Just Sworn In, Odenton Association President May Quit

Chewning Citescriticism Over Her Support From Developer

January 10, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

The day after Mary Chewning was sworn in as the new president of theOdenton Improvement Association, she said she may resign because of mounting criticism over her ties to a Silver Spring developer that backed her for the position.

Faced with at least one personal attackfrom a board member at her first meeting Wednesday night, Chewning said yesterday that being president may not be worth the trouble.

"I have to give it a lot of thought as to what it is I'm going todo," she said. "I'm tossing things around, and I will make a decision about it. My family thinks it's not worth it. They are worried about it and think this may make me ill."

Chewning said she felt personally assaulted by comments made at the meeting.

"I'm very surprised that human beings act that way," she said. "I wanted to keep a positive attitude. I hope that I did. They attacked my character. That'ssomething you just don't do to another human being if you are a decent person."

The meeting -- which also was a swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected president and board of directors -- moved along fairly well until moments before it was to adjourn. At that time, a board member asked Chewning about comments to a newspaper that she maysue the association over restriction of her power.

"We didn't want you as president," board member Hazel Sanner said. "You came into our association very unethically. I have never known you. What makes you believe you qualify? We have all worked up in this organization. You came in with Mr. Halle."

Chewning answered, "I have been very active in the area. I was asked if I would run. I had no idea what Halle was doing."

Chewning said last month that she may take the improvement association to court over a new set of bylaws approved by thegeneral membership three weeks before she was to take office.

Complaining that the association restricted her power by limiting her ability to appoint committee heads and run meetings, she said she wanted to get private legal advice on whether the new bylaws conform to state law.

The bylaws were revised to close a loophole that allowed any Maryland resident to become a member, vote and hold office in theassociation. They also require board approval of committee chairmen appointed by Chewning (while allowing, for the first time, the president to go outside the board in making appointments) and gives the board power to appoint someone to run its meetings other than the president.

Officials from The Halle Cos., which is building 4,700 homes in a development called Seven Oaks, used the membership loophole to pack an election in November and get its slate of candidates into office.

What normally is a straightforward election attracting 30 or 35 people turned into a packed house, with nearly half of the 48 people who signed up as new members right before the vote coming from outside the county. At least 18 were employed by Halle.

Chewning, who was publicly backed by the company -- which is immersed in controversy in and out of court with the county -- edged out the association's candidate, Sally Shoemaker, by two votes.

The company also encouraged three other people to run for the improvement association's 12-member board of directors. Two won.

During Tuesday's meeting, the older association members said the bylaws had to be revised in the wakeof the controversial election.

They also said it was improper forChewning, as president, to seek private legal advice. "If we do this, we should do it as a group, not as an individual," said board member Harry Sinclair.

Pat Wellford, the immediate past president of the association, said the organization has two lawyers to handle such affairs. "That should be good enough," she said.

But Chewning countered that, since those lawyers drew up the bylaws, they would not be reliable for a second opinion. She said one said at a meeting last month that the new bylaws do not strip her of any power. "That was an absolute lie," she said.

The board has asked its lawyers to review the new bylaws line-by-line, so they will be prepared to answer any questions Chewning and her attorneys have.

Yesterday, Chewning saidshe does not know if the board can work together. "Why don't they deal with Halle and not with me?" she said. "I have no control over howthey feel with Mr. Halle. But my name is Mary Chewning. I won't be intimidated.

"I have deep decisions to make. I'm not at liberty to say what I'm going to do right now. I'm giving it a lot of thought, whether it's worth the effort or not. I'm not sure this is ever going to be positive."

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