PenMar bill defended

March 24, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

Issues of PenMar Development Corp.'s oversight and liability to taxpayers are too urgent to be put off until next year, Sen. Donald F. Munson argued Tuesday.

Munson, R-Washington, made his case before the Senate Finance Committee, which is evaluating a watered down version of local lawmakers' original PenMar legislation.

The decision ultimately still rests with the House Economic Matters Committee, which is likely to take a vote on the bill this week.


Munson and Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said the Senate won't act unless the proposal passes muster with the doubting members of the House committee.

Under public criticism for their proposed overhaul of the PenMar board, the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly scrapped most of the plan Friday.

Their latest proposal would allow all 10 board members to serve out their terms, although lawmakers would get to fill five vacancies in July.

PenMar is charged with bringing jobs to the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade.

Controversial provisions dealing with dissolving the board, instituting residency requirements and placing restrictions on PenMar staff were removed.

The bill would require additional oversight of PenMar by the Washington County Commissioners and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and clarify that the county and state would be free of liability.

The County Commissioners would have to approve any changes to PenMar's bylaws, any master lease agreement with a developer and any bonds.

Members of the PenMar board, which is charged with bringing jobs to the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade, testified against the revised bill Tuesday.

They argued the legislation is not necessary and that the original bill was filed as a vendetta against the current board.

Munson said lawmakers have always had good intentions with the proposed overhaul.

"My interest in this bill is related to only one thing. I want PenMar, Fort Ritchie, to work to the benefit of the citizens of Washington County," he said. "This bill is about the future. It's not about the past."

Earlier in the day, Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook faxed lawmakers to let them know that the commissioners "voted this morning to support" the revised PenMar bill. The commissioners did not take a formal vote, but agreed by consensus to support the bill.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore City, admonished PenMar board members for bringing a local squabble to the state legislature and speaking about lawmakers with disrespect.

Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, then asked board members what the conflict is about.

Board member Phil Ulzheimer said out of respect for Kelley's remarks he wouldn't answer.

"If you're not prepared to answer a question please leave that table," Teitelbaum said.

Staff writer Tara Reilly contributed to this story.

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