Association Limits New President

Odenton Improvement's Chewning Threatens Suit Over Changes

December 19, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

An Odenton Improvement Association meeting held to close loopholes that allowed a development company to pack the association's election last month and get its slate of candidates elected could draw a legalchallenge from the incoming president.

Mary Chewning, who complained that the new bylaws strip her of power by limiting her ability toappoint committee heads and run meetings, said she will sue the association to have the meeting declared void.

She said bylaws can only be changed at one of three designated regular meetings. The meeting Wednesday night was a special meeting called by the board of directors.

"I do take it personally," said Chewning, who was backed for president by The Halle Cos. "If you wish tohave some say in your organization, please don't vote for these bylaws tonight."

But Chewning's appeal fell short. The revised bylaws,which restrict members to living in the Greater Odenton area and impose new rules on when members can vote and hold office, passed, 149 to 71.

The meeting, which went smoothly despite some outbursts and shouting from the crowd that packed the Odenton Fire Hall, came just one month after Chewning edged Sally Shoemaker for the presidency by two votes.

The Halle Cos., which is building 4,700 homes in a development called Seven Oaks, also encouraged three other people to run for the improvement association's 12-member board of directors. Two of them won.

What normally is a straightforward election attracting30 or 35 people turned into a packed house with nearly half the 48 people who signed up as new members that night coming from outside thecounty. Until Wednesday, the association bylaws allowed any residentof Maryland to join or run for office.

Many of the new members work for Halle, which frequently has locked horns with county government and the improvement association over growth issues.

The meeting was called to revise the bylaws and appoint Shoemaker and Hazel Sanner to fill two vacant positions on the Board of Directors.

The new bylaws say that only residents of the greater Odenton area can becomemembers and hold office. Also, members cannot vote until they have been a member for at least three months.

The new rules would prevent what happened last month, when the 48 new members paid $3 for a one-year membership with full voting privileges just minutes before the election.

However, the new bylaws grandfather in all lifetime members, even if they live outside of greater Odenton. Outside residents who have a year's membership will be allowed to finish out their yearwith full voting rights until their memberships expire.

"I was slightly surprised at how much outside control we were giving people who could run this organization," said Eugene Collins, an attorney for the Odenton Improvement Association. "I do not want to be personal. We have a new president coming in and I think she will do a good job.

"I can't see how anyone from outside the area would want to join this organization and try to control it unless they had a personal benefit from it," Collins said. "We want to get this organization back in the saddle again and do what is best. That is what these new bylawswill do."

But Chewning complained the board was taking a personalshot at her by stripping her power away. She cited a new clause thatrequires board approval on appointing committee heads.

She also cited a new clause that allows the board of directors to elect a chairman other than the president to preside over meetings.

But Wellford and Collins said the meeting was legal because the term "general membership meeting" was generic and applied to any meeting called for by the board, special or otherwise.

Wellford also said that the board of directors traditionally had wide control over the association and meetings, and the new bylaws merely spell that out.

After the meeting, Stephen N. Fleischman, vice president of Halle, and Chewning also blasted a decree by the board of directors barring any new members from joining the association until January, when the new board begins its term.

Fleischman said that was blatantly illegal and said he could have challenged it by packing the meeting with potential newmembers. "But we didn't," he said.

Wellford said the board had advice from legal council and is confident "what we did was appropriate."

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