Fort Ritchie closed in 1998.

"I don't understand why this issue has become so personal and so emotional. This is about the policy, not the personalities," he said.

Lawmakers said they were worried that if the redevelopment effort fails, the county will be saddled with a great expense.

"I don't want that on my watch," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington.

Lemon and Sulchek argued that people from surrounding counties also have a stake in the redevelopment and should not be precluded from serving as voting members of the board.

The county commissioners were unable to come to a consensus either for or against the legislation, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told lawmakers Wednesday.

Snook asked lawmakers to delay the effective date of the legislation in order to maintain some continuity on the board.

Snook said he was concerned that an economic development prospect might be lost with quick board turnover.

Commissioner William Wivell, a PenMar board member who would lose his voting privileges under the plan, said the existing board is functioning and does not need to be revamped.

PenMar is working on a redevelopment plan and re-establishing relationships with the surrounding community, the Army and economic development officials, he said.

Lawmakers' concerns that the current board is focused on recreational and residential development are unfounded, he said.

More delays

William Spigler, base transition coordinator for the Army, said changing the board would further delay the transfer of land to PenMar.

"It reminds me a little bit of the movie 'Groundhog Day.' I've never gotten off square one," he said.

Since 1998, the Army has spent $20 million to maintain and clean up environmental hazards on the 630-acre base.

After the meeting, Shank said the former board recognized that liability and protected county taxpayers by refusing to accept the land earlier.

Among other things, the lawmakers' proposal would:

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

The commissioners would appoint five board members and lawmakers would appoint four.

Two people from the neighboring counties of Franklin County, Pa., and Frederick County, Md., would serve on the board as nonvoting members.

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