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PenMar meeting closed to public

October 23, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - The PenMar Development Corp.'s board of directors intends to discuss in secret on Monday what they think of a developer's plan to revitalize the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, but a decision on whether to accept the plan probably will be announced in open session, board Chairman George Griffin said Friday.

"I suspect that most of it will be in closed session," Griffin said.

PenMar announced last week that it would hold a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. on Monday to discuss the plan by Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md. The meeting is scheduled to take place at Lakeside Hall at the base.

There was no indication in the announcement that the talks would take place behind closed doors. The agenda for Monday's meeting, which The Herald-Mail received on Friday, doesn't mention the COPT discussion.

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PenMar board member William J. Wivell said Friday he expected the development talks would take place in open session.

Wivell, treasurer of the PenMar board, also is vice president of the Washington County Commissioners.

"I certainly have no trouble with the discussion being in open session," Wivell said.

PenMar has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre property to COPT for $9 million. That price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over nine years. COPT announced in September that its preliminary plan for the base includes a mixture of residential and commercial uses and would be developed during 10 to 15 years.

COPT was required in the sale agreement to create a development plan for the base.

The state formed PenMar in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

Griffin explained that the plan's discussion will be held in closed session because it is expected to involve negotiations and personnel matters.

Wivell said PenMar isn't legally bound by Maryland's Open Meetings Act. The board's bylaws, however, state the board is to comply with the open meetings requirements, he said.

Wivell said the personnel matters that might come up during the meeting should be held in closed session, but any discussion of the plan should be done in the open.

Karl Weissenbach, director of the Cascade Committee, said Friday that the residents' group objects to the talks being held behind closed doors.

"I'm outraged," he said. "It's terrible that we are at the brink of turning over the fort to a private company, and why is it that they can't hold the debate in full view of the public?"

"This is our last chance to know what is going to happen at Fort Ritchie," Weissenbach said. "It's absurd."

When told of the opposition to the discussion being held in closed session, Griffin responded, "So?"

"They may not hear most of the discussion, but they will hear the conclusion," Griffin said.

Weissenbach called Griffin's response "autocratic."

"It's unfortunate to the public," Weissenbach said. "It's unfortunate to the taxpayers, considering what is at stake for our community. There is no justification to be holding a meeting behind closed doors."

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