Outsiders who paid $3 to vote and a slate of candidates backed by a powerful Silver Spring developer have altered the makeup of the Odenton Improvement Association's governing board.
The association's biennial election, which usually draws 30 people, attracted 150 to the Odenton Fire Hall Wednesday night. When the votes were counted, longtime resident and board member Sally Shoemaker lost her bid for president to Mary Chewning, 69-67.
Chewning, a member of the West County Chamber of Commerce for three years, enjoyed the backing of The Halle Cos., builder of the 4,700-unit Seven Oaks community in Odenton.
Voters also elected two alternates backed by Halle to the 12-member board. One person from Halle's slate lost. The new board members will take office in January.
el,.5l "This is a very interesting situation," said Harry Sinclair Jr., who won a seat despite not getting the backing of Halle. "This is what appears to be a developer's way of buying an organization, and he has done a marvelous job."
Halle announced its candidates and urged residents to sign up to vote in an unsigned flier sent to residents of two major Odenton developments. Association bylaws allow any state resident to join the group by paying a $3 annual membership fee or a $10 lifetime fee.
Halle officials said before the vote that the board, run by Pat Wellford, and its candidate to replace her, Shoemaker, have been unfair to developers and residents who bought homes in the new communities.
Halle's strategy appears to have worked. Nearly half of the 48 people who joined the association election night were from outside the county, including nine from Burtonsville, six from Silver Spring and three from Bethesda. Many of those people were employees of The Halle Cos.
Halle vice president Steven N. Fleischman, who watched the proceedings with his boss, Warren Halle, said employees who voted work in the county and have a stake in community affairs.
Critics called the developer's tactics heavy-handed.
"They shouldn't have anything to do with the progress of the community,"said longtime Odenton resident Robert J. Sanner. "What if we went toBethesda and said, 'Hey, we want to do this?' How do you think they would like it?"
But Fleischman said his company was not trying to control the election. "If I wanted to do that, I could run myself as president and I could have 1,000 people here to vote without a problem."
Fleischman said his company is merely supporting the alternateslate of candidates, although he admitted to soliciting three of thepeople running.
Criticism of the election did not stop at Halle'sinvolvement. Many voiced dissatisfaction when Wellford cut off membership registration because the meeting had been delayed 20 minutes. The decision prevented about 36 people from casting a ballot.
Wellford said she had complaints from members about the delay, and she felt she owed it to them to start the election as soon as possible. She denied charges from Fleischman that she cut off registration to prevent Halle-backed people from voting.
"I was going to say something," Fleischman said. "But that would have made it even worse. In their mind, they felt that everyone in line was going to vote for this slate. I'm sure that is not true."
Shoemaker said the board consideredinserting a provision into its bylaws last year prohibiting members who join on election night from voting.
At that time, she said, the board feared Halle would stack the deck on a pending vote dealing with a proposed landfill. The vote never took place, and the provisionwas dropped from consideration.
"We thought it would be bad timing," she said. "We were exercising some good faith. Now it appears that one cannot function in good faith with Mr. Halle."