The election last week of a developer-backed candidate to head the Odenton Improvement Association won't cripple the organization's reputation with the county, elected officials and community leader say.
But several cautioned that longtime residents will have to take a more active role to ensure their voice is heard.
And virtually every official -- especially those from other community associations -- expressed amazement that Odenton allows any state resident with $3 to sign up and be elected to the board of directors. Using that bylaw, a developer building 4,700 homes in the Odenton area was able to pack the meeting and get three of his candidates elected.
"I was very surprised the registration was so lenient," saidMuriel Carter, president of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association."But you don't really think about something like that happening."
Neither did many old-time Odenton residents, some of whom left the meeting last Wednesday confused and bewildered.
What normally is a straightforward election attracting 30 or 35 voters turned into a packed-house at the Odenton Fire Hall, with nearly half of the 48 peoplewho signed up as new members coming from outside the county. Many ofthe new members work for The Halle Cos., which is building a 4,700-unit development in Odenton and is locked in battles with the county in and out of court over paying for schools and building pools and tennis courts.
The night before the election, company officials sent out a flier offering their own slate of candidates. Mary Chewning, a Halle-backed candidate, won by two votes over Sally Shoemaker, who was supported by the improvement association's board of directors.
Two other people, supported by Halle and asked to run by company officials, also won. One was elected secretary, the other gained a seat onthe Board of Directors.
"I know Mrs. Chewning," said County Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, who represents Odenton. "I donot believe she will be a puppet for anybody. But I think time will tell if this is a full-fledged set-up of puppets."
Criticism is not as much directed at Chewning, a lifetime resident of Odenton, as atthe the way the election was held and concerns that Halle will control the association, which has long had the respect of county officials.
"There are communities out there that have a real strong president and the rest of the community is not all that active," said county planner Kathy Koch, who works extensively with Odenton and various committees trying to design a new town center. While saying the OIA is not one of those, she added that Odenton residents will "have to work harder than ever before to be heard."
Chewning said she wants to change the way things are done in Odenton. She said the current board has been unresponsive to its residents, spending too much time delving into zoning and planning issues and not enough on homelessness and drug and alcohol programs.
The new president said she will represent everyone, from the corner business owner to the neighborhood resident.
"You have to remember that Seven Oaks residents are Odenton residents," she said. "Some of the older people in the OIA want to separate them from the community."
She said she had no idea what Halle was doing until the election took place and maintains that Halleworkers and others attracted to the Fire Hall because of the flier did not sway the vote in her favor.
"I don't feel real bad about what happened that night," she said. "I had nothing to do with that. People who know me are laughing at the whole thing. But I'm getting tired of reading about it."
Halle was able to bring in workers from outside the county because the association's bylaws allow any residentof the state to register right up until ballots are cast. Carter, from Glen Burnie, said her organization has strict rules about who votes.
She said new members are screened to ensure they live in Glen Burnie and must be voted in by the general membership. She also said that in order to run for office, a candidate must have been a member for a certain length of time and have served either on a committee or worked at the annual Glen Burnie Carnival.
Richard Bittner, a lawyer and president of the Greater Brooklyn Park Council, said he also was surprised at Odenton's election. "That's terrible," he said. "That's not the purpose of these types of groups."
He said associationsto which he has belonged always defined boundaries to keep out external influences.