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Smithsburg mayor casts tiebreaking vote on husband's board reappointment

August 06, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers cast a tie-breaking vote Tuesday to confirm her husband's reappointment to the board of zoning appeals, a position some town councilmembers have argued could create a conflict of interest.

At Tuesday's council meeting, councilmembers Tom Chiarizia and Shirley Aurand voted in favor of Homer Myers' reappointment and Donnie Souders Jr. and Dennis "Jack" Wenthe voted against it. Councilman Jerome Martin, who previously spoke out against the reappointment, was injured in an accident Monday and was not at the meeting.

The mayor said she felt conflicted about casting a vote on the issue, but she decided to do so because appeals board members have expressed a pressing need for a fifth member. When only four zoning appeals board members are present, people who bring zoning appeals before the board may request to postpone a vote until five are present, Smithsburg planning and zoning administrator Randy Dick said.

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"I just feel a heavy burden on the fact that the board of appeals needs to move forward," the mayor said.

Town attorney Charles Wagaman said the mayor was not legally prohibited from voting on the issue because conflict of interest laws related to family relations do not apply in small towns.

Wagaman also said he saw no ethical issue with Homer Myers serving on the board unless there was evidence of an abuse. If councilmembers still want him off the board, they may seek to remove him by holding a public hearing and showing cause for removal, Wagaman said.

When the mayor first brought the reappointment to the council for confirmation in June, Chiarizia made a motion to confirm, but the motion died for lack of a second. Martin, Wenthe and Souders said they were concerned about a conflict of interest, and Wenthe mentioned that Homer Myers is a major property owner in the town. Aurand was absent for that vote and from the July meeting.

Souders said Tuesday that he contacted state ethics officials, lawmakers and officials in other towns. He said that Robert Hahn, chair of the Maryland Board of Ethics, said there could be potential for a conflict of interest when a mayor's spouse serves as a mayoral appointee because of the way spouses can communicate with each other. He said an official from the state attorney general's office said even the "hint" of a conflict should be cause to remove a zoning appeals board member.

The mayor argued that the exemption for small towns exists because, in small towns, so many officials are related to each other that removing them all might not leave enough people to run the town government.

She accused the dissenting councilmembers of political motives, and Wenthe, in turn, accused the mayor of putting the reappointment on the agenda after Martin's accident.

"That is below the belt, Jack," the mayor replied. "That's why I say this is all political and not about service to the town."

Town clerk/treasurer Betsy Martin said the agenda was completed and distributed Friday.

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