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Attorney says memo allegation taken out of context

June 15, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A memorandum written last year by a Berkeley County commissioner that appears to indicate that some developers are given preferential treatment is being taken out of context, the commission's legal counsel said in response to an allegation submitted to county officials last week.

County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley said an allegation contained in an anonymous letter dated June 6 that apparently was circulated last week to several county officials - including recent Republican candidates for the county commission - and the media misrepresented the contents of a July 22, 2005, planning commission memo signed by commissioner Ron Collins.

"The tenor of the memo made it clear he wanted everybody to go by the book," said Bentley, adding Collins penned the memo during a time when the planning office did not have a full-time director.

The memo, which was addressed to the county's planning staff, indicates that all building projects submitted by developers must receive all required permits and approvals, except those allowed to "slide" by Collins.

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"There will be no "sliding" of any permits/approvals for any project. All projects will have all permits/approvals ... and all will follow the proper process. No one "slides" except with Ron's approval. Everything will be done by the book," the memo reads in part.

The anonymous two-page letter names 28 entities and individuals on its carbon-copied list, including the members of the planning commission, its legal counsel Patrick Henry, county Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, Bentley, and all five Republican candidates in last month's primary race for county commissioner. It was addressed to Commission President Howard Strauss, Commissioner Steve Teufel and County Clerk John Small.

"It has come to my attention that Commissioner Collins not only believes that he is above the written law, but is powerful enough to put it in writing," the letter reads. "Apparently, he believes that he controls who "slides" and who doesn't as it relates to "permits/approvals for any project."

Collins declined to comment Wednesday night, referring questions to Bentley.

Bentley, who acknowledged the memo could have been better worded, said Collins was not acting outside his authority and was not indicating some developers would get special treatment.

"He meant to say, 'we're going to follow the book; if there's anything to be done that's not strictly by the book or if there are unusual circumstances ... or if somebody needs to make a judgment call and because you (the planning department) do not have any leadership right now, I'll make that call,'" Bentley said.

"I don't think Mr. Collins has done anything that is untoward or incorrect or wrong," he said.

County Planning Director Stefanie Allemong, who indicated she was not responding to the allegation, said projects submitted to the planning department by developers and engineers are not reviewed without proper permits.

"No one is scheduled for a ... meeting and we won't look at their project until we have everything in hand," Allemong said. "We go by the book, period."

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