Appeals board asks council for disciplinary guidelines Measure outlines conduct code, means for removing members

July 22, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A year after requesting an investigation of one of its own members, the county Board of Appeals is asking the County Council to set up a process to discipline or possibly remove appointees from the board.

The measure, introduced by Councilman Carl Holland, establishes a code of conduct for the board and allows anyone to file an affidavit with the appeals board clerk if they feel a board member violates it.

"Board members may not neglect their duties, engage in misconduct, or attempt to perform their duties while impaired by the use of alcohol or controlled dangerous substances. They shall avoid actions that may embarrass or discredit the board in the eyes of the public," the code says.

Once the affidavit is filed, the appeals board chairman, or a designated board member, must set up a confidential meeting to discuss the allegation.

If four members determine there has been a violation, the board is to refer it to the council.

The council would hear the case and take a course of action that could include a reprimand, suspension or removal.

The board hears administrative appeals on land-use disputes between communities and developers, on issues ranging from proposed housing developments to shopping centers. The seven members are appointed by the council, and receive $6,000 annually, plus $40 per meeting day.

Mr. Holland, a Pasadena Republican, said he introduced the measure because four appeals board members requested it. He said to his knowledge, it is not aimed at any individual member.

Joseph A. Johnson, one of the board members who requested the measure, said it arose from a dispute over his on-site visit to a Davidsonville community on June 15, 1991.

In that case, Mr. Johnson inspected a house trailer that a neighbor, Karen H. Gardiner, claimed did not meet zoning requirements. He then went to Mrs. Gardiner's house.

Because of his behavior in that visit, Mrs. Gardiner filed a motion with the board asking that Mr. Johnson be removed from the case.

According to the motion, Mr. Johnson insisted that she reach a compromise in her dispute with James W. Rogers, the neighbor on whose property the trailer stands.

Mr. Rogers offered a different version of what happened, according to a motion he filed to keep Mr. Johnson on the case. He said Mrs. Gardiner was waving her arms and "gesticulating excitedly" at Mr. Johnson during the visit.

According to minutes of appeals board meetings, the incident prompted four appeals board members to ask the county attorney and the Maryland Attorney General to investigate Mr. Johnson's behavior. The board also asked that he be forced to step down "until he is cleared by the investigation."

"It was definitely politically motivated," Mr. Johnson said yesterday.

"Nothing ever came of it because there was nothing to it, but it was at that point that there was a need for some way to remove a member," he said.

County Attorney Judson Garrett said the ethics law bars him from discussing any ethics complaints, unless they require a specific course of action, such as as a request for a court order or a civil trial.

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