The old guard in Odenton was caught by surprise this year when threecandidates, backed by a developer building 4,700 homes in West County, won election to offices in the Odenton Improvement Association.
The Halle Cos, developer of the Seven Oaks project, sent out an unsigned flier in support of its list of candidates. And on the night of the election, 48 people showed up to join the association and vote. Nearly half lived outside the county, and many worked for Halle.
Halle and the leadership of the OIA often have been at odds over the rate and pattern of growth in the Odenton area.
What normally is a straightforward election attracting 30 or 35 voters turned into a packed house at the Odenton Fire Hall.
The Halle-backed candidate for president, Mary Chewning, defeated Sally Shoemaker, the choice of the outgoing association leadership, by two votes.
Two others who were encouraged to run by Halle Vice President Stephen N. Fleischman won seats on the board of directors.
Fleischman denied his company was trying to control the Nov. 13 election.
"If I wanted to dothat, I could have run myself as president, and I could have 1,000 people here to vote without a problem," he said.
But long-time Odenton residents disagreed.
"This is what appears to be a developer'sway of buying an organization, and he's done a marvelous job," said Harry Sinclair Jr., who won a seat on the board without Halle's backing.
The organization's open-ended bylaws allowed the Silver Springdeveloper to support his candidates.
The association met Dec. 17 in a special meeting before the new board takes over in January and closed the loopholes. New members will now have to live in the greaterOdenton area and cannot vote or hold office until they have been a member for at least three months.
But the meeting only inflamed thetension between outgoing president Pat Wellford, a friend of Shoemaker, and Chewning, who said she would sue the improvement association,claiming the meeting was illegal.
Chewning also said the change in bylaws limited what she could do as president by forcing her to obtain board approval to appoint committee heads and chair meetings.
"I do take it personally," she said after the general membership approved the change.
Not every land deal in West County this year raised a protest, however. The fate of 8,100 acres of land declared surplus on the grounds of Fort Meade were turned over to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center as a refuge.